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Never Meeting

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When they first meet, Lloyd wants to hate him.

Not hate, no, that’s too strong of a word. Wants to dislike him, or maybe just be better than him, but instead there’s something else there, jealousy or inadequacy or this terrible fear that he’s going to be replaced as Colette’s protector.

Whatever it is, it pisses him off.

At the root of it all, he wants more than anything to be better. When Kratos fights, it’s obvious that he has been doing it for a very long time. Lloyd has only had practice dummies fashioned out of tree stumps to hit with wooden swords, and certainly nobody to teach him the best ways to do it. But he’s not bad or anything; everyone in Iselia finds his ability impressive, and even if it is enhanced by his Exsphere, he certainly thinks he’s done something to be proud of, too.

Kratos, though, doesn’t seem to see any of that.

“You’ll only get in the way,” is what he says, but Lloyd hears something else, something crueler, sharper.

He says Lloyd will be a burden, that he should go home.

If it were not for Colette, Lloyd might’ve been sent away then and there.

But he promised Colette he would stick with her. Ever since they were kids, she was his friend first and the Chosen second. Along with Genis, they’re supposed to stay together, and the two of them will keep her safe and happy.

Or, something like that, anyway.

Kratos says he will protect her, though.

Lloyd wants to hate him, in that moment, but he can’t.

There is something else there, jealousy or inadequacy or this terrible fear that he’s going to be replaced as Colette’s protector.

All he can do, then, is work to be better.

---

As it turns out, he is replaced.

Maybe he should’ve expected it, but he can’t help the way it stings. And after everything that happens afterwards, well...he’s hardly in a position for positive thinking.

Especially not when it winds up being Kratos who comes to his rescue in the face of the Desians yet again.

And yet, there is the undeniable fact that he came to Lloyd’s rescue.

Maybe it should be offensive. Maybe it should irritate Lloyd, because he can take care of himself, but there’s a part of him deeper down that sees this as a sort of acknowledgement, the admittance that though Kratos may have effectively taken his place as Colette’s protector, he still sees enough value in Lloyd to go back for him.

Well, Genis asked them to come, and it’s unlikely that Colette and Raine would have left him behind, but that doesn’t mean Kratos had to come.

He’s more complimentary, now—that’s not saying much, though, really, but for some reason “not bad” sounds like high praise when it’s coming from Kratos.

From Triet onward, they are part of a group together whether they want to be or not.

But after an odd exchange during their night in Triet before heading off to the seal of fire, Lloyd knows with every ounce of certainty that the desire to be better is not going to go away, no matter how much less offensive Kratos is trying to be.

They don’t always get along, exactly. Sometimes, Lloyd finds himself steaming with rage while Colette tries to comfort him or Genis laughs at him because Kratos has said something insulting about his swordsmanship, maybe without even intending for it to be insulting at all.

It’s in Palmacosta, though, that Lloyd truly feels, for the first time, like Kratos’s watchful gaze is actually helping more than it’s hindering.

Training with Kratos is exhausting in many ways, and Kratos is far from kind with his critiques, but by the time they’ve finished for the day, Lloyd is smiling anyway. Kratos doesn’t ask about it, but Lloyd knows he notices it, because he spends a longer-than-usual time studying Lloyd as they make their way back into the city again.

But when they arrive back at the inn and Kratos wishes him a good night, Lloyd thinks he might see the ghost of a smile on the man’s lips, too.

--

The longer they spend together, the easier it gets to talk to Kratos.

At first, he seemed like—well, an asshole, but sometimes Lloyd catches Kratos watching him, an odd but certainly not bad look in his eyes, and it’s sort of reassuring, like he knows that Kratos will always be looking out for him.

They’re similar in ways, too. There is something incredibly endearing about the disgust Kratos shares with Lloyd when it comes to tomatoes, perhaps if only because it’s something that Genis has been telling him for years is “childish,” or maybe it’s just the feeling of sharing something, like belonging.

Belonging, right.

They both belong to this group, on a journey to save the world. There is power in that, but also uncertainty.

