Mirror Image

Wings

Anna could hear voices, slightly warped in her disoriented state. She expected her body to be writhing and protesting in pain, but it wasn't. Strangely, she couldn't feel anything at all. Hello idiot…it’s because of the Cruxis Crystal, just like Colette! She was vaguely aware that someone was hovering over her, applying the healing arts. She assumed it was Raine.

"What was that cry?" Genis asked. Anna winced, his voice echoing far too loudly in her head.

Kratos heard Anna wince and tried to keep his voice low for her sake, knowing every sense was extra vulnerable at the moment. "Martel, I would assume. The out-of-control Great Seed is Martel herself."

"The Great Seed is once again bound in the Holy Ground of Kharlan," Yuan's voice practically shouted through the communicator box. Anna growled in frustration, keeping her eyes close. She knew they'd react sensitively to light and she wanted to delay that reaction. “For that, I owe you my gratitude. Thank you. It seems that you have managed to save the Great Seed as well as this world."

"If the Great Seed is intact, then I presume Martel, who's fused with it, is safe as well?" Kratos asked.

Yuan snorted "I'm sure that's good news for you. I wish I could say the same for me."

"Oh for crying out loud!" Anna roared sitting up. She opened her eyes and hissed as they adjusted. She was vaguely aware that Raine was across from her, next to Genis, not above her like she thought. It was Kratos on his knees beside her, his head turning from the box to look at Anna with sorrowful eyes. "Why are you people talking so loudly?"

"Calm down," Kratos said, forcing the emotion from his voice. "You're reacting to the parasitic effects from the exsphere. Breathe slowly."

Lloyd paid very little attention to Anna, more concerned with the terrified girl before him. "Colette, it looks like things have settled down."

Colette cringed, clutching her arm. "It's gross, isn't it? It's disgusting, isn't it? It's…It's…"

Lloyd shook his head and walked over to her, his hand outstretched. "It's not at all."

"Stay away!" Colette cried, backing away. "Don't look at me!" She looked at Lloyd and suddenly swayed alarmingly. Colette's eyes rolled up into the back of her head and Lloyd reached forward to catch her as she fell.

"Colette!" Lloyd cried, brushing the hair out of her face.

"It's okay," Raine said checking on her. "She just fainted. Let's take her back to the village."

"To Iselia?" Genis exclaimed. "But Lloyd and I were banished!"

Raine fixed her brother with a hard look. "Colette's home is in Iselia. Besides, we can't just leave behind the people who were held at the ranch."

Lloyd thought about Marble, about the hate on the mayor's face, the pain in the villagers’ eyes. Then he looked down at the blonde angel in his arms. That decided him. "All right. Let's…go to Iselia."

"Then I'll notify Sheena and Zelos to meet you at Iselia," Yuan said. "Farewell for now."

"Finally he shut up," Anna growled, sitting up. Onto disc two. Now things get interesting.

"Ada," Raine said approaching her. "We need to get you a key crest."

"That won't cut it," Ada said grumpily. "It's not an exsphere, it's a Cruxis Crystal."

Kratos cleared his throat nonchalantly, a warning to be quiet. Anna gritted her teeth and breathed very quietly for him, "That wouldn't work fifteen years ago, and it won't work now." Aloud, she said. "Let's get Colette to Iselia. I will explain things-whoa!" The world spun as she tried to stand, causing her to flop back to the ground.

"See!" Raine protested. "We have to do something."

"She, like Colette, needs rest," Kratos said.

"Regal," Raine asked, looking at the ex-convict. "Can you carry her?"

"I'm walking," Anna snapped as Regal started forward.

"No you're not," Lloyd said, positioning Colette better in his arms. "Kratos…you take her."

"As you wish," Kratos replied, picking Anna up. "May I ask why you selected me, Lloyd?"

"Ada will complain less," Lloyd said, (“Hey!” Anna shouted indignantly) “She trusts you for some reason.” Lloyd adjusted Colette in his arms and started for the village.

Anna, though humiliated at having to be carried, was happy to be in Kratos's arms instead of Regal's. She looked to make sure the others were occupied before wrapping her arms around Kratos muscular chest.

"Our reunions suck, my love," Anna whispered.

She felt Kratos sigh. "It would seem that all I am capable of is causing you pain."

"It's not your fault," Anna said. "It's Mithos and his foolish ways!"

"That I have allowed continuing for four millennia," Kratos countered.

