It was quiet, oddly quiet in the small elven village. Even as Lloyd tossed in the little bed, there was no sound from the mattress or even the blankets ruffling from his movement. It seemed as though the night was intent on swallowing him up in the deafening silence. The breathing of his male companions that surrounded him was calm and even, they had no trouble falling asleep.
He glanced to the far corner of the small room, where Genis had found a bed. Though the elf elder had denied the two siblings use of their facilities, some coaxing from Lloyd and Zelos had somehow managed to wear the ancient down enough to allow them room in the small inn. Lloyd tried not to smile at the content expression on his younger friend's face, even though he had been insanely nervous entering the forbidden village, he had taken to his birthplace rather warmly.
His professor, however, hadn't been nearly as pleased when she cautiously took her first step into Heimdall. While Genis was looking around with wide eyes and rapt attention, she had swallowed painfully and laid her hand on Regal's arm as if for support. Her face, transformed by turbulent emotions of wistfulness, nostalgia and pain, begged for a long moment to simply stand there and take everything in.
The others hadn't spoken much since they had entered, there was too much unease for many words to be spoken in all of their hearts. He didn't blame them for it, and was rather grateful that they were giving him some space to think and be alone. The vacation had done wonders for them all, and while he knew it was too good to last, he still found himself wishing he was back in Zelos' mansion, going along with whatever new scheme his redheaded friend had going.
Reality had come for them all, with a stunning harshness that robbed them of their peace and contentment in one sweep of the board. Rolling onto his back, Lloyd stared up listlessly at the ceiling, trying to picture the night sky that was hidden from him by the roof of the inn. He let out a weary sigh and closed his eyes, trying to block out the memories that haunted him so profusely now that the clock was ticking.
He could still see it, playing out like a badly made play that he'd watched in Altamira with the others in the party only a little while ago. Kratos had moved without a hesitation, arms outstretched and teeth grit tightly as the electrical charge burned its way deep into the angel's back. Though there had been pain on his face, there had been something else, a strange gentleness in those normally stoic adust eyes that cemented the truth into his mind.
A gentle tapping on the door startled Lloyd back into the present, and he cussed quietly as he nearly fell from the bed from the force of his surprise. Looking around hastily to make sure no one had seen or heard him, then a slight smile pulled at his lips when he realized who had to be calling on him at such a late hour. He was quick to hurry from bed and sweep to the door, ghosting as silently as he could to not wake his sleeping comrades.
He wasn't disappointed when he opened the door, she was standing sheepishly by the railing, wearing an embarrassed smile when he stepped out of the room to greet her. His chest immediately felt lighter, and without a word he tugged her into his arms and hugged her tight. "Sheena..."
"H-Hey..." Sheena smiled awkwardly as he hugged her close, nestling into his chest mostly out of habit than actual want. She could tell he hadn't slept, the one glimpse of his weary face before he'd hugged her had told her all she needed to know. She let him hold her for what seemed like forever, though in all truths, she didn't want him to ever let her go. Only after a long moment did she pull away, glancing up at him worriedly to see the strain on his boyish face. "Can't sleep either, huh?"
"Yeah..." Lloyd agreed with a weary smile, ducking his face into her hair to take a long inhale of her floral scent. It both calmed and excited him at the same time, and with a low groan of defeat, he closed his eyes and buried his face into her neck. "How did you know...?"
"I didn't, I just guessed. I couldn't sleep either, so I wondered if you were having the same trouble as me. I'm just glad I didn't wake anyone else up." Sheena admitted with a small smile, pulling away to see her lover's tired expression. She gently pressed her hand against his cheek, asking softly, "Want to go for a walk with me? It's really pretty around here at night..."
"Yeah... Sure." Lloyd answered with a smile of his own, catching her hand with his before they turned for the small park at the end of the road beside the inn. Her hand was warm in his, and he found it remarkably easy to feel more comfortable the moment she was at his side again. He had noticed it many times over their journey, how his anxieties would ease the moment she was there with him, how he felt so much more safer when she fought alongside him, guarding his back and trusting her own to him in turn.
Sheena grinned just a little as she leaned back into his shoulder, enjoying the way he'd duck his head to kiss the crown of her hair in the most absent of ways. His fingers interlocked with hers and every step she took, he matched, almost as though they were connected. She led him to the small clearing by the river, glancing up at the clear night sky, the full moon shining overhead with a majestic sort of brilliance. Sitting on one of the long benches, she curled her legs up to her chest and watched as he sat beside her.
They were silent for a few minutes, neither not entirely sure how to begin or where exactly to even go once the conversation started to roll. Lloyd tilted his head back, glancing up at the millions of stars that shone in the navy blanket of the sky, and unbidden, he wondered aloud, "I wonder if Kratos is seeing the same night sky we are..."
"He probably is." Sheena murmured softly, watching as his face hardened for one moment before relaxing into one of pain. He hadn't spoken much about the upcoming fight, he had barely talked to anyone at all the entire day, though she didn't blame him. It was as if his entire persona had simply did an about-face when the team had left Meltokio to enter Heimdall, he'd become quiet and brooding, reminding her painfully of the traitor he was about to fight. "Lloyd...?"
