A/N: The epilogue. Thank you for bearing with me as I write such weird things. God damn it these people are hard to write well. I'm only now beginning to get enough of a grasp of sociology (psychology of societies) to write for Discworld. (Best. Book. Series. Ever. Do you like Jade? Read Terry Pratchett, you poor deprived soul.) Dealing with an entire cast of evolving characters who are undergoing massive changes and are at such fragile balances that slight tips either way could have resulted in, oh, Luke joining Van is like balancing plates on straws.
I suppose I can only be thankful that my Jade muses generally don't have any inclination to associate with people that have either gone crazy/remind them of themselves when they were young and stupid. If they teamed up I'd be in trouble.
Or, no, they'd probably just force me to stop writing fic because they had enough of that nonsense for all of their lifetimes in the game already, thank you very much, and then go out drinking and putting the fear of god into people. I mean, I have what, at least six distinct Jade muses? Can you imagine the characters' reactions to seeing six Jades?
In Luke's heart the white flowers had all long since bloomed, selenias that grew strong in the light of the power he embodied. As the glass shards vanished their numbers remained constant, but when the shards were finally gone the flowers started to vanish. No longer covered by them, a soft carpet with a symbol Asch recognized somehow was revealed.
Asch worried that the flowers vanishing was a sign of something bad until he, a few months later, managed to keep his eyes on a patch of them long enough to see one fly free.
The dead returned to the fon belt, he knew when he saw it, to rest until they were swept up by the Planet Storm and formed the seeds of new lives and memories. But Akzeriuth had been annihilated, its fonons damaged and the seventh fonons that held the selves of its dead broken as well.
Shattered pieces, hateful broken remnants that hated the life they were cut off from: Asch suddenly realized the source of the miasma, something that had baffled even the people of the Dawn Age.
There had only been around three million people on Auldrant for two thousand years, the number gradually declining. There were only that many intact souls remaining, and over time the miasma would seep in and destroy others, like Tear had been corrupted until saved by Ion.
If Luke hadn't caught them, the people of Akzeriuth would have indeed been consumed by the miasma.
Everyone thought that relief the emergency was over was the reason everyone was having children left and right. That was part of it, but the real reason was that there were children to have, now.
He'd underestimated Luke again, it seemed. It hadn't just been Van's betrayal that had caused them both to start starving after Akzeriuth but nurturing ten thousand torn-apart souls.
Luke had said that he was willing to die if it would bring Akzeriuth back. He had not been kidding.
Now that he possessed his true power he didn't have to die, not to bring them back to the fon belt and not to recreate the city, calling back the fonons it had been turned into and reminding them of their old shape.
They were going to need the space, for one thing.
That prediction was only logic, not prophecy. Natalia and Peony might have decided to have only one child so that there would be no chance of a second one being co-opted by some group trying to separate the two countries after the rulers that had merged them by marriage were safely dead and gone, but between Guy's love of kids and Tear's love of the cute they were going to end up repopulating the Hod Archipelago at this rate.
Jade had said several times that the last thing the world needed was him breeding, and he already had enough accidental children to look after. Noir also had a large number of dependants and no intention of gradually being blown up like a balloon for nine months. The idea of marriage happening was ridiculous but everyone knew what was going on: it wasn't like either of them had any shame whatsoever.
Luke could find out (obviously), or in fact already knew since he knew everything but was deliberately not thinking about Sync and Anise. Given their homicidal reaction to Jade's last dig at them the answer was probably no. For now. Sync being, at the same time, in the 'girls have cooties' mental age bracket and the teenage physical age bracket was probably driving him insane, not that anyone would notice. There had been an admission at the last commemoration of Lorelei's ascension to the fon belt that Anise was, "Pretty cool."
Asch did his best not to look at the future or the past, at the infinite potential. If he looked at the infinite then the importance of this reality, in all of everything, was mathematically zero. Or the probability of it, at least.
He had to stay narrowed down to see them, and now that he understood what it was to have others who cared for him and to care back he didn't want to lose that. Luke, being what he was, didn't have this problem.
It had taken work. It had taken work to remember (in all the meanings that word had for someone so connected to the fonon of memory, song, and time) Natalia and what they had enough to love her. Once he'd managed that Guy was easy. But romantic love? A marriage took an insane amount of work to sustain for anyone, even with love. If he was having to work so hard just to feel the prerequisite emotion, he simply wasn't going to be able to have a relationship with that sort of commitment with anyone.