"Ok fine," Anna snapped. "You are a rabid, flea-bitten bird brain who should be put down ASAP!"

She felt his chest vibrate with laughter. "I don't deserve you."

"Kratos," Anna said seriously. "Don't worry about my forgiveness. You have it, for the most part, and the rest of it will come…eventually. Worry about Lloyd's."

"He doesn't believe me to really be his enemy," Kratos said.

"No he doesn't," Anna agreed. "So why don't you come back?"

Kratos said nothing. Although Anna knew very well why he could not, she still wanted him to, desperately. "Can I convince you?" Anna asked.

"No," Kratos replied.

Anna grumbled for a moment, before inspiration struck her. "Kratos can you stop for a moment?"

"Are you alright?" he asked concerned.

"The jostling is a bit…uncomfortable," Anna lied. "Tell Lloyd."

Kratos caught up to Lloyd. It struck him then just how similar Lloyd was to him. There were both of the Aurion men, carrying their broken soul mates in their arms. "Lloyd," Kratos said. "Adalais is experiencing some discomfort."

"Are you alright?" Lloyd asked of his comrade.

"Just the jostling from walking," Anna said. "I just need to sit for a moment."

Lloyd looked from Kratos to Anna, considering. "Fine. Take a break. I trust you—" Kratos raised a brow and Lloyd grimaced. "—at least as far as hurting her. Besides, she would just eat you alive anyway."

"We'll catch up momentarily." Kratos strode off a ways into the trees, Anna groaning in fake discomfort. Finally Kratos sat down gingerly, arranging Anna carefully in his lap.

"Please, Kratos," she sighed. "For me?"

"Anna," Kratos sighed. "I can't. I must do what I can to atone for my sins, for all the wrongs I've done and allowed to be done."

"How much longer will you cloak yourself in this blanket of guilt, Kratos?" Anna demanded.

Kratos looked at her. "Do you remember what I promised you, the night you died?"

Anna nodded. "You swore you would always protect us."

"And that I would not let Mithos win," Kratos amended. "I have betrayed my family and mislead you and Lloyd and your companions. I have spilled more blood than I can recount, but if that's what it takes to stop Mithos…then I cannot be free of my cloak of sin. Not now."

"You're a fool," Anna muttered, burying her face in his chest. "I guess I have to watch you hurt Lloyd all over again. What do I tell him when he asks why his father betrayed him?”

Kratos froze. "You don't plan to tell--"

"Of course not," she snarled. "But you will."

"But-"

"At the very least, you will explain why you betrayed him and lead his soul mate to the slaughterhouse!"

Kratos sighed. "I see you've notice their developing relationship."

"He loves her," Anna said confidently. "When this is over, they will always be together."

They were silent for a long moment, thinking of their son and the trials they still had to face. Kratos suddenly became conscious of the fact that Anna was tracing the lines of his palm, running her fingers through his, and shaking, scrunching her eyes tights as though straining to remember something. He lifted her chin so that she would look into his eyes.

"I can't feel it," she muttered, answering his unasked question. "I can't feel the warmth of your arms around me, or the pain of where I was hit." She sighed. "I can't even cry like I want to because you are a fool."

Kratos had no idea what to say, so he just held her as she tried in vain to cry. Eventually, he scooped her back up and carried her to Iselia, planning to go to Yuan about a Key Crest just as soon as he could.


"I see," Phaidra said slowly as Lloyd finished his story, explain their journey, the split worlds, Cruxis’s façade, and a great many other things. "So the angels of Cruxis were really half-elves…"

"Please don't tell anyone about this," Lloyd begged. "We don't want to start a panic."

"Indeed," Phaidra said "Especially now that the Tower of Salvation is gone, I wouldn't dare tell people the truth."

There was a chorus of shocked exclamations at this news. "The Tower of Salvation is gone?" Genis gasped.

Phaidra nodded. "After that frightening earthquake, the Tower disappeared from the eastern sky along with that monstrosity."

"How could it disappear?!" Lloyd demanded, rounding on Kratos.

"I don't know," the angel replied. "The Chosen never completed the ritual of regeneration. The Cruxis core system, which controls the appearance of the Tower, may have malfunctioned. It is of little consequence."

Raine turned to Kratos too, enraged. "No, it's not. It's a tremendous shock to the people of Sylvarant. After a giant earthquake sunders the land, the symbol of salvation vanishes. The Chosen will be held responsible."

