Disclaimer: Obviously I don't own the awesome character Jade Curtiss or anything else from Tales of the Abyss.
Jade Curtiss sat on a stool in a small bar located in the kingdom of Baticul. His manner was restive as he stared, his crimson eyes squinted, into the glass of amber liquid on the counter in front of him. His index finger slowly traced the delicate indentation of the glass's design. This was the first night in a long while that the Colonel had been able to enjoy the comforting taste of a stiff drink and the atmosphere of a bar that he found so relaxing. He sighed aloud, wishing he had less on his mind so that he might be able to enjoy it.
He took another sip from his glass, allowing the strong bitter liquid to float over his tongue before he swallowed the drink leaving a warm, tingling sensation in his throat. Jade sighed once again, gently swirling the drink in his glass. It's contents circled round and round, much like the many thoughts in his sharp, thoughtful mind.
This was the first time the Necromancer could recall when he wished for a way to stop his mind from working; if only for a moment. Jade had always set a high value on the out-workings of the human brain, and had always been extremely grateful that his, in particular, was so far advanced, but tonight was one night when he cursed his mind's ceaseless wanderings. He wished, fervently, for a way to stop his thoughts. He knew, however, that none could be found, he chose to seek solace in it's liquid form.
Jade thought how grateful he was that he had at least found a place of solitude. For the most part, there was not a soul in the bar, and the few people that now inhabited the dark and dusty room along with Jade, were, like himself, too busy with their drinks and their own thoughts to attempt friendly conversation. Yes, here was a place where Jade could count on not being bothered.
Jade cursed irony under his breath as he heard Tear's voice.
"I'm glad you're here, I . . . I didn't really want to be alone," Tear said, taking a seat on the empty stool beside Jade.
"By a strange coincidence, I was also thinking . . . something along those lines," Jade replied, his mysterious smile once again in it's rightful place on his lips.
"What are you drinking?"
"Never mind, Colonel, it doesn't matter," Tear interrupted, causing Jade to raise an eyebrow. She then motioned to the bartender and ordered, "whatever he's having," causing Jade's eyebrow to inch up even further.
"Tear, forgive me but, there seems to be something on your mind."
"Wha- oh, no . . . it's nothing."
"Hmm . . ." Jade began skeptically, "I see. Well if you'd rather not talk abou-"
"It's Luke, Colonel."
"I see," Jade replied, mentally cursing his curiosity. He generally abhorred putting himself in the middle of lover's quarrels.
"He's such an idiot," Tear muttered in obvious frustration.
"Dear, dear. And him not even here to defend himself! Really Tear, in all fairness to Luke, perhaps you should be talking to someone willing to refute that claim."
"I don't understand him," Tear continued, choosing to ignore the Colonel's witticism. "He can be so infuriating."
"And what, may I ask, has he done to cause you such frustration?"
Tear was silent for a moment, staring down at her drink.
" . . . He doesn't trust me," she said finally, in a tone not much louder than a whisper.
A sparkle flashed in Jade's eye. He understood what Tear was referring to. He wonder why it was that Tear could not understand Luke's actions. She was, after all, a smart girl. People in love are so irrational, Jade thought.
"You mean, because he chose not to tell you about his . . . illness," Jade mused.
"I just don't understand why he would keep me in the dark when I care about him."
"Well, Luke is a complicated young man, as difficult as that is to believe," Jade replied in a half-mocking, half-insightful way. "He reasons on a different level than you or I."
"What do you mean, Colonel?"
"Well . . . if theres one thing I know about Luke's reasoning, which, shockingly, is a remarkably difficult concept to grasp, it's that, quite simply, he uses his heart instead of his head."
Tear was silent for a moment.
"I-I don't understand."
"Well, Tear, even though Luke's action may seem insensitive, his motivation was pure. He was, in fact, thinking of all of us. He simply didn't want to burden us with worry. And, while that may not have been the proper course of action, he really was trying to protect you, and all of us."
"Yes . . . I suppose you're right, Colonel."
Jade shrugged. "That is oftentimes the case."
"Colonel . . ."
" . . . Thank you."
Jade watched with a small smirk as Tear walked out of the bar, leaving him to his thoughts and his drink once again. He was relieved that his conversation with Tear did not last very long and he was now able to return to his peaceful solitude. Jade pulled the glass to his lips, preparing to take a sip.
The Colonel winced upon hearing his name shouted behind him. He sighed and turned his head, already knowing who he would find. Luke Fon Fabre stood in the doorway of the bar with a confused look on his face. The Colonel greeted him with a disinterested smile before calmly returning his attention to his drink, secretly hoping Luke would turn around and walk out of the bar. Jade knew, however, that his hope was a vain one. He sighed in mild annoyance as Luke sat on the stool that had been vacated only moments before.