Not everyone wants them to succeed, after all.

Kratos continues to train him when they stop in towns to rest. While the other three stock up on supplies and relax a bit, Kratos drags Lloyd to the outskirts of the town and guides him through the actions necessary to hone his skills—so he can protect Colette, maybe. So he can be just as good or better than Kratos, probably.

There’s a sort of thrill to it, like no matter how many times he falls down Kratos will be waiting for him to get up and swing again, and that light in his eyes sends something electric down Lloyd’s spine. Driving him onwards, always.

But when they hear Sheena’s story, things start to change.

Lloyd doesn’t know what he sees in Kratos’s gaze as Sheena tells them about Tethe’alla, but it is so very different from the looks he has come to expect from the man. Something dangerous, something complicated, something big and terrifying and too much, too much, Lloyd has to look away.

His worry for Colette takes precedence over all else in short time, but he can’t quite get that look out of his mind, and by the time they are approaching Hima again, Lloyd can’t help feeling that something very, very bad is going to happen.

Perhaps it is something Kratos senses too. Or something he knows, because of course there are thousands of things he knows that he has never told Lloyd, likely will never tell Lloyd. But as they leave for the Tower of Salvation, the words “don’t die” echo through his head with alarming frequency, a sort of mantra, proof of something he doesn’t quite know yet that he has to prove.

The revelations at the Tower seem to shatter every belief Lloyd has, and though he longs to stop, to let it all wash over him, he knows they can’t. There is Colette, and there is Tethe’alla, and there are the Renegades, who after all aren’t Desians at all, and Lloyd can only consider fleetingly what Kratos’s betrayal means.

The first time they stop for the night, Lloyd barely gets a wink of sleep. He is upset. He is sad. He feels abandoned, in a way he cannot quite understand.

But most of all, he is angry.

If Kratos was hiding all this power from them all along, how in the world will Lloyd ever be as good as him?

---

Nobody can quite figure out what Kratos is after with them. In every way he seems to be helping, he seems to be set on hindering them. There is a small part of Lloyd, one that grows larger with each day passed, that wants to trust him, even though he knows the others would tell him he is insane for it.

Zelos, Presea, and Regal make for great additions to their little group, but Lloyd can’t help thinking that it would be better if Kratos were here, too.

Colette seems to know the way his thoughts drift, though. Shortly after she regains her consciousness and her voice, she sits awake with him while they camp out for the night. Around them, their companions slumber on, but Lloyd doesn’t think he could sleep now even if he wanted to.

“He said, if I couldn’t sleep, I should count the stars.”

Lloyd doesn’t need to ask who “he” is.

“It helped,” Colette continues. “Maybe it could help you too?”

Lloyd smiles at her, but they probably both know it doesn’t come anywhere near his eyes.

That night, he counts the stars, but it doesn’t help. They are nearly as far away as Kratos is.

---

Southwest of Flanoir, they stop for something to eat.

Feeling restless, Lloyd wanders away from the group as Genis and Regal delegate food to everyone. He doesn’t know what it is, exactly, that pulls him away from them, and then he does.

Kratos.

For a moment, Lloyd wants to yell at him. Wants to draw his swords and challenge him. Wants to do something, anything, to hurt Kratos half as much as Kratos has hurt him.

But it would be pointless, of course.

When Kratos meets his eyes, all his anger drains out of him. He says something about trusting. Too trusting, he says. Don’t be so trusting.

These are things Lloyd has been telling himself for a very long time, though. Ever since Kratos revealed his angel wings. Ever since Kratos walked away from him.

And yet, when Kratos turns away this time, it is not those words that race around Lloyd’s head. It is the other ones:

You seem well.

---

No matter what happens, Kratos is always there. Even when he’s not. After each battle, Lloyd cannot help wondering what Kratos would say to him, if he were here. When he gets the chance to practice, he feels Kratos’s absence like a dagger in his chest. He is inadequate. He is inferior.

And he misses Kratos so much he feels as though he is bleeding from the pain of it.

