Regarding pairings in this story: especially on a second playthrough, Ion's reaction to Luke in Cheagle Woods is both cute and heartbreaking. 'OMFG, someone is treating me as an actual human being and cares about what I want!' It's the direct opposite of Asch ordering him to stay on the Tartarus, and that scene in Ortion Cavern ends up very harsh in the context of it. It sets up the contrast between original and replica very well, and kind of clears up any doubt about which is the 'evil' twin, at least for me. It's also a moment that made Anise fall even further in my esteem, since she doesn't pick up on any of this at all. She thinks Asch's actions were out of kindness instead of selfishness, and she likely would have thought the opposite of Luke's kindness. It shows how, to her, Ion is still really a doll at that stage…

She doesn't really seem to realize his value to her until she sells him out for the last time.

Here is Asch, who knows how to act kind, but his actions seem subconsciously designed to cause the most pain possible throughout the entire game to every single character, including himself but especially Natalia (Luke takes a close second, but still second place – for him, it's Van that matters), and in Cheagle Woods there was Luke, who had no idea how to act kind but was always thinking of others to the best of his handicapped ability. Ion's recognition of this is 'out of the mouths of babes:' the others are too stuck in what they expect to see to see what's really there.

The idea of someone being raised by people who basically saw them as a suicide bomb they were waiting to deploy is a very heartbreaking one that's going to do incredible damage to those involved. Van's situation would have been worse than Luke's, since he knew and people were actively justifying horrific experiments based on him being the eviler one. Just as the party used Luke as a scapegoat after Akzeriuth, his family, the scientists, Malkuth's nobility and so on would have been using Van for far longer, and he would have known it. As a child.

No: it's very possible that Luke is the first person Ion ever encountered who saw him as Ion, not a replica or the Fon Master. That's something people need, so Ion being devoted enough to sacrifice his life for Luke, both in reading that prophecy and ensuring his death by taking Tear's place, makes a great deal of sense. Love at first sight.

There are many kinds of love besides romantic love, though. In that context, Van's devotion to Guy and Tear despite their actual actions makes a great deal of sense, and in this universe, he's going to have his own Cheagle Woods moment…

Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of the Abyss or any related properties. No infringement intended or money made.

Vandesdelca had no idea what was going on.

He knew what it seemed like, but dramatic rescues didn't happen in real life. People could not avert their Scored fates, and no one was going to try to rescue him.

So when he'd been awoken by the commotion outside his cell, heard the guards yelling order and scrambling to respond and managed to make out that one of them had red hair he had assumed, like the soldiers had, that the Butcher had found out about the research here and was trying to seize it. It was odd that there were only two of them: Kimlasca didn't have any powerful fonists. Everyone said that was why it needed fontech. The most powerful seventh fonists all descended from the people of Hod and Yulia City, through Yulia's descendants, and Malkuth had ruled Keterburg and denied Kimlasca access to its bloodlines for generations now.

He'd been hoping against hope that maybe the Kimlascan would kill him, so that he could keep what he'd conquered of Lord Gailardia's family lands. That wouldn't happen, he knew. The Score was absolute, but he wished it wasn't. He was already Scored to be a great sinner, so it really wouldn't make him any worse off to add heresy to that. Yulia's Score would bring prosperity to mankind: it was selfish of him to not want to play his part in it.

Except even though Lord Gailardia would live, this wouldn't make him prosperous.

It was childish and selfish, but he didn't want to destroy Hod.

Not that what he or anyone else wanted mattered. He knew that.

So he'd sat there quietly as even the guards outside his cell left, since there was nothing to do but wait.

Then the fighting had grown nearer, and nearer, and he almost wanted to cheer for the Butcher, even though he'd killed Gailardia's family, because the fonologists, soldiers, and nobles here were all bad men who had done terrible things to so many of Hod's people.

And him, but he didn't count.

Eventually, the roar of battle and fonic artes died away, and he heard running steps coming down the stairs. "This way, right?" Van knew that accent: Kimlascan. Gailardia's mother spoke that way.

"Right?" someone else echoed the question. This person sounded strangely happy, but Van recognized a mask of happiness when he heard a voice that false... He was used to smiling too, for his lord.

"Y-yes sir." This speaker had a Binan accent: one of the soldiers, definitely. The fonologists here were all from the Capital or Sheridan.

"Thanks!" The first voice sounded cheerful too now, but a more honest cheer.

The files weren't kept in this area: this was where the test subjects had been held. Only Van was here now: the others were all dead already. The fonologists had started rushing their tests and stopped bringing in new people when they knew the deadline was looming.

Maybe they were here for him, then?

Probably just to capture Malkuth's weapon, but maybe they really would kill him?

For the first time since the fighting had started he let himself look up through the curtain of his unwashed dust-brown hair, hoping.