"Why?" Genis asked. "Lots of other Chosen have failed up till now, too."

"The others have paid for their failure with their lives,” Phaidra pointed out. “But Colette is still alive."

"When people are suffering, they feel the need to place the blame on someone," Regal said, almost to himself with a side glance at Presea.

Presea spoke up, steadfastly ignoring Regal’s gaze. "It is not fair to Colette!"

Lloyd appeared to be struggling with himself, trying to decide what to do. "I'm gonna go see what's going on in the village," he said finally.

Genis exchanged a glance with Lloyd and wordlessly conveyed his concerns. They were banished after all and Genis was concerned at the backlash they would face for returning. "I'll go too," he said, a slight hint of apprehension in his voice.

"Let's all go together, then," Anna said. "It sounds like it's a bit sketchy for you to be walking around by yourself."

"I'll…stay here," Kratos said.

"Are you sure?" Lloyd asked, looking up at the man disappointedly.

"I'll watch the Chosen" Kratos assured him. "Go on."

Lloyd looked as though he wanted to argue but he thought better of it as the group went outside. They hadn't walked long when a familiar shout reached their ears. They rounded the corner and came face with the ranting and raving mayor of Iselia.

"This is an outrage!" he roared. "Those who were banished returning without permission, the Chosen failed atrociously—it's the end of the world!"

"Well, he certainly hasn't changed," Genis muttered as they joined the crowd of people grouped around the mayor.

The mayor heard him and glared ferociously at Genis and Raine. "And on top of all that, people we thought were elves are actually half-elves?!" He shook his fist at the sages. "I bet you were the ones that led the Desians here to attack this village!

"I've heard enough from you!" Lloyd roared, marching forward. The gathered villagers recoiled slightly. Their memory of Lloyd was the lazy cheerful kid who followed the Chosen around. This Lloyd was different. There was something harder in his eyes. His heart was that of one who had killed, been beaten, been betrayed, watched endless horrors unfold before his very eyes. He wasn't afraid to stand up to the mayor. He wasn't afraid of anything anymore because the world now rested on his shoulders.

"Now you listen," Lloyd continued hotly. "It's true that the Professor and Genis are half-elves, but so what? There are good half-elves just as there are bad humans!" Lloyd hissed.

The mayor scoffed. “What does a kid know? You were raised by a dwarf. It's no wonder you caused the Chosen to fail her journey! You even brought a bunch of dirty prisoners back here! It's intolerable how much pain you've caused the good humans of this village—!"

SMACK!

The mayor staggered from Anna's slap. Anna raised her hand to hit him again, rage ripping through her, but Raine grabbed her wrist. Anna didn’t have to hit him again because that’s when Chocolat planted herself firmly in front of the sniveling weasel that called himself mayor.

"That's enough!" Chocolat snapped with her signature sassiness. "You're just complaining about everything! Does any part of you besides your mouth even work?"

"Ooooh! burn!” Anna shouted gleefully, but she was as usual ignored.

"You criticize and attack people for their birth and upbringing—things they cannot change," Presea said, venom in every word. "It is you who are not human."

"What?!" The Mayor gasped. "We have an arrangement with the Desians! I have a duty to protect this village. Isn't that right? "

No one said anything.

"Say something!"

"Genis is the smartest person in this village," piped up a young boy standing nearby. "He even knows factorizations that you don't know."

"The Professor is scary when she's angry," said a teenage girl beside Anna. "But when I know the answer, she's happy, too."

The younger boy nodded. "Lloyd isn't any good at school, but he's the strongest in the village. He saved me when I was attacked by monsters."

"Colette, she's always falling down and stuff," continued the girl. "But she never cries. She doesn't cry even when it hurts. Colette is really grown up."

Lloyd looked down, unsure of how to handle the sudden appreciation. "Everyone…"

There was a muffled sob as Raine turned and fled from the scene.

"Sh…shut up!" The mayor snapped. "You children, go away!"

Chocolat stood firm. "Those children understand the truth much better than you! Who do you think you are?” She turned to the group of villagers that had gathered around and fixed them with an icy glare. “And it's not just the Mayor! Everyone shoved all the responsibility on the Chosen and Lloyd and the others. What have you done?” When no one said anything, Chocolat nodded grimly. “Exactly. You haven't done anything!"

"We are powerless…" The mayor muttered.

"Yes," said a woman beside him. "But even powerless, we can still aid the Chosen and her companions when they return exhausted to this village."

