[shounen-ai warning Tales of the Abyss and its characters © Bandai Namco

What a mess. This had to be the most… troublesome - if that was the right word – mess, or at least high up there on the list of "troubles", he had been in for a while. Not that merely having a certain idiotic red-head so close was troublesome enough, but an almost-drowned-almost-frozen idiotic red-head was certainly much, much worse. Damn it all. Asch was, in the most highest regards, annoyed with all of this to say the least. Why of all places did the moron have to fall into water around Sylvana: one of the most coldest places in all of friggen Auldrant?! Lucky bastard too… what the hell would the replica have done if he hadn't been there to save his ass?! Which… was indeed lucky.

Asch had just been searching again for that would-be-damned Jewel of Lorelei. And just because they hadn't found it there before, didn't mean they might have over looked something. So re-tracing steps was a smart idea, if not them, to Asch. Then by nothing more than chance, as he was walking by the frozen beach there had been a cruelly limp figure floating in the frigid water. Of course, by all account, Asch probably just would have left it for dead. He had seen too many corpses now to be shaken up by something so seemingly customary. But when he saw that very familiar white jacket with that all-too-very familiar red hair, he had all but stripped off his tabard and ran – quite fast - into the icy water himself and drug the frozen kid out to shore. Not the smartest decision on his part. But he had panicked, yes, Asch the Bloody had panicked. Thankfully he only had to get up to his knees in water because as fortune would have it, the ocean didn't seem to have the desire to pull Luke further out to sea. He didn't even check to see if he was alive yet, in fact, he wanted to hold out that part for as long as possible, because as long as he didn't check for a pulse, he could continually believe the replica was still alive.

Now of course he knew that wet clothes and cold did not mix, so he quickly shouldered his replica over him, grabbed his tabard and made his way to a cave he had passed far-too-many times to ignore. Unfortunately – and almost stupidly of him – he had told Ginji to come get him later, which went well, or not so well in this case, since he seemed to need to go get something back at his home in Sheridan. Why the hell of all times did this all have to happen. Now why wasn't he going to Keterberg? Well, for one, it was too effing far away. And if Luke was still alive he certainly wasn't going to shorten the chances of him surviving by carrying him in the cold –wet no less- all the way there.

If it was one thing years of training and travels had blessed Asch with, it was knowledge of survival. Even though it was mainly survival for himself -not for another person- he could just take the principles and shape it to meet such standards. Immediately in entering the cave he stripped Luke of all of his wet clothes. Even though the boy was obviously past hypothermia, they would still do him no good. To spare his dignity at the very least, and to help keep him warm, Asch wrapped his tabard under and around him. But now it was for the moment of truth before he continued his struggle.

The God-General kneeled down beside the horribly pale replica; face almost as white as the snow around him; lips blue with the frozen blood circulating within him. He placed two shaky – why the hell had he been shaking? (better be from the damn cold) – fingers at the base of his wrist and waited intently. His brows furrowing in concentration and almost started panicking again but soon he felt a faint – too faint- pulse beating against his skin. Well, he had found the replica facing up. A sigh of relief later he jolted to his feet to do the rest of the needed work. Stripping off his own boots, he knew chances of frost bite were slimmer without something so wet freezing against his skin, Asch dashed about to gather any kind of usable –dry- wood and possibly a source of flint. Not being picky he was back in less than two minutes with all he needed. Throwing it into a pile he glared hard at it.

"BRING ALL TO ASH AND RU-," He stopped himself. Calm yourself Asch! It wouldn't help either of them if he singed them all to death. He paused, drew in a shaky breath and then focused; hands outstretched to the wood. The much lighter use of fonons did just the same, and soon the wood was ignited.

And it was only moments after that he rolled up his slightly drenched tights – when so thin they would dry quickly and he wasn't too worried about them – and quickly pulled the limp tabard-wrapped replica to his chest encircling his arms around him.

