Homecoming

Note for the online edition:

My best friend has long been a "Tales of Symphonia" addict and filled me in on the major elements of the story, but it was only recently I actually got to play the game myself. I was pretty enamored with Kratos and said, "Wow! This is a really neat character, I wonder what they're going to do with him! If this were my story, here's what I would do…" And then I found out what actually happened. And I was a little pissed off.

This story is a response to that: I wanted to strike Kratos' emo bull from his character because it is completely unnecessary and is utterly degrading. This is also somewhat AU as I also didn't necessarily buy he was playing happy families with Lloyd before Anna's death. Most importantly, I wanted to explore what makes him sympathetic without resorting to softening him up. Fate has not dealt with him fairly but Kratos has chosen to become, in a core way, a somewhat nasty character, and I wanted to keep both these elements – the sympathy and the wrongdoing. I feel I succeeded. This, then, is my take on all of that.

Excluding the ending in Heimdall, I try not to have this occur in any specified time or place in order to keep out of the story's way as much as possible. Mine is not to rip it apart, mine is to adjust it into a more rounded, believable narrative as much as is possible.

This went through extensive editing and I would be far too happy to hear your thoughts and critiques for it.

Anna was water to a man dying of thirst. Four thousand years of artificial life, artificial company – and she was real. Yggdrasill was fine with that, that is how he wanted the whole world to be, the Age of Lifeless Beings. But Kratos was not. That was what had brought him to earth, he was choosing a different path, one he had planned on forging alone.

But oh, Anna…

She was everything beautiful; a mortal, human woman with chestnut hair and those dark eyes. He'd forgotten how to feel when he became an angel, he'd forgotten what this sort of life was like…

And Anna reminded him. When she reached out and touched his glove, or slid so delicately next to his chest and leaned against him in that way no woman ever had before her, not in four thousand years; when she pet his hair in bed at night and whispered, "Kratos, I love you," in his ear (and that was the best, for he'd forgotten how a shiver down the spine felt, too); she reminded him even when she suddenly gripped his arm or put his hand against her skin and whispered, "It hurts today." Those moments were sometimes even more poignant, for then he had an emotion he had long ago forgotten – fear.

And in these moments, the War God held his own, mortal wife close, clutched her to him so that it was almost painful and promised, "We'll find someone to make you a key crest, Anna, I swear it. I won't let you go."

And those years were wonderful, the best of the four thousand he had experienced, the most vibrant. He had finally thought, "Maybe Mithos was wrong. Maybe there is another way of doing things." It had originally been a startling thought, that Mithos could be wrong. When he had led them through the Kharlan War at his young age, the thought of him actually making a mistake did not seem practical. Or maybe it was less that and more that no one wanted to think that perhaps he had. But after four thousand years, Kratos felt capable of changing his mind, of thinking that maybe there was a way for the worlds to live together as they once had.

And Anna – his joy – thought so, and it must be true. And she told him he could do it, a hero of the Kharlan War could do it. That, surely, had not changed, he felt no different now than he ever had been. He was as strong, as sure, as keen of mind – perhaps even more than he had been as a mortal man. Those years of endless research and rescue and trying to keep Anna out of harm's way had been the best of his long life, and he felt like a hero again.

"You can be a hero without Mithos," she told him, kissing his face as he adored her and held her near to him. "You are a hero in your own right, after everything you've done. You will find a way to set things right." Yes, he would, for after all, he had taught that child everything, he had made him into that hero. Was there anything born in Mithos that made him better? If there had been, it had burned up in his brain boiling with insanity. And if there had not been anything innate that made Mithos special, surely there must be something in Kratos.

Was he…better than Mithos? If he were not, would he have bothered coming back, bothered to leave Cruxis at all? If he were not, could he have taught him everything? He must be the superior of the two, or why take up a mantel he could not carry? He knew he was capable, he knew, and in that Dawning of the New World, when Mithos' outdated legend burned away like mist in sunlight, he would be left standing as Kratos the Hero of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla. What Mithos had done, what he had been, was unquestionably grand. But now Kratos must do and be something grander.

But then something happened. Something that would have, to most anyone else, been a blessing, a good omen on his venture to save the world, but to Kratos was an unwelcomed burden. Anna was with child.

"Be happy for me, Kratos!" she begged him, crying (because that stupid baby growing like a parasite, like the Exsphere, made her cry) after yet another fight. And they had never fought before. "Be happy for us! This is your child, this is your legacy!"

He turned away as she clutched at his coat and cried some more. "I don't need a crying, drooling infant to be a legacy for me. I can be my own."

These were the moments she usually didn't know what to say and sputtered out, "But it is our family, don't you care? Don't you care, Kratos? When the world is united, we will have something."

He would bend by this point, for Anna crying killed him, he died in ways he had not felt since he had been mortal. He would sit her on the inn chair, kneel before her and kiss her hands and pet her silky, chocolate hair. "Anna," he would whisper, begging with his red eyes, "Anna, I am here, we do have something. We have each other, isn't that enough, am I not enough?"

"You know that you are, that isn't what I am saying," she would attempt and fail to explain. Her delicate little hand would press against his cheek and he would lean into the touch and wish so hard he could make her happy, that this baby had never come between them, as it surely would; her stomach would grow and he would not be able to hold her close like he could before. "Loving this child as much as I do does not mean I love you any less! If anything, I love you even more than I did before."

But Kratos did not understand, he couldn't. It simply did not meet with how he had seen the world, and after four thousand years of doing things only one way, it was difficult to change tracks now.

The baby was born. A son, Anna named him Lloyd. She had hoped that it being a son would warm Kratos to the idea, that the idea of an heir, someone he could raise and train to help him in his quest to restore the worlds, would bring him pleasure. But things did not change. Kratos had not even wanted to hold him except for Anna's insisting. After all the labor she had done to deliver him into this dual world, she needed him to at least hold the child while she rested.

