A/N: Greetings everyone. After a long period of laziness, I finally pushed myself to finish a story I had started quite some time ago. One good dusting off and plenty of error fixing later, I have this!

So, with a quick warning, yes this story will include Asch/Luke yaoi romance. If this ain't your sort of thing, please hit the back button in your browser. Thank you.

Now, on with the show!

Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of the Abyss.

Summary: After the events at Akzeriuth, Luke had come to fear Asch for good reason. The original was better than him at just about everything, and made sure to point out his shortcomings at every opportunity. This hostility only doubled when Luke had failed to receive the Jewel of Lorelei. Since then, Luke dreaded any contact he had with Asch… but for more reasons than just fear at being scolded by his original.

~ Conflicting Emotions ~

Keterburg was the vacation spot of choice for many people around the world. Known for its beautiful scenery, tranquil atmosphere, laid back shopping, fine dining, and plenty of things to do for the whole family. While the spa and the casino were some of the main attractions for the adults, the large playground in the center of town was the place to be for children. After all, where else could you put together a 20 vs. 20 snowball war? Naturally, even some of the not quite so young 'children' where hard pressed to resist the temptation of a good snowball fight.

For some sailors, Keterburg was the place to go to while their ships were getting fixed or upgraded at the port. Others made a living from buying wood and metals to sell back to the more inhabited continents. The whole island was covered with think forests and the rugged terrain made for some very high quality lumber and ore. Iron was particularly in abundance, and given the current state of unease and the potential of another war breaking out, Grand Chokma and Saint Binah needed to get as much Iron and Steel produced to defend themselves. Naturally, the weather was always something to watch out for, but when times were good, steady traffic could be seen coming through town and towards the port.

Other than that, there were few other reasons to go to the magical city. Observing and studying a Sephiroth tree was pretty much only on the minds of a select number of people.

For Luke and his friends, they were making a stop in town to analyze how the passage rings were holding up. Not surprisingly, most of that research was to be done by Jade, being that he knew what to make of the details. However he still needed Tear to open up the passage, Luke to control the ring itself (should something happen), and Guy to help out with the measuring devices. Anise and Natalia were still part of the group, and provided moral support, if nothing else, since neither lady had much skill with delicate machinery and fon tech.

The little expedition had proven to be fruitful. Not only did they get the measurements done, but they had found a Flightstone. As to be expected, Guy went into his fon tech mania, and went on and on about the possibilities of using that Flightstone on the Albiore. He even got all giddy when the group finally told the blond swordsman that he could go and personally install it once they got to town. The rest of the group... pretty much just zoned Guy out for the rest of the trip.

Other than Guy's ranting- pardon, Technically-Illuminating-Discussion-on-the-Inner-M echanics-of-the-Albiore, the trip had gone fairly smoothly. Fairly, because they also had a run in with a certain fuming red head God-General.

While Asch's perpetual foul mood was of no real surprise, running into him out in the middle of nowhere was. Unfortunately, Asch and his one track mind once again chewed out Luke for not receiving Lorelei's Jewel. But before Tear and Natalia could give Asch a piece of their mind, the former God-General left, potentially saving all of them from one heck of a battle and/or, bringing down the whole mountain.

At least for all their sakes, the trip back to town was uneventful. Yes, even Guy finally shut up. However, Luke had said barely a peep since he got chewed out again by his original. Not even the group's pep talk snapped him out of this stupor.

Once they were all back in town, each member of the team went their separate ways. Jade had given off each person a key to their hotel room, since his dear sister had booked a room for each, before heading off to his personal room to analyze the information they got out of the passage ring. The 3 girls had decided that they would relax at the spa, (Yay for free passes, courtesy of Peony) for the rest of the evening, with a certain little blue cheagle in tow. Guy pretty much just made a beeline to the port to go give the Albiore some good old TLC and install the Flightstone. And that left Luke to his own devices.

Having nothing really to do, Luke opted to just wander around town. He had tried to kill some time at the poker tables in the casino, but luck was just not on his side that day. The red head opted to call it quits early before he went through better part of the group's finances. At least they were not really hurting for money at the moment, so he decided that he might as well restock on supplies for the team.

That was one of the nicer things of Keterburg: the shopping. They had some of the best selections of merchandise in the world, and since there were not that many people around, that meant less time fighting the crowds and an overall much more pleasant experience. On the other hand, any shopping trip where he didn't have Natalia trying to buy every pretty dress or piece of jewelry, or hounding him out while trying to get Luke to obtain and wear some for sophisticated clothing items, was a good shopping trip in his book. Plus, he could browse the weapons and armor freely. Even more goodness.

His first stop had been the item shops. Since the group had used up quite a lot of gels and a few other potions, those had been his first priority and stop. His next stop had been a small candy store, where he bought various sweets and treats for his friends, and two dozen assorted truffles that were not going to be mentioned to anyone else. (Everyone is entitled to have their own little secret candy stash, right?) After that he browsed a few more shops, but not really buying anything. His last stop was going to be the local blacksmiths.

