Title: So Much For My Happy Ending

Author: Laryna6

Fandom: Tales of the Abyss

Prompt: Balance

Rating: PG?

Word Count (according to MS Word): 2,826

Disclaimer: I own neither Tales of the Abyss nor the song the title is from. Namco, Avril Lavigne, and other rightful owners do.

Summary: "Life's not fair. Anyone who says differently is selling something." Asch wishes that was the way it was, but sadly there's something called karma.

A/N: Post-ending, spoilers for that and Contamination sidequest. For karthurcontest

-

Asch, no, Luke fon Fabre, reflected that he should have known better. They were supposed to be his subjects one day, whenever he married Natalia and picked up his life where he'd left off, but he couldn't deal with them. He couldn't wander the marketplace without attracting stares, whispers. He'd returned from the dead, wearing the true hero's body. Of course he was creepy, he should know.

Still, he'd come to sit in the arena and try to get used to people again, after seven years of being raised by Van to despise the Score's cattle. Then he'd heard a child say "That's not fair!" in response to a ruling.

Their father had responded, "Life's not fair," and Asch had been forced to leave, because the truism was anything but true.

He'd wanted to tell that boy that life was fair, and that was the problem.

There was such a thing as karma and he was walking proof.

The trouble was that life was fair and he did not deserve Natalia.

-

Hod had been rebuilt, he'd stood there and admired the view. They didn't know that a certain audience chamber was where he'd died, a room with a door guarded by two angels, one long and one short-haired. Both of them intact, now.

He'd been a fool, he'd truly been a terrible fool. Squabbling about who Van loved more when the world was at stake, and Luke had been the noble one who wanted to make things right for Asch. The one who had been warned by Jade that if he strained himself he might not survive the battle, might not win it, and knew just how much Asch's little diversion could damage Auldrant's chances of survival.

Asch had paid for his foolishness, in refusing to even accept the replica's weapon. Luke had been given Asch's life, and as soon as Luke knew he'd wanted to give it back, make things right between them, repay Asch, and Asch had refused.

It wasn't about logic. Looking at himself through hindsight and Luke's eyes Asch truly thought that he had been mad at the end there. The Big Bang's fonon separation could have that effect, as the mind prepared to transfer to the new body. Jade had given Asch his notes and made himself scarce. It explained his silence at the reunion, that he hadn't wanted to be the one to explain to the others that no, there was nothing left of Luke in there.

Asch reached out and touched the short-haired angel's white robes. They're building statues of you, you know. But no, he didn't. And he wouldn't want statues, he'd lost all taste for heroism when his attempt to save the people of Akzeriuth had been a lie. He'd wanted to get rid of the miasma before any more damage was done, that was why he hadn't wanted to waste time. The more he'd spent helping them, he'd thought, the more time they would have had exposed to the miasma.

It made him sick, how he'd hated someone who had always wanted to help but had never known how to act like someone who wanted to give. Van had oh so carefully ensured that, in fact, as he'd ensured Asch couldn't handle people.

And that too was fair, for they were Lorelei's isofons, were they not?

He hated assignments to Hod. Guy always tried to make Asch feel better, since if he'd been given Luke's life he should start actually living it.

Asch hadn't wanted Luke's life, but he'd taken it, just like Luke hadn't wanted Asch's life. He'd tried to give it back, time and time again, and if Asch had accepted, had let Luke make things right between them, let Luke get even then Asch knew he wouldn't be in this position.

They were even now.

Asch's life was fair.

He'd gotten what he'd deserved.

Count Gardios and Fon Master Tatlin exchanged glances. Commandant Asch was ignoring his job as Fon Master Guardian and in one of those moods again. They'd learned to keep him busy doing something constructive at times like, or else… It wasn't a good idea to give him time to think.

-

"I always thought that we would be together again someday," Natalia told him, at a table overlooking the water at Baticul Port. "I kept trying to get Luke to remember."

"You kept trying to get him to wake up and be me, but I wasn't in there to wake up."

Silence followed as they tried to figure out a distraction from the knowledge that it hadn't been fair for Natalia to lose her love. She'd spent seven years waiting for Asch to take over Luke's body and the person who wasn't her love to just fade away like a dream. She'd gotten what she wanted, what she deserved.

Sounds of laughing children echoed over the water, and there was a voice among them that sounded like the one Asch and Luke shared, only carefree in a way they had never really been allowed to be. "Sometimes I understand why there are so many people trying to replace the Score."

