Soup From the Soul
I know I say I'm the best
Even though I'm not.
And I say I can do anything,
But falter on the spot.
Then you came into my life
And lifted me up high;
And the only way I repaid you
Was to lead you into lies.
Now every day I ask,
How can I repent?
How can I cleanse myself
To one who's heaven-sent?
I shed my blood for you
And you called me brother.
I shared concern for him
And earned trust from another.
Now here you lie asleep.
Please trust me once again.
I'll heal your hearts and souls
And deliver no more pain.
It began when Lloyd started to complain about a headache while he swept the floor. Abandoning his duties at the mast, Kratos walked up to him and felt his forehead, then took the broom, set it aside, and lifted the teen in his arms.
"The fever's returned. Finish the sweeping, Zelos." the angel ordered huskily over his shoulder and descended into the ship's quarters. Zelos sighed irritably and grabbed the broom, making a show of sweeping. This sort of thing had gone on for several days now. Lloyd would be busy with some chore and, midway through, would weaken and sit down, flushed and sweating. Kratos would tend to his son and Zelos would get stuck with the work.
"Man, this sucks. I've had to do my chores and half of Lloyd's chores all in one week!" he muttered and jumped when he heard a loud thudding sound below him. He paused and looked warily at the stairs. "It's probably nothing." he murmured and waited for Kratos to come back and finish adjusting the sail. After a few more moments, he carefully made his way down the steps, clutching the broom as if it were a weapon. He had left Excalibur and Last Fencer, his two best swords, in his room. Zelos hoped that whatever made that sound was afraid of straw and wood.
Instead of a fierce beast, the former Chosen found Kratos slumped against the wall, panting. Dropping the broom, he ran the rest of the way down and lifted away his bangs, studying his face intently.
"What's wrong with you two?" Zelos muttered and pulled a glove off to feel his forehead, "You're burning with fever, too! Have you had this on again, off again illness as long as Lloyd has?"
"No." Kratos muttered in a wavering voice and shook himself away from the redhead's hands, trying unsteadily to climb the stairs, "I'm perfectly fine. We have to finish our work. Let's go." Zelos hesitated, his conscience battling over letting him go work and dragging him back to his own room for rest. Another irritated sigh escaped his mouth as he ran back up the stairs, ducked around Kratos and barricaded the path, arms and legs spread.
"Not today, pal! You need bed, preferably with a hunny in it, but you can do without for now." he declared. Kratos glared up at him.
"Out of the way, Zelos." he ordered, "Do your chores and I'll do mine." Zelos shook his head with a grin.
"Sorry, can't hear you. Maybe the acoustics in your room are better. They may help you practice your singing voice." he purred and grabbed Kratos's arm, leading him back to the quarters.
"Shut up." the angel griped as he tugged half-heartedly back. Despite the feeble threats and orders he earned, Zelos managed to get the angel in bed and headed back to the top deck.
The sweeping was done quickly and Zelos struggled a bit with the mast, adjusting the sail to keep them on course. With land being too far to reach for another few days, he'd just have to make do with what he had.
"Ah, let's see... comfrey? Witch hazel? Who the hell picked out our herbal remedies last time?!" Zelos grumbled as he sorted through the bottles in the shelves. Anything related to herbal medicines and potions were stored in a cabinet in Zelos's room. No one bothered to question why. "Gah, I told them to leave the shopping of herbs to me! Damn it!" Grabbing a jar with a few shredded eucalyptus leaves, he slammed the door shut and leaned back against it, thinking quickly.
Whatever was making Lloyd and Kratos sick obviously hadn't affected him... yet. Zelos tried to find some common thing they shared that he didn't to figure it out. Unable to find one right away, he filed it for future reference in his head and studied the jar. There was only enough left for one concoction of potion. He'd have to decide who would take it. Jogging to the kitchen, he cringed at the sound of Lloyd coughing hoarsely from his bedroom and sighed, looking at the jar again. A silent plea of forgiveness later, Zelos raced for the kitchen.
