One shot, didn't fit with the archives, couldn't squeak it into Shards so it's a stand alone piece. It occurs in the shards timeline right after the first ranch. Lots of Kratos Lloyd bonding, purely canon despite centering around OC's death. I think these two needed to get this out as I kinda sensed some tension (or imagined it) after Tylor's death and I wanted to address it. You know, this was supposed to be sweet but turned dark behind my back... eventually it'll even out... I hope. Some implied spoilers, mega spoilers last piece of dialogue so skip that if you haven't seen the scene at Altesa's(sp).
Chase the tiger round and round
Catch his tail when he's found
Fast and quick, a sneak and smart
That's the tiger with a golden heart
But heart aside that's not what we want
It's the candy that from the tail that calls to our hearts.
Humming the old tune over and over again, it was stuck in his brain, tapping its fingers against his skull until he hummed along with it. A choir of off key voices half chanted half sang the words, the only accompanying instrument that had joined in that singing had been bells. He'd heard Colette humming it earlier; it had caught in his brain and was now not moving out.
No matter how much he wanted it to leave.
It had been a few days since Tylor had died. He'd been avenged of course, Magnius was dead by Kratos' hand and Magnius' ranch was now little more then a pile of smoldering rubble. More then one fallen priest had been avenged that day, a town, perhaps generations of people, and the Desian's were gone now. Doing all of that did not bring Tylor back, and while Lloyd could laugh and smile when Colette told her stories of the priest as a way to tend her grief, he had not cried since immediately after. He had let the sharper bits of his grief, his loss, play out, but had not joined in the gentler mourning that Colette had shown. The song, that brought back it's flood of memories, and a suspicious tightness in his throat and a stinging to his eyes.
Catch the Tiger by the tail
'fore guard and swordsman find him
For tiger tails are quite the treat
Filled with stuff that's dark and sweet.
Sighing Lloyd went around the camp, everyone was sleeping, it was his first lone watch. Normally he'd share with Kratos or Noishe. The mercenary had wandered of to tend to something and had icily informed Raine that where he went and what he did were none of there damned business. Noishe had sighed at that point and tucked himself into a small green ball over the mercenaries sleeping blankets and went to sleep.
Step step step… turn… step step step step… turn…
He made a slow circuit around the dark edges of the camp, hands holding the hilts of his sword. Lone watch was scary, having someone with you it helped, you knew that if something happened the other person could take over, but it was only him now. And he could not for the life of him concentrate, he could almost hear Kratos yelling at him for lowering his guard, but he couldn't help himself…
"Eni meanie mine-y moe, catch the tiger by the toe…"
"I resent that line! My toes are off limits, my tail's game enough, you leave my poor feet alone!"
The bells rang out as Tylor scooted back a few feet away from the group of children who were now eyeing his feet.
Colette giggled, smiled brightly at everyone around her. "We shouldn't bother Father's Tylor's feet."
"Kiss up…" Ivan growled.
"Hey, shut it jerk!" Lloyd snapped, giving the seven year old as fierce a glare as his small scrawny seven year old body could produce.
"What are ya gunna do about it Irving?"
"I know what I'll do." Tylor growled, stepping between the two boys. "I don't care who starts it if you're both involved you'll be banned from Tiger Chases, and I won't take back that judgment, ever. Now apologize."
"Sorry… Irving, Chosen…" Ivan growled, scuffing a boot across the earth.
"Um yeah…sorry Ivan…" Lloyd could not meet the boys eyes, could not do so because he knew in his heart he didn't mean it and Ivan didn't either. He hated lying, but being banned from Tiger Chases would have been horrible. So he'd lie just once and hope Gnome didn't get too mad at him for doing that.
Movement, he drew his sword at the man shaped patch of darkness that was coming his way, pressed the blade against him to hide the tell tale flash of light that would give him away. There was a flash of silver, slender rapier met thick broadsword, whoever countered him was strong. Crap, Lloyd took a step back, the word to call an alarm to everyone filled his mouth, until the figure stepped into the ring of fire light.
Oh, it was Kratos…
"Sorry…" Lloyd blushed, sheathed his sword.
The auburn haired man rose an eyebrow but said nothing at the very pointed greeting and sheathed his sword.
