by Meimi


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: After Rem.


Upon waking Luke shivered, groped around blindly for the blankets and pulled them up to his chin. He couldn't account for it being so cold, Jade usually did something before laying down that made the heat linger well into the morning. But... then again, he wasn't with the others right now, was he? Luke squinched his nose up and tucked the covers up over it as he cracked his eyes open. Little had changed from the night before. The room was a tad bit lighter from the dawn light seeping in, but otherwise unchanged. Asch still lay across from in the bed, sound asleep by all accounts and appearing as if he had moved very little over the course of the night. He still looked... exhausted, but after last night's unexpected and thoroughly unwelcome revelation, Luke supposed that wouldn't change anytime soon, if at all.

Of course, he hadn't expected to run across Asch yesterday. Then again, they never expected to run into Asch, it just invariably happened from time to time. Not that the others knew he was nearby. At this point they probably didn't even know where he was. Luke winced slightly at the thought, but refused to allow himself to feel guilty about it. Not this time. This was too important, even if some of them might not agree with him on that point. Frankly, they'd probably just tell him that he was imagining things. But he knew that he wasn't. Not about this.

Not about him.

He almost, almost allowed himself to think that it was just yet another agonizing bit of unpleasantness to rise from what had happened at the Tower of Rem. It would certainly be the veritable icing on the top of his inescapable cake. But he couldn't, he couldn't allow himself to be so stupid and blind to the obvious. Not anymore. And it was all so very dreadfully obvious now that he knew what to look for. It took a certain type of person to be so willing to sacrifice themselves for anything, much less the fate of the world. And while he knew that Asch had those qualities buried in his psyche -or perhaps not as buried as they might have assumed-, it didn't add up with someone who had so recently said that he wasn't eager to die. Not unless, of course, he already knew that his days were numbered to begin with.

It did beg the question though: how long had he known? And that... that was a question he wasn't really sure he wanted the answer to. Because now, now he could remove himself from everything, if just enough, to look back at all the hellish events surrounding Akzeriuth without letting his own feelings color his recollection too much. His mind was clearer now, at least, and with that telling difference he could look that much closer at everything that had happened afterwards. And in so doing it became very clear to him that Asch had very deliberately not flinched when the others had been discussing the "side effects" of fomicry after they had discovered the cheagle and its replica. And looking at it from this new angle, it was painfully obvious that Asch had most definitely goaded him in an attempt to change the subject, and he had fallen for it so readily.

It made him wonder just how long Asch had been doing that to get quite so good at it. And he was, Asch was very good at changing the subject. Frankly, now that he thought about it, Luke wondered whether it was even deliberate anymore. It sure didn't seem that way at times. But looking back now, he could almost say that many of Asch's actions seemed much more planned than they had at the time. But were they really? Or was it all just instinctive by this point? Everything that Asch did, every action, every reaction, they all had a distinct purpose: to keep people at bay. It was a painful purpose, but it was becoming apparent now that he actually looked for it. And as long as people were held at a distance, then they wouldn't ask questions, they wouldn't look too close. No one would notice anything out of the ordinary because they wouldn't have the chance. Had he done it on purpose, or had he just become that way over time? Now that, that was not a question he wanted an answer to. Their present reality was more than answer enough.

Asch was alone. By design or otherwise, it didn't change the fact that he was very much alone. And that was not something that Luke could countenance. Not anymore. Now that he knew the cost for it, he just... couldn't let it pass. It wasn't right. It would never be right, but perhaps he could make it a little more bearable. Somehow.

He had to try.

Of course, he'd certainly have a fight on his hands over that. He had absolutely no illusions about that particular point. And while there hadn't been much of one the previous night, he wouldn't count on that reprieve lasting for long. Asch had been thoroughly worn down the night before, and had probably been skirting the prospect of blacking out for all intent and purpose. Thus it couldn't be considered much of a surprise that he had only given a short snarl at Luke for barging in on him, had only barely mustered up the ghost of an argument to Luke's continued prodding, and had even only managed the most cursory of protests when Luke had abruptly crawled into bed with him. He had been in desperate need of the rest, that much had been crystal clear. And he would probably need much more than he would allow himself in the coming days.

They still had so very much left to do.

Luke sighed sadly as he snaked an arm out from beneath the covers and reached across the short distance separating them, hesitating for a moment before brushing a few fallen strands of hair out of Asch's face. He wanted to cross that divide, to settle the many hurtful things that kept them separated, but he knew that task would take more than one single night to work through. In fact, it may take the lifetime that neither of them had to succeed in that simple wish, perhaps even more. But he had to start somewhere, so he'd start here. Which meant that he would have to make his own sacrifices now. Painful ones.