If there was one downside to Keterburg, other than the freezing temperatures and weather, it was that all the snow wound eventually rust over anything made of metal. And after 2 days of trekking through ice and snow, his sword had lost its sharpness, and his armor was starting to get difficult to move around. While walking towards the modest shop, he contemplated if maybe he should have asked everyone else for their weapons and armor pieces to get them all repaired at the same time, but it would have been of no real use, since sundown was getting close and the stores would begin to close for the day. The rest of the group would have to come tomorrow morning. It didn't bother Luke all that much, since that also meant that he would be able to sleep in some.

Luke was about to reach for the shop's door when it opened in front of him. What greeted him was a familiar face. In fact, more than familiar, it has almost a mirror image.

"What the-?! What are you doing here Dreck?"

Queue in the ever-grumpy God-General. Asch the Bloody.

"A-Asch?" Luke stuttered and froze in place. Facing Asch with the rest of the group around him was one thing, but alone was a whole different story. The truth was that he was dead scared of his original. Believe it or not, Luke feared Asch far more than he feared Van.

"Honestly. I already ran into you once today and I still have to put up with you again?! Out of my way you useless reject!" All but roared the God-General at his replica.

Luke on the other hand, was frozen in terror. Asch knew very well that Luke feared him to no end. If the shaking mirror image in front of him wasn't enough of an indicator, he could also sense it through their mind link.

Maybe a little part of Asch enjoyed seeing his damnable replica quiver in fear. Served him right though, after all, Luke had stolen everything Asch had, even his name. Even if the once arrogant brat had turned into a scaredy-cat at the first sight of Asch, often half hiding behind either Guy or Jade while clutching that blue Cheagle, Mieu, for dear life, it still didn't mean Asch was about to forgive the brat and go give him a hug. Oh hell no. Asch would much rather jump off into a frozen lake buck naked than so much as hug the replica. If there was one thing Asch wanted to do, other than skewer Van for good this time, was to make Luke's life as miserable as possible even after he got his real name, title and family back.

As for Luke, he was a tangled up mess of emotions. Yes he feared his original, but there were so many other emotions attached to that train of thought. Given the chance, Asch would probably kill him in cold blood, (hence why the 7 year old red head would have such a difficult time trying to sleep when he was alone) and since there was no one really nearby, he might just have at it. Even if they were in a city, he hardly believed that was reason enough to stop the real noble from going on a bloody rampage. The last time Asch had caught the group unaware had been one of Luke's most embarrassing moments. He had panicked and almost jumped right out his skin, grabbing hold of the nearest person for dear life. Unfortunately, said person just happened to be Jade and poor little Luke had somehow gotten a piggy back ride while nearly chocking the fabled necromancer. Naturally, Jade gave the red head hell for it (much to Asch's inner amusement), leaving Guy to help Luke walk the rest of the way.

But that was another place and another time. What mattered was the here and now. And right now, there was a certain, easily pissed off fon Fabre that was glaring more than just razor sharp daggers at Luke.

"Well?! Are you going to get out of my way or do I have to cut you down to make a way?!"

Luke squeaked and hastily stepped aside, giving Asch more than just room to walk. Oh heck no, Luke made sure we was more than a sword's reach away. Guy might be the quickest sword drawer Luke knew, but Asch was not too far away.

Seeing as how Luke responded with something more than just jittering, Asch closed the shop's door behind him (a little harder than needed) and started to walk away, casting a derogatory side glance at the jumpy replica.

Just as Asch was moving away, with a perpetual storm cloud over his head, Luke tried to extend his arm and to call out to Asch.

"Umm... A-Asch... er- wait, p-please..." unfortunately his little plea came out as little more than a whisper, not even really audible with the light wind blowing and the sounds of laughter and children playing not too far away. Luke had even so much as taken a small step forward, but quickly stepped back and his face went pale when Asch froze on the spot and turned to look around, hand already at his sword's hilt, ready to draw.

"Well what?" he said once again glaring at Luke. "If you got something to say, out with it!" Patience was never really one of Asch's strong suits. Neither had it been Luke's, or at least up until reality came crashing down on him not too long ago.

Despite the imminent promise of a painful death those dark emerald eyes had, Luke mustered what courage he could, which wasn't much, to at least speak out to his original.

"I... I have s-something... t-that I want t-t-to give y-y-you..." he finally said after swallowing some of his fear.

"If it's not the jewel, the forget it! I have no use nor need for you. Even if your little party goes around having camping trips, you are still only holding me back! Now thanks to your incompetence, I have twice as much work!" Asch nearly shouted out to the world, while walking back to Luke and grabbing hold of his shirt, putting both of them on eye level.

The wall behind him didn't help Luke any. Getting trapped between a cold stone wall and one fiery pissed off God-General spelled nothing short of a complete disaster.

"Last warning dreck, before I paint this wall with your guts. Now, What. Do. You. Want?"

As if that was going to help Luke's composure any, but at least it did get him a response.

"I-in my room, I have something t-that's yours. I've been trying to give it back b-but y-you've always run o-off..." Luke managed to say between squeaks from his latest fear attack, even if he was shaking more than a leaf in a middle of a rain storm.

