Symphoniafan: I suppose I can be blamed again for the slow update. I always seemed to be falling behind in this partnership...

Freakyanimegal: well at least you update wbtw, which I loves 3 so all is forgiven? lol

Disclaimer: Namco owns Tales of Symphonia

Chapter 4:

Meltokio's walls stretched out towards him, the dusty road being swallowed by the black shadows. Behind the sun rose, the heat grew steadily, but Kratos didn't notice, his eyes unfocused on the city ahead of him. It seemed pointless, this trek he insisted on. Even with Noishe as his constant companion again, he felt as if he were on a futile journey that'd never end. There had been no word in years, no sign of them. But he had made that mistake before, not again. He wouldn't abandon him again.

Voices rose in the quiet morning, his eyes blinking to look towards the city gates. He watched quietly, pausing on the road as he watched a group of travellers exiting the city. They were arguing about something, their voices rising, mostly from the young male with silver hair. There was something familiar about him, but from this distance, Kratos couldn't tell.

Then the others came out. A young woman, gripping the hand of a tall male. Kratos stiffened his eyes focused on the frowning face, the deep voice chiding the younger male. His feet moved forward, betraying him and he watched as the figure developed before his eyes.

He studied the dark hair, the way the broad forehead frowned as he drew the young male from the woman. The structure, the way his shoulders widened, filling his clothes and showing the obvious muscles beneath. He was tall, very tall. At least a foot over the red-headed male, next to him.

Perhaps he was denying what he saw, refusing to notice the similarities he saw among the others. He refused to admit who they were and who the young man was. He could see it, the way his hand rested on the sword at his side, the angle and pressure he put on his one leg. The confidence and yet a sense of unfamiliarity showing in his face.

Kratos' steps faltered, his eyes wide, less than a few feet from them. He took in the others, the Chosen, no longer a girl, but a young woman. The young ones, now teenagers, and even the smaller changes of the older ones. They were all there, all alive and there. Still, his eyes were drawn back to the young man that now replaced his son. It was Lloyd, but it was a Lloyd that he hadn't even imagined.

Then Lloyd's head lifted, his eyes meeting Kratos' and the world stopped.

"...Guys-" he began, forcing out the voice that felt so foreign to his body.

However, he never got to finish his sentence, which may have been an inconvenience or a blessing, depending on what he thought of it at the instant.

"Oof-!"

He found himself knocked flat on his back, hearing his friends exclaimed in surprise as he felt the familiar yet somehow strange feeling of a big wet tongue lapping up his face and the panting whine of the creature atop him

Lloyd's eyes widened as he realized the sound and presence, gasping a bit as he heard the beast that had pinned him to the ground let out a whine

"Noishe?" he blurted, so surprised he paid no heed to his voice.

Noishe responded with another whine and lapped his face, his tail wagging violently behind him as his ears twitched, creating small gusts of wind with their size.

Yes it was Noishe. Part of him exploded with joy at being greeted by his eldest friend, but another part of him found itself near horrified

Noishe wasn't nearly as heavy as he used to be, still heavy yes, but not as much as he had remembered. That and his paws felt smaller pressed against his torso and arms, not like how he had remembered with the big loping paws that nearly took up his entire chest.

It unnerved him a for what felt longer than it was, but then his mind snapped back to his situation and his brain decided he could muse this once he wasn't being coated in dog saliva.

"Noishe! Get off me!" he shouted, struggling to move the animal off of him

Grabbing the scruff of Noishe's neck, he again found his pet smaller than he remembered...and far too much easier to be slowly pushed off

"Noishe! Off!"

As the young man struggled to get the protozoan off, Kratos could only stare. Noishe had rushed and tackled the young man, despite how the years cast a difference upon the boy.

Instantly, Kratos felt his heart stop, noting the resemblances instantly. The hair color; the familiar group of people surrounding the man and protozoan. But something was off...

The sound of his voice confused him. It was much too deep and he realized as the young man got up, that his height shockingly different. It was impossible to consider and yet...

It was Lloyd, his mind reasoned. It had to be...or it wished it. He found himself hoping, leaning toward the possibility that it was in fact true. Yet the image in his mind argued with him. The one that had desperately clung to the memory from the fear of losing his son again now clashed with what he was desperately trying to believe.

It was his son. It was Lloyd.

For a moment he could only stare, frozen in place as his body was in time, though as if to balance that his son, a grown man, finally met his eyes. A myriad of emotions flicked through the russet irises; shock, confusion, anger, fear...everything that passed through his eyes years ago, when he had been a boy...

"K- Kratos?" He half-accused and half asked.

Of course he would be unsure, why wouldn't he? After all...he hadn't aged, he hadn't changed, in eight years he still looked exactly the same as he had when he 'met' Lloyd, and in over twenty years looked the same as he had when he had met Lloyd's mother...