"I don't know what to do tomorrow... I don't think I can beat him, let alone kill him." Lloyd's voice was quiet, lacking the confidence that he'd always had, the boisterous attitude that had attracted her to him in the first place. Smiling weakly, Lloyd brushed a hand over his face and continued in a low voice, "I know he's strong... He's always been very strong... But I don't think I'm at his level, even now. I've fought hard and trained constantly, but that doesn't give me an edge against his thousands of years of life."
"It's not about his experience, or yours for that matter." Sheena dismissed his worries with one wave of her hand, and she smiled when he looked at her with wide eyes. Grinning, she leaned back just a little and looked directly at him so he would know that she wasn't humouring him. Her smile faded and she became completely serious, explaining calmly, "It's about heart. You aren't the old Lloyd that lost to him during your training, nor are you the one that refused to give up to him in the Tower of Salvation when he first left us. You can beat him because you can, and I know that."
Lloyd watched her smile, her eyes betraying the hint of bittersweet tears that sparkled in her eyes even now as she thought of Corrine. He recognized the words she spoke, he had used them for her too, preparing her for the fight with Volt. She had paid dearly then, but she had come out of that defeat and victory with something he'd seen in her all along, courage. 'She's too stubborn to let me get down on myself about it... She won't let me consider the option of loss...' "You're going to keep on drilling that into me until I believe you, aren't you?"
"That depends on how many times you need me to repeat myself." Sheena replied playfully, pleased to see him smile in return. He closed the distance between them in a few shuffles, wrapping his arms around her protectively. Leaning back into his chest with a happy sigh, she found herself oddly contented just by his embrace. Absently interlacing her fingers with him, she continued in a soft voice, "I'll keep saying it until you believe me.... Because I believe in you, all of us do. You don't need to prove anything to us or to him, it's not right for you to think that way about your father. You're going to beat him your own way, and then we'll make that pact with Origin and do what we've been trying to do for so long. That's a fact."
Lloyd closed his eyes, letting her words sink into his chest to melt the hard icy core of disbelief and worry that had made sleep impossible. It seemed so easy to believe her, she spoke without a hesitation, a tinge of brave determination colouring her strong voice. He knew however that it was hard for her to say all of this, that it had worried her as much as it worried him. 'She's working so hard... Pushing aside everything for my sake... What did I do for someone like her to come into my life?' Nestling his chin onto her shoulder, he was quiet for a long moment, letting himself think. 'If she believes in me this much... I can't let her down. Not now, not ever.' "Thanks, Sheena... I think I needed to hear that."
"Heh, if you needed to hear that why didn't you just tell me earlier? It would have saved us some insomnia." Sheena teased, enjoying his low chuckle and the way he nuzzled against her neck again. Watching the way his thumbs stroked her palms, she took a deep breath as she readied herself to speak again. 'He's trying to keep the mood light but there's more bothering him...' Her words seemed to have left her as suddenly as her courage, and with a low cough, she closed her eyes as she tried to summon it again. She'd felt it too, the worry that he wouldn't win the battle, that Kratos wouldn't only defeat him but maybe even kill him. 'He's his father, we all know that, but... If he doesn't actually hold back, if he decides it's all or nothing, Lloyd might not be able to stand against him. Could Kratos... Could his father actually kill him...?' "Lloyd... I, uh... I want you to know that, um..."
"I won't die."
Sheena jumped, feeling his arms releasing her as she did so, worried that he'd somehow hurt her. She whirled on him, eyes wide and shocked. 'Did he just read my mind!?' His worried expression had vanished when he saw her shock, and it melted into a rueful grin as he remained where he sat on the bench, almost amused by her surprise. It was her turn for her shock to fade away, then she was smiling too, albeit apologetically. Raising a hand, she rubbed at the back of her neck and lowered her gaze to the ground as she murmured, "Sorry... I didn't want you to think that I was doubting you, I'm not, it's Kratos I'm worried about..."
"I still don't know if he'd kill me, he might be my father and all but..." Lloyd paused, smiling strangely as she sank down beside him again, face impassive. Looking up at the starry heavens, he continued somewhat wryly, "Heh, he's a bit of a puzzle to figure out. If he wanted to, I don't doubt that he could kill me... But I won't let him. I won't die."
Sheena opened her mouth to argue, even though she wanted to believe him, believe every single word he spoke. His eyes glinted like steel, challenging her to challenge him, as if he'd already cemented all of his faith in the words he'd told her. After a moment, she let out a sigh then shook her head, laughing quietly in relief. "Yeah... Yeah, you won't die... I'm stupid for even considering that option. You'll be just fine."
"You know I want to fight him alone, right?" Lloyd asked quietly, and he was surprised when she gave him a nod. He blinked, then chuckled as his own worries trickled away a little. He had been uncertain about his comrade's thoughts, previously they had all fought together against the Seraphim, and perhaps they thought it would be no different this time. A hand over his face, he muttered sheepishly, "I didn't know if everybody else knew or not..."
