A.N: First off, to stave off any strange reviews like the few I received last time I wrote about these two—They are just friends. Thank you. :P

This contains spoilers until the end of the game, so be warned!


Conviction


It was late when he walked back through the door of the Malkuth-side inn, the moonlit world vaguely fuzzy around the edges. He knew he was slightly tipsy, but years had taught him his limits and he was confident that it would not impair his performance tomorrow. It would not do to head into the final battle with a hangover, after all.

Jade was very tired, however. The stress of the journey was catching up to him, or perhaps it was just the alcohol speaking. But he would be very grateful in some ways when the journey was over. He'd have to take a vacation when he returned home; preferably one that was spent sleeping in until noon. He figured he owed it to himself.

In other ways, though, he was much more grim.

Quickly shaking off that line of thought before it truly began, he began climbing the creaking wooden stairs to the second floor of the inn. He, Luke, and Guy had been assigned one room, while Tear had been paired with Anise and Natalia with Noelle in two-person rooms. Passing the first closed door, he continued down the corridor

The next door was to Anise's room, and he paused before it momentarily. Sometime during the journey, he had developed the habit of checking on the little girl before going to sleep himself. Whether it was caused by some repressed fatherly instinct or the simple desire to ensure she wasn't up to anything that would kill them all in their beds was something even he was unsure of. However, the precedent was there, and Jade decided that it would not do to break tradition on their last day together. He pushed the door slightly ajar, peering into the room.

Tear's bed was empty, as he had somewhat expected, indicating that she and Luke were still out somewhere hopefully not doing anything they would regret later. What did startle him was that Anise's bed was empty as well. The covers had been pulled back as though she had attempted to use it but given up in frustration. There was no sight of her in the room now. Frowning, Jade pushed the door open wider and stepped inside.

The window at the far end of the room was open, curtains blowing in the slight night breeze. Now he saw the missing girl's location. Anise sat on the edge of the slanted roof just outside, knees drawn up to her chest. She appeared to be using her swimsuit as a nightgown. Her hair was released from her usual pigtails and hung loose and tangled down her back. Tokunaga was cradled in her lap, its mismatched eyes staring blankly off into the distance just like his owner's.

Jade moved closer to the window, boots noiseless on the carpet. He placed his hands on the sill. "I didn't expect you to be up, Anise."

Startled, she whirled around, staring up at him standing on the other side of the window. Seeing it who it was, though, she relaxed again. "Hello, Colonel..."

He smiled back at her. "I thought I told you to go to bed?"

"I tried, but I just couldn't," she replied, and turned back to the view. "I... I just kept thinking..."

"That can be a dangerous pastime," Jade agreed. When she did not answer he stood watching her for a moment, then walked forward and pulled himself over the windowsill. Moving carefully across the shingles, he sank down onto the roof beside her. He looked very odd, a military man in his mid-thirties perched on the edge of a rooftop, legs swinging freely over the dingy alley below. Anise, however, gave him only a slight glance before turning back to the moon.

"Well, are you going to tell me what's bothering you, or should we have a guessing game?" Jade asked finally. "I've always enjoyed twenty questions, though usually more when I'm the one with the knowledge. The questioner ends up explaining the answer to himself."

This did not elicit so much as a giggle from Anise, and Jade frowned. "Now I know something is up. You were so bubbly earlier tonight."

"I'm sorry, Colonel..." she replied quietly. "I'm just thinking... tomorrow might be the last day we're all together..."

"Well, I suppose we will go our separate ways afterward," he replied, shrugging. "But that can't be helped. We all have very different lives."

"That's not what I meant and you know it," Anise replied, hugging her knees more tightly. "Well, I'm sure you'll be all right, but I'm not so sure that the rest of us... that I'll... make it out of there..."

"If you have a defeatist attitude like that, then of course you won't," Jade said, with an easy smile. "Look on the bright side! Think of all the gald and treasures you can collect in Eldrant. I'm sure Hod had some pretty nice things that will be replicated along with the city."

"I suppose it isn't like you to take something seriously..." Anise said with a sigh.

"Of course I'm serious, Anise," Jade said, allowing the amusement to bleed out of his tone. "I know it will be dangerous. But being too serious is just counterproductive. If you think you'll fail, you will. "

"Maybe," Anise said. She rested her chin on her knees, crushing Tokunaga to her chest.

"Now, tell me what's bothering you," Jade said, in a gentle but firm tone that he only seemed to use around her. "Cloudy minds interfere with your fonic artes, you know. You need to be in top form tomorrow."

