Past Meets Present

Who you were then and who you are now are not mutually exclusive. Events during Tales of Vesperia bring Raven to recover parts of the past and himself that he thought he would have preferred stay buried…

Whatever Droite had thrown at Raven's feet clattered against the floor. The sound echoed sharply in the large room and (thankfully) deadened his gasp of recognition and pure surprise.

It was unmistakable. Casey's bow, the Divine Cannon, lay at his feet miraculously unchanged from the day its owner had last held it. Gauche was talking, but the words slid past him unnoticed as he bent down slowly and picked up the bow in something close to reverence. Somewhere behind him, he heard Yuri say, "What…?" confusedly.

Of course, none of his friends would understand. Raven wasn't entirely sure if he wanted them to, either. Everything he had told them at Mount Temza was what he had been comfortable talking about. However, he couldn't just let the twins walk away like this. Whatever inevitable questions came later because of it would be dealt with in his usual manner - a broad, winning smile and a veiled, wishy-washy verbal dodge.

"Casey's bow? You all had it?" As much as he tried, jealousy and restrained anger bled into his tone as he said it.

"Now we owe you nothing." Gauche's eyes burned more intensely with icy blue fire when she looked at him in particular. It didn't really bother him, though. Her thinly veiled hatred was probably based on whatever limited description Yeager had ever given them about Casey, himself and Raven. "We still have a score to settle, though," she added as she looked back to the group as a whole.

"Yeah! We'll get you next time!" Droite shouted in agreement and pointed aggressively for emphasis.

Did either of these girls understand what they had just given him? And why had they been carrying it with them in the first place? All the questions sprouting in his mind only served to make him more upset. While he wasn't interested in revenge at all, that didn't mean he was enthusiastic about receiving any kind of favor from someone so closely related to Yeager. It was highly unlikely that the twins were just carrying around a bow they didn't use just for laughs, after all. How could they have known anything about what happened at Mount Temza with the compact, though? His gaze drifted to the girls again, and despite his best efforts to maintain them, the flames of fury were quickly doused. Whatever these girls thought they knew it was very doubtful that it was the whole story. Even Yeager hadn't known, after all. There was no reason at all to change that. Obviously, they had their own reasons for wanting the compact, and he had received more than he ever could have hoped for in taking the risk of showing the case to them in the first place. His grip tightened around the grip of the Divine Cannon. Violent feelings towards Yeager had no justifiable place in his heart anymore, if they ever had one in the first place. Yeager was dead now, and in all truthfulness…at the end, Raven and Casey both had said what they wanted to before she had died.

Not that either of those facts made it hurt any less, even after ten years.

"Casey…"

The world around him was slowly filtered out…

Schwann was 19, and today was graduation day. He hadn't slept the entire night before in anticipation of the ceremony. At the moment, however, he was leaning against the wall of his dormitory, waiting. One foot was flat against the wall, tapping out an impatient beat against the cement.

"Come on, Casey! We gotta be down to the field for the line up soon!" His voice cracked slightly as an outward token of his lack of rest.

"We don't have to be down there for another half an hour, and you know it. Ugh, this is so stiff….hard to breathe…" Schwann could hear rustling and clicking of metal from the other room.

"I do know it, and it wouldn't hurt to be a little early! I'm sure you look fine, so just come out already."

"Looks have nothing to do with it. This….'outfit' feels more like a deathtrap. Corsets aren't even this bad. Honestly Schwann, if one didn't know better, they would think our personalities are reverse from the usual."

It was true. Casey was famous for her strict, no-nonsense attitude amongst their fellow initiate knights, and it was something Schwann usually took at every opportunity to make fun of to get her to loosen up. Indeed, it had improved over the five years they had known each other, but there was more than a little truth to the phrase "Old habits die hard". Today was special, though. Both of them were being anointed as full Imperial Knights this afternoon, ending the long, hard road of initiation they had endured together, and they would finally be recognized for the achievements they had earned.

