Standard disclaimer goes here. Tales of Symphonia and all related characters belong to someone else.

Firewood

He didn't care about Lloyd. Mithos glared at the other teenage boy when he knew that no one was looking. He didn't care about any of them except maybe Genis and Raine. The others were just filthy humans. It made him sick pretending to like them.

But Lloyd. Lloyd was the worst of them all. A human who doesn't care if someone's a half-elf? Mithos snorted bitterly. Yeah, right. Humans were all the same. At least most humans had the decency to admit to their prejudice.

"Oh, give it a rest, Lloyd." Genis's exasperated voice cut into Mithos's thoughts. The boy was shooting his friend a look as he fished things out of a pack. "We don't have anything else. Quit complaining and go do something useful."

"But-"

"If it's really that much of a problem," Raine interrupted, resting a kindly hand on Lloyd's shoulder, "I'd be more than happy to take Genis's turn at cooking tonight. I'm certain I could come up with an alternative to-"

"NO!" Both boys had wide-eyed, almost comical looks of panic. Lloyd hastily went on to add, "N-no, Professor, that's all right. It's Genis's turn, so he should cook dinner. I- I'm sure anything he cooks will be fine. Right, Genis?"

"Right!" Any modesty the half-elf might have felt about his cooking was forgotten in the need to chime in support. "So you don't need to worry, Sis. Dinner's in good hands!"

Raine frowned, looking at the two skeptically, and perhaps with a trace of disappointment. "Well, if you're sure..."

"He's sure," Lloyd said firmly, nudging his friend in the side. "In fact, he's going to get started right now. Mithos and I will go get firewood!"

Wait, what? The words had barely sunk in before Lloyd was right there, grabbing his hand and pulling him along before the blond could think to protest. In fact, it was all he could do not to give in to his first reaction to lash out and knock Lloyd back. Mithos, their friend, wouldn't do something like that.

Ugh, he was letting a human touch his hand.

Eventually, though, he shook the other boy off. Lloyd didn't seem to notice, because he gave Mithos a grateful smile. "Thanks," he said. "It'll go faster if the two of us do it. The less time we give Raine to try to 'help' Genis cook, the better off we'll all be."

"Why didn't you get one of the others?" Mithos hid his annoyance behind a mask of curiosity. He reached down to pick up a stick, but he kept his eyes on Lloyd.

Oblivious as ever, the other boy just gave an amiable shrug. He bent down and started collecting sticks himself. "Well, you were closer. Besides, it's kind of fun hanging out with someone who's around my age."

Hah. If only he knew. "You don't even know how old I am," Mithos pointed out. "I'm a half-elf, remember? We don't age the same as humans." It was another subtle dig, another reminder that they were different, trying to get Lloyd to show his true colors. Mithos may have been playing the part of an oppressed and meek little half-elf, but that didn't mean he wasn't watching the "older" boy like a hawk, looking for anything he could use to prove what a joke his supposed idealism was.

"Doesn't matter," Lloyd answered blithely. "You look and you act like you're about my age. That's all that really counts, right? Everything else is just numbers." He flashed a huge grin, completely unrepentant. "And I'm pretty sure you've seen how much I hate math!"

He didn't want to, but he forced a smile, a small, tentative thing. Even if Kratos's son was an idiot, he had to keep pretending. "I see."

His arm was half full of sticks now, and they'd picked the area clean. By silent agreement, they both moved on. The cooling night air rustled the leaves on the trees overhead, and somewhere a night bird chirped.

"Hey, Mithos?"

"Hmm?" Distracted with brushing the dirt off another stick, the blond only gave Lloyd half a glance. The teen had a thoughtful, almost searching look on his face.

"We're a lot alike, aren't we?"

That caught Mithos off guard. "W-what? What do you mean?" Him? Like Lloyd? He had to be joking!

But apparently he wasn't. Lloyd met Mithos's eyes soberly. "You're a half-elf, and I was raised by a dwarf, so I guess I'm not a normal human, either. Neither of us actually lived in our village, and we both lost our parents. And I was kicked out of my village, too."

Anger bloomed in his chest, boiling furiously. How dare he. How dare he! How dare he compare the two of them! As if he knew anything about the discrimination half-elves went through! As if being kicked out for a mistake you made was anything like being rejected from the moment of your birth!

"That's not the same." His voice shook and his hands tightened around the sticks in his arms. He couldn't do this. He couldn't keep playing this part. This was too much. He had to answer this affront! "That's not the same and you know it!"

And frustratingly, infuriatingly, Lloyd agreed with him. "No, it's not."

"But you just said-!"

Lloyd shook his head. "I know we're not the same. Nobody can be the same, and I wouldn't want it that way. What you went through was horrible. I wouldn't want anyone to have to suffer like that. But... I think... we're alike enough that maybe I can understand, even if it's only a little bit."

Mithos took a deep breath. His body still shook with ill-suppressed fury, but he knew he couldn't let it escape. He wasn't done here. He wasn't ready to reveal himself. "What's your point?" he asked, only barely managing not to grind the words out.

The budding swordsman took a breath, too, then slowly let it out, looking up at the sky. The first stars were just now starting to peek out, but he didn't seem to see them. "My point is... I guess I'm glad." Balancing the wood he'd gathered in one arm, he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "I know it's selfish, but I'm glad I have another friend who's a little like me. Because I can understand you, and you can understand me, it makes me feel... not as lonely. You know what I mean?"

Like a pricked bubble, Mithos's anger vanished, replaced with... nothing. Shock. He didn't know what he was feeling. Loneliness? What would Lloyd know about that?

But he didn't get a chance to ask, because Lloyd just suddenly laughed. "Come on," he said, brushing the serious mood off. "Let's get back to camp. Genis is going to need this wood if we want our noodles cooked."

With a supreme effort of will, Mithos forced a smile back onto his face. It felt stiff and fake. He was still staring at Lloyd. "You're not going to take your time even though you know what he's going to make?"

"Ugh. Yeah." Lloyd made a face as he started to retrace their steps. "I'm hoping he'll let me take some of the noodles before he adds the sauce. Then when we reach the city tomorrow, I'm going to make sure we buy more food. Food without tomatoes."

"Heh." He managed a halfhearted chuckle. He probably should tease Lloyd more about that, but his heart wasn't really in it. His mind was still stuck on the conversation they'd just had.

Discrimination and loss. Rejection, pain...

Loneliness.

He wasn't lonely. He wasn't. He had Martel, even if she was still asleep. What did Lloyd know? Nothing. He wasn't like Lloyd. He wasn't Lloyd's friend, even if the boy was too stupid to realize it. Just as important, Lloyd wasn't like him. They couldn't understand each other at all.

I'm glad I have another friend...

And for that momentary pang in his heart, Mithos hated Lloyd even more.

-End-