So that's where he was currently and HAD been currently for the past twenty minutes: Asch leaning on the cave wall, Luke encircled with his arms and legs. Unfortunately there were no changes in his replicas condition. And yes, those were his fingers constantly placed on the others wrist. Dammit, damn it all to hell. Damn his stupid, annoying, always-getting-in-to-trouble replica too. It was frustrating! Was he so helpless he couldn't do anything on his own without getting into some sort of trouble? And for some reason Asch felt he was always the one to clean up after the little idiot. Even now, the bastard was wasting his time and making him worry and- NO, no, no, he was not worried about his replica. Maybe slightly… concerned… but not… Alright fine! He was worried; anxiety was practically welling up to nervous levels that the kid hadn't made any progress with recovery. He was still as white as a sheet… and he wasn't even shivering. It was as if his body had just given up trying to keep warm. Asch scowled at the bleak thoughts and turned his attention to the flames in front of them both, though that only held his interest for a second before his attention was on Luke's pale face.

Dammit… there was just… what else could he do. Asch absently brushed away the frozen bangs from his forehead stopping himself short when he almost stroked the others jaw-line. His arm went rigidly to his side, but soon back around the other, remembering he had a job to do. Now that he realized it… this was almost… embarrassing. He was almost forced to embrace his replica. And to keep him close no less. Even if it was for survival, it was… he huffed at the route his mind was taking. He would never admit to such things. And what the hell anyway? He shouldn't be this assisting to the person who couldn't even very well damn get the friggen jewel he was suppose to get from friggen Lorelei. Not that he was really bothering to worry about something so trivial at the… HOLY HOD NO! Something like that was NOT trivial! Though, not that he'd admit this either, but right now his replica's life seemed… god he couldn't even think it.

His mind went to something else… like oh say, how this all happened in the first place. It was curious to just how his stupid look-alike had even gotten there. He would be sure to question him when he woke. Yes, when he woke, because he would wake. Asch was certain… he was certain. Luke might not be getting better. But he wasn't getting worse from what the other could tell, and that was at least somehow comforting. Asch shifted Luke slightly, pushing his face up more to where it rested at the base of his own neck and for once, he could actually feel his faint breathing on his skin; another comfort to be added to the very few.

Asch leaned in himself, resting his forehead in a similar position to how Luke's was to his. He stayed that way for a immeasurable length of time. It was hard to tell if time was going quickly or slowly with all of the "exciting" events. It was long enough for Asch to no longer have feeling in his back from resting against such a cold surface… and long enough to allow his previously-numb feet to regain a few working nerves and feeling into them and long enough for him to use up one-forth of the wood.

He would every now and then add a log to the flames and watch as they snaked up the bark, eventually burning inside and out; peeling away the wood and turning it into ashes. Hmm… that certainly was a bit horrifyingly similar to something else. Asch's gaze set on Luke again.

Indeed… there would be no ash without the fire… but ash is also capable of smothering the flame. So if ash could exterminate the flame… why was ash always so ignored? Ashes had once been something before… but as soon as the flames destroy it, the once-was is forgotten. Didn't people care at all for the once-was? But no… even if there was a small grievance, the ashes would be blown away and carried far to where no one would even know something once stood at where it came. And yet… what would the ashes do if the flames suddenly disappeared? ARGH WHAT THE- Asch shook himself out of these strange, very strange and depressing and stupid thoughts.

But just as he was, something completely caught his attention. Movement. Movement from the almost gruesomely still figure in his arms.

Asch's head shot up and he watched intently as Luke's head barely turned to the right, but then back into place… and then his eyes very, very slowly cracked open, never getting past a half-lidded and deadened gaze. But wow… the relief at that moment that spread through Asch was overwhelming at the very least. Probably would have made any normal human being go weak in the legs.

"Replica!" Oh good, his voice still sounded angry despite being completely concerned. The last thing he needed was his replica – if he was really even truly conscious – to think he actually cared for him… which was not the case! It was just mild concern… mild-! But… even though his replica was awake, Asch didn't quite feel totally reassured, especially when he looked so abnormally frozen.