If the others notice, they don’t say anything about it. But Zelos will push him, try to dissuade him from trusting Kratos, and Lloyd can barely help the frost that covers his tone, then, changing his voice into one he has never heard from his own lips before. It is cruel, he knows, but he can’t help it.

There is an ache where Kratos once was. He would like to tell himself he would feel the same if it were any of them. If it were Raine, or Genis, or Colette, all of whom he has known since he was tiny.

But he knows that isn’t true. Because when Colette praises him, he can barely muster a smile. When Genis teases him for picking the tomatoes out of his dinner, his insides feel hollowed. When Raine chastises him for something, he wonders if Kratos would have cared enough to do the same.

The others don’t talk about Kratos, much, other than when he shows up. But Lloyd sees him everywhere. He wakes in the night, Kratos’s name on his lips, and knows that no matter how far he reaches, he will never be able to touch Kratos again.

---

It’s all confusing. Connecting the pieces of Kratos’s past together leaves Lloyd with a larger headache than he would like to admit. It isn’t that he doesn’t understand, but he doesn’t really…understand.

Kratos, whose rare small smiles seemed to ignite fires in Lloyd’s chest. Kratos, who never said Lloyd couldn’t be as good as him, who never said Lloyd couldn’t be better. Kratos, a hero of the Kharlan War, Mithos’s companion, a hero.

Sometimes, Lloyd wonders whether Kratos was ever even real. Whether those moments really happened, or if he just imagined it all. Sometimes, he wonders if it is all a dream, because he knows he will never be so close to Kratos again. Now, he knows it must be, because Kratos is not only far away. Kratos is something out of a myth. A fabrication, a story told to children in classrooms.

Of course, he knows the stories are all true now. The Storyteller told them so.

But Kratos gets farther and farther away, and Lloyd is beginning to think that there is nothing that can tear him away from this particular story. No matter what Lloyd is to Kratos—if he is even anything at all—Mithos is so much more. Mithos will always be more.

Colette squeezes his hand gently, a reminder that he has a story too, that they are making their own history, that Kratos’s past does not need to determine Lloyd’s present.

Lloyd doesn’t know, just yet, if any of that is true. He doesn’t know, just yet, if he even wants it to be.

---

His first instinct is to deny it. This is a revelation worse than the one back in Sylvarant, somehow. It is a sense of betrayal, again, but in an entirely different way. This tilts the world on its axis. Changes the shapes of all Lloyd’s surroundings. Shatters and rebuilds something that has become an integral part of him.

Kratos is his father.

For the first time, he finds clarity in his feelings. This, what he has been suffering through since Kratos left—

It’s love. Of course it is.

But he longs. Longs for the feel of Kratos’s hands, the warmth of his breath, the weight of his words. Electricity, fire, something burning and blazing, hot and heady—

It’s love. Of course it is.

None of them understand, when they try to console him. For once, Lloyd does not want them to.

---

Snow drifts everywhere around him. The cold wind bites into his skin. His companions are scattered about, but they will meet here again in the morning. They will put an end to this. They will bring a close to Mithos’s story. To Kratos’s story.

He doesn’t know what’s brought him out here. It feels the same as when he saw Kratos that day, so close to this city now. Something deep inside him, urging him towards a body the way the planets are pulled to the sun. He could not leave now if he tried, and so he waits. Lets the cold wash over him, and waits.

“Lloyd.”

And the cold is gone, suddenly, replaced by something far different. Kratos comes closer, and then he is here, and Lloyd could reach out and touch him, if he wanted to. He does want to.

But there is still a chance that the second Lloyd’s fingers brushed against him, he would fade away again.

And there is a story, of Kratos’s past. One where Lloyd is the focus. One where Lloyd is everything to Kratos, and Kratos…walked away.

He always walks away.

But he says “Until I met you,” and Lloyd wants to hope, even against his better judgement, that Kratos won’t walk away anymore. They have been reunited. Lloyd loves him.

The words are there, but he can’t say them. Not now. Kratos steps back. He says that it isn’t over yet. He says there is something else he has to do.