When they were 17, they had been given the opportunity to enter a special program within the Knighthood's school for supremely qualified students instead of regular graduation. It meant an extra two years of Page status, and a much more demanding curriculum than even regular training had been, but it meant many more accolades and a significantly higher rank when they finally did graduate. Schwann wasn't sure what Casey thought of all this, but it was a big deal to him. Born in the social strata he had, not to mention his orphaned status, this was a relatively monumental achievement. Of course, he argued with himself, the uniqueness of Casey's situation was a pretty big deal, too. Women had technically been allowed to join the Knighthood for a decade or so, but very few did, much less rose to where she was today. Schwann had had nothing to lose going into the Knights. Casey was the opposite. Ignoring her family's anger and protests, she had joined the Knights when she was 14. She never wanted all that much to do with the standard of living most noblewomen took up in their teenage years, she had told him. Many attempts were made by her father (mostly on the behalf of her mother) to unseat her as an initiate, but Casey stood firm until they finally gave up a year and a half after she joined. It had caused what was most likely a permanent rift between herself and her parents.

There was rarely ever any visible sign of any emotional reaction to the virtual banishment, however. When her family officially gave up on removing her from military training, Casey had told Schwann during one late-night conversation that while she regretted how things had turned out within the family, being a knight was the only thing she had ever truly wanted in her life. She knew taking up the typical giggling noblewoman persona was not something she wanted or ever could be. For her, this was the only way to obtain self-satisfaction and in the end, it was her choice, not the family's. Even now, Schwann was taken aback and very impressed by the strength of her conviction. It often left him wondering how a girl of such a high-class, stern upbringing had ever been brought around to believing such a thing.

Finally, Casey appeared in the doorway, tugging sharply on the bottom edge of the dress uniform's jacket, more out of spite than actual adjustment. Being a woman, graduating from such an esteemed school of military training was certainly an achievement, but it also meant that there were no dress uniforms designed with women in mind. Despite whatever discomfort she was obviously feeling, she looked immaculate in the uniform. Rather than having her lengthy red-brown hair up in the usual careless bun, she had taken the time to arrange it in an uncharacteristically elaborate twist, with just enough hair hanging down in the front to frame her face. Schwann took the opportunity to admire her appearance privately as she was busy collecting her gauntlets and fussing with the collar of the outfit one last time. Unfortunately, he wasn't quick enough to begin pretending that he was absorbed in the unique patterns of the floorboards and Casey caught him staring. He tried to passively turn his head as if he had merely been stretching his neck, but it was no good. Casey's knowing look said it all, but she chose not to comment. He never knew what to make of her silence. Most times, it unnerved him.

She crossed the room to where he was waiting against the wall. "Well, are you ready?"

It was the opening he needed to recover himself from the embarrassment. "Ha ha. Don't try to be snide." He rolled his eyes dramatically.

*****

"…Is that ok, Raven? That was really important to you, wasn't it?"

Karol interrupted his reminiscing. Luckily, nobody else seemed to notice his lack of attention. Gauche and Droite were gone.

"Oh…well, yeah, I guess," Raven said in as light of a tone as he could muster, "but I got somethin' pretty good in return, though." He folded the Divine Cannon into its sword-like form and placed in the holster hidden on his back under his jacket before finally turning back to face the rest of the group.

"Ooh, was this a tale of jealousy? Lost love, maybe?"

Only Judy could make such a (usually) mocking tone sound so cute and sincere. It was because of that Raven didn't take her teasing too seriously.

"Judy darlin', it's not nice ta tease your elders." Even to him, the verbal parry came off flat and resentful. She may not have meant to be hurtful, but she picked up on his tone and had the grace to look a little abashed. Nobody else seemed to notice.

"Those two girls were so devoted to him, despite everything he did…" Estelle said quietly to herself, referring to Yeager.

"Indeed, it's strange that such a man could raise them like that, yet be such a criminal. I just can't reconcile the two…" Judy chimed in thoughtfully.

Raven weaved his fingers together on the back of his head, just below his explosive ponytail. "Yeah, there's always more goin' on with people than you first think." He thought they would have learned that lesson after Baction.

"Well, how about you, old man? Sounds like things between you and this Casey were pretty complicated," Rita suggested.

Raven flinched inwardly at the phrase "this Casey", but reminded himself that this was Rita talking, and she didn't necessarily pay attention to what she was saying when it came to talking with him.