"No, we all knew... Even without saying anything to you, we all knew it'd only be you and Kratos fighting." Sheena reassured him gently, laying her hand on his arm when he glanced up at her curiously. Smiling a little, she shuffled closer until their shoulders brushed, laying her head on his as his arm wrapped around her waist. Somewhat eased to feel his hold on her, she continued softly, "It wouldn't be right if any of us got involved too, in a way, it's between father and son now. If any of us fought alongside you, it wouldn't be right. We're all with you of course, I guess not just physically this time around... And... As much as it..." She stopped then, her throat tightening in a denial against the words she meant to speak. 'I don't even want to think about it... To think that he might... He might never come back to us... to me...' "I-If... If it goes sour... We won't... We won't interfere."
"That means a lot to me that you'd say that..." Lloyd said quietly, his voice somewhat thickened by the agony that surged through his body. He could see her face in his mind, the sheer anguish in her eyes as she watched Kratos strike the killing blow as he fell to the ground, never to rise again. It would kill her, he knew that with certainty. He didn't know if he could do that himself, watch as she died. "I won't let you live through that, I'll never let you watch me, or anyone else you care about, die. I won't. You've lived through enough pain."
Sheena almost laughed, his words were iron enough but it was the way he'd change the topic so smoothly, make it about her when all she wanted was to make sure he'd be okay. Though she relished his attention and wanted nothing more than to show him exactly how much he meant to her, she changed her voice to make it serious and softly scolded him. "Lloyd, this isn't about me, it's about you and Kratos. We don't mean anything right now, it's all about you."
"No stupid, it's about you too." Lloyd disagreed with a shake of his head, turning around and gently placing a finger over her lips when she made to argue. She was quiet, but her eyes glinted amber fire, warning him that he'd be in for it if he continued to talk like this. As much as he loved her, he continued fiercely, "You're my soulmate, aren't you? If you die, I die too. I can't live my life without you, I've already decided that much. I can't lose you and I can't put you through the pain of losing me. I won't die, not just because I'll beat him, but because I love you."
She waited until his finger left her lips, though his hand cupped around her face, the warmth of his touch soothing some of her annoyance. Eyes hard, she placed her hand on his cheek and settled her free one on top of his, needing that physical connection to keep herself sane. 'When did I need him more than I needed to breathe? Jizou...' Her cheeks reddened just a little as she spoke the words, though she knew they were all true, that they had always been true. "Lloyd, I won't say that you're not my soulmate, that I don't love you more than anything I've ever cared about. To be honest, I couldn't give a hell if the worlds went to pot and there was nothing else but you with me. But I won't think like that, I won't be selfish and live like that. We both agreed to help as best we could for the world, for everyone's sakes regardless of what happened to us. You can't think about me when you're fighting Kratos, you can't worry about what I'm going to see, or what I might have to live through if by some stupid chance that you die. You said so yourself, you won't. But you can't say you won't die for me, we have too much to do for it to be just about me. If you're not going to die, you're going to live for the world."
He saw her pain, saw the way that she instinctively argued against each and every word she spoke. She had fallen in love with not just him, but with his morals, with the way he lived his life. She would fight to the death at his side for what he, for what they believed in. That goal was the only thing she was trying to see, to distract herself from the fear that their quest could very well claim his life, and in that time, her own. 'It's the same for me... If she dies, the world dies with her... There are things bigger than us... She's trying to think of those things even though it hurts her...'
He pulled her into his lap, burying his face into her hair, trying to fight the wrenching grief in his chest. She held onto him as desperately as he held her, and in that moment, they both felt the pain of loss that had yet to come. Breathing raggedly, he focussed only on the sound of her breathing, at the feel of her heart racing against his chest, synchronized with his own. One beat between two bodies, two souls that had merged and refused to split even for death. He laughed suddenly, overwhelmed by his own stupidity as it hit him like Gnome had with his shovel back at the Temple of Earth months ago. 'I could have had this so long ago. I could have been holding her long before now if I'd only realized it. Why was I so stupid!?
"L-Lloyd?" Surprised, and a little unnerved, by his laughter, she pulled away worriedly. His head was bowed, and she was shocked to see tears falling from his eyes as his chuckles hitched with barely audible sobs. Eyes widening in total alarm, she was quick to untangle her arms, brushing away his tears quickly, whispering, "Lloyd, what's wrong? Please, tell me."
"I'm so stupid... I'm so stupid! All this time, I didn't see how much you loved me, how much you wanted to be with me, I was too dense! All those months, wasted because I'm an idiot!" Lloyd burst out angrily, pulling her back into his arms and this time refusing to let her go. She struggled just once, confused, but she halted when she realized he needed this, needed her to hold him. He buried his face in her shoulder, hissing against her neck in anger and pain, "I could have spent so much more time with you, loving you, holding you, instead of being so stupid! Why the hell am I realizing all of this now!?"
Sheena giggled, though she knew it was entirely inappropriate of her to start laughing. It all became clear then when he yelled at himself, and though it wasn't exactly funny, she was laughing anyway. She felt his hold slacken on her, and knowing that she probably had hurt his feelings, she quickly looked up and hastened to explain, "N-No, I'm not laughing at you! It's just... I guess I'm sorta surprised that you're thinking about all of that now, that's all!"
