They were sparring again.

It shouldn't have struck Raine as odd anymore. The pair sparred first light of dawn, they sparred last light of dusk. She was somehow protective of her student, being taught by him. Of course, the subject was one in which she could offer Lloyd no instruction, and even she knew that his skill in swordsmanship was sorely lacking. This knowledge, however, did little to sooth her skittishness about that man, teaching her student.

The thought dawned on her that she was jealous. Just as quickly as it came on, Professor Raine Sage shook the thought from her head. No. There's definitely something amiss. Something's strange about Kratos. Satisfied with her self-reassurance, Raine returned her attention to fixing dinner.

She was making sandwiches, the only dish the group would allow her to make. Lloyd and Kratos were growing more boisterous by the minute; an unusual event. Usually, Kratos merely barked instruction and insult at the boy; tonight he was returning Lloyd's banter rather playfully. A quick glance up revealed something that caused her to drop the pieces of bread she was fiddling with; Kratos was smiling as they sparred.

"Raine! That's my sandwich you just dropped!"

Quick as lightning, Raine reached over and smacked her young brother in the back of the head. "I just got distracted for a moment!" she snapped at Genis. "I'll make you a new one, but one more smart remark and you can go to bed hungry!"

"I probably will anyway," Genis muttered under his breath. Raine eyed him, pondering issuing another disciplinary action, but Colette's sudden laughter and hand-clapping caught her attention. "Yeah! Go Lloyd!"

Raine looked back up at the two sparring partners in time to see Lloyd drop his sword and head butt Kratos in the chest. The man gasped a curse under his breath and dropped his own sword, gripping the younger man and the two fell in an impromptu wrestling match. It ended just as quickly as it began, with Kratos pinning Lloyd from the side. "This isn't a game!" Kratos snapped, his amused expression belying his harsh tone. "You have to take these lessons seriously, or I'll-"

"Take it easy," Lloyd cut him off, grinning and shrugging Kratos's hands off his shoulders as he sat up. "I know. I just thought we could have a little fun tonight."

"That wasn't fun!"

"If it wasn't fun, then why are you grinning?"

Genis was watching now, and burst into obnoxious laughter as the grin fell from Kratos's face, almost as if on cue. "I wasn't grinning."

"Yeah, sure, sure. You weren't grinning." Lloyd patted Kratos on the shoulder and used the shoulder as leverage to stand, much to Kratos' dismay. Kratos snapped a demand that Lloyd not do that, a demand that was summarily ignored by the teen swordsman as he walked back to the group, grinning from ear to ear.

"Unbelievable," Genis remarked quietly. "You got the stone man to crack a smile." Raine gaped as Kratos shot her little brother a withering glare; how could he have heard that? She barely had, and she was right next to him!

The three kids circled the campfire, leaving Raine and Kratos on the edge of the campsite. Kratos approached Raine after several moments. "I believe it would be best to leave Lloyd and Genis at Palmacosta. We should go back and drop them off at the school."

"Really," came Raine's dry reply. "And why is that?"

"You've been watching our training sessions," Kratos said. "He isn't progressing at an acceptable pace. He'll only get in the way."

Raine turned on him in irritation. "Is that so?" she asked, rhetorically. "And what makes you think Palmacosta university will accept Lloyd? He scored a twenty-five on that test. Twenty-five out of four hundred, Kratos." Kratos' face didn't change, and he made no response; Raine frowned. "And let's hear your reason for wanting Genis to leave the group."

"He's too young."

"He may be young, but he-"

Their conversation was cut short by the three kids yelling. Raine and Kratos looked up to see the three being accosted by a very large, winged creature. "Drake!" Kratos yelled, and cursed as he drew his sword and dove into battle.

Raine called after him, shaking her head as she dashed after him. The battle was one-sided; so far the baby dragon's fire had already put Genis on the ground, and both Colette and Lloyd were badly burned. The Drake reared it's head back to strike at Lloyd, and found it's teeth intercepted by Kratos' sword.

Colette struggled up from her place on the ground and lunged at the beast, chakram flailing. The Drake roared, swatting at Colette with it's tail. The Chosen shrieked, fell, and did not rise.