"Yeah, kinda." Understatement of the century it may be, but he was still highly reluctant to talk about this, especially with the uncharacteristically interested Rita. "I feel like a big weight's been lifted offa my shoulders. But who wants to hear about an old man's sorry past. Let's go!"

It was partially true. Gaining Casey's compact and (eventually) longbow did fill some part of the void he'd felt for ten years. Having them reminded him of the promise he had made to her and somehow forgotten in the terrifying aftershock of the war and his…procedure. Moving on and actually living seemed possible for the first time in years. Nonetheless, bringing up the events of the past in order to come to that conclusion had reopened some old, painful scars. Just because he was beginning to move beyond it didn't mean he was willing to make the whole story public, whether it was to friends or not.

At the very least, Yuri didn't seem to be buying Raven's attempt at cheerfulness. It was written all over his face but, in true Yuri fashion, he let sleeping dogs lie. That was one of the great facets of Yuri's personality - knowing when personal space was important. Judy had apparently learned her earlier lesson, Karol was probably too young to understand, and Estelle just seemed to accept Raven's "light mood" as reality.

Not so for Rita Mordio.

Raven took the lead towards the exit of the room, with Yuri and the others in tow. Rita was holding up the rear, but the former Captain could plainly hear her snort of frustration. He braced himself for the inevitable barrage as he reached to open the door.

"No way! You're telling us that's it?"

The tingles of annoyance nipped at the corners of his mind, as they often did when he and Rita attempted to converse with one another. He could sense the rest of the group's collectively held breath as they waited for Raven's reaction. He paused in the process of opening the door to think of a prudent diplomatic response. Rita incorrectly viewed it as an act of hesitance before succumbing to her demand, so she pushed on, thinking victory was near.

"Oh, come on! You've been dancing around this for days! You really expect us all to just watch what happened just now and not have any questions? I mean, it's obvious you fell head over heels for this girl. We don't care if you saw her even though she was engaged to someone else-"

"Rita-" Yuri began, warning resonating in his voice, but it was already too late. Raven's last nerve snapped like a twig, causing him to whip back around to face Rita.

"I realize that this all just sounds like another one of the "old man's" little gossip stories, but I would appreciate it if you didn't start coloring the events of my life in whatever way you please."

His tone was low and venomous. Each word was patronizingly sarcastic and almost cruel.

Rita, far from being the least bit ashamed, was instead indignant.

"Why not? You sure as hell didn't have a problem with it before you stabbed us all in the back!"

"Rita! Cut it out now." Yuri stepped in front of her, smoldering with anger himself.

"Fine," Raven spat and left the room. After the door ground back shut behind him he could hear raised, muffled voices, but he was far too incensed to take the time to pay attention to it. So, he left the area entirely, mounting one of the seemingly endless stairways that led out of the ruin.

Well, at least now all the hostility was truly out in the open. Raven had taken a massive risk in returning to Yuri and party, and knew full well that Rita would be the toughest sell, if any of them were to accept his return. He had fully expected to die on the ramparts of the Heracles, in front of his subordinates. Of course, Rita respected Yuri's decision to let the "old man" live because she respected Yuri in general, and it hadn't been her choice to make in the first place. Regardless of that choice, however, Rita's outburst left him wondering just how many of the others silently echoed the sentiment.

Fortunately for him, the party had taken out the remaining monsters in the shrine on the way in, so he marched unimpeded back to the Fiertia and Ba'ul. There, he took up residence against the railing on the port side. The Entelexia made what Raven could only guess was a sound of confusion and concern, since he had returned alone.

"They'll be along eventually buddy," Raven replied sadly. What he would do when they did return, Raven didn't know. All his anger had fizzled out to be replaced with cold lead. The weight of Casey's bow at his back only added to the sinking feeling he felt. With his left hand, he slipped the weapon out from its holster and traced the gold inlay with his thumb as Casey rose to the forefront of his mind once more…

The ceremony itself passed uneventfully for Schwann. Group exercises were performed for the audience of families that had come to see their sons receive their official rank. Schwann in particular was called forward in recognition of graduating first in the class. He had heard a derisive sniff from somewhere behind him as he was called, most likely from Cumore, but he didn't pay it any mind. He never did with Cumore. When he was finished being paraded around and turned back to join the group, he glanced at Casey. Something in her expression was…different. Her eyes were open wider than usual, and her expression almost seemed…panicked? That couldn't be the case, he thought. The opportunity to get a better look, however, was lost as he fell back in rank. Since there was no way to find out what was up with Casey at the moment, he made a mental note to seek her out afterwards.

