Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Namco or anyone who hold rights to Tales of the Abyss. It isn't mine, I'm just playing with it.
Spoiler Warning: Up to the search for Spinoza, with just the hint of a few smatterings of bits and pieces from later on to add flavor.
Natalia winced slightly as she leaned back and stretched her arms up. Jade had forced them all to eat something shortly after the excitement from their very pleasant surprise had died down somewhat. But that had been quite some time ago now, and she was starting to feel the lack. She couldn't help a little exultant grin of elation though as she reached forward to sweep a few stray wisps of crimson colored hair that had slipped down back up onto the bed. He was alive. They both were. And they were going to stay that way. Asch hadn't stirred much since his rather rude, if profoundly welcome, awakening, but that really wasn't very much of a surprise. He was still in a very bad state. His wounds had been and were still quite serious. And while she'd managed to heal what little she could bit by bit, it would still take time for him to completely recover. But he would recover, and that's what was important. He would live.
And at least when he woke next he wouldn't have any further pain from broken bones, she had seen to that. Which was, no doubt, the very reason she was feeling faint at the moment. Well, at least it was almost dinner time. She was certain that she had heard Anise announce in the periphery of her extremely vague attention that she would have their dinners brought up for them. Granted, healing broken bones took a horrendous amount of concentration -and energy-, but she was certain that she had heard that correctly. Now if it would just arrive before her stomach decided to fall out of her and take the rest of her body with it. It was either that or she might just end up falling asleep while sitting up. She couldn't help but frown a bit as she didn't quite manage to stifle a yawn after that thought.
Reaching up to rub tiredly at her bleary, aching eyes, she missed the first faint stirrings. So it was with some surprise that when she lowered her arms back down she found him staring sleepily at her. "Oh," she murmured and blinked, and couldn't help a short, soft, relieved giggle when he blinked back at her in return, "Good afternoon."
A minor grimace was his only response to that before he shifted his gaze up to the ceiling. He seemed disinclined to speak, or perhaps he simply couldn't at the moment. It was probably in his best interest to conserve energy at any rate, and surely he had already realized that. She didn't even want to consider the possibility that those ghastly neck wounds he still bore pained him too much to even try. But still... it would be better to check.
Standing up, and leaning against the bed to hide her distressingly wobbly knees, Natalia reached down, her right hand just shy of touching the thick bandages wrapped around his neck. "It- it doesn't hurt you too much, does it?" she asked nervously.
He closed his eyes wearily and shook his head slightly in answer.
"Oh, that's good then," she whispered, then reached up with her other hand and carefully placed it on his forehead, mindful to keep her touch light so as not to cause any possible discomfort. "You're running a bit of a fever now, but Colonel Curtiss said that was a good sign. That your body was finally starting to fight against what was done to it."
His eyes were open again, looking up at her solemnly and she feared that she might start crying again, so instead she plopped back down into her chair ungracefully and stared forlornly at her hands, wringing them apprehensively. How unladylike of her. She needed to stop falling apart at every little thing. Everything would be fine now. He would be fine now.
An almost inaudible sigh caught her ear and she glanced up as he shifted. "No, you shouldn't-" she stammered, reaching out as if to stop his motion as he rolled over towards her, completely ignoring her efforts until he was on his side. "You might hurt yourself," Natalia finished lamely as a very obvious grimace of pain flickered across his face.
He arched an eyebrow at her after a moment's time as if asking something along the lines of, 'And your point is?'
Natalia frowned, doing her best to smother the first nigglings of irritation. "You probably pulled your stitches."
He blinked and gave her a negligent shrug. The very concept apparently didn't even register as a concern with him.
Natalia allowed herself something of a scowl as she muttered under her breath, "Luke is entirely correct, you are ungodly stubborn."
He almost smiled then and Natalia had to force down an oncoming blush. He had heard her. And then she truly did blush as he slid his free arm up and gently grasped her left hand. So that was why. He had wanted to give her comfort. Idiot, she thought fondly as she twisted her hand in his grasp until she could hold him in return. He should be concerned with his own health, not her ever changing mental state. But even so, she couldn't help but smile. He could be so exceptionally kind when he would just allow himself to be. But then, they were both like that. Asch and Luke appeared to share the best of traits... and some of the more annoying ones, as well.
Then, as if her thoughts had summoned it, a hand came to rest briefly on her shoulder, causing her to look up. Luke grinned down at her cheekily and gave her a light pat before leaning over to gently stroke Asch's hair. "You should get some more rest," he said softly, "I know you're tired."
Natalia couldn't help but stare at him. It was such a strange reversal of his usual behavior concerning Asch, but then he had, reluctantly, admitted to the fact that he had been quite intent on dying along with Asch earlier. Perhaps something else, something even more profound had happened between them. It would stand to reason, but she doubted that any of the rest of them would ever find out the particulars. Something like that was, perhaps, too personal to share. It had to have been something deeply soul changing at the very least.
Asch blinked up at Luke, the nodded slightly in acceptance and closed his eyes once more. Luke continued to softly stroke his hair, a gentle smile on his face, until he felt the pained tension of wakefulness pass from beneath his touch. Nodding to himself, he straightened up and then looked down at Natalia speculatively. "You've been doing a lot."
Natalia laughed weakly and looked away. "Not especially."
"You're a horrible liar," Luke groused good-naturedly as he leaned down until they were almost face to face; then he put his hands upon his hips and gave her a thoroughly disapproving look. "Don't go overboard."
She scowled back at him. "I am not overdoing it."
He smirked knowingly at her. "Then why are you trembling?"