"Um Noshy- er Noishe fell asleep on your blankets and stuff, just take mine."
"Thank you for being so generous." Kratos said as he strolled past him, their little sword fight forgotten it seemed.
As Kratos made himself comfortable lying on the red blankets Lloyd stared at the darkness, almost absently sheathing his blade. Handling his swords was habit now, well almost habit. He cursed under his breath when he cut himself on the weapon's edge. Bringing the wound to his mouth Lloyd sucked on the blood, and walked to his packs, sitting down by the mercenary so he could fumble through his stuff and find some bandages.
"Oy Lloyd," Tylor grinned wearily at the young man, thirteen now. Lloyd was still a little cut up from the last fight with Ivan, and since he was at home now was without shirt and only wore his bandages over his chest to tend the newest slash.
"Tylor!" Lloyd dropped the hammer and pail of nails, abandoned the ladder he was going to climb up to work on the shingles, and ran to the priest.
Smiling Tylor embraced the young man who was now almost his height. The robes were travel softened cotton and leather. The long wing like sleeves folded against him like protective wings and he buried his face into the crook of his mentor's neck. Tylor smelled of dust, sweat, and that weird musky scent he always had. The wild red hair tickled the back of Lloyd's neck, even as the few tears that fell from Tylor's eyes brushed across his face a feather light touch.
"What are you doing in Iselia, are you going to live here again?"
"I…" Tylor sighed, whipped his eyes. "No youngling, I won't, I can't, I've been ordered to escort Phadria to PalmaCosta. There's a huge problem at the higher theocracy and she is going to have to be present for the decrees and judgments to be passed out."
"What kind of problem? Can I help?"
Tylor smiled, ruffled his hair.
"No offense my young friend but you can't help us, it's a priest only sort of problem. I need a place to stay for the night however, and I wanted to check up on you after your last letter."
"I'm OK." Lloyd protested. "I told you I'd be fine."
"I had to see it with my own two eyes. Letters are one thing, but when you know someone got a sword stuck in them you like to check up every once in a while to make sure they're doing as good as they say."
Slender hands brushed over his bandages, Tylor broke the embrace and took a step back. Cat green eyes flicked over the mess of bandages over his chest, the settled on the scar on Lloyd's left hand half of his gut. Then they settled on the poorly wound bandages on the left hand.
"It's nothing…" Lloyd protested, scuffing his boot across the springy grass choked ground. "Just a cut."
"Aye me some things do not change. In, I bet your father told you to rest and you got bored…"
"Me?" Lloyd grinned sheepishly, feeling like a child of seven again.
"Aye, yes you. Now let's take a look…" Tylor dragged a protesting Lloyd to the living room, ordered him to sit on the couch then knelt and unwound the bandage. "Where in Martel's sweet name did you learn to clean cuts?"
"Ummm you learn that?"
Sighing Tylor shrugged off his packs and fumbled out some weird sticky red stuff that had a hint of alcohol to it's smell. Pouring the wine on rag the priest gave him the age old warning that no one listened to.
"This is going to sting, try not to squirm."
Whimpering in pain Lloyd did squirm and yalped in pain at the priest gently tended his cut.
"You're doing that wrong." Kratos muttered, the man had cracked an eye open and had been quietly watching Lloyd tend the wound.
Lloyd almost snapped at the man to shut up, this was how Tylor taught him to do it, it worked, so it was alright… Snapping his teeth on that comment, ignoring the stinging behind his eyes, Lloyd turned away from the mercenary.
"The style is… defiantly not mercenary, the knotting seems almost in the same style as the clergy tie holy ribbons to the ankles of doves during the winter festivals…"
"So you like chicken?" Dirk's voice was a thick rumble, like an empty tummy, but no one here had that since Tylor had cooked for them all. Dad was having a hard time because the butter plate was right by him and every time he reached for the bread to take a slice and sop up the bird's juices his beard would get a yellow tip.
"Yes that I do."
