Disclaimer: Characters and locations belong to Namco Bandai. As much as I wish they belonged to me...they don't and that makes me sad. So until the day I come up with a way to get Namco to give them to me, I can only play around with them in my story.
Spoilers: Up to the first visit to Yulia City.
A/N: This was a cannon oneshot I wrote as an entry to K'arthur's fanart and fanfiction raffle. The contest has been over for awhile, but I just got around to properly editing it. The theme was happiness.
Returning the Unwanted
The autumn wind was cool in spite of the sun that shone down on the cathedral's courtyard. Daath was always such a sunny place; for being on an island, it really didn't get its share of rain. But no one saw fit to complain as they hurried along, scarves and sweaters in tow. This time of year was always a busy one with all the new recruits starting their training; but seeing as today was a rest day, most were in a rush to escape the building's confines and it didn't take long at all to empty.
Asch slowly walked through the courtyard, the last of the young teens hurrying by him. Some eyed him with suspicion, others with awe, and a few stopped to give a courteous bow; but all of them annoyed him. Granted it wasn't them that were trying his nerves, though he knew from experience they certainly knew how; that wasn't the case today.
What bothered the God-General most of all was that he couldn't put his finger on exactly what grated his nerves. It was the same courtyard he had always known, his home for the past seven years. The trees swayed in the wind, escaping the colours that often painted their northern kindred. The stone path was slightly worn by the weather but otherwise remained untouched. Nothing had changed over the course of his memories, and yet, the place was starkly different.
It wasn't just the courtyard, all of Daath had become a thorn in his side of late, and it wasn't just because of Van's lunacy. The once desired reprieve had become a place he subconsciously avoided. It just... annoyed him, and the reason was still as elusive as ever.
Asch didn't hate Daath, he never had. It wasn't so long ago that he enjoyed his days off here, sitting in the shade of the trees, reading a book or taking a nap. Some days, the captains from his division would join him, all the while maintaining a healthy respect of their teenage superior. Even among his own, his reputation preceded him. Asch didn't mind, they kept their distance, and the company never truly bothered him.
Other days some of Arietta's monsters would curl up around him. Liger or not, they made for a wonderful nap. Of course, that would last only last until their master showed up, leaping on her fellow God-General in a burst of giggles. After unwillingly prying him from his slumber, Arietta would shove one of many books under his nose and have him read to her. Not that the pink haired girl couldn't read herself, but by her own admission, she preferred being read to, or rather, she preferred it when he read to her. For all that Asch would roll his eyes and try to shoo her away, those weren't times he resented.
Now.. the courtyard was empty. There was no peaceful, relaxing aura, no sense of welcoming, no feeling of home. Just an echoing silence that wouldn't fade away, a hole that couldn't quite be filled. Asch the Bloody had plenty of experience with holes, pieces of psyche that had long since served their purpose and remained to be buried. He knew that feeling when something was suddenly missing, but this wasn't it. There was nothing wrong with the place in which he currently found himself, yet something was distinctly trying his patience and until he could pinpoint exactly what it was, just being in Daath put him in a bad mood.
It was no difficult task to scale the courtyard's biggest tree, and Asch quickly found himself on one of his favourite branches. By all logic he really shouldn't be in Daath in the first place. His thoughts on Van's so-called plan for salvation had been made clear enough after Akzeriuth, and his willingness to help out even more so. He was just as likely to be branded a traitor and weeded out, but until that time came, he was content enough to remain here while he waited for the information he needed. He didn't have anywhere else he wanted to go anyways.
Commotion in the nearby building drew Asch from his daydreaming state. Something or another was going on in the cathedral, but Asch found he couldn't be bothered. Apathy had set in alongside his vaguely annoyed baseline state. He'd feel better once he got out of Daath...but seeing as he told Noir to meet him here, he was trapped for the time being. Asch sighed, when had his home become a prison?
