Author's Note: An actual one-shot! (And a really long one, at that…) Well, I wanted to practice writing for another project I'm working on, so I came up with this. Please enjoy!
"Where am I?" he asked drowsily. The room was packed with complete strangers, some carrying drinks in hand or toothpicked appetizers, and others wandering from conversation to conversation. But all talked in hushed voices. Every so often, someone would glance strangely at him, and upon noticing turn away immediately.
"What's…" he said apprehensively, "going on here?"
"A birthday party," replied the tall man with glasses and long hair.
A much younger woman near him, her hair short and auburn and neatly fixed by a headband, gasped incredulously. "Jade!"
"Why shouldn't I tell him?" Jade said calmly, catching some familiar person's eye in the crowd and nodding briefly at them. Then he turned to her. "He's going to find out anyway."
The two of them started a heated argument, which the person in question had no inclination at all to be part of. He turned to face an also young man with long, flaming red hair with another question. "Whose birthday is it?"
The man had been wearing an arrogant scowl the entire time before they stepped into the incredible residence. But since they entered, he had been wearing a pleased, almost excited, smile. It faltered at the question, but but he could not repress his feelings for long, and the smile was soon back bigger than ever.
He busily scanned the room, not even sparing his companion a glance. "Mine." he announced proudly. "Now where are mother and father…?"
He went off weaving through the crowds and occasionally tiptoeing in search of his missing parents. The boy he left behind felt slightly disappointed. He had wanted to befriend the man, regardless of the attitude, but it seemed it was going to take longer than expected. Maybe some other time.
Then he became faintly aware there was some sort of discussion behind him. He casually took a step back to have a better listen.
"No," said another man's voice defiantly. His name was 'Guy'. And from what he knew so far, Guy was a genuinely nice person, though a little strange due to his gynophobia – the irrational fear of women. "We can't tell him. Not yet, at least. Have him get used to his surroundings! Jade, are you crazy?"
"Why, yes I am." Jade replied in a tone indistinguishable from serious or a joke. "ANd I'm not taking it back. Not too long ago, he told us that he refused to be kept in the dark any longer. Who are we to deny this from him again?"
"Really, you're just…!" Guy exclaimed exasperatedly. "Tear, help me out he-" He seemed to choke slightly, as if he just made a terrible mistake. He quickly started addressing someone else. "A-Anise. Who do you agree with? Me or the Colonel?"
"H-How am I supposed to know?"
At that point, he stopped listening. There was a faint trembling coming from the rucksack slung over his shoulder. He took it off as discreetly as possible and unbuckled the top. Above all the disorganized knickknacks slept a curious blue creature, curled up and with its back facing him. He was quite taken with it, actually, and reached in his free hand to pet it on the head. It was only an inch away from contact when a tiny voice sounded.
"Master…" he said sadly. "You really don't remember anything? Mieu…"
He was confused. "What are you talking about?"
"I…" Mieu began, lifting its head upwards. Then the creature halted suddenly, spotting something behind him.
He followed the creature's trail of sight and found himself staring at a young, long haired woman. Her blue eyes gazed coldly at him, but when she opened her mouth, she addressed Mieu. "Mieu, please don't start telling him these things, especially when you know we're still discussing it."
"Mieu… Sorry, Tear…"
He interrupted impatiently, "Excuse me, but I think I'll be able to handle it, whatever it is. It's about me, right?" All this secrecy annoyed him. He would rather they just tell him already. Then hopefully, maybe everyone would finally speak to him properly.
Tear just stared some more. So he got bored. He was about ready to hand her Mieu and the bag and go off to find that redhead boy when she surprised him by saying, "Be patient, Luke. Just… let us figure this out, will you?"
He stared back at her, bewildered. "My name is… Luke?"
"Luke. Okay, now at least I know one thing – my name. Please ma'am, can you tell me more?"
Tear slowly shook her head, a strange sadness shadowing her face. "I… can't…"
For some reason, once he saw that sad look on her face, and even though he had only just met her, his heart clenched. "Oh." he said guiltily. "I'm truly… Ah, It's fine. If you really can't, then… But-" He coughed and tried to give her a small smile. "You are going to tell me eventually…. right?"
He broke out into a truly relieved smile and his free hand clasped her shoulder. "Thank you."
Then in a moment, he added, "I'm sorry if this sounds sudden, but do you think you can hold this little guy for a while?" He handed Tear the rucksack.