"I just saw Tear coming out of here," Luke began, "she was acting a little strange."
"Oh?" Jade feigned interest, "how so?"
"She said, 'I'm sorry, Luke,' but then she walked away before telling me what she was apologizing for."
"How very unusual," Jade said, not bothering to look at Luke.
"Did you talk to her at all?"
"Do you know what she was talking about?"
"I haven't the foggiest idea," Jade lied, determined not to repeat his earlier mistake of putting himself in the middle of things between Luke and Tear.
"Hmm . . ."
Luke became quiet. Jade looked at him out of the corner of his eye. Luke was staring at his fingers in a brooding manner and Jade could not help noticing that he must have had much on his mind. Jade ignored his impulse to ascertain Luke's thoughts as he silently swirled the drink in his hand.
Luke sighed, but remained silent. Jade felt his curiosity grow as he cast his eyes in Luke's direction again, but he remained firm in his resolve to stay silent and enjoy his drink without the complication of other people's problems.
Luke sighed again, this time a little more loudly.
Jade subconsciously shrank away from Luke, wondering why it was that no one seemed to realize that he wanted nothing more than to be alone.
Luke sighed a third time, and Jade sighed too, realizing that it was fruitless to pretend that Luke wasn't there.
"You seem . . . troubled, Luke."
"No, no, I'm not troubled. I'm fine," was the reply. Luke sent a half-hearted smile in the Colonel's direction as proof.
Jade rolled his eyes, amused. "Why is it that everyone seems determined to pretend they're fine when they so obviously are not?" He asked.
"I can't hide anything from you can I?"
"I don't think you have much success in the art of deception."
"I guess my skills aren't as finely tuned as yours, huh?"
"Oh, don't feel too bad, few people's are."
Luke managed a small smile.
"So," Jade continued, "what's on your mind?"
"I'm . . . I'm-"
"I'm scared. I know you must think I'm pathetic, and I am, but I'm afraid."
"Of what's happening to me!"
Jade paused, unsure of how to respond. He knew that Luke's condition was serious. He knew that the likelihood of Luke's survival was slim. This, however, was one situation in which knowledge was utterly unhelpful. The facts could in no way allay Luke's fears, but the facts were all that Jade could offer. The colonel was at a loss when it came to consolation.
"I know you're scared, Luke," Jade attempted, "and that is natural in such a situation as this. I think the only thing that can really help you is to focus on the task at hand, and take solace in the people who care about you."
"I can't tell anyone else. Two people knowing is enough," Luke blurted out vehemently.
"That is not what I was suggesting, Luke," Jade corrected, "What I mean is . . . take solace in the fact that they don't know. It can be as if nothing is wrong at all. Don't allow the knowledge of your condition to be master over you."
"So, pretty much, you're telling me to pretend like nothing is wrong."
Jade blinked. "In a way, but it's not that simple. What I'm trying to tell you is that, though this knowledge is always going to be at the back of your mind, and though you are, quite naturally, going to be scared, you can't let fear, or anything else, stop you from living. A life lived in fear of death is no life at all."
Luke remained silently looking at Jade. For a moment, the colonel wondered if Luke had even heard what he had said. The stare that Luke wore was so blank, that it looked as if he were a rock, and Jade's words were mere waves, crashing against the strong outer surface, but failing to penetrate the stone armor.
Finally, Luke sighed and nodded.
"And by the way, you can seek help from the people who do know . . . and by people, I of course refer to Tear. Tell her how you feel. Don't keep it all in. That is unhealthy."
"Jade . . . is there any . . . d-do you think . . ." Luke let his voice trail off, unable to find the words to finish his question, too afraid of what the answer might be. Jade knew what it was Luke was trying to ask, but he was at a loss as to how to answer him. He found himself wishing he had told Luke the truth about his conversation with Tear. Perhaps, if he had, they would be discussing an entirely different subject. Relationships seemed an infinitely more comfortable topic in comparison to what they were currently discussing.
"I think I understand what you're saying," Luke decided to say instead.
"Good. Than you will benefit all the more from my infinite wisdom."
Luke smiled, and the two men sat in silence for a few moments before Luke rose.
"I . . . think I'm gonna go find Tear."
Luke smiled a second time and began to walk away when Jade stopped him.
"I apologize. I'm afraid I'm not very good at reassurance and that sort of thing."
To the Colonel's surprise Luke walked back towards him. He laid a hand on Jade's shoulder and sighed.
"You've helped . . . enough."