Several minutes later, Zelos was searching the pantry for something to add to the eucalyptus he was boiling. The leaves on their own wasn't the most appetizing of drinks. He griped and grumbled under his breath and yelped painfully when one sudden motion at scooping up a jar of peppermint he thought he'd lost knocked a can of beans onto his head. He cursed it under his breath and spotted a bottle of honey and a few lemons stashed on one of the shelves.
"Great! Fever reduction!" Zelos exclaimed cheerfully and collected them. The pot whistled under its lid and Zelos dumped the lemons onto the table to move it off of the heat, replacing it a few moments later with another pot of water. Both pink and black gloves had been abandoned in his bedroom after being soaked with sweat, mostly used for wiping Kratos's face dry.
With fresh water boiling, Zelos poured out the eucalyptus potion into a cup and set it on a wooden tray. He turned quickly to cut the lemons into wedges and squeezed the juice into another cup.
"Daaaaad!" Lloyd wailed and fell into another coughing fit. Zelos immediately abandoned the lemons and raced for the bedrooms, nearly tripping over his own feet as he threw open Lloyd's door and looked inside. The boy was sitting up, coughing hard enough to shake his entire body. "Dad! Wha-?! Zelos?!" he finally managed to gasp out.
"What's wrong, Bro?" the redhead managed to ask nonchalantly. Lloyd blinked at him, face flushed with fever.
"I was getting too warm, but I can't seem to get the blankets off. Where's Dad?" he answered feebly and kicked weakly. Zelos pulled the extra blankets off and left him with a thin sheet before checking his forehead.
"Stuck in bed like you. Damn, this is bad. Hang on." he muttered and ran back to the kitchen.
The pot was flooding the room with steam and Zelos waved it aside, hair already going limp from the humidity. Pouring the water into the cup with the lemon juice, he stirred it quickly, then added a spoonful of honey. He set that on the tray with the eucalyptus potion and hurried back to Lloyd's room.
"Drink this." Zelos ordered, handing the confused boy the cup with the still hot liquid. He peered into the cup and looked up at him. "What? It's not poison, I can vouch for that. Though the can of beans would beg to differ." the former Chosen muttered, "It's eucalyptus, good for coughs, fever and infections."
"Uh, okay." Lloyd murmured and took a sip, then blanched, "Ick! It's hot and nasty!" Zelos glared at him and he finished the drink, then lay back in bed, breathing a little easier. "But I think it helped. Thanks, Zelos."
"Just sleep for now. Leave everything to me, the Great Zelos!" the redhead declared brightly and jogged off with a smile towards Kratos's room.
"I'm not ill."
"Come on! I took a can of beans to the head making this!"
Kratos gave Zelos a strange look as he held the cup of honey and lemon tea. The younger man sighed and returned it with one that told the angel that either he drink the tea or he'd wear it. Sighing in forced defeat, Kratos drank the concoction and set the cup aside.
"Happy?" he grumbled, despite feeling his throat loosen up in response to the drink. Zelos gave him a triumphant grin and ran off with the empty cup. "Brat." Kratos muttered under his breath as he settled back under the sheets of his bed, then sneezed.
Two days passed and Zelos's room was littered with bottles of herbs and seeds tossed all over the floor. Zelos himself sat against the foot of his bed, examining a pair of jars in his hands. He'd long since shed the pink vest and tied his hair back at the neck. His arms and legs ached from working the ship and running back and forth from the kitchen to all three bedrooms.
"This is all that's left. Some sage and a little thyme." Zelos murmured and slowly got to his feet, wobbling towards the kitchen. He glanced into the open bedrooms of Kratos and Lloyd. They protested having their rooms open like that, but seeing all the times Zelos had run into their rooms with trays of remedies and soups, all in attempts to cure their illnesses, finally won them over.
