"Ugh," Kratos let out, shaking his head and watching splinters of wood sprinkle his shoulders. He tasted copper between his teeth and mentally cursed as the back of his head throbbed in pain. Apparently, the clumsy assassin had proven to put up a good fight despite her earlier pitfall – The creature she had summoned in particular had given the group a bit of trouble, keeping him at a distance for the duration of the battle and upon showing signs of fatigue, the spindly monster had headbutted him in desperation. He had been sent flying into a nearby tree on the perimeter of the battlefield, the impact causing a sickening snap before a well-aimed Lightning spell from Genis took it out. Lloyd had taken the female enemy out a moment later, but the group as a whole was far from unharmed. The younger members of the party were currently collapsed on the ground in exhaustion, sharing the remaining Apple Gels in their stock to heal their minor scratches and wounds.
"We should use those sparingly from now on," their silver-haired healer noted, using her staff as a crutch while checking them each for any threatening wounds. Once finished with the children, she eyed the swordsman, hobbling over to the tree he was slumped against. She frowned at the obvious crack in the bark as he looked at her gravely, lacking the strength to move in his mangled state.
"Can you stand?" Raine asked, strict concern painted on her features. Kratos slowly planted his feet, but immediately collapsed on his knee, clutching at his aching abdomen as a sharp sense of pain flooded his senses. By the time he'd shaken his head to say no, she was already crouching by his side.
"Let me see," the half-elf said, gingerly moving his arm so she had better access to his torso. Kratos watched her with hazy eyes, hissing in pain as she pressed against the tender injuries the opponent had left him with.
"Broken ribs, internal and external bleeding," she examined, her touch emitting a hiss from his lips. She drew back, brow furrowed in dismay. It was more severe than she'd thought. "Signs of possible serious injury."
Kratos could only let out a fatigued groan as the healer bit her lip in concern. He was obviously in no state to move, much less fight if the time called for it. The children had now taken notice of his mangled state as well, watching the scene with expressions akin to the professor's.
"How far did you say Izoold was from here?" Raine asked as she moved her hands over the dark splotches blooming through the angry gashes in his armor in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Through the blurring of his vision accompanying the blood loss, he hazily decided that the sight of the red painted on her fingers didn't suit her.
"Just beyond the exit of the trail," he struggled, feeling another spurt of blood geyser up his throat. He forcefully swallowed, but the volume was too great. Raine's grimace was obvious as he wiped a stray dribble from the corner of his mouth, streaking his cheek with crimson.
"Don't force yourself," she scolded him, though her voice had sounded more soothing than demanding. Raine looked to the others who were shaken from the battle and their enemy's parting words, but were now standing. A stained finger gestured to the item bag, "Are there any Apple Gels left?"
The group shook their heads, and this time it was her turn to curse. It would probably take at least two of them to lug Kratos to the seaside village, and doing so would leave them hopelessly vulnerable to any attacks along the way. Though their clumsy assassin wouldn't make an immediate comeback, monsters and bandits still littered the trail and the rest of the expanse towards Izoold. Not to mention that they were far from their full fighting strength after their last encounter.
Raine closed her eyes for a moment and assessed her Mana flow, deeming it to be just enough to heal the swordsman's major injuries and just enough to keep her alive.
The idea was a gamble, but lacking any other viable options at this point, she applied her palms over the indigo fabric of his chest plate, the last of her mana reserves flowing from her fingers and mending his wounds.
"What are you doing?" Kratos spoke in alarm, feeling the warmth of the green light seep through his veins and stitch his bones back together. The pallor of her face made it obvious that she was running on little to no mana. And to make matters worse, their Orange Gels had been depleted long before they had taken the assassin down.
"Casting a healing spell now could prove fatal," he noted as the pain in his chest dissipated and Raine's shoulders hunched. But by the glazed look in her tired eyes, the spell had already been completed.
"Well that's a chance we'll have to take, now isn't it?" Raine breathed, letting out a husky laugh before she crumpled against his chest. He clutched at her coat in reflex, limbs cold through the fabric. Her spell had indeed done its job, but she had also taken a horrible risk in the process.
