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.
"That is that then, I suppose," Jade said cheerfully as he placed the last of their used dishes up on top of the already substantial stack of trays.
Anise warily eyed the veritable leaning tower that she'd have to heft back down to the kitchens but didn't comment. It really was her own fault anyway. She'd arranged it so that only two or three plates would be brought up at specific times by different people whom she knew simply didn't have the time to be nosy. So, of course, none of them would even think to come back up to fetch the dirty dishes since Anise was there and dear sweet Anise could certainly bring a few plates back down on her own. She was such a dear, after all, surely she'd save them the trouble. It was an irritating perception at times, but a useful one nonetheless. It kept the more annoying questions about the Fon Master's concerns and his guests at bay. Not that she didn't doubt that the vast majority of the cathedral wasn't already abuzz about Ion's odd behavior and those strange people that kept going in and out of his quarters. And wasn't one of them that disturbing Malkuth military officer, that Necromancer fellow? People could be such gossips when they were bored, and well, Daath was where fun went to die. She might possibly cough up actual money if somebody could show her someplace more dull and dreary. Hmm, maybe.
"Okay, I guess I'd better get it over with," she grumbled as she reached forward to take up the daunting burden, but halted in thought and turned towards the bed, pointing vaguely in its direction. "Should I bring anything back up for... you know..."
"Ah, I don't think so." Jade shook his head and shot Natalia a winsome smile. "He has so many seventh fonons swimming in him right now thanks to the efforts of certain individuals amongst us that further sustenance would only prove to be a nuisance." Natalia coughed indelicately into her fist but refrained from commenting on that. It was safer that way. She would only succeed in getting teased further if she rose to the bait. This was Jade, after all.
"All right then." Anise simply shrugged and hoisted up the precarious bundle, teetering somewhat until she finally managed to shift it into a secure enough hold where it wouldn't all fall off at the slightest movement.
Ion winced at her and asked, "Are you sure you don't want me to help you, Anise?"
"Nah," Anise piped up from behind her burden, "People would just get curious if they saw you hauling junk down to the kitchens. I'd appreciate it if you'd get the door for me though. I don't think I can handle knobs very well right now."
"Oh certainly," Ion laughed weakly as he scrambled to do just that, "And do be careful, please."
"Yeah yeah, whatever," Anise said grumpily as she tottered out of the room. Ion followed after her to open the outer door before coming back to rejoin the others in his bedroom.
"Well, now that that's taken care of," Jade remarked, his good cheer growing ever more obvious as he reached down and pulled a remarkably sharp looking pair of scissors out of one of his pockets. He snapped them smartly at the group and grinned evilly at their extremely wary expressions. "I think it's about time that we got to work."
"Uh, what do you mean?" Luke asked cautiously and recoiled when Jade waved the shears pointedly at him.
"You," Jade commanded as he gave another pointed wave of the scissors, "Can go make yourself useful by rousing the patient. It's about time we changed his dressings and I'd like to get some of those sutures out of the way in the meantime." Smiling sweet enough to rot teeth, he deliberately ignored Natalia as he turned to Tear. "And that will be where you come in my dear."
Tear simply blinked in surprise as Natalia protested, "But-"
"You've done more than enough today, princess," Jade stated blandly and gave her a rather stern look, "More than you should have, in fact, so I want you to stay right there for the duration. Let somebody else do the work for once. Tear is more than capable of healing flesh wounds and she won't pass out in the process."
"Fine," Natalia humphed in annoyance and looked away.
"Don't worry, Natalia, I'll do my best," Tear said placatingly and gave the Kimlascan princess a soft smile.
Natalia blinked in surprise and then flushed lightly in shame. Foolish of her, she should have realized that her protests might have come across as having doubts in Tear's abilities. "Forgive me, I know that you're an excellent healer, Tear. I would even go so far as to say that you are most likely a better one than I. It's just..." She gestured helplessly into the air and hung her head, unable to put her feelings into words.
"It's all right," Tear murmured quietly as she stepped over and gave Natalia a quick, comforting hug, "I understand how you feel."
Natalia smiled softly in thanks as she returned the embrace. She could be such a fool at times. Of course Tear would understand how she felt. Good friends did that for each other.
"If you're done now," Jade remarked dryly when they finally released each other, "I'd like to get to work." That said, he turned around and offered the scissors demandingly to Ion. "You'll be the one removing the actual stitching, Fon Master."
