Forgive the 'verse-mixing. I just really wanted to see what transpired when Asch and Mark got a chance to sit down and talk. Not entirely certain when this happens in Asch's timeline, but as for Mark's, it takes place between Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance, when he's trying to find himself and, at the same time, trying to avoid Miles. I don't own either of these 'verses, but it's fun to muck about in them. This story is dedicated to Angel Adept for her (probably) inadvertent story prompt. Read and enjoy! Reviews are much loved. :)
It was a dive like any other. Mark settled back in his seat, enjoying the relative anonymity of dim lighting, dark shadows, and the slightly grimy furnishings that made one lower-city bar look much like every other. Auldrant was a bit of a backwater, without even a true spaceport to call its own; Mark had had to sneak down in a converted landing craft. Still, even Mad Miles wouldn't think to look for him here. He might finally get a chance to breathe easy for a few months.
He was just getting used to the ambiance when a tall man with long red hair paused by his table. "Mind if I sit here?" he asked and Mark, looking around the crowded room, nodded.
The stranger sank down into the chair opposite and grunted as his elbows hit the table. The waitress brought his drink, something rice-based and extremely potent by the smell of it. The other man sipped and sighed, eyes closing as he savored the taste on his tongue.
Mark took the opportunity to size up his table mate. Tall and lean, his movements were controlled and focused. Assassin's training, Mark guessed. This man was a fighter, and a good one, by the look of it. And young, too. How young...? Mark wouldn't have guessed any older than twenty.
"You're not from around here, are you?" the stranger asked, eyes still closed.
"I'm from out of town." Out of galaxy, more like.
The two sat and drank in amicable silence for a time. Mark swished the liquor around in his mouth, savoring the taste just as he savored the delightfully free sensation of his head drifting off his shoulders... Whew. Whatever they put in this is damn good stuff.
Evidently the stranger felt the same way. "Name's Asch," he said, breaking the quiet of the last half hour and sticking his hand across the table.
"...Mark," Mark replied, exchanging a firm handshake. He didn't know why he did it, used that name, the name his progenitor had given him. But, damn it all to hell, that was the name that stuck in his head, the one that seemed to fit... him. Whoever he was. "Nice place you got here."
Asch snorted. "It's a dump. But it serves fast and cheap, and doesn't ask any questions." A close-lipped smile tipped up one side of his mouth and he took a long swallow from his glass.
"I'll drink to that," Mark agreed, sipping at his own.
"What brings you into Daath, anyway?" Asch asked.
I thought this was Aluderant... Oh. City. Right. He shrugged. "Hiding from my progenitor, mostly. He's irritatingly eager to find me."
Asch's forehead creased. "'Progenitor?'" he echoed.
"My original." Mark's voice turned bitter. "I'm a clone, see. A duplicate. A one-off that no one has any use for anymore." He knocked back his drink and swallowed the burning liquid in one gulp. "I'm the unwanted bastard without a father or mother to lay claim to me, and a hyperactive brother who is all too fanatical about it."
"A replica," Asch murmured. "Huh," he snorted, bitterly. "Better than being the unwanted original. Once you get replaced, no one has any use for you anymore." He finished off his glass and signaled for another. Two more arrived with surprising alacrity.
"Cast off," Mark muttered.
"Sucks." They drained their glasses together.
"Still," Asch said, words only slightly slurring, "There's life."
"There's life," agreed Mark, who was having a little trouble focusing. "And with life comes purpose."
"Purpose indeed. There are things to be done. Save the world!"
"Save the clones!"
"Save the beer!" chimed in an eavesdropper, and all those in listening distance burst into laughter.
Asch clapped the little man on the back with the exuberance of the more-than-slightly drunk. "I like you, Mark," he grinned. "Let's stop Van together, eh?"
Mark grinned back, showing his teeth. "Don't know about any vans," he confided, "but I gotta buncha clones I gotta save."
Asch hiccuped slightly. "You save 'em an' I'll stop 'em. Heh heh heh... Go to, frien' Mark!" He saluted his new friend with his glass and tipped over.
The little man stared down at Asch, stretched out on the floor. "I'm goin' a bit further'n you," he said, conversationally.
A trio dressed like circus performers pulled the red-haired man to his feet. "Come on, buddy," the lone woman said. "Let's get you sober." They made their way to the door, staggering only slightly under the weight.
Mark's eyes followed them. "Huh. He's gotta nice sword. Really nice" hiccup "sword." He set his empty glass back down and tossed some local currency on the table to pay for his drinks, then made his own way out to the street. Yeah. Save the clones. Gorra save the clones...
Mind made up, he headed for his craft. He could hitch his way back to the main nexus easily, and the rudiments of a plan for assaulting Jackson's Hole were already forming in his back brain. "Thanks t'you, frien' Asch!" he said, tossing a salute over his shoulder at the darkness as he keyed open the craft.
He tripped on the stairs and fell flat on his face on the friction matting.
Mark decided to stay where he was. Gravity on this planet seemed stronger than usual. "Maybe it'll lighten up ina morning..." he murmured, eyes closing. "Damn good stuff 'ey serve 'ere... Wunner what those sing-y things are...?"