A/N- This chapter is dedicated to the reviewers of the first- without you guys, it probably wouldn't exist! However, I was very astonished to see that out of the one hundred people that clicked on the link to the story in the past few days, only six had enough guts to click the review button. C'mon, you guys- I know you're braver than that! You can do it!
Response to a few of the reviews-
ShadowofUndine- Yeah, I knew it wasn't going to be very long- I probably should have just merged this part with the other one (since it's about three times as long), but I'm just too darn lazy .
Crystal Adept- Yeah, this most definitely takes place after Zelos betrays the party. (I always thought it was a bit odd about that one of the whole morals of the story was that no life should be born just to be sacrificed, and yet, if you're playing the game and trying to get Kratos in your party, you have to do just that with Zelos) I was originally going to somehow put it in the story that the ring of the pact had been forged the day before, but since it didn't really fit in anywhere, I decided not to. But….
OMG. Did I really put that in there?
searches around wildly for excuses
Well…. we never see the mayor after the villagers finish scolding him, and his house always seemed to be empty….. so how about the villagers felt really bad about how the mayor treated Raine and Genis, and gave them his house as an apology after they kicked him out of town- will that work:D
Oh, and just a side note- I did changed everything to 'protozoan' and 'seraph', because the first is just plain right, and the second just sounds better. Plus, most of the reviewers preferred it that way :D
Right, so… onto the conclusion of the story, I suppose- hope you like it!
Chapter 2- Under the Stars
The mercenary's heart clenched at the sight of his son's bewildered face. He doubted that many people had ever seen Lloyd this tense, this mistrustful.
"Are you able to stand?"
Brown eyes darted wildly about the small room, as though searching for whatever demons the boy had been haunted by as he slept. Kratos tightened his grip on the hand beneath his own.
"You are at home, Lloyd- safe- nothing will hurt you here."
The boy reluctantly dragged his eyes back to the mercenary's.
"Can you stand?" Kratos asked again.
Something deep within the brown orbs flickered to life, and Lloyd gave an abrupt half-nod, as though suddenly remembering who he was and how he was supposed to act.
"Y-yeah. I think so."
Kratos stood silently and held a hand out towards the young swordsman still seated against the wall. Lloyd took it with determination and allowed himself to be pulled upwards. He had barely taken half a step forwards, however, when, dizzy from the sudden movement, his vision narrowed, and spots of yellow danced and flashed their way across his eyes. Kratos caught Lloyd about the shoulders as his knees gave way and he began to sink towards the floor, and gently hauled the half-conscious boy back towards the bed. Once there, the seraph lowered Lloyd into a sitting position, holding him steady with one hand as he shoved as many tangled blankets as he could to the end of the bed. Lifting the boy's legs onto the mattress, Kratos turned and grabbed the nearest pillow, quickly placing it at the top of the bed before laying the boy onto it.
Kratos then straightened and made his way to the door heading to the terrace. Pausing as he stepped outside, the mercenary turned to look over his should at the young boy lying in a daze.
"Stay there and don't move."
Reassuring himself that the boy wouldn't do anything stupid whilst he was gone, Kratos stepped carefully over the packs he had left at the head of his sleeping area until he found the one he was looking for. Undoing the knot at the top with a swift tug, he tossed aside a few items at the top, digging deeper until he felt the rough edges of the thing he was searching for. Drawing it out and setting it to one side, Kratos replaced the items he had taken out, retied the knot, and straightened swiftly.
Kicking the pack back on top of the heap of blankets he had unintentionally created only minutes before, the mercenary strode back through the door leading to Lloyd's room. The moment he crossed the threshold, however, he stopped with a halt and unsuccessfully attempted to restrain himself from rolling his eyes at the sight before him.
"Lloyd, which part of the phrase 'don't move' did you not understand?"
The boy in question froze, caught in the act of trying to lift himself out of the bed. His head ducked, spiky brown hair falling in front of his eyes, hiding the guilty expression on his face.
Something told Lloyd that "all of it" was not the answer Kratos was looking for.
"Uh, I… didn't hear you?"
Closing his eyes briefly in defeat, the seraph resumed his walk towards the bed.
