Been a really long time since I updated this one. But after hearing a couple of songs on the radio, I got inspiration and decided to finish the chapter. I had a little trouble with it in the beginning, but it smoothed itself out near the end. Thank you for the reviews and reading! Hope you all enjoy.

Disclaimer: Namco owns Tales of Symphonia.

Chapter 34:

"I want to learn how to fight."

Kratos tilted his head as she took a stance with a broken mop handle, swinging it wildly at an imaginary foe. Her footing was wrong, her grip and swings—she obviously didn't know the first thing about fighting.

"Why?"

She looked at him with an insulted frown. Perhaps some of his incredulous slipped into the single word. Tucking her hair back, she pointed the wooden shaft at him, poking his chest. "Why not? You taught Seth."

"He didn't have his strength sapped by an exsphere."

"I can handle it. I'm feeling better every day."

"It's not like you are doing any physical work," Kratos argued.

"I don't know about that..." She smiled with a look of innocence, taking a sudden interest with the mop handle. "I'd say I'm getting plenty of work. Last night, and the night before and—"

"Must you discuss it so openly," Kratos scowled.

"I do believe he's blushing." Anna smiled, laughing fully. "What's wrong, Kratos?"

"Nothing, I'll teach you. But not on the ship."

Her smile was infectious, spreading to his own face with the way she lit up with such excitement. She was different somehow, as was he. He noticed it gradually as the days passed. Her body wasn't so thin, but warm and inviting for his hands to slip around. Her laughter drew him towards her, tugging him along as if he wore a leash. He wanted to be near her, to feel her, and kiss her. It was as if once he started, he couldn't stop.

"So," she sighed, leaning on the rail beside him. Their arms pressed together comfortably, no longer shying from each other's touch. "I heard the sailors saying we'll reach the city this afternoon."

"Yes, most likely. Have you ever been to Palmacosta?"

She shook her head, the breeze flipping her hair behind her. "Not that I remember. I think my Dad went there a couple of times. The big city port, he called it. Used to bring my mom gifts and me sweets."

He wondered how much she remembered and how much just came to her over time. She had locked away memories. Seth, her parents, and life before the Ranch. She still awoke to nightmares in the night, her cold-sweated body shivering against him as he rubbed her back. She never spoke of them and he never asked.

"I'm guessing you've been there, then," she said

"I have, a few times." He nodded, "I have been to the majority of the villages and cities, comes with the territory of being a mercenary."

"And an angel."

He glanced at her, but she had looked away, staring off at a seagull flying through the rigging. "So you haven't forgotten."

"You expected me to forget something like that?"

"Hoped, more like."

She frowned, turning to look at him more closely. "Why? It's who you are."

"It's who I was."

He knew she didn't understand the significance of those words. She didn't know after all. He had been many things in his lifetime. Numerous lives and numerous roles. But he was trying to move on from that past. When one lived as long as he, one forgets who they really are. They become lost in a guise, a role.

"I don't think you stop being who you are simply because you don't like it," she spoke up, as if reading his mind. "It's how we shape ourselves. I know I'll always be a ranch prisoner. A part of me will always know that fear and memory." She frowned, pausing as her words dug up the harsh reminder. "But I tell myself, if I wasn't a prisoner, if I didn't suffer, I wouldn't be here now."

"And this moment is worth the pain you've undergone?" Kratos asked doubtfully.

"I'm with you, aren't I?"

She made it sound as if that answered everything. Kratos didn't see how it did. He was part of the reason she had suffered, yet she claims he is what makes it worth it.

Her laughter only frustrated him more, making him grunt and look away, trying to sort out her logic. She made things seem simple, when they weren't and she laughed at his inability to understand that.

"You scowl too much." She smiled.

"I do not scowl."

"Of course you do." She laughed again, twirling the wooden shaft in her hand. "You think too much and it only confuses you. Why can't you just accept what I say is true?"

He couldn't answer her and perhaps she understood that for she moved away from him, brandishing the handle like a dagger. He watched her carefully, already noting the areas he'd have to correct her in, judging what weapon would be proper for her. A short sword, most likely...

It wasn't long before she and a young man were clacking wood against each other in a mock fight. The lad obviously had some experience, but he stayed on the defensive, allowing Anna to force him back. The concentration on her face was cute, in Kratos' opinion, and her opponent's relaxed attitude only frustrated her.