A younger Lloyd and Dirk were sitting on the floor a long yet short table between them. It had been Dad's, a really old project that the person didn't want anymore so Dad had given it to Tylor while he lived in Iselia. Catching Dad's eye Lloyd mimed stroking a beard, Dad frowned then realized what Lloyd was saying and picked up a napkin to dab at the yellow tip of his beard. Smiling the priest hid his face with a hand, knowing that any jokes about the beard would go over badly.
"Why chicken Tylor?" Lloyd whined, after all if he was at home they'd be having pork or even beef stew, while he liked chicken it didn't quite compare to beef stew.
"Doves." The priest chuckled. "I had to tend the dumb things during my… errr apprentice ship to the older priest. Dumb animals despite their spiritual purity. After sweeping up after they ah…"
"Crap?" Lloyd supplied.
"Lloyd Irving!" Both men barked, getting scary angry looks on their faces.
"Where did you learn such language?" Dirk snapped, recovering first.
"Umm… Well I heard Ivan say it and Erick and the carpenter after he smashed his hand with a hammer when that pretty girl walked by, and there was…"
"I guess you can't protect them forever eh?" Tylor patted the dwarf on the shoulder, accidentally causing the metal smith to lean forward and dip his beard in the butter yet again. "Let's move the butter and you can just ask me when you want some." Tylor took the plate away from Dirk who was yet again grumbling and cleaning his beard.
Frowning, angry that Tylor was stopping in the middle of a story which was bad Lloyd asked again.
"What about the doves?"
"It's a indulgence on my part in the sin of revenge." Tylor smiled slightly. "I had to feed and water and tend those blasted things then tie ribbons to them for the holy day in winter."
Tylor then bit viciously into a leg of chicken and made noises of mock evil laughter and Lloyd laughed.
Rolling his eyes Dirk sighed. "Humans."
"Dwarves, can't keep their beards out of the butter." Tylor mock sighed.
Dad frowned then threw a slice of bread at the priest in retaliation.
Things deteriorated at that point, but Lloyd did learn a lot about throwing food in that food fight!
"It is." Lloyd said stiffly, and as if sensing the young man's precarious state of mind Kratos opened his other eye and favored Lloyd with his most intense gaze.
"Where did you learn it?"
The question was a nudge and he was on the edge. The pain in his chest made his eyes burn like they were in fire, but he blinked sharply, refusing to be a weakling. He refused to cry, he'd cried enough for one lifetime.
"The priest, Tylor."
Another nudge, that statement was another nudge; he'd not be able to stand through another. Gritting his teeth Lloyd turned from the man.
"You can turn from me... but can you turn from yourself Lloyd? Something is wrong, I'm not a fool and I have seen that something is wrong. I have granted you the privacy you crave..."
Lloyd gripped the hilt of his sword so tight his hands began to go cold.
"If you are unwilling to trust me, I accept that, but find someone to trust before you rip yourself to shreds over this."
"You never said I could trust you..." Lloyd whispered. "That's why I haven't, because you never said I could. That's why I never took more then what you offered when... he died."
Kratos said nothing, merely stared at the ground and remained mute, then at last in a bare breath the mercenary managed. "And what did I offer you then Lloyd?"
"You listened when I needed to talk, that's all."
"What did you want me to do Lloyd?" Kratos lifted his gaze, but he did so, with so much hesitance, that it seemed as if a hundred pounds had been strapped to his neck.
"I… don't know…"
Growling Kratos sat up, fixed the boy with his hardest glare. "What did you want me to do? I may be strong by your measure boy, but I can not bring back the dead, and you know if I could have done anything to stop what happened I would have. I did all I could."
"If I could go back…"
"You can't." Kratos snapped. "And that thought is the first that leads to madness boy. Thinking "what if's" is the first step."
"What would you know about it? You don't care for anyone." Lloyd spat, at that barb Kratos winced, than fire filled those black eyes.
"I… don't care?" Kratos hissed, he stood, grabbed the young man's shoulders and forced the young man to turn around and look at him. "I don't care!"
Unlike others who yelled when enraged Kratos' voice dropped to a hiss. Kratos' voice soft horse whisper ravaged and muffled by the weight of his rarely shown emotions. Lloyd shivered, tried to get away but Kratos' grip was tighter then steel chains.
"You listen to me boy, if I was so uncaring why did I bother to listen, why did I tell you of myself? I trusted you despite your distrust of me."