When that time came, though, she was nowhere to be found. Families had bled out onto the field to greet their children in celebration, making it relatively difficult to search for her. The crowd was concentrated, but relatively small since the class of graduates was just a couple dozen students. After ten minutes or so of searching, Schwann gave up and resigned himself to waiting back in his dormitory for Casey to show up. There was no point in staying any longer, since no one had come to see him in particular. It wasn't a fact that actively depressed him. His parents had long since passed, and he used that lack of familial structure to drive himself to achieve what he had. He liked to believe that would make them proud.

As he turned the corner into the hall leading to the dormitories, he saw the profile of someone walking through the door towards the individual rooms. Considering the person in question had long hair, he could only assume it was Casey. Quickening his pace, he was a mere foot from the door when he heard something that made him freeze. It was the tell-tale sound of sniffling. Casey was obviously trying to suppress it, but he knew it when he heard it.

"Did she hear me?" He thought as he moved, now much more quietly and cautiously, toward the door and peeked in. She had departed to her own room and was out of sight. The lack of the other residents still made is easy to hear her crying, which had now erupted in full force. Schwann took one last scan of the hall behind him, but he knew no one else was likely to come back here for hours. The overwhelming majority of their peers were nobles (or, at least, upper-middle class) members of society and would be out celebrating with friends and family. Convinced no one would intrude on Casey beside himself, he walked to her room without attempting to hide his presence. More than likely, Casey would resist whatever comfort Schwann wanted to provide at first, but she was obviously so upset that he couldn't ignore it. He cared far too much for her to do that.

At the doorway, he stopped. Though he was standing right there in front of her, she didn't seem to have noticed his approach. She sat on her bed; legs crossed and face in her hands. Next to her lay what Schwann could describe only at the most marvelous, elegant longbow he had ever seen. White, with gentle, asymmetric curves and gold detailing on the grip. Its presence only posed more questions, but Schwann put them aside and stepped toward his friend. She jolted in surprise and turned wildly in the direction of the noise. Her face was a mottled red, especially around her eyes, where the heels of her hands had been pressing when her head had been down. Hair hung about her face haphazardly as a result of whatever hasty destruction of the previously-elegant design had taken place. Once she realized who was standing in front of her, she turned her head away angrily and her hands became white-knuckled fists in the bedding. Unperturbed by her potentially violent mood, he passively strode over to the bed and, after carefully moving the weapon to the other side of the bed, sat down next to her. Indeed, he was perfectly capable of starting the conversation down its inevitable path, but he left it to Casey's responsibility and waited patiently.

"He came," she finally said, though it was barely discernable through the emotion in her voice.

Schwann blinked confusedly. Surely she didn't mean…?

"My father," she replied in response to his blank stare. "That bastard showed up today to watch. He sat right in front, too, so I could see him no matter where I had been in rank. Managed to catch up with me afterwards, too, tried as I did to leave right away. He gave me that (she jerked her head to the right towards the bow) the precious family keepsake, and said, 'I hope we can put all this unpleasantness behind us. We're proud of you.' " . Her tone, aside from the obvious rage, was mocking and sarcastic. She continued, "Like he meant it. Like he was trying to apologize for what they did to me. Can you believe it? If I didn't know any better, I'd think they were telling the truth."

She brought her knees up and buried her face in them with a new wave of crying. Schwann raised his hand to gingerly run it across the top of her head, stopping at the small of her back to give him the slight leverage he needed to gently unfold her from her curled position. After a moment, she responded to his silent suggestion, sat upright and crossed her legs again, but didn't look him in the eye. The glare she was directing downward through her tears could have melted the armor on her legs.

"It's a magnificent weapon. That must've been your father's version of a goodwill gift," Schwann began carefully.

He assumed that her particularly audible, choked sob was an agreement.

"It would have been better if he had just left things as they were," she said in a last effort of bitterness, but Schwann knew that it was just a show. The apology had been accepted, however reluctantly.