"Ya are all over the place, Miss. Try to keep your elbows in more, use smooth movements with your arms like this." The young man demonstrated, waiting patiently as Anna mimicked him.

Kratos wanted to interfere, wanting to tell her to just be patient and calm down. She was going to stress herself again. But he knew she wouldn't listen and anything he said would only embarrass her. So he kept quiet, thinking about what she had said, all the while watching her warily.

It wasn't long before both Anna and the lad were tired, drifting apart. Kratos made Anna eat and drink plenty, ignoring her accusations of him being fussy. He'd rather be fussy then have her collapse in an unconscious heap.

It was later than afternoon that they docked and he lead Anna off the boat.

He nearly chuckled at her expression. Her brown eyes were wide with wonder and awe. The busy docks on the Palmacosta pier were full of life and noise. Personally, he found it irritating, but to Anna, he knew it was much more.

It showed life. It was life.

"There are so many people!" She gaped, turning her head, looking at the sailors and fishers loading crates of supplies and catches on and off boats. They hollered over the noise of others, tossing and catching luring lines to draw the boats coming in off the water.

Kratos kept a firm grip on her arm, leading her through the crowd toward the pier market. It was nothing more than rows of temporary tents and stalls erected during the warm months. He watched her carefully as she looked at the tables with curiosity and wonder. "If you like, we can come by later this evening when it has calmed down. But I'm sure you would like to bathe and clean up after that trip first."

She looked up at him belatedly, almost reluctant to draw her eyes from the wares and offering merchants. "Huh- oh yes. A bath would be nice. You smell awful after all."

Kratos blinked, frowning slightly as he shook his head with a sigh. He was certain that she was exaggerating the comment, for he could not smell any worse than her. However, he did glance to the side, taking a discrete sniff as he glanced at a stall offering fishing necessities.

Perhaps he did need a bath, as well.

Clearing his throat, he lead her down the cobbled path, turning to reach the less crowded streets, leaving the noise of the pier behind. "The pier is one of the busiest locations in Palmacosta. The city primarily makes its living off the ocean and also is known for its navy fleet."

Anna looked up at him thoughtful. "Why is it then that Palmacosta is larger than Izoold. Both of them rely on a fishing economy."

"Mostly, because Izoold is surrounded by mountainous terrain. They trade mainly with Palmacosta for what they need, where as Palmacosta can expand its market onto land."

"Seems a little unfair."

"I prefer Izoold to Palmacosta, in all honesty." Kratos offered. "It's much quieter is less concerned with politics and money, than with simply living."

When he looked at her, she was smiling, almost whimsical. When he asked what was on her mind, she merely avoided the question. He frowned, but let it go, motioning with his hand. "This is the inn."

It was one of the more expensive inns within the city and he had expected the woman at the front desk to turn her nose up at them.

"Can I help you?" She gave Anna a slow scan, before looking back at Kratos with a slight frown.

Wordlessly he laid the gald upon the counter and she quickly changed her demeanour. "Oh my, of course. You must be exhausted from your travels. I'll show you to your rooms."

Anna nearly giggled, Kratos glancing at her with a smile. They entered their room, shutting the door as the woman left.

"You really know how to intimidate people." Anna smiled, looking around the room.

"What do you mean?"

She turned, grinning a bit before her smile switched to an exaggerated scowl, her brow furrowed down. "I'm just going to stand here silently and lay down my money. You will do as I command because of my impassiveness."

Kratos frowned at her attempt to imitate a man's voice. Specifically his. He turned, setting down his pack on the chair. "I do not sound like that."

"Oh yes I do." Anna puffed her chest, sticking her chin ridiculously high as she continued the horribly mimicked voice.

He sighed, giving her a glance, before chuckling. "Are you going to bathe first? Or should I?"

It had worked, she quickly lost the pretense and nodded, casting a look around, before darting to a side door, which was undoubtedly the bathroom. From within, he heard her exclamation, "It's huge! I was expecting a little metal basin and a bucket! Is this marble?"

"More than likely." Kratos smiled joining her at the doorframe. To him, it was a sparsely furnished bathroom. There was little more than a table with a washbin and small square mirror on the wall. A full-sized polished tub rested to one side with numerous buckets and an assortment of soaps, salts and cloths. It was hardly royalty, but to Anna, he knew it was just that.