"Back in." He ordered, pointing a finger at the bed with his free hand.
The protests died off as Kratos gave the swordsman his infamous "Do it, or else." glare and pulled the only chair in the room out from under a desk and over to the side of the bed. Lloyd was forced to pull up the leg that had slowly been creeping towards the floor and sit back down, lest it be caught painfully between chair and bed.
Eying the flushed boy intently, Kratos popped the top on the canteen he had retrieved, dropped into the chair, and held the container out to Lloyd.
The boy raised his arm reluctantly, his fingers closing slowly around the top, and then drew it towards himself at an equally sluggish pace. When it neared his mouth, Lloyd threw his head back and hastily swallowed a mouthful before thrusting the canteen defiantly back in the direction of the man sitting to his right. When, after several seconds had passed, the canteen had still not left his hand, Lloyd turned his head. He found Kratos watching him balefully.
The swordsman stared at him disbelievingly.
"You can't be ser-"
"Oh, can't I?" The seraph mocked gently.
"You hardly touched the food on your plate at dinner- that which you didn't slip to the Noishe, that is- and you've had nothing at all to drink for the past twelve hours. You can't honestly have thought that I wouldn't notice."
Lloyd dropped his gaze to the bed, and grabbed fistful of sheets. His voice grew defensive.
"You don't have any-"
"The only proof I need is sitting right in front of me. I suspect that your recent bout of dizziness was caused not only by hitting your head, but the result of dehydration as well. Now, drink."
The mercenary's tone held no room for argument.
Lloyd turned his stunned gaze on the container he held in his hand. Then, drawing in a shaky breath, he held it to his lips once more, drinking deeply until he felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder.
"Not so much." The seraph warned, his eyes flashing with an unidentifiable emotion. "Too much fluid on a stomach that's been empty for the better part of an entire day isn't such a good idea."
Lloyd flushed and lowered the canteen again, looking away to his left as Kratos took it from him, and then down at the empty hands in his lap with the air of a small child that just couldn't seem to do anything right.
There was a "pop" as the man snapped the container closed, and a scraping sound as he stood and dragged the chair halfway back to its original position. Kratos walked to the doorway and turned to face the young man still sitting on the bed with an expectant look on his face.
"Well?" He asked impatiently, raising a cynical eyebrow.
Lloyd glanced up, a confused look in his eyes.
The mercenary leant against the doorframe, and, crossing his arms, locked eyes with the bewildered boy.
"I don't think either of us will be getting to sleep any time soon, and I've always found that fresh air tends to have a rather relaxing effect on the mind. Especially when said mind has recently been plagued by less-than-pleasant dreams." He finished pointedly, staring across the room.
After waiting a few moments and seeing that Lloyd wasn't exactly jumping up to follow at his heels, Kratos admitted, "We also need to do something about your head; I do not believe Ms. Sage would be particularly happy with me if she knew I had been aware of your injury and done nothing about it. The lighting, although still poor, is marginally better outside than in here."
This got the boy moving- though the pounding inside his skull had receded sometime before, the insistent throbbing that had replaced it did not seem to be fading as quickly.
Lloyd slid his legs off the edge of the bed and rose halfway, balancing himself with the aid of the sturdy desktop, testing whether or not his legs would be able to hold his weight. Standing all the way up, he saw that they would be fine- the same could not be said of his head, however; the pounding had returned.
Satisfied that he wouldn't topple over immediately, Lloyd released his grip on the table and took a step forward. His confidence growing as the muscles did their job, the young swordsman made his way slowly towards the door. By the time he reached it, Kratos was already rummaging through his packs again. Sliding down the wall next to the ivy-covered window, Lloyd shut his eyes tightly, wishing with all his heart that the mercenary would just whack him on the head with something and put him out of his misery. The brief walk had intensified his headache to the point where it had become nearly unbearable. He brought a hand up and rubbed gingerly at his right temple, trying to concentrate on something- anything- else.
He listened as Kratos tore his way through pack after pack, apparently annoyed at his inability to find whatever it was he was looking for. After many "Humph"s and muttered oaths, he gave a triumphant grunt and raised his head to look at Lloyd. The swordsman held his head in one hand and twisted the soft crimson material of his bedclothes with the other. His eyes were squeezed shut, and his body, typically so relaxed, was tense and shivering slightly in the cool night air.