Kratos did, reluctantly. At first the baby cried and he tried to give him back, but Anna served him with such a look that he was forced to keep him. He let him suck upon the ring on his hand and that hushed him into sleeping, and it gave Kratos a moment of study. When Anna awoke from her much needed rest, he immediately handed the child back and said, "He looks like you." Briefly, he sounded disappointed.

"No!" she protested, eyes glowing as she pulled her waking infant to her breast and began to feed him. Kratos looked slightly shocked and angled a bit away. "He has all of you about him! Just look at those cheek bones." She laughed so happily, more happy than he'd ever seen her, as she touched the tiny hand that rested against her bosom. "And those strong hands, he is a man just like his father."

"He has your eyes…" he grumbled.

"Mmm…" she sighed, kissing the peach fuzz of his head. "His hair is a little red though. Or reddish brown, I'm not sure."

"It will most likely come in brown."

"Aren't you excited?" she asked, glowing as if she were the angel. Kratos just looked at her. "To find out how he will grow and what he will look like and do? The things he'll be good at? His first steps, his first words! Aren't you excited, Kratos?"

He tried to be. He said he was, simply because Anna was so, so happy to have this child. But with another life to protect, the hunt for the means to reunite Sylvarant and Tethe'alla became even more difficult. Anna was more cautious now, a little weaker from being fed upon by an Exsphere and their child. Kratos did not approve.

"He is not safe with us anyway, let us find a place to put him – someone who can raise him – and we will return to raise him when the worlds are reunited." Kratos tried to persuade her. They fought more after Lloyd was born as well, and that pain he was experiencing was increasing. It was not supposed to be like this.

"No, Kratos," was her only response, looking at him with dark eyes that had lost their spark, become tired and tarnished. "We are not leaving Lloyd anywhere."

"Anna-"

"Who would you give him to? Yuan? Who would raise him? Who is to say when we will return from this journey, if we will return at all?" Lloyd began to cry, she hushed him, showered him with the affection Kratos now felt denied. He clenched his jaw and his fists and counted slowly in his mind. "Hush, Lloyd, hush, my little one," she whispered, singing him a lullaby until he quieted.

"Anna," Kratos tried again.

"This," she told him, taking Lloyd to him, "he is what matters." Kratos looked from his woman to his child and did not say a word, did not respond to the pleading in her eyes. "What will it mean to have the world with no child to bequeath it to? What will it have gained us?"

"There are other people, Anna, with other children. They may have the world."

She shook her head. "That would be fine if Lloyd were not here. But he is, and we are responsible for him. We cannot toss him to the side. We must do everything we can to give him the best in life."

"I am trying," he told her.

"Don't try so hard," she begged him, handing him the child, "with all the grandest things in the world. Try with Lloyd, he is small, start with little steps. It will grow." And Kratos held his son and looked down at him, sheltered in his arms – but nothing changed. He did not feel the lively glow Anna did, he did not catch the excitement. He didn't know why.

And it never changed. Perhaps he had not tried hard enough, but after three years – and still no answer to reuniting the world, slowed down as he was – his feelings remained as they had always been. Little Lloyd was a toddler now, he was eager to pick up a sword and learn from his father. He idolized the man. He was never so happy as when Daddy was home, and when his beautiful blue wings were out, all Lloyd wanted was to touch them.

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" he repeated over and over and over until Kratos thought he would be driven mad.

Not Anna, though. She never lost patience with all of Lloyds questions and whining and crying for his comforts. Noishe was patient, too, followed the little boy like a navigating star. "Kratos," Anna would gently try to direct, "play with him, he's your child."

"I am busy," he would try to insist with clenched teeth, wings slowly waving back and forth while Lloyd jumped to touch them, all the while with his chorus of, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"

"Kratos." Her brow would crease. "You never spend time with Lloyd, he is-"

"Alright," he'd grumble, picking him up while the boy squealed with glee. "Alright, just while I am looking over the records."

Her face would relax, she'd look like her old self again. "Thank you."

So Lloyd could sit on his lap – too small to even see over the table – while Kratos poured over his manuscripts and ancient writings, searching for any clue. "Daddy," Lloyd said.

"I told you, Lloyd," Kratos muttered, "you only get to sit with Daddy if you're quiet."

"Oh, okay," he whispered, but a few minutes later would add. "Daddy."

A groan. "What…"

"When I'm growed up, I'mma – I'mma be a sword person like you!"

Very briefly, Kratos looked down at the life in his lap, the thing he'd helped create; saw Lloyd's large, brown eyes, his dopey, child's grin, the spiky hair that was clearly his father's. His eyes returned to his work with nary a thought. "Oh, really."

"Uh huh! And I'mma have a big sword like you and get all the bad guys!"

"I'm sure you will."

Lloyd held onto his chest as tight as he could, squeezed his eyes as he adored his father and gave a prayer to Martel he could not understand – that he wished his father might love him. "I wanna be like you!" he begged, little voice getting hoarse. Kratos did not have the time to stop and listen. "Cause you're the bestest an' the strongest! I wanna be just like you, Daddy! An' have wings an' fly"

"Anna," Kratos called, "will you please come get Lloyd?"

She entered his retreat, cocking her lovely head. "Five more minutes, Kratos? He wants to be with you, and I am tired."

"I can't work," he growled through gritted teeth, brow creasing, "if he is bothering me all the time."

"No, no," Lloyd protested, gripping his father's sleeve with all his might. "I'll be good an' quiet, I will! I wanna stay with Daddy!"

"Kratos, please," Anna asked, wringing her hands.

