Author's Note: Spoilers for after the Tower of Rem.
Don't be shy to share your opinion. I welcome any and all feedback. ;)
What was it to die, really? What would it feel like? Would there be a light to follow? Or would it just be never ending darkness? Would his soul continue on to some better place? Or would he simply just... disappear?
Luke lay wide awake in his bed at the inn as his thoughts swirled around his impending demise. In his head he imagined a thousand different ways the afterlife could be, as well as the frightening idea of there being no afterlife at all. He tried to imagine what it would feel like to have his whole body split apart into fonons, and wondered if it would hurt. He tried to figure out what he would say if he had the chance for any last words, and wondered if there would even be anyone there to hear him.
I'm going to die.
For the hundredth time that night the sentence went through his mind, and as always it brought with it a cold stab of fear that caused him to let out an involuntary whimper. Luke shifted from his back onto his side, curling himself into a ball and closing his eyes.
I don't want to die... I don't want to die... I don't want to die...
He didn't want to think about it anymore. He wanted to shut his mind off and just think about nothing. He wanted sleep to overtake him and take away the pain of being conscious. But the more he tried not to think about death, the more it pushed to the front of his thoughts. And as long as his mind kept racing he could not relax enough to fall asleep.
Luke tried to calm himself by concentrating on the tiny glimmer of hope that he might not die after all. The doctor could have been wrong. Doctors had been wrong before. Maybe he had read the test results wrong. Maybe the fonon separation was not as dramatic as he thought it was. Maybe something would happen, and Luke would be cured, and everything would be all right. After all, he was supposed to have died at the Tower of Rem. Even Jade seem surprised that he hadn't. If he had defied expectations once he could do it again.
Besides, even if he did die... it couldn't really be the end, could it? There had to be something else, there just had to be. There was no way everything could just... stop. People had to have souls, and there had to be a place for them after death. Anything else would be far too cruel.
All of these thoughts had been running in a continuous cycle through Luke's mind. But suddenly something hit him that he hadn't come up with before, and he was overwhelmed by a fear more powerful than that brought on by simply thinking he was going to die.
What if he didn't have a soul because he was a replica? What if people really did have souls, and they had an afterlife, but he wouldn't be able to experience any of that? After all, he had been created, not born. A synthetic copy of a real human being. If people were born with souls, how could he have ever gotten one?
His eyes welled up with tears as the full weight of the thought struck him. If that was true, it made no different whether he died from the fonon separation or got to live another fifty years. Someday he would disappear, and that would be the end of everything for him. He would be completely forgotten, and it would as if he never existed.
Overcome by fear, Luke was struck with the sudden need to not be alone. Technically he was not alone, since Guy was sleeping in the same room and Mieu was curled up on the nightstand. But both were fast asleep, and that was not enough. He needed someone to talk to. He needed someone to tell him that everything would be all right, and convince him that his fears were unjustified.
Mieu certainly would be no help. If anything, the creature's ear-splitting voice and chipper attitude would only make him feel worse. Guy might be able to help. He was a good friend, and Luke was sure he would at least hear him out.
Luke sat up and was about to call out to Guy to wake him, when he remembered: Guy didn't know. Guy didn't know Luke was dying, and Luke wasn't ready to tell him yet. And there was no way he would believe that Luke just randomly became afraid of death and wanted to talk about it.
So he would find no solace here. As quietly as he could Luke slid out of bed and walked to the door of the small room. He slowly opened it, took one look back to make sure the other occupants of the room were still asleep, then stepped out into the hallway and carefully closed the door behind him.
Luke stood in the middle of the hall and looked up and down it at the rows of rooms, remembering who was staying in each. Anise and Natalia were in that one, but neither of them knew about Luke's condition either. Jade knew, but Luke had a feeling that the military man's matter-of-fact way of talking would only scare him more. Besides, he would probably just tell Luke to stop worrying about matters out of his control and get some rest. The only other person who knew was...
Luke stood outside Tear's room, staring blankly at the closed door. He suddenly felt stupid. All of them had been journeying hard and needed rest, but here he was ready to disturb someone from that rest to complain about his personal fears. It was selfish, and he was trying so hard to change from the selfish person that he used to be.
Tear probably wouldn't have any sympathy for him anyway. When she was dying from the miasma she never once shared her fear with anyone. What would she think of him now, so weak that he couldn't even get through the night without someone there to comfort him? If he woke her, she would probably just call him an idiot and tell him to go back to bed. She could be as harsh as Jade sometimes.