Kratos slept uneasily, a folded towel damp with cool water on his forehead. His fever refused to break and his coughing fits returned with a vengeance once Zelos was forced to give up the honey, lemon mix to keep the supply for scurvy preventatives. It got to the point where the redhead had struggled to pull the violet mantle and shirt from the angel, then cover him over in more damp towels. Zelos sighed wearily and pressed on.
Lloyd moaned softly and often, the same damp towel on his forehead, lying shirtless on the bed. A bowl of hot rocks was set on a table across the way and Zelos stopped in to pour water over them, steaming the room and bringing in additional moisture to stave off the fever.
Finally reaching the kitchen, the Chosen set to making another stew with the last of the herbs mixed into it. He scanned the shelves there and sighed. There was no doubt about it; Zelos was completely out of medicines. Even the gels had been handed down to the two ill swordsmen, nothing stopped the coughing, the sneezing, the sore throats and fever.
"What am I gonna do now?" Zelos murmured worriedly as he set the two bowls of soup onto the tray and set off for the rooms again. Lloyd sat up and blinked dumbly at him, glazed eyes barely able to keep focus on him. "Hey, Bro. Got you some stew." Zelos told him with a smile and lifted the spoon, "So open wide!"
Kratos was harder to feed, he kept shimmying under the covers and retching. Zelos finally pulled the blankets and sheets off completely and pointed at the bowl, a scowl on his face equal to the one on the angel's own.
"Damn it all, Kratos, I'm trying to help! Now eat that stew or I swear I'll shove a funnel down your throat and pour it in!" he threatened. The ship lurched suddenly as the winds changed and Kratos turned green, pulling the pillow over his head with a groan as Zelos raced out and up the stairs to the top deck.
Adjusting the sail was hard without wings and Zelos wasn't willing to risk putting his Cruxis Crystal to work giving him a pair. A storm was passing by and the winds battered the little boat he, Lloyd and Kratos built. Ropes wrapped tightly around his arms, Zelos pulled back on the boom and turned the sail away from the dying tempest. In the distance, he could see land with lush greenery. Mouth open from effort, he let his mind run through this new information and brightened considerably. An island! There may be some plants there he could use for medicine!
"Hey!" Zelos cried suddenly as the sail snapped the rope still bound around him and threw him to the deck. The surf and spray from ocean waves crashed onto the boat, soaking him thoroughly. Coughing and spitting out water, he untangled himself from the hemp and made for the captain's wheel. Dimly, he remembered a similar storm that they had gotten caught in some time ago, only that time he had played it smart and stayed below while Lloyd and Kratos duked it out with the briny blue.
"That's it!" Zelos exclaimed as another wave crashed down on him. He scowled and turned the wheel hard, steering the ship towards the island before locking the wheel in place and running downstairs again.
"Zelos? What's happening?" Lloyd asked as he ran by. He sneezed once and settled deeper into a blanket, teeth chattering as a sudden chill shot through him.
The redhead didn't stop to change clothes or grab a towel, just made straight for his bookcase and scanned the titles on the bindings. Though all of them looked like the usual assortment of romance novels and secret black books any player would keep, more than half of them held a secret. Zelos grabbed one of the romances, the leather cover decorated with a burned engraving of a richly dressed woman. Sitting on his bed, he opened it and flipped through the pages.
Instead of the flowery words of love and kisses one expected to find, chapters upon chapters of medical theory and herbal remedies filled the pages. Money couldn't buy health and happiness, but it certainly afforded Zelos a collection of medical textbooks disguised as playboy novels. Seles's illnesses as a child were of great concern to him. She was his sister, he was big brother; he was responsible for her. Her health and happiness was foremost on his mind, though hidden for a long while by his yearning for escape into death and destruction.
Zelos had learned to be a healer while he trained to be a swordsman. If he could heal his sister, he could defend her too. It didn't work out like he hoped it would. Nothing short of a whole new body would cure Seles and free her of her weakened state. And if anyone, much less the Pope, found out what he was up to... well, he didn't want to think of that. Not any more.