The-called-upon other didn't respond at first. He blinked slowly, eyes never leaving their only position: dead straight ahead. Dammit… this wasn't good. But just when Asch was about to call out to him again, the eyes slowly turned to him and stared blankly; blinking every-so-often. Then amazingly enough, his mouth parted and he said something wordlessly; only one movement, but it was enough for the original to know. He had worded his name: Asch. Obviously a question though. But this was good! He could distinguish and recall names. One more comfort to the list.

"Yes… it's me," Asch confirmed – this time relief all too apparently in his tone, and he inwardly cursed at himself. He did not care about the replica! Then finally a bit of expression on the idiots face, his brows scrunching together in akin to something Asch guessed was concentration – don't hurt your brain there Luke – eyes blinking again. Obviously thoughts weren't running through that head of his fast enough, though that was normal, he just now had near-freezing as a handicap. Luke's head lowered, eyes casting downward also, and then back to Asch. The God-General watched curiously. And soon the short-haired-red-head parted his mouth again, this time audibility slightly in his voice.

"I'm naked…," Asch snorted at the reply… perhaps trying to hold back a chuckle. That would be the first thing he noticed… stupid idiot. Asch still couldn't hold back a crooked smile. However, the replica's voice sounded anything but spectacular and Asch grimaced a second later at the sound. Not that it was a major concern; it would most likely work better on its own, though a drink of warm water wouldn't hurt…

"Yes… yes you are," He replied oh-so-matter-of-factly. Luke didn't seem to react to this – making Asch certain that he wasn't in his right mind yet, because if he was, there would have been a much more lively response. However, now that he was awake, Asch could interrogate him as he pleased. "What the hell happened to you?" Hmm… what was it with speaking to his replica that always made him sound much, much more angrier than he was? But his replica was too out of it to even notice.

Luke lingered on the question for a moment. "I fell…," he finally answered.

"Well no shit dumb-ass," No really, it was the fact that he was concerned as to why he was being rude, really! Or maybe it really was, and if that was the case, Asch sure-as-hell wasn't concerned. His replica was a moron! Who could possibly resist scolding him for such stupidity and yelling at him for all of his moronic behavior? "But how by in Yulia's name did you fall?"

The next part Asch really had to concentrate on, Luke was speaking in mumbles, "Monsters… Tear… were… they almost… mm… and the ice… I couldn't stop… and… the cliff…," Asch let the words filter and replay in his head and it frighteningly made a stupid sort of sense. So the idiot saved one of his companions but ended up getting into trouble himself. He couldn't disagree that fighting on Mt. Roneal was pretty treacherous, but this somehow didn't satisfy Asch's feelings on the matter. Where the hell were all of his other damn friends? Maybe they all should have reacted faster and none of this would've happened. No wait… it was all his damn replica's fault! What the hell was he saying? If it had been anyone but Luke, everything probably would have worked out fine. But No- idiot dreck here had to be the one to… well… perhaps no one else was around to help out Tear Grants, but that still justified nothing of Luke's actions! With more frustration than he had begun with, Asch banged his head lightly against the cave wall behind him – hoping to knock out all of the stupid that was being embedded in for merely being around his replica.