Both Raine and Lloyd yelled for Kratos to get out of Lloyd's way, but the man simply continued parrying the Drake's attacks. Raine felt a slight tinge of panic disrupt her healing spell when the Drake clawed at Kratos' face; Kratos yelled and shied, but held his ground, even when the monster struck at his sword arm. Muscle tore, blood flowed, and Kratos simply passed his sword in to his left hand and parried again.

Raine completed her spell with a shout and healing light surrounded the pair; still, Kratos blocked Lloyd from attacking, taking another blow from the Drake. His strength returned, however, he was able to strike back, knocking the monster back. Kratos glanced back at Lloyd. "Stay out of the way!" he commanded, then advanced on the monster again.

Meanwhile, Raine was in the process of casting another spell, this time Photon. The Drake caught the scent of mana surrounding the woman and advanced on her, rearing back. Kratos attacked the monster's flank earnestly, but did not manage to deter the Drake from spitting a stream of fire out at Raine. Raine gasped and fell back, her spell interrupted.

Lloyd attacked out of nowhere, swords swinging and yelling at the top of his lungs. Kratos glared at the boy but joined his efforts to beat the monster back; both took several wounds but they held on, giving time for Raine to try her spell again. As the harsh, glaring light surrounded the Drake, it gave one last cry before falling and then disappearing in a cloud of mana.

Lloyd teetered on his feet, weakened once again by the monster's attacks, and collapsed to the ground. Kratos knelt unsteadily, pressed two shaking fingers to the teenager's neck, and, satisfied that the boy wasn't critically wounded, passed out himself from sheer exhaustion.

Raine set about healing her wounded companions, starting with Colette, then Genis, and finally Lloyd and Kratos. None woke on healing; Raine wasn't going to wake them. The battle with the Drake had been a close, close call and they needed rest. She did, as well, but she needed to stay awake until one of the others awoke, preferably Kratos.

It was well into the night when the mercenary finally stirred, putting a hand to his head and groaning softly. Raine glanced over at him as he sat up. "How long have I been out?"

The professor looked up at the sky. "About five hours," she replied quietly, then put a hand on his arm and whispered the words to First Aid. Kratos gave her a grateful look as his headache abated.

The mercenary looked over the campsite at the still-sleeping teenagers; his thoughts were broken as Raine spoke again. "Your job is done," she said in a firm tone. Kratos turned to gape at her; "We part ways at Asgard."

"Why?" he demanded.

"Because your actions almost got those children killed," Raine said harshly. "You were hired to protect Colette, not put our lives in danger!"

"I was protecting you," Kratos snapped. "Lloyd was-"

"Lloyd was fine," Raine cut him off. "I would've gotten the healing spell to him in time. Even if I could not, when he was healed, you should have moved!" The professor sighed heavily. "What were you thinking, Kratos? That was highly uncharacteristic of you."

Kratos didn't answer her question. "Do you really think you can finish this journey without me?" he demanded sharply.

"We'll have Lloyd-"

"Lloyd's swordsmanship is sorely lacking," Kratos said. "You know this. You saw how he attacked that Drake today. Who else? Genis? He isn't very agile. He has potential to be a powerful mage, but he isn't. Colette can barely hold her own, and you- you're more suited to the sidelines than you are to battle."

Raine opened and shut her mouth a few times, finally snapping her head back to gaze into the fire, barely containing her anger. He was right. They needed him.

It was several minutes before Kratos finally spoke. "He reminds me of someone very dear to me, whom I lost years ago." Raine looked over at the mercenary, who was staring straight into the fire. "When I saw him being attacked, I saw that person not... Lloyd."

Raine shifted her weight to lean closer to Kratos. "Who was he?" she asked him gently.

"My... son."

Raine's heart constricted in sympathy; Lloyd's innocent face suddenly appeared in her mind. She looked from Lloyd's sleeping form to Kratos and back again. Could he-

No. She wasn't sure of the mercenary's age, but she could tell that he was far too young to have been Lloyd's father. Raine edged closed, lowering her voice so that the children wouldn't be able to hear, lest they stir. "Kratos," she said in a quiet, gentle but firm tone, "Lloyd isn't your son."

Kratos met her gaze evenly; something in his reddish-brown eyes moved, broke. He looked away, swallowing hard. "I know."

Raine looked at Kratos for a few moments longer, then turned her gaze back to the fire. The man held secrets, deep secrets. Dark secrets, probably.

Did they want to know what those secrets were?