Tales of Symphonia:
Genis and Raine both gave him odd looks as Lloyd let them pass him by. He gave them both weak smiles, hoping that would reassure them that everything was okay, even as he wished they could stop somewhere and rest so he could get things straight in his head. But even though he now understood why Dorr did what he did, and Lloyd got the answers about the man that he needed to stay clear in the attack on the Palmacosta Ranch, the encounter only brought new questions to mind. Questions that centered on the little blonde chef trailing behind them all.
"Adam?" Lloyd called out as he fell into step beside the other boy. Adam jolted out of his own deep thoughts and looked up at him in surprise before scowling slightly. Despite the less than welcoming expression he received, Lloyd took it as an opportunity to study his face. Adam wasn't as pale now, so that was good. Maybe he got over whatever had been making him look so sickly? He still had some darkness under his eyes, making the chef look tired. "Next time you start feeling sick, you should say something. Professor Sage could help you feel better with her medicines." the brunet told him firmly, "It's not good to hide it if you think you're coming down with something."
"I wasn't sick." Adam replied coolly, chin lifting in a defiant gesture that looked kind of silly to Lloyd. He almost called it 'cute' in his head before quickly reminding himself that boys didn't like to be called that.
Lloyd shook his head to get rid of the idle thought, then reached out to try bringing Adam's head closer to check his temperature. He blinked when the chef jerked away from him, holding up one hand to block any other tries at getting close.
"Don't touch me!" he snapped, "I'm still angry at you!" And for some reason, that was the last straw for Lloyd.
"Why?! What the hell did I ever do to you to get you so pissed off?!" Lloyd shouted back in frustration, "You know, I'm mad at you too!" Adam stopped walking abruptly, bringing Lloyd to a halt as well. The chef gave him a look of disbelief before narrowing his eyes.
"You? Angry at me? Where is your reasoning for that?" he bit back, "You're the one who keeps trying to get into my personal space, with no regard to my repeated statements that I do not like to be touched!" Lloyd scoffed, throwing his hands in Adam's direction and growing annoyed that the boy stepped back further just to avoid even that bit of closeness.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about!" the dual swordsman declared, "You let Genis touch you; you let Colette touch you; you let Professor Sage hug you! You let everybody else touch you for even a little bit!" Lloyd thought back to the government building, to seeing Colette holding his hand and Raine hugging him close to her, heads touching as she murmured softly to him, and flushed in frustration. "But you don't let me touch you, and I just want to help you!"
Adam just glared at him, arms folded over himself defensively. "That's it? That's what has you so indignant? You were being jealous of something so inane?!" he demanded, "What is your obsession with trying to touch me, or get me acclimated to physical contact?" His eyes narrowed again and Lloyd squirmed under the look, feeling stupid with how Adam put it. The weird way of talking didn't help either. "Have you never considered that I have a perfectly valid reason for not wanting to be touched?"
"...Oh, um." Lloyd mumbled, glancing away to escape that glare before thinking on it. Was there really a reason why Adam didn't like to be touched? He'd tried to puzzle that out before and had wondered over it, but didn't get far because Kratos told him to stop bothering about it. He brightened; hey, here was a chance to find out why! "Well then, can you tell me why?" he asked hopefully.
"It is none of your business." Adam replied coldly and walked off, rejoining the rest of group that had stopped to stare at him and Lloyd. Lloyd winced, rubbing the back of his neck as he realized their shouting attracted some unwanted attention. So much for learning anything new. All he did was just confuse himself even more.
They camped for the night after making a lot of progress in heading back to the ranch, and Lloyd watched from a short distance away as Adam chatted with Genis, the little elf making their dinner of soup and sandwiches. The other boy looked much better than before, with more color returned to his face and the dark circles nearly faded. Lloyd never did find out why he looked so beat up in that basement. What had happened? He never got the answers, too hung up on his apparent jealousy.
It wasn't fair, that's all. It was Lloyd's idea to help Adam get over that 'not liking touch' thing, so why was it that everyone else was good but Lloyd himself was 'bad'?
He sighed and went back to twisting gold wire into a twirling pattern that would become part of the new heart-shaped pendant for Colette's necklace. What would it take to get back that companionship from earlier? When he first met the Wonder Chef and they traveled and fought side by side and were friendly with one another? Why had Adam suddenly become...?
