DISCLAIMER: Tales of the Abyss does not belong to me. It's Namco's. And Bandai, too? Hehe, Nam Cobanda Isle. You guys are SHAMELESS. Tsk, tsk.


This is… not actually JadeLuke. Well, unless you want it to be. It's kinda there if you really squint. I'd say this is more platonic, though. I mean, he's Jade.


Luke shivered in the cool night air, glancing back once more at the full moon. Its radiant face was partially obscured – thanks to Van – but it lit up the dry earth around him well enough as he trudged back to the inn. Tear had retired for the night nearly an hour before, unable to stay awake. Luke had kept vigil a while longer, restless despite the ever-present weariness that was a constant, alarming reminder of his bleak fate, of the dire repercussions of his actions at the Tower of Rem. It had been unavoidable, he concluded, even after discovering his resolve and newfound desire to live. Luke sighed wistfully. Of course fate would work this way. Now that he really, finally had a reason and a fierce will to live, he was stripped of any hope of fulfilling that desire. Luke met that knowledge with startled acceptance that turned to resignation, but Tear still seemed to be in denial. At least it let him pretend that nothing had changed – as he had wished – when he had to deal with the daily task of keeping his little secret, but… At night, there was no distraction to keep his mind from constantly wandering back to that most unpleasant of subjects. His insecurities, the lingering doubt that they would survive tomorrow's onslaught in Eldrant, the sick fear that he wouldn't even be able to hold himself together – that he would die, disintegrate, vanish – before they saw this "final battle" through. And the night terrors had never quite left him.

Luke blinked and realized that he was standing before the inn's door. Still unsettled, he reached for the handle but didn't turn it, his fingers resting lightly on the cool metal. The weariness had become overwhelming in the last couple days, and no amount of rest would alleviate it. Luke shook his head slightly, not wanting to follow that thought down the path he knew all too well, but it was unavoidable with nothing to distract him from his musing. He blinked again and felt a slight stinging in his eyes. Luke knew he couldn't have much time left, if this profound degree of exhaustion was any indication. He felt like he was on the verge of shutting down, and after a moment's concentration, he realized that his entire body ached ever so faintly.

I'm almost out of time.

That thought brought an unexpected lump to Luke's throat. Happiest moment of his life, indeed. The pathetic part was that he'd been telling the truth when he'd said that to Tear. So deeply wrapped in these thoughts was he that Luke yelped in surprise as a gloved hand suddenly gripped his shoulder. Slowly, Luke turned around. He was met with that all-too-familiar, deceptively beautiful face that he'd come to know as the party's most unpredictable member. Luke opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by the Colonel's words.

"You're blocking the door, Luke. Or do you plan on standing there all night?"

For once, there was no undercurrent of sarcasm in the Necromancer's voice. The softness of the older man's tone prompted Luke to examine the bespectacled face more closely. After a moment he realized that the crimson eyes held not the usual, unreadable hardness, but a soft concern and understanding that looked decidedly out of place but very much welcome on the Colonel's face.

"I… uh… Jade?"

The Necromancer's lips twitched in the faintest – but genuine! – of smiles.

"Yes, that is my name. Is there something troubling you, Luke?" The murmured question came with – yet again – not even a hint of the usual sarcasm. Luke bit his lip, not sure whether he wanted to explain in detail just how troubled he felt. Jade, too, had kept his promise of secrecy, though his approach was one of logic, practicality, and acceptance rather than denial. Maybe Jade would understand- or, at least, he would make a better confidant than Tear when it came to this particular subject.

Jade sighed and gave Luke's shoulder a brief squeeze. Luke raised an eyebrow as he finally concluded just where Jade must have been spending the past several hours. That would explain the man's shockingly candid behavior. Still, Jade was the last person Luke would expect to be… comforted by. Luke lowered his eyes, not sure he could bear seeing such a level of concern and understanding from Jade, of all people. But the Necromancer wasn't through.

"I've been watching you, Luke. So you've noticed the signs and understand their meaning?" Jade questioned gently, and Luke nodded. "Is that what this is about, then?"

Luke shrugged, looking down. He closed his eyes, finding his voice after a moment.

"I… I'm so tired, Jade. It never goes away – just gets worse. And my body aches now, too. Sometimes, I…" Luke's voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. "Sometimes, I'm afraid to sleep because of it… afraid that the next time I close my eyes, I won't wake up. That I'll disappear if I…" Luke paused, taking a moment to collect himself. "I don't want to miss a single moment of what little time I have left, you know?" His voice broke again, and the lump returned full-force.

Jade nodded. "I understand. Or rather, I understand as much as one is able without personally experiencing your situation," he stated matter-of-factly. "Know that you have my support and sympathy as your ally… and my sincere regret as your friend that things turned out this way."

Luke was momentarily speechless. Such an admission coming from Jade was… profound. It was like seeing Asch hug someone. After a moment, Jade reached up with his free hand and pulled his glasses off, expertly folding them with one hand and slipping them into a pocket.

"Though you have made some monumentally idiotic choices, Luke, I cannot honestly say that I haven't grown somewhat fond of you," Jade murmured, smirking slightly. But then his expression grew melancholy. "Should the absolute worst come to pass… know that you will be missed. Everyone will grieve, but I won't hold that pain against you, Luke."

