It was after the retaking of Obel that she noticed. After Flare had a tearful reunion with her father, shaken off Setsu's pestering, and more or less got herself accustomed to the Dauntless, it had occurred to her to wonder where Lazlo was.

For a moment, when the others had paused and hesitated in the answer, Flare had experienced a horrible coldness in her stomach, thinking that Lazlo had died consumed by the Rune of Punishment before she got the chance to see him again.

But that wasn't the case. Alive, they said. Just unconscious, they said.

"Just unconscious" didn't appear to be the whole story in Flare's eyes. "Just unconscious" could mean a lot of things, like getting knocked out in battle (which happened bafflingly often) or overwhelmed with the position of leadership. Because of course he would be exhausted; Flare herself had fainted once or twice keeping Obel running during its days of Kooluk occupation.

No, their eyes told a different tale. They were mournful, and afraid. Lazlo had used the Rune of Punishment to free Obel from its oppressors for the second time. He was wearing out.

Flare saw him three days later, when he finally woke up. Lazlo was thinner than she remembered, and he had dark shadows under his sea-green eyes. His skin, tan from years spent on the ocean under the island sun, was pale and ashy. Even so, he greeted Flare with a bright smile and talked to her with tight cheerfulness, masking his pain.

She knew he was hiding it. How could he not be in pain? He was the bearer of one of the most accursed True Runes that man currently knew, that had claimed countless many lives before him. It had claimed Flare's mother, Rakgi's father, the gods know who else. Everyone on the ship knew, in one way or another, that Lazlo's time was running out.

Some, like Setsu, weren't making it much easier for their young leader regardless. Setsu had continued with his intentionally cold treatment of Lazlo even after the liberation of Obel, and every time the older man spoke to him Lazlo's mouth formed a tight line and his eyes took on a pained expression. Eventually, Fthe princess snapped at Setsu, saying in no uncertain terms that if he kept making their young leader's life any more difficult Flare would not be the one to fish Setsu out of the ocean after she threw him in. Lino had backed her outburst, agreeing with a calmer voice and less profanity.

Lazlo's demeanor had changed as well. When Flare had first met him, he smiled often and spoke to everyone with a calm, polite tone of voice. Now, he was somewhat gloomy, his smiles forced, and though he was still as polite as ever Lazlo seemed withdrawn, only speaking if he was spoken to first. He clenched his left fist frequently, and held his arm in a viselike grip at all times when standing still.

One day, Flare had invited him to train with her. He seemed at his happiest when training, in constant motion. She could almost see adrenaline coursing through his wiry body. When they finished, Lazlo flashed her the first genuine grin she had seen out of him in months, and in seconds the two were laughing together, simply for the moment.

In a split second, Lazlo's laugh had turned into coughing; great, horrible wet-sounding hacks that wracked his entire body. He slammed against the wall, clutching his chest and struggling to catch his breath. Reinhold, who had been watching their session, bolted down the hall to the doctor's quarters. He returned with Yu and Carrie, who lowered Lazlo to the floor and helped his breathing slow as he took deep breaths, body shaking violently.

In the hallway later, Lazlo grabbed Flare's elbow. His knuckles were white and almost skeletal in appearance.

Please don't tell anyone, he had said. I don't want them to worry.

And Flare couldn't take it anymore. She asked in a quivering voice why he hid his pain, why didn't he let others help him? Why was he simply content with suffering, silent and alone?

He just looked at her with deep, sad eyes and took her hands in his.

He didn't want to worry anyone, he said, because they had enough worries already. They were surrounded by war. The people put their faith in him, their leader. If he couldn't live up to their expectations, what could they believe in, and who would they trust?

Before she knew it, hot tears were spilling down Flare's face. She grabbed Lazlo and hugged him, as tight as she could. She held the one who wouldn't show his pain for the sake of others, who had done so much-too much- already, who was willing to die if he thought he could save the people who believed in him.

He didn't have much time left, and they both sensed it. Flare knew she couldn't do much, but she could try her damnedest to ease his pain, if only just a little.

A/N:

Well this came out of nowhere.

I wanted to write something deep, but it turned out a little weird, huh... I wanted to do something focusing on the side effects of the RoP, and how some others would react/feel. All my other Suikoden fics are set firmly in the Humor category, so...yeah.

Joke's on you Flare, Lazlo lives.

Thank you for reading and please review!