Hello!

No, I haven't died, and this story hasn't either. It's been…waaaay too long since I updated it, and to anyone still reading this, I'm really sorry. The muse abandoned me for a while. Fortunately, it's been flickering in and out of late, so maybe I'll finally manage to get some more work done.

Anyway, not too much to comment on up here. More notes follow.

THIS WOULD BE A BREAK, WERE FF . NET COOPERATING!

Kahr floated in a strange twilit realm where nothing seemed familiar. It felt a bit like sensory deprivation, since he was unable to tell where he began and ended, but at the same time it was something profoundly different from that. It was more like his body just wasn't there, not that it wasn't receiving any stimuli. But he could still see, he was aware of warmth and a soothing rocking motion, and a sound like waves on a shore.

He 'shifted' slightly, trying to alter his viewpoint enough that he could make sense of whatever it was he was seeing. As soon as he did so, he heard a familiar voice 'behind' him.

"Kahr! You're awake! I was so worried…"

Kahr 'turned' to face the voice. At first it was as though he was looking at a glowing point of energy, but the voice had been familiar, and within moments, an image of Vendetta had overlaid the light.

"Zebulun? What is this place?"

"A place of energy and being. A place where will is power."

Kahr turned to face the new voice, another familiar one. Sure enough, there stood Krelian, but totally different from how he'd known him. His hair was a soft lavender color and floated lazily around his face, and he seemed to glow from the inside. A pair of wings fashioned of light were folded elegantly across his back, and he wore no clothing. He smiled.

"Hello, Kahran. It's been a while."

Now, usually, the mere thought of Krelian made Kahr tense with rage. Speaking civilly to the man had always been one of the ultimate tests of his will and patience. However, right now he felt none of the usual anger or resentment. In fact, he felt almost reassured by the presence of his maker. And Krelian looked so…different. The shadow of old sadness still lay across his features—if anything, he actually seemed to bear a greater, ageless sorrow—but there was also a radiant happiness within him. The sight of him made Kahr's heart ache.

"Hello, Krelian. It has been quite a while."

Krelian smiled. "I am glad to see you again, my dear. This gives me a chance to make amends—or try, at least. Although, I wish it were under better circumstances."

Kahr inclined his head, or whatever equivalent there was without his body. "Amends? What do you seek to make amends for?"

"Anything. Everything. I suppose, first of all, I wish to apologize to you for the awful way I have treated you. I used, abused, and neglected you, when you are the one thing I should have showered my attention upon. As your maker, that was my responsibility. And it should also have been a privilege. I have failed you and my own self."

Kahr pondered for a long moment. "For neglecting me, I forgive you. For hurting yourself…it's really not my place to forgive. For instead turning your attention to Fei… I don't know if I can ever forgive you that." Krelian looked pained, and Kahr sighed. "I do know, however, that had you wanted, you could have truly destroyed me when Miang suggested it, rather than dumping me out with the trash. I owe you for my creation and for abandoning me, instead of killing me. For that, I—" Kahr swallowed hard. "I will try to forgive you."

Krelian's smile was like the sun coming up. "Thank you."

Kahr shrugged awkwardly. "You gave me Zebulun. For that, I could almost honestly love you."

Krelian shook his head. "Don't. Zebulun was yours from the start. I would never have been able to keep you apart. Anima and Animus. That is the way things were meant to be."

Kahr frowned. "That is something I still don't understand. You made me. But from what we know of the Anima Relics, Anima and their respective Animus Complements were created together. How then can I be Zebulun's Animus?"

Krelian smiled. "I poured much into making you. Do you know what you are? In the beginning, there was Cain. From him and the True Miang came all living humans on your world. Miang was the agent of the system and ensured that each of her original children corresponded to an Anima component of Deus. Cain himself, however, was outside the system, an Operator of it. As such, he could use any of the Anima or Animus.