"What do you mean, Asch?" Wasn't it Asch's duty (Fon Master Anise hadn't allowed him to resign), to stop those people?

"The Score wasn't fair. Things happened no matter what you did, what kind of person you were. Without a Score, things happen because of things you do. Life is fair now. Before we could blame the Score." Now there was no one to blame but themselves.

"I suppose it wasn't very fair, that the Score said Kimlasca would incite such a horrible war and enjoy decades of prosperity while those poor people died of the plague." Natalia sighed. "People like knowing what will happen. Not knowing is frightening. I thought we would grow up together, be married, take care of this kingdom together." That hadn't happened. "Now anything could happen. You could be killed tomorrow."

"I won't be."

"I know you won't, but we can't be sure."

"I'll live at least nine more years. It's only fair." Seven years as Asch the Bloody and three before his return: Asch had lost ten years of his life. It was only fair that he get them back, and die then.

"There aren't any guarantees," Natalia reminded him, something she had been spending four years pounding into people's heads before Asch returned to help by doing it literally.

"It's not guaranteed, and it's not guaranteed that Rem will rise in the morning." As it fell under the horizon at night. "But they're both worth betting on."

"Asch…" He'd tried to be Luke fon Fabre again, he really had, but it wasn't fair that he could steal Luke's life and get his own back. He'd raged for awhile, tormented Dist, screamed that it wasn't fair but he'd thought it over, back and forth, from every angle, and yes, it was, it was exactly fair. They were exactly even, Luke and he, or they would be in nine years. "You're not the same as you were back then."

"I'm sorry, I'm trying to be."

"Don't. Luke tried so hard to be you, and he couldn't. People change. I'm not the person I was back then and I've gone through so much less than you. I want to get to know you, Asch, not a ghost."

"I was dead for three years, Natalia. I am a ghost." The wine was tasteless, and sadly he was wearing an accessory that prevented poisoning, as they were here for politics, so no chance of getting drunk.

"Don't say things like that. Luke would have wanted you to be happy."

"I never made him happy, so I don't deserve it. Do you remember those promises you all made to him right before he died?" Asch did. "He couldn't keep them, because of me, so I did. I'm his replacement now, the way he was mine. Everyone wanted me back and he was miserable, and now it's vice versa. I don't deserve happiness, Natalia, but you do." There, he'd said it.

"Asch," and this was the Queen speaking now. "Luke bought us the chance to change our fates, forge our own paths. You're throwing that away." And she would not tolerate it, anymore than she had tolerated Asch calling him dreck out of habit that time, that single time.

"Is it fair that we're here like this and Tear's alone in Yulia City?" He hadn't been able to push her away, shocked and horrified, for enough seconds to confirm the hopes he'd had to dash.

"Are you trying to break our engagement?"

"It was broken when I left you behind with Luke." Or abandoned Luke to them, whichever. "I don't deserve you and you don't deserve me."

"Is this because you're jealous of Peony?" Who sent her such fun costumes and beautiful gowns, as well as collaborating on public works projects.

"You actually have things in common, and unlike me he would be a good king. His subjects practically worship the ground he walks on! The Score said you wouldn't get married but you were practically made for each other. Get married, unify most of the world, bring peace. You've earned it."

"And what about you?" That was what she was talking about: attempting to change the subject wasn't going to fly.

"I'll act like a real god-general of the Order of Lorelei, repay my debts…"

"And what happens when they're repaid? What happens in nine years, Asch?"

He couldn't answer her, which was as good as screaming it.

"Asch," Natalia was upset now, her words sharp as arrows. "You never forgave Luke while he was alive, you never gave him a chance, and I know that you feel terrible about that. And now you're not forgiving yourself, not giving yourself a chance. And I don't care. Luke forgave you, Luke gave you this chance. You have forgiveness, you have a life and a future, so kindly stop acting like a dead man walking. Luke didn't act like this, and he was a dead man walking by the end." After the Tower of Rem, and he hadn't told them. "Luke put a considerable amount of effort into trying to make you happy. I suggest you put the exact same amount of effort in, if you're so obsessed about fairness and what people deserve now."

It was yet more proof that Natalia was a Queen, and he? Aschs to ashes, dust beneath her feet to dust. "We are still engaged," she informed him, "And I think you should go visit Tear." That was an order. Technically he was Anise's minion but as the heir to the Duchy of Belkend he was also hers, which led to some negotiations that made him feel like a piece of meat in Chesedonia.