"It's just... I..." her eyes lowered to the ground. "Why do you still care about me, Colonel? I don't deserve to be here. I'm a hypocrite and a traitor."

Jade remained silent, waiting for her to continue. Her head sank further onto her knees. "I treated Luke so horribly after Akzeriuth... while all the time I was selling you guys out to Mohs... I killed Ion... and then I treated Arietta badly and killed her too! I was the one who should have lost." Her eyes squeezed shut. "I don't deserve to be here..."

Jade waited for a moment longer, but she remained silent. With a sigh, he reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Everyone makes mistakes while they are young, Anise," he said quietly. "Sometimes it's hard to see beyond yourself and realize the consequences of your actions. But now you do realize them, don't you? You're feeling guilty because you see what you did wrong."

"Yeah..." Anise said. "I can see what I did wrong... but now I don't know how I can make it right."

"Maybe you can't," Jade said. "But you'll have to live with that, just like Luke is doing. Keep living and keep helping others, to make up for your mistakes. "

"I guess so..." She lifted her head and smiled at him. "Colonel... why are you always so kind to me?"

"Me? Kind?" said Jade, raising an eyebrow. "You must be thinking of someone else."

She ignored him. "It's true, though. You listen to me, you seem to tease me more gently than you do the others... and you're the only one who takes Tokunaga seriously. You treat me more like an adult than they do."

Jade paused for a moment. "Well, Anise, it's not that exactly," he admitted finally. "It's more because I realize that you're a child that I can see past that. The others are still children themselves, you know, though they probably wouldn't be happy to hear me say that."

"Yeah... Tear is only three years older than I am," Anise agreed. "But she tries to act like she's your age or something."

"It may be subconsciously, Anise, but the others probably treat you differently because they're afraid of being labeled children themselves." His glasses glinted in the moonlight. "Tear, Guy, Natalia, and Luke all work very hard to be seen as grown up... though in Luke's case, it fails miserably."

Anise giggled slightly. "I guess..."

"You try to act too grown-up too, sometimes," Jade admonished her. "You're only young once, you know. You should keep enjoying it."

"You're as young as you feel, Colonel," Anise replied. "You should know that."

He adjusted his glasses, smiling. "I'll admit, I don't always act my age. Being around you youngsters must be a bad influence on me..."

"You always act like that, Colonel, don't pin the blame on us," Anise replied, folding her arms. "But... that's what makes you so cool. You go your own way and don't care about what anybody else thinks. I wish I could be like you..."

Jade frowned, his demeanor suddenly turning serious. "Anise, you put far too much faith in me," he said. "I'm not someone you ought to be looking up to."

"Why not?" Anise replied, somewhat confused at his reaction. "You're strong, you're smart, you know the answers to everything..."

"Just because I have more brain cells than Luke doesn't mean I'm omniscient," he replied, his usual smile flickering back onto his face. It was gone a moment later, however. "I've done a lot of things in my life that I now wish I could erase."

"What, you mean like fomicry?" She shook her head. "Sure, that can be used for bad things, but it can be used for good things, too! Look at Luke, and Ion! Would you rather they never existed?"

"No," Jade replied. "But many more people have been affected negatively by fomicry than those few who benefited."

Anise put her hands on her hips. "People invent things; it's how the world works. But they're just things. It's how you use them that is right or wrong. Anything can be used for something bad, you know. I mean, you use pencils to write with, but I could also use one to stab you in the eye if I wanted."

"Rather graphic metaphor there," Jade commented.

Anise stuck out her tongue. "I've been hanging around with you too much."

"Yes, you have," Jade said seriously, and Anise pouted, unhappy that he had managed to move the subject back to this. "Anise, I'm not a good role-model. When I was your age..." He paused, looking out across the rooftops. "Back then, I had very little regard for anything, especially life and death. I didn't understand their true value. I killed things for fun, I toyed with the lives of those around me... And I'm not sure that I've really changed."

Anise frowned, glancing at him. His face was shadowed, only his red eyes catching the glow from the moon. "I think you've changed," she said finally. "I mean, we're your friends, right? You care about us... You'd be sad if something happened to us tomorrow, wouldn't you?"

He was silent. "...I would like to hope so," he answered finally.

Anise fumed. "Well, you'd better be! Because I'd be really sad if something happened to you, you know! And so would everyone else!"