"When the Contact came, everything changed. He was descended more directly of Cain himself than any other being on the planet. When he contacted the Wave Existence, the old rules governing Anima and Animus changed. The separated Anti-type of the Mother had gravitated toward him before, and the bond between them grew that much stronger after Contact. But the power of the Contact was too much for one human mind or soul to bear, so it fractured under the stress. The power of the true Contact was spread out over the Animus. However, Animus are not usually all in the world at the same time—that was an event saved for the End Time when Deus would gather all its pieces back to itself.

"Cain was not immortal. He aged and died as any man would, so the Gazel Ministry—Miang's original children—had clones made of him and transferred his awareness from one to the next. Indeed, that is what they themselves had to do when they lost their bodies. But they lacked the genetic material to make clones, so they transferred to a computer to wait until suitable children of their lines arose to be taken as hosts for their minds. But the condition of being Animus is both mental and physical; when the Ministry lost their bodies, the Animus were reborn in the world in new forms. When Cain lost his original body, his condition was also partially lost to the mortal realm. That is why there was a Contact, and Animus, in the first place.

"When I made you, it was initially as just another clone of Cain. I don't think you knew that, did you? That you are Cain? It's true. After we knew for sure that the Contact was a portion of Cain, Miang and I attempted to turn one of the Cain clones—you—into an artificial Contact. However, Cain's condition was born into the world in a child named Fei, instead of coming to you, as we hoped it would. You had the body of the original Cain. Fei had the body of the Contact Cain. Grahf had the mind of the Contact Cain. And the Emperor had the mind of the original Cain. When Miang found that the boy Fei was behaving as a Contact, you became… extraneous, redundant, worthless. At least as a Contact, and therefore to her.

"As I made you, with my own hands, I discovered something interesting in you. You were a blend of nanomachines, Cain's DNA, and energy. But as you grew, I realized that, though you were not behaving as a Contact, you were behaving as Cain and as an Animus. The Memory Cubes were reporting many, many of the Animus were being born, or had already been born. Hyuga Ricdeau, Elhaym Van Houten, William Blanche, and myself in Solaris; Bartholomew Fatima, Rico Banderas, and Kahn Wong on the surface. And others. When you began responding as the Zebulun Animus, I already knew that many Animus were already accounted for, and the Issachar, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi Anima were aligned long ago. Knowing that that accounted for nearly all the Anima and Animus, I knew your existence was important. God was using extraordinary means to have all the Deus circuits completed in this lifetime. I could not destroy you; it would have ruined all I had worked for these past centuries.

"And besides—" Krelian smiled slightly. "I had grown to rather like you. Ah, you were nothing but a baby I had raised from a cell and a self-perpetuating nanomachine colony, but you were alive, and I had made you so. You probably don't remember, but I spent many long years in that lab, during which I told you many things. All things. I spoke of losing Elly, of learning from Taura Melchior, of Shevat, of the Lambs and the Gazel, of Gears, of Anima, of your construction. I told you everything. I poured my heart out to you, and you listened. When Miang ordered your termination… I simply could not bring myself to destroy you, my golden child. So I abandoned you in a waste chute. I could not keep you—Miang would have found out—so I had to rely on God to keep you safe as Animus until the appointed time.

"You have no idea how my heart leapt when I saw you for the first time, training at Jugend. I'd made you distinctive, gold and ivory and beautiful, so I knew at once it was you. And your golden eyes seemed to see right into me, your abandoner, your executioner, your father—and I could do nothing. Miang was so angry when she found out that was who you were, but she decided we could still make use of you, so I had to hurt you more. I offered you kindness and good things, then beat you down when you reached to take. I called you…horrible things, and lay awake at night, swearing I could hear the cries of your tormented soul. It was only the thought of what was to come and my own nanomachines that kept me going. You were an artificial being I made myself, but I knew you had a soul. And you're not the first 'machine' to have one. It gladdens me to think you may have a place after all of this is over."

Kahr hovered, silent, in the emptiness following Krelian's exposition. His heart thundered loudly enough in his ears, he wondered that Krelian didn't hear it. After a moment, he divulged a tidbit of his own.

