"It's time to make camp for the evening, don't you think?" Jade said.

The pleasant suggestion was just that, a suggestion. If they insisted, he wouldn't protest at continuing to travel. But he always had a way of calling the best campsites and pacing. Maybe it was his experience as a soldier shining through, or just some kind of freakish coincidence that bad things tended to happen whenever they ignored these 'innocent' suggestions. By now they just accepted it as another one of those things just a little too perfect to be entirely coincidence, but a little too chaotic to be entirely pre-arranged, that surrounded Jade. And they were all tired from the hike today anyway, so there was no protest this time.

"Finally. Whose turn to cook is it?" Guys asked.

"Not me. I cooked last night." Natalia said.

"Yeah, like we could forget that…" Anise muttered.

Jade consulted the tables in his head, then decided to ignore them entirely in favor of setting up the private chat he had been planning. Alright, more like revise them to his momentary advantage. He couldn't be unbalancing the workload, even for this.

"It's Luke's turn." Jade said.


"Oh, good. I'll go set up the tents." Guy didn't even notice cutting Luke off in his rush. Neither did anyone else.

As Jade had hoped, Luke didn't put up any more resistance than that single, ignored, half-hearted protest. He was still afraid of complaining too much being a sign of reverting to his old self. That kind of manipulation could probably be filed under dirty trick, but it got the job done.

And it almost surprised Jade that he had to rely on that flaw of Luke's. Nobody else bothered to keep track of whose turn it was to cook, leaving all those mundane details to Jade, after he had proven himself both willing and capable of keeping track of chores and spreading them evenly to everyone's satisfaction. He'd have to pay more attention to what Luke was paying attention to in the future.

Anise moved off to help Guy put up the tents. He'd probably get the task done sooner without her 'help', but Jade knew that Anise knew that. And who was he to deny Anise her entertainment?

Natalia and Tear wandered off to find a water source, having heard a stream not too far back, Mieu following to help. Having ears as large as that was occasionally extremely handy.

Luke gathered enough firewood for a small cooking fire, looking up when Jade didn't move off to find some other task to do.


"If you don't want help lighting the fire, I can leave. I'd dearly enjoy seeing you try the old-fashioned way."

Luke quieted and finished his gathering and setup. From the pan and ingredients he had pulled out of their supplies and set next to the pile of wood to become the fire, it looked like he had decided on stir fry for dinner.

Jade lit the fire with a quick fonic arte, then stood watching the flames. They still fascinated him the same as the first time he had ever watched them, regardless of all the memories inseparable from the twisting and twining forms of the consuming blazes. He ignored Luke's curious tilt of the head and indulgent smile.

The cooking went smoothly, and far more quietly than Jade had expected it to. Luke managed to get all the way to finishing up the meat before he broke their silence.

"So, why's Tear getting a break?" He asked amicably, not looking up from the vegetables he had moved on to preparing.

And if Jade needed proof that Luke was keeping accurate track of the chores on par with Jade's own tracking, there it was. Tear's turn to cook should have been tonight. But an obscuring truth would work better than a lie to cover this 'slip-up'.

"I don't know what you're talking about. She's going to be doing laundry and hauling water. That's not much of a break."

Luke's patience had grown, but it was still nowhere near up to dealing with Jade in one of these moods. His sigh was clearly audible over the fire and the sound of chopping vegetables, despite that it was clearly meant not to be.



"Why did you want to talk to me, and why couldn't you have just asked like a normal person?"

"Where's the fun in that?" And when had Luke become so perceptive? Not even mere weeks ago, Jade was sure Luke would not have been able to connect the dots and come to the correct conclusion here.

Luke laughed then, the sound drawing Jade's eyes up from the fire to look at him. Strange, how similar the sight was to Luke's shaking in terror in the middle of the night when the nightmares invariably came, but how entirely different the effect was. These tremors were all relaxation and play, not tension and fear.

Jade's lips quirked up into a smile. How typically human to have such diametrically opposite emotions expressed by the same physical motion.

"You should smile like that more often."

Jade blinked, and Luke frowned, apparently at some near imperceptible change in the quality of his smile.

"Keep going like this and you'll begin to worry me. Are you beginning to come down with something?" Jade said quickly.

"Haha, of course not. I'm great, better than I've been in a while, for sure! Anyway, unlike some people, I wouldn't consent to cooking while sick."

Despite any recent changes that may or may not have occurred, some of Luke's easily pushable buttons remained. Present him with concern for his health, and he'd concentrate on waving it off, ignoring all previous conversation. He had swung almost too far towards the opposite extreme from his previous self-centeredness. But it was useful. Aside from his disturbing flashes of insight, Luke was entirely too predictable and playable.

"And here I was, wanting to check up on you. I guess that was silly of me."

"No, really. Why- You know what? You're not ever gonna tell me straight, so I'm not even gonna bother. It's not worth the frustration."

"So you can be taught! What a discovery. I'll be published for sure."

"You're already published."

"I am?" Jade asked with complete innocence, "It must be my poor old man mind beginning to go."

Luke burst into another fit of giggles, which he barely was able to quell in order to speak again, amusement still lacing his voice.

"I can't believe you tried to sell me on the excuse that you were worried about me."

"You're right, that was far too human a response for me to try."

"Jade. You are human, unlike-"

"I believe that there's a difference between being born to human parents and being human."

Luke's expression turned serious, and Jade worried for a moment that he had given too much away. He shouldn't have to worry, but if Luke got another strike of unexpected perceptiveness, Jade wasn't sure what he'd do.

"Stop being so hard on Asch, Jade. I don't know why you have such a thing against him."

"Ah, right. Yes, Asch..."

Luke would have commented on the strange quality in Jade's voice, or the fact he had trailed off before completing the sentence. He was worried he had said or done something wrong. But then his gaze followed Jade's, which was coincidentally resting on his now smoking vegetables, even though he didn't notice that Jade wasn't actually seeing them, and anything he was about to say was lost to attempting to save dinner.

Well, at least he hadn't become entirely perceptive, Jade thought, while watching Luke's antics in vague amusement.

And yet he felt less than comforted by the thought.