Luke however, pulled him out of his thought when he suddenly started horridly coughing. Asch turned to the attentive and grabbed a hold of the replica's shoulders now being able to feel his body heave with every one. "Dreck!" And that was meant to sound like he was questioning him, but Asch already knew Luke wasn't "alright" so asking that would make him sound like an ignoramus like his replica. Instead he offered him what little comfort by keeping the body steady as the other hacked up. When he thought it was finally over, Luke pointed suddenly to the side. Somehow getting the point, Asch acted quickly and pulled his replica to the directed area and Luke released a mix of blood and his own bodily fluid. Oh how wonderful… though Asch merely quietly scowled worryingly at Luke as he caught his breath, then when he figured he was finished he pulled up the limp body back into his shoulder and wiped off the remaining refuse off of Luke's chin with the sleeve of his tunic. He would apologize to it later with a nice wash. He then continued to watch in concern at Luke, who was still out of breath, though who could blame him, he had coughed for a good long while and then just puked his guts. Asch used his hand to push some other snow on top of it – he certainly didn't want to have to look at that, nor smell it, even if it was lingering on his replica's breath. Oh right… water. Hn… well its not like they had anything to warm up their resources… dammit. A long lengthy use of profanities echoed out in Asch's head. Apparently this was his way of sorting things out. But somehow it worked, and he suddenly he got an idea… but he quickly shook it out of his head. No, no, no. Not that. But still… blood… erg… dammit… friggen. He clenched his fist.

It's not like the thought he was having was disgusting him in any way… but its exactly that that was freaking him the hell out. He sighed in heavy aggravation. "Oi… replica," He waited until Luke responded, which – dammit – wasn't very long after. He hesitated slightly but continued, "…are you up for something to drink?" He was given an answering nod and he cringed inwardly. Ah to hell with it, this was for the damn kid's welfare. Sighing rather tensely, Asch threw another log into the fire and then shifted Luke up to where his head was propped entirely on his shoulder now.

Luke watched in mild interest now as Asch scooped up a handful of nearby –clean- snow and stuffed it in his mouth. He blinked. And again… and even again. But soon his eyes slowly started to widen in a dumbstruck manner. Oh yes… looks like he realized just what Asch was up to. The God-General tried to ignore this by staring off at the nearby wall, and cursed inwardly as he felt the warm on his cheeks. Friggen… this was embarrassing. Too soon the snow melted in his mouth and he turned –unwillingly- to Luke, trying not to spit it all over him when he finally saw the stupefied look on his face. This was hard enough as it is without Luke looking at him like that!

After removing the fist he had put to his mouth to hold back the liquid he gave Luke an embarrassed glare. Luke still couldn't erase the wide-eyed stare, however when he opened his mouth to say something Asch only leaned in closer, making him immediately shut it into a tight line. Asch glared hard, and Luke questioned him desperately with his eyes, though this only made the original's narrow in annoyance. The other's face blinked, but his expression became that of the submissive and he nodded weakly – closing his eyes. Dammit why the hell was he closing his eyes?! This wasn't a damn kiss! So says he that was nearly red at this point. Inhaling and exhaling thoroughly through his nose Asch finally pressed his lips against Luke's. He felt the others part timidly so he allowed his own to do the same, letting the now melted – and even slightly warm – snow drain from his mouth to the other. Slowly – very slowly – so his replica could get it all.

Luke started off shyly – about as embarrassed as his original – but Asch could feel the changes. Was that …his tongue entering now? Friggen dreck was probably thirsty, but… erm… wow this was a strange way to drink water. And even though it had been his idea – and what an outlandish idea it was – he still couldn't get over that their lips were touching to do this. He really needed to stop being so immature. This was for Luke's survival! Not because he wanted it by all means. Absolutely not!

It was not soon after however that the last drop of water had entered the others mouth… so… why the hell was his replica still searching out for it with that should-be-damned – and surprising enticing – tongue of his?! Asch made a noise resembling a growl but it seemed to go unheard. He practically had to pry off the parasite by his head! "THERE'S NO MORE DAMMIT!!" He almost yelled – albeit breathlessly – as their lips finally parted and he glared at his replica's confused look. Stupid dreck. But from the looks of things… he had regained a bit of color in his cheeks. Hm… interesting.

Luke blinked up at his original and licked his lips earning him a rather pointed look. Though he was still a bit dazed, he had to admit that was one of the best damn drinks of water he's ever had. By all accounts, he hadn't really noticed when he was no longer drinking the melted snow, which was to say the least, a bit embarrassing, but thankfully he was too drained to care at this point and was ready for the next go already.