Mieu leaped out and flapped his wings a few times to gain some altitude about level with Luke's head. "Where are you going, Master?"
He raised an eyebrow. 'Master'? Why did he keep calling him that? He pushed the thought aside. "I'm going after that man who just went off." he explained. He nodded his head at the rest of their companions. "They seem to be busy talking. Don't worry, I'll come back when they've finished."
But he was already off, mumbling small apologies and excuse-mes every so often every time he bumped someone. It was so crowded. The birthday boy sure was famous. The more he distanced himself from the entrance, the louder conversation fluttered.
"Luke's twenty now. Time flies by so fast, doesn't it?"
"Can't believe how he suddenly popped out of nowhere. Sure lucky his parents keep arranging these birthday parties, even though he never showed up."
"Yeah, until now."
So not only was he famous, but they also shared the same name! Luke couldn't wait to point this out, though the other 'Luke' probably knew that by now.
It was a little hard to make his way around, but eventually he spotted a gathering of long, red bushes at a corner of the hall. The birthday boy and his family. He made headway for them, wondering what kind of parents the boy had with an attitude like that. They must be terrible.
He was about to step into the circle of empty space the guests made for the family, but he was spotted first. Suddenly, he was pushed away, staggering.
"What the hell are you doing?" hissed the birthday boy. "You can't let them see you!"
The statement only confused him more, but he tried his reasoning. "That's why I'm dressed in this weird Abyss Ranger outfit, right?" He waved his hand to acknowledge he was head-to-toe dressed in a full-body red suit. "They'll never know."
"They will," he said through gritted teeth. "They'll know by your voice – my voice! They'll know, and they'll find out, and they'll- "
"Luke," called a voice at the clearing ahead. "Who are you speaking to?"
The other Luke glanced despairingly over his shoulder. "N-No one, mo… mom!" He whisked his head back to the first Luke and opened his mouth to angrily say something when another voice spoke behind him.
"Luke, come now. You've just come back to us, and you're already going off making new friends? What about us?" It gradually got louder, as if the speaker was approaching them.
The other Luke realized this too and started shoving him back, motioning him farther away. For a moment, the first Luke had the urge to resent his orders and reveal himself to whoever he was supposed to be hiding from, but something else won over and he obediently kept backing up. It was hard, going backwards, and turned to see where he was going.
"Faster!" hissed the other Luke. His footsteps stopped once the first Luke reaching the desirable speed.
Suddenly, Luke found himself stopping as well. He could not understand why, but he just needed to speak with the other him. It was urgent – very urgent – and it was something he could only remember once he started talking. He whirled around. "Hey-!"
He passed out.
He woke up in someone's bedroom. He surveyed his surroundings and was mystified by the walls until he realized what it was that struck his attention – there were no corners and there was only one window.
He sat up, rubbing the back of his head, and winced. It seemed like Mieu had headbutted him, but that was impossible, wasn't it? Mieu was just a tiny animal, uncapable of such violence.
Luke caught Guy gaining footing at the windowsill from the outside. Coming in floating next to him was Mieu, looking thoroughly dejected.
"Mieu… Master, I'm sorry!" he wailed.
Luke gaped. "So it was you?"
"How are you feeling?" Guy asked, sitting on the sill.
Luke seated at the edge of his bed. "I've been better, but it's nothing worth complaining over." he replied brightly.
Guy gave him that same stare of Tear's. "You really have changed… Just like what happened back then…"
"Can you tell me now? What's going on?"
Guy shook his head. Luke groaned and toppled back on his bed. He gazed at the ceiling longingly. "I don't even know you people! Where I am, what I'm supposed to do… I can't take this for long, Mr. Guy."
Guy remained silent.
"I mean, even now I'm still wearing that silly costume you forced on me the moment I woke up in that ruins!"
Guy said slowly, "Do you want to take it off?"
Luke swung himself up straight away. "Yes." he said gravelly.
Luke's mask was halfway off when it suddenly occurred to him that among the things he had forgotten, one of them was his appearance. Unbelievable! How in the world could he have done and said so much without thinking once of this?
Once the mask was off, Guy waved a hand at the mirror across the room. "Take a look at yourself."
He dashed over, grinning, and halted in front of the mirror. But it turned out to be a window to the other Luke's room, for there he was right in front of him. They stared at each other, wide-eyed.
"S-Sorry." Luke said sincerely. "Mr. Guy, why is there a win…" He trailed at seeing the other Luke speaking the same things at the exact same moments. "What the…"
"There was only supposed to be one of you two." Guy said darkly. "Go sit down again. You said you wanted to know everything?"
