Time Well Spent

How did it come to this?

His Cloth is a heavy weight on his body, and everything aches. It's the only way he's sure he's still alive. The constellations above him almost mock him. Sanctuary was always the best place to see them after all, even if it was done while lying bleeding in a forsaken pit.

Suddenly it's like he's been punched in the stomach (again). How long was he down here? Minutes? Hours? Days? Where was Athena? Did he come this far to fail anyway?

It takes all his energy to sit up, and he's light-headed. He grits his teeth, looking up the rock face, before finding a hold and pulling himself up. His hands barely cling to the cliff as he climbs, and he can hardly feel if his legs are finding any purchase in the rock. He's just happy he's not paralyzed, even though his body is in some terrible mix of numbness and pain. What doesn't hurt throbs.

It's slow, and painful, and once or twice he considered giving up and letting Shura having the satisfaction of actually doing him in. But as he gets closer to the summit there's a faint sound, and he doesn't know if it's delusion or reality, but he's determined to find out.

He pulls himself onto the plateau, and just lays there a moment with his face in the dirt and legs still dangling over the pit. Then there's a gentle tug at his hair and he lifts his head and Athena looks at him, face damp with tears. He smiles at her, and after a moment, she smiles back.

He rolls onto his back, catching his breath. There's a click and his armor slides off, returning to it's container. He chuckles a bit, then regrets it as his ribs ache and head pounds. Athena is cooing softly beside him, and he lifts himself up, gently lifting her with one arm before struggling to his feet. He finds her blanket a few feet away and he wraps her in it again, making sure it's snug. She gurgles, and he holds her against his chest as he lifts his Cloth onto his back.

Maybe it's regret. Maybe it's simple morbid curiosity or sentimentality. He looks back to Sanctuary once more, before turning his back and beginning to walk.

He's barely made it to the forest surrounding Sanctuary when Athena squirms in her bundle and starts to cry. He looks down at her, lost. He honestly had no idea how to deal with babies, there just weren't many around Sanctuary to gain experience with. He bounces her gently, patting her back like his mother used to do with Aiolia but she continued to fuss, wriggling and hiccupping. Was she hungry? He didn't even have anything for himself, let alone an infant. His headache grows worse and he sways on his feet, leaning against a tree for support.

What was he even doing?

He's half-dead, he knows it. He's half-dead, unprepared, and on the run. How is he supposed to save Athena when he barely made it out of Sanctuary alive?

Athena's wailing begins to grow louder, and he tries to shush her, holding her closer and trying to muffle the sound. He rocks her gently, murmuring a soft lullaby, for lack of any other ideas. She blinks at him a moment, crying forgotten, and he sighs when she relaxes. He continues to hum, clutching her closer as he begins to walk again. She's quiet, and when he glances down, she's asleep in the blanket. He smiles a bit, and the next step isn't so heavy.