AN: I hope this doesn't cross the cheesiness threshold or anything...this is what happens when an idea festers in my head for too long. Uhm. Please enjoy.
The campfire crackled softly at Kratos's feet, giving off a warm glow that was just enough for him to comfortably read by. He shifted his sitting position slightly to keep his legs from falling asleep, turning the page with a sigh. He should be used to travelling by now, to camping outside, he thought, but using Noishe as a headrest would never be quite as comfortable as a bed. If only they'd travelled a little further today, they may have made it to town…but there was no sense in complaining now.
As he continued to read, he saw something rush past him out of the corner of his eye. It circled around the campfire once and hid behind Noishe, giggling. Kratos turned around to see Lloyd hold a small, chubby finger up to his pursed lips to signal for silence and sank lower behind the family pet, who gave off a huff of indignation for being used as a pillow and a hiding spot.
"All right, Lloyd, enough of your games for tonight," Anna called, walking up to where Kratos sat. "Where are you?" She looked down at her husband, an inquiring expression on her face, and he jerked his head towards Lloyd's hiding spot in compliance. She smiled at him, walked around and picked up the squirming toddler. "Got ya! Time for bed, mister."
"Nooooo!" Lloyd wailed, trying to free himself from his mother's grasp, but she held him too tightly. "Daddy, you were s'posed to keep a seekwet!"
"Mommy is right, it's past your bedtime already," he replied, glancing up at his son's sullen face. "You can play tomorrow."
Anna carried him to where their sleeping bags were laid out and set him down on the smallest one. Lloyd crossed his arms tightly and began to pout, sticking a tongue out at his father. "Don't be mad at Daddy," she told him, kissing him on the forehead and tucking him in. "He only helped because I made him."
"Daddy is mean!" Lloyd rolled over to face his mother. "Can you tell me a stowy tonight, Mommy?"
"Me? Are you sure?" she asked. "Daddy's a better story-teller than I am, you know."
Lloyd shook his head. "I don't like Daddy anymore," he proclaimed. Kratos snorted quietly from behind his book. "I want Mommy to do it."
"Well, okay then," she said, making herself comfortable on top of her own sleeping bag. "What kind of story do you want?"
Lloyd was quiet for a moment, and looked like he was thinking hard. "Umm…I don't know," he said sheepishly. "A good one."
"A good one, huh?" Anna mused. Now it was her turn to think for a moment, but she grinned widely as an idea came to her. "Okay, I know a good one."
"Once upon a time," she began, "there lived a beautiful maiden. She lived a peaceful life in her village, until one day she was captured by an evil wizard. The wizard put a terrible curse on the maiden, which slowly drained away her life and gave it to him, and kept her locked away so she could never escape."
"That's scawy," Lloyd said, burying himself deeper in his sleeping bag.
Anna nodded. "It was. The wizard was always very cruel to the maiden, so she was scared of him. But one day, she met a handsome knight." Kratos looked up from his book suddenly and caught her gaze with a questioning look. She simply gave a coy smile, and continued. "The knight was brave and strong, but he worked for the wizard, so the maiden was afraid of him at first. But he visited her often, because he knew she was lonely and felt sorry for her. The maiden saw this, and they soon became friends… in time, they fell in love."
"But he was evil!" Lloyd protested.
Anna shook her head. "He was never evil. Sometimes when the wizard tried to do terrible things to the maiden, the knight would stop him. Finally, one day the wizard thought it was time to end the curse – but this would also end the maiden's life. Knowing this, the knight decided to betray the wizard and rescued the maiden before he could kill her.
"The two escaped the wizard's lair, and they were happy that they could be together at last. However, the knight was concerned. The maiden still suffered from the wizard's curse, and he wasn't sure how to break it without bringing harm to his beloved. On top of that, the wizard was furious that they had escaped, and sent his minions out to look for them."
"Then what?" Lloyd asked, his wide eyes staring up at his mother and not looking tired in the least.
Anna faltered, unsure of how to end the story. As rambunctious as Lloyd was, she knew he'd never get to sleep until he knew what happened. "Well, uh…I don't remember the ending exactly," she mumbled, trying to come up with something quickly.
Kratos glanced up at her over his book. "Didn't it have a happy ending?" he suggested quietly.
"That's right," she said slowly, flashing him another grateful smile. "I do know what happens."
"What happens, what happens?" Lloyd whined, bouncing up and down a little.
"Settle down," she said, ruffling his hair, and the little boy sat still. "Well, they had no choice but to run from the wizard and his minions. They were always being chased, so they travelled all across the world so the knight could look for a way to break the curse. He read all kinds of spell books, but couldn't find anything. They all said the curse was too powerful to break, and that the person affected would eventually die.
"Saddened that he might lose his beloved, the knight had almost given up hope when one day he saved a man who was being chased by the wizard's minions as well. It turned out that this man was also a wizard, but a good one, and had been targeted because he was the evil wizard's rival. When he heard of the knight's troubles, the man told him he knew how the curse could be broken, but it would be dangerous - he had to slay the evil wizard.
"Fearing for the knight's safety, the maiden begged him not to risk it, but he was determined to save her. He snuck into the wizard's fortress in the night and fought his way through to his former master, who he challenged to a duel. The battle was fierce, and the wizard seemed to have the upper hand. Just as the wizard was ready to strike his final blow, the knight unleashed a deadly attack that took the wizard by surprise. At his death, there was a flash of colorful light and the fortress began to crumble. The knight managed to escape just in time and returned to the maiden, whose curse had been lifted."
Anna leaned down and kissed her son, who by this time was nearly asleep. "A few years later, they had a beautiful little boy," she continued softly, "and lived happily ever after."
"I like that stowy," Lloyd mumbled, burying himself under his covers. "G'night, Mommy…"
"Goodnight, baby," she whispered. "Sweet dreams." She rose, walked over to Kratos, who was still reading, and sat down beside him, leaning her head against his shoulder with a sigh.
"You sound tired, too," he noted, not taking his eyes off his book.
"A little." She turned her head slightly to look up at him. "So, what did you think of the story?" she asked, grinning a little.
"It sounded…very familiar." He finally lowered his book and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. "But somehow, I doubt that's how it ends."
"Well, we don't know how it ends, do we? I kinda had to wing it." They sat in silence together for some time, watching the dying fire; Anna nearly dozed off at one point. As it grew steadily darker, she slipped one of her hands gently around his. "Hey, Kratos…"
"Hmm?" She felt him shift a little beside her.
"How do you think it'll end?"
He didn't respond at first, and for a moment Anna wondered if he'd fallen asleep. When he finally spoke, it almost startled her. "I don't know," he admitted, sounding tired. "But…I'm sure there will be a happy ending…someday."
"How can you be sure?" she asked.
Through the darkness, she saw one of his rare smiles as he leaned forward and kissed her softly. "Maybe I can't be," he said as he pulled her a little closer. "But I'm not willing to give up on it yet."
Anna smiled sleepily as she settled into his embrace. "Yeah," she muttered, allowing her tired eyes to close. "Neither am I."