"I do, you know. Remember, that is. So when I met you as a man, I knew you. Do you realize you never said anything truly bad to me in the lab, even when Miang goaded you to it? I associated you with warmth and gentleness and sorrow. I was so confused by how cruel you were to me afterwards. You hadn't been cruel before; I knew you didn't want to send me away. If I had known that the beautiful woman who became my lover was the same entity that forced you to discard me back then, and that she was still forcing you to do things, I would have killed her the moment I laid eyes upon her.

"Don't get me wrong; I know you're no saint. You're capable of ruthlessness, vindictiveness, jealousy, murder, and cruelty as few men are. But it is the nature of a child to love his parents, even when they do terrible things to him. And God, how I loved you! I still do, even if I'm not sure I can forgive you for casting me aside for Fei, or for showing Emeralda a kindness and attentiveness you never bestowed upon me. You're my father, my mother, my maker, the one who directed my life—very nearly my God. And I love you for that."

They stayed there in silence for a very long time, before Krelian slipped close to him and wrapped his arms around him. Kahr sighed and rested his head on one of Krelian's slim shoulders and allowed himself to be held by this man who was the root of his existence, unhappy though it was. Even though they were not holding each other physically, he still imagined it to be much like a child felt, held to its mother's breast; comfortable, safe, enveloped, content, and loved.

He forgave.

THIS WOULD BE A BREAK, WERE FF . NET COOPERATING!

"Hey."

Sigurd lifted his head from its resting place on Kahr's bed to look up at Hyuga, who stood in the doorway. He grunted an acknowledgment, then put his head back down at Kahr's side. He listened to the quiet rustle of fabric as Hyuga moved to sit in the chair beside him. For a while, Emeralda had occupied it, but right now she was curled up in the bed on Kahr's other side. The ancient girl/woman no longer bothered Sigurd with her presence. In fact, he found her to be quite soothing. She did not broadcast emotions for him to pick up the way true humans did, and the faint flickers she did send off were just enough to tell Sigurd that here was another person who felt strongly for Kahr. Of course, her feelings for the comatose man were of a friendly nature, with kinship and sisterly feelings thrown in for spice. Sigurd's own feelings were…somewhat different in nature.

"Sigurd," Hyuga began, and Sigurd had to bite back a sigh. That tone of voice never boded well. "Can we talk?" There was a pause. "Alone."

Sigurd lifted his head, even as he heard Emeralda shift in bed. She had wrapped her arms tightly around Kahr's limp form and was glaring at Hyuga so hard the doctor was likely to spontaneously combust.

Sigurd shook his head. "Talk. Whatever you have to say, I'm sure Emeralda can hear it. Besides, she's discreet enough, and trying to pry her off Kahr probably won't be worth the effort. And a lot of effort it'd be." He told Hyuga with his gaze that he wouldn't be pried away, either.

Hyuga was silent for a long time, studying Sigurd's face. Sigurd met his friend's eyes for a moment, then set his head back down with a sigh. Hyuga shifted in his chair, uncomfortable even though that was one of the most comfortable chairs in the city. Sigurd waited for the other man to finally speak his mind.

"You still love him, don't you?"

Sigurd heard Emeralda shift and utter a soft gasp. Funny how many human mannerisms she had picked up since they'd freed her from Krelian. Sigurd himself only nodded mutely against Kahr's side. He didn't even lift his head to speak.

"I don't know how much Bartholomew knows, but he's given me permission to take what time I need. I'm grateful, I suppose; it was very thoughtful of him."

"He also mentioned something about letting you help 'motivate' the scientists. You haven't been out of here in hours, though. Not much motivating going on."

Sigurd smiled against the rough hospital sheets and turned his head to look at Hyuga. "You know, I only came in to see how little changed. But once I was here, I just had to sit down and stay a while. I guess…I guess I don't want him to be alone. I know Emeralda's here," he lifted his gaze to meet her curious eyes, then closed his own eye. "I just don't want him to think I abandoned him. Again."