Lloyd started as a thin blanket was dropped around his shoulders. His eyes snapped open to find Kratos kneeling at his side, fiddling with something in his hand. Lloyd drew the blanket around himself, wrapping his arms about his knees.
"Thanks…" Lloyd said, relaxing slightly into the warmth the covering provided.
Peering more closely at the object Kratos held Lloyd saw what looked to be a small, slender stone. It was dark- would have been completely black but for the intricate designs that covered its surface. In the darkness, the appeared to be a deep shade of indigo, although Lloyd was willing to bet that the actual color was quite a bit lighter in the daylight.
"What's that?" He asked, eyebrows furrowing in curiosity and surprise as the stone began to glow, the violet light spilling outwards and illuminating everything within the radius of three or four feet.
"It's a Reflector; an amplifier of sorts." Kratos explained, his eyes narrowed in concentration as he carefully placed each of his fingers in a specific spot on the design, and then changed their positions as the light began to fade so that it returned even stronger and brighter than before.
"The stone absorbs a small portion of the user's mana and, through the process of manipulation, releases an amount slightly larger than that which the user originally provided."
"And that means…?"
Performing the last sequence of combinations, the mercenary lay the faintly glowing stone to one side and turned his hand over, palm facing upwards, so that Lloyd could see the purple ball of energy floating above its center.
"What it means, Lloyd," Kratos said, curling his fingers over the ball and making a fist, dispersing the particles so that they were absorbed by his hand, "is that my healing powers will be temporarily increased- enough, at least, so that I can numb the pain for a longer period of time than I would normally be able to. Now, turn around so I can see."
Lloyd did so, bending over slightly and allowing Kratos to slide his fingers through the hair on the back of his head. He breathed in sharply as the mercenary brushed his fingers over a sensitive area, having found the place where the boy had hit the wall.
Murmuring a soft apology, Kratos spread his fingers over the bump and began to chant words in an unfamiliar language. Lloyd winced at the initial contact, and then opened his mouth in surprise as the pain suddenly disappeared. It was as though a barrier of some sort had been erected between him and it, cutting them off from each other. Raising his head and turning around, he started to ask Kratos about it, and then stopped- the man was leaning back against the wall breathing heavily, his head bent and his eyes closed in exhaustion.
"Da- Kratos! Kratos, are you okay!"
His eyes slid open a fraction to look reassuringly at the distraught boy.
"I have certainly endured far worse. The effect is only temporary- I will be fine."
"I- I'm sorry! If I'd known this was going to happen, I-"
Silence reigned for a few short moments as the young swordsman was startled out of his rapid apology.
"I would have done it anyway, regardless of whether or not you had any hesitations."
"I am… pleased, however, that you are concerned for me. Thank you."
"Uh… no problem."
Lloyd dropped the blanket he had been using and stood, awkward in his movements.
"Can… can I get you anything? I think we've still got some gels somewhere, or I can-"
"Lloyd. I will be fine. Sit back down."
The boy lowered himself back onto the floor, reaching for the fallen blanket and gathering it about him once more.
"How long is it going to last?" Lloyd inquired, true concern replacing his awkward expression. Kratos no longer looked as though he might pass out, but he certainly looked more tired than Lloyd had ever seen him.
"It should pass within a few minutes. It has been quite a while since I last used a Reflector, and the longer it has been, the more difficult it is to use the next time you need it. That is one of the reasons I dislike such devices… but it matters not. They are convenient at times such as these, and if they serve their purpose…" Kratos shrugged and flicked a stray strand of hair out of his eyes, wiping a bit of perspiration from his forehead as he did so.
"You're feeling better?" He asked the worried boy.
"Yeah, a lot better. Thanks."
"You're welcome." Kratos glanced about uncertainly, as though he was unsure as to how he should proceed with the conversation.
"Lloyd, I am not… practiced in the area of counseling others, as you may have been able to deduce by now, but… I am not entirely unfamiliar with what you are experiencing. If you wish to talk about your… dream, I would be more than willing to listen."