"I will?" Ion almost squeaked as he gingerly accepted the shears.
"But of course, Fon Master," Jade said airily as he pushed a skeptical Luke ahead of him and towards the bed, "No offense intended, but you are on the small side, thus will actually be able to fit up on the bed."
"What?" Ion actually did squeak that time.
Luke shook his head in disgust and tuned out the rest of the discussion going on behind him. Trust Jade to be as creepy as he possibly could over something so mundane. Well, perhaps not mundane. He thought sadly as he gazed down at Asch, the myriad amount of bandages swathing his body more than obvious even against the paleness of his skin. Too pale. Too weak. The results of the acute loss of blood were still very much in evidence. But even so, it certainly wasn't something to make such a production out of either. Jade's sense of humor left much to be desired at times.
Sighing softly, he leaned over and carefully ran his fingers through his original's hair. Prodding gently through their connection, he waited. It took several moments before there were any signs of his patient diligence being rewarded. Asch was still utterly exhausted, drained to a soul wearying level and far beyond the ability for him to cope with properly. And though death had been decided against, the remnants still lingered. Luke scowled at that train of thought. He needed more rest. And maybe...
Asch's eyes fluttered open sleepily and Luke smiled, his dark thoughts vanishing for the moment. "Hey," he said softly and kneeled down beside the bed, "Jade wants to change your bandages and get some of those cuts healed. Think you're up for it?"
Asch blinked slowly, the question obviously taking a bit of time to work its way through his sleep fogged mind. Finally, he simply shrugged his answer. Whether he was 'up for it' or not didn't really matter in the long run. It was a necessity, so he would bear through it regardless.
"All right," Luke muttered as he rose to his feet. "Do you need me to-," but wasn't even halfway through his question before Asch gave him an annoyed, if pointed, look. Rolling his eyes, he grumbled, "Right right, stupid question. We both know that you don't have the strength to do much of anything, so I'll have to do it for you." Asch scowled up at him in response to that, but then nodded hesitantly in agreement.
Luke turned around to tell the others that they were ready, but was brought up short by Jade who was standing right behind him. Twitching uncontrollably, he took a step back and somehow, though honestly he wasn't sure just exactly how, he managed to not fall back on to the bed. "I... I hate you," he choked out after a few seconds spent trying to find his voice, "Really, really hate you."
"Wonderful," Jade said pleasantly, "And now that we've gotten that ever so lovely revelation out of the way, can we begin?"
Luke nodded shakily as he felt Asch roll over onto his back behind him. The sooner they got started then the sooner it would be over with. Then he could rest. Shaking his head at the lethargy inching its way across their connection, Luke turned back around and carefully crawled up onto the bed. Asch's previous experience in similar situations informed him of what would most likely be required of him.
"Ah, excellent. I don't have to tell you what to do," Jade commented cheerfully, his studious gaze flicking back and forth between the pair before finally settling upon Asch. "Interesting that." Smiling secretively to himself, he shrugged and leaned over, rolling the blankets and sheets down in preparation. "My apologies," he murmured quietly as he snaked an arm underneath the God-General, "But this may hurt a bit."
Luke couldn't help but wince at the sharp echo of pain in his back as Jade lifted Asch up, the wounds present there were not appreciative of the extra pressure being put upon them. He gratefully accepted Asch as Jade handed him off to him, leaning the God-General against him, his face pressing into the crook of his neck.
Luke smiled softly as that thought wafted across their connection. /Yes, very familiar and welcome,/ he thought back as he felt Asch's arms slide around him. /Very welcome indeed./
But this was not the ocean, and while they were connected together in their thoughts, they were no longer there alone. There were other considerations now. Luke watched with half a mind as Jade first directed Ion up onto the bed behind Asch, then helped Tear up onto the bed after the diminutive Fon Master. She smiled apologetically at Luke as she swept Asch's hair over both of their shoulders and then began to carefully remove the bandages. Too many.
Luke frowned thoughtfully as he watched Tear remove one blood stained cloth after the next. /It hurts, doesn't it?/
There was a very obvious pause before Asch simply answered him with a /Yes./
Luke thinned his lips in suspicion. /Then why haven't I been feeling it?/
Another pause then, this time much longer, and it soon became apparent that Asch was quite unwilling to answer that question. Which was more of an answer than he really needed.
