Disclaimer: Don't own anything.

Author's Note: Got in the sudden mood to write Kratos again, so here is the beginning of something that might take me quite a while. And since everyone else seems to have a story on how Kratos and Anna met and got together, I figured I should try my hand at it.

This is all before Tales of Symphonia.

-/-/

My manner of thinking, so you say, cannot be approved. Do you suppose I care? A poor fool indeed is he who adopts a manner of thinking for others! My manner of thinking stems straight from my considered reflections; it holds with my existence, with the way I am made. It is not in my power to alter it; and were it, I'd not do so. ~Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade

-/-/

"I'm surprised that a man of your standing would come for a routine inspection." Kvar remarked, hands behind his back.

Kratos glanced at the half-elf. There were many in Cruxis who he disliked, but Kvar was towards the top of that list. Much like many of the others that were basically brainwashed by Yggdrasill, there was some kind of…wrongness…that hung around them, but in Kvar, it was much more obvious.

"Lord Yggdrasill was under the impression that there were certain practices happening in this ranch that weren't to his liking." And that was saying something for the Mithos Yggdrasill that had been ruling Cruxis for the past four thousand years was not a man to care very much about such nit-picky details.

"Well, the test subjects do need to be controlled, after all. Can't have them getting thoughts about rebellion, now can we?"

"No, of course not." Kratos murmured, glancing around the cold corridors and heard shouting. "I take it that those sounds aren't that of rebellion?"

"O-Of course not. I'll show you that that matter will be resolved very soon." Kvar strode out a side door into a yard. "What is going on here?" He shouted.

One of the guards looked up. "Sir! It's nothing. Subject A012 is just being uncooperative, as usual."

The test subject snorted. "Right, because there would be so many people willing to cooperate with you guys."

One of the guards holding her arms cracked the back of his fist across her already bruised face. "Shut yer trap!"

"Careful, boys." Kvar chides them, sliding closer to them to look down at the subject. "You don't want to break such an…interesting…test subject, now would you?"

"No sir." They chorus, but the look on their faces speaks differently.

"Get her back to her cell before she decides to make more of a racket."

"Yessir."

As Kratos and Kvar watched them take her away—Kratos would have described it as dragging, but the subject was so thin that it probably wouldn't take very much to lift her—Kratos asks, "Does it usually rebel like this?'

"Sometimes. It's usually too weak to do much else, but the latest experimentations with the Angelus Project seem to have given it some strength."

"I see. So the research is going well?"

"Quite well, sir. There have been a few…hiccups…but because this ranch is near such popular areas such as Luin and Asgard, there is never a shortage of potential subjects."

"Lord Yggdrasill will be pleased to hear that." Kratos knew that Yuan would hate the way that Kvar was speaking about his prisoners, like they were little less than objects, but that was why Yuan hadn't been the one chosen to inspect the ranches. And if Kratos was honest with himself, he didn't much like it either, but there was little he could do about it.

-/-/

"This is getting outrageous!"

"What is?" Kratos asked, entering Yuan's room without knocking. But then again, when had they ever really needed to?

Yuan gestured at the screen in front of him and Kratos braced a hand on the back of his chair as he leaned in to see. "Those are the files on the experiments."

"Keep reading." Yuan's voice was tight with anger.

Kratos glanced at his friend before looking back at the screen. His eyes widened a slight fraction at what he was reading and he had to swallow down the bile that rose in his throat. He'd seen terrible things in the war, but this… "He's crossed a line."

"Exactly my point!" Yuan pushed away from the desk, beginning to pace angrily. "I could understand his reasoning up to a point, but this is…"

"I'm fairly certain that we can both agree that Mithos fell into madness a long time ago." Kratos pointed out, leaning on the desk, back to the computer. He didn't want to see the screen, didn't want to see the results of those experiments.

"This is beyond madness, Kratos!"

"And what is it that you intend to do about it? Overthrow Mithos?" They both know that they can't beat the manchild of an angel, know that even if they could that they might hesitate because Mithos had been their friend for years, was still their friend during his rare periods of lucidity.

Yuan looked over at him and Kratos didn't like the look in the blue eyes. It usually meant that the half-elf was about to do something stupid. "That's it!"

Kratos blinked. "Pardon?"

"We could overthrow Yggdrasill." Not Mithos because Mithos and Yggdrasill are two people with similar faces. "Overthrow Cruxis!"