Lloyd glanced up, curious. "You have nightmares?"
A wry smile graced the mercenary's lips as he replied, "During the course of four thousand years, one experiences many things- not all of them pleasant. Occasionally, my fears and doubts resurface what I least expect them to; oftentimes even years after the original event took place." Kratos looked at Lloyd, the question in his eyes not needing to be asked aloud. The swordsman stared nervously down at the hands in his lap.
"Yeah… that's kind of what happened tonight." He twisted a corner of the blanket in his hands, considering his next words. "They first started a few days after Genis and I left Iselia to find you guys, when you went to the seal of fire. They weren't so bad at the beginning, but by the time we reached Triet, they…" Lloyd took a deep breath and stilled his hands, trying to calm himself down.
"By the time we reached Izoold, they'd pretty much stopped. It wasn't until we got to the Palmacosta ranch that they started again. The fight with Magnius, Chocolat… it brought back so many memories that I didn't even want to try and sleep. That was when I first noticed Collette wasn't sleeping anymore," he added, looking up at Kratos, "because she was always awake when I was, and I was barely sleeping at all." Lloyd smiled slightly at the sympathy he found in the mercenary's eyes, and then looked away again as he continued. "Ever since then, we've been doing so much that I haven't really had time to think about it, haven't had time to remember… but now that we're back here in Iselia, where it happened…" Lloyd broke off uneasily. "Sorry if I scared you back there," he said suddenly, switching tracks, "No one's actually tried to wake me up from one of those before. I usually just end up waking myself up and going back to sleep. Or not… if it was a really bad one." Kratos examined his son's face intently.
"And was this… one such instance?"
Lloyd winced and bit his lip for a moment before responding.
"Yeah, it was. I don't know why, though. I haven't had one this bad in a really long time. Not since Palmacoasta."
"Hm. I suspect that merely being close in proximity to the area where the event took place would be enough to trigger it. Am I correct in assuming that your uncharacteristic fasting yesterday was somewhat due to that?" Lloyd looked away, embarrassed.
""I… I don't know. Maybe. Every time I look at food, I just felt so sick… like it was wrong that I could enjoy things like that when… when Marble and the others… they won't- they won't ever-" Lloyd's throat closed up involuntarily, his voice choking on the words. Swallowing painfully, he struggled to continue. "And it was all because I was so- so stupid. Because I didn't think. Because I-" Lloyd's breathing had become so irregular that Kratos actually feared the boy might become hysterical.
"Lloyd," the mercenary said firmly, reaching out to rest a hand on the young boy's shoulder, "Did you wish for those villagers to die?"
"What!" Lloyd's head shot upwards, his eyes as wide as Kratos had ever seen them, staring at the man in utter disbelief. "Of course I didn't, how can you even-"
"Lloyd, bear with me. I'm trying to prove a point. You took no pleasure in the fact that those people died, you did not kill them yourself; you have no cause to feel guilty."
"But I broke the non-aggression treaty! I should have known that-"
"Your breaking of the treaty came from a desire to help others- a desire to do good, not evil. A thoughtless sentiment, perhaps, but one that shouldn't have brought any harm to the villagers. Ultimately, it was the Desians that killed them- not you." Kratos squeezed Lloyd's shoulder gently as the boy sniffed and hastily brushed away something in the corner of his eye.
"Honestly, I would have been far more concerned had you not tried to help Genis' friend. Leaving someone to suffer when you could have done otherwise is the greatest of all evils." The mercenary's hand left Lloyd's shoulder to touch the side of his chin, gently turning the boy's face to meet his own.
"I am proud of you, Lloyd, for having chosen the right path over the easy one. I know that Anna would be as well."
And with that, Lloyd's last defenses came crumbling down. His head fell as he tried to hide the tears now running down his face, but Kratos brought it back up with the hand that was still resting under the boy's chin, and gently brushed a tear from Lloyd's cheek.
"It is not wrong, your ability to grieve- nor is it a weakness. It is, perhaps, your greatest strength."
