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.
At first it was just a touch. A light pressure. Not enough to wake him, but enough to let him know that he was there. But soon enough it became more of a gentle nudge, a mildly insistent prodding, and Asch found himself being dragged back into the land of the living much against his will. What did his idiot replica want now? Surely even he could tell that he was still thoroughly exhausted and still very much in pain regardless of their earlier efforts to heal his body. Even though they had been successful on that particular front, there were still more wounds in need of healing. There always would be.
/Look, I know you're tired. Believe me, I can feel it. And I'd let you sleep, but I'd rather you be awake for this./ The apologetic words wormed their way through his drowsy mind, punctuated by yet another gentle nudge. /Just in case I mess it up and do something stupid./
Asch sighed to himself, too weary to even try working up his usual annoyance at being bothered by anyone, much less his replica, or the expected alarm that he should be feeling at the very idea of Luke doing something stupid. His replica did have a rather horrific track record in that regard. Then again, so did they all. It certainly was a rather bothersome quirk that everyone in this particular group appeared to share to one degree or another. No wonder they all seemed to band together so readily. How gratifying it must be to simply be one single lunatic among many. At the very least, one would appear to be less of a moron when in the company of other like minded individuals.
Ah yes, the expected indignation. Luke was rather lax there when it came to others calling him on his stupidity, but heaven forbid anyone insinuate that his friends could be and generally were almost as stupid at times as he tended to be. Asch managed to work up a small curl of amusement as he vaguely wondered whether his replica had caught on to the fact that he was actually including himself in that grouping of idiots for once.
/You're not stupid./
He gave a mental snort, one that verged on becoming an outright laugh as he shot back, /I'm listening to you, aren't I?/
/Very funny./ A grumble of annoyance then, one that sounded almost fond in a way. /Are you going to wake up or not?/
/Well, I suppose,/ he answered softly as he latched onto the other presence in his mind and allowed Luke to pull him up the rest of the way into full wakefulness, /If I must./
"It's for the best," Luke murmured quietly as he cupped Asch's face in his hands, absently brushing a few stray strands of hair off of his forehead and frowning mildly at the heat present there. The fever was progressing, not enough to worry the others over just yet, but enough to cause him concern. He couldn't fight this on his own. He needed more strength...
Asch squinted up at him for a moment before allowing his gaze to wander idly around the room. It was dark now, night having fallen some time past while he had slumbered on. The room was empty, strangely enough, save for a small but familiar figure curled up on one of the far cots. The Fon Master was facing the wall, his back to them, and by all appearances Ion was completely dead to the world. Asch blinked curiously at that before looking back up at Luke.
Luke chuckled lightly and stole a quick glance at the sleeping Fon Master. "He was dead on his feet, so Jade put him to bed about an hour or so ago."
Asch blinked again. That explained a little bit but did not account for the other, obvious glaring absences.
"Yeah, well, the others left just a little while ago. It's past everybody's bedtime," Luke said softly as he leaned over further, pressing his elbow into the pillow beside Asch and using it to prop himself up. He figured that he could probably be yelling and it wouldn't wake Ion up, but he didn't want to risk it. This was too important. "Jade went with them, something about tucking Anise in. I... really don't want to know. He'll be back soon enough though, so I wanted to go ahead and get this over with."
Asch squinted up at him in confusion. Get what over with? What in the world was he talking about?
"You're too weak," Luke explained vaguely as he absently ran the fingers of his free hand through Asch's hair, "You have enough seventh fonons in you right now to run a marathon on, but you can barely move. We're healing your body, but you're not recovering. You need more help than they can give you."
Asch shook his head slightly in denial, but the weariness that came over him from that simple movement spoke more truth than he cared to admit. He had nearly died. Had even accepted it. Perhaps that was why he seemed to linger painfully now between life and death. It wasn't willing to let go of him just yet. But Luke was an utter moron in these matters, he shouldn't even know a damned thing about it. Certainly not enough to notice the problem for what it was.
"I don't know how I know," Luke whispered, an eerie golden glint glimmering in the depths of his eyes, "I just do. And somehow I do know how to fix it, or at least, to give you a decent enough boost so that you can fix it on your own. I just..." he trailed off then, looking to the side for a moment in uncertainty before finally nodding to himself, "I just need you to stay awake long enough to stop me in case I screw it up."