"How the-?" Lloyd shook a bit, unsure, wary. "You-"

"...Lloyd," he said finally, managing to keep his voice from hitching.

It wasn't really an answer, he supposed, but it was a confirmation enough. Silence descended upon the group, all eyes staring on him, but his were only focused on his son. So tall...he'd grown that much...?

Lloyd shook, teeth gritted and eyes wide, trying to keep some kind of composure. However he didn't seem to get control if it quickly enough for Raine's tastes, as she stepped forward.

"You are Kratos then, aren't you?" She asked sharply, her eyes narrowed.

Kratos said nothing, he barely looked at her, his eyes still on his son, trying to figure out what to do, what to say...

"Well?"

He frowned a bit, but then nodded, turning his gaze onto the half-elven woman a moment.

"I understand you're wondering as to my appearance, however...I am wondering as to yours as well."

"You-" Lloyd's fists clenched at his sides, his lip curled up in a snarl. "How the hell haven't you aged? I thought you were a- What are you doing here? I-"

"Cruxis assumes you are dead, as are the Chosen and your companions," Kratos interjected simply. "Wherever you've been and whatever you have been doing, I suppose it gave you the desired effect. You're completely off Yggdrasill's radar."

How was it that after all this time, with his son finally before him, alive, healthy, he still only could manage just to report things like that as callously as ever? As stoically, as ...coldly. This was the second time, the second time he had found his son miraculously alive, breathing, in front of him and he couldn't even...

There was so much, so much over so many years of thinking his son lost to him that he had wanted to do. To tell him, tell him everything, to confess his crimes and his love, to hold his child close and tell him about his mother, about his childhood, about how proud he was of him, about how much he loved him.

"Wh-" Lloyd growled, drawing a sword. "Well you're not going to be telling him anything-

"No, I'm not," he answered flatly. "Cruxis thinks you're dead and they will continue to think such."

Lloyd's eyes widened a bit and he frowned, confusion flicking across his face. Of course he would be skeptical, he didn't know any better, and that was his fault as well. Noishe interrupted with a whine, brushing against Lloyd and then trotting over to Kratos, who noted him sparingly.

"What-? Noishe what are you-? What are you doing with him?" Lloyd blurted, frustrated, unsure.

Kratos frowned, trying to shoo the protozoan away with a wave of his hand and a warning glare. The 'animal' paid him no heed, rubbing against his hand and pleading to be petted. Noishe gave him no heed and Kratos suppressed a sigh, turning up his russet eyes to his sons. Their eyes met and for a moment all was silent, when then…finally…

"Who are you?" Lloyd said, his deep voice quivering just a bit.

"…What are you talking about-"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about!" Lloyd shouted, his fists clenching at his sides. "Who are you? Who are you- t- to me! To me, dammit!"

He tried to speak, but then realized he wasn't sure what he was going to say. What could he say? Wasn't it obvious now, anyway? His friends had figured it out already, hadn't they; by the looks they were giving him? Wasn't it obvious, when Lloyd so clearly wore his own face? What did they expect him to say? What could he possibly say that would be appropriate for this situation? There wasn't anything…

"I take it angels have means of appearing younger than they are, Kratos?" Raine spoke.

He said nothing. It was obviously true.

"…What's your relationship to Lloyd?"

Lloyd flinched, but said nothing, his fists clenched tightly at his sides. Kratos scanned him, then the group, frowning more as he weighed his options. Was there any point….

No. There wasn't any point. There was no longer a point to this, there was no longer the excuse of concealing it to protect him; the excuse of 'better if he doesn't know' was broken as well, his friends knew, he would know shortly if he didn't already know.

Slowly Kratos made his decision; he reached into his collar and slipped the chain of the locket around his neck, holding it in his palm. They watched him and he silently handed it to Noishe, who scanned Kratos a moment before taking it in his jaw. The protozoan trotted back to Lloyd, the locket safely in his jaws, then sat in front of Lloyd, waiting for him to take it. Lloyd stared at him, then at Kratos and then back at the locket before hesitantly reaching to take it. His hand was shaking a bit, they noticed, but still he took it, wiping Noishe's saliva from it with the back of his glove. He scanned the oval pendant a moment before unclasping it, which was a little difficult with his too-large hands.

Then he saw the picture.

His brown eyes widened and he nearly staggered, backstepping. Raine closed her eyes, nodding to herself the confirmation of what had just occurred. The others eyed Lloyd and then Kratos, some of them having already made the realization when they first woke up.

"So you're his father," Raine said when no one spoke.

Lloyd breathed hard, his eyes darting up, meeting Kratos'.

Kratos said nothing.

Then he nodded.

Lloyd turned and ran back into the city.