"Anna…"

She relented, crossing to her baby and scooping him up. "Come along, little one," she cooed, "you can help Mommy with dinner."

"I want to stay with Daddy…" he begged, without the heart to cry because every time he had, it had never worked on his father.

"Tomorrow night, pumpkin," she smiled and pressed his nose. "I am sure, he'll promise." Kratos did not pick up the hint and swear.

It was always tomorrow night for Lloyd. The best nights were ones where he couldn't sleep and Mommy made Daddy let Lloyd sleep in their bed. That was the best; so warm and soft and safer than anyplace else on earth. His mother's soft skin next to him and the light, spicy odor of his father. But these nights were few and far between, for most often the weary Kratos – future hero – would crawl into bed with Anna and slide himself over her, caressing her still wonderful body.

She'd let him, but she always tried to say, "Kratos, Lloyd-"

"Not now, Anna," he begged her. "Of all the times, not now." She was wise enough to know not to bring it up after making love, either, for of all the times there were, none seemed set aside for their child. Perhaps it never would be.

This became assured when the Exsphere was forcibly removed from Anna. When she…changed.

"Anna, no!"

And it was in this moment, when this vile, indescribably…thing lurched towards their child that Kratos wanted to do something right, wanted to save Lloyd like he should. But, Anna…he couldn't…

And it was not Kratos Aurion who stopped the former woman and saved their child and honored who she truly was, it was not the so-soon-to-be hero. It was another monster, it was Noishe who saved Lloyd.

And for the first time in so long, in perhaps four thousand years…Kratos felt shame.

So briefly, she was herself again. He felt her radiant soul reaching out to him and everything in his body tensed up; his throat, his eyes, as though he might…cry…

No. He didn't want to remember her like this. He didn't want it to end this way. He was Kratos Aurion, he had been and would be a hero, he was going to save the world and Anna…and Anna had to be there with him, or he couldn't do it. Without her, he was not so strong as he thought, he was not cut out to be a hero.

"Kra…tos…" she was begging him and he gripped his sword and clenched his teeth and by the Great Kharlan Tree he would not cry and he would not let her go. "Please…kill…m-"

"Anna, no," he told her, whole body shaking as he knelt by her. "I won't – I can't, I- You're going to live, Anna."

"It will come back…it will come back, and I won't be able to stop it. And…Lloyd…"

Lloyd. Kratos had not even thought it, his eyes grew wide and he suddenly heard Lloyd's screaming in the background and Noishe's whimpering and howling.

Lloyd…Was he alright? Was he-? He pivoted to see, see if he'd been wounded, if he needed to cast first aid-

But there was Anna screaming again, very shrill and frantic, "Kratos, please!" And she rose up, rose up as a shapeless, soulless monster. Went for their child again – their child, her child! – and Krantos plunged his weapon inside of her. He almost didn't want to hear her last whispering words of, "Thank…you…" didn't want to have to think of it as…the end. His eyes were almost shut, his sweating palms slipped around the hilt of the blade and he tried so damn hard not to allow himself to cry.

Her human form returned. He knelt by it and wept like a man finally broken, which he was; on his hands and knees he wept while Noishe curled around Lloyd and made him sleep. Kratos did not know how long he was like that, he did not even care. He wiped the blade clean, cradled Anna's Exsphere in his palm – the last of her – and tended his wounds, but otherwise did nothing. Did nothing until that rumbling dwarf came lumbering out of the woods and came upon his carnage.

"By the Goddess Martel…" he heard the gasp, and Kratos rose and turned to face him. He had not planned on what he would do, he had not planned to unfurl his wings so that in the night Dirk was especially intimidated. He had not a thought in his head, but simply let himself perform the actions.

"I am a servant of the Goddess Martel," he said in his most impressive manner, and Dirk did not say a word. The angel took a few steps forward, brushed aside Noishe's bushy tail and picked up the sleeping Lloyd. He curled the Exsphere around Lloyd's tiny palm – he could not hold on to Anna himself. Another few steps forward and he dropped him into Dirk's strong arms. "This child's mother has been murdered for her Exsphere. Her name is Anna and his is Lloyd. Do not forget, and raise him as your own."

That was it. That was what he was doing. It was not because he did not love Lloyd – at least, he did not believe that to be the reason – but because he knew he could not raise a child alone. He could not constantly be protecting something that could not defend itself; he could not always have something to worry over when there were bigger things to do. That was his reasoning, that he simply couldn't raise this child without Anna. Whether it was true or not, he never really considered.

"By Martel, I swear I will," was the gruff and quiet reply. Kratos looked once at Lloyd, could not bring himself to look again on ruined Anna, and began to let himself float away. Dirk had not stayed to look but was carrying off his new child into the night, to his home.

When he was gone, the fallen warrior whispered, "Come along, Noishe." But the beast paced back and forth and in circles, whining and whimpering desperately. Kratos let out a, "feh," saying, "Fine, if that's what you want, go with him. Go on." And – Noishe did, he didn't even look back, giving a single bark and bounding after the boy.

And in the darkness of the night, Kratos was alone again.

He had thought so much better of himself. He had thought that, having been able to accomplish so much before, having been that hero of the Kharlan War…

Was he? Had he ever been that hero? Once, yes. But Mithos was the one that lived on in legend, and if that was the case, what was the point of being a hero from four thousand years in the past? Had he done anything since then? Had he accomplished anything? He had not saved his wife, he had not reunited the worlds, his family was now dissolved…

Kratos returned to Cruxis. What else was there? Perhaps Mithos' Lifeless Beings had more meaning than the pain of having felt only to have the cause taken away. He was Kratos the Hero no more, never even having been, and these last few years – the best – were nothing more than a playful game, a whimsy of pretending. All that work for the reunion of the worlds, of protecting Anna – what had it been for? Resurrecting Martel, at least that was tangible, it may one day be accomplished. What he had tried? Mere fantasy and folly. Kratos was done with rebelling, if Yggdrasil was magnanimous enough to take him back.