Lloyd jolted as he recalled something that Dorr had told him; a dying message to give to Adam. That could give him something else to talk about with the other boy and a chance to try rebuilding their companionship!
With that hope, Lloyd tossed the pendant and his tools aside and got to his feet, rushing over to the cooking fire. "Come here! I have to tell you something!" he blurted out, grabbing Adam by the wrist and pulling him up and along before the chef could react.
"Wha-? What are you doing?!" Adam protested in irritation, "I told you I don't want you touching me! Where are you taking me?! Stop!" Lloyd could feel him struggling to pry his hand off and ignored Genis and the Professor's calls of his name, their demands to know what he was doing. He continued walking purposely until he was at the very edge of the camp, where the firelight was weakest, then turned to face the chef. Adam squinted in the dim shadows, turning his head slowly from side to side, like he was having trouble seeing. Lloyd blinked, confused by the action.
Sure it was a little dark, but he could still see somewhat okay. Why was Adam having trouble? "I just need to talk to you-" Lloyd began.
"I'm not telling you why I don't like being touched!" Adam interrupted, snapping his head up -and for a moment, Lloyd thought the other boy had his eyes closed completely- to glare at him again.
"No, it's not about that, I swear!" Lloyd explained hurriedly, and even let go of his wrist to hold up his hands as a peace offering, "See? I let go; I'm not touching you." He felt a bit disappointed by that actually, letting him go. "Like you wanted; I'm not touching. I just needed to get you alone to tell you something."
The blonde frowned a little, rubbing lightly at his wrist. "A-All right. What is it?" he asked. Lloyd rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling a little awkward by the setting.
"It's about Dorr." he began, blinking at the soft growl of disapproval from Adam, "Before he died, he told me to tell you that he was sorry, for putting Chocolat in danger." The chef looked up at him abruptly, eyes distant and brow furrowing as a confused expression came over him.
"He said what?" Adam questioned in disbelief, "He said he was 'sorry'? That's all?" He bared his teeth angrily, growling again. "He sent my childhood friend into a human ranch, where she could possibly be dead or turned into one of those monster things, and all he could say was 'I'm sorry'?! To me?!" he demanded, "And what? Did Dorr think that would make things all right with me? That I would forgive him after his death for what he did? Not 'I should never have done so', not 'I'm sorry for endangering your daughter, Cacao', it's just plain 'I'm sorry'?!"
Lloyd backed up a step, alarmed by how Adam just seemed to get even angrier, face turning red at the cheeks, shoulders shaking. He lifted a hand without thinking, a reflexive attempt to ward off or block anything that could be thrown at him. "A-Adam, what's wrong?" he exclaimed, confused and a little frightened by the response. Considering how guilty the chef had looked when he saw Dorr dying in the basement, Lloyd thought hearing the apology would be some kind of relief for him.
"No, I'm not forgiving him!" Adam snapped, shaking his head fiercely as tears welled in his eyes and spilled onto his cheeks, "He's only sorry we caught onto his plotting; I will not accept any form of apology until I can bring Chocolat home to her mother, safe and sound! And we would have her already if you hadn't decided to come back to see that man!"
And in that moment, Lloyd realized at last why Adam was so mad at him. He had decided to return to Palmacosta rather than attack the ranch immediately, and he had even stopped Adam from doing it on his own. Ever since then, the other boy had been cold and bitter towards him. "Is that... is that why you don't want me to touch you?" he asked softly, eyes wide with understanding and hurt, "Because I didn't choose to attack the ranch right away?" Lloyd reached out towards the other boy, only remembering at the last moment not to touch and jerking his hand back. "Adam, I made what I thought was the best choice at the time! I'm sorry if you thought it was wrong, but if you were feeling sick and I couldn't keep my head clear, then rushing right in would just get us all killed!"
"But if too much time has passed... if Magnius believes that we haven't fallen for the trap and will come... then Chocolat could be...!" Adam protested brokenly, squeezing his eyes shut and clutching at his head, soft sobs escaping him as tears flowed freely down his cheeks.
Lloyd just stood there for a moment, uncertain of what to do. His friend was crying, but a comforting hug wasn't going to help. It'd be the last thing in the world that the chef would want from him right now. But if Adam went into the ranch with them while still torn up like this, there was no way he'd be able to stay safe long enough to rescue Chocolat like he wanted. The brunet absently moved his hand to rub at the itch around his Exsphere mount, trying to figure out what he should do.