"I'm beginning to wonder if you haven't gone over the deep end as well. Do you even know what you're saying right now?"

"Of course I do! Think about it, Kratos. We could stop more things like that from happening." Yuan didn't need to point at the screen.

"We could." Kratos agrees cautiously. "But you're forgetting a rather vital detail, Yuan."

"And what is that?"

"We don't have the resources necessary to take on an organization as large as Cruxis."

"So you're in?"

"No, I'm not, Yuan. I won't help you do this."

"So are you agreeing with what Yggdrasill is doing? With that?"

"You know I don't. But…if you're going to do this, you need someone on the inside."

"Um…I kind of am on the inside, Kratos. We both are. I wasn't planning on leaving Cruxis. That'd be a little obvious, don'tcha think?"

"You have a lot to do if you're really going to go through with this. You need people behind you, a base of operations. You can't do all that and keep up with Yggdrasill's schemes. I'll do my work and yours while you get this settled."

Yuan blinked at him. They had been friends, the best of friends, for millennia, but he knew how much Kratos worked just for his portion. Overseeing the ranches, dealing with the scientists of the worlds to make sure that their developments didn't go too far as well as helping Yggdrasill find the right combination of mana in a body that would match properly with Martel's mana signature. Even for an angel, it was a great deal of work.

And now Kratos was offering to add Yuan's share onto that workload? When Yuan had to deal with the technology and most of the magic involved in any procedures that Yggdrasill needed?

"Are you sure?" Yuan asks. Do you want to help me go through with this? Do you want to risk your life for this?

But it had been many centuries since they had been afraid of death.

Kratos nods. This isn't their first time suggesting that they overthrow Yggdrasill (They always spoke of such things in private) but this was the first time that they were actually going through with it.

-/-/

Sometimes, Kratos wonders where everything goes. The town that Yuan had been born in and lived in until he was about nine—Kratos hadn't seen the way it looked back then, only heard it described. By the time they returned, decades after the war had ended, Yuan had been hard-pressed to recognize anyone or anything in that small town—was called Asgard now.

He and Yuan had visited it a few centuries back for a routine check of the town. Kratos had caught Yuan standing atop of what had once been an aqueduct, but was not broken and crumbling, and staring into the canyon.

"This wasn't here before." Yuan tells his friend when he comes to stand beside him. "There used to be homes here. It was where we would have our snow wars during Celsius Day."

It wasn't the only canyon, the only valley that was new. The magitechnology weapons of the war had had a devastating effect on the landscape. Kratos is fairly certain that the remains of his own home are beneath the ocean now.

It's only later—a decade and a half later, when a young half-elf is dipping his hand into the water outside of a washtub and he comments how the water feels gritty and it doesn't look quite the same blue as the other oceans they'd crossed—that Kratos realizes just where his old homeland had ended up. The rich farmland was now far beneath the waves and the constant churning of the waves must not let the soil settle very well.

But Kratos prefers the small towns and villages of Sylvarant to Tethe'alla's rich communities. The air smells a little cleaner there (closer to how it had smelled long before Yggdrasill's taint, before he had ever met the siblings with strong dreams and pretty faces) and the villagers are friendly.

"Are you lost, mister?"

Kratos looks down at the speaker. It's a little girl, with bright brown eyes and dirty blonde hair. "No."

"So then why're you just sittin' round?"

"I like to watch."

The girl followed his eyes around the fountain area. "Whatcha watchin'?"

"People. Things."

"Huh."

"…I heard that it could get dangerous around here." He asks cautiously. In a normal circumstance, he wouldn't have been asking a—how old was she five? Six?—year old that, but war and suffering made children grow up much too quick.

His assumption had been right. Her wide eyes sadden and she hugs the little doll in her arms closer to her. "Sometimes, yeah. Mama told me that my sister got taken to the ranch. I can't remember having a sister."

"I see…who's your mother?"

Her eyes instantly became guarded. "'M not supposed to tell."

"Of course not. You're a very smart girl." Kratos shifts a little uncomfortably on his seat of on the bench. He'd never been as good with children as Yuan.

"Cheryl, stop bothering the nice man. Go play." The woman has the child's blonde hair, but her eyes are green. "I'm so sorry if she bothered you."

"No bother at all." He tells the woman. "I take it you're her mother?"

"Yes indeed." She took a seat by him.

