I do not own Tales of the Abyss or any characters featured therein.
This story has been rattling around my head for a good year now, and I decided it was time to let it out before it peed on the floor. A few things to mention:
1) During the game, Jade refers to Saphir as a "servant from his childhood." Later, he states that he was Saphir's owner and that he was a "charming pet."
2) Peony's observation to Saphir about his inability to harm Jade is based on my own copy of the game, which I have determined has an odd but funny glitch. No matter how many times I fight Dist, he never touches Jade. He has no problem wiping out my other characters, but Jade never loses so much as a hit-point.
3) After Jade "questions" Dist in Keterburg, the other characters muse about why he's so mean to him, and decide that it's just to hide the way he really feels. "Sort of like being angry at someone you've fallen in love with" is the quote, I believe.
4) The "Story of Dhaos" Saphir refers to is actually the plot of "Tales of Phantasia".
This story is gluten-free. It does contain slash, some mild violence and language, and Jade being Jade. While not a song fic, I've never been able to listen to U2's "One" without thinking about the "Keterburg Crown Jewels", so if you like to read while listening to music, I highly suggest that.
What was that old saying, "be careful what you wish for"?
Even as a little boy, above all other things in life, what Saphir had wished for every day was time to just… think. That was all. Just time to think. And like most of his wishes, it had proved harder to fulfill in those days than it really should have been. There was always somewhere that he needed to be, or something he needed to be doing. His mother had believed that if he was simply sitting around staring out the window it indicated boredom, and she'd been…enthusiastic about finding something productive for him to do. Usually, it involved shoving him in the general direction of the other children in town. Not so much because she worried about his lack of friends, he had suspected at the time, but that she was proud of the fact that her son, the illegitimate son of a scullery maid, could even at 6 think circles around most of his peers. He was a bragging right, one of the few she had, and he had (although often grudgingly) tried to indulge her. Even when it did cut into his highly valued "Saphir" time.
How bitterly and wonderfully ironic that now he had all the time in the world to sit alone and think, and there were days he wanted nothing more than to hear his mother's voice nagging him to "go outside and go ice-skating or something".
Two weeks down, a lifetime to go. However long that might be.
Saphir leaned back on the thin cot, staring up at the rough hew of the stone ceiling. His fingers (musicians fingers, his mother had called them) picking aimlessly at the threadbare gray blanket. There were a few books to read; they allowed him a few minutes in the evening to go into the library and choose new ones, after the others were asleep or safely locked up in their cages. Afterward he was allowed 10 minutes in the lukewarm shower (the water was kept tepid to keep his fellow prisoners from scalding each other in moments of pique). Afterward he was escorted back here to read, sleep, and brood. And think. Even his meals were brought to his cell.
It was Peony's doing, and for the first time in his life Saphir found himself dubiously grateful to the emperor. He shifted on the mattress, and absently reached up to rub at his bruised cheek. A week ago he'd been attacked by the other inmates, who were delighted to have a former God General at their disposal. Before the guards had arrived he'd been beaten badly; there was no doubt in Saphir's mind that had the guards not shown up when they did he'd have died right next to the laundry tubs that night.
Afterward he'd been isolated from the others for his own protection, and the only reason that he wasn't more grateful for that small kindness was because it seemed that maybe it would have been better to have died at the hands of the others, instead of this endlessly gray, silent life he'd been given instead.
The food they brought him wasn't bad; oddly enough it was better than some inns served. But shortly after his attack, he'd found he had no taste for it at all and had been sending his trays back mostly full. Not a hunger strike; he wasn't protesting anything. He simply found that he lacked the energy to put much effort into anything that prolonged his misery.
Maybe, he mused, he could attack a guard. One of the silent pair who came each night to escort him to the other end of the prison. No, they'd only subdue him. They wouldn't risk their jobs by killing him. The only chance of that was to convince someone that he wanted to go back into the general population, and he doubted he'd have much luck with that.
His cheek still hurt, although it was healing nicely. No one wasted a 7th fonist on convicted felon, and besides, what little gossip he was able to glean told him that without Lorelei fonic arts weren't that dependable these days anyway. And with healing arts being so questionable the price of gels had become astronomical. He'd have to heal on his own, in his own time.
Well, what else did he have but time, anyway?
He closed his eyes, and was nearly asleep when he heard the grinding of the cell door open, and the tread of sure footsteps, different than the clicking the boots of the guards made.
"You look like hell." The voice was cheerful.
At that Saphir did open his eyes, and granted his visitor with what he hoped was a withering look. It didn't last long. Withering looks were exhausting. He closed his eyes again, trying to make his unwanted guest vanish by sheer force of will.