Grieve? Jade? The man who surrounded himself with death but had yet to grasp its meaning? Luke gasped softly.

"Then you…"

Jade looked decidedly uncomfortable, adverting his gaze to mask his concern. "It pains me, I've realized. It pains me that what it took for me to begin to understand was to feel this utter helplessness as I watch you dying, Luke," he murmured. "To have a friend die is to lose something irreplaceable and precious, unable to do anything but watch this horrific process which you and I have absolutely no control over. And when that person is gone, they leave behind a terrible emptiness, an emptiness that can never be replaced even by a replica. THAT is what I failed to comprehend," he finished, his grip on Luke's shoulder tightening briefly.

Luke blinked as he felt genuine tears prick his eyes, and the lump in his throat persisted in making it difficult for him to say anything in response. Jade still hadn't met his eyes.

"I felt grief for the first time. Remorse is something I have felt before, but never grief. Death is irreversible, something I failed to understand with Professor Nebilim. I would thank you, but the circumstances are far too twisted even for me. There are no second chances with human lives."

Finding his voice, Luke laughed bitterly. "I'm glad something good came out of it. Don't worry about me, Jade. All right?"

Jade chuckled softly. "Yes, yes. 'You're a big boy; you can handle it.' I apologize; this is probably the last thing you want to hear right now. You want to put on a strong front to keep us from worrying, and I am certainly not helping in that regard. But you must never think, even for a moment, that this was all for naught. I will not tolerate anymore talk that nothing good has come from your existence, Luke. I don't believe any of the others would take very kindly to it, either."

Luke finally looked up to meet Jade's gaze. The crimson eyes seemed overly bright, but it must just be the moonlight. He wasn't sure whether or not he liked this new Jade. Luke knew that alcohol lowered inhibition, but with Jade it worked some sort of magic that shattered the Necromancer's icy shield and let real emotion through. It was almost frightening, seeing the normally aloof Colonel in such a state. Caught off-balance, Luke was having trouble keeping his own emotions guarded. And Jade was being as perceptive as ever, damn him. Luke inhaled shakily. This really wasn't helping. All this conversation was doing was bringing the fear and despair right back up to the surface again where he didn't want them. Luke shuddered, his throat tightening with tears. Dammit, this was why he didn't want the others to know about his condition. They'd try to comfort him or something and just make him think even more about it, and he wouldn't be able to keep the tears at bay forever!

"J-Jade, I know you're trying to help, but couldja let me be alone for a while?" Luke asked hoarsely. He reached up to brush the man's hand away, but Jade stepped forward, making it clear that he didn't plan on leaving.

The Necromancer's eyes were – alarmingly, considering their owner – soft, his face quite serious. "Don't push me away, Luke. This is what Tear tried to do to you at first, is it not? You simply don't want anyone to see you in such a state. But that only makes us worry more. Surely you realize that?"

Luke gritted his teeth. "I- it's not…you don't... D-damn it!" A tear slipped down his cheek, leaving a trail that gleamed in the moonlight; Luke swore, wiping it dry as he jerked his gaze away. Jade's expression softened further. It looked so weird. Maybe Luke was hallucinating? Pfft. Yeah, right.

Jade shifted, looking extremely uncomfortable as he spoke again. "I…" He really wasn't used to this sort of thing. Finally, he sighed, bowing his head.

"Do you need a shoulder, Luke? And perhaps a sympathetic ear?"

Luke bit his lip, but he nodded after a moment. Wordlessly, he leaned forward and buried his face in the thick fabric of the Colonel's uniform, gripping the front of the jacket tightly. Jade awkwardly wrapped an arm around the boy's heaving shoulders as Luke finally let out the tears he'd been holding back this whole time.

A child, that's what Luke was. A child of seven years, sent to his death twice already and about to embark on a perilous mission he'd most likely never return from. When one put it that way… Jade felt a sharp pang at the unfairness of the boy's fate, to die when he'd barely begun to live. Life could be so very cruel. Like a child soldier. Anise spoke of Arietta never being able to marry… Luke was much the same. Not old enough to love as yet, but old enough to die, indeed. The words he'd read somewhere long ago certainly described Luke well.

After what may have been hours or only minutes, Luke finally pulled himself away. His eyes were red and puffy but a bit clearer than before. He exhaled shakily, his breath still hitching every now and then.

"…Thanks. Sorry about that," he muttered. "I should go to bed. Tomorrow's gonna be rough."

Jade nodded. "That would be best. If you still can't sleep, I can give you something to help."

Luke smiled, wiping away the tears with a gloved fist. "Nah, I'll be all right. Well, relatively speaking," he said, feeling better now than he had for the past several days. Keeping things bottled up wasn't good for the spirit, he was forced to admit.

Jade found his lips twisting once more into a small smile. "You've done an admirable job, Luke. It will be an honor to fight alongside you tomorrow."

Luke blushed faintly and turned, grabbing the door handle. Before twisting it, he looked back over his shoulder and fixed Jade with a serious gaze. "And not a word of this to anyone else!"

Jade inclined his head slightly. "Of course. My lips are sealed, as always. Good night, Luke."

Luke opened the door and walked into the inn. "'Night, Jade. And thanks again."

Jade nodded in silent acknowledgement. After a moment, he also crossed the threshold, shutting the door gently behind him.




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