Gailardia scratched his head, finally shaking it as he gave up and replaced the odd panel he'd taken down in hopes he could figure out what was causing all that racket. It had stopped just as mysteriously as it came, and with it went his excuse to dig around in there. Mayor Teodoro had been very adamant about not touching anything since they didn't know how to fix it, and while Guy had kept his word, since he'd been allowed to look at things that were already broken, he had the sinking feeling that if this wasn't some random normal occurrence it was going to be blamed on him.

He was going stir crazy already. He didn't know anyone here. Since the original Luke had abandoned him and Vandesdelca hadn't been able to convince him to help, what did he have to do? He could have gone to Sheridan as Van had suggested, but playing around while the world was going to end, one way or another, wasn't his style.

So… He wouldn't be allowed back in the fon Fabre house, not now they thought Luke was dead, and that wasn't someplace either of them were all that likely to go, not with things being the way they were.

Baticul was amazing, but being there and knowing what was going on… Not to mention Van's attempts to convert him… Van hadn't wanted to let him wander off, but since Guy had given him an ultimatum Yulia City was a fascinating… cage. There was no getting out of here without Teodoro's say-so, and Teodoro knew he was a friend of the person who was supposed to be a good boy and repeat Hod for them.

He was bait. But at least it was better than Belkend.

He flopped back on what was probably Tear's bed. They told his family to let the Albertesque Seal be broken over their dead bodies for two millennia and now they wanted him to help destroy it? No wonder Van had kept him in the dark.

There was a knock on the door that led out to the selenia garden. As far as Guy knew there was no way someone could be in there without going past him. Which meant it was someone he couldn't keep out if he wanted to. "Come in."

The door slid open.

"Luke."

"It's Asch now."

"Oh yeah, right." He'd known this kid all his life, and seeing his Luke be so nervous around him: it was just wrong. "What Van said, it's true. But I swear I thought you were Luke, I swear I never actually did anything to hurt him or your parents, or you, and I swear I didn't know what he wanted to do at Akzeriuth."

"What did you do?"

"Reported to him, mostly."

"Why didn't you do anything else?"

"Do you remember… No, wait, you wouldn't." Guy found this whole conversation just so awkward. "I went to Belkend and found out what they were doing. I'll tell you anything you want to know. Anyway, you wouldn't remember anything from then, it was after you learned to talk but you were probably still too young to have actual memories. I was telling you about noble customs, and giving someone your sword if they were worthy to be your lord? You said that you wanted me to stay with you forever and that you wanted me to give you my sword. I wouldn't, but I promised that I would if you became someone worthy of it. I didn't expect you to, but a promise was a promise."

Luke, his Luke, laughed sheepishly, and he'd grown up so much in just these few weeks. What had he missed? "But I didn't. I was an awful brat."

"Yeah, but… you were my awful brat. I didn't have any family but Pere, and… your original was… a good kid, it wasn't hard to be his friend, but then you came home, only it wasn't home, and you needed me. Your father, well, you know." And his mother was sick. He wasn't going to win any points insulting Luke's parents. "I think Pere lost the battle first. You used to toddle after him asking about the flowers no matter how you got punished for it. You mostly stopped, but only because they started punishing him."

"I remember that, because I did it so often."

"You weren't Luke fon Fabre, son of the man who killed my whole family, even before I knew about the replica deal. You were Luke. Like the kid brother you didn't actually want but are stuck with and they kinda grow on you." Mary hadn't been that fond of him on the surface, but when it came down to it…

"What about Lu-my original?" That was fair, asking that. Family, after all. If it were war, Guy would fight Luke, but this wasn't a war unless Vandesdelca made it one and it wasn't right to start something like that, not with children like they had been. Hod had been wrong, and doing the same thing to the whole world: didn't he get that it was even worse?