He wanted to be alone, he wanted to shrug or squirm out of Kratos' grasp but the man wasn't letting him go and he wasn't strong enough to break free. As if sensing his discomfort Kratos loosened his grip, Lloyd shivered and pulled away from the older man.
"Have I done anything to incur this treatment from you, have I ever broken your trust?"
"You've never said I could trust you." Lloyd said firmly, a world of meaning in his voice.
"Why is that so important?"
"Because, until someone looks you in the eyes and says they trust you and that you can trust them, you can't do it." Lloyd whispered. "Well maybe you can, but I can't."
"You were betrayed…" Kratos whispered, the anger drained out of him replaced by a quiet pity.
"Something like that." Lloyd ran a hand through his brown hair. "Look, I'm sorry I snapped at you… I'm just mad and I want to be alone for a bit, could you take over watch." He was proud of himself for only having a slight waver in his voice.
"Want or need?"
Lloyd blinked a few times, the burning was getting worse, and he whipped at his eyes. Shame filled him as the red glove came back with a bit of wetness on it.
"Tears are not a weakness." Kratos' compassion laced voice made the pain in his chest peak, he clamped his teeth on a sob, stuffed it down though it really didn't want to go down. "Grief is not weakness."
"Only children cry." Lloyd croaked, than ran off, away from the light and into the dark outside the fire's light.
Sniffling Lloyd nursed his hurting wrist, Ivan stood over him grinning. Despite having shaking legs Lloyd managed to stand, though he had to lean against the white washed chapel to do so.
"Gunna cry twerp?"
Gritting his teeth Lloyd clenched his fists and glared at Ivan, quite a feat as one eye felt like it was going to swell shut. You never gave them what they wanted, because they'd come to take back more until you have nothing left. So he never would cry, no matter how much it hurt.
No matter how much they hurt him.
"Come on twerp, you ratted now take your beating like a man."
With a scream that crawled out of his throat Lloyd threw his fist, put everything behind it, but Ivan a lot bigger then him now. Where he stood at a mere three feet Ivan was almost at four and a half. Ivan caught the fist before it hit took the second in the face and staggered back. His whole hand and arm screamed in pain at that, he matched that scream with one from his throat.
"Hell, he's gone nuts Ivan."
"Hold him down!" Ivan snarled.
Two of Ivan's "friends" pinned his arms, rubbing his face, marveling at the thin line of red and stinging pain that touching his lips brought Ivan's storm grey eyes went distant. They focused, hardened, and those lips curled into a smile.
"No one's gunna save you now Irving, no ones left who cares."
"Only reason I did was cuz I liked Tylor." Ivan shrugged. "What goods a promise when the reason to keep it up anymore just up and leaves?"
Fists smashed into his stomach, his face, he bent over double as one sharp kick to the groin made him squeal and curl al at the same time. Then in mocking gentleness Ivan lifted Lloyd's head up, stared at him in the eyes and blinked. Blood ran down that face there was bruising, but not one tear had fallen. Disgust, shock, then nothing, Ivan's arrogance was back in its place. Snapping his fingers Ivan gave the order and Lloyd was shoved against one of the walls and left to gasp and moan in the shadow the chapel where Tylor had served less then a week ago.
The few tears that had fallen were like knives, he rarely cried because crying hurt, then after Tylor left he just never cried if he could help it. Every time he cried it seemed like he was saying that he was a weakling, that he was pathetic and weak and everything he didn't want to be. Gripping the soft earth he whispered his old mantra again and again. Whispering in dwarven that he was not weak, he was not going to cry.
"I spent ten years grieving." Kratos' voice drifted from the shadows. "Ten years crying, the first year after they died I was constantly trying to kill myself, the second I tried to numb out my feelings, forget them… And in that I betrayed them, I drained my soul to near non-existence and rejoiced in the lack of feeling. They became taboo, speaking of them in my presence would bring about a rage in me none dared do so twice. I would say… half way through the second year I was in one of those rages, but with no monsters to kill, no one to yell at, there were no targets that I could easily destroy… I broke down and cried. You see, rage has one outlet, you can only focus it on the world around you, and there was nothing in that world that I could inflict pain upon. So having no path to warp the world, my mindless anger finally died. Grief isn't something that goes away Lloyd, you can hide it, bury it, but it's still there."