"Mayor, your words are so shallow that even a child can see through them,” one of the watchmen said viciously. “You say that you are powerless and force everything onto the Chosen, but when push comes to shove, you turn and blame her? That's just too much!"

"Forcystus is dead," Chocolat informed everyone. "There are no more restrictions upon this village."

"Then we will take in the Chosen and her companions and the people from the ranch," said the woman. "And, Mayor, we're not going to let you say a word about it."

"Everyone…are you sure?" Lloyd asked, hardly daring to believe it.

"I'm a half-elf…remember?" Genis said uncertainly.

"But you were raised in this village," insisted the watchman. "And Lloyd is like a member of this village, too."

"Thank you," Lloyd said. "Everyone."

"Fine!" the mayor snapped. "Do what you want!" The man then turned on his heel and stomped away as the crowd broke up.

"I must apologize, too," Chocolat said feebly after they’d gone, looking at Lloyd "You saved me, and yet I couldn't bring myself to accept it.” She looked at Genis. “I…heard at the ranch about how you were kind to Grandma. …Thank you."

"Thank you, Chocolat," Genis smiled.

"I'll always remember Marble," Lloyd said sadly. "For the rest of my life."

Lloyd looked at Chocolat and smiled, the young woman smiling shyly back. Then they set off to find Raine, who was frozen in place in front of her old house. Her eyes were swimming with tears as she looked at the charred and mangled wood.

"Professor. What is it?" Lloyd asked.

Raine jumped slightly, having not noticed their approach. "No, it's nothing," she mumbled, turning to wipe her eyes. "Just…no…no, never mind." She sighed and looked at the village. People walking by called greeting to Raine and Genis and Lloyd, others were helping the newly freed prisoners locate food and water and shelter. "Perhaps this village has some hope left for it after all."

Anna smiled. "Pity. I was really looking forward to you chewing out the Mayor."

"I'm not stupid enough to waste my time lecturing pigs," Raine spat. "Besides, you and Chocolat did even better than I would have."

Anna grinned and turned to Lloyd. "If you go back to Colette's, I think Sheena and Zelos are waiting for us. And Colette’s probably awake." Lloyd's head snapped up and he took off, leaving the others behind in a trail of dust.


After reuniting with Colette and Kratos, Lloyd and Company made their way through the Iselia Forest toward Dirk’s house. Lloyd was very worried about his father after the earthquakes and goings on at the ranch and he was relieved when he hopped the creek in front of his house to see everything still standing. He grinned and raced ahead of his friends and burst into the house

"Lloyd!" Dirk exclaimed, looking up from his tools as his son walked in with his friends right behind him. The foster father and son exchange a brief, manly hug.

"Dad! How've you been?" Lloyd asked, looking at his adoptive father affectionately. "Were you affected by the earthquake?"

Dirk shook his head, grinning mischievously. "This area is on top of hard bedrock. Everything is fine."

"Dirk," Kratos said. "We are here by the request of Colette's family. They wish for you to help her."

Anna was staring at Dirk in shock as the inquiries about Colette and her Cruxis Crystal were made. It occurred to her she had never seen the dwarf properly before. She had barely gotten a good look at him the night she died and they hadn’t visited Dirk since she had fallen from the sky. But now, in the flesh, he looked extremely familiar, as though she had seen him recently and not in Symphonia.

"I'm afraid, even if Cruxis Crystals are an evolved form of Exsphere, I still don't know the first thing about them," Dirk said as Kratos finished his explanation. "It'd be a better idea to ask a dwarf over in that Tethe'alla place."

"Oh," Lloyd mumbled sadly. "So even you don't know anything about these."

Dirk rested a hand on his son's shoulder. "I'm sorry I couldn't be of help. But at least stay here for the night to get some rest."

"I must politely decline," Kratos said. With a curt nod, he exited the house. After a split second's hesitation, Lloyd followed. Anna mumbled something about fresh air and fled to the terrace to eavesdrop.

"Wait!" Lloyd called after Kratos's retreating figure. Anna could see the faint glimmer of hope in Kratos's eyes as he turned around. As silently as she could, using her own newly enhanced hearing to make doubly sure, she crept across the balcony and crouched so her husband and son couldn't see her.

"Are you really going back to Cruxis?" Lloyd asked, as though hoping otherwise.

"I am an angel of Cruxis," Kratos said simply.