"I had several years wanting to kill him and I managed not to. But I did want to, that was why the curse slot worked. I really did. Now, though… It's not going to bring Mary back. A replica just wouldn't be her, just like you're not him. If I hadn't known you I might have. I really might have. It seems like poetic justice. The world destroyed Hod so that it could have prosperity, so why not the other way around? But even though he did that stuff to you, your original did, you would have hated it if he died because of you. I hate that Mary had to die so I could live. I… your father's just a symptom, Van was right. There are a thousand more like him. And when it comes down to it I don't want to kill them all no matter who suffers. If I killed him, and you, it wouldn't stop until Eldrant replaced Auldrant. You can't draw the line. It's not good and evil, it's… "

"A seething mass of stupidity."

"That's kind of a poetic way of putting it." Jade was here? He wondered who else was. "By their fruits you shall know them. That's what it comes down to. It's an old saying. People will say they're the good guys, and they can have all sorts of arguments, but the way you can tell is to look at results. Vandesdelca… he did that to you. He tried to kill thousands of people. And you did something that should have made it so that you couldn't be brought back for the sake of people you barely knew. In a heartbeat, from how he described it. You were confused, you didn't know what was going on and you didn't want to believe it was happening, but you didn't hesitate once you realized that it was your death or the city's You… it's my fault, too, that you didn't know what the right thing to do was so much of the time. But when you knew it, you did it. The way you treated Ion, I… I was so proud of you," he confessed. "Before we got back to Baticul and Van. You were like a plant that had been stuck in a pot it had outgrown, and then when you were out in the world you went from half-dead to, you just bloomed." He hadn't wanted to look, he'd turned his head away at some point. He couldn't stand seeing Luke lost and confused and hurt like that. Worse than a kicked puppy.

So it was a surprise when Luke hugged him. He hadn't done anything like that in ages, screaming that he wasn't a kid anymore when he was inside, he needed someone to tell him what his place was, not treat him like a kid while demanding he act like a near-adult. Still, it was near-reflex for Guy to note his temperature.

Human skin wasn't like this, not unless sunbathing was involved and then the heat was from outside, not inside. Even fevers were an unhealthy heat. Luke felt like fireside stones almost. Not hot, not unpleasant, but radiating a heat that made muscles relax almost instantly.

That, and his eyes. They weren't quite right: Guy had forcibly cleaned his face enough times to tell that.

Luke had died. He'd never seen a body, so this was when it really hit him. Luke had died. His Luke had died, and he hadn't been able to stop it. He'd failed him.

He held him tight. "I'll give you my sword," he promised, the words pouring out. "I will. You will become someone worthy of it, I know you will, and I promise I'll protect you until everyone can see that you are."

"You don't have to, Guy. Just that you want to, it means a lot." His Luke's voice was small.

"I know, but I want to. Or are you going to refuse it?"

"I wouldn't!" Of course he wouldn't.

"Thank you, Luke."

"Asch."

"Asch." There wasn't a speck of dirt on that face. Too perfect. "That's going to take getting used to."

"I don't think there's anything that isn't." Asch smiled. "And by the time we get used to it there'll be new stuff that we need to get used to."

"Yeah." Guy smiled back. "So, where to?"

-

A/N: Yes, I realize that there is no particular ending/resolution here. However, as Death in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series says, "THERE'S NO JUSTICE, THERE'S JUST ME."

a) I'm writing this fic. If you want an ending and I don't feel like writing what you consider a proper one, that's what the imagination is for.

b) Life doesn't have nice neat tie up all lose ends endings. The "And they lived happily ever after" ending can be translated as, "They got things to a point where they were prettymuch set provided they kept doing what they'd been doing (eg. Going through thickets of stabbity death and back for the sake of the person they grew to love instead of saying 'the magic's gone' when there was a life-or-death battle over the TV remote), and there's not much point in going further because who really cares how many kids they had? You're here for the slaying of dragons and crashing of parties and years of hardship traveling around the world that are finally made worth it by reuniting with/earning the love of the person who will love you back just as fiercely."