One of Hyuga's strong, nimble hands suddenly came to rest on his shoulder. When the ex-Element spoke, his voice was rich and dark like fine chocolate. "Sigurd, my friend, what you did back then was something you had to do. Yes, you hurt him; no, he's not forgotten. But you need to forgive yourself eventually. I think that at some level, he may even admire you for being able to set aside your feelings for him to do your duty by your family."

Sigurd sat up and glared at Hyuga. "That's just it, Hyu! I didn't. God help me if I ever did. Do you have any idea what it's been like these past years, trying to forget that I tore his heart out and stepped on it? And don't tell me it's not as bad as all that—" he said, cutting off Hyuga's impending protest with a vicious chopping motion. "You know I'm empathic; I know exactly what I did to him. I could barely walk to my escape shuttle with his pain screaming at me like that. But I did, and I'm so glad I was out of my empathic range within a few minutes, because I think I would have turned around and gone back if I'd been aware of him for one more minute."

Hyuga fixed his dark eyes on Sigurd. "I know it hurt, Sigurd. And I'm perceptive enough to know that you blame your leaving for driving Kahr to Miang. But we both know she was making a play for him before you left, and she wouldn't have stopped just because you were still around. There are too many things that could have 'gone wrong' on a mission, too many ways she could have removed you from the picture. Besides, that's the past. You're here now, and Kahr will appreciate it."

Sigurd sighed. "We've all seen Kahr's ability to hold on to the past long after it should have died. And for all we know, he's never going to wake up to 'appreciate.'"

Hyuga glared at him. "Don't. Don't talk like that, don't think like that. You and I both know Kahran Ramsus is one stubborn cuss. He'd be mad to know you already counted him out of this, wrote him off. That's an abandonment, too. So don't you dare give up on him, yet." The swordsman stood up out of his chair, gracelessly shoving it back several inches and storming out.

Sigurd sighed and put his head down on the bed beside Kahr's still warmth. A few moments later, he started at the feel of slim fingers hesitantly stroking his hair. He looked up into Emeralda's worried face. His heart clenched to see those bright gold eyes—so much like Kahr's—looking at him in puzzled concern. God, she even had a tiny crease between her brows that was much like Kahr. He had to avert his eyes.

"I didn't know you had been so close to Kahr-niisan."

"Not many do."

"Why?"

Sigurd shifted uncomfortably. "What we had was never something we thought was anyone else's business. Hyuga knows because he was my roommate at Jugend. And my best friend. Jesse knows, too; he was my sponsor, commanding officer, and fellow Element. I felt obligated to tell him. Aside from that, I think you're the only other one who knows, now that that bi—er, Miang—is gone." Sigurd sighed. "I doubt Kahr knows I feel the same way, after all these years. He always was a little dense when it came to emotions."

"But you're an Empath?"

Sigurd nodded. "Solaris was always interested in people with natural psychic abilities. The inhabitants of my homeland often have such abilities. It's true I'm a bit stronger than most, but hardly the only one with powers. Of course, the people of Elru had powers, too, and look where they are now—gone. Only Dominia remains of her whole race. And the both of us spent time in those horrible little labs." He looked at Emeralda. "So did you."

The green-haired young woman nodded solemnly. "I remember. Krelian was very kind to me, when it was just us. But he was very mean when there were others present he needed to…impress." She sighed softly. "But that's done. Krelian is gone. Solaris and Deus and the Seraphs are all gone. Time to fix all the broken things: me, Kahr, the Gears…" She smiled a secretive smile and leaned close over Kahr's still body. "Maybe even Kahr's heart, and yours."

Sigurd smiled wistfully. "I hope so."

THIS WOULD BE A BREAK, WERE FF . NET COOPERATING!

Hi, again.

Yeah, sorry about the long talking bit with Kahr and Krelian. Not terribly interesting, I know. In fact, this whole part is a bunch of random talk…I'm really not too happy with it, but at least the muse didn't go off to die, or something, right?

And is it just me, or is ff . net being stupid about breaks again? P.O.S! kicks

Anyway, as always, comments, questions, and so forth are welcome.

--Akuma no Tsubasa