"But... But I hurt you." Lloyd's voice was quiet, apologetic as he reached out to touch her cheek, watching with some amazement as she tilted her head to rest her cheek snugly into his palm. He had felt it before, when he had first made love to her, the amazement that she had loved for him for as long as she had, that he had missed all of those signals and had only discovered her then. She could have let him go before he had even realized how much he cared about her, and while he wouldn't have faulted her for it, it made him ache even now to imagine it. "I hurt you and you still... You still..."
"I still want to be with you, so you were dense, that's nothing to apologize for." Sheena shook her head, dismissing his words with a tender smile. His eyes were still worried, full of guilt, and it left her in pain for causing that emotion in him. Giving him a light peck to the lips, she gazed fondly into his eyes and murmured against his mouth, "I would have waited forever for you. I'd already made that decision. I never knew if you would ever love me back, hell, I didn't even know if you'd want me, but I was willing to wait forever. Having you realize it now, is way better than ten or even twenty years down the line. So I don't want you to apologize for making me wait a few months for you, what matters is I have you now."
Lloyd said nothing for a long moment, nearly spellbound. He believed her, it only took a few gestures and a simple sentence for his doubts to disappear and leave him contented again. While he didn't understand it completely, the way she had so much influence over him in only such a short while of loving her, he wouldn't contest it. Kissing her gently, he clasped her close against his chest and muttered into her hair, "Heh, dammit Sheena, what did I do to deserve you?"
"Y'know, I've been asking myself that every day this week and I still don't know the answer." Sheena replied with a soft giggle, closing her eyes as she relaxed into his arms. She had always felt safe near him, knowing unconsciously that no harm would come to her if he stood beside her. Being in his arms only increased that sensation. Eyes closed and voice slightly muffled by his jacket, she teased softly, "When you find the answer, make sure to tell me."
"Professor Sage told me once that you can't classify love..." Lloyd told her in a musing voice, closing his eyes and focussing only on the fact that she was curled up against him, soft and warm. She murmured something to let him know she was still listening, and he continued thoughtfully, "That it's made up of so many different things that no one really understands it, not even the best scholars in Sylvarant... At first I didn't know what she meant, but I think I get it now... There's so much about it that doesn't really make sense but you accept it anyway for what it is, just because it's what it is."
"Grandpa told me that too, that love is just love." Sheena agreed, breathing a happy sigh as his mouth caressed the top of her hair like a whisper of a breeze. "That's why it's so special to call someone your kokoro no tomo when you truly love them. It's a bond of the hearts, and the souls. It is exactly what it is, no strings attached, y'know? It's one of those simple things that are really complicated."
"Well yeah, it can be pretty complicated." Lloyd laughed wryly, earning a smirk and a gentle nudge in the ribs from his kokoro no tomo in his arms. Pretending to be bruised, he rubbed the spot where she elbowed him, putting on a hurt pout. "You said it yourself though, it's a good thing I found you now than ten years down the road, right?"
"I did say that, didn't I?" Sheena pretended to grimace, wrinkling her nose in mock-distaste. He still looked hurt, though she saw the dancing light in his eyes that let her know that all was finally well. Unable to hide her laughter, she went along with the game, "Well you can forget that I said that, I don't think I'd have waited ten years. Zelos probably would have worn me down after five, in the very least."
"Zelos? I'd've lost to that guy?" Lloyd exclaimed in faux-shock, opening his mouth and widening his eyes for comedic effect. It worked perfectly, Sheena started to laugh uncontrollably, hiding her face in his chest in a vain effort to muffle her giggles lest she wake the entire village. Chuckling, he tried anyway to keep up the act for laughter's sake, "I can't believe I would've lost to some guy like Zelos. That's just wrong. I need to reevaluate my skills with women if that's the case!"
"Well he may be a pervert but he does somehow seem to have a way with the women, I'll give the philanderer that much." Sheena chuckled under her breath, glancing up to see his winning grin that melted her heart all over again. "I mean, look at Colette. I've never seen her so happy, even when she became herself again and realized she was hungry for the first time in months! He's mellowed out a lot too, he's stopped flirting altogether, that's a huge improvement."
"Well I guess he won't be getting any gifts anytime soon then... Pity, I kinda liked raiding his stash of sweets at the mansion." Lloyd confessed with a sly smirk, earning a startled, then very amused glance from the ninja. She started to giggle all over again, and with a laugh of his own, he added sweetly, "But if he's happy, and Colette's happy, than I shouldn't complain. We're all happier it seems, a lot better than how we were before, walking on eggshells and all that... The tension's gone."
'To be replaced by a new type of tension anyway.' Sheena commented inwardly, though she made sure not to say those words aloud. She inhaled the warm scent of leather and skin that clung to Lloyd's chest, and it sent a delicious shiver of desire through her body. She wouldn't ever deny that she hadn't been sexually attracted to the twin swordsman, but it only seemed to have gotten worse now that she knew her attraction was reciprocated. She had seen it with the duke and professor, she knew those stolen glances and lingering touches, and it made her smile with secret pleasure. "Everyone's kinda paired off, have you noticed?"