"Here it is! Colds, flu, and fevers... willow bark. That's what I need!" he exclaimed happily and jumped from the bed, book tucked under his arm. Returning to his herbal cabinet, Zelos grabbed a soft leather satchel and several empty bottles and jars. Packing all of it into the satchel, he raced for the upper deck, heart racing with excitement. "If there's a lake on that island, there's got to be some willow trees!" The ship lurched again and Zelos cried in pain as he was thrown against the wall of the narrow hallway. Sliding down, he cringed at the multitude of explosions that took place in his head.
"Owww...." he groaned and looked awkwardly at his right shoulder, "Man, and it only recently healed, too." An angry red bruise glared back at him, splinters of wood poking through the skin. "Geez, that's just ugly. I hope it doesn't rub off on the rest of me." he muttered and climbed to his feet, "Ugh, what the hell is going on now?"
"Zelos, I heard you yelling! What's going on?!" Lloyd called out worriedly, "What's happening?! Is Dad feeling better yet?!"
"Hang on a minute!" Zelos shouted over his shoulder as he jumped up the steps to the top deck. He stopped in shock as the sight of tattered sailcloth flew into his view, "Aw hell! Not now!" Leaping and bounding across the deck to the anchor, he eyed the island and judged the distance. "The lifeboat hasn't been repaired yet and I can't swim all the way out there!" he groaned in despair as he shoved the anchor down to keep the ship from drifting anywhere. Zelos sat back and glared balefully at the distant land. If he could pick a fight with anything in the world at that moment, he would with that island.
"I hate you." he hissed and kicked at a pile of rope in frustration before resting his cheek on his fist. Well, now what? He studied the ocean, the island, the condition of the ship and the lifeboat. There was no way he could reach the island with the lifeboat, it would sink halfway over even if he bailed constantly. His hair hung wet and limp on his shoulders, clinging to his face and he pulled his knees close to his body and sighed dejectedly.
It began with a tremble, then a shudder, until he couldn't hold back any longer. Tears running down his face, Zelos started pounding his fists against the wood of the deck, not caring that he'd only get more splinters that way. His shirt and pants were torn from the abusive work he'd taken up in Lloyd and Kratos's absence, his entire inventory of medicines were useless, and when he finally caught a break, it was left dangling in front of him like a chunk of meat before a tied down dog dying of starvation.
"Lousy, stupid, cheating bastards! How the hell am I supposed to prove that I can do at least one damn thing right?!" he shrieked between sobs. He slammed his fists down one last time, remaining hunched over as the rain continued to beat down at him. He sobbed softly, then hiccuped to a stop when he noticed his crystal gleam brightly. Zelos sat up and touched his fingers to it. Perhaps, there was still another way to reach the island?
But invoking the Cruxis Crystal to give him angel wings could open up a can of worms he'd rather not get involved with. Colette, suspended before death as a soulless angel, was still a painful reminder in his mind's eye as to what the little gem could do to him. Did he really want to risk losing his own soul just to get some herbs and spices?
"For Lloyd and his dead-beat dad, hell yeah." Zelos growled with renewed determination, rising unsteadily to his feet, "I'll do it in a heartbeat, bastard island." He shut his eyes and focused on both gems, drawing strength from them.
The Cruxis Crystal combined its strength with that of the Exsphere, heightening the mana balance within his body until it could no longer contain itself, bursting forth from his back in the form of shimmering orange and rose colored angel wings, flapping gently in the gusts of the passing storm. Clutching the satchel tighter to him, Zelos experimentally flapped the wings harder and gently leaped up into the air. He laughed in relief as he remained suspended in the air.
"Okay, then! Let's strip that island bare! Heheheheheh!" he cackled maniacally and made his way to the solitary island.