Just to make sure the feeling was solidified, however, Schwann added sagely, "Don't ever take your family for granted; especially now they've tried to bury the hatchet." He turned her head to make her look at him for emphasis. There was nothing else to be said, no other advice Schwann could give. With that, he scooted back to rest his back on the wall the bed was set against before he held out a hand in invitation. In a rare concession of wanting to be comforted, she took it and curled up in his embrace.

When he finally resurfaced in reality, Raven found that somehow, he had mysteriously drifted a few feet to the right from where he remembered being previously. His elbows rested on the railing, and his hands (still holding the longbow) hung over the edge.

"What am I doing?" Raven asked himself. It was something of an all-encompassing question. He had professed multiple times that he was going to start looking forward and improving himself. Here he was, staring into the past in an attempt to drown out the present. There was no knowing how long he had been daydreaming. Sighing resignedly, he put the bow back where it belonged one last time and turned to face Zaude again.

Yuri and the others were crowded around the till of the ship, staring at him.

"Waaaaaah!" Raven leapt in surprise, nearly throwing himself overboard in the process. The sudden shock to his system cause the blastia in his chest to burn, cutting off the violent, involuntary movement. He clutched his left shoulder and fell to a knee. Everyone, Estelle in particular, stepped forward in alarm, but he raised his good arm (the left one often seized up when his blastia went berserk) to halt them.

"S'all right, you just need ta learn not ta sneak up on the elderly like that. We old folks can't handle it." He straightened, now that most of the momentary pain had faded. Now that he was able to pay more attention, he realized that Rita was not amongst the group.

"Where…?" He asked quietly, afraid to hear the answer.

"She's in the cabin," Yuri said, "waiting for you."

This warranted a cynical raised eyebrow from the eldest member of the party.

"Fer me? What's that supposed ta mean?"

"What else would it mean? She wants to apologize!" Karol replied.

Raven gave a snort of sarcastic, bitter laughter.

"Look, I dunno what you guys said to her, but if Rita really feels-"

"You honestly believe that?" Judy suddenly asked.

Judith's bluntness never ceased to amaze. A blank stare was all he could return because of it.

"Beat me to it, Judy," Yuri said with a laugh, but his expression soon darkened as he stepped forward to be less than a foot in front of Raven and spoke again.

"I know it's easier to think that everybody here hates you so you can keep living in whatever little self-pitying bubble you've created for yourself, but that's not what Brave Vesperia took ownership of your life for. We did it because you won't take that ownership yourself, even after pulling whatever miracle you did to get out of Baction. Now, what Rita said was stupid beyond all belief, but that's just what it was - stupid. And we aren't going to just let you do whatever the hell you want because some part of you still wants to live the miserable existence you have for the past ten years."

The words struck so deeply Raven's knees felt weak. What could he say to that? It was beyond true.

"Raven," Karol said, "she just got mad. She didn't think at all about what she was saying. You know how she gets."

"You two don't get along easily, but she really was quite upset after you saved us. What did she say…" Judy said in mock-vagueness, "'So he was one of us after all' ".

Now added to the shaky feeling in his legs was heartache. The blastia felt hot against his scarred skin.

"Whatever happened with you and Yeager is your business. Nobody's asking you to talk about it if you don't want to." Yuri said easily. With his little diatribe completed, he had retreated a little to give his friend some space.

"But…but…j-just so you know, we won't pass judgment on you for whatever happened. We certainly don't want you to suffer because you're afraid to tell us!" Estelle blurted passionately. It was obvious she had been waiting to say that for some time. Karol nodded his enthusiastic agreement.

Raven was now relatively sure that his blastia was rapidly reaching critical mass and would shatter inside his body if this (albeit tough) love-fest kept up. Any conversation, even with Rita, would be an effective way to dump metaphorical cold water on his emotions.

"I'll…keep that in mind," Raven conceded. He turned to leave and no one protested. After a few steps, he paused thoughtfully and looked back at his friends over his shoulder.

"You know, I never said it when I should have, and I really owe it to Estelle, but…" he forced himself to look the princess in the eye, "I'm sorry."