"Yeah, I noticed." Lloyd nodded, though he could tell she was a bit impressed with his words. He admitted inwardly that he had never really paid attention to it beforehand, but his experience with her had opened up the world to his eyes, giving him a fresh perspective. He too had seen the little smiles shared between his professor and the duke, the way Zelos' hands would linger along Colette's skin, and the way that Genis seemed so much braver and forward with Presea, even going as far to hold her hand when they walked together. He saw it all. "Looks like the vacation put a lot of things in motion, not just for us, but for everybody... It's kinda nice."
"It really is, it's like Raine told us at the hot springs..." Sheena mused happily, remembering the peaceful expression that the professor had worn that day. She echoed the words the half-elf had spoken, lingering on her own contentedness as she murmured them to Lloyd, "Fond memories that get us attached to being alive. The more we create, the more we want to live and experience more joy, more pleasures. We're all happy and eager to live."
"I'm eager too." Lloyd told her cheekily, sending her a sly smirk when she glanced up at him with one raised eyebrow. Before she had a chance to state exactly how she felt, he was on his feet, scooping her up into his arms and smothering her gasp with a fierce kiss. Her arms wound around his neck as she accepted the embrace, melting against his mouth and sharing his passion. When he broke, he whispered huskily, "Did you have your own room?"
"Uh huh, there was only three beds in the last one, so I got my own..." Sheena whispered back, tilting her head up for another kiss that he gladly gave her. She knew he was carrying her back towards the inn, though when his mouth touched against her own again, she didn't really care where he was planning on taking her. She had him for tonight, and he had her, that was all that mattered. They could have the night, they could have the world, this moment was just for them.
Sheena's breath caught in her throat as she watched Origin lift his spears, his eyes closing as he surrendered his physical form to her. The bright ball of mana shivered in the air, floating soundlessly from where Origin had once floated, falling into her open hands. She hadn't realized she was holding her breath until the mana of the Summon Spirit touched her fingers, sizzling through her skin and merging with her body. With a relieved sigh, her tense body finally relaxed and she glanced to her left where Lloyd stood, and smiled.
"Damn..." Lloyd let out the cuss with a weary grin, before Sheena laughed aloud and flung her arms around him, burying her face in his chest as he hugged her close. He chuckled wearily, turning his head to see how the other members of the team were faring.
Zelos was laughing, and though he had nearly broken his arm in the battle with Origin, he still managed to pluck Colette off the ground to spin her in the air. Her giggles of glee mingled with Regal's quiet chuckles of relief as the duke allowed himself a moment to relax. Raine's hand rested gently on his forearm, almost tenderly tracing the wounds he too bore from the battle. Presea was wearing a smile, her eyes only for Genis who was grinning back at her as though she'd just taught him the secret to turning dirt into Gald.
"All that's left is for us to retrieve the Eternal Sword and reunite the worlds. Then it will truly be over." Raine murmured, closing her eyes and allowing her head to hang as though the burden was close to being lifted from her shoulders. Raising her free hand from her side, she rubbed slowly at her sprained shoulder, murmuring, "How is everyone? We might need to spend another day in Heimdall to recuperate before we go to the Tower of Salvation..."
"No, we ought to go right away to get it over with." Lloyd disagreed with a shake of his head, feeling Sheena's arms loosen around his waist, pulling back so he could see her equally fierce expression. She wanted it to be over as much as he did. He heard the murmurs of agreement from his comrades, and after a moment, he glanced over to see Kratos standing off to one side, his eyes lowered to the ground as he silently gripped his side.
Sheena saw the worry in the twin swordsman's eyes, and she gently nudged his arm so he would look at her. Smiling weakly, she nodded over to the angel, knowing exactly what he wanted without him even needing to utter a word. He glanced meaningfully at her, and she gave him a light shake of her head. "No, I'm alright. It's not that bad. Go."
Lloyd turned entirely to Kratos, watching the angel silently mutter something to himself, focussing his mana to attempt to heal the wound in his side."Da–" Lloyd began almost automatically, freezing before he managed to get the entire word out though it was too late. Kratos had stopped what he was doing, looking up with surprise, his mana having disappeared into the wind. "Ah... Kratos..."
"Yes Lloyd...?" Kratos made an effort to keep his voice flat in an attempt to disguise the pain the wound in his abdomen caused him. When his son didn't answer, the angel managed a wry smile, turning his head away from the swordsman, continuing placidly, "I am fine, Lloyd. I admit your increase in talent was unexpected, I never thought you would be able to inflict such a grievous wound on my angelic form. However, there is no need for concern."
"If you're in pain, at least admit it, idiot. I don't care about your pride." Lloyd snapped angrily, annoyed by the angel's callous attitude towards himself. The entire glade fell silent at his words, and though the silence felt nearly unbearable, he snapped again, "If you're hurt, the Professor or Regal can heal you. That's not the point though." He paused, then felt Sheena lay her hand on his arm, giving him the strength he didn't have to continue his words. Kratos was watching him blankly, though Lloyd could see the curiosity in his seemingly unexpressive adust eyes. He tried again, "Do you... Do you want to come with us to the Tower of Salvation?"