Lloyd shook his head in frustrated disbelief. "Then why didn't you follow Yggdrasill's orders to leave the Great Seed alone?"

"I have my reasons...that's all," Kratos said, emotion momentarily clouding his eyes. It passed as swiftly as it came before he turned cold again. "But as a result, Martel was not lost. That goes along with Yggdrasill's wishes."

Lloyd's face fell. "It's true then. You really are our enemy."

"If you consider Cruxis and the Desians your enemy, then I suppose that makes me your enemy." Kratos turned away.

"I... don't wanna think of you as an enemy," Lloyd called after him, stopping Kratos in his tracks.

YAY! Anna thought gleefully, clapping silently in excitement.

The Seraph turned to face his son curiously. "Why the sudden change of heart?"

Lloyd raised an eyebrow and scoffed, every inch the defiant teen again. "It's not that I've forgiven you or that I like you or anything. But unlike the other Desians, you abandoned neither the Great Seed nor this world. I just thought...” Lloyd hesitated, dropping the bravado and rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “It's weird to think of you as an enemy."

Kratos stared at Lloyd for a long moment, his eyes evaluating the boy in front of him…except he was no longer a boy was he? "You've grown up," Kratos finally said softly, and sadly. It hurt Anna's heart to hear the sadness in his voice. She had been able to watch Lloyd grow more than he had, not as a child, but she had been with him these past months and seen him become a man. Kratos believed himself to be a failure as a parent—not only had he missed his son's childhood, but his allegiance with Cruxis made him unable to be by Lloyd's side as the boy became a man.

Lloyd looked nonplussed at Kratos’s admission. "Huh?"

"The Lloyd at the beginning of this journey would have thought of all angels as his enemies," Kratos explained. "The same ways humans and elves hate half-elves and half- elves hate everyone else."

Lloyd rubbed the back of his neck in a mixture of embarrassment, shock, and a little shame. "You think so? Was I like that?"

"Everyone has difficulty accepting those who are different," Kratos informed him. "It's easier when you believe in a world where the Desians are pure evil, the Chosen saves the world, and humans are all right and good. In fact, you joined the Chosen's journey believing that."

"Yeah... that's true," Lloyd agreed. "But I can't forgive what the Desians and Cruxis have done. What they're doing is just revenge for what was done to them, right? That's just going to breed more hatred."

"Yes," Kratos agreed. "The fact that you're able to see that now shows that you've grown up. The strength to believe in what you see and not be swayed by the opinions of others; the ability to understand and sympathize for those you despise; the courage to look at things with an open heart; you have all those traits within you."

Lloyd laughed. "Colette is always saying, 'Why can't everyone get along?'"

Kratos struggled for a moment before actually smiling very faintly, sending Anna's heart hammering. "Humph... that sounds like something that a Chosen would say."

Maybe not Zelos, thought Lloyd, Anna, and Kratos.

"But I don't think that everyone has to get along with each other,” Lloyd said. “It's okay to dislike people. There will always be people who make you mad," he paused and looked at Kratos pointedly, who resisted the urge to look away in embarrassment. "But I do think we need to accept each other's rights to be here.”

Would say the same of me if you knew the truth? Kratos thought. Would you agree if you knew what I have done?

His thoughts must have shown on his face somehow, or maybe it was Lloyd manifesting his hope in his words. "I think it's okay for you to be here, too."

Kratos couldn't keep the shock and amazement hidden this time. For one brief and shining moment, he imagined himself crossing the little space between him and his son, putting a hand on his shoulder, and telling him the truth. He imagined Lloyd accepting him and forgiving him and inviting him back so they could stop Yggdrasill together. But then he thought of Lloyd's face in the Tower as Colette looked at him with soulless eyes. He thought of the anger on Lloyd's face as he discovered more and more of Cruxis's plans for Colette and the world. And he thought of the hate and pain in Lloyd's eyes when he charged Kratos in that cursed place. He couldn't join his son, not now, not ever.

"No," Kratos said, turning away sharply. "I cannot join your journey for I still have something I must take care of."

"What do you have to take care of?” Lloyd demanded as Kratos walked away. “Is that why you've been wandering around Tethe'alla this whole time?"

Kratos looked back at his son. "Lloyd."

"What?" Lloyd asked.

"If you wish to save the Chosen, you should research the records from the Ancient Kharlan War," Kratos said, continuing his retreat. "Remember the words of the unicorn at Lake Umacy."

