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.
Jade looked up from where he was discussing something or other with Ion and Tear and smiled cheerfully as Natalia entered the Fon Master's bedroom. "Good morning, princess," he said pleasantly, "I'm glad you're here. I was beginning to fear that I might have to come fetch you myself."
Natalia blushed slightly at his words. "It's not that late in the morning."
"No, it isn't." Jade's smile turned positively mischievous at her response. "However, events wait for no man or woman, no matter how much we may wish them too."
She nodded slowly at that, a small knot of dread winding its way around inside her stomach. So something was going on, after all. How disheartening. She had hoped they would be able to stay long enough for Asch to fully recover, but apparently that was an impossibility now. Ah well. Natalia was about to inquire over just what exactly was going on, but she made the mistake of glancing over at the bed beforehand. What she saw in that instant completely derailed her entire train of thought. "Anise!" she cried out in pure outrage. So that's where the hairbrush had gotten off to. Really!
The former Guardian and Asch both looked up curiously at her outburst. Anise's right hand frozen in mid-stroke of the brush, the other buried within a cascade of crimson locks. Asch's brows drew together in confusion for a moment before he gave a slight shrug and went back to the task of pulling his gloves on. After yesterday's antics, he just didn't want to know.
Anise glowered at Natalia in mild irritation, her shoulders hunching down a bit in an almost defensive slouch as she asked, "What?"
Natalia marched over to them, her hands upon her hips. "What do you think you're doing?"
"What does it look like?" Anise retorted, rolling her eyes as she started moving the hairbrush again. "I'm brushing his hair. I know that this might come as a shock to you, but even a God-General's hair needs a bit of hands on care every now and then."
"That's not the point," Natalia practically growled as she scowled harshly down at the pair. Really, where did that fool girl get the presumption that she could do... something like that to just anybody, much less to Asch of all people? Did she have no sense of propriety?
Anise smirked knowingly, then very deliberately exaggerated the next brush stroke and wagged a handful of blood red strands at the fuming princess. "Oh, I see what this is. Well, it's not my fault you're too slow on the uptake. If you had wanted to do it, you should have gotten up earlier."
"What?!" The word came out as an almost muted shriek, and somehow or other, despite her severe indignation, Natalia had managed to make it sound somewhat coherent. Unfortunately, anything further instantly became impossible, her infuriated state was strangling her vocal cords. That sneaky, little brat- How dare she even imply-
A quiet, but audible clearing of Asch's throat interrupted the looming cat fight before it could really get underway, causing both of the young women to glance curiously at him. He smiled weakly once he had their undivided attention and opened his mouth to try and attempt to sooth the obvious ruffled feathers, but recoiled an instant later as an imperious finger was pointed directly into his face. What the-
Jade glared down at him, his expression nothing short of forbidding. "No. Talking," the colonel ground out, each word enunciated plainly, promising dire consequences if they were not obeyed. "Don't think that I didn't hear all about that little stunt of yours yesterday. I bet your throat aches today too, thanks to it." He completely ignored the hesitant, bewildered shake of the head from Asch as he continued issuing out his orders, "I don't want to hear a single thing out of you for the next two days. No talking, no clearing your throat, no nothing. You will let it heal up on its own, or I will make you. Am I understood?"
All three of them nodded apprehensively in agreement to his commands. Natalia even going so far as to edge away from him. Really, what else could they do in the face of that? Colonel Curtiss could be awfully frightening when he felt like it.
"Good." And then as if a switch had been flipped, Jade's severe expression practically melted into mild amusement as he glanced pointedly at the former Guardian. "I thought you weren't that sort of girl, Anise?" he teased affably.
She blinked up at him for several long seconds, then scowled in annoyance and resumed working her way through Asch's hair. "Shut up."
"My, but what the world is coming to," he murmured lightly, earning a dark look and a disbelieving snort from the Oracle Knight for his trouble.
Natalia twisted her hands together nervously and eyed the colonel with no small amount of trepidation. But after a short while spent building her courage back up to something she could actually work with, she spoke up, "Uhm, Jade?"
"Yes, princess?" he responded readily enough, giving her an almost blinding smile.
Well, that didn't really settle her nerves any, but still... "What exactly is going on?" she ventured hesitantly, hoping that she was not about to become the target for his amusement. Again.