"I'll have a maid bring up some hot water."

"Hot?" She looked at him as he walked to the little corded near the door.

"Yes. Palmacosta is after all, Sylvarant's capital." He pulled the cord, then glanced at her. She grinned, her eyes lighting up before darting back into the bathroom, smelling the soaps and salts, delighting in their scents.

Kratos could only chuckle.

It was like heaven. The water wrapping around her body like a warm blanket, the bubbles forming along the surface as she rubbed the grainy soap along her skin. She couldn't remember the last time a bath felt this good. Most of the time, the water was luke-warm, or cold, in streams and little metal basins that sapped the warmth.

But here. She felt like a queen. Her eyes closed, giggling as she blew bubbles back, leaning her head back against the folded towel. If she closed her eyes, she could remember…could see herself as a child, bathing in a tub, feeling her mother pour the water over her head. But it was all shadows and sounds.

Opening her eyes, she stared at the blank wooden walls, the smile fading from her face. During the trip on the ship, she had awoken in tears from nightmares. Yet, they weren't from the ranch. They were from before. She knew they were from her childhood, but she couldn't quiet remember the details, always fading as she opened her eyes, feeling Kratos' warm body against hers, rubbing her back silently.

He never questioned, never asked what they were about. Sometimes she was glad, sometimes she wished he would. She closed her eyes, calling up the faint image of her father, nothing but a shadowy figure in a small fishing boat that rocked back and forth gently. He was speaking, but she couldn't hear over the roar of the fire beyond. The fire that had been engulfing Luin.

She sighed, opening her eyes. It hadn't happened like that. She knew that much. They had died in the inn and she had been there. That's where she had been taken. It seemed ages ago, yet just the other day as well. She didn't know how that was possible, yet it felt that way.

"Anna?" Kratos voiced followed a short tap.

She sighed again, closing her eyes, trying to regain that giddiness she felt just minutes before the memory.

"Anna?"

"I'm fine." She called back.

He didn't respond and Anna knew he didn't believe her. He always seemed to know from the tone of her voice, a look on her face. It was infuriating when she could hardly discern anything from his expressions.

After a time, the water cooled enough to make her shiver and she stood, wrapping the towel about herself. For a moment, she felt a little guilty, having spent all that time in the water, wasting it. Now Kratos would have to have more brought up for himself.

She sighed, reaching for her clothes only to wrinkle her nose in disgust. They were filthy and donning them right after he bath hardly made sense. She cast her eye about for her pack with her clothes, only belatedly realizing she had left it in the main room.

Of course.

She fidgeted and tapped on the door, calling out. "Kratos? Can you pass me my bag?"

Listening with her ear to the door, she heard silence without. Had he stepped out of the room? She chewed her lip, tapping and calling his name again. She knew he had insanely good hearing and that if he was out there, he would have heard her. She still didn't know how...but he did.

Taking a breath, she made a quick decision, gripping the towel tightly—which suddenly seemed much too small—she opened to the door and peaked out.

The cool air without made her shiver, casting her eyes about. The room was empty and she sighed in relief, slipping out of the bathroom, tiptoeing across the cold wooden boards quickly to where her bag rested on the bed. As she grabbed it, she heard the latch lift on the door and the heavy footsteps.

She froze, her eyes snapping behind her towards the door as it began to swing open. Her cheeks redden and she whirled, gripping her bag, to make a dash to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the water dripping from her hair and legs made the floor slick and she cried out, flailing out to grab the edge of the bed before she crashed to the floor.

Cold air rushed over her uncovered body. She cursed, her recently healed arm throbbing from the impact, until she froze, lifting her eyes to where Kratos stood in the open doorway, a tray of steaming food in his hands.

Her face redden and she frantically clutched at the towel, pulling it up to cover her chilled body.

He shut the door calmly, walking to the table with the tray. "It's nothing I haven't already seen, Anna. You should be more careful. Are you hurt?"

He had turned and started towards her, still on the floor. She opened her mouth, yet unable to form coherent words as he so casually slipped his arms about her, lifting her to sit on the bed.

Finally she blurted. "Kratos!"