Closer, and closer, until one of them ran in front of his cell, looking from side to side. The red-haired teenager almost missed him in the gloom, or so it seemed, before he skidded to a halt, taking a closer look. A grin replaced his look of determined focus. "M-Van-I found him!" he called. "Yes!" he almost cheered as he knelt down by the lock, a golden glow forming in front of his hands.

His companion hurried over, another teenager a little younger than he was. "I got the key."

"I don't need it, remember?" The first person already had the lock off, swinging the door open and starting to do the same to Van's handcuffs.

Or trying to, at least. As much as Van wanted to die, he still tried to scramble back, to hide from that golden glow.

"Ma-" There was a flash of hurt in the Kimlascan's green eyes, but he noticed that Van's terror went away when the hyperresonance disappeared. "Maybe we should use the key."

The green-haired fonist (by process of elimination), knelt down where the redhead had been. "We're not going to hurt you. Come on." He showed Van the key. "Let me see your handcuffs."

"We're here to rescue you!" The redhead said happily.

Van blinked and would definitely have known this was a dream if the cuffs on his ankles weren't digging painfully into his flesh. "You shouldn't. It won't work. The Score…" No, he shouldn't reveal a Score of death, just in case these two didn't already know. The Order wouldn't kill him for it, but there were lots of things that could be done to people that wouldn't kill them.

He wondered if he'd gone insane. Either that or these people had.

"It'll work. Don't worry; I'll take care of you," the redhead's voice paused, "Van." What was supposed to be in that gap?

"Handcuffs?" The other one prompted again, and Van knew an order when he heard one. That was how people spoke to test subjects like him. Maybe this was the Jade Balfour he'd heard so much about? There weren't many fonists capable of taking on all the soldiers here. Van had heard he was very young to be so brilliant, but this person wasn't that much older than Van.

Or maybe he was just short?

He would normally have refused, not because it would have done any good but to try, even though they'd just hit him. His mother had scolded him for it, when he'd been returned for a court function the first time. Said that he was trying to make it more difficult for everyone to pretend that he wasn't a murderer, and as punishment, not only was she not going to heal him but he wasn't allowed to visit Lord Gailardia, in case that nice boy hugged him and the makeup came off.

There weren't going to be any more chances to see him, though, so there wasn't anymore reason to behave.

Still, maybe?

He found himself letting the stranger unlock his wrists. The redhead pulled him to his feet, "Alr-" and then they saw the chains on his ankles. "Ion, can you—"

"Right." He crouched down lower and got those too. "All set, Luke!"

"What did you do with the prisoner?" Luke asked as he pulled Van along.

"There wasn't a lot of time, so I hit him over the head until he stopped moving."

Luke's shoulders slumped. "I hope you didn't kill him too."

"I'm sorry, I wasn't able to use Daathic Fonic Artes before, and practically all of the combat artes I know are either lethal or really painful." Daathic Fonic Artes? That sounded about right. There was no greater crime than to endanger the life of the head of the Order. Either attackers had to be killed instantly, so there was no threat to the Fon Master, or they deserved to suffer before being executed in Mt. Zaleho.

That staff… it did look a lot like Fon Master Evenos' tuning fork thing, actually. "You guys are in so, so much trouble."

"They'll have to catch us first!" Just as Luke said that, Van's right ankle decided it had enough and he tripped and fell, biting his lip to not cry out. Luke managed to catch him, and then picked him up, grunting. "I wish I was taller…"

"I don't know how you got in, unless maybe you destroyed the doors, but even if they didn't already know that you were going to try to do this, Mother will read the Score and they'll find you!"

"This wasn't in your Score, and we aren't in anybody's score!"

Ion ran ahead to get the doors for Luke.

Wait, Van knew where they were going. "You can't! That's the Sephiroth that way!"

"I know! Just trust me!" Luke kept running.

"I knew it!" That this was too good to be true. "You're just going to… hyperresonance, and…!" Van tried to punch and kick at him, but he couldn't get loose. "You, it's not fair!" They'd pretended this was a rescue, maybe even the guards had been in on it, to make him! They'd made him think he had hope, like an idiot, and it was a good thing that he was very, very good at not crying.

"I wouldn't make you destroy Hod! I wouldn't do that to you, even…"

Van's mind completed that as, "even though you deserve it."

It made him shake, but they went right past that evil machine and Van's eyes widened as Ion jumped into the core. "Oh." They really were going to kill him. Luke jumped instead of just throwing Van, and that just proved it. This was a suicide mission so that their families wouldn't be punished for defying the Order. "Thank you," he said, voice small and quiet, as he clung to Luke's coat now as they fell, feeling incredibly guilty that he'd fought someone like, like Gailardia. Someone who was really trying to help him.

He was good at not crying. It was strange to be not-crying because he was happy.