Luke turned away and was about to head back to his room when he remembered what had brought him out there in the first place. Once again fear gripped him, and he almost lost his balance from the intensity of it.
Luke turned to face the door again. Yes, she could be harsh, but she wasn't always that way. She could be nice if she wanted to be, and she had cheered him up before. There was a chance she would listen to him, and she was smart, too; maybe she would be able to come up with something he hadn't thought of, something that might help.
Swallowing his pride, or what was left of it anyway, Luke softly knocked on the door.
Tear awoke with a start, immediately sitting up and examining her surroundings. As a soldier, she had been taught to be alert and ready the moment she was awaken. But what had waken her up?
Tear thought she heard movement on the other side of the door to the hallway. That was odd; it had to be the dead of night by now. She got up and walked quietly to the door, not wanting to alert whatever was out there in case it was dangerous. Ready to grab for her knives if necessary, she quickly grabbed the handle and swung the door open.
She was surprised to find herself staring at her favorite red-head. He looked sick, and his eyes indicated that he was either scared or nervous. Or both.
"Luke! What's wrong?!" Tear's mind raced as she tried to figure out what could have happened that would cause Luke to come wake her up in the middle of the night. Was someone hurt? Was the town under attack? Had Van done something terrible?
Luke looked away from her and shifted nervously. "I... um..."
"Did something happen?" Tear felt a bit irritated. If something was urgent enough for him to wake her, she would think it would need to be taken care of quickly and he would say it right out.
"N-No, not really..." he muttered in response to her question.
"Well, what is it?" Tear asked, greatly confused by his behavior.
Luke continued to stare at the ground, refusing to meet her gaze. After a few seconds of awkward silence, he finally looked up and shook his head. "You know what? I-I'm sorry, this was stupid. Nevermind. I'm sorry for... I'm sorry for waking you up. See you in the morning." As soon as he finished speaking he turned around, blushing profusely.
Tear watched him walk down the hall toward his room, now thoroughly confused. It seemed there was no danger, but she could tell he was seriously upset by something. He would not have come to her for no reason.
Luke had been reaching for the door to his room, but when Tear called him he stopped and turned to face her. She examined him more closely this time, no longer distracted by the thought of something horrible having happened. He was definitely afraid of something, and... had he been crying?
Tear's heart clenched, and she felt an incredible pang of sympathy for the boy. She knew he was suffering, both mentally and physically, from everything that he had been through recently. And with death looming over him, she could hardly blame him for breaking down.
"Did you... want to talk about something?" Tear suggested cautiously. She wasn't sure if she could offer him anything, but she knew she would get no rest as long as she was haunted by the image of Luke crying himself to sleep.
Luke looked away from her again, remaining silent for a few moments before he tentatively replied, "...Yeah."
He looked back up at Tear, who motioned for him to come before she stepped back into her room. The middle of the hall was hardly a place to have a serious discussion.
Tear stood in the center of the room and waited patiently as Luke made his way over. When he reached the door he stepped carefully over the threshold, as if he expected her to suddenly change her mind and throw him out. When she did not, he came the rest of the way into the room, thought for a moment, then closed the door behind him.
Silence once again reigned as Luke stood uncomfortably by the door and Tear wondered what she could say to him. Tear was just about to ask him what was bothering him when he suddenly spoke up.
"Tear, do you think I have a soul?"
Tear was too taken aback by the question to answer right away. Of all the things to be worried about, where had he come up with that?
After mostly recovering from the shock, she managed to reply, "...What? Why would you ever question that?"
Luke stared at her desperately, tears in his eyes. "Because I'm a replica! I wasn't born, someone made me. I'm just a bunch of seventh fonons that someone decided to stick together. I'm just... I'm just a machine..."
"Luke!" Tear couldn't believe it. She was sick of him coming up with reasons why replicas were inferior. She understood that it was hard for him to accept being one, but it hurt her every time he put himself down. "Don't you dare call yourself a machine! You can feel, can't you?"
"No, Luke. A machine can't feel. A machine can't think. A machine can't fear its own death."
A machine couldn't have stolen my heart.
Luke still looked unconvinced. "But... how would I have gotten a soul? When do... people get souls? Is it when they're born or what?"