Asch could only stare up at him in shock. He couldn't possibly be... but no, he did seem determined enough. But still, Luke had nowhere near the training to do what he was suggesting. Hell, he didn't even know enough crap about anything at all to even know the tiniest damned thing about what he was proposing. So how did he- No, he could wonder about that later, right now he had to stop his idiot replica before he hurt himself. But even as a protest was forming in his mind, a feeling washed over him, instantly sweeping away all such inconsequential concerns. An all-encompassing feeling. Warmth. Safety. Love.
Luke turned back to him now, his eyes no longer twins to his own, but instead a deep, glimmering gold. He smiled down fondly at Asch and brushed his knuckles softly against his cheek.
"I won't hurt you."
"Either of you."
/You must be whole again./
And then he was leaning closer, taking him up into a gentle embrace. A soft golden glow engulfed them both, painting the world in myriad shades of gleaming gold. In the face of this Asch could not muster up any form of resistance, in fact, found himself completely and utterly unwilling to even say no. So instead he simply reached up and held Luke in return, closed his eyes and let himself fall.
It was warm here.
They were safe.
/Is this what it feels like?/ Asch thought sleepily as he felt Luke's presence curl protectively around him. They were floating now, floating again on that strangely familiar sea of gold.
/To be loved?/
/I think so./
/I... I like this feeling./ He admitted hesitantly. More than liked really, but he wasn't quite ready to admit that just yet. Not to anyone. Not even himself.
A chuckle. /Better watch it, or you're gonna start sounding like me soon enough./
Jade hummed thoughtfully to himself as he made his way back from the Tatlins' quarters. Anise had supplied him with ample enough names of interesting individuals around Daath to keep him busy well into the afternoon for the following day. He was quite pleased with this. The more people he had to chat with for information, the more likely it would be to find out something or other about the various activities of Commandant Grants and Grand Maestro Mohs. The first was more of an intrigue at this point, really. Van Grants fate would come soon enough. It was Mohs that was starting to become more of an immediate concern now.
The man's continued absence was beginning to become worrisome. None of the people present in the cathedral seemed to know where he had gotten off to. The Oracle Knights were keeping themselves as tight lipped as always, not that he really needed them to say anything. Their nervous behavior told him more than enough. They didn't know what the Grand Maestro was up to either. That was a problem. He'd rather have such an obvious enemy within reach than off doing Score knew what. And whatever scheme he was off concocting, it would no doubt be quite bothersome for them at one point or another in the near future.
Frankly, the longer they stayed in one spot, the more of a target they became for the circling vultures. If it wasn't Mohs, then it would be Grants. If it wasn't Grants, then it would be the Kimlascans. If it wasn't the Kimlascans, then it may, in fact, turn out to be his own people. Such a bother. They were sitting ducks, as it were, for the moment and he did not like it. Not one bit.
And yet, regardless of the danger, Asch could not be moved. His health teetered on a razor's edge at the moment. All it would take was one upset and everything would come crashing down like a veritable house of cards. If he died, if they allowed him to die... Jade stopped and looked down across the cathedral's entrance hall below. He did not like having all of his eggs in one basket. It left him feeling quite apprehensive. But if all indicators were to be believed, and yes, he did believe them, then the world only had two eggs left to it. And if one cracked... then the other would follow suit.
If Asch died, then Luke would follow him into that endless dream.
And the world would become their funeral pyre.
Logically, Jade knew better than to give in to such romantic notions. But he couldn't deny what his eyes had seen. He couldn't deny what he felt in them. There was a strange sort of power that lurked in their existence, one that could free them all if they could just see their way through. And he would see them through. Even if he had to kill every single thing, living or otherwise, that stood in their way, he would see them through. The world needed to be freed of the shackles placed around it, and they were the key. His key.
He would use them, but he would also care for them. Something that the others would never have even considered. Of that, he was sure. Van Grants had quite obviously failed in that regard as far as Asch was concerned. And he had certainly dropped the ball at Akzeriuth with Luke.