"You... You wish for me to accompany you to the Tower of Salvation?" Kratos repeated, momentarily dumbstruck. He saw the way a ruddy flush raised into Lloyd's face, the way he turned to look at the slightly amused summoner behind him as though he was hoping for her help. She merely shook her head, affectionately exasperated, motioning for Lloyd to look back at him. 'I see...'
"It... It only seems right that you see this through to the end. After everything..." Lloyd fell off with a shake of his head, trying to hide his embarrassment behind a scowl. Sheena's hand gave his forearm a gentle squeeze, gently reassuring and he let out a weary sigh of annoyance, turning his head back to his father. "I want you to come with us to the Tower, to see the reunification of the world."
"Before going to the Tower, you will need to travel back to Sylvarant and pay a visit to your father. The Ring of the Pact must be forged before you are able to equip the Eternal Sword. Altessa is too injured to prepare it, so Dirk is the only logical choice." Kratos explained quietly, watching Lloyd's eyes flicker for one moment, and he continued quickly, "After that... I will accompany you to the Tower, if that is what you wish."
"That's what I want, for you to come with us and see the beginning of what you've wanted." He turned his head, looking at his comrades who had been listening intently to his words as soon as he'd started speaking. A little embarrassed that they had all watched him with obedient and friendly eyes, he coughed to clear his throat then hastened to add, "O-Of course if that's what everyone else is okay with too..."
"I'll tell you I'm not entirely kosher with having him with us." Zelos began somewhat coldly, though his eyes softened as he glanced down to his side, where Colette was gripping his sleeve with a hopeful expression. He let out a weary sigh, then gazed back into the seemingly indifferent eyes of the angel and continued, "However, I get what you mean about him deserving to see the end of the beginning. Even if he is an SOB, he's got rights too."
Raine rolled her eyes almost audibly at the Chosen's less than polite remark, though she commented inwardly, 'It's how I feel, in blunt terms anyway...' Her gaze weary, she watched Kratos return her stare, waiting patiently for her decision, as well as everyone else's. She knew he would only go if all of them were in assent. She took a breath, gazing from Zelos, to Lloyd, than to the father and answered firmly, "I agree with Zelos' statement, however... The past should be left where it is, the past. You betrayed us, and your methods weren't exactly the best, but your heart was in the right place regardless. Your reward should be the sight of your goal being achieved, by your son."
"Guilt is a heavy burden, I understand that all too well." Regal began with a wan smile, sensing the confusion behind the angel's gaze, then he glanced down at Raine, who had looked up at him in complete worry. A hint of a true smile lifting the duke's lips, he continued in a soft voice, resting his hands on the top of her head in an affectionate gesture, "However the warmth of the people around you can lessen that weight. You were willing to give your life for redemption, for a crime you believed was unforgivable. I believe I understand the depths of your pain, and because of that, I agree with Lloyd. You, in my eyes, are indeed welcome to come with us to the Tower."
"Regal is correct. Warmth of the hearts of friends really can heal almost all wounds. You should come with us to see the beginning of true world regeneration." Presea confirmed with a simple nod, her eyes watching as Kratos blinked, looking at Regal with strange confusion before back to her with an expression akin to gratitude. "It is the least we can do for your help beforehand."
Genis coughed to get the injured angel's attention, glancing to see Lloyd's taut expression. Though he had heard positive words from four of his companion's, it would only take one for it all to fall apart. The young mage looked straight at Kratos, eyes hard and cold, "I can't say that I'm not happy with that idea, because I really don't think you should come with us... But... That's because I still haven't forgiven you. I don't have to like you to agree with what everybody else is saying, you should come."
"Me too, I want you to come and see the world regeneration, the real one!" Colette chirped up next, a brilliant smile lighting up her face as Kratos looked at her with that same indifference he spared for everyone else. Not deterred by that, she clasped her hands in front of her and closed her eyes, continuing in a much more subdued voice, "When I felt Martel inside of me... She thought of you too. She feels sad for what you have went through, she wants you to live a happy life, wants you to receive forgiveness because she knows you're a truly kind person. I see that too, with her help. " Her eyes opened and she said fiercely, "You ought to come with us Kratos!"
"Yeah." Sheena agreed with a bit of a nod, capturing Kratos' attention with her voice. Smiling somewhat awkwardly, she glanced from the agreeing faces of her comrades, then to the shyly annoyed one of her lover before she turned her gaze back to the waiting angel. Gesturing to the glade that the battle had taken place in, she continued softly, "Lloyd was right, you can die at any time but once you do, that's the end. Live your life now. Come with us to the Tower."
"I see..." Kratos mused aloud, turning his gaze to each of the comrades who had once fought him and now stood before him, hands open in invitation. Their reasoning differed, but the meaning was the same in their words. He looked to his son, who was avoiding his gaze, his eyes only for the summoner who stood patiently at his side, her fingers brushing his. He knew that warm look she sent him, the gentle way her lips quirked when his son looked at her, he had experienced that only a few short years beforehand. 'And so... It all starts anew, but for my son. He has found his Anna in her, and so he has found a new reason to live, to fight...' He didn't smile, though he ached to, and when Lloyd raised his face to look at him, he spoke quietly, "I shall accompany you to the Tower of Salvation then. I wish to see the true regeneration of our worlds, to see Tethe'alla and Sylvarant finally become whole again."