Why was this happening to him? Every time he turned around, he was someone he wasn't before. Things kept changing, rearranging themselves around him before he could even grasp a hold. It was like he was sliding down this tunnel, his fingers dragging against the sides, unable to get a grip. He was going too fast. He couldn't see where he was going or where he was going to come out. He was trapped, helpless. He didn't want this! He didn't want any of this!

His forehead pressed against the jagged stone of the shop. People moved around him, but he didn't care. It wasn't like they knew him. Hell, he didn't even know himself. His own reflection was a stranger; he was trapped in a stranger's body—

No. Not a stranger. His. It was his body. Or at least it looked like him.

His fists clenched pressing against the bricks as he turned around, looking up at the brightening sky, his hair shifting across his eyes. Had he really been that blind? Not to realize it? All this time, everything he had said, everything he had done...

Now that man was here. Now he says he wants to help. Why? Why now? What had changed? Why would the bastard—

His eyes shut tightly, stinging and he bowed his head, gritting his teeth tightly. Everything had changed. What was there left to believe in? What was real and what was just another lie? Was he a lie? Being as he is. Eight years seemed impossible to have passed and yet looking around him, in the dirty streets of Meltokio with boarded up shops and windows, his friends even... This was the proof, the proof that he didn't want to accept.

He slid down the wall, bracing his arms on his legs, holding what was left of himself together. As if that could work, he thought mockingly. Just hold yourself tight enough and maybe, just maybe you won't drift apart. You won't lose your identity. Just hold on... just...hold...on...

But what was he holding onto? What was left of him? He didn't even know. His appearance and now Kratos—that man, that traitor and lying bastard—

"You shouldn't run off alone," said a soft voice.

Lloyd flinched, snapping his head up and nearly smacking it on the brick behind him. He looked at the man, who claimed to be his father. Lloyd nearly laughed out loud with the absurdity of the idea. A father? The man looked barely older than him. They'd pass for brothers at the most. A father?

Then he realized he was laughing, a sharp bitter laughter that rolled out deeply from his throat. His head laid back against the bricks his eyes closed, sighing and breathing in heavily through his nose. He felt like he wasn't there at all, like he was losing it. Maybe he was.

Lloyd turned his head, eyes slipping open to glance at the man as his chuckled died off. His eyes were narrow, taking in the man. He realized then, all those strange looks his friends had given him, they way they averted their eyes or flinched when he spoke a certain way. It made sense, everything made fricking sense now.

He pushed to his feet, his hands clenched at his sides. Kratos said nothing and Lloyd didn't care. His eyes scanned the man, taking in the obvious similarities that marred his own face. Mirror image, came to mind. Lloyd scowled; he was nothing like this man.

"Your friends are looking for you."

Lloyd frowned, glancing behind Kratos, almost expecting his friends to be there, watching on with nervous glances. But the street was empty. A part of him felt relieved they weren't there. He didn't want to face them, not like this. Not when he couldn't even control himself.

Kratos' expression was one of concern and Lloyd just looked at him with a numb indifference. He thought he'd be angry, shouting at him, but he wasn't. He just wanted to be alone. He didn't want to talk about it, to think about it.

He turned his eyes away and walked past Kratos, his long strides carrying him easily away from the older man. He didn't know if Kratos would follow him, he didn't really care at the moment. He didn't care if his friends tried either.

It wasn't long before he was walking along the road with his shadow stretching before him and the sun slowly rising at his back.

What was he doing, where was he going? He didn't know, really, he didn't even know how far he had gone, or why he was going so far. He just...didn't care anymore. He felt burned out, exhausted, tired, sick of everything. He knew he was being selfish, he knew he should go back, and that his friends would be—

They could take care of themselves, who was he kidding? They didn't need him; they were all ...adults; fully capable of protecting themselves. Sure he had promised Genis he would teach him how to use that blade, but Zelos could teach him just as easily.

Besides, obviously they didn't trust him very much if they wouldn't even tell him they knew who he was.

He let out a bitter snort of a laugh, bringing his hand up to rub his face—his damn face. Logic told him this was silly, that his friends wouldn't have concealed something from him like that for no important reason—but then what was that reason? Were they afraid of how he would react? Were they really so scared of his reaction that they wouldn't tell him? Did they really not trust him enough to think he'd...?

Well he kinda was doing something stupid now wasn't he?

He sighed again, his hand dropping to his side as he continued walking down the faded path. What was the point in going back right now, huh? They could make the pact without him, they didn't need him really, and ...and was it so bad that he just wanted some time to himself? He hadn't gotten one damn minute to himself since Iselia and that was—it really was years ago. Besides, after all that had happened—all of this and ...and Kratos—he couldn't even stand to be himself right now, how could he hang around with all his friends eying him like that, seeing him like... No. He couldn't take that, not right now, maybe not ever...