Jade smiled faintly to himself as he turned and continued his trek back to Ion's quarters. Commandant Grants may have started the process, with Dist's help, no doubt, but in the end it was all ultimately a result of his work. His research. He'd be damned if he'd allow anyone else to reap the rewards. They were his children now. Granted, he considered everyone in their group to be his children in one way or another. More or less. But still, there was a possessive sentiment in there somewhere, one that had been growing on him for awhile now. They were his. His responsibility. His... friends. And that was not a concept that Jade Curtiss took lightly.
Frowning, his ponderous ruminations coming to a halt as he entered the Fon Master's outer office, Jade took immediate note of the unnatural golden radiance seeping out from under the bedroom door. Oh dear, now what? Swiftly striding forward, he threw the door open and stepped within.
The Fon Master slept on, his rest undisturbed even by Jade's abrupt entrance. He had either been too exhausted by the day's work or something was encouraging him to stay asleep. Either way, he was only a brief consideration for Jade. As long as Ion stayed that way then he was probably safe. It was the pair on the bed that were the actual problem.
Jade rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he stepped up next to them. Asch was where he was supposed to be. It was Luke who was out of place, sprawled out over the God-General, his legs hanging precariously off of the bed. His head was nestled upon Asch's shoulder, both of their eyes closed as if in slumber. But they were holding on to each other, which spoke of some conscious will buried in there somewhere.
Such a bother.
Sighing in mild annoyance, Jade reached down and was pleased to note that this time the light seemed more than willing to allow him entrance. Good. That was a most welcome development. Trust was a necessary component to their relationship. The more they trusted him, the less they would fight against him. A win-win situation if ever there was one. Humming pleasantly, Jade gave Luke a rather hard shake before he forcibly began to drag him away from Asch. Unfortunately, the God-General's grip on his replica seemed to tighten as he did so, preventing him from separating them completely.
Asch's eyes opened then, gleaming an eerie, but expected, gold as he peered up at Jade. The colonel smiled tightly as he gave Luke a rather pointed tug. "You've done enough now," he said quietly, his voice hard and uncompromising, "Let them go."
The entity known as Lorelei stared up at him for a moment, studying him, perhaps even gauging his worth. Then he smiled softly and released his hold upon them both, allowing them to sink back into the world. To rest.
Jade nodded to himself as the glow died down, bathing the room in deepening shadows as he pulled Luke the rest of the way off of Asch and shook the young man awake. "Luke, what were you doing?" he asked conversationally as he guided him over to his cot, steadying him when it seemed that he might trip himself up.
"Uhm," Luke mumbled sleepily as he reached up to rub wearily at his eyes. He had been doing something? What had he been doing? Oh! Asch! That's right, he had been helping Asch. "I thought I'd give him some of my strength. He needs the extra help, you know."
"Ah, yes, I suppose so," Jade nodded again in agreement as he lowered the drooping, naive idiot down onto the cot. Of course. He should have expected something like that. Leaning down, he draped the covers over Luke and whispered in his ear, his tone clear and dangerous, "Don't do it again. Not unless I am present. Understand?"
"Mmm, sure thing, Jade, whatever you say," Luke murmured as he rolled over and promptly fell asleep.
Jade scowled slightly as he straightened up. He'd have to drive that point home when the young fool was awake enough to understand the severity of his command. He would not allow them to do something so hazardous without his supervision, not again. Lorelei or no Lorelei. He did not appreciate that creature's continued addition to his equation. It was an unknown quantity, one that could prove disastrous if left unchecked.
Shaking his head, Jade turned back to check on Asch and couldn't say that he wasn't pleased by the results of this unexpected development. Even in the dark, he could see that the God-General's color had improved considerably. He was no longer a pale, almost grayish white, instead he now seemed to be just a few steps shy of a healthy glow. One that would no doubt be achieved in the next day or so through continued healing. He was also warm to the touch, not a feverish heat, but the normal warmth of a living being. Something that had been lacking ever since they had arrived.
That... that was good, very good, in fact. Their stay in Daath had just been shortened to days now instead of the weeks he had been dourly projecting. While he was still displeased at this being done without his knowledge, he was content enough with the results. The sooner they could leave, the sooner they would be safe.
And this time, Asch would be going with them. Regardless of his feelings on the subject. He had just become a permanent member of their group, whether he'd realized it yet or not.