Disclaimers: Tales of the Abyss is owned by Bandai-Namco

Warnings/Notes: Peony/Jade, Character death

Belkend Labs

Jade sighed, leaning back in the high backed chair, taking his eyes off the scattered documents. Ever since he returned to the army- actually, to the R&D division of the Fomicry Research Department, most of his work occurred at a desk or in the labs. It was an acceptable tradeoff, aside from the headaches. He wasn't as young as he used to be either.

He set down his glasses, fingers gently pressed against his eyelids, trying to will away the dull, pounding pain. It was at that unfortunate minute he was graced with a surprise visitor.

"Jade! I found your hiding place, so you have to come with me now," Peony called cheerfully as he entered, looking the most carefree since the relations with Kimlasca were finally settled and the world began to reform its shaky partnerships. The fact his typical royal entourage was absent also helped. "Huh? Are you okay, Jade?"

"No, because you're sitting on my desk, and my glasses were on it," He replied coolly, blinking slowly in the weak light of his office. Now he knew what the quiet snapping noise had been when Peony sat down.

"Oh… Ah well, you didn't really need those right? Only to focus the…whatever you did to your eyes," Peony replied, staring anxiously into his friend's face regardless.

"Yes… of course," Jade lied easily, reluctant to admit the moments where his vision blurred dangerously- but he merely marked it as stress since the lab medic couldn't discern a problem. He supposed Peony was trying to blend in with his Malkuthian civilian clothes, stripped of any royal crests, but unfortunately anyone not in a lab coat stood out in Belkend.

"How is the situation in Grand Chokmah?" Jade asked as he slipped off the immaculate white labcoat, hanging it over his chair. He looked more or less as innocuous as Peony- just two old friends out for lunch.

"The same as always. More envoys to talk to, more ambassadors to host, more parties to attend, more disputes over the lack of an heir-"

"And whose fault is that?" Jade asked wryly, as they stepped out into the sunlight, making his eyes water immediately with pain. Its getting worse, he thought, as they proceeded to the nearby bar.

"I am a late bloomer!" Peony insisted, laughing easily at himself. "I don't know actually. They all act as if I'm suppose to have seven children by now, on top of saving the empire from ruin and avoiding the imminent death foretold in the score," he said with mock indignance.

"Respectfully, that was more our doing, your highness, what with stopping Van and freeing Lorelei-"

"But obviously, it was my sheer awesomeness that diverted destiny," he said mildly, "And for the last time, don't use the damn title,"

Jade couldn't help but laugh at his 30-something friend pouting at something so small as that. "Of course, of course," he conceded, taking a seat at the end of the bar. "I want to congratulate you on managing to slip away from official business, but then that would make me the enabler,"

Peony waved his hand dismissively, ordering his drink. "I deserve a break," he said stubbornly. "And so do you."

"So, why haven't you found someone?" Jade inquired, quickly changing the subject and not just a little curious over the perpetual bachelor state of his friend.

"I guess I don't have the time," he replied off handedly, not particularly interested in this topic.

Not one to be easily deterred from information that would either provide leverage or entertainment, Jade pressed on. "That's nonsense. Your aides would have set up someone after a certain point if you didn't give express orders not to. So tell me, why not? If you can literally have anyone-"

"Because maybe I can't have just anyone," Peony offered with a shrug, draining his glass.

"Because you already have someone in mind? Is it my sister?"

"No!" Peony looked taken aback, but not as much as Jade, which brought him a little satisfaction. "She found her future, and if it wasn't with me, then I can let it go. So what if it took the better part of a decade," he said, scowling a little. "What about you Jade? You must have given it some thought," he said, grinning. "You're human too."

Jade laughed, examining the half inch of amber liquid in his glass. "Some people would debate that statement, Peony," He said, several coming to mind almost immediately. "And yes, I have given it some thought. Once the first stage of the Replica Stabilization Project has been fulfilled, I'd like to retire,"

"When is the first stage slated to be completed anyway?"

"Well, with the current statistics… fifteen years if we work fast," Jade answered, finding nothing wrong with that. Peony didn't share the sentiment.

"Fifteen years, Jade? Of working around the clock? Also, don't try to deny it, most of the other lab technicians aren't sure you eat or sleep. You'll ruin your health this way-"

Too late, Jade was about to say, but held himself back, as he was not the type to have a tongue loosened by alcohol. It was merely a convenient way to relax while enjoying company. Peony just shook his head at Jade's lack of response, putting an end to the topic.

"At least promise to visit soon- the spring social season is about to begin, and if I have to entertain one more conversation about 'the replica problem' or 'the sub-citizen movement' I might lose it and waste a drink on someone's head."

So, Jade promised and they closed their night with a final round, before heading their separate ways, unaware of the future to come.