Should he try to give Adam some kind of hug or gesture even though the guy was currently pissed off at him, or should he stay away like Adam wanted?
"Ch-Chocolat..." the chef mumbled in anguish and Lloyd just couldn't take hearing that kind of lost and hopeless tone in anyone. He didn't want to hear it from Kratos and he definitely didn't want to hear it from Adam. He reached out quickly, grabbing the other boy by the shoulders and pulling him close enough to let him bump their foreheads together, startling the blonde out of his sobbing. Then he willed the chef to understand what he was trying to do.
'This isn't about me trying to get you used to touch right now! This is about me showing you the only way I know works that we have to stay calm, stay clear, and trust that we can save her together!' Lloyd thought fiercely, squeezing his eyes shut as he hoped that he wouldn't be smacked upside the head with that broken frying pan for this. "Pull yourself together, Adam!" he exclaimed, feeling the other boy stiffen under his grip, "I know you're mad at Dorr and at me, and it's okay to be mad, but we can't save Chocolat if you're so mad you won't accept my help when you need it, or you're caught up feeling guilty or whatever!"
"No...! Let go...!" The protest was weak, as was the lame attempt at struggling away from him.
"Just please understand what I'm trying to do! I want to help, I want to save Chocolat for you and for her mom, but I can't do it by myself and you can't either." Lloyd pressed on, wishing he could just push what he was trying to say and feel straight into the Wonder Chef's head. Surprisingly, Adam was actually calming down, or at least going still, not trying to yank himself loose. "We have to be able to count on each other in the fighting and we can't do that if you're pissed off at me the whole time." Lloyd took the soft whimpering as a sign that Adam was listening, really listening. "I'm not a book smart kind of guy, I know that. But I know I can't fight if my head's not in it, and I couldn't when I didn't know Dorr's side of this mess, and now I can't when I'm too worried about you being all messed up because of Chocolat."
Calm, determined, a real desire to help; these things that Lloyd could right away feel sure of he held onto for as long as he could, wishing he could fully explain what he wanted to say. "I need your help in this, like I know I'll need Colette's help, and Kratos's, and Genis and Professor Sage's help." he urged, eyes still shut tight, "So please, help me, and be mad at me all you want after we save Chocolat!"
There was silence for a while after that, and Lloyd found himself actually afraid to open his eyes, until- "All right."
He opened them, surprised, and found himself staring straight at Adam's own blue eyes, the other boy looking up at him tiredly, the faintest hint of a smile turning the corners of his mouth up. "You're right, amazingly enough." the chef murmured, "The ingredients of a recipe can't work well together until you blend and mix them, and they won't mix if they are kept separate for needless reasons. Part of me already knew that you made the right choice when you made it, but I was just too angry and afraid to accept it then." Adam closed his eyes and tilted his head a little, maintaining the contact of foreheads between them and looking like he was listening to something again. "I accept your apology, because I feel you really mean it and want to act to change the outcome of this, to make amends." he added softly, "Thank you, and I will help you all I can." He opened his eyes again and smiled a little more, "I should also apologize, for taking out my anger on you when you truly want to do what's best. It's something I'm learning to see in you; something I'm not used to seeing in others."
"Heheheheh... uh, thanks. I think. I'm not sure what you said, but we're friends again, right?" Lloyd asked nervously. The chef lifted an eyebrow, grinning weakly at him.
"Lloyd, just because I get mad at you, it doesn't mean we stop being... friends." Adam replied, "I value my friends greatly, far too much to just end a friendship in the heat of a moment." He closed his eyes again, making that listening expression again before pulling his forehead back and looking up at the brunet with a wry smile. "But I think we should head back to camp now. I doubt either of us will be able to stay awake much longer." he added.
Lloyd smiled back, relieved to find that his friendship hadn't been in danger at all, and then caught on to what Adam meant when he felt his exhaustion catch up to him again. "Hngh!" he grunted, wincing as he felt a little weak at the knees, his grip on Adam's shoulder tightening a bit as he tried to steady himself. The chef flinched but didn't raise his own hands from his sides -and when had they fallen from his head anyway?-, just endured the pain until Lloyd was sure he could walk without falling on his face. "Good idea. Bed sounds good about now." he muttered and staggered on ahead, pulling Adam along by the cuff of his sleeve this time.
He figured the chef would probably appreciate that more than actually grabbing his wrist again. From the sound of the faint chuckle behind him, Lloyd guessed he was right about that.
