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.
"What are you smirking about?" Tear asked suspiciously as she carefully unwound the bandages from around Asch's neck, smiling her thanks when Natalia lifted his hair up out of the way. "Did Luke say something stupid?"
Asch merely gave her a pointed look in return.
"Right," Tear chuckled lightly and shook her head ruefully. "I guess that question is rather redundant."
Asch shrugged minutely in response, tilting his chin back as she gingerly pulled the last of the bandages off. He didn't need to see it to know that his neck was nothing short of gruesome. There had already been several cuts there even before Van had wrapped that Score be damned rope around it. And as much as he didn't care to remember, he could vividly recall the horrific burn of abraded skin as he had tried to fight his way free of it, much less to just breathe. It was certainly one of the more wretched memories he had to add to the ever growing pile of disgust in his mind. Misery certainly did have its way of racking up.
Tear frowned nervously as she reached forward and gently ran her fingertips over the wounds, searching for where the main problem area might be. She had been sure she had healed more than this before, but then, she had been so focused on just getting him to breathe that the surface had been the least of her concerns. She shook her head sadly at her thoughts. To have put so much power into her spell and to have none of it show up on the exterior skin spoke quite loudly of just how severe the damage must have been. Was it any wonder that he was still having problems with it? It must hurt terribly.
"Is the pain very great?" She asked hesitantly.
He flicked his eyes off to the side, towards where Natalia was sitting behind him, watching the proceedings with intense, if blatantly worried, interest. Then he looked back at her and shook his head vaguely in answer.
Tear couldn't resist a small smile at that. Asch and Luke really were quite alike in that regard. They always seemed to want to put the concerns of the people they cared about above their own pain, their own misery. It was quite noble, and so frustratingly idiotic at times. She really was not looking forward to having to rein the two of them in from here on out. But then again, surely Natalia was over her initial apprehension at being around Asch by now and would help her whack some sense into them whenever it became necessary. And it would, of that she had little doubt.
"My my, what's this?" Jade purred as he breezed into the room, raking them all with a calculating gaze before turning deliberately towards Tear and smiling pleasantly down at her. "What seems to be the problem?"
"He can't talk," she explained simply.
"Ah, well," he tsked as he reached up to rub his chin thoughtfully, "I can't really say that's much of a surprise. Do please remember how much raw power you had to put out initially just to get him to start breathing again. Knowing that, can you really say that it's shocking for there to be further complications?"
"Well, no," Tear sighed unhappily and hung her head in self-imposed shame, "But I think this particular complication might actually be my fault."
"What?" Natalia cried in surprise as she peered over Asch's shoulder at Tear. "What do you mean?"
"It's just," Tear muttered dismally as she looked up, catching Asch's bewildered gaze, "I wasn't really paying attention to anything else at the time. I was just trying to get you to breathe because you weren't, so I think that I might have... messed it up a bit."
"Yes, that would stand to reason," Jade nodded sagely, then added, "But you really shouldn't hold it against yourself, my dear. If you had acted any differently he would most likely be pushing up daisies by now, as they say."
"I suppose. It's just... I'm sorry." She glanced down and sighed again at her own idiocy. She should have been paying better attention in the first place. She shouldn't have lost her head like that. She should have healed it properly from the outset. Now there would just be more pain. And it was entirely her fault. Shaking her head in disgust at herself, she looked back up and found Asch staring at her solemnly. "I am sorry about this."
He shook his head and shrugged. There was no point in her apologizing for something that had, no doubt, saved his life. At the very least, her efforts had given them time, time enough to find something to hold on to. Time enough to find a way back from that forlorn place, back from the ocean where hope went to die. Perhaps he should be thanking her instead.
Tear gave herself a little shake then and nodded decisively. "Regardless, it can be fixed. It... it's just going to be a painful, but quick, procedure. The problem is that I healed a few things ahead of other important things and now they're blocking the way. I'm basically going to have to rip those things apart to put it all back into place."
Asch nodded his understanding and fought down a grimace. It all made perfect sense, and he was more than willing to suffer through it if he would be able to talk again afterwards. But it wasn't just his problem anymore...
/Don't worry about me./
/It will hurt./
/I know. But it needs to be done./
Tear hummed grimly to herself as she studied his neck, gauging where she should start first, then glanced up at him and asked, "Would you rather we wait to do this until Luke gets back?"
/Heh, Tear's a smart lady. But it doesn't really matter./
/You're always here./
Asch smiled softly and shook his head in answer. Distance meant nothing to them now. He doubted he could remove himself from Luke at this point even if he tried. And... he didn't really want to. It was nice to not be alone for once.