But he says he will come back, or at least Lloyd wants to think that is what he means.

This time, when he walks away, leaving those same words behind him—do not die, Lloyd—Lloyd holds on to his hope.

Kratos will come back.

He has to.

---

None of them see Zelos’s betrayal coming, but perhaps they should have. There is anger, jealousy, inferiority. He saw the way Lloyd looked at Kratos when nobody else was watching for it. He knew. He has always known.

But no matter what they say, he can’t be saved. It is the same scenario, in a way: they are at the Tower of Salvation, unsuspecting. Zelos glows around golden angel wings. He fights them, with a power none of them knew he had.

This time, though, he falls to them.

And it does not feel the same. Sorrow, guilt, a deep sense that they could have done more, but they did not.

There is not the same hurt. There is not the devastation, or the agony, everything else that has haunted Lloyd since that moment. If Lloyd still had any doubts that Kratos was different than all the rest of them, they’re gone now.

This time, he is not conflicted to see Kratos come to their rescue again. There is only joy, the feeling that maybe Kratos is not so far away after all.

---

Nobody knows what to say to him.

They all try, of course. They want to help, want to make this easier, but of course they can’t. Kratos expects to die. Perhaps he even expects Lloyd to be the one to kill him.

But they found a way to save Colette, didn’t they? They can save Kratos too. He has to believe this, or he won’t be able to go on. And he cannot afford to stop now.

It is a long night, his thoughts plagued by the worst possibilities of what may lay ahead of him now. Inevitably, the sun rises, and so does Lloyd and the rest of their group. Colette is at his side, a reassuring and warm presence as always, but even her comfort is not enough to ease the tension within him.

Finding Kratos at the end of this path is harder than he wants to admit, but—

This is his chance, after all. His chance to prove his worth. They have been through so much together. For the first time, Lloyd knows that they are on the same level. And if Kratos falls before his blade today, then…

Then Lloyd will finally have become better.

But when it happens, the sense of fulfillment is not there. There is the sense, still: Kratos will not live. Kratos, who is the seal of Origin, must die in order for them to save this world.

Except that it is not true.

Living means more, is what Lloyd tries to tell him. Living will always mean more than dying. And though he cannot bring himself to say the words, he is sure Kratos knows that Lloyd also means he won’t let Kratos die, because Kratos is basically a part of him now, something integral to his being, a vice around his heart.

There is no time to say anything more, of course. There never is.

Lloyd can only hope that, when all this is over, there will be.

---

It’s strange to consider how he feels for Dirk compared to Kratos. Even Raine, who has been his teacher for many years. It is a vastly different sort of love. Maybe it is something he imagines, but he would like to think that love carries itself in Kratos’s sword when he gives it to Lloyd. The flaming weapon, burning, the same way Lloyd burns for Kratos.

It is only fitting, then, that these two swords, representative of these two very different sorts of love, should be the weapons Lloyd takes with him to that final confrontation. These are the things, after all, that have carried him through, from the start of this journey to the end of it.

No longer does Lloyd worry that he cannot replace Mithos in Kratos’s view.

He knows, now:

He was never meant to be a replacement for Mithos. Whatever he is to Kratos, he is the only one. For now, that is more than enough.

---

At the end of it all, Kratos says there is still something he needs to do.

Lloyd shouldn’t be surprised, but the feeling is there anyway. That same feeling he was so familiar with, until those last moments.

“I always thought I’d be able to reach you,” he admits. “But I don’t think that’s true.”

Kratos’s hesitation is answer enough.

He is still here, though. Not for long. But right now, he is here.

And Lloyd reaches out to touch him, trying not to let himself be shocked by his solidity. With the courage everyone has been saying all along that he has, he leans closer until their lips are touching. It is barely even a kiss; more like a ghost of one, but Lloyd feels it from his lips down to his feet anyway, trying to hold on to it, knowing that he will never have this again.

Perhaps Kratos knows this too, because though he makes no movement to return the gesture, he does not back away, either.

But then it’s over, and Kratos turns away again.

This time, Lloyd knows he is not coming back.