And Lloyd? Well, he was young, he would forget. And Kratos would forget, too.

~*~*~

He didn't really feel anything when he rediscovered Lloyd. There was no thrill, no sense of wonder. The most that could be said was that there was mild surprise.

Oh yes, he remembered. Yes, it was around here where it happened.

He was not excited to rediscover his kin. Instead he turned upon Lloyd a customarily critical eye: let him know just how bad his handling of a sword was, directed him along with Professor Sage in little life lessons, quizzed him on facts and figures he simply didn't know.

It was not exciting. The only feelings he had were from kneeling before Anna's grave, feeling the great well of emotion stir within him. Yet it was more deadened now, not so strong, quite bearable. And looking at Lloyd – even seeing in him Anna's eyes and hair and carefree foolishness – did not make him feel anything.

And that is the way he thought it would stay throughout this journey of World Regeneration. He had not even thought to see him so much, except the pathetic child needed saving in Triet. There was nothing special about Lloyd. Being the descendent of a Seraph of Cruxis, a hero of the Kharlan War, neither of these things aided him in any way. His swordsmanship was shoddy, his mind for study non-existent, he couldn't even remain focused and excited on anything for more than a short period of time. There was nothing to be proud of, no reason to claim him as his son. But that was alright. He saved Lloyd time and time again only because it was necessary, and the tepid Chosen would never have blubbered the end of it had he been left behind or seriously injured.

This journey was a waste of his time and skill. He wanted it to be paid off and over with. He did not carry any memories of Lloyd's infanthood, he did not take any particular delight in seeing him grown, nearly to a man. Besides, he was not a man, he was still a distracted boy, not even good for very much since he thought to leave all the work to little Colette. No, this was not a son he wished to have, now, previously or ever.

But what he had not expected – had never expected – was that things could change, that Lloyd could grow. He had never expected anything to change between he and Anna, but it had in the embodiment of this boy. Perhaps that was what Lloyd was made of, a physical form of change. Because somehow, he did. Subtly, at first. His skills with his swords began to improve – slowly. He picked up better weapons and was no longer so clumsy with them. And Kratos began to notice that Lloyd was watching him when he fought – as if he knew, as if we were still that crying toddler – was studying what he did.

And at the campfire one evening, that foolish boy who could not see Colette growing sick approached him. Kratos was sitting cross-legged, tending his weapons, and Lloyd stood over him for a moment before finally asking, "Hey? Kratos?" He turned his head up, briefly eyeing Lloyd – still bothering him at work – and did not say a word. "Would you…help me with something?"

Kratos still did not say anything for a moment, at last moving his bag and whispering, "You may sit down."

Eagerly, this eighteen year-old did, mother's eyes bright. "It's just I-" Lloyd began. "Well, when I try to do Fierce Demon Fang…it seems to keep coming out wrong."

"You're not putting enough of your power forward when you strike," he muttered, continuing to clean his sword without looking at Lloyd. "That's why."

"No, I know I am, I watched and I did it just like you-" Lloyd stopped, a foreign blush rising onto his cheeks, and he hastily looked away. Kratos blinked, still looking at the weapon he was cleaning, but not actually moving. With no one saying anything, Lloyd tried to rise and say, "Well, it's late, I guess I better-"

Kratos had stopped him, rising and with a hand on his shoulder. "Watch," he instructed, effortlessly executing the attack on a log piled for the firewood. Lloyd was breathless. "You do it," Kratos said, and Lloyd had to shake himself from his awe to try and repeat what he had seen. It was not nearly so successful. "No," said the swordsman, taking the boy's arm and directing him himself. "It is not all about thrusting downward, but forward as well. Like this." They did it together, for the first time in their lives, and Lloyd's brown eyes seemed to glow, to catch the light of the fire.

Kratos was…briefly startled. That was all. He tugged on his tunic, released the boy, regained his balance.

"Wow," Lloyd gasped. "How did you learn all that?"

"Years of study," Kratos said, trying to bring the conversation to an end. He planned on sitting back down again and resuming his task, but Lloyd would not let him, filled with all the questions he ever had been.

"Do you know even better moves? Will you teach me?" Kratos looked at him from the corners of his red eyes. This was all…unexpected. He had thought to have Lloyd at bay, not have him hounding him again, not have Noishe curling up in between them like fifteen years hadn't gone by. At last Kratos got to sit down, but Lloyd sat, too, scratching the ears of the great, hairy beast. "Would you, Kratos?" he asked. "I'd be able to protect Colette better then, don't you think?"

"Hm," he whispered. "You did not seem so concerned with that before."

Lloyd blinked, not understanding. "What?"

"Nevermind. Perhaps if you do not completely wear yourself out with needless excitement we can cover a few rules of swordsmanship at our evening camps."

"Alright!" Lloyd cried, a fist in the air.

"Of course, your duties to Professor Sage come first."

The hand dropped. "Aw, man…"

And from that time, Lloyd's skill improved drastically. He followed Kratos around like he were still that awful toddler, looking for his approval, admiring his work. "Kratos," he asked him on their long walks to new seals, "where did you get your sword?"

"I have had this for a long time, it is an old relic."

"It's still in good condition, though." Lloyd withdrew one of his inferior weapons and sighed. "It's way better than this. Can I get a sword like yours?"

"Finer ones do exist, yes."

"And you'll show me how to use it, right?"

Kratos looked at him. "You presume I shall be around for quite some time."