"Uh," she blinked and finally realized that she was trembling. Oh dear. Well, maybe she had overdone it. Just a bit. It's not like he could blame her, it was for a good cause, after all. "Okay," she muttered as she gently extricated her hand from Asch's relaxed grasp. Then she crossed her arms and her legs primly, did her level best to not pout and pointedly looked away from Luke. "Maybe I did overdo it a little. But just a little."
Luke chuckled at her. "Well, as long as you realize it." Then he gave her a quick peck on the cheek and rose to leave.
Natalia froze, a brilliant blush suffusing her face before she shakily reached up and touched the cheek he had kissed. What in the world? "Luke," she called after him, the shock she was feeling quite evident in her voice, "Why did you do that?"
"Huh?" He glanced over his shoulder at her in mild confusion. "Do what?"
"Why did you kiss me?" She managed with some difficulty, her disbelief almost choking her. He had never done anything like that before, at least not something so obviously impulsive.
"Eh? I did?" Luke turned back to her and scratched the back of his head in thought. Then, as if he had finally realized just what had happened, he blushed a bright crimson. "Oh! Yeah, right. Sorry about that. It's kinda hard right now to filter stuff out, so sometimes I just do stuff without even realizing it."
"Wait wait wait," Natalia said quickly, holding her hand up to forestall any further babble from him. "Filter stuff out? What do you mean?"
"Well, it's just so open right now," Luke tried to explain, his shoulders drooping when Natalia just gave him an utterly perplexed look, "He's just too weak to keep stuff back and I don't really want to risk doing anything bad by trying to close it off, so it just comes through and if I'm not paying attention it gets right through to whatever I'm doing."
"Wait," Natalia interrupted again, and then simply asked, "Are you talking about Asch?"
"Who else would I be talking about?" Luke responded irritably and crossed his arms.
"That was from Asch?" Natalia asked again for clarification.
"Oh come on," Luke grumbled as he rolled his eyes, leaned forward and gave her an annoyed glare, "You'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb to not realize that he has some sort of affection for you. Though, honestly, I have to wonder where his brain is. You're so irritating."
Natalia stuck her tongue out at him, but couldn't resist a brilliant smile as she looked back at the slumbering God-General. He had kissed her! Well, by proxy through Luke and he probably never would have done it himself if he had been awake and paying attention. But it had still been something from him.
"Weirdo," Luke muttered as he shook his head at her and turned to leave.
He sighed in acute aggravation and turned back around, quirking an eyebrow at her questioningly. "Yeah?"
"Doesn't it, you know, hurt?" She asked and waved her hand, vaguely pointing at his head.
"What do you mean?" He blinked at her in confusion.
"Your... connection," she explained, tilting her head slightly in concern, "Doesn't it hurt? It always gave you such awful headaches whenever Asch tried to contact you before. And you did collapse that one time too."
"Oh, that," Luke remarked airily, then frowned in concentration and held his chin thoughtfully, "I really don't know why, but it doesn't hurt anymore. It's just... there. Though, I am kinda glad about it. Those damned headaches could be pretty awful. I'd rather not have my head explode every time he decides to yell at me for something or other."
"I might have a theory about that," Jade commented blandly as he snuck up behind Luke, smirking in a rather pleased manner when Luke jerked away from him in fright. It was so very amusing to unsettle them at times. And they made it so terribly easy for him to do so. Though it would be quite disappointing if they died of heart failure one day. Perhaps he should lay off them, as it were, every now and then. It was so hard to find good entertainment, after all.
"Gah!" Luke shuddered and slinked behind Natalia. "Please don't ever do that again."
Jade grinned menacingly, not unlike the cat who had caught the proverbial canary, before continuing with his original thought, "As I was saying, I might have a working theory about your lack of pain so far as your connection with Asch is concerned, if you'd care to hear it."
Luke grimaced sourly but nodded hesitantly for Jade to carry on with his theory. He might be a thoroughly creepy bastard at times, and took great enjoyment out of being so, no doubt, but he did always seem to know what he was talking about.
"Yes, well, I believe it started with the initial assault," Jade explained as he picked imaginary dust off of his uniform, "I'm quite sure that none of you have realized it yet, but Asch is also suffering under the effects of a fon slot seal." He nodded grimly at their horrified looks. "However, it was only partially successful, mostly because of your connection."
"What?" Luke croaked out as he unconsciously reached over towards Asch. Jade observed this with narrowed eyes. Interesting.
Mentally shrugging to himself, Jade continued on with his explanation, "When it happened the connection flew open. No doubt, a survival instinct of some sort. At any rate, it was completely open when we checked into the hotel in Keterburg. But you didn't feel any pain, did you? At least, not where you head was concerned."
Luke slowly shook his head in answer. He hadn't had any pain in his head. But... His eyes widening in realization, Luke glanced down at his right hand before looking back up at Jade questioningly.
"Exactly," Jade nodded in response, "There was no headache at all, but you were feeling the echoes of his pain."
"I-," Luke looked down at Asch and shook his head again, "I don't understand."
"I think I understand the nature of your connection now," Jade smiled triumphantly, as if he had just solved a rather difficult puzzle, "It has always been there, was perhaps even created at your birth. But you've always kept it closed, both of you, whether you realized it or not. The pain came from forcing that barrier open, but only just enough for minimal contact. There was always the intent to close it back up afterwards."
Natalia nodded slowly in dawning understanding. "That... does make sense," she said sadly as she glanced over at Asch, "He has seemed quite intent on keeping people out."
"Exactly." Jade smiled charmingly at her. Clever girl. "But there is no barrier now and neither of you are trying to close it back up again. There is no pain because you're not fighting it anymore."
Luke blinked and realized that Jade had directed his last comment at the both of them. He and Asch. And he further realized that the drowsy presence curled up in the back of his mind -Asch- had heard it. And had simply accepted it without any sort of argument.