Spoilers for after the Tower of Rem and destroying the miasma.


The inn at midnight was not completely dark, enough light from the streetlamps seeping in through the curtains to be irritating. Jade was a soldier and a seasoned traveler, though, so that shouldn't have bothered him. Yet here he was, still awake, staring listlessly at the wooden ceiling and listening to the soft sound of Luke and Guy's breathing.

Jade shifted onto his side, away from the window and the other two beds. Today... had been undoubtedly one of the worst he'd had in a while. It had begun with Luke trying to sacrifice himself to destroy the miasma, culminated with his miraculous escape from death, and ended with the information that he was going to die anyway. It still felt somewhat surreal. There Luke was, safe in bed, the miasma gone; but within a few weeks or months he would be gone as well.

The colonel was not sure what to think. He had resigned himself to Luke's death the day before, but somehow now he was completely lost for what to feel. He thought back to the conversation they had shared on that bridge far above the floor of the Daath cathedral. There, he had called Luke a friend. The boy had been surprised, and Jade couldn't blame him. He was surprised at himself for admitting it so freely. But the fact remained that it was true, and it scared him a little.

Jade had never had many friends. There had been Dist once, he supposed, though he detested admitting that even now. For many years the Emperor had been his only companion. Peony was enough of a handful to occupy him, of course, but he hadn't realized how... empty his life had felt until he met Luke and the others.

Looking back, that boy's effect on him had been a very gradual process. In the beginning, Luke was no more than a nuisance and Jade had been happy to be rid of him after Akzeriuth. But when they met up again... he could see that the boy was genuinely trying to change. Though considering his past attitude, he would have liked to wash his hands of the snotty brat, Jade knew from bitter experience how people could be horrible in their youth but manage to change (somewhat) for the better. So the Colonel gave Luke a chance.

Jade knew now that it had been one of his few better decisions. The redhead had risen admirably to the task, soon becoming only a shadow of his former obnoxious self. He still had a rather annoying lack of self-confidence, but then everyone in their group had faults. Jade had to admit he was the most neurotic of them all—he was just old enough that the others could not really rebuke him for it.

...That was the problem, wasn't it. He was the adult. Though he poked and teased and sometimes acted in a manner more childish than Anise, in the end he was the responsible one. But Jade knew he was by far the wrong person for that position. He had a difficult enough time managing himself without also having to govern the actions of five children and a baby cheagle. As the oldest and as the brains of the group, he felt accountable for the decisions the party made, yet ultimately... it seemed the burden of those decisions was shoved on Luke and the others.

Jade put a hand to his temple, feeling a strange pressure beginning to build behind his eyes. He had no one to blame for this situation but himself. He had invented fomicry. His hatred of explanations, and a tiny bit of wanting to spare Luke's feelings, had prevented him from telling the redhead his true heritage, which eventually destroyed Akzeriuth. His cold, rational logic and inability to control his tongue had planted that mad idea of sacrifice into the boy's head.

He shifted onto his back again, hair spilling messily across the pillow, the light from the window catching his red eyes and giving them a strange glistening glow. He had to admit the truth. Luke was dying. He was going to vanish, atom by atom, fonon by fonon, until only empty air remained. Luke was going to die, and it was his fault.

The pressure in his head grew more intense, followed by an irritating tickling sensation. Frowning, Jade rubbed his hand across his nose and below his eyes.

How odd... he thought, as his fingers came away wet. I'm crying...


A/N: While looking up words to use for the title, I was surprised to learn that 'albatross' had a secondary meaning of 'a seemingly inescapable moral or emotional burden, as of guilt or responsibility.' I can only assume this comes from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, and though it's a bit of an obscure reference, I thought it would work well for the title here.