Tree of Life

Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of the Abyss: Namco, Bandai, and any other rightful owners to. No infringement intended or money made.


It can't really be said that it all began with an apple. It all began with the void, but as Lorelei arose from the void consequences arose from that apple.

His caretakers truly believed that Luke fon Fabre was Luke fon Fabre. That all the things he learned were just things that he remembered. What that added up to was that Master Van was the only one who ever taught him anything, the only one who ever treated him as capable of learning. Because he didn't remember, and that either meant he was weak enough to have been traumatized, and didn't remember because he was hiding from those memories, or because he'd been brain-damaged.

So Luke grew up surrounded by people who considered him a cowardly idiot who never learned his lesson, inconsiderate instead of ignorant, and Van. He was humored, spoiled, never scolded by anyone but Van (who was mostly attempting to eradicate any chance of Luke questioning him when the time came), isolated from real consequences, and therefore innocent.

Taking an apple without paying meant consequences. A thief was a thief, it didn't matter who his father was and there wasn't any humoring the one who didn't know any better because he was a brat who refused to.

Stealing was wrong, and it was wrong for certain reasons. You got in trouble, for one, and the cheagles stealing food from Engave meant other people went hungry. Luke hated being blamed for things he couldn't help, it got very irritating when it happened several times a day every day, but he really went to Cheagle Woods to get the food back.

And Ion was grateful. He even gave Luke a gift, and not just another music player to shut him up about how he was bored with nothing constructive to do but train, but something actually helpful and considerate.

Luke didn't know how to act like a generous, kind person. In a noble household servants were furniture. If a servant needed to be spoken to, they were usually doing it wrong, and high-class servants like Ramdas considered a 'thank you' an insult. Of course whatever he had brought Master Luke was such a help. A thank you implied that sometimes it might not be (Ungrateful brat… Although it really couldn't be helped that the boy had returned an idiot.).

Luke also wasn't used to thanks. People weren't grateful for things he did. If he said something nice to Natalia she would automatically compare it to the things her Luke, who loved her, had said, and by comparison to that Luke's flattery wasn't worth listening to.

It was possible for people to approve of what he was doing aside from Master Van, just like sometimes they would disapprove for actual reasons instead of because of something Luke couldn't help.

Not having money to buy things with was bad?

Luke started making sure he had money.

Helping people do things they wanted to was a good thing instead of insulting their competence?

Luke protected Fon Master Ion.

However, the second thing was entirely because of the apple. If Luke hadn't eaten the apple he wouldn't have been hauled into interrogation and he would not have met Ion the first time or headed to Cheagle Woods to meet him the second time.

Luke has loved apples since then, especially fresh ones from Engave, although he'd never consciously made the connection until now, waiting for something to come to the lure of the gourmet apple. It's a shame that the monsters that have been stealing Engave's food again will probably get their teeth on it at some point, because the trees that one came from have been ravaged and very likely won't bear much fruit next year. Apple trees re-use the stems, he's learned, and all the stems were bitten off along with the apples.

Stopping the thefts (a good deed) will make the apple prices go down (a good result), and he thinks of the probable amount of the reduction and the cost-effectiveness of various recipes, and decides he should probably leave the cooking to Anise, because he put all that work into improving, he got his hopes up when they liked it, and then it turned out they hadn't actually liked it at all because there were all these problems with it, so that was a huge waste of time.

Of course, they'd told him at the manor that money matters were for servants like Ramdas and no, learning math and so on wasn't a waste of time even though he'd never gotten anything out of it before he started traveling, before Engave and that apple. The only thing that had ever been worth his time was practicing, because everyone said he didn't really improve but Master Van said he was, so… But Master Van had been lying to him, and might even have been making it seem like learning how to do other things was a waste of time, so that they would leave him to Master Van.

So maybe he should keep cooking. It would be nice to be better than Anise, and even if they would never admit he was he would know.

He wants to eat that apple, but it's better not to.

He misses Ion then, and doesn't buy any apples or cook fruit cocktails until the last are used up by Tear. Apple gels are entirely different, but while apples are lucky, he got to meet Ion, the good memories hurt more than the bad. He can't think of Master Van training him without his heart aching far, far more than it does when he thinks about the maids rolling their eyes or Natalia yelling at him. It's strange, he used to think about Master Van to feel better when those things got him down and now…

They went back to Engave so Luke could buy food again (it's cheapest there, for some things), and he didn't buy apples.

It was Jade that noticed that first, because Jade had been cackling about a possible new mystic arte and overusing Thunder Blade. "Luke, we're out of apples."

"I'm thinking I should stop buying fruit until we get out of the habit of making fruit cocktails after every battle. We've been here how long and we've only got three or four of everything we can use for it left? It's as dangerous to use up ingredients as items, you know."

Of course Jade knew, he had how much more experience in combat than Luke? And yet, "I suppose you're right. I've been rather sick of them. Try not to burn the curry too badly."

"Yeah, yeah." Luke smiled slightly, and Jade smiled a bit to himself after he turned his back. The plot to use the boy's pride to make him improve seemed to be bearing fruit now that he had some pride. Now he just had to rub how superior Asch's cooking was in Natalia's face a little more, and he'd never have to deal with an inedible meal again.

"Luke, we're out of apples!" Anise shook the bag at him a couple days after the next shopping trip.

"I know, and I didn't buy more than two bundles of kombu, either. Do you know how much money we were wasting, cooking gourmet like that every single meal? I finally managed to scrape enough for that bridge, but how long it took made me think about how much money we were wasting."