Damn it. The tears were coming, and he could not make them stop. With a shuttering breath he pressed his head against the earth and cried. An arm draped over him. He was startled to find his head resting against Kratos' shoulder with the mercenary gingerly slinging an arm across his shoulders.
"There is no shame in tears, they are no weakness, feeling is not a weakness… That's all tears are, an expression of feeling…"
"Argorn… yul pha kilu yavrn arrgoorn. Water, fallen from eyes brings red death…" Lloyd whispered.
Kratos blinked, than pushed Lloyd back so that the boy had to meet his eyes.
"You are not a dwarf, you are a human."
Lloyd winced as if Kratos had slid a knife into his gut, the swordsman lowered his gaze and Kratos shook him sharply so that Lloyd looked up in surprise.
"You are a human." The mercenary's fingers dug into him like talons. "You do not bear the blessing and curse of Gnome that is longevity, nor the distant magnificence that Luna casts upon the elves, nor the shadow touch of the Demons under Shadow's crimson eyes."
"Don't… you think… I know that?" Lloyd gulped back his tears. "Don't you think... I saw that… every day?"
"Then don't be anything else but human or yourself, you're holding yourself to ideals that you can never mesh with because you are not the same specie as those who made them."
"Tylor… used to say that to me all the time. He used to tell me to remember that I was a human, and that nothing would make me a dwarf. He used to tell Dad that, but I didn't want to believe it…"
"Because there would be something between you, a bridge you can not cross a wall that you can not breach." Kratos supplied, gently stroking the young man's hair. "If he loves you less for being human then your father is a fool."
"The rest of my life for how short or hellishly long it is." Kratos thought to himself.
"Does…" Lloyd blushed, looked away, thinking of everything he had said earlier. "Does it ever stop hurting?"
"The hurt changes, and yes, there will be a time when you will stop crying. Time will distance you from the pain, but the loss is always there." Kratos sighed, let the young man's shoulder go. "You may trust me."
Lloyd blinked, not understanding.
"I will protect you as best I can by what means I see fit to use. I will never betray you, ever. Though you may not understand what I do or why I do it I will never betray or hurt you." Kratos ran a hand through his hair, looked to the side. "So long as it is in my power I will do so. My power is not limitless, nor am I infallible however."
"Lloyden…" Kratos sighed, rubbed his temples. "What am I going to do with you?"
"That's easy, use smaller words you dork, and it's Lloyd not Lloyden."
"Wh… what did you just call me?" Kratos felt a hint of red coming to his cheeks.
"A dork." Lloyd grinned, though his eyes were red streaked and his face tear stained he somehow managed to look young and innocent with that grin. "What, its better then "old man", right?"
"Yeah." Lloyd leaned against the mercenary. "How about Genis' name for you? It was "Homicidal blade happy maniac"."
"What!" Kratos began to shake with the force of his rage.
"Raine's was good too… what was it? Oh yeah, the "sociopath monosyllabic mercenary who won't go away".
"Now if you want a good name Colette's is the best." Lloyd shifted a bit so he could get up and run, as he knew he'd need to in a little bit. "Mr. Fluffyhead."
Shaking, face crimson, eyes blazing; Kratos did look like a maniac bent on murder.
"Mr… F… Flu…"
Kratos couldn't even say it! Biting his lower lip to keep from laughing Lloyd got up patted Kratos on his spiky seeming head. Colette was right he decided, the hair was rather fluffy. He decided to share that observation and Kratos' death glare snapped on him and became the "very long and painful way to go before death" glare.
"I'm gunna head back to camp now…" Lloyd said brightly.
"Not until we have a nice long chat." Kratos drew his sword.
"Gotta catch me first!" Lloyd laughed, then ran off into the forest.
It had been a while since he heard Lloyd laugh, too long a while. The sound dispelled Kratos' anger as swift as water would douse a fire. Sheathing his blade Kratos decided that Lloyd would be well on his way to running to the other side of the world by now and that was that.
"Fourteen years and he still has me around the end of his finger." Kratos muttered to the night sky.