"Raven…" Estelle started to say, but he had already taken off towards the cabin again. "Let him go" was the last thing he heard before descending the wooden stairs to the interior of the Fiertia. As he ungracefully clomped down the stairwell, there was a thump and some rustling behind the door, leaving him to wonder just what she was doing while she had been waiting. There was no point in pondering over it here in an attempt to stall the inevitable. His suddenly sweaty palm wrapped around the door handle and he stepped through the threshold.

Rita was standing in the center of the room, turned slightly to the left .She was playing with her aer-infused sash, picking at a couple loose threads in a rare show of nervousness. Noticing that Raven had finally entered the room, she flicked her wrist to roll up the unique weapon and put it away. Neither spoke, as they both were frantically searching for a clever and disarming phrase to cut the tension with. They came up empty.

The mage shook her head in frustration. "I…look…" she was obviously struggling, but the effort was all the sincerity he needed after the conversation upstairs. He closed the gap between them and, after he was sure Rita wouldn't recoil for whatever reason, put a hand on her shoulder assuringly. The shocked look on her face was priceless. She bit her lower lip and looked down at the floor.

"It was stupid. I wasn't thinking, at all. What I said…I knew it would hurt. That's why I did it."

Raven chuckled weakly. "Well, ya definitely hit the nail on th' head, there. Not easy ta do, y'know." The attempt at humor seemed to have the opposite effect he had been seeking. It was unclear as to whether or not she was even listening, since she only seemed to become more upset.

"I…I just…" she groaned angrily and started over, "I didn't like you at all when we first met."

"Really," Raven said flatly, as smirk pulling on the corners of his lips.

She balked a little at the tone but recovered when she looked at his face and saw his smile.

"But," she continued, "after what happened…when you saved us, I realized just how much you had been hiding from us. Like…your true self. And as much as I didn't want to, I liked that part of you. Since then, I've just wondered about it, about you. When all this stuff came up at Mount Temza, it seemed like the perfect opportunity…"

Raven could hardly believe what he was hearing. Unfair as it was to doubt such obvious sincerity, he just couldn't help it.

"I never would have guessed that anyone would care about it this much…especially you," Raven admitted uncertainly.

"I suppose that shouldn't be surprising to me," Rita said evenly.

"Don't get me wrong…I'm happy that you care. This is simply something I can't talk about. I'll talk about anything else, even about my blastia, but…" Raven sighed heavily.

"Did it end badly?" Rita suggested, but then she shook her head and backtracked. "That's a stupid question, never mind."

He felt that he owed her an answer to that question, however. Even though the subject hit far too close to home, it was only fair that she understand to some extent what it meant to him. In a way, it was the all-encompassing question that described everything without actually giving details. He still couldn't look at Rita when he said it, however, so he focused instead on a coil of rope hanging on the wall.

"No, it's not a stupid question. What happened…was horrible, yes, but in the end…" The words sounded inadequate and stupid even in his head. Talking around such a delicate subject was proving more difficult than he had bargained on. In the corner of his eye he could see Rita's head suddenly turn to look up at him.

"Wait...were you…there when…?" she drifted off incredulously. Leave it to Rita to cut to the chase.

Images of memories he didn't want anywhere near conscious thought began hovering near the borders of complete recognition. He put his back to Rita and raised a hand to his temple as if it would help him dispel the thoughts before they took over his mind.

"I…I'm sorry!" Rita said behind him frantically.

"No, it's ok. Really." With a last mental shove, he put the memories back into the dark recesses of his mind. He turned again to face Rita. "Someday it's all going to have to come out, I guess, but…now, at least you understand where I'm coming from, right?"

Apparently she was still a little too shaken by his reaction to do anything but nod.

"Yuri and the others really read me the riot act back there, but this…I never would have guessed…"

"Don't let it get you down too much. I really didn't mean for this to be a punishment. Now you have an idea…and I hope you never learn exactly what it's like."

"Raven…"

It wasn't the sunshine-and-rainbows ending to an argument anyone would hope for, but both had come out better for it. Neither had really noticed during the conversation until then, but Ba'ul and the Fiertia had long since taken off towards their next destination.

"Come on. They probably think we murdered each other down here." Raven looked over at the mage before sweeping his arms towards the door in an overdramatic gesture of invitation. "After you."

Rita could only roll her eyes in disbelief and take the invitation. That didn't stop her from smacking him lightly upside the head as she passed.