Asch kept his grip firm on Luke's shirt and stared at him straight in the eyes as he spoke his answer. He remained quiet for a few seconds afterwards, as if analyzing what to do now. Or maybe he was just trying to decode the jumbled mess of weird noises and near undecipherable garble that was supposed to pass for speech. Maybe talking was now officially beyond the replica's capabilities.

As Luke quivered in Asch's grasp, the elder of the two never taking his eyes off from the younger, both remained in mostly silence. Mostly, being the key word, since Asch seemed to never be able to stop growling and Luke kept on whimpering. Luke just silently prayed that he wasn't about to get killed right there. He just hoped that his original was at least trying to think it over and maybe even accept the offer. But deep down, Luke knew better than to get too hopeful. This was Asch, after all, Sir grumpy-all-day & Lord of I'll-spill-your-guts.

After what felt like the longest minute in Luke's life, Asch finally pushed him back, hitting his back against the wall.

"Like I said before dreck. If you are not going to be handing me over the jewel, then forget it. Now this time, stay out of my way." Asch snarled at him before turning around and walked away.

At that point, Luke felt his knees give way, making him fall down on the snowy floor under him. Once held up by both arms, he finally let out the breath he didn't know he had been holding. Looking down on his hands, he realized just how scared he must have looked. His body still couldn't stop trembling, but at least he was finally starting to calm down. He only raised his sight when he heard Asch's footsteps resonate from the perfectly placed cobblestone walkways, no longer the crunch-crunch sound from stepping on snow. Even though his original was a few yards away by that point, Luke couldn't help but to say mostly to himself "Room's 408... 4th floor..." not even bothering to find out if the God-General had heard or not.

Once Asch was completely out of sight, his blood red long hair no longer swaying in the gentle wind, Luke allowed himself to break down. He still hadn't moved from his spot just off the sidewalk, half hidden under a nearby carefully manicured pine tree. Only now he moved just enough so that he was sitting, his legs folded and knees close to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs, and face hidden from view behind the thick cloth of his pants. At least now, when no one was around, he actually allowed himself to shed some tears.

It was becoming increasingly more frequent that Luke would break down like that after each confrontation with Asch. Even if he saw just a glance, or anything that looked anything remotely close to Asch in appearance, Luke was the first to bolt. Usually running down alleyways or escaping into the nearest building, and only coming out of hiding after an hour or so. Or until Guy found him and dragged him out. Only once had Jade been the one to drag him out, and that time had been at spear point. Then again, having freaked out and hid in Emperor Peony's private chambers probably earned that little treatment, even if Peony himself laughed and said Luke looked 'cute' while hugging his dear little Jade (the rappig) much like how a child would hold onto a stuffed animal or pillow when frightened. Oddly enough, that was indeed the case. Peony, taking sympathy on Luke after being filled in on the gravity of the situation, had made it up to Luke saying that he could come over and play with the rappigs anytime he wanted.

Those special little cases aside, the severity of the breakdown usually was determined by how bad the confrontation was with Asch. They could go anywhere between needing to hide for an hour or two, to being a complete nervous wreck and not being able to get a wink of sleep for a day, maybe two if it was bad. Unfortunately, even when Asch spoke... well more like ordered him, through their little mind link, those also counted towards having a mental breakdown. As for this episode, Luke was already kissing goodbye all hopes for a good night's rest for a whole week. At least since Guy was having a field day, working on the Albiore and all, he shouldn't get a repeat of his last severe breakdown. Let's just say that out of sheer fear, he had secretly gone over to Guy's room to bunk with him for the night, wishing that maybe being with someone he trusted would chase away the nightmares. Well, he never intended to climb into Guy's bed and fall asleep right on him. One could imagine the hell that broke out the next morning when Anise came crashing into the door to wake Guy up, only to see the shirtless blond having a familiar red head equally shirt-free sleeping on his chest, and both using each other as a full sized body pillow. (It just had to happen in Chesedonia, hadn't it.)

Oh the humanity.

After that... well, most of the group come to believe that the master and servant had a little something going on. And while Anise utterly enjoyed poking fun at the utterly embarrassed duo, Jade was the captain of that ship. Oh yes, he didn't let that little misadventure die anytime soon. Tear usually just blushed and tried to stay out of those conversations, or tried to change the topic politely. Natalia just ended up *assuming* that that was the reason why she could never get Luke to do anything romantic with her as well why Guy always had never shown any interest in women. And Guy… well at least he was a good sport about the whole ordeal and didn't bring up that topic, even if he was as embarrassed about the whole thing as Luke was.

From that point on, Luke was pretty much labeled as playing for the other team. Guy too for that matter.

Since then, both Fabre and Cecil had to endure the constant torment from that memorable moment, up until Jade had ended up dragging Luke out of his next bad breakdown. When Luke didn't move an inch while under a threat of getting blasted with multiple high tier fonic arts, Jade came to realize the severity of the problem and finally stopped with his antics (much to Anise's displeasure). After that, both got a little more breathing room to their much needed relief.

But back to the present, where Luke was sitting in the snow crying silently save for the occasional sniffle and hic up. He didn't know how long he had remained like that until someone had spoken up to him.

"You all right there, son?"