Jade's manner was stoic as he watched Luke exit the bar. Though no emotion was visible on his face, inside Jade felt slight pangs of guilt. He sighed. The reason Jade had come to this bar was precisely to escape such feelings and situations. He had wanted to be completely devoid of care for a short while. It seemed that tonight was not his night, for he now had even more on his mind than he had when he first decided to seek refuge in the bar.
The Colonel shrugged and picked up his glass. He put it to his lips, anticipating the warm sensation that would come when the liquid entered his mouth, along with the sense of calm that would inevitably follow. The sensations were, however, not to come, as he was once again interrupted by a voice from behind him.
Why did fate insist on tormenting him so?
"Princess," he replied to the voice calling his name as he turned and came face to face with Natalia, "what are you doing in such an ungodly place as this? Do you think it would be right for you to be seen here?"
"I could ask the same of you. You, after all, do represent the Malkuth Empire, do you not?"
"Yes, but my reputation has been ruined for quite sometime. I believe I can pinpoint it's fall to the night of the Emperor's 22nd birthday party. Now I, myself, don't recall much about that night, but I'm told that I was found in a fountain wearing nothing but a pink apron which I had pilfered from one of the cooks. Also, a rappig may have been involved, but that's still under debate. Anyway, I digress. My point is that it would be far less astonishing for myself to be found in a bar than it would be to find you in one."
"I came to talk to you. I . . . I need to talk to someone."
"And you could find no better candidate than myself?"
"Jade, please. I trust your judgment."
As much as Jade wanted to, he could not ignore her pleading eyes. He could not coldly tell her to go. He sighed again, gesturing for her to take the seat that had been occupied by Tear and Luke before her.
"So, my dear, please do tell me what's worrying that pretty little head of yours."
Natalia managed a smile at the Colonel's compliment before she began.
"Well . . . the problem is Asch . . . and Luke . . . or, it could just be me. I'm really not sure anymore," she said, throwing her hands up in confusion.
"Hmm . . . well, as clearly as you've stated your case . . . I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to elaborate. Just on some of the finer points," Jade gently mocked.
"Oh, Colonel. I know that I must sound ridiculous. I'm not making an ounce of sense, am I?" the princess asked, furrowing her brow in expectancy.
"Not an ounce," Jade confirmed.
"It's alright. Just, slow down and think of what it is you're trying to say," he directed.
"Of course," Natalia said, taking a slow, deep breath. "Well, it's just that, I feel a bit . . . hypocritical sometimes. I've told Luke that he's his own person, and he shouldn't feel inferior to Asch because he's a replica. Yet, since I've known that Asch is the Luke I grew up with, I find myself . . . missing him. Every time I do, I feel as if I'm betraying Luke, and by taking Luke's side . . . I feel like I'm betraying Asch. I'm just so confused."
"Natalia, nothing you are doing is wrong," Jade could not help but smile. "You aren't betraying anyone. You can value both Luke and Asch as friends. Asch was your childhood friend, you have every right to miss him. And at times . . . quite often really, he can be just as idiotic as Luke. So, on those rare occasions when Luke is actually in the right, there is no reason why you shouldn't side with him. You've come to know Luke, and you've created a bond with him. You love both your friends in different ways, but that doesn't mean you're choosing one over the other; or that you have to, for that matter. Trust me, my dear, they each know that you care for them, even if they don't care to show it."
Jade took a deep breath, hoping he had gotten his point across. He took a drink from his glass and looked at Natalia, waiting for a response.
"Thank you, Jade. Hearing that from someone as wise as you has helped me a great deal."
"Finally! A youth who appreciates the wisdom of her elders. I must say, this comes as somewhat of a relief. I was not sure whether anyone even list-"
"Colonel, there is one other thing . . ."
"Of course there is. By all means, proceed, Princess," Jade said with a wave of his hand.
"This time it's about Asch."
"I see . . ." he said, feeling a slight pang of annoyance which he quickly and efficiently silenced.
"He's been acting so strange lately, I'm worried about him. I just want to know why he won't confide in us . . . in me."
"I'm afraid even my infinite wisdom does not stretch so far as to be able to read minds, Natalia."
"I know, of course. That's not exactly what I meant. You've seen him. I'm just wondering, in your opinion . . . I mean, I know he's been through a lot, and it's changed him. But when I look at him, I can still see the same person I-"
Natalia stopped and sighed. "Perhaps this is not something I should be asking you, she concluded.
Jade's demeanor softened as he saw the dejected look in Natalia's eyes.
