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“You know, Kratos, I was standing right in the middle of that geyser attack, and you still healed Lloyd first!”

Kratos looked up at the disgruntled boy who’d approached him. Genis looked… angry, but there was a glint of burning curiosity in his eyes not unlike the one his sister got when they found a new set of ruins for her to fawn over. That piercing gaze made Kratos a little uneasy. He returned to mindlessly grooming Noishe, wanting to think his answer over before he gave it.

“The flow of battle is often too fast for one to accurately monitor every aspect of it,” he said finally, his tone cautious. “Forgive me for noticing that Lloyd was injured before I noticed you were.” He’d healed Genis as soon as he could cast the spell again, anyway. So why did it matter?

“Yeah, but this wasn’t the first time,” Genis argued. “Back in Triet Ruins, when we fought that mimic… Plus when we fought Magnius… And that one dragon on the path to Hakonesia Peak…” Genis ticked them off on his fingers, then let his hands fall. “Plus a bunch of other times I don’t remember with perfect clarity! No matter if it’s me or Colette or Raine getting hurt, you always heal Lloyd first.”

Kratos took a deep breath. Genis certainly was good at reading into very minor actions. He turned away from grooming Noishe, just in case Genis read something into that too.

“Lloyd’s the one throwing himself headfirst into danger all the time, if you haven’t noticed. If it appears that I am healing him more than anyone else, that is his fault, not mine.” Kratos took a second to check to see where Lloyd was, but he and Raine were on the other side of camp, fussing over Colette. Nothing to worry about on that front. So Kratos returned his attention to Genis. “Even your sister is healing Lloyd at every turn.”

Genis rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but Raine doesn’t play favorites!”

Kratos thought about pointing out that Raine absolutely did play favorites, and that she would heal Genis without second thought before considering anyone else, but… Genis was a smart boy. If Kratos drew a line of parallel between Genis and Raine and himself and Lloyd, it’d have roughly the same effect of standing on the nearest rooftop and yelling out to the world that he was Lloyd’s estranged father and… He couldn’t do that. Not now.

Not ever, perhaps.

So Kratos simply made his tone sharp and told Genis:

“I do not play favorites.”

“Sure, sure!” Genis laughed, clearly not believing it. “Try and act like it, then.”

Genis may have had an intelligence to rival that of an adult’s, but he was still a child, and his tone now was a strong reminder of that. The teasing tilt of his accusation was even familiar, in a way… But Kratos had not thought of those times for a long while, and he did not intend to start now. There was too much grief. Too much bitterness.

Kratos opened his mouth to respond to Genis, but found that while he’d been distracted with his thoughts, Genis had left. Maybe he thought the argument won. Childish indeed… But the thought simply brought a smile to Kratos’ face, at least until he remembered the weight of the secrets he was hiding.

He could not help it, though.

He had lost his son once.

He could not bear to lose him again.