"Well," Lloyd shrugged. "It seems like this whole World Regeneration thing is going to take a little time, right? And you have to help us get Colette back home to Iselia. So there's lots of time!"

"Hm," was all he said.

But Lloyd was not the only one changing, Kratos realized this. A single wheel in his own mind had come unstuck and begun to turn as well. Young Lloyd Irving was not so hopeless as he had first appeared; despite his complete idiocy, he had moments of great clarity and poignancy. And his skill with a sword was undeniably drastically better.

"Hey, Kratos!" Lloyd one day bothered him on the road to Palmacosta. For a while, he just ignored him, so that Lloyd figured the best means of getting his attention would be repetition. "Kratos? Kratos. Kratos!"

Great Kharlan Tree, he could almost hear, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" all over again. He felt a twinge, reminded of Anna. It wasn't helpful to have Lloyd pop in front of him, looking as much as he did like her, and cry, "Kratos!"

"What is it?" he finally snapped, pushing him down by the shoulders so he wasn't in his face.

"Look at this new move I figured out!" Without much grace, but still with some effectiveness, Lloyd executed the Rising Falcon. Kratos did not betray any emotion, or even any sign of having watched. Early family memories came flooding back inexplicably and unpleasantly. Lloyd leaned over, his hands on his knees, panting heavily. "Did you…see?" he gasped out. He had, but Kratos did not say so. "Kratos!"

"What?"

"You didn't watch!"

"Lloyd," Raine scolded, "you're falling behind, come along."

"Kratos!" Lloyd protested again.

"Professor Sage just told you to hurry up," was his only response.

That is, until Lloyd grew a crafty smile and cried, "Fierce Demon Fang!" And executed it – right next to Kratos.

The Cruxis angel had reflexes fast enough to turn and block – not that it had mattered, Lloyd wasn't seriously aiming at him. Nonetheless, the boy was laughing playfully at the shocked look on the swordsman's face, saying, "I got better, huh? Right?"

Kratos slowly released the tense clenching of his jaw, relaxed his face, put down his sword from its defensive position. "You have," he admitted.

"Lloyd!" Raine scolded. "That was very foolish."

"It's okay, Kratos didn't mind!"

"It's alright," he agreed, running a hand through his hair as the tension slowly left his body.

"Will you teach me more, Kratos, please?" he begged, still the child that had sat upon his lap. "I promise I won't use the moves on you again."

"We will see what happens," was all he said.

Lloyd was…more powerful than he had expected.

He stayed up late with Raine sometimes – the only woman on this journey of children – enjoying adult, intelligent…worldly company. She brushed her hair in front of the fire, and Kratos just thought. Perhaps it was because he was young and had yet to lose his enthusiasm for new sword techniques, but Lloyd was improving far more rapidly than Kratos would have suspected. He was still an idiot, yes, but at least he could learn.

And if Kratos were the one teaching him…

Well, why not? They were a father and son, it stood to reason that eventually they must join forces. And Lloyd was still young enough to be easily impressionable. It would not take much, he was sure, to make him see Lord Yggdrasil's point of view, and whatever came after that, at least the worlds would be whole again. And that had been the point, hadn't it? Of coming back down to earth in the first place, to reunite Sylvarant and Tethe'alla? Lloyd was just stupidly optimistic enough, just strong enough, that he might be able to help him do it.

In the firelight, the corner of his mouth curled up in a smile. Raine thought this a signal to lean against his arm and she said something he didn't hear. He gave some all-purpose answer, and let himself lean back to rest and let his mind work.

When Kratos accepted Lloyd as his pupil – the way he had once accepted Mithos – the boy had been excited, though who knew how long that would last. Everyone else agreed it would be good for Lloyd to hone his skills as well. The idea of turning him had been a pet project at first, a test to see if he could do it. But it seemed to become so plausible that…

Practices continued more and more frequently. "Block – good. Back – good. Behind?"

"What?"

Kratos had moved around and tripped Lloyd over his own feet from behind. The boy found himself sprawled in the dirt while his mentor rested his sword above him. "You're not light on your feet yet."

"That was cheap!" Lloyd coughed, struggling to move again. Kratos did not lend him a hand.

"You'll find that most moves are. I take it you wish to stop." He had sheathed his weapon and turned to go when Lloyd swept his own foot beneath him. Kratos, of course, could more easily regain his balance, but he turned to face Lloyd, who was weakly crawling up again.

"You take wrong," he coughed again.

"Lloyd…" Genis sighed. "That's not how you would construct that sentence…"

But Kratos didn't care, he smirked and removed his sword once more. If the boy had this much spunk, his nagging little idea became more worthwhile.

He devoted more time to Lloyd and his idiotic questions – which seemed to grow just slightly less idiotic each day – not just at night, but now during the day, as they walked, as well. Lloyd was initially perceptive, but when it meant Kratos harped on him twice as much, his enthusiasm seemed to burn out and fizzle slightly.

However, the angel of Cruxis was not going to be deterred by Lloyd's inability to focus on anything for more than five minutes, and this was the point of order he now began to focus on most strongly. The training became less fun for Lloyd, but he listened all the same for a simple reason: while he may not like Kratos, he could not help but admire him in some way; his worldly attitude, his skill with his weapon demanded Lloyd's respect.

And Kratos was growing ever more hopeful as Lloyd improved, the desire to take him in growing stronger. He did not express approval so much as reluctant satisfaction with his pupil, but events were moving in the right direction. For Lloyd was so much like Mithos had been that it seemed he had had the right idea, that bringing the boy to him really had been the cleverest solution; all that optimism and strength and all so impressionable and able to be molded. It was perfect.