-

There were two gravestones here, and had been since two months after his return. "After Akzeriuth he told me that if he could bring those people back by dying he would. He always hated killing."

"I know." And Asch had called compassion cowardice.

"He did it for us. He died for us, he killed those replicas for us, to protect us. Natalia wrote me with what you said and I think perhaps you're right. I look back and I, I was such a child. I wanted to be the adult, make things better for him, but I didn't know what to do so I just pretended they weren't there. And I said I would help him. I never knew the real him, and I let my brother suffer all those years. I loved him and I never found out what they'd done to him, I… these things I said in my ignorance, I think of the over and over. No wonder he didn't want me to join the Oracle Knights, come to Daath. My brother… I failed him, him and my nephew." Van had created Luke, after all, as Jade had pointed out in Ortion Cavern. "They didn't deserve to die, not really, Van was trying to do the right thing, and Hod…"

Asch had never been able to deal with crying women.

"It wasn't fair what happened to Van. Maybe he was right, maybe the world should have been destroyed and replaced by one with people like Luke and Ion. Maybe it was all of us being saved that was unfair, not Luke dying."

"Van taught me this world didn't deserve salvation." They'd feared Luke, seen him as a replica, a mass murderer… "This world didn't deserve someone like that." A child, just a child. "The two of us were on a scale, that was how I saw it. The more one rose the more the other fell, so the more noble he was to me the more I looked like the bad guy, and he was the thief. Or so Van had made me believe." Instead of blaming Van.

"He wouldn't have wanted me to, well, yes, he would have wanted me to cry. He hated that I always suffered in silence." Tear was still dry-eyed. "It really isn't fair, though. He wanted to live. Despite everything, he wanted to live, he wanted a chance to be happy. He just couldn't have that. And it was unfair. I, even Jade admires him, as much as he admires anyone. If anyone deserved a happy ending he did. But then, I think about it, and he loved us. The happy ending he deserved, Luke's idea of a happy ending, would be for us to live and be happy. That's where you're wrong, Asch. He did get what he deserved, in the end. To be seen as the hero he was, to be able to protect the people he cared about."

Asch gave her a look. "And I thought you were a sophomoric idiot who had read too many romance novels." Really, she gave herself the airs of a veteran when she'd never been outside Yulia City and had no idea of how the real world worked? The Commandant's pampered, personally trained by Legretta, greenhorn little sister?

"You were gone for three years. People change."

"I'm well aware of that." He'd been promised the replica would be a placeholder.

"I waited for Luke for three years, but you know what? That was selfish of me. If he'd come back in your place he would never have been able to make things up to you. He would have regretted that his entire life. There's a legend that the souls of seventh fonists live on in the fon belt. I like to think that he's watching us from up there, and someday I'll see him again, and he endured so much, I don't want to make him suffer anymore. He hated to see me be unhappy and not be able to do anything about it. So that's what I can do for him, try to be happy and live the life I have because of him, and Ion."

"I know. I have his memories. I know how much he would hate that I'm wasting his gift like this, and yet… This," Asch waved at himself. "Is his apology to me, but I never got to apologize to him."

"He never got to apologize to the people of Akzeriuth."

"Perhaps he did. They would have been trapped in the miasma and purified along with the rest of it."

"You're right," Tear realized, smiling. "That's good. So he did get everything he wanted. He saved the world, saw it, did so much… all in less than eight years."

"All in one year. He lived one year. I can't really call the rest living." Trapped there… Asch shook his head. "I truly do wish he had been the sort of person I could feel justified in hating. Leaving me with his memories: the laws of fomicry are as sadistic as their discoverer."

"I do understand why the Fonic War started. There are so many things I want to happen. You want to be happy with Natalia, I wish Luke had come back… it's not something that would have happened on its own, same with Hod, I know that it was impossible for Luke to come back and so I can't blame him, but I want to change history and make it happen."

"That wouldn't be fair to everyone else."

"I know." Tear sighed. "Either you or Luke, either Natalia or I getting our happy ending. And now it looks like you and Natalia…"

"I have no idea what I want," Asch confessed. "I find myself wishing the Score still existed so that I would have some idea what to do, some higher power guiding me. I wish Natalia would push me around the way she did Luke."

"Maybe you should tell her that."

"I don't know if I can make her happy. Peony does." Made her smile, made her laugh, verbal battles at the annual Conference…

"Well, you're the one she loves, and consider what leaving her with Luke turned into."

"I truly can't argue there."