Even though the speaker asked rather quietly as was soft spoken, Luke recoiled back faster than Guy usually did when a woman got close. Apparently he jumped back so much he hit his head on the nearby wall, a high pitched squeak escaping his lips, while an explosion of random shapes and colors blinded his eyesight. A quick shake of his head and a hand quickly going up to cover the sore spot later, Luke turned to see the person that had addressed him.

It turned out to be a woman. Her graying hair tied up in a messy bun, and a kind yet tired face showed that she was up in her years, but not completely an old crone. Her broad frame showed that she still had strength in her arms, and she showed no cane to help her walk. At first glance, Luke placed her in her 50's, or maybe early 60s at most. But perhaps the oddest part of the woman was the heavy and thick leather apron and gloves she wore. Appearance aside, her face showed great concern and a tint of worry. That's when Luke finally remembered to respond.

"Oh... Sorry. Y-yes, I'm... okay."

"You don't look quite okay to me." responded the lady, offering Luke a hand to help him stand up. "Was it that young man with the long red hair?"

Luke winced at the mention of Asch, but took the older woman's hand all the same. "We... don't really get along." he responded as he pushed the snow off this clothing, never quite looking at the woman in the eyes.

"Sounded like a fight was about to break out young man. I'm just glad no one got really hurt." Internally, Luke would beg to differ, but he kept shut on that little tidbit of info. "My, you two do look a lot alike. Are you related?" asked the older lady after giving Luke a once over, checking to make sure he didn't have any injuries. However, the resemblance was uncanny for the woman.

"Er... yes." responded Luke while looking away. What was he to say? That he was a replica? That was a near sure fire way to rouse up suspicions. Asch would give him hell if he so much as suggested that they were twins or siblings.

"If I had guessed any better, the two of you could pass off as twins. But I will guess that that's a touchy subject for you." She smiled sweetly at Luke, much like any proud granny would at children. From his side, Luke was grateful the woman didn't press on as to what was the connection between himself and Asch. "Now, before that little squabble started, it looked to me that you were about to enter the shop. Did you need something dear?"

That suddenly reminded Luke as to why he was there to begin with. He wanted to get his equipment repaired! He frantically moved out of his hiding spot to check if the sun was still up. To his dismay, the last few rays of the sun could barely be seen in the horizon, meaning that the shops where closing. 'Oh no! I must have zoned out for a long time!'

"I was going to the blacksmithing shop to get some things fixed... but now I won't make it." He responded dejectedly to the kind woman. He owed the lady at least a straight answer for being nice to him.

"Well come on dear, I haven't closed the shop yet. Let's see what it is that you want fixed." Smiled the woman as she started walking.

"W-wait what?" Luke's jaw almost hit the floor. This old lady was the blacksmith?!

"Oh now really dear. You thought this old thick apron was for baking?" asked the woman smiling, half turning towards Luke while patting the side of her leather apron. Bashfully, Luke had to admit, that thing was far too heavy duty for kitchen work. "I might let my son do most of the work now, but even he still needs some teaching every now and then."

Dumfounded and blushing badly in embarrassment, Luke quietly followed the woman. 'I guess the world is still full of surprises.'

Once inside the shop, Luke came to realize that what the woman had said was true. She was the original head Blacksmith of the town, but she was getting close to retiring. The cozy interior and the smell of various cleaning oils next to a well light fireplace did wonders to sooth his fears. Soon the old lady called out for her son and inquired Luke about what he was looking for. A quick review of Luke's equipment later, the woman deemed that Luke's sword would require some tempering to strengthen it. Whoever had been the original maker did not intend it to be used in the harsh cold winter that Keterburg was known to offer. The process would require several hours, so the red head would have to come back during the day time for it. Luke did however find a short sword to his liking and decided to purchase it and keep it as a spare. 'Might as well have something to defend myself since my sword needs repairs.' Luke's armor required only minor fix ups, and that was quickly done on the spot. After thanking both mother and son for their services, and paying his due, Luke made his way back to his room.

Once outside, the little red head could once again see Keterburg's night time charm. Even with snow gently falling over him, the gentle glows from fireplaces seen through windows and the many street lamps and various lights brought out a certain serenity to the city. Few people wondered about at that time, but something about the whole set up of the city was just... magical. Almost made Luke want to dance away his worries to the whisper of the winds.

Almost. Since he was starting to freeze his butt off.

Chuckling at himself for such silly little thoughts, the young noble made a run for the hotel. He decided that a warm meal and a hot shower were his top priorities for the rest of the day. Then to cuddle up inside some nice fluffy pillows and cozy blankets.

The hotel might have not been cheap, but they sure knew how to spoil people. The restaurant was full with patrons, but Luke didn't mind sharing a table with an elderly couple. One hearty bowl of Beef and Vegetable stew later, Luke felt ready to hit they hay.

