You Found Me Too Late

Summary: Lloyds meets up with the Professor…five years after the reunion of the worlds of Tethe'alla and Sylvarant. Raine may seem like a loner…but even she needs companionship…and maybe a bit more.

Genre- Angst

Character Focus- Lloyd, Raine

...oXo…

"I've had visions… I've had dreams…

I've even held them… in my hand…

But I never knew…

They would slip right through…

Like they were only… grains of sand…"

'The Anchor Holds'

-Ray Boltz

...oXo…

Such a small expanse of time- had it really been five years already?- but it certainly felt like an eternity to Lloyd Irving as he let himself lean against the support beam holding up the overhanging roof of the old schoolhouse.

Five years of almost continuous work with the end…nowhere in sight. It was all so much more work- both psychically and mentally- than he could have ever predicted. Only one person had been there for his last five birthday's…. and, having recently celebrated his 22nd, the adult had really come to notice the absence of his old companions.

So here he was, feeling slightly nervous, though, after five years, who wouldn't be? Genis had been nowhere in sight… and, frankly, Lloyd was surprised that the Professor was even still around. The two half-elves trip to end discrimination must have turned out well.

He let his hand rest on the doorknob for a few seconds, hesitating only to remind himself that there would be nothing different about the Professor since he'd last seen her. Nothing had changed… They could still converse like normal people. He gently twisted the handle to the side, and pulled the door open.

The hallway was dimly lit, reminding him briefly of his childhood- before the reunion of the two world's… before he had been forced to grow up.

'It's all so over-rated…' he thought, almost sourly. 'Your whole childhood, you want to grow up…but once you're grown up, and you see the reality of what the world truly is… you wish to go back to being that naïve child once again…'

He could remember mornings rushing in the door- late, of course- and those times he had tried to pull a fast one on the Professor… sneaking in behind the other students… but it had never worked.

A smile formed on his face at the almost-memory as he continued down the short corridor to Professor Raine's classroom, his boots barely making a sound on the wooden floors.

It was almost like walking in the past…a dream. The floorboards looked the same… the same scribbles on the wall, the same faint musty smell… Probably the same squeaky spots, too, though he wasn't sure if he should test that out or not.

It only took a minute- maybe less- for him to reach the door to her room. The door was open halfway, and a dim light came from the middle of the classroom. He poked his head inside, and turned his gaze to the front of the room.

And there she was… sitting at the large teacher's desk at the far side of the room. His legs trembled- probably in anticipation- and, for a moment, he wanted to run to her desk and grab her up in a bear-hug. One of the people who had helped him so much… who had helped him to become a real adult…who made him think.

The Professor was a wonderful person. A great woman. A mentor.

"Hey, Professor…" he said softly, but loud enough for her to hear clearly. "You're going to ruin your eyesight if you don't get a few more lights in here."

He noticed her surprise; the jerk of her head as it snapped upward, and the widening of pale blue eyes. Funny, he remembered them being a deeper cerulean. And a split second later, he noticed the small glasses perched on the edge of her nose.

...oXo…

She had been grading creative-writing essays for over two hours when she heard his voice. And it startled her. Maybe even scared her.

'Lloyd…?' she wondered vaguely, recognizing the same boyish laughter in the voice of the almost-adult that she used to know. It had been such a long time… five long, seemingly never-ending years since she'd last seen him…

The last time she'd seen everyone else, as well. Genis of course, stayed with her, but Colette had left with Lloyd, and Presea and Regal had gone…and Sheena and Zelos after them.

She and Genis had gone on their little…quest…but… No. She didn't want to remember that. Didn't want to think about it…or talk…about it… Or anything.

She squinted through her glasses at him, but pulled them off quickly, realizing that she would have to explain them to him if he asked… The last time she'd seen him…her vision had been perfect.

"Lloyd?" she asked tentatively, setting her glasses down on her lap, as she forced herself to stop squinting at the multi-colored blob across the room.

"Yeah," he answered, throwing her a questioning look. "I…ah…just thought it was time to stop by, again."

"It's…been a long time." Her voice betrayed the fact that she had not really expected him to ever appear again.

"Five years," he answered her, fidgeting with the material of his shirt as he stepped closer, eventually coming to stand a few feet away from her desk.

Raine was almost relieved that he was closer. She could make him out better, though not perfectly. He wasn't much taller, but his shoulders were broader… He was an adult, indeed. His voice deeper…

'I'll bet he's rather handsome, now…' she thought to herself.

She realized then that she didn't know what to say. It had been such a long time since she'd spoken to him, she'd forgotten what she normally would have said…all those years ago.