There was one minor point of concern, however: the Chosen. When she must become a vessel for Martel, not to return to Iselia, it may mean Kratos must split from the others. He was unsure which way Lloyd would go, and it seemed most likely that he would prefer to save Colette rather than Sylvarant. Kratos had hoped to make him loyal enough to him by that point that Lloyd would see the wisdom of siding with the man he did not know was his father. But even were that not the case, even if he must leave the others and do the bidding of Lord Yggdrasil for a while, there would be time enough to check in on Lloyd, continue his instruction, whether Lloyd wanted such meetings or not. It could be and it was very likely that he would hate the "mercenary," for his supposed betrayal, but that was the least of Kratos' concerns. Let Lloyd hate him all he liked, for no matter what, that bond of admiration still held true, and something else, something grander.

Their blood united them. Kratos did not pretend to be sentimental about it, this was no tie of love, no romanticized little game. Lloyd would join him simply because he had to – they were a family. He could no more escape that than Mithos could release Martel. The pull was too strong.

And it was time, after all, damn it, it was time. Lloyd was not that sniveling baby anymore, he was growing into a man, someone who could be useful at his father's side, where he belonged, obediently. It was time for Lloyd's homecoming, fifteen years had been too long a separation among family. Where had he been till now? Parading about with a dwarf for a father, a foolish Chosen and two half-evles. Now was when the rift must be mended and the two of them brought back together, even if Lloyd was wholly unaware who his real father was. Not that dwarf he'd met in the forest, but this grand angel of Cruxis, this hero of the Kharlan War. And Kratos was so certain it would all go well, that faced with such divine parentage Lloyd would be grateful, nothing else, he would be pleased and proud to know from whose stock he came. Kratos was so sure…

Once – just once – he felt a twinge at going, at leaving both the Chosen and his child like that; underprepared, lost, without direction. He wanted to explain that it would be alright, he had it all planned out, Lloyd need only but pay attention and he would make things turn out right. Perhaps Colette would be sacrificed, but that had been her wish, and at least the worlds would be whole again, two halves violently rent asunder reunited to end the pain. And that is how it would be for them, too, for he and Lloyd, it would all be well once he had come over to the proper side. He felt – for the briefest second – very strongly like saying this.

Of course, even knowing what was coming, he did not. The most he could do was direct Noishe to continue to protect Lloyd as he always had – as Kratos had not – and tell the boy not to die. For it would have been a waste of a great deal of hard work, thought and anticipation to have him fall at the hands of some stupid Desian or fall and snap his neck. He would not stand for such foolishness as that. No, Lloyd must live and then all would be well.

The family would return home, far better than it had been when it had split apart, even with Anna gone. For now Lloyd actually was something, rather than the nothing he had been before. Now he was becoming someone to be pleased with, and Kratos wanted that. He wanted that homecoming with Lloyd. Let Yuan get in his way, let Yggdrasil grow mad and paranoid; let Pronyma scheme and the Chosen of Tethe'alla even be their frivolous addition – but he would have Lloyd and he would have the world again. This time for certain, he knew.

~*~*~

Kratos knew his plan had unraveled in his hands the night Yuan betrayed his identity. It was not the mere action of it, it was seeing his son's face, hearing his shock and horror.

But…no, it wasn't supposed to be like that. If Lloyd had been a little surprised, alright. If he had been unable to speak, fine. But…distaste? Disgust? Not that, that he had not anticipated.

And it…hurt. He had forgotten how that felt – not the physical sense of pain, of course not, he could take that just fine and always recover. But this inner…thing, this stabbing feeling in his chest – this was cruel. It was…heartbreaking? It hurt.

And what confirmed that he had failed, yet again, that all his scheming had been for naught was his stupid sentimentality, his jumping in the way of shots meant for Lloyd. And hell, that hurt, too, but not nearly so badly as hearing Lloyd's horror.

If all that had not been enough to let the angel know he was a ruined man, the feeling of satisfaction – even a little happiness – at knowing his child was alright certainly topped it.

So this was it. A failure yet again, he could not save the world. He still wanted Lloyd, now more than ever, but with the reasons suddenly different, the end result would be as well.

If there was a single moment where Kratos realized how badly he needed his child, he wasn't sure when it was. After so much time spent, invested in bringing him over, in making sure he would stay safe…perhaps it was inevitable. Perhaps having poured in so much time meant Lloyd had to take on a deeper meaning to Kratos, one more personal and direct. He wasn't sure. He only knew that all those moments of going out of his way to see him, of brushing past his journeying clan, moments where they somehow managed to find themselves together and with no one in sight – Kratos felt a deep stirring within himself, one unlike any other he had known before. He knew the reason. It was his child.

He had approached him any chance he could when it seemed practical. On the outskirts of Meltokio once, with all his friends gone to collect supplies in town while he rested with the sleeping Chosens, he found him there. "Lloyd," he called softly to him in his deep and quiet voice. Did he remember the sound of it, from their three years together? Why did Kratos even wonder?

His reception was not warm, and he hated that this bothered him. "Why do you keep finding me?" Lloyd demanded. "What is it that you want?"

Kratos realized he did not even know the answer himself and instead turned the subject to, "You cannot rejoin the worlds the way you are attempting to now. Bring the Chosen to Lord Yggdrasil." And then, "Come with me. If you want to unite the worlds, let's do it together." It was the only time he'd ever asked, had ever actually instituted his, "plan," of luring in Lloyd.

It did not work. "Leave, Kratos," he demanded. "I will not listen to you, you're a traitor."

"Hm," he said, hiding his inexplicable hurt. "If this is the way you want, the destruction of the worlds, go ahead." He had melted away as quickly as he had appeared and he felt like a coward in retreat. And why was he feeling so…sad?