"She mentioned something about a sister being taken to the ranch?" Kratos begins carefully. He doesn't want to push this woman too far. "Can you tell me more about this ranch?"

The woman chuckled a little and it was a bleak sound, bitter and humorless. "You been livin' under a rock for your whole life, traveler?"

Kratos offered a slight smile. "I've been out of the world for a spell, yes. Things were bad back then, but I can't remember them being this bad."

"Back then?" She looked him over. The glance was approving, but not filled with active interest. "You aren't nearly old enough to be talking like that."

"I'm older than I look, madam. Believe that if nothing else."

The woman clasps her hands in front of her. "…Eight years ago, the Desians came here, taking blood samples. They told us that they had heard of some kind of disease that could have spread. We didn't believe them, of course, but what could we do? If we had resisted, they would have killed us. It wasn't more than a day or two later that they came back and they took my daughter and a cleric of the church. We haven't seen or heard from either of them again."

Kratos watched the little girl who was playing with a young boy that couldn't be much older than her. "She's never met her sister, has she?"

"No. I found out that I was pregnant with her six months after they took away my Anna."

"I see…I'm sorry. It was intrusive of me." Kratos stood. "I'm afraid I must be going. Thank you for your time."

-/-/-/

"You look like hell warmed over."

Kratos looked over at Yuan. "Such a kind friend you are."

"I am." Yuan poured himself a mug of spiced tea from the kettle sitting on the counter by Kratos' hip. "If I weren't so kind, I would've told you that you looked gorgeous. You wanna tell me why you felt the sudden urge to come all the way out here?"

They both had small homes on the worlds that they shared when they couldn't take being on Derris-Kharlan anymore. When it got too still and they needed the bustling lives of people, real people, not angels. They had one in Sybak in Meltokio and one in Palmacosta.

"You weren't wrong." Kratos tells him, taking a sip as he looks out the window at the gentle waves and the busy port. "About overthrowing Yggdrasill."

"What happened?"

"I was seeing if any of the townspeople had any information on what was going on to their relatives."

"No idea, right?"

Kratos shook his head. "None."

Yuan stared into the spiced tea. It was their favorite, an odd blend of herbs that Martel had mixed by accident. Martel had gotten them into the habit of growing a small herb garden and his eyes strayed to the small flower box hanging just outside of the window.

"You can't join me." Yuan won't let him because he's not sure he can let Kratos die for him.

"No, obviously not. You'd be under suspicion then."

Yuan frowns at him. "What are you planning?"

"I'm going to stop their experiments any way I can. Even if it means taking the ranches down myself."

"He'll kill you."
"I'll run. I can't allow Yggdrasill to keep ruining people's lives anymore."

It's been a long time since Yuan has seen that look in his old friend's eyes. He hadn't realized he'd missed it.

"What's your plan?"

Kratos thinks of the little girl who heard tales of a sister she'd never met, who had had such a suspicious look in her eyes when anyone asked about her family. "You know that ranch not far out of Luin?"

"The misnomer?"

"That's the one." Kratos, Yuan and Yggdrasill had had a surprisingly in-depth and sane conversation on why the ranch closest to Luin was named the Asgard Ranch. "I'm going to start getting people out."

"Tell me you don't mean everyone at once."

"No, no. That would be idiotic. A few people at a time. I'll tell Kvar that it's transfer orders-"
"And I'll change the logs to back it up. But where will those people go? Back to their families?"

"This is why we need people less…well-recognized…working with us. I'd suggest spreading them out, one to a few remote villages. We can put them in contact with their families from there. Or, would if we had the manpower to do it."

Yuan rubbed the back of his neck. "…Give me a few weeks and I'll see what I can do about the manpower."

"Can you shave down the time?"

"That's my shortest estimation that could be even vaguely accurate."

"…What with the look?"

"It's going to be weird being among my kinsmen again. Ones who can actually think and act for themselves."

"An entire rebel force of half-elves? That's your plan?"

"Not entirely. But in case you've forgotten, half-elves make excellent mercenaries and martyrs."

Kratos remembers a single black and white photo with four boys smiling precisely the same, a woman who had her arms wrapped around them.

"I remember." How could he not? Memories seemed to be seared into his brain these days. "I'll take walk-arounds of the ranches. Get the inmates to trust me a little so that they don't panic during the actual operation."
"Sounds like a plan."

They toasted their mostly empty mugs to memories they sometimes wished forgotten.