"You grew up well," she said slowly, picking her words with care. She didn't want him to think anything was different.

"Thanks…" he replied, his eyes meeting hers for a moment. "Did you decide to grow your hair longer or something?" he eventually asked, noticing that her silver hair hung nearly halfway down her back.

She flinched, and nodded.

"I like it- it looks nice on you."

"Thank you, Lloyd."

They could both feel the tension in the room. The lack of words that come from friends who had been separated far too long, and didn't know where to start.

"How did your hunt for the exphere's go?" she questioned him, finding her own voice to be strained. "Did you ever find them all?"

Lloyd laughed, then, his voice tired and drained. "No, no… we didn't." He twisted his hands together and looked at her again, shaking his head. "Not even half, probably. So many years of my life…I spent looking for them, but I never knew how many there were to begin with."

Raine smiled slightly, hating herself for being almost-glad that he hadn't finished his quest… Though, at least he hadn't utterly failed his. "How many did you find, then?"

"A lot… When we went to destroy them… it seemed like a towering mountain. But there are still hundreds of them out there." He looked down at the floor. "In people's houses…under the ground… in bird's nests… The others' could be anywhere at all."

Raine noticed his discomfort about how the quest hadn't been finished, and decided to try to fix Lloyd's opinion on it. "You're not satisfied with what you've done? Destroying the ones you did was a lot. The common person can't get a hold of one for his or her own benefit."

Lloyd smiled at her. "That's what Colette says… that we've done all we can do for now…and that maybe just living normal lives would be the best thing for us."

"How is she?" Raine asked him curiously.

"She's alright… Actually, she's here, at Frank's…but she's resting, so you'll have to wait till morning to see her." He looked over at her, his head cocked to the side. "What about you, Professor Sage? How did you and Genis' quest go? Speaking of, where is he?"

"Genis is in New-Palmacosta," she answered him, ignoring the first question. "He's been there, attending school non-stop, for nearly four years."

"What about your trip to end discrimination?" he pressed on.

Raine stayed silent.

"Professor…"

"I would prefer…a different subject," she muttered, rubbing at her eyes.

"I just… It's been five years! Five whole, long years… The last thing I knew about you, you'd gone on a quest, too… and for all I knew for those five years, you could have been dead!" Lloyd took a deep breath to calm himself.

"You could have showed up, you know." Her voice was soft. "But so could the others'…"

"You mean… You haven't heard from any of them?"

"For about four-and-a-half years," she nodded. "I saw Sheena in Mizuho when they were close to Izoold."

Lloyd sighed, shaking his head. "I saw Regal, but only for a moment…I didn't have time to stop to chat, or I would have."

"Well," she said slowly, glancing down at her desk. "Maybe it was for the best."

"Are you saying that it's a good thing that you've lost contact with your friends?"

"Friends come to visit… Friends send letters…" He noticed her expression sadden. "The years I was away…and not a single letter, or message…or… anything. Nothing at all. Do you know what it's like to come back to an empty house, Lloyd?"

"Uh…not really, Professor. Dad's always there." Leaning on his desk, he let one of his hands drop to pick up a pen. "I'd think it'd be awful boring, though."

Raine smiled slightly, remembering how bored her former student and companion had been… despite all they had done. "Boring is a good word to use to describe that. It is boring… but it's also lonely."

"There are other villagers, and there's always Phaidra and Frank."

"They were always busy, and, seeing as how we didn't really have much in common to talk about…not much fun at all."

The room fell silent for a moment as Lloyd chewed on his bottom lip, thinking. "I thought that Genis was going to go on the expshere hunt with you. Why didn't he?"

"To be honest with you, Lloyd, I didn't think that it was fair to put a child in such a position. Now, I'm not calling Genis a child—he got so defensive when I sent him away—but it really wasn't such a good idea. There was a lot of potential there, and by the time I realized what I had dragged him into…"

She trailed off, rubbing the bridge of her nose with her left hand. "Lloyd… He was so… angry."

"About discrimination in general…or something else?" Dropping the pen, he put a hand on his former teacher's shoulder, paying no attention to the forgotten pen as it rolled off of Raine's desk and fell to the floor with a light clack.

"I don't know how to explai—no. Lloyd, you're an adult. I can see that…so… I suppose that I ought to tell you…"

'He deserves to know…' she told herself. 'So I'll tell him everything…'

Her eyes moved upwards to meet his. "Those racist bastards did whatever they could to get rid of Genis and I. All it took was one town—with one seriously racist person in it… They spread lies, stories… We were chased out of village after village…town after town… Some days were fine… But one day, we barely escaped with our lives. An entire town chased us out; they were right on our heels… And even after we left the village, they still weren't satisfied. We couldn't attack them…so… we jumped off of a bridge and into a river…to get away."