Tear sighed. "No one knows how it works, Luke. But if I have a soul then so do you. I'm sure of it."
"But how do you know?"
"I just... I just do."
Luke walked over to the vacant bed across from Tear's and sat down. He stared blankly at the wall on the other side of the room, evidently thinking. Tear remained respectfully silent, allowing him time to sort through his thoughts.
"...Tear?" When Luke finally spoke his voice was low, and disturbingly calm. It lacked any of the emotion it had held only a few minutes ago.
"Yes?" she asked nervously, feeling a strange sense of foreboding.
"I don't want to die." His voice broke, and by the end of the sentence he was in tears.
Tear watched in stunned silence as Luke sat on the bed, crying into his hands. Now what did she do? She was no good with people. She wanted to comfort him, but she didn't even know where to begin. She desperately tried to remember what she had seen other people do in such situations, and what had been done for her.
Getting closer would be a start, she supposed. Tear was still standing in the middle of the room, and there was a significant gap of space between her and the bed Luke was sitting on. She cautiously walked over until she was standing right in front of him, but Luke did not react. After a moment of internal conflict, she timidly sat down beside him.
This got his attention, and he lifted his head to watch her curiously. His torment was clearly visible in his watery green eyes, and Tear found herself fighting tears of her own. She tried not to think of all the heartache the once-sheltered Duke's son had endured since she had ripped him from his home. But seeing him in this state filled her with a sorrow that turned her thoughts negative.
Now what? Tear thought desperately. I have to do something. But what can I do? How can I help him? Is there something I can say? Or-
Apparently deciding that Tear was taking too long, Luke answered the silent question for her. In one swift motion he turned toward her and threw his arms around her, pulling her toward him and closing the small gap of space between them. As he held her he buried his face in her shoulder, and she could feel his tears soaking the fabric of her uniform.
Tear froze, her mind stunned into inactivity. Luke said nothing; he simply held her and sobbed.
Panic overtook Tear as she tried to process the situation. What just happened? What was he doing? He couldn't just... How was she supposed to react?
Tear's first impulse was to push Luke away, free herself from his grasp, and get the hell out of there. But... how could she do that to him? He was clearly distraught; rejecting him like that would destroy his already low self-esteem. She felt his whole body shaking, and knew she didn't have the heart to hurt him like that.
Tear tried to calm herself down and think logically about the situation. Luke was obviously upset and seeking comfort. And she really did want to help, so... she supposed the best course of action would be to hug him back.
Feeling a blush creep onto her cheeks, Tear awkwardly wrapped her arms around Luke's back and held them there. He responded by tightening his grip on her, causing Tear's heart to race for a few seconds before she was able to calm it down again.
Not for the first time since hearing about Luke's impending death, Tear wished with all her heart that there was something she could do for him. Even if she could not save him she wished that she could make him no longer afraid; she wished that she could protect him from the agonizing thoughts that plagued him.
But for now this was all she could do. Gaining a small boost of confidence, she gently rubbed Luke's back and promised him that everything would be all right.
Luke was not sure exactly what had possessed him when he decided to hug Tear, but it was not a decision he regretted. He had half expected her to feel cold because of how she often acted, but her body was warm and the feeling soothed him.
He wasn't sure how much time passed but eventually he ran out of tears to cry. He was still afraid and none of the doubts in his mind had been fully extinguished, but he felt much better after spilling his emotions. For the moment, he was all right.
With the weight of his worries gone, Luke was overcome by exhaustion. After all, it was late and he had gotten little sleep lately. He imagined himself getting up and heading back to his room, but his body did not move in response to the thought; he had slipped into a state of half-consciousness.
I'll stay a little while longer... I'll get up in a moment... just a little while longer...
Luke's grip loosened and his breathing slowed, and Tear knew he had drifted off to sleep. As gently as she could, she removed herself the rest of the way from his embrace and laid him down on the bed. A wave of relief swept over her for having been freed from the awkward position, though it had not been entirely unwelcome.
For a while Tear stood next to the bed, watching silently as Luke slept. The look of anguish on his face was gone. He appeared to be at peace.
Remembering that she herself would need rest as well if she were to be of any use in battle, Tear finally returned to her own bed. As she lay there facing the wall, her thoughts turned to the sleeping figure on the other side of the room.
And there, alone in the dark, Tear quietly cried for the boy who was destined to die before he had barely been given the chance to live.