Once back in his room, Luke wondered if everyone was back in their rooms yet. Guy most likely wasn't, but everyone else probably was. It felt odd to have a room all to himself. Almost felt like it was way too big for him. An odd comment, considering he technically still lived in a mansion. But in truth, the room wasn't exactly all that big. This type of room was probably used mostly by single travelers, being only one bed, a couch, a desk with matching chair, an armoire to place one's clothes in, and one adjacent bathroom. Well, you could probably fit two people in the bed if you really wanted to, maybe one more person on the couch, but that was about as many people as you could fit in that room. On a second thought, it might also double up as a love suite. Maybe that was the reason they each got their own rooms, to escape any potential misunderstandings. As long as Luke didn't get another repeat of Chesedonia, he was fine with it. Heaven forbid he would unconsciously snuggle up to one of his team members. Again. A shiver when down Luke's spine at the very thought of that happening.

Pushing away any chaotic scenarios out of his mind, Luke walked over to where he had left his wingpack, pulling out his warm set of night clothes. Like hell he would sleep in just his undershirt and boxers. Along with his clothes, he grabbed a few other personal items and made his way to the bathroom.

Nothing felt more like heaven than taking a nice warm bath after a long cold day outside. Normally Luke would shy away from using the provided bottle of bubble bath, but heck, he was alone, and no one had to know. So grinning mischievously, he pulled the top off and poured part of the bottle just under the faucet. Dammed if it was girly, but it sure felt nice. Luke could very well feel the water soothe away all his aches and pains. If it wasn't so late, I'd probably go up to the spa and ask for a massage. The red head grinned inwardly to himself.

After all, what was it now... maybe a year, since this whole little adventure had started, and much of that year had gone by camping under the stars. When Tear had just whisked him away that fateful day, he didn't even know what a sleeping bag or bedroll was. Those first few nights had been horrible for Luke, who had been pampered and pretty much spoiled rotten up until then. So times like this when he could allow himself some indulge in a few luxuries were few and far between. And all the more reason to make the best out of them.

However, all good things must come to an end, and once Luke realized that the total amount of bubbles had diminished significantly, he decided it was high time to finish up and get out. Well that, and maybe the water starting to get cold. 20 minutes later, one squeaky clean Luke already wearing his pj's was out of the bathroom.

After folding up his dirty clothing and placing it aside, Luke placed the rest of his items back in his backpack, only pulling out a single brush. His hair might not be long anymore, but it still could become a tangled mess if he didn't comb through it once in a while, mainly, after baths or showers. Besides, he had to wait until his hair dried before going to bed, or he could catch a cold. (He already had that happen to him once or twice, wasn't pretty.) So not having anything else to do, Luke pulled the desk chair over to the fireplace. Throwing a pair of logs in there for good measure, he placed the chair at a comfortable distance and began to brush his hair.

As the red head continued to absent mindedly comb out his hair, his mind wandered around through days past and current. Another perk of having a room all to yourself was that you could reminisce in peace without the scrutiny of your fellow travelers. Dam that Jade and his powers of getting just about anything out of him. Can't hardly keep a secret from that guy, sheesh. Anise was no better at it, however much less successful than the cunning coronel.

His thoughts went from one thing to another. Sometimes just to recap of what had been done, and what needed to be done. A few stray thoughts adventured out to remind Luke of some of the more comical events that had taken place thus far, earning a few smiles and chuckles out of the red head. Even if half of the time, he ended up being at the bad side of a joke or prank, looking back now, he couldn't help but find it amusing. 'One of these days I will come up with something to get back at Jade for all these pranks.' For being the 'adult' of the group, Jade sure did pull a whole lot of pranks, probably because it was so hard to tell if he was up to something or not. That and he could pretty much place traps in no time flat. Kind of like the time in Chesedonia where Jade made both Luke and Guy work their butts off for the whole afternoon so that they could 'buy' a fon tech music disc. The bastard.

None the less, his thoughts wondered off quite a bit, bringing up memories both pleasant and painful. Sadly, there was always one topic in particular that would always be like a knife to the heart. And he only needed to look in the mirror to be reminded of it.

Lately, Luke had evaded mirrors almost completely. There were a few times when there was no way around it, like say shaving his face every other morning. But other than that, he tried to stay away from them. It was sad indeed when you look into a mirror and only end up seeing someone else's face. Someone in particular that hated your guts and was very well willing to kill you if given the opportunity. Even though original and replica no longer looked like exact copies cut from the same cookie cutter, there was no denying the similarities.

Luke sighed deeply and leaned back into the chair. He had stopped combing his hair a few minutes before, the brush having fallen down to the floor long forgotten. The red head focused his sight on the fireplace before him. Once again he lost himself in thought, but this time, it all revolved around his original, Asch.

After the events at Akzeriuth, Luke had come to realize that his whole life had been nothing but a lie. 7 years of lies to be more precise. He wasn't the real son and heir to the Fabre household, he was not Natalia's cousin and future husband, and by no means at all, was he the savior/destroyer of the world, even if he did blow up Akzeriuth but managed to stop the all-out war between Malkuth and Kilmasca. The only truth in him was, that he was made to be a stand in copy for Asch, the real Luke fon Fabre. A throw away pawn, made only to serve its purpose, and that was to pave the way for Van's idea of a world without a Score through brute force, kill off everyone and recreate them via replicas. Replicas that had no knowledge or that clinging to the Score for every little detail in everyday life. However, in order to make said pawn, Van had cleverly manipulated those around the little replica in order to keep it dumb, ignorant, and stupid. And boy did it work like a charm, Luke was wrapped around Van's little finger by far better than a puppet on strings.