A flare of worry shot up – with his remaining mana also threateningly close to zero, he wouldn't be able to cast a simple First Aid to ensure her immediate safety. His mind scrambled as one arm encircled her wait so she wouldn't slip. The other timidly weaved through her hair to support her head, perching her chin on his shoulder. Her shallow breathing was ragged against the crook of his neck, inadvertently making his toes curl.
What was she thinking?
"What happened?" Genis asked in immediate distress as soon as his sister went limp. Lloyd and Colette followed suit, equally concerned about their professor.
"Mana exhaustion," Kratos explained, awkwardly shifting her until she lay against the tree. He squatted with his back to her, maneuvering her arms around his neck before carefully hooking his arms underneath her thighs. With a breath of preparation, he stood, carrying her on his back. "She should be fine so long as we hurry."
The group nodded, falling into a makeshift triangle formation despite their blow in fighting ability. Lloyd took point, setting the fastest pace they could muster with their current strength as Genis and Colette took the rear. Kratos' strides were only reinforced by Raine's form on his back, but he couldn't help but struggle against the weight of her sacrifice. He silently prayed that she would overcome her weakness – before she became his.
Raine awakened to the salty smell of the ocean and a stoic looking swordsman who was considerably less blood-soaked beside her bed. The window splayed stars against the dusky background of the sky hinting dusk, and she let out a small groan upon her revival.
"We made it?" she asked Kratos feebly as her eyes adjusted to the change of scenery. Even the small flame of the candle on her bedside table seemed harsh to her eyes after her slumber.
Kratos nodded, arms crossed in his usual fashion and remained stiffly perched on his chair. But oddly enough, he seemed to be carefully attentive in studying her face.
"How are you feeling?" he asked in a gentler tone than she was used to.
"Sore," she admitted with an uneasy shuffle to get comfortable. With her senses returning, she realized the lack of mana circulating through her system had left her mostly numb. "How long was I unconscious?"
"Eight hours," he explained, making her raise a brow. It surprised him that he'd so meticulously counted the hours. "The rest of the journey was surprisingly without incident. We arrived at high noon."
"That's good," the professor replied in relief, relaxing into her sheets. Although the inn seemed small and the blankets a bit stale, she hadn't been able to sleep in a real bed since they left Triet. Pausing to look around, she couldn't help but notice that a certain chatty group of three was missing, "And the others?"
"I sent them to gather supplies," Kratos said, earning him a weak nod of approval despite his frown. "I would have expected them to be back by now."
"I wouldn't be too worried," Raine said casually, a light note hanging in her tired voice. She wasn't particularly fond of water herself, but it was certainly a new experience for her students. "They're probably looking around. Can't help that they're curious – They're young."
"But why did you stay?" she asked him, raising an elegant brow. The man in question shifted uneasily for a moment under her gaze, but remained stoic and composed.
"I wanted to be sure of your recovery," Kratos said, guilt seeping past his usual stony exterior. "You expended the last of your energy to heal my wounds, so I took the liberty to stay."
"You don't have to feel indebted to me, it's my job as the healer," Raine assured him, fingering the blankets aimlessly and trying to keep a light tone. This new dimension of Kratos Aurion intimidated her, even if it was the most human she had ever seen him, she wasn't sure how to react. "If the party can perform more efficiently with me out of commission, if that's what it takes to complete the journey of regeneration, then so be it.
"But you know full well that you could have died," he continued, hinting at something deeper buried beneath his swaying visage. This in itself made Raine feel uneasy; was his burden of responsibility the reason why he'd been committed to her bedside?
"Why did you cast that spell knowing that it could have killed you?" Kratos asked, fault in his earthy brown eyes. His voice hadn't been demanding, but it shook her foundations nonetheless and left an uneasy curtain of tension between them.
The silver-haired woman contemplated under the pressure, honestly trying to think of exactly why she had. She could list a handful of reasons, strategy, her post-battle lack of reasoning, the well-being of the group, his own well being, and, "Well…"
"I figured you would carry me," she explained simply, a jovial smile countering his suddenly astonished face.
"It was a better bet than me carrying you, anyway," she huffed, crossing her arms in a manner completely opposite of his own – haughty and feminine and so traditionally Raine.
And in the faint glow of the candlelight, his smallest of smirks only made her beam brighter.