He approached Lloyd now in the darkness of the Heimdall night, the only light the stars and the warm glow of the elven houses. He had not planned on coming, he had not even thought to see his child by the pond. But he left Origin's seal that night and crawled like a pathetic dog through the woods and back into the village not from any conscious desire, but because his whole being ached to go. What was the point of sleeping? Why rest for tomorrow to make sure he would live, he didn't care about any of that. He did not go because his mind thought he wanted to see Lloyd, he never thought at all, he went just because he had to; his soul had a need to be near him again, he felt a warmth there he had not experienced since Anna had gone, and he hungered for it, needed it very subconsciously. He went because his feet began to move and he could not make them stop.

Something had happened since leaving the others in the Tower of Salvation, since the truth of Lloyd's heritage had been revealed. That boy had done horrible, horrible things to his father – emotionally. He was suddenly feeling again. For a long time, he didn't like it, the way pain returned as though he were reliving his angel transformation. But slowly, because at heart he was a weak human, he began to sink into, to revel in, to enjoy feeling again.

His first new realization awed him: how he wished he could be human again. To live a mortal life, have a wife, raise a family, to grow old and to die. It seemed paradisial – not in some morbid sense of waiting for death, waiting to join the darkness and at last have everything over. This, this was death in a new perspective, as truly a beginning rather than an end. Kratos wished now that he were not a soulless statue, a body without life, a body that could not age or decay. Before this had seemed a benefit, but now he recognized it for what it was. To die was not to end. It was to dissolve into light, into the world, to become the grass that fed the animals, the animals that fed the people, to someday circle back into a person again. It was as the unicorn at Lake Umacy, to die only to be reborn. Kratos' first awakening was that he wanted that. How much he missed Anna and the chance to age and fade and become bright again that they had never actually had. At first, these thoughts had become pleasant to him, musings to take joy in, something that brought color to the world. He noticed again the way the grass moved in the wind, he saw more vividly the different shades of the sky. This joy, he knew, was thanks to Lloyd.

But what followed was also thanks to Lloyd, the next discovery, and it was more painful than anything he could remember.

That discovery was that he had completely lost the opportunity to be a father to his child. When he knew this – truly knew in his bones and the fibers of his hair and the rattling of his breath – it crippled him. Kratos could barely move, barely see, could hardly stand to exist from the amount of pain radiating and rolling in his chest. He had…lost Lloyd? And by his own folly? He had had this baby put into his arms, been given a gift a king or god would have traded anything to posses, and he had given it away to someone else. This awesome chance that he had forsaken; Kratos had never appreciated Lloyd when he had the opportunity, and now that he realized his folly, the opportunity had passed him by.

This, this was the worst moment of his life. He could think of nothing more horrifying, to know he had a son – a wonderful, glorious creature that somehow he had helped give life to – and know that he would never be able to hold him, never teach him as fathers do their children, never be there as a figure to turn to in times of need. The homecoming he had so wished for could never take place. For Kratos was not a father, what was he? A charade, a lifeless figurine masquerading in a suit of mortality. The knowledge that more than anything – more than he wanted the worlds to be whole, more than he wanted to finally be the hero – Kratos wanted his child, and this was the only thing he could not have…this was the knowledge that was ruinous. He could see now, in eyes that before he had never known were blind, why Lloyd could not sacrifice Colette to the world. For him, what was the world without Colette?

Kratos knew. He knew, so did Mithos, so did Yuan. Without the figure that is yours, the world may as well be a dried husk without mana. But Lloyd was young enough, ingenuous enough, brave enough to fight for both where Kratos and his companions had given up to settle for one – and then to have neither.

So seeing Lloyd there, by that pond, in that moon – the moon that shone on Kratos, too – was startling, was more than to be hoped for, and with an excitement he could hardly contain, the angel walked terribly slowly up to the young man that could have been his and now never would be. "Lloyd," he whispered in the dark.

That young faced turned and saw him, was not startled nor afraid; looked at him with eyes Anna had given him, and Kratos' mouth went dry. He took a few more steps forward so that they were standing together in that bright pool of moonlight. The swordsman opened his mouth and intended to say something pressing and meaningful, some kind of explanation. But to see Lloyd's eyes just looking at him, waiting and patient, to see his child there in front of him at last…Kratos could not take that, he was not made of heroic stuff, he was a weak hearted man. Unable to mouth a single word, he instead dropped to his knees and bent his head; he took the white scarf that hung from his shoulders and kissed the end of it because he could not think of anything to actually say.

Lloyd reached out his still-somewhat-small hand and touched the top of Kratos' hair, let the red locks rest on his glove a moment and whispered to him, "Kratos…I forgive you."

Kratos could not move. He felt frozen into place, his mouth only open so he could breathe while he fought his own emotions. The only move he could make was to lean back on his haunches to angle up and see his son's face, and that kept him from breathing at all; the moon framed a halo around Lloyd's gentle face and Kratos' hand clenched. Lloyd was a very special person, there was everything about him of which to be proud. He was not the Chosen One, not a higher being or a prophesied hero, but it was his average-ness that made him extraordinary; that he could be so good, so wise despite being a fool, such a marvelous warrior when he had started out a child. Perhaps Kratos was blinded by his many virtues merely because he had finally become his father and was apt to find everything about him perfect, but here in the moonlight, the terrific irony was that Lloyd was the angel and Kratos the sinner.

"You shouldn't," the man at last managed to gasp out. "I have done nothing worthy of forgiveness, after everything I have done to you and all the deception, I-"

"It's not about that," Lloyd said, still as gentle as before. He was like Anna, but then Kratos did not want to think of him as like himself. "Maybe you haven't made up for everything, you probably never will and I can't forgive all the things you've done. But you and I," he smiled. "I can forgive that."