"Wait!" Lloyd shouted, a hint of desperation in his voice. "Why are you with Cruxis when you're a human?!"

But Kratos had already gone. Lloyd swore. "What is he trying to do?"

"He's trying to help us," Anna said, jumping down from the balcony. “He’s just being an idiot about it.” Lloyd looked slightly surprised at her presence as she walked over to him

"What do you mean he's helping us?" Lloyd said. "You know what he's up to. Why is he with Cruxis? Who is he?"

Anna shook her head. "Lloyd, I cannot tell you."

"Why, Ada?" Lloyd demanded. "You've revealed things before. Why not now?"

Anna ached to see the hurt in his eyes. "Lloyd, you will find out, soon in fact, but it’s better if you have these experiences. I dare not tempt fate more than I have." She paused and looked off into the trees. "I'm not even supposed to be here anymore…"

"Anymore?" Lloyd asked. "Do you mean because you sorta died?"

Anna smiled. "Yeah…sorta…"

Lloyd sighed petulantly. "I guess you'll tell me what really happened eventually?"

"Someday," Anna laughed. "Lloyd, can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Lloyd said.

"If I…" Anna gulped. "If I were someone other than who you thought I was, what would you do?"

Lloyd looked at her, frowning in thought. "Well, almost all of us weren't who we thought they were so I'd say I wouldn't care."

"Really?" Anna said. "Not everyone, surely."

"Well look at it," Lloyd said. "Genis and the Professor said they were elves, but were really half-elves. Sheena hid her home, job, and still hides her real name, from us. Zelos…well I'm not sure about him yet, but I just have this feeling there's more to him and that there is something he’s fighting for. Presea was basically a zombie when we met and turned out to be a Cruxis experiment. Not only that, she turned out to have a connection with Regal, who turned out to be not just a murderer, but the murderer of Presea's younger sister. Colette hid her illness and pain. Yuan's a double agent, Altessa used to work for Cruxis, Kuchinawa betrayed Mizuho, and Cruxis is really a deranged group of half-elves working with the Desians instead of helping the Chosen seal them up." Lloyd paused and then added. "And Kratos, turned out to be working for our enemy the whole time, but he continues to help us."

"Wow," Anna said. "I never thought of it that way." She shook her head. “We seriously need less complicated friends.”

Lloyd laughed. "Well the way I see it, if we're trying to create a world where everyone has the right to live, then we have to accept everyone for who they are, even if we don’t like it. So yeah, you may not be who we think you are. It may hurt us, it may not, but you're still you…you're still one of us."

Anna felt pride rise up in her chest. Lloyd had indeed grown up, and grown up well. It was bittersweet to know because she had missed most of his life, as had Kratos. But…if things hadn't turned out like they had, then maybe this twisted world would have eventually died without Lloyd and his friends to save it.

"So who are you really?" Lloyd asked.

Anna smiled. "I am your friend and I will always fight by your side, Lloyd." My wonderful son.


Sheena and Zelos returned as the group settled in for a relaxing afternoon around Dirk’s house. Lloyd made a point to check-in with all of his friends, something that made him both a great friend and a good leader. Anna sat with Noise, leaning into his soft fur and testing out her new senses as snippets of Lloyd’s conversations met her ears.

"It's more like...instinct,” The Professor was saying. “You subconsciously collect and store various external information. That's why when the time comes, you always manage to find the next path to take. Not by logic, but by intuition." Dear old Raine, always trying to find the why and how of everything.

"What do you do about people who don't wanna understand?" Genis said a little later when Lloyd was discussing the Mayor and the Village for him. Poor Genis struggled so hard with his identity and the prejudice of others. It was a burden no one should ever have to bear.

"Hot-headed and stubborn as well. But I guess that's what I dig about you." Zelos never could be serious, but at least he was always honest, if a little weird.

"Alicia said she wanted me to forgive him. And I really want to...with all my heart. But I can't yet." Anna couldn’t blame Presea for that. Anna herself forgave Kratos for killing her, but she still struggled with him rejoining Cruxis. Sometimes the heart didn’t always do what the brain wanted it to, or vice versa.

"Your will manifests itself in the words you speak. Whether they be curses, or words of joy, the soul of those words yields power." Regal just flat-out has the best lines of anyone ever.