They made record time getting back to the branch of the main road that would take them to the Palmacosta Ranch. A few merchants hurrying out of the region so as not to be caught up in the perceived war gave the group short rides in their wagons and caravans, eating up the distance in a much faster time than if they'd walked the entire way. Kratos still pulled Lloyd aside for training during the evenings the wagons were stopped, and while Adam couldn't participate with a broken frying pan, the mercenary made sure he at least maintained his dashing speed.
This was done by having Lloyd chase the Wonder Chef around in an attempt to learn to strike moving targets.
"I don't remember agreeing to this!" Adam yelled in alarm, leaping back and then cartwheeling aside to dodge Lloyd's wooden blades as they tore through the air right where he had been moments ago. Kratos frowned dismissively at the complaint. As far as he decided, this was only the beginning of the kind of training Lloyd had volunteered them both into.
"Keep running, Adam! He's catching up!" Genis called out from his seat on his blanket. Kratos spared the boy a glance, just to make sure whatever he was making for dinner didn't have any of those vile red fruits. Colette was giggling behind her hands, and Raine alternated between watching the training match and writing in her notebook.
"Stop flipping around, man! Desians don't move like that!" Lloyd protested in frustration, moving his gaze to follow the other boy as he sailed overhead after bouncing off a nearby tree trunk.
Riding with the merchants also allowed them the opportunity to restock their supply of Gels and food. Kratos encouraged the children into this by glowering when one of Lloyd's attempts to strike at the Wonder Chef actually connected, opening a gash along the blonde's upper arm, and his idiot son immediately scrambled to use up the last two Apple Gels healing the injury. It hadn't been a complete heal either, which helped the Seraph's silent argument as he dragged Lloyd over to a merchant to begin negotiations for fresh supplies while Adam sulked nearby, bandage wrapped around his arm and half-eaten apple in hand. Now fully prepared with fresh supplies and mended armors, the group parted ways with the last merchant caravan and headed into the forest where the Palmacosta Ranch was hidden.
Kratos did not like any of this. He didn't like how he was essentially leading his son and the young Wonder Chef into what amounted as a massive trap. He'd spent an hour or so making sure Lloyd knew for certain that what he was aiming to do wasn't just defeating an enemy, but taking the life of another living being. The Seraph wanted this lesson well-heeded in the hopes of circumventing the chance that Lloyd may turn out like...
He immediately turned himself away from that line of thinking, ignoring the sudden concern his son had for his abrupt silence. The sins of his guilt for what happened in the past were too much to hold back from his voice. Last thing he needed would be for that to leak into his tone and for Lloyd to catch on to it. The boy had an unusual perceptiveness when it came to random things and Kratos did not want to risk the tone of his voice falling into that category.
The leaves rustled and Kratos paused, listening for the familiar footsteps of the Assistant Governor-General. The group stopped as well, looking at the man with varying degrees of guilt and sadness on their faces. Neil stood before them and sighed, resigned understanding in his expression.
"You don't have to say anything. From the looks on your faces, I can imagine what has happened to Dorr." he murmured and shook his head, "Somehow, it doesn't shock me as much as I had expected it would."
"Oh, but Dorr did say this: He wants us to save Chocolat." Colette blurted out, her face lit up with tearful determination. Neil gave her a weak smile and nodded.
"...I understand. A change of heart..." he murmured and straightened himself up, blinking away tears, "Then please, take me along to carry out the Governor-General's last wish."
"All right." Lloyd agreed and the man moved to join the group, taking up a place near the Wonder Chef.
Kratos had watched Neil's movements and found himself glad for doing so, as this gave him the chance to notice that boy seemed to be struggling with something. His face had lost color again and he flinched at the oddest moments, but he still managed to stay on his feet with only the tiniest swaying motion to give him away. The Seraph frowned, suspicious of the behavior. What was going on now?
"At any rate, let's see if we can find a place to use that key we received from Dorr." Raine suggested. Lloyd blinked, as though rousing himself from a daydream, and delved into his pockets, pulling out the keycard to study. Neil walked forward and pointed to the right of the path.
"The Palmacosta military is fighting on that front, diverting a majority of the Desian troops to the front gate in a paced assault." he told them and pointed towards the leftmost path, "Our scouts reported seeing a back entrance over that way, but there was some kind of machine next to the door and the door itself didn't have any way of opening it."