Asch caught the look in his replica's eyes and he looked away quickly. The bastard. Didn't he know how hard this was to do? Maybe the stupid replica should have just froze and drowned; make everybody's life easier. But even with such wishful thoughts Asch was stuffing another handful of snow into his mouth. The wait was a bit annoying to say the least. He could see the dreck in his peripheral staring at him intently, and it certainly didn't help his nerves. Yet… he had to admit, seeing Luke with a little more life in those green orbs of his was a nice big tally on the comforting chart. What the hell… he had a chart now? But again, every time he had seen the idiot, he had always been lively and not to mention loud. So it was all too disturbing to have to see him so… well… lifeless. Indeed something he hoped he wouldn't have to see anytime soon, and if not, ever again. In fact, if at all possible – which was highly doubtful – he hoped Luke wouldn't be so stupid as to get himself in such a horrifying position as this; something almost fatal. Asch shook himself a bit; no… he didn't quite want to put "fatal" and his replica in the same category, and definitely nothing similar in any way.

Finishing those thoughts Asch turned back to his replica. Ugh… and he was so obviously ready for more it was sickening… ok… just still really in the embarrassing category, but still! Asch leaned down slowly – not wanting to freak his replica out or anything for he seemed a bit reluctant last time. But perhaps that's why it was so surprising when Luke lifted his head ever-so slightly to meet his lips before he had even leaned in all the way – making a small involuntary, surprised noise vibrate off the God-General's throat. Asch smirked briefly. A bit impatient now aren't we? And he granted his replica the access to his mouth he desired, parting his lips again, this time more open, knowing the dreck was full well prepared for it now. Both pairs of eyes closed this time, and Asch merely enjoyed the small pleasantries of Luke practically gorging himself; the light suction of his lips around his own rather nice and he wasn't at all displeased as he felt the replica's tongue intruding and lapping up the remnants of any water that was left. Luke's lips were indeed cold; but he could tell they were warming now then they had been before. Oh dammit… and the water was gone again wasn't it…

Asch allowed Luke to linger in his mouth a while longer – not quite ready for it to end yet. Luke certainly didn't seem to be stopping any time soon and Asch was finding it quite difficult to not kiss the dreck back, even though he had -every now and then- enclosed his lips around the replica's subconsciously. Wait no! This wasn't a kiss! And it was that thought which finally made Asch pull back – yes, again having to push the leeching dreck back in the process – and they soon both drank in the cool frozen air.

"D-dammit dreck, what the hell is your problem," he wiped a little stray water off of Luke's chin as he spoke breathlessly. "Can't you tell when the hell there isn't any left?" And he wiped his own chin off in the process; Luke hadn't really been the most delicate. Well that was definitely enough "water" for now; he didn't know if he'd be able to pull away the next time.

The only response he received was Luke lying his head back down in the base of his neck and something that resembled a strangely satisfied sigh. Well at least someone was happy here – though Asch couldn't help the corner of his mouth from lifting; bringing up a hand to run through Luke's short frozen hair. There was definitely progress now. Luke had a good amount of flush covering his cheeks. Obviously the "water" had helped, and apparently in more ways than one. However, Luke was still not doing well. Not in the least. His body was still doing nothing to keep itself warm. Asch was his only heat source.

Damn it all. He was almost glad the fool was practically unconscious, because the other felt so awkward right now, having Luke in his right mind would only add to said awkwardness. If practically kissing him wasn't enough – and no, he wasn't admitting to that, merely calling it something to add to his embarrassment – the replica was still naked on top of him. Which – thank Yulia for the tabard – was easier to ignore, but every now and then a little part in Asch's brain would happily remind him of that fact and make an involuntary shade of pink paint over his cheeks. Maybe it wasn't even all of that which was making him uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because of those facts as to why Asch was constantly trying to hold back the urge to stuff another handful of snow in his mouth to give him a decent excuse in order to take another good taste of his replica. And that indeed counted as "awkward" for Asch. Even if it was wanted, he knew it shouldn't be wanted and that all led to the original's internal struggle.