Except perhaps Luke.
Although calling what they had love almost cheapened it. They weren't a man or a woman, and sexual attraction was something that didn't even have to be part of the physical attraction. He wanted to hold Luke, and that could be overwhealming as it was without bringing sex into it. Lorelei being a fundamentally sexless being (if seventh fonons were male then every single person on the planet would be male, for one thing: the fonon was something gender could be written on, it didn't have an innate one) just made it less likely.
He was human (mainly), he had urges, but the idea of the physical action and Luke together seemed perverted. No, not the right word. Degrading? Defiling? Unworthy?
They'd accidently shared a wet dream once, and mental ecstasy translated to physical well enough. He didn't have to touch Luke, much less in there, to cause him to experience the sensation of it, a memory snatched from the infinite and woven into a fantasy.
Compared to that squelching, and pain, and the possibility of making Luke bleed, the possibility of harming him was utterly unappealing. The feel of his warm body, the scent of his hair, the taste of his love…
He wanted to consume him, to drink in those sensations until the bliss became enough his fonons couldn't hold it and the memory of who he was sometimes. To drown in bliss. He might, for moments, but Luke always called him back.
Peony had taken his cue from Jade and retained his usual irreverence. Ingobert had been very grave, Teodoro as well, confronted with the realization of just what it was they had so casually condemned to death at Akzeriuth. The Order bowed and scraped, but fear of them was soon replaced by utter terror of Anise and Sync.
It was hard to be afraid of Luke, and that was because they knew him. Even Jade had needed some time and Asch's prodding to realize that it was strange that he'd first taken the idea that an imbalanced child could destroy cities and then that the same child was Lorelei so calmly. He should have killed Luke and tossed him into the miasma right after Akzeriuth without any hesitation. He was a mass murderer and a threat to Malkuth. Yet he'd known that Luke was nothing but an idiot, not someone who would repeat the crime. Not any sort of danger despite his history and mental state. He'd known, and logic had nothing to do with it.
Asch might be the only one who had seen Luke's mind, but everyone had rested there, waiting to be reborn. In Lorelei's, for most of them, but it was the same person.
Luke was child and parent to all of Auldrant. Tear had wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, and still did, but she was sixteen when they met. When she got a little older the idea of herself, Luke, and sex simply didn't work. He wasn't a year older than her, he was nine years younger. She wanted someone young at heart, but not that young. Asch, once she had gotten a clue, had enlisted Jade and Noir. Guy was rather grateful, once he stopped screaming and passing out and they finally untied him from the Albiore's console (fontech was to Guy what a stuffed cheagle was to Tear and her own traumas), anyway. Their first three kids were named after them, as extorted, although Jade had ended up with a female namesake due to insisting on the firstborn.
"Saphir?! Nephry's getting remarried and it's to Saphir?!" The announcement of the engagement had caused Peony and Jade to get really, really drunk and Peony to start pursuing Natalia very, very fiercely on the rebound. Nephry, unrepentant, had said poor Saphir needed someone to watch over him. Peony and Jade were people that needed to be watched out for. Saphir didn't seem to have been given much choice in the matter. Nephry had chosen an around-the-clock job running a city, usurping the power of her decrepit and half-senile husband, over a life of ease as the emperor's kept woman. Apparently Jade's controlling tendencies ran in the family.
The world that was in front of him was interesting. No, enthralling. He'd once hated the world and everything in it. Hated himself. It was just hard, to drag himself away from Luke. If Luke hadn't promised to kick Asch out every morning no matter what arguments he mustered he would have found excuse after excuse to delay and delay leaving his haven, his heaven.
It was worth it, it truly was, but he still couldn't help hating mornings. From the instant Luke had dropped his protections and let Asch know he was welcome he'd craved being here more than anything. Perhaps he truly had all along.
He'd been a weapon, of Kimlasca, then Van, then the world. He'd always had to fight but Luke didn't see him as anything but what he was. Luke didn't force him to earn his place in Luke's heart. He could rest.
Destroying the only person that knew them like that… he understood why the originals who had been 'saved' by the Big Bang (cheagles didn't grasp things well enough for the one that still remained at Sheridan to be left devastated instead of depressed) at the expense of their replicas had never recovered. If anything had happened to Luke…
No, he would have had to live. For Luke.
But thank Lorelei he wasn't saddled with that impossible task.