Disclaimer: Alas! The computer with my name has finally kicked the bucket. Luckily boo managed to get all her files off this time, and she already has a new one.

boo: Thank god it held out until the tax return came in... =.= It's Disclaimer's retarded little cousin in comparison, but at least it works.

Discalimer: Indeed. By the way, boo, doesn't own ToS. And don't bother suing her, she's too poor to have any money.


The girl was sulking.

Kratos suppressed a sigh, and went back to stirring the stew. She hadn't been entirely pleasant since he'd rescued her from the Desian's. He didn't even know her name yet. All he knew was that she didn't trust him, and didn't like him because of it. To be fair, he didn't entirely trust her, either. Her eyes were too sharp. It felt like she could see right through him.

"I could have gotten out by myself you know." The girl told him arrogantly.

"Mm-hmm."

"And I would have gotten the rest out too!"

"Mm-hmm. Dinner is almost done."

"Whatever."

They'd had almost that exact conversation seven times in the past four hours. He'd given up trying to argue with her, or point out that she was severely weakened by her tenure in the Desian base. The Exsphere on her chest didn't seem to be helping. She'd nearly collapsed several times while they were making tracks away from the base. Each time she'd grasp at where the gem was, her face creased with pain.

And yet, she had lasted longer as the bearer of the Angelus Project than anyone else. That was what had inspired this crazy rescue. Kvar could not be trusted with the power that could result from such a project. More frighteningly... The most recent tests had showed that rather than weakening and weakening, she was growing stronger again. Someday she might be as strong as she had been before being fitted with the parasitic gem. Only it would continue to feed off of her until there was nothing left of her.

"Who are you, anyway?" She asked suddenly. It was the first question she'd asked. He looked at her, surprised.

"I am Kratos Aurion. I am a mercenary. I was hired to find and secure the Angelus Project, and bring him or her to Iselia." He told her.

"Bullshit." She responded, her eyes wary.

"I- what?" He asked, confused.

"Bullshit. If you're a mercenary, I'm a poodle. Only Desian's have those crystally things in stone rests on their hands." She sneered the name. "Besides, I've met mercenaries before, and none of them fought as well as you do." The respect in her voice sounded very grudging. "So what are you, really? Some sort of renegade Desian? Or just another fucking test?"

Kratos blinked. Okay, so she was a bit sharper than he thought. His usual story wasn't going to work. He sighed. The stew was done, so he dished it up, and handed her a bowl. She took it, but didn't stop staring at him accusingly. "I'm... something like a Desian. I'm from a ways up the chain of command, however. For some time now I've felt things were getting out of hand. When I heard about the Angelus Project, I knew I had to keep an eye on it, in case Kvar actually started to succeed. When you became its latest... host, and you didn't die almost immediately, I knew it was time to intervene." He took a bite of the stew. "I've heard of a dwarf in Iselia that may be able to help you."

She didn't respond at first. She stared at him for a moment, then at the stew in her lap. She took a hesitant bite. When she looked back up, her eyes were a fraction gentler. "Won't the Desian's know we're going there?" She asked finally.

He blinked. "They might. I hadn't thought about that. What is your name, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Anna." She took another bite of stew and sighed. "Thank you for rescuing me."

"You're welcome, Anna." He smirked. Even her thanks sounded grudging. Well, they wouldn't be traveling together long… Just long enough to get a key crest for her Exsphere. And then he would find a safe place for her, and return to Cruxis, where he would… what? Spend another four thousand years giving lip service to Mithos' commands? While secretly undermining him?

"This thing is going to kill me, isn't it?" Anna asked very quietly. He looked up, startled out of his musing. She looked… tired. Resigned. Like her dying wasn't even going to matter… Like death might even be welcome.

"Yes." He told her, just as quietly. "Eventually."

She sighed, and set down her now empty bowl. "Good night, Kratos." She curled up on the ground by the fire, facing away from him.

Kratos sat watching her, feeling like mud. I could have prevented this… I could have stopped this project years ago, before she was even born, and saved dozens of lives. Why didn't I? He watched as her breathing slowly evened out. I guess it wasn't real to me… Not until I saw what it does to its victims. No… What it's done to her. Why does she make the difference? He wondered. He rose, and pulled his blanket out of his pack. Gently, he spread it over the sleeping girl's shoulders. She mumbled something, and rolled onto her back, still obviously asleep.

"Good night, Anna." He whispered. "And… I'm sorry." He moved over to the other side of the fire, and lay back, looking up at the stars. Unseen, Anna watched him for a moment, her eyes glittering in the dark, before rolling over to go back to sleep. She clutched the blanket to her. For the first time in years… she was warm.


boo: Kindly review, and tell me what you think.