It was once again a cough that broke him out of his battling mind and his hands immediately went to Luke's shoulders to brace him, but the boy made no other noise – much to the relief of the other – and merely shivered under Asch's chin. A pause in Asch's brain. He was shivering now, which - in a way - was good, but… bad… currently in the present situation. Luke's body was still too weak to be doing such things and all the same was damaging his chances of surviving. Ugh, it was one problem after the other with this kid. Sighing mildly to himself in frustration, Asch shifted Luke around again. He practically juggled the replica back and forth between his hands as he ungracefully loosened his tunic and opened it, quickly pressing Luke's chest flush against his own and gasping involuntarily. Oh holy mother of… the bastard's body was very, very, very cold. Asch tried to refrain from using another string of profanities as he let out a good few shaky breaths; his body trying to re-regulate at the sudden ice cube that was resting on top of him. Mechanically the original put his arms around his replica and he listened to Luke's rapid, shaky breaths even out to a much more slower pace as his frozen body began to receive the affects of this new – and much stronger – source of warmth.

- - - -

Good… okay… this was bearable. Asch was either getting used to having a frozen body on him, or Luke was in fact getter warmer, because it was slowly becoming more and more comfortable. Well, as comfortable as someone could get in a situation when you have a naked replica against your chest in the middle of a frozen wasteland in a cave only having each other and a fire as your source of warmth. Hmm… It was highly possible no one would be stupid enough to get themselves in that situation other than a stupid pitiful excuse of dreck that seems to always have the tendency to get himself in stupid enough situations such as this! Asch sighed shakily to himself… again wondering why the hell it was shaky - and shifted his weight slightly to somehow get into a more comfortable position - which was apparently impossible. Another sigh… though this time in mild annoyance. He finally let his attention cast to Luke, something he had been trying to force himself away from doing.

Luke's eyes were closed into a peaceful line, almost as if in sleep; perhaps he was. It was curious though that the now apparent transient blush was no longer flushing the boys cheeks, leaving his pale, white skin completely visible. It was, again, such a look that would have made it seem as if he was dead to Asch if he couldn't in fact feel his chest rising and falling against his own, for he could still not feel the others heartbeat enough to trust on it. It made him uneasy. And there was still that annoying feeling of panic deep down in his chest; Like a mother with a crying child - not knowing what to do for it, what was wrong, if he was doing something wrong or making it worse. Curses! Why was he allowing this to get to him so much? It was his damn replica for Lorelei's sake. Or perhaps that's the reason why he was so worried. Yes… yes! That was it, because if the damn kid didn't survive then who would take the original's place after he…

Asch grimaced. Well… he could at least use that excuse to kill off the very idea that he was worried for his replica for some absurd reason like he cared for the idiot or something.

"It…it's cold…," the pathetic voice that had just trembled from the replica's lips caused any thoughts about Asch not caring about him out the window. Because just as he spoke the other wanted nothing more than to give that faint voice of his more life. In fact, he would do anything for the weakened dreck if he could just return him to normal.

"… I know…," Asch whispered - almost soothingly - as he combed out Luke's short hair with his fingers. Ugh… this was almost, if he dared admit it, heart wrenching for the original. "Just hang in there replica, Ginji will be back soon… and then we can bring you back to your friends. So if you ever want to see them again you better just friggen get better, you got that?" He wasn't a doctor! He couldn't tell if he had gotten better or worse… or if he was doing this right… or… or anything. Hod he felt so helpless.

The response he received was delayed, but Luke finally nodded against Asch's shoulder.

Well ok… there was definitely a problem here… Indeed Ginji was coming back… but the place they met at was farther away from their current location. Dammit… again, one problem after the next with this kid. And it was one problem the God-General didn't know how to fix.