"I guess." Anise had grown up poor, she knew about stretching the grocery budget. It had been nice to eat like a noble while it lasted. "How much was that bridge, anyway?" she wondered.

"One million gald," Luke told her, looking proud of himself.

Anise sputtered. "One million… You had one million gald and you gave it away?!"

That attracted the attention of the rest, although Jade had already been watching out of the corner of his eyes. He hadn't kept track of the amount Luke was giving them, but that much?

"Well, I started saving up when I thought that Mother and Father were going to disinherit me, since their real son was back." And Luke smiled when he said that? "But they're not, so I thought Iemon and the others deserved a memorial when Aston told me about the bridge. I wish they hadn't insisted on naming it after me, although at least there will be plaques at both ends with the names of the members of both classes. They were the real heroes." And they'd been killed in front of Luke.

"You paid for that wonderful labyrinth as well," Natalia realized. "So why did you ask Aunt Suzanne for money, then?"

"He made me." Luke pointed at Jade. "Hey, Jade, why did you make me get money for the books that way when you didn't have a problem with funding the bridge? I mean, the bridge is great, but you said that the group's money was too help the group and those artes and the fields of fonons have been more helpful than a bridge we don't actually need, thanks to the Albiore."

"I was attempting to teach you financial responsibility."

"But I'd been doing the shopping for months by then, and you never complained."

It did seem rather foolish in retrospect. Normally Jade wasn't one to be taken in by appearances, but the contrast between how Luke spoke (like a seventeen-year old noble brat: you couldn't throw a rock in a Grand Chokmah gala without hitting one), how he acted (like a veteran who still retained compassion and enough generosity to give so much), and what he was, a replica who had no chance whatsoever of living to turn eight. "How much money do we have?"

"We just passed a hundred and ten thousand."

"Over a hundred thousand? Then why aren't there any apples?" They could certainly afford them. As their primary healer and another fonist Tear was as guilty of fruit cocktail overuse as Jade had been.

"We have a hundred thousand because I'm doing things like not buying apples. Sheesh, Tear, it's not that hard. 'A gald saved is a gald earned,'" Luke quoted: from where? "And you guys need to stop wasting ingredients."

"You're right, Luke, it's been very irresponsible of us," Natalia realized, blinking. Luke was the one who had pointed out that they had been foolish? Luke?

"But still, if we don't have them then we can't use them if we need them," Guy pointed out.

"I know, and I'll stock up on kombu again as soon as you stop cooking the most nutritious dishes too much. Seriously, guys, it's like every time I'm not cooking you cook something that uses up ten ingredients! We need to eat healthy, but that's just wasteful."

"And it's burned," Jade added, giving Natalia a look. As a Keterburg native he had standards when it came to his seafood, the fondness for curry he'd picked up in Grand Chokmah or not.

The next time they headed into battle there was once again adequate kombu, Jade noted, but no apples. A strange oversight, since his acquaintance with Luke had begun with an apple. Well, no, Luke had been on that carriage while the Tartarus pursued the Dark Wings, but that was when they had met face to face and he'd gotten that first impression, that highly erroneous first impression.

True, Luke had been insulted by someone saying he was a thief when the boy was practically incapable of lying and still had nightmares after battle, especially when they'd had to kill innocent programmed replicas who had never had a choice, but why stop buying them now?

Jade would have liked to think it was an oversight, but examining the item bag when it turned out that the account books were in Luke's head and he certainly wasn't going to cross examine the boy about bookkeeping for a small fighting force, he got enough of that as a colonel, Luke didn't make mistakes like that.

Luke seemed to pride himself on doing this well, making sure they had the best equipment and never ran out of healing items. Something that seemed to be left deliberately undone, especially when Luke was so determined to protect them (although, really, a few fruit cocktails weren't that likely to be the difference between life and death), must have a deliberate reason behind it.

Jade, being the monster he was, didn't understand people, and certainly not someone as innocent as Luke, but it seemed fairly obvious that this was a question better left unasked. Perhaps someone should ask it, but someone who knew how to do these things, someone not Jade. He'd wanted to debrief Luke right after Akzeriuth but he'd thought that had best be left to the people who knew how to deal with those things called feeling when the boy was so obviously distraught.

"Luke, we're out of apples." He watched Tear say.

"You weren't going to make a fruit cocktail, were you? We're all still fine except for you and Guy."

Tear looked away, caught fruit-handed.

Ah, so that was it, clever of Luke. Only, since when could Luke plan an ambush?

Well, Asch was the god-general of special operations. That did require skill at trickery, although Asch was letting his emotions interfere with his mission to a very unprofessional degree. Perhaps, no, Luke couldn't have learned that from his original, not with how incompetent Asch had been acting (Akzeriuth, for one thing), and traits were not shared between replica and original.

Jade probably shouldn't be studying Luke the way he was. Dr. Jade Balfour had been buried long ago even though Van had insisted on bringing back that terrible past. Yet studying Luke's own studies, attempts to figure out how to interact and show his feelings was helpful. It also gave him something to think about aside from Luke's two death sentences.

He should probably tell him. It had been a mistake to not tell him he was a replica, a mistake Akzeriuth had paid for. And yet Luke had been so devastated when he saw Asch that he'd thrown up, even though he'd repressed the thoughts of what that could mean by the time he saw Van again.

But… something as terrible as this… There was no way to fix it, Luke knowing wouldn't help, but… He wanted the boy to keep what remained of his innocence a little while longer.

Or perhaps it was that Jade didn't want to see Luke be happy that he would die so that Asch wouldn't die because of the damage inflicted by Luke's creation.

Judging from the others Luke had improved, but the fried chicken tasted like ashes in his mouth.