/You've been keeping it from me,/ Luke scowled in accusation, /No wonder you're so weak. And it's probably been hurting you even more to do that. I was paying attention to Jade's theory about our connection, you know./
A heavy mental sigh then.
/Well, stop it already. It's not just your burden anymore, damnit./
Luke smiled triumphantly at the unhappy mental growl, then grimaced as a harsh, body wide ache immediately crashed over him. /Ow./
/You wanted it./ It seemed as if Asch was apparently taking a good bit of satisfaction out of his reaction.
/You don't have to sound so happy about it,/ Luke groused.
/Far be it for me to not enjoy your pain./
And then they were both wincing as Tear ghosted her fingertips down one of the many stitched up wounds running across Asch's back. "Let's start with this one," she suggested and glanced over at Ion, "Do you know what to do?"
"I think so?" Ion said uncertainly as he gripped the scissors tightly, his knuckles turning white from the strain.
"It's all right, Ion. Your job isn't going to be very difficult," Tear explained encouragingly, "We don't want to heal the wound around the stitching, so what I'm going to do is hold the skin together while you cut the thread and pull it out. Once that's done, I can heal the wound up completely. All right?"
Ion nodded slightly in understanding, but hesitantly asked, "Will it hurt?"
Tear grimaced and flicked her gaze up at Luke before turning back to Ion. "I won't lie to any of you. It probably will. But it won't be anywhere near as bad as the actual wound itself. More like a bug bite in comparison really."
Ion nodded again and sighed sadly. "I'm sorry," he murmured apologetically to Asch before he bent himself to the task, following Tear's further instructions to the exact letter.
Luke absently watched them work, doing his best not to wince at the echo of a painful tug here and there. Ion was exceptionally gentle, but it was still thread being drawn through flesh. It hurt. But soon enough the Fon Master had pulled out the final suture and Tear was focusing her energy upon healing the wound. Luke and Asch both let out a relieved mental sigh as the seventh fonons seeped into the skin, suffusing the area in a blanketing warmth. And then it was fading, taking the oppressive ache along with it.
"Oh my!" Ion cried in amazement as Tear removed her hands from the God-General's back, revealing unblemished skin. "That's quite impressive, Tear, you didn't even leave a scar."
"It's nothing really," Tear laughed self-consciously as Luke peered down in curiosity at where the wound had once been.
/Oh?/ Luke hummed inquisitively at the comment. /What do you mean?/
/She's putting too much into it if it's not even scarring./
Luke rolled his eyes at Asch's scorn, then blinked as he felt his original come to some sort of realization or other.
/Perhaps she feels guilty./
A sigh then, sounding rather put upon now.
/You don't blame her, do you?/ Luke asked him reluctantly. He wasn't sure what he would or could do if Asch did actually blame her in some way. It was Tear, after all. But this was also Asch. That was a conflict he didn't even want to consider.
/Don't be stupid. She's hardly responsible for his insanity./
/Oh, well that's good then./
Something that resembled a snort then. /Why don't you make yourself useful for once, you idiot, and inform her of that fact already./
Luke blinked and briefly wondered how exactly he should do that. "Uh, Tear?" he began hesitantly.
"Yes, Luke?" She responded, but didn't look up from her work. She and Ion had already moved on to the next wound while the pair had been having their silent conversation.
Luke twisted his lips nervously and looked away. "Don't overdo it, okay?"
She did look up then and blinked at him in surprise. "What?"
"The scarring, okay?" Luke muttered unhappily. Why did he always have to do this stuff? He never could figure out what the right thing to say was. "Don't overdo it. It... it's not your fault."
Tear stared at him aghast for a moment before ducking her head down, hiding her eyes. "I'm not-"
"Yes you are," Luke said sharply, cutting her off, "We both know you are."
Tear whipped her head back up again, her horrified gaze fixing on Asch this time. He knew?
"He doesn't blame you," Luke murmured quietly, smiling gently when she looked back up at him, "So don't blame yourself, okay?"
She frowned stubbornly, but finally nodded before ducking back down to focus on her work.
/She doesn't believe you./
Luke scowled, /Well, she's always been a hard sale./
/You'll just have to try harder next time then./
/Why don't you do it?/
/I happen to have better things to do with my time./
/Yeah, right. Sleep./
Luke shook his head slightly in mock exasperation as he felt Asch's lips twist up into something of an amused smile against his skin.