The Absorption Gate in ToA is a very good example of: "Yes, you beat the bad guy, but guess what? Life goes on and the reward for a job well done is surviving to get stuck with the next job."

The ending of Tales of the Abyss is that Luke? Dies. His story is over. The epilogue is the beginning of another story. I'm not going to let Luke/Asch die for the sake of a nice neat ending. And the only 'real' ending is an ending.

Hence, I have decided to pick Luke & Guy reuniting as the point where I say, they've gotten their act together and if they keep doing what they're doing (reuniting with estranged loved ones coughIngobertcoughAnisecough, for example), then they'll be fine. Also, I've gotten what I wanted out of this fic and there are others I want to work on.

This fic mostly happened because I had a scenelet of Luke sacrificing himself and was all, what would happen if that did? It's slight AU, but that's because characters wanted to say certain things. I was prettymuch transcribing here. For instance, Jade was dead a long time, and due to his knowledge of fonons he was very aware that this couldn't possibly be good. So, if there was going to be a horrible side effect he wanted one that would make him even more evil win, especially since I'd just managed to lose a third of the party. Well, actually, half, and replace them with an unknown quantity and a suicidal ghost. So he picked this, and then he was breathing down my neck about how I'd better not Stu him, because that would make it seem as though he needed to be Stu'd to be that kickass. If you think he's not Stu'd, could you tell him, please? Because he's kind of breathing down my neck. Or holding a spear pointed at it, whichever.

This fic was prettymuch pure character-driven. As you may see, my Natalia and Tear muses are sort of weak compared to the others (as in, I'm not as good as the characters, not that the characters are weak by any means), or at least they're quiet compared to the ones that talk over them. Well, to be fair, Natalia was a little peeved that I wasn't putting in any situations where she could really contribute, and if she was going to look like a minor character anyway then why should she bother gracing this fic with her presence? And Tear gets overwhelmed easily. You know, the blushing and the dotdotdots. She's not that good at handling emotional stuff except by ignoring it, telling others to ignore it, or fighting. She needs Luke, in the game, to force her to deal with her messed up emotions. That's how messed up she is, that he can see she needs therapy. So, I put them someplace where they could contribute and everyone's happy.

I like fics where there's action. It might not be combat, but things happening/things being found out/revealed right after another and having to go from figuring out what's going on to applying that knowledge without much opportunity to find out if they're right edge of seat sort of stuff. Natalia and Tear need chances to stop and figure out what's going on and I find that pretty boring. I mean, I'll do it, but only if I want the scenes with that sort of character enough to bother. ToA usually doesn't bother to wait on them, at least not onscreen. Of course, they skip to the end of explanations often but I'm telling you things you don't already know and can't get away with that.

This was a Luke & Asch centric fic and a conflict with Van centric one. Original-Luke's problems with his family and Natalia and yadda yadda yadda… years of therapy. Years. And I don't want to either wave a cheesy magic wand and do it in a few thousand words or skip over it, as that would be a whole 'nother fic. The hypnotism excuse and being able to fix it is a little cheesy, since he probably was that messed up without hypnotism, even if Van using it is canon, but the discussion about Akzeriuth happened and then original-Luke claimed it was hypnosis, and I was yeah, right. Sure, you keep telling yourself that.

No, I'm serious, please do, this is interesting stuff. Good or not I don't know, but interesting.

But I'm done playing around with these versions of the characters for now and will probably get back to the fics in which Jade is ticked off with me because it's an utter AR and he still got his fon slots sealed, not to mention that Luke might be secretly evil, or the one where Asch just got himself possessed by Lorelei. I don't know where that Lorelei muse came from, I really don't.

All I know is the characters are looking at me for how to fix things since supposedly that's what authors are for, planning out resolutions, and I'm going "No way. You're the world-saving heroes, you figure out how to save the day. I'm a writer, not a fighter. "

So when characters say they've got it sorted out and don't need me anymore it's sometimes annoying (in the case of Eva in Rapture) and sometimes a relief. It's sort of both in this case.