"Heard you haven't been eating." The visitor continued, and Saphir sensed the man sitting down next to the cot.
"And you were beside yourself with worry. How kind." Saphir was surprised that his voice sounded raspy, and tried to remember when the last time he'd spoken out loud was. "Surely you have better things to do than come here to torment me. Didn't you get enough of that when we were children?"
"Did I ever apologize to you for that? I should. I was a little beast to you back then. Not that you were very nice to me either, but… I'm sorry. I was always jealous of you, you know."
That surprised Saphir enough to warrant opening his eyes again to give his visitor a startled look. Peony pretended not to notice and continued.
"You could speak to him…you know, you could speak his language. I could be his friend, but you actually understood what he was talking about. I remember listening to the two of you going over theories and equations, and not understanding a word of it. I used to have these fantasies that as soon as I became emperor I'd have you assigned to Chesadonia or some other forsaken place." Peony shook his head, laughing a little. "Anyway, you didn't deserve it. Not then, anyway."
"So after all these years, you came here to apologize?" Saphir stared back at the ceiling. "Fine. Accepted. Now go run your country and leave me in peace."
"Nah, that's just something I decided to throw in while I was here. And don't get too comfortable there. You're getting out of here."
"I…beg your pardon?"
Peony gave him a grin that would have melted any other heart. "I said you're getting out of here."
"I'm being released?"
"Not in this lifetime. I didn't say you were being released. You're just not going to serve your sentence here. We did some brainstorming after you were attacked, and, well… it just seems kind of a waste. You rotting down here and all. Locked up away from everyone else. I've been in that situation. I remember what it felt like, and by the looks of you, you're not holding up very well either. So we came up with another solution."
Well, not we. I nearly fell out of my chair when he suggested it. It was insane. It hasn't been done in 150 years. But… when was I ever able to tell him no?
"I'm being executed, then." It was said flatly, without a hint of emotion.
"Of course not. You're being Bonded."
That caused Saphir to bolt upright on the cot and give the emperor his full attention. He tried to speak, but only managed to get out a sort of humiliating squeak.
"You're being transferred from prison to the home of your Bond Master. There, you'll serve out your sentence doing whatever he asks you to do. My best guess is a lot of cooking and cleaning. I'm sure he'll find something useful to keep you busy and out of trouble."
"Slavery!" Saphir spat out the word. "Call it what you want it, it's slavery! It's barbaric! It hasn't been done in centuries!"
Peony shrugged. "If you want to think of it like that."
"I refuse! I'll take my chances in here."
"Sorry, not an option. The good tax-payers of Grand Chokmah are tired of footing your hotel bill. You can leave on your own or I can have the guards drag you out of here kicking and screaming, but either way, you're going."
"So whose boots did you chose for me to lick?"
"Come on. You're supposed to be the genius here. Do you really have to ask that?"
Saphir paled. "No…"
"Oh, it won't be so bad. Under the law he's not allowed to beat you or maim you. What do you think he's going to do, sneer you to death?" Peony was in a good mood. Saphir's reaction was proving incredibly amusing.
"He'll never agree to it." Saphir tried one last move. "He hates me. The last thing he'll want is me under foot."
"Actually, it was his idea. I'll admit I wasn't really on board at first, but he made some good points." The emperor sighed and turned serious. "Look, Saphir. Bottom line is, you're dying in here. We both know it. Jade knows it. Maybe this is a crazy idea, but he seems to think that if he gets you out of here, maybe there'll be something worth salvaging someday. If nothing else, this way he can order you to put your brain to use for the good of Malkuth. You can look at it as slavery, or you can look at it as a second chance. He won't hurt you. He gave me his word."
Not physically, maybe. Saphir tried to swallow down a range of conflicting emotions. Jade didn't need to beat him senseless or slit his throat. He was far more creative than that. "What's to keep me there? And what's to keep me for sticking a knife in his back the minute it's turned?"
"First question, we're coding your fonon frequency to his security system. Go past the property line and you'll find yourself knocked out cold. As to the second question, three reasons. One, I trust Jade to be able to take care of himself. Two, because Jade is bound by the law not to harm you: I'm not." He grinned again, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Three. He told me something interesting. In all the times you took him and the kiddies on, you only attacked them. You never once laid a hand on him. You couldn't hurt him then and you won't hurt him now."
"I will. I swear I will. He'll be dead by nightfall."
"Well, give it your best." Peony stood up and stretched, and Saphir wrinkled is nose at the faint smell of rappig. "The guards will be coming in about an hour to escort you out of here." He paused. "Think about what I said about second chances. Good luck. I'll be checking on your progress."
Then he was gone, and missed the prison library book being hurled at the bars behind his back.