The door to the courtyard flew open and a head of red hair stumbled through it, shutting it as quietly as he could given the hurry he was in. Asch didn't even have to look down to see who had come through the door, and he felt undiscovered levels of frustration rise in him. The things he wouldn't give to be wrong for once... but sure as Yulia read the Score 2000 years ago, there was his replica. What was the idiot doing here? This was the last thing he wanted to deal with. Oh well, his mood was already shot to begin with, what's another insult or three?
"What the hell are you doing here, replica?" Asch demanded as he hopped down from the tree, sending his mirror image into a frantic scramble that practically had him tripping over the ridiculous piece of white fabric he called a coat.
"Asch?!" Luke managed to choke out amidst the process of regaining his composure. Seriously... between Asch and Jade he'd already lost 5 years off his life; and he'd lost out on 10 years to begin with. "What are you doing here?"
"I live here you moron, try again."
"I got separated from the others while looking for some guy named Reiner," Luke provided sheepishly. "But maybe this is a good thing, there's something I want to talk to you about."
Asch scowled. "For the last time, I have my own business to attend to. I don't have time to spend babysitting you and your band of idiots."
"I'm going to tell Natalia you said that," Luke cocked an eyebrow.
"I dare you to try. You may be my replica, but she could still beat you with one hand tied behind her back."
Luke struggled to find a retort but failed miserably. Natalia on a mission was scary; Natalia on a mission to defend Asch was the kind of thing they made nightmares out of.
The God-General rolled his eyes in frustration when Luke shrugged helplessly in defeat. He bit back his tongue, he wouldn't give his replica the satisfaction of knowing how riled up he was... Luke wasn't worth the effort. Nothing anyone said ever penetrated that ridiculously thick skull of his anyway. Asch would have better success convincing a wall to up and leave than to try and explain anything to this dimwit.
Why had Asch even bothered to confront the fool? He could have just stayed up in the tree and Luke would have wandered right by, none the wiser. Why did he constantly do this to himself? Contact with his overeager counterpart was never good for anything but a headache. But at the same time, his replica was so impossibly hopeless if left to his own devices. Score knows what he'd get himself into if someone didn't intervene. It just seemed that task fell to Asch far more often than he'd like.
"Look, do you have anything to say or not? Because if not I'm leaving," Asch stated.
"No, wait," Luke spoke up when Asch spun around. "Please hear me out."
Asch glanced over his shoulder, giving Luke a pointed look. "I'm listening."
"I want you to come back to Baticul with us."
"And why would I want to do that?" Asch turned around.
"Because I want you to go back home," Luke stated, forcing himself to continue in spite of the dark look that had crashed over Asch's face. He has thought about this for a long time now and he was sure of his choice. He wasn't going to let anyone, even Asch, scare him out of it. "It's time enough that we both stop pretending to be something we aren't. I'm not you; I don't belong in Baticul, in your house with your family. This is your life, and it's time you took it back. I'm just a replica, I'm not supposed to have any of it."
Asch's fists were clenched, the skin beneath his gloves whiter than snow. The colour that once lived within them fled to his face, and any other onlooker could just see the pure unadulterated rage rise up from within him. He'd heard this particular spiel more than once, but for some reason today it was just that much worse. Just who the hell did this replica think he was?!
"How dare you." Asch managed, enunciating each word, each with more seething hatred than the last.
"What do you mean?" Luke asked confusedly, but when Asch didn't reply he pushed onwards. "You know its true, and I swear I'm not trying to pull anything. You can have it all back, things can be just like they used to be; they can be right again."
Asch forced himself to take a deep breath but it did absolutely nothing to calm the raging emotions within him. He was so damn sick of his stupid- thick headed- idiot of a replica and all the moron's Score be damned assumptions about what he wanted and didn't want. Today wasn't a good day to begin with and that... that dreck was about to get a piece of his mind.
"How dare you tell me my life is worthless, you good for nothing ass!"
"I didn't say that!" Luke immediately became defensive.
"No! I'm just trying to give you back what's yours!" Luke's voice rose in desperation. Why did he always get Asch so upset? He didn't understand it! He was trying to give him his life back. How did that imply it was worthless?!