"Natalia," he spoke softly, raising her chin with his hand, "I think I know what you're trying to say, and personally . . . I mean, in my expert opinion . . . caring for you is not a habit easily broken. Either he hides his feelings well, or he's a bigger imbecile than I give him credit for."
"Jade . . . thank you."
The Colonel only smiled in reply.
"It's getting late," Natalia said, rising from her chair, "I had better be going."
"Yes, I think that's wise. If you stayed any longer, we might find ourselves bathing half-naked in a fountain somewhere. While I don't find that completely objectionable, your reputation might never recover."
"Jade Curtiss!" the princess blushed, causing Jade to laugh heartily.
Natalia left the bar, leaving Jade in slightly better spirits, but with as strong a desire as ever to be alone with his beverage.
He now had even more to think about, and even less a desire to do so. He sat, quietly trying to stave off his many whirling thoughts as he slowly sipped the last of his drink. He breathed in deeply as he set down his glass, finding that the desired effect was slower in coming than usual.
"It's all these children who can't take care of their own problems and leave a poor old man in peace," he mumbled signaling to the bartender for a refill.
"Don't you think that's one too many, Colonel?"
Jade clenched his jaw, finding it more difficult than normal to force a smile. Was there no end to this madness?
"Anise, Anise, Anise. You know this is no place for little girls. Honestly, how did you even get in here? I was under the impression this place has an age limit."
"Boo! I am not a little girl. I just told that nice man at the door that you were my poor, drunken uncle, an I was worried you'd end up dead in a ditch somewhere if I didn't come help you get home. And you know? I was only lying about you being my uncle, the rest is all true."
"Anise, as touched as I am by your overwhelming concern, and truly, I am, I'm afraid I'm not finished with my drink," he replied, holding up his glass and pointing at it with a smile.
"That's exactly my point. How many does that make now?" Anise asked, resting her hand on her hip with as much attitude as she could muster.
"Not quite enough."
"Colonel! I'm only asking you because I care about you. I may not be able to stop you now, but if, at some point in the near future, you want to be my husband, I'm telling you right now, you're going to have to kick this habit," she said with a vehement stomp of her foot.
"Anise, once again, I'm quite overcome with appreciation for the great pains you take seeing that I'm cared for, but why don't we cross your fantasy bridge when we come to it, eh?"
"Call it what you like, but someday you'll come to see my undeniable charms."
"Oh, I already do. You managed to charm your way in her didn't you? And I'm certain you'll be equally as charming on your way out. Now why don't we leave the grown-ups to their beverages?"
"Hmph, fine! But don't expect me to lift a finger to help you the next time your leg is broken because you 'missed a step' while in a drunken stupor. I'm not your live-in-nurse! The things I do for a ring from a man who can't even-"
Jade was thankful he could not hear the rest of Anise's ranting as she made her way out of the bar. He picked up his glass and drained the last of it in one swift motion. When it was empty, he fiddled with the coaster and hovered somewhere in between sitting and standing, trying to decide whether or not he wanted one more drink. If he stayed any longer, he ran the risk of being once again caught in the middle of someone else's problems. But, if he went back to the Fon Fabre Mansion, he still ran that risk. At least here he would have a drink in his hands.
He decided that one more couldn't hurt. As he sat back down and reached into his pockets, he found that they were empty.
Just perfect! What could possibly make his night any worse? He asked himself.
For the love of Lorelei! What could Guy possibly want with him? As he wondered, he found himself on the verge of banging his head repeatedly on the counter and weeping.
"How's your night going? I was just wondering if I could-"
"NO!" Jade cut him off. He was not a man who easily lost his temper, but this was just too much to bear. He breathed in deeply, clenching his jaw. Meeting Guy's eyes he read a look of complete shock and confusion.
"O admonishing melody, arise in the name of the Necromancer!"
Guy's eyes went wide as he realized what was happening.
"Jade!? Jade, no," he pleaded, hurriedly backing behind a table, "I just-"
Guy guarded against the spell but it was not enough to shield him fully. The spell sent him hurling to the ground on his back.
"Ugh!" Guy groaned, "What was that for? You could have seriously injured me, Jade!"
"I was fairly certain it wouldn't be lethal," the Colonel replied, reverting back to his calm, collected self.
"'Fairly!?'" Guy nearly screamed.
"Would you like me to lie to you?" Jade smiled.
"I just wanted to ask if I could buy you a drink," Guy shouted in an offended tone.
" . . . oh," Jade blinked, relaxing from his battle stance.
"Never mind!" Guy called, stomping away.
Jade grinned, and for the first time that night, he was genuinely satisfied.
"Worth it," he smirked.
So, it's my first Tales of the Abyss fic. Let me know what you think! :P