Luke returned to the bed. Mieu joined him at his side, hopping from foot-to-foot restlessly. "You know, Master, Guy's a really good storyteller!"
"No, I just got used to it." Guy sighed. "Ready, Luke?"
"But didn't they say…"
"It was decided by majority vote, with the Princess and Tear siding with Jade. You have the right to know."
"… Then go ahead."
He would have never imagined the story Guy told him. But he swore all of it was the truth.
"Light of the Sacred Flame…?" Luke breathed. "So that's what happened? I did… all that?"
But it was not Guy that answered. Both Luke and Guy turned towards a blanket of shadow near the door. The other 'Luke' stepped out. Asch.
"I…" Luke did not know what to say.
"Dreck." Asch returned. He smirked. "I missed that word."
"Well, you're back. Or at least, you know enough to pretend you are, Luke. Take care of mom and dad." He started for the window. "Guy, get out of the way. I'm out of here."
"Wait!" Luke cried and jumped to his feet.
Asch replied without looking back, grabbing a side of wall to hoist himself up. "A 'replica' has no place here." Luke had a bad feeling the moment Asch landed at the other side of the window, it would be forever too late to bring him back.
"But you're not a replica," Luke instinctively shot back. "And I won that battle! Therefore, both of us deserve to stay in this house – no, this family!"
Asch stopped. "What?" He looked back and glared. "A 'family'? Don't make me laugh."
"Fine, never consider me a twin, a brother, or even an acquaintance." Luke argued. "You have a mother and father here who will be nothing without-"
"They'll have you."
"It's not the same!" Luke yelled furiously. "Grah! Why the hell are you so stubborn!"
"What did you call me, dre-"
Luke stormed over, all traces of civility vanished. He shoved Asch on the shoulder. Asch started for his sword but was intercepted as Luke also grabbed his wrist and shook it in his face. "The blood that runs in these veins belongs to no other family than this! Run away from it, and you shame this family and everything they've done to give you life.
"Back then, at the party. I heard the way you spoke to mother and father – or 'mom' and 'dad' for you, isn't it? Don't hide it, you love our parents. That's why you tried to get rid of me, so you could spend more time with them. If they learned which one of us was the 'real' Luke, they might leave you for me for the second time in your life. And you don't want that! Fool, has it ever occurred to you a family can love more than one child?" He tossed the hand aside disgustedly. "Stupid dreck."
Asch massaged his bruised wrist, dazed. He quickly recovered and tried to outmatch the same look on Luke's face. Then he turned and marched towards the exit. "You're just wasting my time."
The door closed gently behind him.
Luke became aware of the dumbfounded look Guy on guy's face. "You actually spoke back to him," he remarked, his mouth slowly widening to a grin. "For a moment there, I just saw Natalia in you."
Luke noted Mieu was cowering under the bed and got on his knees to coax him out. "Sorry about that. It's fine now."
"Mieu…" It would not budge.
"Did I use to act anything like this before?" He was replied by the shake of a head.
"I knew it…" Luke gave up on Mieu and got back on his feet, a troubled expression on his face. "I don't like this. This feeling that something's missing… I thought it was just because I didn't know enough, but it's not that after all." He scratched his head furiously. "Hey… back then, why didn't Asch lose his memories too?"
"Who knows?" Guy said ruefully. "But Jade has this theory it's because you're a replica and all…"
"A replica, huh… What's so wrong with being a replica?"
Guy folded his arms and laughed. "No offense, Luke, but it's like you went through an extreme personality change."
"Hey." Guy tilted his head lower slightly. "Don't kill yourself just thinking about it. We'll figure out something tomorrow morning. You weren't thinking we'd leave you in this kind of situation, did you?"
Luke averted his eyes.
"Yikes. You really do need those memories back… Well, I'll see you in the morning. Happy Birthday, Luke."
Luke looked down and Guy was gone and the grandfather clock above the fireplace showed fifteen minutes before midnight. Now that he thought about it, yes, it would make it his birthday too. And not only that, but his Coming-of-Age Day. What a waste. He did not even have the memories to reminisce on this special occasion.
He got back in bed and closed his eyes.
"You comfortable down there?"
"Good night, Mieu."
Even though he said that, he was still awake by two in the morning. He could hear Mieu's soft snoring underneath the bed. The whole manor felt still, as if it was illegal to be awake at this time. But there were just too many things on his mind. Finally, he quietly exited his room to the courtyard to breathe in a bit cooler air, taking with him his sword and scabbard for it felt strange unprotected.