"Professor…"

"Don't worry about it, Lloyd. That was awhile back…" She gave him a half-smile. "Genis is the one who helped me, then. I'd been hit with so many things, I couldn't focus on anything. He had a broken arm…but he still managed to get us away from there; and out of the water. My eyesight's been permanently ruined." Holding up her glasses, she continued. "I decided that Genis couldn't be put in that kind of a position again… not even for a quest to end racism."

"You went alone?" Lloyd was shocked.

"Yes. For about, oh, 8 months. And then… I gave up." She settled her hand on top of Lloyd's. "I felt so stupid for giving up… I still do, I suppose. But I'm over it. At least…that's what I tell myself. Things don't become better by feeling sorry for one's self, do they?"

The young adult in front of her smiled softly. "That's right, I mean, that's what you always told me. That, and 'Stop acting so bored all the time, Lloyd Irving!'…but I really do appreciate all those scoldings now. I've realized how different the world looks to an adult."

"It's not so…innocent, is it?"

"Most definitely not. Especially to a married man." His smile grew.

"What?" It was a question, but it had come out quickly, and rather flat. "But I thought…"

"Professor… Exactly a year ago…well, eleven months and twenty-eight days… Colette and I got married. I thought that maybe you'd like to know."

She forced a smile to appear on her face. "That's wonderful, Lloyd. I'm so happy for you two." Though, inside, her stomach dropped to the floor; heavy with misgivings.

'I could have sworn I'd dropped enough hints…That it was obvious…'

"I thought it was obvious…I mean, I said all of those things… I just assumed that you felt the same…"

"About what?" His voice was clueless, as he was obviously confused behind comprehension.

Her voice wobbled on the edge. "About you—I mean, me! About us, Lloyd. I waited, and waited…and then I thought that you would never show up—that you'd forgotten, or that you didn't care at all… Then you showed up, and I thought that maybe you'd come back for me…" She closed her mouth as tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. "I liked you, Lloyd. I really did. I still do."

"Professor Raine…" Lloyd sighed, pulling his hand away slowly. "We were too different from one another…"

"That's something I liked about you, Lloyd."

"You're not listening, Raine. I don't like you like that. As a friend, yes, as a companion, yes… but not as a lover. Lovers have to be in love. You were always so pessimistic…" He shook his head, not caring that he was ranting. "I'm an optimist. Optimists get things accomplished…Pessimists don't. Optimists look forward to things, and pessimists don't."

She looked away, knowing every word to be true. "We're more alike now, though, aren't we?"

"That's one of the only optimistic things I've ever heard you say," he blurted out, quickly covering it up. "I'm sorry, I mean… Yes, we're more alike. I'm more mature, and not so childish anymore. But… It's too late. I might have been all for it five years ago, but that was before I grew up. Before I saw what the world is really made up of. Though, you're too late, there."

"Lloyd…"

"Professor, I came to tell you about my marriage." He leaned over the desk and gave his former teacher a quick hug, and a kiss on the cheek. "I'm sorry that you're still stuck in the past…really, I am. Colette and I have come back here to live… to make our lives. I want you to be happy—like I am with Colette. I know you can do it… just…try to be optimistic, okay?"

He turned around and walked out the door, a hand in the air. "Good-night, Professor."

'Was…was that a fight?' she wondered silently. 'No…no. It wasn't. That was Lloyd trying to talk some sense into me… Wasn't I always the one trying to talk sense into him?'

He'd sounded so happy when he'd mentioned his marriage with Colette…and, reflecting back on their conversation, she realized she'd been awfully rude to him by saying what she had.

'I should have just stayed silent…'

"Well," she said aloud, reaching into her pen container for a pen. "I have essays to read and grade…"

Settling her glasses on her nose, she looked down at the paper in front of her. The title was simple. Just one word. Love.

Most people agree that two people who love each other compliment one another… They have similar personalities…similar outlooks on life, et cetera.

She swallowed, remembering what Lloyd had said only a few minutes earlier. He had been right…so right…

'Too late…' she thought, her heart constricting as a single tear drew a course down the side of her cheek. 'It's too late…'

...oXo…

Author Notes: Originally, I started this for Angel White, as part of a fic-exchange/drabble-exchange on LiveJournal. I'm not any good at drabbles, and I'm certainly no good at romancy Lloyd/Raine… I had to attempt to make it sad. (Emphasis on the word attempt). Critique at will!..