Was it—was it really so wrong he just wanted to be alone for a while? They'd understand that he needed some space, right? He hadn't gone far ...Wait, had he? The swordsman turned, looking at the path behind him, finding Meltokio was just a blot in the distance. His heart sunk in his chest; he'd really gone so far like that without realizing. And why hadn't they come after him?

Oddly though, he found he didn't care too much. In fact, it made him feel better. Good, let them leave him alone, right now that was all he wanted. Some time to think and be alone.

His feet continued to carry him, the divided mountain range that dotted the land drawing nearer. To his right, he noticed Mount Fooji, recalling the crash with a weak smile. It seemed so long ago, and not that long. How was that possible? He turned his eyes forward, pausing in his long stride as he noticed the path bending around the base of the mountainside ahead of him.

He hesitated for only a moment before continuing along it, putting Meltokio completely out of his view. As he rounded the bend he was surprised to find a small building residing near the cliff-side, parallel to the ocean. Already he could smell the salt from the water and the cry of seabirds. He smiled to himself, approaching the building. He didn't know why this building was so far from the city and the main pathways. He wondered if anyone really knew about it. But it didn't matter. It was a place he could stay, undisturbed and alone where he could think. Or not think.

Maybe that's where he'd begin.

He knew already that he wasn't running, he knew he wasn't going to leave them. It was a solid fact in the back of his mind, trying to doubt that was like trying to argue with a stone wall and coerce it to fall apart. He'd always been like that, really...some things he just knew, and there was no arguing with them in his mind. When he saw someone in trouble, he'd help, he knew that; even if sometimes how he went about it made him stop and doubt himself...

Still, he knew this 'wall', if it told him he was going to be doing something; he would do it, no ifs ands or buts about it. Was that what Genis and the Professor meant by saying he lived off instinct? 'Intuition' the word was...

So he knew of course, he knew he'd go back to them, soon too. Somehow that thought made him bitter, a frown curling into his features as the small inn came more into view- for that's what he saw that it was. It appeared to be a sort of church as well...though he couldn't really care much at the moment.

Bitter, heh, he supposed he was. Part of him was disgusted with himself, ashamed that he would feel bitter of knowing that he'd go right back to them. A brooding part in the corner of his mind muttered, grumbled: why should he always be the one that would always be there? Why should he always be the one that ran to the rescue or was always strong for everyone else? Why couldn't he be weak and cowardly for a little bit, just a little bit...just a little break?

"Heh," he huffed, rubbing his face as he shook his head. "Well that's what you're doing, isn't it? Spoiled brat..."

For a moment he nearly turned and headed back, just straight back to them, to act like nothing happened. Again the thought made him sour, like a sullen child- no, no he should go back. He had to, it was just something he had to do, was just something he was supposed to do, it didn't matter if he wanted to be alone, if he wanted to be away from everything-

"Welcome to the House of Guidance, you look weary; do you need a place to rest?"

He looked up, blinking a bit. A nun had walked to the end of the walk from the garden to meet him (had he really walked that fast?) her hands clasped and a friendly smile on her face.

"I..." he blinked, looking at the building. "House of 'Guidance'..."

"We sadly don't have that much to offer, but we will gladly offer you a place to rest the night and some sustenance, if you'd be willing to help with some of the chores."

The place was in need of repair; obviously it wasn't in much different shape than the Meltokio streets. It looked a bit better though, not a complete wreck, though a few shutters were broken, some crude patches on the roof suggested someone with little skill had tried to repair it, and the fence was falling apart.

"...Guidance," he muttered again, shaking his head.

Feh, if only it gave that-

"Sir?Are you all right?"

He shook his head and looked at the nun, realizing she was probably only a few years older than him-...wait.

...No, she was ...early twenties. So...

Younger...than him...

"Sir?"

"Yes, sorry, I'm fine," he said, trying not to grimace at the weirdness of his voice. "I just- ...I can help with some of the repairs if you need me to. My dad taught me a lot about that sort of thing...that roof won't last you another heavy rain."

The nun blinked, looking up at the roof and then at him, tilting her head to the side.

"Oh-? Sir would you really? We've been needing that repaired but things as they are now we haven't been able to pay-"

"I'll do it, like you said, all I'll need is something to eat and a bed for the night," he said with a weak smile, noting how the sun was getting low. "I'm here...I might as well help out, after all."

Besides...work would be a good distraction from all this. He felt numb, he didn't feel like doing anything really, but focusing on something like that would at least not leave him feeling this empty. Like he said...he was here, he was worrying his friends; he might as well do something good because of that and help someone out.

Symphoniafan: Hope you enjoyed it!

Freakyanimegal: Many sklees and happiness to you! n.n