Luke laughed as they fell and fell. "This is fun, isn't it?"

Van started to smile. It, it kind of was. "It's taking a long time to hit the miasma, isn't it?" Oh no, could Lorelei be trying to protect him? "This won't work; the Core is where Lorelei is! You have to kill me before we get there."

What? "I'm not going to kill you. This is how we got in."

"You got in through one of the Sephiroth?" What? "And what do you mean you aren't going to kill me!" he snarled, knowing that his eyes were wet even though he'd promised himself he wasn't going to give them the satisfaction anymore.

"We came here to rescue you," Luke explained again, tilting his head and trying to understand where Van was coming from and how he'd gotten that idea. "I guess that does sound weird to you, huh. It would have sounded weird to me, if someone, Asch maybe, had said they were trying to save me. Actually, Asch was trying to kill me so that I wouldn't, not save me, now that I think about it."

"You can't. Yulia's Score was very specific. I'm going to destroy Hod."

"Yes I can. You know that replicas aren't in the Score, right?"

"You're replicas?" Replicas were empty things that sat there and drooled like babies or stood there and took orders like fontech, depending. They weren't like Luke or Ion.

Luke nodded. "Right. So the Score can't do anything about what we do. People can, though, so we'll have to stay out of sight and keep you away from that," he pointed at the sephiroth they were falling next to, "the day after tomorrow, and we'll be okay."


Ion, who had managed to slow down a bit using his robes so he could fall next to them nodded. "Really! Luke's really great at rescuing people."


"Really! I meant to die, and Luke still saved me. Even after I was dead!" Ion's mask smile seemed different now in a way that Van thought meant that it was real.

"Master is the best, mieu!" Another high-pitched voice agreed, coming from… Luke's bag?

Van had never seen a sacred cheagle, of course, but this had to be one. He didn't know if it was a boy or a girl cheagle, but it had blue fur like the sky that looked really soft.

"Should we go to Mt. Roneal or the Zao Ruins?" Luke asked them.

"They'd have to fight their way to Mt. Roneal. Even Jade said the monsters there were really difficult! They wouldn't risk bringing the real Fon Master there even if they guessed we escaped through the Sephiroth in the first place."

"Jade, Dr. Jade Balfour? Did he make you?" That would explain how there were replicas of such better quality than the supposed cutting-edge.

They looked at each other. "Actually…" Luke started.

Ion looked blank in a way that said not only did he not have a clue but it was entirely Luke's decision in the first place.

"Do you mind if I explain later?"

Van hesitated. He wanted to know what was going on, so that he knew if he could trust them, but if it really was inevitable, then he didn't want to find any holes in their story. He wanted to believe in this just a little longer, just until the day after tomorrow. "I guess that's ok."

"Ok, so Mt. Roneal. We'll have to stop by the Albiore to get the camping gear; it's really cold there, even in the Sephiroth."

Ion swam over a little closer to them, and Van finally noticed that the fall had sort of stopped but they were still floating. "Do we have enough for him, too?"

"Of course! I had to guess at his size, so I bought a few different sizes. Cold weather, desert…" Luke stopped listing things. "I thought about this, you know."

"You were even better than Anise at shopping."

"Yeah, because she's really just trying to not spend money and say she did." So she could pocket the difference. "So it wasn't hard." To get better at it than her. "I got food too, and different medicines as well as gels since Jade said they'd been doing all kinds of stuff to him to get him disoriented and lose control, but it looks like we got there in time, right? Are you ok?" Luke turned his head to try to look him over.

"I didn't eat my breakfast. They would have figured that out already if you hadn't come, though."

"That's a relief." Luke returned to looking around. "Do you see the Albiore anywhere, Ion?"

"Oh? Right, we can't just teleport there if he's scared of hyperresonance." Ion tried to look for it.

"What are you looking for?"

"My flying machine," Luke explained.

"Don't you mean Sheridan's?" Ion wondered.

"I was going to buy it, but they just gave it to me when I asked, because of the bridge."

"Bridge? What bridge?"

"Right, you weren't there for that. It's not going to happen now. Well, the bridge is a good idea, but not… It was a memorial."

"…Oh. I'm sorry."

"It's going to be ok." Luke nodded firmly. "I'll go get it, then. I can probably teleport to it."

"Teleport? With hyperresonance? You can't!" Van clung to him! "I wanted to, but it's not possible! A human can't put someone back together right at the other end! Yulia did it in the legends, but that was because she had the Key of Lorelei!"

"So I'll be fine. I've got the Key of Lorelei."

He did.

So Van stayed with Ion, waiting for Luke to come back. Ion didn't seem to want to talk to him, just answering Van's, "Um…" with that mask smile. So he was quiet like he'd been told to be and wished that Luke would come back soon.