"Then we'll be heading to Sylvarant then right?" Genis questioned, turning to Lloyd who nodded once. Grinning, he stepped towards his friend, hand outstretched to give the twin swordsman a friendly knock to the shoulder. In that one moment, his body suddenly turned to ice, and from his pocket, he knew where the cold was coming from. A strangled gasp escaped his throat as his body shook, and from his pocket the Cruxis Crystal erupted with what could have been a scream. "Ahh!"
"Oh my g–"
Above the clamouring of his friends, Lloyd watched in alarm as the red object his friend had saved sped towards him, easily dodging around Kratos' body and throwing itself at his chest. He reacted instinctively, showing Sheena away from him as the Cruxis Crystal attached itself to the bare skin of his throat, sinking against him as Mithos' voice echoed in his ears.
"There's no time! I'll take your body!"
Time crawled to a halt then, the voices of his friends became distorted and distant, lost in an oddly dark haze that clouded his vision. Images and sound poured directly into his brain, things he wasn't familiar with that overloaded his senses. He saw through eyes that weren't his as a bloodied and bruised hand reached into the muddy river, catching a mouthful of the dirty liquid, pouring it down his parched throat even though the taste was foul. He saw hateful eyes of both humans and elves glare at him, felt the pain of a thousand rejections and cruel words rip through his body all at once. He heard harsh words pounding into his ears, screaming obscenities and curses too foul to ever repeat aloud, each one hipping pain through his heart.
Then the horrid picture changed just as suddenly as it had invaded him, the pain was still there, a dark shadow that couldn't be evaded, but there was now light. He saw the back of a woman that looked surprisingly familiar, a warm hand caressing his cheek and a soft voice singing a lullaby in a language he didn't understand. The feeling that voice incurred was one he knew well, it was love, and he whispered the name of the woman he saw in the mind that wasn't his, nor was it Mithos' in that moment as they became one.
The picture changed, he saw Martel's hands outstretched in front of him, her body a shield from the painful words and actions of the two radically different groups. Two other figures appeared, another half-elf he knew and then a human, so different than the ones he had run and hidden from. He felt pride, pride and happiness eclipse the pain and the resentment, giving him an adrenalin filled rush of optimism. There was glory, and there was pleasure for the first time in the images, so violent that for a moment, he could see no pain, no darkness.
That was over as quickly as it had come, the pain had returned and he knew this anguish as well. He was on his knees in the dirt, cradling a lifeless body in his thin arms as tears flowed down his face. She was staring up at him, her eyes warm and gentle, raising her hand to brush bloodied fingers against his face as she whispered a soft apology. Her hand fell to the dirt, kind eyes closing forever as she relaxed, finally gone from his grasp, gone from him forever.
Then Martel was gone, and he saw something entirely different in his mind. He had once again taken Mithos' place, he was on the ground cradling a different body to his chest, weeping silently as he buried his face in her chest, willing her heart to beat even though it had long since ceased. The agony was on par with what he felt from Mithos even though the image had changed, even though the woman in his arms was not a sister.
He groaned as the shift of images brought him back to reality, only a tense two seconds had passed, though he felt as though he had relived each and every one of those four thousand years of life. He was still holding his hand to his neck, grabbing at the crystal that Mithos had survived in, mouth moving to exclaim a denial. "N-No!"
Mithos' hold on him was absolute, he had taken those two seconds to overwhelm the swordsman and plant his consciousness inside of Lloyd's body, fusing his mana into everything as he merged with him. His vision blurred for a moment, his entire body burning as Mithos' hot mana battled with his own, warring for dominance inside of his body. He was confused by the pain, it seemed as though every cell was rejecting the mana of the half-elf, trying in vain to flee the heat though it had nowhere to go. "No!"
"Lloyd!" Sheena gasped, watching as he tore his body around, giving them his back as he doubled over, clawing at the Cruxis Crystal on his throat. Genis looked stunned, he hadn't gotten up from where he'd fallen, eyes wide and full of horror as he stared at the back of his best friend, who kept twitching and groaning in pain. Her feet moved instinctively towards him, only to caught by Kratos' restraining hand on her forearm. "Wh–"
"Wait, Mithos survived in the Cruxis Crystal, it's impossible to know what would happen if you separated the crystal from Lloyd's body!" Kratos warned her fiercely, his eyes glittering with anger and fear as he stared back into her equally frightened face. His hand tight around her arm, he held her back from his twitching son, hissing under his breath, "Mithos could very well kill him or possess you if you try to remove the crystal!"
She heard his warning without really hearing it, her mind had already made its decision against the odds. She could see the pain rippling through his body, heard his anguished moan as he nearly fell over from the force of whatever it was that was hurting him. His pain had become her pain, and after watching fearfully as he put his life up against Kratos' sword, she wouldn't stand down a second time to leave him to his own devices. 'I love him way too damn much to let anyone try to take him from me twice.'