"Ah, yes. Well, we're getting ready to depart from the sparkling hospitality of Daath," he explained, not that that hadn't already been made painfully obvious to Natalia when she had first entered the room. Asch certainly wouldn't be dressed in his full uniform if they weren't preparing to leave. But still, was he even well enough for this yet?
Jade followed her worried gaze with his eyes, his smile turning even brighter, if that were at all possible. "Do not concern yourself with the well-being of our dear God-General, princess. He believes that he is well enough to make the journey and I am willing to allow it. This time." That comment earned him an almost indignant glare from Asch, but Jade simply continued to smile, completely unconcerned by the results of his usual teasing. He did rather enjoy getting a rise out of them, after all. They made it so easy.
"I see," Natalia murmured, chewing on her bottom lip in thought before deciding that it was worth the further risk of his bizarre sense of humor to obtain the rest of the information she was curious about. "And we are doing this because?"
"I'm sure you saw the unusual activity in the cathedral's entrance hall," Jade stated plainly, his face turning serious as he waited for her answering nod. "It seems as if Grand Maestro Mohs returned to the cathedral sometime during the night. And unfortunately, he apparently brought complications with him. A Kimlascan battleship pulled into the harbor a few hours shy of first light. I don't think I need to explain my reasoning any further for wanting to leave as soon as possible."
Natalia blanched and silently shook her head. She certainly had no wish to be involved in a confrontation with her kinsmen, regardless of whether she was their princess or not. They were still her people. It hurt to see them harmed. And it hurt even more to be... hated by them. Yes, it would be best to avoid them, if at all possible.
"But Noelle is safe, right?" Luke asked worriedly as he and Guy joined the group. They had already gotten the plucky aviator into enough trouble as it was. He didn't want to see her get threatened again just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Of course," Jade replied casually, waving a hand vaguely into the air as if the question wasn't even worth his consideration. "I had her move the Albiore to a more secure location two days ago. I had absolutely no intention of repeating the unpleasant events from our last visit to Daath."
"That's good then," Tear murmured in relief as she and Ion joined them as well.
Jade smiled tightly as he looked around at the group. They were almost ready now. "We'll go through the Oracle Knight Headquarters instead of the usual route. They won't be expecting us to go that way, so there shouldn't be too much resistance. Perhaps just a few trainees at best, nothing too difficult."
Anise and Asch both nodded their agreement to that. There just weren't that many of the Oracle Knights left in Daath thanks to the Commandant's abrupt defection, as it were. And without a God-General who knew what they were doing leading them, the knights' strength and numbers would be ill equipped to deal with such a blindingly obvious path of escape. The Grand Maestro might be a loathsome, conniving sort of man, but he was a far cry from being any sort of capable tactician. They should be able to make their escape with little trouble.
/If there's fighting.../
Asch glanced up at that half formed thought and found Luke frowning down at him worriedly. /I will be fine./
/I'm sure you will,/ Luke scowled at him and crossed his arms. /But don't overdo it. You may be able to fool the others, but you can't fool me. You're still pretty weak./
Asch looked away in mounting irritation. /I can take care of myself./
/I know you can./ Luke grimaced, but refused to let this go. /So can I for that matter. But I'm still going to help you whether you want me to or not. So please, be careful./
His only answer was a sense of annoyance that was swiftly turning into anger.
/Look, neither of us can do everything. Even I need help, damnit./ Luke sighed silently in frustration. Even now, they still had their sore points. /I just... I can't go through this again. Please, just be careful?/
The annoyed anger fizzled out instantly in the face of his plea and Asch glanced back at him hesitantly. /...Fine./
/Thank you./ Luke let out a quiet breath of relief.
/But that goes double for you./ Asch scowled up at him pointedly. /You do have an alarming tendency of not paying attention./
/Whatever./ Luke rolled his eyes. Trust Asch to turn it right back around on him.
/If you die, then I will go with you./
Luke froze at that thought and met Asch's solemn gaze in aghast horror. He hadn't thought...
/It goes both ways, you idiot./
/There is no but, there is only certainty. As long as you remain, I will continue. If you depart, then I don't see much point in staying./
Asch closed his eyes and sighed wearily. /I'm tired, Luke. So very tired. I can't do this on my own anymore. I do need your help, whether I will admit to it or not./
/...All right. I... I guess we'll help each other out then from now on./ Luke smiled weakly and fidgeted.
Asch smiled softly in return and nodded. /Yes. We will./