So, in those 7 years of his short existence, Luke lived in Asch's house, used his things, his room, lived with his family, and for all account's and purposes, was to live out the life Asch should have. And he took it all for granted. All that had Luke turned into the spoiled brat of the century. Millennia maybe even. As far as Luke could remember, the only thing he really did those 7 years, aside from relearning the basics, was whine. Day and night. Stuck up parents that keep him under lock and key, always trying to force him to remember things and live up to their standards, servants that didn't get too close to him but even he could tell that they both hated and pitied him, Natalia always bugging him. Ugh... yea it wasn't pretty. But now, looking at it all in hindsight, he realized just how bad a case he was. No wonder everyone hated his guts, they had every single dam reason to do so.

It was only until the point where Luke decided to cut his hair, did he really make a bow to change his ways. There were a few things about his attitude that still flared from time to time, but he hoped that at least he was nowhere near the arrogant spoiled brat he was just a few short months ago. At any rate, from that point forward, Luke had really tried his best to turn over a new leaf. He tried to make it up to everyone. He tried to pitch in a lot more with various chores, sometimes going off to do them on his own before anyone asked. Even if there were some things that he still botched up royally on a frequent basis (ahem, cooking), Luke did feel that he was making progress. Well he at least hoped to at any rate. Sadly, there was one person that he just couldn't make it up to. And perhaps that was the person he most wanted to redeem himself to. Asch.

In some ways, Asch reminded Luke much of his older self. Arrogant, selfish, prideful, and overall a stuck up pain in the ass, were just a few of the adjectives that came to mind. But then again, Asch did end up like that much in part thanks to Luke unknowingly stealing everything from him and kicking him out. That aside, there were several things that separated original from replica, not just real age. Attitude aside, Asch had a certain... presence, or aura if you will, around him. He knew how to command others, he knew how to get things done, and he knew how to get those around him to respect (and fear, hmm maybe mostly fear) him. For all his faults, Asch was not one to back down from a challenge or hide at the first sight of danger. The God-General might lean more towards the reckless side, but he got the job done. Usually, anyway.

Luke sighed and shook his head sideways. 'Perhaps, we are a little bit more alike than either of us want to admit.' He ran his hand through his somewhat still damp hair to push his bangs aside at the thought.

But the problem remained. How exactly can one make it up to such an arrogant asshole? Luke had already tried to get Asch to at least see his parents and giving them some alone time. He never knew what happened, but all he got was another chewing out. Luke knew that ultimately, Asch wanted his name and title back, and the little replica was by now more than willing to step aside and let him reclaim it. But for one or another reason, Asch would simply not outright give him the boot. Sadly, there were not that many options that would potentially appease the red head God-General. It wasn't like walking up to him with a big old cake with the words 'I'm sorry. Please come back home' would work on Asch. Buying him things was also out of the question, since Asch would probably think that the money with was used to buy said gift would come out of the household's pockets. Lastly, Luke had no real crafting skill, so making Asch as gift was also a no go. So he was screwed no matter how he looked at it.

The only thing poor little Luke could do was to keep going over his memories, and hope he found out some tiny little bit of usable information that he could use to make it up to Asch. No luck so far, just more dead ends and nightmares.

After Luke and the group had thrown Van off into the planet's core after the fight at the Absorption Gate, Luke had both wanted and dreaded the possibility that Asch would one day waltz back into the Manor and throw him out. He did want to give Asch his rightful place back, but he wasn't sure if anyone would take him in. The idea of maybe going to Grand Chokmah and live with Guy had been his best case scenario, but even he agreed that that plan might have been pushing it. For all he knew, Guy probably wanted and needed some time away from the Fabre household, and no doubt Luke would stir up old ghosts. At least this time around, he didn't want to impose on Guy or to make him feel obligated to take in a stray replica. However, much to Luke's surprise, day by day had gone by, and no sudden appearance by Asch. Not even an order or his traditional name calling via their little mind link. It had made him both nervous and sad in all honestly. For one thing, Luke had even cleaned out his old room and tidied it up, so in the event that Asch did come back, all Luke had to do was pick up one single backpack and be off. He had resigned himself to let Asch decide what he wished to do with everything else. There were probably some usable things in there, but knowing Asch, he would probably get rid of it all just out of sheer spite towards the replica.

But as the days went by, Luke fell more and more into a slump. He had tried to live up to the proper standards of nobility, but as much as he tried, he simply wasn't cut out for it. He often kept making the same stupid mistakes, or outright lacked the skill in full. Every single time he got stuck like that, he would always end up thinking 'I bet Asch would have gotten this done right and perfectly on the first try'. As far as Luke could tell, he would need another 10 years before he could be any kind of half decent monarch. Politics aside, perhaps the real sore point had been that he had received no words from his 'friends' or anything. At one point, Luke had broken down and pretty much come to believe that the whole group was just glad to get rid of him and that the world was safe. There might have been a bottle or two of wine (or was that scotch?) involved in that episode, but it still had hurt to not hear a single word out of anyone, save Natalia, and she bitches around just as bad or more than Luke did in his brat days, sheesh. At least he later on learned that the head butler had hidden all of his correspondence by orders of his 'father', so at least he was relieved to find out that his friends still wanted to talk to him.