The island greeted Zelos with a wave of exotic plants. Witch hazel, belladonna, and passion flowers swayed in the winds and with a joyful exclamation, the winged Chosen set to picking as much as his hands could hold. In instances where he came across a plant or root he didn't recognize, he would flip through his book for help.
"All right, you! You're coming with me to make sure you settle Kratos's stomach!" Zelos growled at a bunch of dandelions. The stamens flicked at him, almost as if sticking their tongues out to spurn him. "Why you little-!" He struggled to pull them loose, then quickly set them in a jar to catch the milk leeching from the stems. "Now, for that willow bark." Zelos walked on, stopping only to keep his new wings from catching on every low-hanging branch in the forest. Three hours after landing on the island, the birds rushed from it in a panic, Zelos's triumphant cries reverberating throughout the land.
The kitchen was filled with the tantalizing smell of hot stew as Zelos hummed softly to himself, stirring the meat and herbal blend carefully. The island had been a veritable treasure trove of herbs and spices, and he made sure to fill his satchel to the brim. Several trips were made to gather all he wanted from the island and he carefully made note of the place on the ship's chart. His medicinal cabinet was packed full and he could safely boil the fresh willow bark as he made the stew. The wings had carried him to and from the land mass safely, then folded and vanished in a twisting trail of mana and light.
Zelos added the drink to the stew and tested it. The stew and cardamom spice hid the bitter smell and flavor very well and he let it simmer as he squeezed rainwater from his hair. He'd probably come down with a cold or something, too, but with his stores stuffed he could afford to catch an illness.
After all, he was more interested in healing his new family. Zelos smiled as he continued stirring. Family, a real family; it had been too long since he had anything like a normal family. Seles was one thing, she was his half-sister, true. But there were times when Zelos craved the company of a brother, a decent father....
He remembered the joking and taunting he had put Lloyd through during their early days of the first quest. He managed to make friends with him, but only through the effort to keep his trust without some underlying motive did he get the idea in his head that there was more to life than just running away from reality and hiding behind women.
Zelos grimaced as he thought of his 'hunnies' in Meltokio. Who was he kidding? He hadn't made a serious attempt to flirt with a chick since he and Lloyd made off on this crazed trip around the world with Kratos in tow. And then that instance where he volunteered to call on them for supplies to the Temple of Darkness; he bought the whole thing himself. He was glad he hadn't really tried to set up Lloyd with a groupie. Yeah, groupie. Lousy horny women.
He poured out some stew for Lloyd and smiled warmly as he added another spoonful of meat to the bowl. Lloyd was a great younger brother. There was a lot they could learn from each other. He set the bowl on the tray and set to pouring a portion for Kratos.
That 'old man', as Zelos often referred to him as, wasn't really all bad. He actually looked up to him and wondered if he had turned out differently if Kratos had stepped in for the role of Dad while his own ran around with Seles's mother. He had been the one to heal him up when he took the knife to the back for Lloyd. Zelos was truly panicked as much as Lloyd had been when Kratos up and disappeared in the temple. Then to be thanked, thanked, by the seraphim for helping him, for helping Lloyd? The idea of it nearly struck the poor redhead dumb.
Could he bring himself to call Kratos his father, too? He seemed to look after him as much as he did Lloyd. If he were to get in trouble, would Kratos run to help him as quickly as he would with Lloyd?
Zelos made sure to add just the right garnish to the stew so he would enjoy it and set it on the tray. He stepped back and smiled at the two bowls full of herbs and spices and meat, his most powerful cold remedy ever. Family. What a word. What a concept!
"What happened to you?" Lloyd asked in confusion as Zelos set one bowl of stew on the table beside him. The redhead mirrored the expression until Lloyd pointed at the bandage on his shoulder, the small amount of witch hazel, jasmine, and olive oil peeking out from under the pad. Zelos turned a slight shade of red and shook his head.
"Erm, eh, it's nothing. Eat your soup." he stammered lamely. Lloyd seemed to consider his words, then predictably shrugged and grinned at his stew.