"By doing what we thought was right, countless people in Sylvarant lost their lives. I can never forget that. And I know you feel responsible for that even more than I do." Sometimes Anna wondered if Sheena was a better match for Colette than Lloyd since they both take responsibility so seriously.

"I'm…truly thankful to have met you, Lloyd. This time, I don't want to disappear. I really don't. I'm gonna live, right? I'm…going to be able to stay by your side, right?" No, Sheena wasn’t better. Colette was. Colette had a sweet innocence that Lloyd would need to keep him fighting for. As long as he had Colette to protect, he would do his best.

Evening fell and to Lloyd and Colette's intense enjoyment, Dirk got them all involved in making Dwarven Pot-Luck Surprise. Dirk made the room pitch black and everyone started to throw all sorts of things into the pot and then stewed it. Raine was in her element as an experimental cook. Genis and Regal tried to give a seeming of normalcy to the ingredients, but when Zelos starting throwing things at them instead and challenging them, an ingredient-tossing contest took place, which Sheena snuck into and won. Lloyd had to be healed by Raine when he attempted, unknowingly, to toss Presea's shockingly heavy axe into the stew. Presea accidentally grabbed the table instead of the carrot she was going for and sent the whole thing crashing into the stove. Anna stood back taking pictures until she had to beat the snot out of Zelos when he tried to toss her camera in. There was also a slight hitch when Colette grabbed for what she thought was two heads of lettuce but was really the heads of Genis and Dirk. Needless to say, the pot of stew never got cooked and Genis eventually had to make them curry outside while Lloyd, Presea and Dirk repaired the stove and the wall. In short it was a perfect end to a long day of killing mad trees and saving the world.

Once everyone had nodded off for the night, Anna slipped outside, unable to sleep for obvious reason. Idly, she wondered how long it would be before she lost her voice. She looked out over the trees and the small stream, trying to ignore the starlight glinting off of the Cruxis Crystal. She thought of Kratos, of what he was doing right this very minute. Was he still in Sylvarant? Was he in Welgaia? Was he scouting the skies on his blue wings in Tethe'alla? Where did he go?

Anna snorted with unamused laughter. It reminded her of that song she had heard on earth. Where'd you go? I miss you so. Seems like it's been forever since you been gone…please come back home. She laughed softly as the refrain sprang to mind and she said it out loud. “I want you to know it's a little fucked up that I'm stuck here waiting at times debating telling you that I've had it with you and you're career—"

“What would you have me do?"

Anna looked up at Kratos who was sitting on the roof of Dirk’s house, looking down at her with shadowed eyes. Of course he hadn’t left yet. He would hover nearby watching them for as long as he could get away with it. “I would have you do what is right and return to your son,” Anna said. She paused and thought for a minute before tacking on, “and I would have you tell Mithos to go to hell, but only when I can be there to watch.”

“I can’t, you know that.” he replied.

Anna glared. “You are a coward.”

Kratos met her eyes briefly and looked away. “If you know everything then you know why I can’t join you again,” he said carefully. “You know my reasons. We discussed this earlier.”

Yes she knew them, but it wasn’t until faced with the reality of this life that she truly recognized them for what they were: the easy way out. There were some advantages to him remaining supposedly loyal to Mithos, but she knew what he did not: Mithos wasn’t fooled. She couldn’t tell him that and most times she tried to forget she knew that, but this was not one of those times.

“Your reasons are folly,” she said without further elaboration. “If you have something new to tell me then do it, but at least come down so we can discuss it face to face.”

“You come up here,” he said. “I do not wish to be seen."

Anna looked at the solid, smooth, six-foot span of wall above the doorframe. "How do you expect me to get up there, fly?"

Kratos’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Yes, actually. You haven't tried yet, have you?"

"Tried what?"

He actually smiled affectionately at her that time. "What do Yuan, Yggdrasill, Colette, and I have that you should now as well?"

Anna thought for a moment. "Um…exceptionally long hair?"

Kratos gave her a very blank stare.

"Well it's true!"

"That’s not the p--Anna, you have wings now."

Anna gasped loudly. "Are you bloody serious?" She screeched in a whisper, half excited, half afraid. She imagined for a moment, soaring through the skies with Kratos and Lloyd, who would eventually have wings too. Then she remembered what Colette had gone through and what it had meant for Kratos and Yuan. And how badly she had wanted to pluck Remiel and would pluck that creep Mithos.