"Would they, now?" Jade said. "Well, I'll take your word for it."

"You'd better, because I'm right." Anise folded her arms. "And back to what you were saying... so what if you were a jerk as a kid? You aren't one now... well... maybe you still are but it's in a different way. And I think that just makes you a better role model, because it shows that people can change. That I can change."

"I still don't think I'm someone you should emulate," Jade replied.

"Well, fine then!" Anise said, still sounding angry. "Maybe I won't try to be like you, but I'm still going to respect you because you're my friend and you're probably... probably the best one I have now that Ion..." Her voice cracked, and she stopped talking.

"Anise..." Jade began, alarmed by the girl's abrupt mood shift. She looked on the verge of tears. He reached out a hand toward her but she preempted him, rising suddenly and hugging him tightly around the middle. She buried her face in the uniform coat to stifle the tears. Startled, he went momentarily rigid, but then returned the gesture by wrapping his arms around her shoulders.

"So what is really troubling you?" he asked quietly, as her shoulders heaved from holding back her emotions. "Are you afraid of dying, or feeling guilty and unworthy of my friendship, or just not wanting our journey to end?"

"All... all three," Anise replied, and then added, barely audibly, "because... all three would mean that I couldn't see you anymore..."

"Well, firstly, you're not going to die because I'm not going to allow it, so that won't be an issue." Jade replied, with the air of one reciting something mundane like a grocery list. "And if I die, than most likely the rest of the group is going down soon anyway."

"You're so very confident with yourself," Anise replied dryly, her voice slightly muffled by his uniform.

"Of course," said Jade airily. "And as for the second worry, everyone has already forgiven you for your mistakes so you shouldn't even be dwelling on them anymore. Ion would be sad if he saw you moping, after all."

"I guess so..."

"And as for the last point..." He smiled at her. "It's true that after this, we'll have to separate. You have to go back to Daath and I to Grand Chokmah, after all." Anise's hug tightened. "But do you really think that is going to change anything? As you said, we're friends. Something as trivial as a few hundred miles of ocean isn't going to stop that."

Anise shifted so that she could look up into his face. Her cheeks were slightly damp. "Promise you'll come and visit me once this is over?"

"Of course," he replied. "As long as you promise to come visit me sometimes, as well."

"It's a deal, then," she said, sounding much happier now. She held the hug for a few more seconds before finally pulling back. There was a large red mark on her cheek where it had pressed into one of his buttons. Then she wrinkled her nose. "You smell like alcohol," she said, folding her arms and giving him a mock scandalized expression. "No wonder you're acting so nice and actually explaining what you're thinking. You're drunk, Colonel."

"Merely tipsy, but perhaps you're right," Jade replied. "I should probably stop talking before I irreparably damage my image."

"You really should know better than to drink before a mission like this," Anise said, wagging a finger at him.

"On the contrary, a man would be crazy if he did not feel the need to indulge before attempting what we will be doing," Jade said. "But don't worry, Anise. I'm a responsible adult, despite all evidence to the contrary. I'm perfectly fine and it won't be affecting my ability tomorrow."

"It better not," Anise replied. "I'm not going to cover for you if you have too bad of a hangover to cast!"

"And I won't cover for you if you collapse from exhaustion because you stayed up past your bedtime," Jade returned easily. "And with that thought... now it's really time for you to go to sleep." He touched her arm and looked pointedly towards the window.

Anise sighed and allowed him to help her back into the room. He closed the window and then the curtains as she climbed into bed, pulling the covers over her. She wrapped her arms around Tokunaga, her chin resting on its patchwork head and her eyes instantly closing as exhaustion began to overtake her. "Goodnight, Colonel..." she murmured.

"Goodnight, Anise," he said, smoothing out the covers and then patting her on the head. "I'll be counting on you tomorrow."

"Same t'you," she said sleepily.

He smiled and headed for the door. Stepping outside, he shut it quietly behind him, secure in the knowledge that his young charge would be fine. Tomorrow would be a taxing day for them all, but Jade knew they would manage. Van and the remaining God-Generals would be tough, he had no doubt; people with strong convictions had the irritating habit of accomplishing seemingly impossible things. However, the Colonel knew they had the strongest conviction of all on their side. Van was fighting for ideals, but he was fighting for the lives of his friends. He was fighting for their future—for Anise's future. For a future they could share.

Jade slipped into his room, humming softly to himself as he noticed that Luke was still not back yet. Yes, tomorrow was going to be an interesting day...