The angel finally let himself sit against the root of the tree, wringing his hands and saying, "There are just so many things I wish I-"

His voice was choking, but Lloyd stopped him anyway, sitting down next to him so that a large root stuck between them, apart even now. "Don't think about that now. I'm tired of looking back into the past and dwelling over all the times I messed up, everything I did wrong. I decided I am going to focus on the future now, to make up for all the other times I screwed up." Briefly, the boy looked at him. "Maybe it's time you did that, too."

They sat quietly for a while until at last the father said, "I'm sorry, Lloyd. I did not deserve to be your father, I never knew until just recently. You are an… a good person, and I don't know that I could have raised you to be as good as you are."

"Well," Lloyd sighed, resting his arms in an arc behind his head, "I had a good dad." Kratos cringed. "And maybe it's less about who raised me and more who I am on the inside."

"Perhaps."

"Maybe that does come from you. Maybe, once, you were…"

"I was never like you," said Kratos, peering into the night. "I could not be. You must be like Anna."

"I bet she'd say I'm more like you than you think. I mean, we're both pretty stubborn sometimes, right?"

"Maybe that is true."

There was a soft silence before Lloyd whispered, "I can't make the same choices you did, Kratos. I don't think you believe you did what you thought was best, and I can't rest until I know I have followed my own ideals." Kratos was very quiet. "I can't just stop and be satisfied that Colette is safe, I have to reunite the worlds, too, and when that is done, I have to make sure no one is going to have to suffer for these reasons ever again. After all this time, after how long this journey has been…if I haven't learned that from my friends – well, then maybe I would make the same mistakes as you."

Stunned, Kratos looked at Lloyd, mesmerized. What a fool he had been. To think that he believed he could entice Lloyd to him, to be so delusional as to imagine that he could bring Lloyd, "home." Lloyd did not need a homecoming, for he had never left his. It had followed him all the way from Iselia and would go with him into battle tomorrow. It was Kratos who needed somewhere to go.

He wished…it could have been with Lloyd. But Lloyd could not purify him, could not forgive all the sins. After so many years of abdicating his responsibilities, he knew he must shoulder his burdens. The worst had been to give up Lloyd, but he was receiving the punishment for that.

Kratos had once thought very well of himself. He thought that having been a hero he could be one again, that four thousand years did not change anything. The war had never truly ended in his mind. And having made Mithos surely he could make Lloyd. But four thousand years did change things, it certainly had changed Mithos. Neither he nor Kratos were heroes any longer, and in reality, Kratos had never been one to the full extent. He watched his child underneath the branches of the tree, watched him as he gazed up through the leaves into the pin-prick light of the stars, and knew that things were different for him. Lloyd truly was a hero, the way Kratos and Mithos were not, and he had not needed to be made.

"Lloyd," he told him, beginning to sink against the tree so his head rested on the root between he and his son. "If I could do things differently…"

"You shouldn't," he assured him.

Kratos actually fell asleep, and before Lloyd did. Perhaps it was finally time to rest.

While one angel slept there, a second approached sometime later – Colette, come to find where her friend had disappeared to in the night. Naturally, she tripped, falling onto Lloyd and quickly covering her mouth in shock. "It's Kratos!"

"Yeah," Lloyd whispered, helping put her right so that she could sit next to him and leaned upon his arm beneath the tree. "He showed up a couple hours ago."

"Did he decide not to fight you?" she asked, peering so inquisitively at the sleeping swordsman.

"No, I think we will still fight," Lloyd sighed, raising up his arm so she could get closer and get an even better look at the man.

"But he's your father! It's just so sad…"

"I'm not sure that really matters here," he told her, letting his hand drift on the red hair of the sleeping figure. "I mean, I don't remember any time in my life when he was really my dad, you know? Not like Dirk. And this is something we have to do."

"But Origin's seal…"

"I know. I want to find another way to do this, but if it comes down to it, I will have to fight him."

"I think," said Colette, growing sleepy on Lloyd's shoulder, "Kratos must be a good person underneath."

"You think everyone is," he laughed softly, pulling his arm around her to keep her warm. "Maybe he is. Or was. I dunno. But we aren't like him, Colette, you and I, there is something different about how we fought and how he and Mithos did it. I don't know if one is more right than another, but I know we can't do things his way."

"Do you think," she yawned, "he could change and do things our way?"

Lloyd leaned his head against her golden hair and yawned as well. "Maybe. I don't think we should dwell on it too much, though…"

Kratos awoke not long after that, the two children soundly asleep. Lloyd certainly needed it. He watched them for a little while, heart very heavy. Perhaps, then, Lloyd would get the chance at mortality Kratos had given up or missed, family and all. But perhaps it was better that way. To have not lived for four thousand years would have meant never to have held Anna, never to have created Lloyd. There might have been others, yes, but none so good as them, he knew.

Not rising just yet, he kneeled before his child and for the first time in his life, tenderly pet his hair and touched his cheek. Kratos prayed to the whole world to keep his boy safe and he whispered to Lloyd (Kharlan Tree, let him hear), "Do not die tomorrow, Lloyd. Win. Please, win." Very frightened, he let himself lean forward and kiss that smooth forehead. His son did not stir. "I do think I love you very much." He wanted to stay there a millennia, just watching Lloyd sleep. But that time was gone now, the time where he must give up all his previous fantasies had at last arrived. Now it was time to be not Kratos the Hero, not Kratos the Father…but a Kratos who could take responsibility for the things he had done and must do. If he could meet Lloyd as such a man tomorrow, before Origin's Seal…then he would have little left to be ashamed of.

Into the darkness, another Kratos rose, a shadow, and slinked through the night with his eyes never leaving Lloyd until he was obscured from sight. The dawn arrived to meet him as he journeyed inward, and now he would wait to meet Lloyd at Origin's Seal.