Shame that that's when this whole chase to find the Key of Lorelei started, and once again Asch was on his case for being a second rate replica. 'Well excuse me for not being able to learn Ancient Ispanian overnight, you prick. Yes I'm a slow learner, so deal with it.' Luke grumbled to himself more than once because of that. Besides, who would have guessed that Van would escape from death by fusing and trapping Lorelei within his body? Dam lucky sonuvabitch...

None the less, it was already in the past. Their current situation might not be overall pretty, but at least they were trying to search for the dam Jewel. Now if Asch would only be as kind as to get off his dam case for enough time to actually explain what's what, then maybe this wild goose chase would be a little more productive. Sadly, from the looks of things, that was about as likely to happen as asking ask Asch to dress up as a ballerina and dance to swan lake. At any rate, for the time being, they were once again stuck. Hence why Jewel chasing was put on the backburner and planetary stability was pushed up to the forefront.

Having reminisced long enough, Luke got up from his spot and walked away from the fireplace, only stopping long enough to pick up the discarded brush from the floor. His hair had almost fully dried so there was no need to remain so close to the fireplace. After placing the brush on top of his backpack, he made his way over to go make the bed. Might as well pull out all the sheets this time around, unlike last time where he tried to find the bottom most sheet in the dark and failed at it, mistaking it and a thin blanket for the mattress' covering. Only till the morning did he find out why he felt blankets were missing. He had slept on top of them the whole time.

Once he pulled out the blankets so that he could comfortably get into bed, Luke went back to his belongings to pick up a clean set of clothing for tomorrow morning. He wasn't going to need to take a shower in the morning, but might as well get himself a few extra minutes under the covers. All that was left to do was to make sure the fire was dying down and that no embers were close to the floor. He didn't want any accidents of the sort at any rate.

"There. All set." Luke told himself after pushing the ashes and remaining wood farther back into the fireplace. He debated momentarily as to if he should throw in one more log so that it would left over heat would last him through the night, but in the end decided against it. A fresh log might last an hour or two before it started to die down, and he was probably going to be in la-la land long before that. 'Better safe than sorry.'

With that settled, he started to go around the room turning off all the lamps and double checking that both door and windows were closed and locked.

"Dang, the wind really picked up." commented the red head after drawing back the curtains and seeing a mini ice storm. 'No wonder the city wanted to shut down so early. They must have this figured out down like a science.' And all the more reason to make sure that the windows were properly locked. The last thing he needed was to wake up to a pile of snow all over the room. Good thing he checked too, for the window had been closed, but not locked. A strong enough gust of wind and it could have thrown the window wide open.

The last lamp to turn off was over by the dresser. Sadly said dresser had a mirror over it, strapped into the wall. Luke sighed and walked over. He was ready to pull down on a small brass chain that turned off the lamp, but he could not help but glance at the mirror. For once, he could see his own reflection. Short and messy red hair, his off-white button up pajama shirt, and his big, sad emerald green eyes. His face was still slightly round in some places, evidence enough that he had not quite gotten out of his childhood yet. It would probably take him a few more years before he lost all of the 'baby fat'. Perhaps, it was times like this one, when Luke ditched his loose fitting pants and long tailed coat that one could really see how small he actually was. Sad as it was, even his adoptive mom was taller than him. Secretly, he was still hoping for that last second growth spurt, but he knew the chances of that happening were slim. In the end, his real age showed. He really was just a 7 year old placed in a body of a 17 year old and expected to do as a 17 year old should. Those big doe eyes of his could tell everyone that much, even if they were also half covered by sorrow and regret.

His eyes. His eyes were different from Asch's. Asch's eyes were hardened over, almost soulless. Cold, dark, void of all cheer and joy. Just like the owner. There were some other differences. Asch was a tad bit taller too, but has also heavier and slightly broader in build that Luke was. Then again, comparing someone who had been all over the world training his butt off to someone that spent most of his life locked up in a house was by no means a fair contest. Unlike Luke, Asch had none of the baby fat left over, and pound for pound, he was pure muscle. His body favored speed and precision being still an overall lightweight, but between his swordsmanship and spell casting, anyone that got in his way was in trouble. And a dam lot of it. Still, if anyone managed to get a good look at Asch without his armor or shirt on, oh they were in for a real treat. He was after all, drop dead gorgeous.

Luke felt himself blush at a few selected memories revolving the God-General. When it came to physical appeal, Asch could beat him by a long shot. And he knew what he was talking about, since he had after all, managed to get a few glimpses at the god general in skin only. It had been by pure accident, in all honesty, and thankfully Luke had been far to dazed and in shock to realize what exactly had been going on. He hadn't meant to partially wake up from a little nap just in time to see Asch undressing in front of a full length mirror in order to take a shower. That had happened during the brief time that his consciousness had been residing within Asch's mind after the events at Akzeriuth. At the time, he hadn't even really registered what was going on, all he had done was wake up, looked around through Asch's eyes, and then curled up in his corner again. Asch was probably thinking of something else or didn't think Luke was conscious enough to merit a full out whipping.