/No, never again./
Tear blew out a heavy breath and steeled herself for what was to come. This was going to be excruciatingly difficult, especially with the added knowledge that she would be causing a great deal of pain in the process. But she wouldn't fail, not this time. "All right, since we're going to do this, I want to go ahead and heal all of it." Glancing over his shoulder, she caught Natalia's eye. "Brace him if it looks like it's getting to be too much, I don't want any pressure on any of it until it's all been healed."
Natalia nodded her acceptance, scooted closer and lay a tentative hand on his back. She didn't want to see him in pain, but it could be weathered. It wouldn't be anywhere near as bad as... No, she wouldn't think about that right now. And hopefully, she wouldn't have to think about it ever again, not if she could help it. She wouldn't allow anything like this to happen ever again, not to any of them.
"Are you ready?" Tear asked gravely, waiting for his answering nod before wrapping both of her hands loosely around his neck. "Then let's begin. The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over with."
At first there was only the familiar wash of seventh fonons, a warm sensation they had both gotten used to in the very recent past. But then there was a probing touch amidst the warmth, a searching contact, and finally a tearing that had them both flinching back instinctively from the agony, expected though it might have been. But pain was always pain, regardless.
/Ow./ Luke managed with no small amount of difficulty as he let himself slide bonelessly to the floor in the God-General's quarters, Asch's spare sword held rigidly in his grasp.
/I can't breathe./
Asch hands whipped up, grabbing desperately at Tear's wrists. He could feel Natalia leaning up against him, offering him what little comfort and support that she could in the face of his suffering. But they couldn't breathe.
"I know," Tear mumbled, her voice hazy and vague, "Just hold on a little longer, I'm almost done."
Luke curled up on his side, his vision blurring as the torment cascaded over him, and wondered briefly if he would pass out before she was through. /Please, hurry./
And then the agony abruptly stopped and they both took a shuddering breath, coughing raggedly a second later as their bodies protested the previous lack of air.
/Ow,/ Luke said again as he hugged his knees close against himself, /Let's never do that again./
/Agreed./ Asch thought back as he leaned over, bracing himself on his hands. That was not something he ever wanted to experience again, and certainly not something he ever wanted to inflict on Luke again either.
/It's not your fault,/ Luke murmured softly.
/Doesn't matter,/ Asch said flatly.
/Right, whatever./ Luke rolled his eyes as he carefully picked himself up off of the floor and wearily went back to getting clothes for his contrary original.
Asch sighed soundlessly at that, then realized that someone was stroking his hair soothingly. Tear smiled down at him sadly when he looked up at her. "I'm so sorry."
He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but she was reaching down, covering his lips with shaking fingers before he could even manage a single word.
"Don't," she whispered tremulously, doing her best to stop the shaking. It had worked. She had been successful. So why was she having so much trouble with her reactions now? It was over, damnit. "Not yet. Give it a few more days to finish healing up on its own before you start talking again. I... I don't want to have to do that all over again."
He nodded his understanding and straightened up. As long as it was healed properly, was healing, then he could wait just a little while longer. At the very least, he could get Luke to speak for him in the meantime if it became absolutely necessary.
"Well," Jade piped up cheerfully, giving all three of them something of start as he stepped up next to the bed. "Now that that pleasant business is over with, why don't the three of you take care of the rest while you're at it?"
"What?" Natalia asked in confusion as the grinning colonel handed her a pair of scissors.
"The rest of the stitches, princess," Jade explained happily, "Please take them out and heal the wounds up. I would very much like for our dear God-General to be in one piece before nightfall tonight."
"Oh," Natalia blinked blankly, grasping the scissors tightly as he turned and walked away. Still blinking curiously, she glanced over at Tear questioningly. My, but Colonel Curtiss could be quite sudden at times.
Tear merely shrugged and shook her head. Knowing Jade, there really was no telling.
Luke sighed heavily, rubbing at his throat unconsciously with one hand while he looped the sword's belt over his shoulder with the other. You never know when you might need a spare. He shook his head, brushing that thought and its unwanted follow up to the side. Van took the other one. No, he wouldn't think about that right now. That cursed night was far too close to the surface in their minds at the moment, and they both hurt more than enough as is. They didn't need the added pain of those dark, hateful memories to bog them down even further.
Shuddering slightly, he hugged himself and looked around the room. Too empty. Too cold. He shouldn't be here right now. He didn't need to be here right now. This place just dredged up unhappy memories, memories that were better left buried. They all led to the same place anyway, one hellish courtyard and a bloody rope.
Shaking his head forcefully, Luke bent down and picked up the rather substantial stack of clothes he had gathered up and purposefully turned his back on the living quarters of Asch the Bloody. He would never come back here. Neither of them would. This place was just a memory now. And it would stay that way.