"And what in the hell makes you think I want your stupid second rate life in the first place?!"
"Because it's your stupid second rate life! Wait!" Luke cut off the impending tirade. "That's not what I meant! What I meant is that it belongs to you! There's no reason for you not to take it!"
"There you go spewing your self serving crap again! I'm only going to say this once so get it through that skull of yours or so help me Yulia I will pound it in there myself. I. do. Not. Want. Your. Life. I do not want to live in Baticul, and I don't want your stupid friends. Save for a couple of lunatics in the upper ranks, Daath is a perfectly civil place, and it's sure as hell better than anything you have."
"I don't get it! It's yours! It was never supposed to be mine! Why don't you want it all back?"
"Tell me," Asch demanded. "Do you want to go back to the person you were before Akzeriuth?"
"Of course not! I would never-"
"Then what makes you think I would want to go back either?"
Luke stood in shock at Asch's violent response, unsure of what to say. Not only had his offering been completely and utterly rejected, but that was probably the most honest Asch had ever been with him. Ever. But why?
"Seriously," Asch finally said, his outrage having calmed down in the awkward silence that had fallen over them. The once flaming green eyes before Luke were now hard and penetrating, besetting a more serious question. "All your fantasies about what it means to be a replica and self worth issues aside, why do you want out of your life so bad? Who do you hate?"
"I don't hate anyone! I- I care about everyone who's been supporting me and helping me all this time!"
"You're such a liar," Asch shot back. "If you were content, then you wouldn't be so anxious to throw them all away. You would be happy."
"I was happy..." Luke confessed. "Even though I was selfish and ignorant... I was still happy. I just didn't know it then. But now... now things have changed, and even if I wanted to, I can't go back to how they used to be," he declared.
The sound of armour from inside the cathedral caught both the redheads' attention.
"Looks like your hiding spot sucks," Asch shot, staring down the likely object of the Oracle Knight's search. Luke looked around, but their were only two other exits across the yard, and deducing where he'd gone wouldn't take very long.
"Get out of here," Asch said, turning to face the door from which the Oracle Knights would come.
"But what about you?"
"I said get lost!"
Luke nodded. "Thanks Asch."
"What a moron," the God-General mumbled to himself once the idiot was out of earshot. Sadly, he didn't have long to dwell on his thoughts of Luke and his incompetence, as a triage of Oracle Knights came through the door.
"Commander Asch," the leader of the group stood to attention followed by his two comrades. "We're in pursuit of a wanted prisoner under orders from Grand Maestro Mohs. Did you-"
"No one came through here," Asch cut the knight off.
"But sir, several acolytes and one of the guards unaware of his identity saw him come this way. He's likely to have escaped through the here."
"I told you, no one came this way," the God-General reiterated.
"Sir, he either escaped through the northern or eastern exit," the man tried as politely as he could. "Tell us, which way he went."
"We're under orders from both Grand Maestro Mohs and Commandant Grants to detain him. This goes beyond your author-"
"Do I look like I care?" Asch cocked an eyebrow. "I told you no one came through here. Don't believe me? Which one of you wants to prove me wrong?" The redhead reached for his sword. All three of the knights eyed him cautiously before deciding that yes, he was serious and no, they had absolutely no intention of trying to prove anything. No one in Daath didn't know why he was called Asch the Bloody. Before Asch's sword had left its sheath, all three men had retreated.
Asch let out a sigh, staring up at the branch in which he had been resting. Things have changed... and they can't go back. Damn that replica. Somehow he always managed to say things that weren't entirely as stupid as he was. Asch sighed. What a hopeless idiot.
Well he had to get it from somewhere.
Things had changed... maybe that had been the problem all along. He had changed, and the place he had once called home...no longer was. Asch may not have been able to put his finger on it, but he had known it all along. This place, wasn't his anymore and his past could no longer be his future. After all, that's what it meant to change. But if that was the case, then it begged one final question.
To where had his happiness escaped this time?