"That's probably where this goes." Lloyd remarked, holding up the keycard between two fingers and flicking it as he once again took lead position and headed down the left path. Raine pursed her lips together and followed. Considering what they'd gone through to get that card, one would think he'd treat it more carefully.
As they approached the rear entrance to the ranch, Raine took the time to look over the more vulnerable children, Genis, Colette, and Adam. She had spent some time soothing her brother and helping him cope with the violent attack that ended Dorr's life. Seeing him still shivering days later, she knew that event would haunt for far longer. She reached out, closed her hand over his, and offered a comforting smile. Genis looked up at her in surprise, then returned the smile, looking more assured by the gesture.
Colette was murmuring soft prayers, asking for protection and blessings in the rescue of Chocolat. She met Raine's gaze as they walked carefully through the underbrush of the trail and offered a bright smile of her own, something small to bolster her spirits. The girl didn't even miss a beat in her prayers.
Adam had removed his cape and toque and packed them in his bag, holding his fork down to hide the metal tines and keep it from catching stray light. Raine studied him a bit more intently. He'd been looking sickly for a lengthy stretch of time now, but he always brushed off concerns about his health. For a short time he appeared to be recovering color and energy, but now it seemed as if that illness had only been in remission and had returned. He was pallid but focused, like he was ignoring the state of his health in favor of rescuing his childhood friend. Not the best idea, but in the current circumstances there was little else they could do.
"Hey, is this the machine you were talking about?" Lloyd asked suddenly, bring Raine's attention back to the task at hand. The brunet had run up to a device of some kind, adorned with some brightly lit displays. Neil nodded and Raine stepped forward to examine the machine herself.
It was amazingly advanced, all smooth metal and cool to the touch, humming like a well fed animal. She studied the buttons, then the displays, mouthing out the familiar elven words that scrolled along, tiny ants of light on the hovering display. This was a card reader, used to ensure that only authorized personnel could access the door nearby. "Ah, I see. Lloyd, give me that card." Raine instructed. He handed it to her, head tilted and puzzled expression on his face. She stuck the card into the corresponding slot and watched as the screen shifted to show an empty box and a blinking vertical line within it. "It must want the passcode to confirm the validity of this keycard." she murmured, "Lloyd, what was the code Dorr gave you?"
"3341." Lloyd recalled and Raine pressed the buttons that were marked with the numbers in sequence, looking up often to be sure they appeared in the box correctly. Once the final number was entered, the box closed, the machine beeped, the door clicked and the card slot spat the keycard back out. "Hey, it opened! Great work, Professor!" Lloyd cheered, snatching up the card and pocketing it as he raced over to push the door open. Exasperated, Raine prepared to scold him but held her tongue when the door simply slid to one side to grant them entry. What a strange way of opening. The brunet cautiously peered inside, looking around before turning to face the group. "It looks clear. Let's go find Chocolat."
They made their way into the base and lingered a bit near the door, gazing around with suspicious looks. The walls were smooth metal, impassive in appearance, and Raine had the uncomfortable sensation of them looming over her, waiting to crush her. She gave Genis the barest of touches and he clung close to her side, almost buried in the folds and layers of her robe and tunic, hiding a whimper in the fabric. Lloyd looked around a bit more, frowning at an obvious dead end before turning his attention to the light falling from the other end.
"Let's hurry up and take care of this. The less time spent here, the better." he muttered. Genis nodded, a faint grimace on his face.
"Yeah, I don't want to stay here very long. It's creepy." he agreed and took timid steps as Raine began following Lloyd and Kratos's lead.
"I have to agree. Being inside a Desian facility is not a pleasant experience." she added. The building seemed to be dark with cruelty, tainted with the tales of morbid happenings both real and imagined. And the fact the people running it were of the same race as... She shook her head, firmly dismissing that thought. They were not the same, she and Genis; they could never become as monstrous as the Desians, no matter how wounded their hearts would be, living in secrecy and fear.
"Boy, come along. There's nothing there, can't you see?" Neil whispered. Raine glanced back to see who he was talking to and raised an eyebrow when Adam hurried to join them from the dead end, clasping something small in his free hand against his chest. His face still lacked color, the darkness beneath his eyes a bit more pronounced, and he flinched away from the walls, but otherwise he seemed aware enough to travel through the ranch. What really intrigued her was the item he was hiding from view. What was it and why was he hiding it?