"I know you're scared," he said gently, reading her expression. "I haven’t managed to find you a Rune Crest yet, but I persuaded Yuan to provide me with a more refined key crest. It will subdue the parasitic effects and hopefully reject the Inofficium. Although it is unlikely you’ll catch it since it only affect one in a million people.”

Anna raised her eyebrows. “Then why the heck are you giving it me? Go help Colette!”

Kratos sighed patiently. “It wouldn’t help the Chosen though since she is already sick."

Anna looked at the bracelet he was holding out to her warily. “Are you sure?”

Kratos scowled. “Would I give it to you if I wasn’t?”

“Fair point,” she admitted. “So how do I bring the wings out?"

"Since you aren't be bestowed with 'Cruxis's blessing,'" he quoted from Remiel with a grimace, "For the first time…" he thought for a moment. “Well, my method, as well as Yuan's and Yggdrasill's, was to envision your wings sprouting from your back and to manifest your will into making that vision a reality."

Anna nodded and scrunched her eyes shut. She concentrated on emptying her mind of everything. That done, she concentrated hard on the image of wings. She fixed it in her mind…but her concentration was slipping. She was tired and the more she tried not to think the more she thought. First, she kept thinking of Kratos, which lead her to think of Lloyd and her desire to get her family back. That immediately led to Colette who desperately needed family and to the Sages who were also without family and well…on it went. Underneath it all was the anger she had at Cruxis for tearing lives apart, including hers. She tried to clear her thoughts but before she knew it, she felt a tug deep inside of her as well as a spasm of pain from the exsphere. There was a shimmering light pressing against her lids followed by a bright flash. Her eyes sprang open.

“Well,” Kratos said, shifting uncomfortably. “That was unexpected.” Fearing the worst, Anna turned her head to look back at her wings

Anna wings were black, likely a reflection of both her anger and her ferocity, and they were boarded in a bright cheerful blue for her optimism and kind heart, so she guessed. It was the rest of her wings that did not make sense. In each wing, there were eight small circles of color, all different shades. She looked like a monarch butterfly. Ironic since that’s what she called Yuan.

"What in the world?" she gasped. They shouldn’t look like that…should they?

"What did you think of?" Kratos asked sharply.

Anna blushed. "I tried to keep my mind clear, but I kept thinking of you which lead to Lloyd, which lead to Colette, and so on until I thought of how frustrating this was and how Yggdrasill has ruined everything and…yeah."

Kratos thought for a moment. "So by doing the exact opposite of my instructions, you ended up with…that." He shook his head. “They are beautiful…and certainly unique.”

Anna flapped her wings gently and looked up at Kratos. Muttering a silent prayer, she gave a little hop. To her intense relief, she rose an inch in the air and hovered there. Grinning, she continued flapping upward until she reached Kratos.

"So you think my thoughts they had something to do with this?" she asked.

Kratos examined her wings closely. "I believe that each of these colored patches represents a color you have fixed in your subconscious to them."

Anna snapped her fingers. "So they are black because I was well, deadsies, and probably because I’m fairly violent. But the rest…"

"Red is the brightest patch," Kratos pointed out, smiling.

"Lloyd!" Anna examined her wings by craning her head insanely. As she looked at each color, she knew who they were for instantly. "Colette is yellow, Genis is white, Raine is silver, Sheena is purple, Presea is pink, Zelos is orange, and Regal is indigo." She paused and looked up at Kratos's wings, smiling. "Blue is for you because you give me hope."

“I do?” Kratos asked surprised.

Anna shrugged. “Well, you have no hope so I have to have twice as much to balance us out,” she said, grinning cheekily.

Kratos sighed heavily before grabbing her hand and pulling her down beside him. She leaned on his shoulder for a moment with her eyes closed and he gently stroked her arm.

"They're beautiful," he said as the colors shone brightly against their raven background. He tilted her chin up and kissed her softly. She ran her hands up his muscled chest and twisted her fingers into his long hair, urging him not to stop. Without breaking their kiss, he laid her back on the roof, pressing his body to hers. "You're beautiful," he mumbled breaking the kiss and trailing more down her neck. Anna bit her lip to stifle the moan of pleasure. "I could live to be a million and would never deserve a treasure like you, my love." He reached into his pocket as he kissed her lips again, running his other fingers teasingly down her front. He withdrew the bracelet again and slipped it onto her wrist. It glowed faintly, as did the Cruxis Crystal, before tightening slightly of its own accord.

"I love you, Anna."

"I love you too, Kratos."


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