He looked at her, amusement twinkling in his eyes as he straightened, taken her arm to look at it. "You'll probably have a bruise. Nothing more. Next time, don't run on wet floors."

She stared at him, her face heating up. "Y—You have no sense of manners at all, do you?"

"Why would you say that?"

"You shouldn't have been staring at me when I'm—I'm sprawled on the floor like that!" She stammered out, trying to ignore the redness of her face.

Then he had the gall to smile. "As I said. I've seen it before. Now get dressed and eat, before it gets cold."

He turned his back, moving to cover the contents of the tray and fussing around the table. No doubt, mocking her with the idea of giving her privacy. She huffed, grabbing her back and rising hurriedly, though walking more carefully back to the bathroom to dress.

Within she noted her brightly red cheeks in the small mirror, scowling at her reflection. Why was she so embarrassed? What he said was true...It wasn't like they hadn't been...

But that's not the point! She continued to glare at herself, then angrily shuffled through her extra clothes, trying to find something at least moderately clean.

Running her fingers quickly through her damp hair, she took a few quick breaths before facing the tyrant beyond the door.

Yet, as she opened the door, she only found the demon sitting upon one of the chairs, leafing through a book. Completely ignoring her.

She fought the flush coming to her cheeks and walked to the table, seating herself before the tray. "Where did you get that book?"

"It was in the night stand."

Silence.

"Are you going to eat?" she fidgeted, uncovering the tray. "Or bathe."

He lifted his eyes over the book, meeting hers. The amusing glint was still there. She quickly looked down at her plate, huffing. "You stink, you do know."

"I have to wait for fresh water to be brought. My apologies."

"Are you mocking me?" she eyed him, frowning.

He simply chuckled, looking back at the book, making her grumble. Her rumbling stomach offered her a pleasant distraction, as well as the smell of food before her. The fried hash browns, eggs and slabs of pork vanished swiftly into her mouth.

Aside from a few teasing comments of 'don't forget to chew', Kratos never took his attention off the book. Her own eyes occasionally drifted to it and finally she slowed her chewing, attempting to decipher the title.

"Is something wrong?"

She lifted her eyes, meeting his as he lowered the book.

"Um...no. Just curious. What's... it called?"

He frowned for a moment, glancing at the book cover and then back at her. "The Holy Scriptures of Martel."

"Oh...why are you reading something like that?" She frowned. "Being an angel, shouldn't you be familiar with all of it?"

"Of course." He hesitated, then looked evenly at her. "Can you read?"

She averted her eyes, spearing the last bits of food onto her fork. "Of course I can read, I'm not a simpleton."

"I never said you were."

She waited, expecting him to press the issue. When he didn't, she frowned, glancing at him then back down. "I used to read fairly well before—when I was little. But we never really got far before the... Ranch. I didn't know what that word was." She tapped the book cover.

"Scriptures?"

Anna frowned, gritting her teeth. "Yeah, scriptures, alright? I didn't know that was what it was. It doesn't matter. Not like I ever needed it, stuck in a cell."

"But that isn't the case anymore. You shouldn't be denied the ability to read." Kratos lifted the book, laying it open before her, sliding her tray away.

Anna scowled, pushing the book back towards him. "I just told you I can't read! If I can't even read the cover, how do you expect me to read the rest of the book?"

He didn't respond, instead, he lifted the book and slid his chair closer to hers. She frowned watching him as he laid the book before her again. "Because I'll help you. At least with the words you don't know."

She chewed her lip, looking down at the pages, already seeing a score of words she knew she'd be stumbling over. Yet, there were many she recognized as well. She rubbed her hands anxiously in her lap. "Promise you won't laugh at me."

At his chuckle, she glared at him, but he only smiled. "Very well. I will only laugh if you do."

She eyed him suspiciously, but he merely shuffled his chair again, making himself comfortable. She tried to determine from his expression if he was exasperated about the idea of having to teach her to read, no doubt, believing it more a necessity than for any other reason.

But Anna didn't see any of that condescending attitude. He met her eyes with patience and contentment. It was then she realized. It wasn't as if they had any strict appointment to meet, no time frame or schedule to keep. It was just them, together, with all the time in the world to do whatever they wanted.

This just happened to be one of the things he had decided to do.

She smiled softly and turned her eyes to the paper, taking a deep breath.

"Once upon a time, there existed a giant tree..."

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