Lloyd squeezed his eyes shut as his body shook, and he let out a quiet sob. He fell forward into the embrace as his father's arms came about his shoulders. Kratos held his son tightly as Lloyd's body gave shudder after shudder, and the tears fell from his eyes. Long minutes passed, and eventually the sobbing quieted, the shaking subsided, and the wetness on Lloyd's face dried slowly. Yet still, they did not part; Kratos did not let go, and Lloyd did not pull back.
Kratos smiled as Lloyd's breathing began to slow, and his muscles started to relax. Unwilling to break the peace, he gently smoothed a tendril of hair out of he boy's eyes, wishing that the moment could last forever. It had been far too many years since he had last held his son like this- Lloyd's arms around him, his head on his father's chest, drifting off to sleep as they lay beneath the stars…
The young swordsman had been through so much already- literally had the weight of the two worlds' hopes and dreams bearing down on his shoulders.
Gazing down affectionately at the boy he held in his arms, Kratos vowed that he would do anything and everything in his power to support Lloyd and ensure that he never had a cause to recoil from his friends or family again, regardless of circumstance.
"Lloyd," he spoke softly, shaking the teen slightly. The boy merely stirred a bit in his arms and muttered incoherently, not unlike the way he had so many years ago when Anna had first placed his son in his arms.
"Come, Lloyd, I'm sure your bed is far more comfortable."
Seeing that they boy wasn't responding, Kratos sighed and shifted Lloyd so that he could carry him with one arm under his shoulders and the other supporting his legs, Lloyd's head still resting against his chest. Grunting a bit with the effort it took, Kratos straightened with the swordsman and walked through the doorway into the dark room. As the light from the stars disappeared, Lloyd's eyelids twitched, and slid open to reveal brown eyes glazed with confusion and sleep. His voice was groggy as he tried to speak.
"Kra… tos… what…?"
"You need a good night's rest, Lloyd- at least, as much as you'll be able to get now that half the night is past- and you weren't going to get it in that position."
"No buts, young man." The mercenary smiled, remembering how he had said the exact same thing many a time to a yawning toddler more than a decade before. Kratos bent over to lay Lloyd on the bed, and stopped suddenly as the boy jerked wildly in his arms, clutching at the material of the seraph's nightshirt.
"N-no, wait; I- I know this sounds stupid, but… can… can I sleep outside tonight? With you?" The mercenary sighed and closed his eyes briefly- he was no more able to resist the pleading in those eyes now than he had been when the boy was only a fraction of the size. Straightening, Kratos adjusted his grip so that he held his son securely once more, and looked him straight in the eye.
"Of course. It's not 'stupid' at all, you needn't feel hesitant about asking; I will never turn you away, Lloyd. Ever."
The swordsman blushed as Kratos carried him back outside, but seemed to nestle deeper into the soft, dark material of his father's bedclothes.
Kneeling at the side of the bed he had re-made as they were talking, Kratos gently lay the boy down and brought the covers up about his chin. Running a hand over the edge of the blanket and murmuring a soft, "I'll be back in a moment," the mercenary stood and went to fetch the tangled remains of the bedcovers off the floor of the nearby room. Returning to the terrace, Kratos paused at the sight of his son- turned onto his side and already breathing deeply, his eyes closed and his mouth slightly open. The seraph smiled as he arranged the coverings next to Lloyd's and lay down in them, turning to face the restful image of his son. Reaching out, Kratos smoothed back some of the hair falling into the boy's face.
"You'll never know how much I love you, Lloyd… my son." The whisper faded into the quiet of the night, and he began to draw his arm back when a hand sneaked out of the darkness and caught his own.
"I love you too… Dad." The hand squeezed for half a moment, and then relaxed as the half-conscious boy fell back asleep, his face content and free of worry.
Kratos felt his breath catch in his throat, and his head bent forward, auburn hair falling across his face.
No sobs pierced the silence; no tremors shook his body; but had anyone cared to look into the darkness at that very moment, they just might have been able to see a bit of starlight reflected in a single, shining tear.
A/N- Yes, yes, I know.
I tried to keep it realistic for most of the story, but I think the fangirl in me took over towards the end and twisted it to meet her own selfish desires……..
-gives an evil laugh-
That's what happens when you finish a story at two thirty in the morning…….
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it, and please review!