"All right! It's got my favorite food in it! Meat! Is that pork? Yeah!" the teen cheered and dug in, oblivious to the carefully prepared portions of herbs and spices mixed in to cure his illness. Zelos smiled back brightly.
"You got it, little man! Now, you just chug that down while I go beat the rest of this into the old man." he remarked and left the room, "Don't worry if you get sleepy after that! It's part of the medicine! Just catch a few z's and things will go fine!"
Zelos was prepared for Kratos's irritability. He set the stew down and stepped back, a Cheshire Cat's grin spread on his face as the seraphim sniffed suspiciously at it and poked at the chunks of chicken and rice in the bowl. Kratos stirred the soup, seeming to debate whether or not to give him a hard time over it.
"What happened to your shoulder?" he finally asked. Zelos threw out his arms with an exasperated sigh.
"I hit the wall earlier, okay?! I'm just reducing the damage to my beautiful body!" he yelled. Kratos looked up at him and raised an eyebrow, eyes suddenly taking on a bright gleam.
"Is that a bowl of fruit salad in your hand?" he went on. Zelos winced and brought his arms down, holding the bowl in both hands.
"Yeah, with sugar sprinkled on for good measure." he answered and resumed his grin. "If you eat your stew, you get this for dessert!" Kratos scowled and started in on the soup. He paused in surprise, then continued eating, staring up at the redhead in silent contemplation.
"I thought we didn't have willow bark and pepper." he finally commented. Zelos turned red again, wondering when he'd just get to sleep already.
"I restocked from a nearby island. Didn't I tell you to let me do the herbal shopping?! I would have nipped this whole thing in the butt if you hadn't decided to let Lloyd have a crack at it!" he argued, then sneezed. He blinked in surprise and shook his head. "Well, now that we've got all the medicines we'll need, you'd better eat up and take your nap, old man. Leave everything to the Brilliant and Godly Me!"
"Leave the fruit." Kratos muttered as he dug into the soup a little more fiercely.
With those two sleeping off the cold, Zelos was free to finally get some decent rest. Sighing in relief, he headed for his room and closed the door behind him. His semi-lavishly decorated quarters were a welcome sight in comparison to the kitchen, Lloyd's weapon and smithy oriented room, and Kratos's near Spartan one.
"Finally! It's all over with! Now to catch some z's of my own and...." Zelos murmured gratefully and fell forward in a faint, too exhausted to even finish his own words.
"Good morning, Zelos!" Lloyd's voice roused him and Zelos blinked irritably as light flooded his room. The teen was bent over him with a grin on his face. Faintly registering the fact that he was now in bed instead of the floor, Zelos reached out and placed his hand against Lloyd's forehead.
"Fever's broken. That's good. Color's back. You seem healthy. How ya feeling?" he murmured hoarsely. Lloyd straightened as Kratos walked into view, a bowl of something in one hand.
"He's doing better. We both are, thanks to that strange concoction of yours." the seraphim answered for him. Zelos frowned and wagged his finger at him.
"Don't lie. You liked it. Probably didn't even touch the fruit salad." he accused, then cracked a weak grin. "I suppose Lloyd was the one who found me this morning, eh?" Lloyd held up the tray in his hands and smiled.
"Nah! It was Dad!" he corrected and lay a moist, folded towel on Zelos's forehead. "I fixed the sailcloth and pulled up the anchor. We'll be arriving at the town Nealar in another few days. Plenty of time for you to get better too!" Kratos set the soup down on the bedside table and ushered Lloyd out of the room. Zelos glanced at it and recognized the soup he had made the night before.
"If it can work a miracle on Lloyd, it should work on you, too. I'll get you back later for the 'old man' crack." Kratos remarked absently as they left the room. He paused to hear the usual retort. Zelos merely closed his eyes and sighed sleepily.
"Thanks, Father." he murmured. Kratos nodded in acknowledgment and closed the door softly.