But instead, he encountered a familiar figure near the center of the courtyard. Tear soon spotted him too, and lowered her arms, which had been waving in the air as if she was casting a spell.
"Luke, what are you doing up at this time?" Tear asked in an almost scolding tone.
"Couldn't sleep. And I could say the same to you." Luke replied smartly, eyebrows raised. "What were you doing?"
Tear stiffened. "If you must know," she said, "I was practicing a spell."
"Really?" Luke asked, intrigued. "Will you be so kind to show me?"
"I'd rather not." she replied coldly.
Luke urged, "Show me!" He was excited to see these 'Seventh Fonon Artes' Guy was talking about at work.
Seeing he was not going to leave her alone, Tear succumbed to his wishes and told him to step back. She resumed her arm-waving, and with interest Luke watched as a large fonic circle slowly but surely materialized around her feet. And then, to Luke's surprise, she started singing. He knew she sings when casting, Guy had told him that, but he never expected her voice to suddenly transform so beautifully, so much that it was almost indescribable.
But Tear's melody was not to last for long. Just a few seconds into listening to her, Luke was suddenly overcome with something close to seasickness. It worsened drastically every time she changed a note. Soon, he was unable to stop himself from doubling over and throwing up what little he currently had in his stomach.
Immediately, Tear was by his side, her hand on his shoulder and starting another spell. "First Aid!"
Most of the sickness disappeared immediately, but Luke still could not help feeling nauseous while straightening up. He looked weakly at Tear. "Thank you… What was that?"
Tear almost looked guilty. "An… experiment." She sighed and closed her eyes, her brow furrowed. "I didn't expect that to happen… I apologize."
"Enough with apologizing already…" Anyway, Luke had a pretty good idea what she had been trying to accomplish. "You were trying to bring back my memories, weren't you?"
Tear opened her eyes in her surprise.
Luke chuckled weakly and waved her hand off. "Hey Miss Tear," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of a hand. "Can I ask a question?"
She eyed him warily.
Luke returned it with a hard gaze of his own. "Do you love me?"
In one moment, they were having an intense staring battle with one another, and in the next, a beet-red Tear was swaying dangerously on her feet as if she was going to faint. She recovered before Luke could extend his help, and tried to disguise her unexpected reaction by folding her arms and looking cool.
It would not stay like that for long. Luke refused to say anything more this time, and she knew that she had no other choice but to speak. Her face was still flushed as she said, "The real Luke knows the answer to that."
The current Luke nodded sadly. The 'real' Luke. Who knew when he would come back?
"Luke," Tear said suddenly, "you said you couldn't sleep, didn't you? I'll help you with that… as my apology for what happened earlier."
They returned to the bedroom. Luke felt ridiculous, having to lie down expectantly while Tear stood beside his bed holding up high an impressive staff. Once again, he began to hear Tear's wonderful voice, except this time without side-effects.
"Tue rei zue croa riou-"
"Wait." Asch stepped out of the shadows yet again.
He sat up. "Why the hell do you keep coming here!" Luke demanded indignantly, half of him trying not to laugh in Asch's face.
"You're talking back to me when I actually step up to try and help?" Asch approached Tear. "You were on the right track, using the Seventh Fonon back in the courtyard."
"I thought it would." Tear replied, but she still appeared uncertain. "But I don't understand how it couldn't work…"
"Because you didn't have enough power."
"You mean it…!"
"Yeah. It'll work if we do it together." He glanced briefly at Luke then returned to Tear. "How do the lyrics go?"
Soon, Asch and Tear were standing at opposite sides of the bed, preparing for the task at hand.
"Close your eyes again. This will probably still put you to sleep."
"I don't know how to-"
"Thank us in the morning, if it actually does work Re-… Luke."
"… Right. See you in the morning."
The next morning, he woke up being pulled sharply by his feet, and he found himself looking upside-down at a face.
"What the hell is wrong with you? You sleep on top of a bed, not under it, idiot."
He was carelessly thrown onto a large, fluffy mattress, and in the tussle his Sorcerer's Ring slipped off. Mieu rushed to it and put it on, and just managed to call hopefully at the redhead man halfway out the door. "Master! Are you back?"
Luke fone Fabre grinned cheekily. "Miss me, Thing?"
IT'S ONE IN THE MORNING. GOOD NIGHT NOW. :D