Only until sometime later, once he was back in his own body did he came to realize the magnitude of his unintentional actions. And holy sweet mother of Yulia, did Luke find himself blushing deeply at that split second image. Oh but not only that, he couldn't help stop and admire his original's drop dead good looks. Every time he even recalled that image, it would not take him long to experience the all too familiar butterflies in your stomach feeling, usually followed by a searing fire that started in the same location and expanded in all directions. Even now, as Luke stood in front of the mirror, several months after that had happened, he could vision that same naked Asch, just off to his side in the mirror's reflection. But that was not all, said nude god general didn't have that hateful glare he always had each time they meet. Oh no... He was smirking. Almost devilish like. And it turned Luke on.

At first, the wild fire that would spread through him at the mere memory, or wild imagination of his original's dream like body, Luke blamed it on still being somehow in shock after the events of Akzeriuth, and that he would never be able to compare himself equally to Asch. He blamed in on somehow both fearing and admiring the superior original, but that soon was proven wrong when he started to find men more appealing than women. That feeling of desire and pleasure of looking at a well-endowed woman got replaced by sneaking glances at various men. Eventually he came to admit he preferred men over women, when he started to find the image of the male half of the team in boxers by far more arousing than Noire in her skimpy little outfit. Luke prayed almost every night to Yulia that neither Guy nor Jade would find out his actual switch in preferences.

But back in his room at the Keterburg hotel, Luke shook his head to clear his mind and put a stop to his fantasizing. If he left his imagination run wild and rampant anymore, he was sure to have trouble sleeping. And would probably be in need of another shower before long. A quick look down verified that he had stopped himself in time.

'Phew, glad this didn't get out of hand. Even if I'm alone in the room, I'd rather not have anyone see me like this. Now, I just need to keep my mind clear long enough for me to calm down... I just hope I don't get any more mixed goofy nightmares. I don't know what I'm going to do if one moment I dream that Asch is trying to kill me, and the next trying to fuck me.'

Thankfully, those dreams were few and far between. And it was much more common to see the vengeful Asch trying to cut him down to pieces. A mixed blessing of sorts, seeing as how Asch could cut through and see what the replica was seeing or thinking at any point in time on a whim. At least from that perspective, it was better to have Asch see Luke fear him, than to see Luke lusting over him. Either way, Luke wasn't sure if his luck would hold, but so far he was fairly sure that Asch knew nothing of his little crush on the long haired red head. Hopefully, it would stay that way. He just didn't knew how long it would hold, or how long would Luke be able to keep his composure in check, before he seriously screwed something up and did something he deeply desired, but also something he feared greatly.

And it all made his current standing with Asch that much more complicated.

'Get a grip on yourself Luke!' He scolded himself mentally. 'Besides, Asch would never get romantic with me. Yea... he'd never really love me anyway.'

He felt dejected when he told himself that. 'But it's the truth... Who would fall in love with someone they hate so badly?'

It was a sad realization. And part of Luke died with each time he repeated that to himself. He knew that his chances to get romantically involved with Asch were about as high as a snowball's chances at surviving after being thrown into Mount Zaleho. Which was... cero. Probably Natalia was the only one that had a decent chance of getting something going with the true Fabre. Getting Asch to forgive him and maybe tolerate him was very slim, but still a lot higher than the possibility of love blossoming between both red heads. The younger red head probably had a better shot at getting into Van's bed long before he even got a hug out of Asch.

Luke sighed for the nth time that night. Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered with his little fantasy of Asch, when deep inside he knew that he wasn't going to get anything out of it.

'Bah! What's the use? I might as well just give up and get some dam sleep already.' The young red head scolded himself as he pulled the small chain of the desk lamp, placing most of the room in shadows. The only remaining source of light was coming from the few glowing red wood pieces still smothering in the fireplace. Just enough light so that it was not difficult to fall asleep with, and also just enough so that Luke could make his way back to the bed without hitting his toes against the furniture while wading in complete darkness.

After that, he pulled back the covers so that he could comfortably get into the bed. Then pulled all the blankets up to his chin, leaving only his unruly mop of red hair and his face visible. He tossed and turned a bit, trying to find a comfortable position, and once he found it he stretched his arms and yawned, before quickly retracting his limbs under the blankets. 'Man, I guess I was more tired than I thought.' It would take a bit for the bed to get warm, but it would eventually.

A few minutes later, all of the exhaustion from a full day of roughing it through Keterburg's snowy hillsides finally caught up with Luke, making him drowsy and slowly drifting towards dreamland. 'Maybe, I'm tired enough that I won't even dream.'

However a knock on the room's door snapped him back to reality, followed by a somewhat impatient question.

"Hey dreck. You awake in there?"

' Oh shit.'

A/N: I hope you all have enjoyed this chapter. Poor Luke! What could be waiting for him? We will just have to see in the next chapter. *wink*

Reviews and constructive criticism is much appreciated! Until next time!