Luke doubted very much that Asch would be willing to travel with their group. Frankly, he'd put good money on Asch protesting the very idea as vehemently as possible. That little fact didn't leave him much recourse. He'd have to part company with the people who had made his life something worth living for the past few months if he truly wanted to do this. He honestly didn't know if he was capable of doing that, but he would have to. And Asch would definitely not make it any easier on him. But then again, last night he had quite unwittingly stumbled upon the easiest way to avoid the vast majority of Asch's protests to the contrary: don't ask. Simply not giving Asch the opportunity to say "no" worked wonders. True, he'd still grumble about it, but if it was taken out of his hands he apparently didn't see much reason in bitching at length about it the way he usually did. It would make his decision easier, but only just.

It would still hurt.

He couldn't escape that. It would hurt like nothing else to leave them behind, and he knew that it would hurt them too. He hadn't managed to beat himself down enough emotionally to ignore that simple truth. They would understand, at least he hoped they would, but it wouldn't change the fact that it would be an extremely painful parting. And then there was Asch. He would see the entire process as an unnecessary, and undoubtedly cruel, experience to put them all through. He certainly wouldn't want Luke tagging along with him afterwards either. Yes, the next few days would probably prove to be some of the most excruciatingly painful ones he had ever experienced to date. But in the long run, it would be worth it. He would make it worth it.

Asch might be willing to let himself fade into obscurity, but he wasn't. His life and his death would matter, even if it was just to him. He wasn't someone to be forgotten. He wouldn't allow that, no matter how much Asch might want it to be otherwise. There were just some things that couldn't, and wouldn't, be accepted, and allowing him to fall to such a point, as if he had never even existed, was quite high on that list of things that would not be.

Really, there wasn't much of a decision to make in the end. His immediate future might be an excruciatingly painful one, but it could be weathered. It would be tolerated. The chance to make this difference was too important to waste on his own personal comfort.

They had so little time left.

Luke smiled bitterly as he nosed his way out from under the blankets. He had been so intent upon dwelling on all the things he hadn't done yet, all the things he wouldn't have a chance to do, that he had blithely missed what was most important. There were many things in the world that he would never be able to do regardless of how long he lived. There were even people who lived out their entire lives not even pausing to consider those things he had silently been bemoaning the lost chance to do. Which should have told him all that he needed to know. It didn't matter, none of it did. The world was nice and all, but when compared to his friends, his family, the people he... loved, then it fell monumentally short. Oh, he'd still save it, if he could, but he wouldn't much regret the loss of it when his time came. There were more important things to regret.

Lost opportunities, for a start. But they wouldn't be lost for much longer, not now and certainly never again. He knew what they were now; and he wouldn't waste anymore of their precious time on his own insecurities. Time enough for him to regrow his backbone, as the saying went.

Asch shifted slightly as Luke dared to ghost his fingertips down across his cheek. Oh dear, it looked as if their newfound peace wasn't going to last much longer. Pity. Still... Luke couldn't resist a small, little grin of pure delight as Asch blinked sleepily at him. At least in this single moment, they still lived.

Asch squinted at him suspiciously for several seconds, then glanced wearily around the room before finally allowing his gaze to settle back on Luke. He grimaced and closed his eyes again, curling his right arm up further beneath the pillow as he asked irritably, "Why are you still here?"

"I fell asleep," Luke answered innocently enough. It was a truthful statement for the most part, even if it didn't even touch upon the reasons why he had stayed long enough to fall asleep. He seriously doubted that either of them were anywhere near being ready for that amount of honesty.

"Feel free to leave at any time then," Asch grumbled halfheartedly as he turned his face further into the pillow, his hair falling back across his face from where Luke had pushed it aside. It appeared as if some actions were entirely pointless, though Luke certainly wouldn't deny himself the chance to touch Asch again, whether his gesture ultimately ended up being pointless or not.

"It's barely light out," Luke said softly, unwillingly to break the peace that somehow still lingered between them. It was a rare occurrence, and one that should be relished. "I don't think anyone would mind if we caught a few more hours of sleep."

"I suppose," Asch mumbled into the pillow, though he did crack one eye open long enough to deliver something of a warning, "I refuse to accept the blame for this when your friends finally manage to track you down."

Luke chuckled lightly, "I wouldn't expect you to."

Asch grunted noncommittally at that, but didn't comment further. Instead he merely relaxed and allowed the exhaustion to drag him back down. He rarely got the chance to rest like this. Thus when the opportunity arose, it was like a godsend, regardless of idiot replicas bugging him about the inconsequential details of their pointless lives. He could hand the moron back to his keepers later, right now he just wanted to sleep.

Luke simply smiled and lay there, watching over Asch as he found his rest once more. He supposed that he could go back to sleep as well, but he didn't really feel like it right now. Watching Asch when he was like this was a far more appealing task anyway. Granted, he didn't like the ever present weariness. How could he now that he knew what it signified? But it could be tolerated. It could all be tolerated as long as they were together. Now if he could just find a way to get that point across to Asch, then everything would be perfect, even if it never really could be.

Shaking his head slightly at his own bitter-tinged bemusement, Luke reached forward again and loosely wrapped his fingers around Asch's left hand. "I've decided on what to do now," he whispered quietly, "And I'll do my best in the little time left to us to see it through. I'll find a way to make you happy."

Even if it is just for a little while.