Kratos' hand was painfully tight on her arm, but she used his distraction with Lloyd to pull out an Acalantha from her sleeve. Focussing her mana into the seal, she grunted the name of her curse under her breath, slamming it with all her might into the angel's chest. His hand loosened on her arm as he let out a gasp of shock, and it was all she needed to jerk away from him. She heard the cries of alarm as she darted towards her lover, but she pushed it to the back of her mind as she threw her arms around Lloyd's shoulders and buried her face in his neck.
She felt it in his hands, glowing an angry red and radiating a violent heat that made her recoil almost instinctively. She pushed his aside, grasping at the crystal with all the strength she had. He cried out, whether it was in denial or alarm, she didn't know as she snagged it from his hands and held it in her own. She smiled then, overwhelmed by the relief that softened the rush of adrenalin, letting her know that at least he was out of harm's way now. She murmured against his ear, eyes closed and voice soft, "I'm sorry Lloyd... I love you."
He was turning, she felt his muscles tightening as her words struck him, weighing him down with the gravity of what she had just done. She could feel the heat in her palms spreading up her arms, and she knew she only had a few more moments of control. Releasing him, she jumped back and grit her teeth, holding the crystal to her chest as she lashed out to kick him in the back, sending him sprawling onto the ground. 'I've got a few seconds...' She held it to her heart, gritting her teeth as the pain began, rushing through her body and blurring the lines of sanity in her mind.
Lloyd looked up, bruised and shaking, into the eyes of the one comrade he knew better than any in his party. She was clutching Mithos' Cruxis Crystal to her heart, a saddened smile on her face as she realized he was staring at her. She wasn't moving, but he saw the pain in her eyes, the agony he too had felt just seconds before when Mithos had taken over his body. He cried out angrily, knowing it was too late for him to try and retrieve the crystal, she'd downed him for that reason and that reason only. "No! Sheena, don't!"
"I'm sorry." She whispered again, feeling the sting of tears in the corners of her eyes. Unlike Lloyd, she didn't fight the strange sensation of the possession, she welcomed the icy feeling and allowed Mithos' mana to sink into her blood and control her. Somehow though, she managed to retain control of her gaze, staring into the anguished eyes of her soulmate, still smiling sadly at him. 'At least it's me. Better me than you, Lloyd... Better me than you... I'm so sorry.'
"I meant that it doesn't feel right when you're away from me."
"You're my soulmate, Lloyd."
"I want to love you, Sheena."
"You know you're a hero no matter what you're wearing."
"I love you."
... (runs away screaming) ... (returns after a good ten minute fit) I'm okay now, lol. (Prepared to bolt into my bomb shelter anyway) Eheh, there was no other way to end it in my eyes, lol, it was the only thing that worked. That's my one and only excuse, seriously, lol. XD Don't hurt me...? Please?
Sychotic: Lmao, well I hope you're pleased with this review reply, in this lousy chapter too. XD It's all I can give you, seriously. Hehe, look for your name in the list below, it ought to be there. Yay, I have a reader for A New World, that makes me happy, XD It'll bomb, just to warn you ahead of time.
Maurice A Nigma: Yes, I have finally ended the story, and on a cliffhanger(ish) to boot. Do you hate me? Lol, because I don't blame you if you do. It would make sense for copping out, lmao. But yeah, que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. It's how I live my writing life anyway. Jealousy took on a life of its own and that was how it was going to play out. I had no control, lol. That's always amused me in my years of writing, I may be an author but in the end, I have absolutely no control whatsoever over my stories. They do whatever the hell they please. Look for your name in the list, lol
$tarfox05: Lol, I know what you mean, and I am very sorry if this chapter didn't deliver your expectations, really. I hope to hear more from you in the future though, if you'll keep reading, I'll keep writing!
Eternal Brave Soul: XD I didn't wrap up hell, lol. That's the point however, I wasn't supposed to wrap it up because there was still more left to be delivered. On that note (scowl) watch how many people demand for a sequel. My inner fan is already screaming in denial as I write this down, lol. (Sigh) C'est la vie apparently. Well anyway, thanks for all your help and look for your name in the list below, lmao!
I want to thank a few people before I "end" the story officially, because it makes me feel better to put credit where it's due. XD So... Big thanks to my friend Dmitri for giving me the courage to even begin Jealousy and aiding me through the entire process, and thanks likewise to both Sychotic, Swordude, and Maurice for the constructive aid and the complimentary reviews, I was really egged on by your kind words, and it meant a lot to me! Also a big thanks to Lloyd Irving Aurion, I was so honoured to have you reviewing my story, you have no idea how happy that made me, lol thank you! Big thanks also to any who favourited me or this story in the process, that was a really nice thing to open my mail up to in the morning, lol, really. Special thanks also to Rayokarna, without you, I doubt I'd have gotten this far. Thanks a million Ben, I'm glad to have you.
Also... Before anyone starts hounding me with "MAKE A SEQUEL", if I'm going to write one at all, it will be on my own time, at my own pace, and whenever I can do it. Please don't rush me in the writing process, especially with school coming up, it only makes it harder for me to write overall. Pressure is very unneeded right now.
Once again, a big thanks to any and all of my readers/reviewers, your feedback and support means the world to me! Thank you all! Look out for A New World, coming to a fanfiction website near you lmao. (Always wanted to say that...) Check my profile for weekly updates and an announcement on the release!
This has been,