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may the journey be safe below your feet

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Take my ashes and scatter them at the highest peak in all the realms.

 

Faye's hoarse voice was now only a faint echo in the emptiness of the darkened house. The warmth and love she had possessed and illuminated was gone, just as the last sparks of her pyre crumbled.

 

Atreus wailed and wept; barely one winter passed before his birth and already, he cannot understand that his mother was gone.

 

This change was alarming to Kratos. Atreus had always been a quiet child and in the brief and occasional moments that Kratos allowed himself to touch Atreus, the boy was content in his father's arms.

 

But now with Faye gone, Atreus was not familiar with Kratos and so he cried and flailed with all the strength he could muster, demanding for the return of his mother, not knowing she was forever gone and Atreus only had his father left.

 

The night was long as Kratos simply held the boy tight until his cries were reduced to sniffles and at last, Atreus fell into an uneasy sleep.

 

He would wait until the boy was older. When he would be better trained. When he was ready. Then, together they would make the journey to the mountains.

 

Faye would understand.

 

~.~.~

 

Kratos's plans were abruptly changed with the arrival of the Stranger.

 

Thankfully the loud, demanding voice of the Stranger was not enough to wake Atreus and Kratos had no choice but to settle the sleeping baby under the floorboards in the smallest attempt to protect the boy should a fight break out.

 

His fears came true when the crumbling roof caused by the Stranger clattered noisily across the floor and woke Atreus whose frightened cries alerted them of his hidden presence.

 

“ Well now. Is that a baby I hear?” the Stranger grinned.

 

For the first time in hundreds of years, the fire and the rage and the power erupted from him and Kratos made no attempt to stop it.

 

~.~.~

 

The journey was hard and not for one carrying such a young child.

 

Atreus fussed and whined at the confines of the wolfskin blanket made by Faye that now strapped him at his father's back. At times, Kratos could feel an occasional kick or a drooling hand slap at his shoulder as a result of Atreus's restlessness and ignored demands to be put down.

 

Reprieves were brief and the short moments of freedom were not enough for Atreus who cried whenever Kratos picked him up and secured him once more. But Kratos would not risk lingering in one place for too long. The Draugr and Hel-Walkers that now roamed the woods and lurked deep in the caves did not differentiate between child and man. Only prey.

 

He would not risk Atreus's safety for that.

 

~.~.~

 

The moment when Kratos felt the sling holding Atreus give and he heard Atreus shriek was when Kratos saw red.

 

“ Can't wait to taste this one's flesh,” the man was muttering, one hand hungrily reaching to silence the wailing Atreus.

 

Kratos thrust his axe into the man's neck before he could.

 

Atreus continue to cry, even as he fell from the man's grasp and back into the safety of his father's arms.

 

There was blood on Atreus's face, the crimson vibrant and ghastly against the paleness of the boy's skin and brightness of his teary eyes. It was a color that Kratos had hoped to never see on his son.

 

But the deed was done and even as he rocked and tried to soothe Atreus, Kratos would not hesitate to kill again.

 

~.~.~

 

“ You needed food?” the witch of the woods scathingly asked from the blood-stained grass.

 

A high-pitched gurgle from Atreus, fretfully kicking against Kratos's back from the safety of his sling, was the answer.

 

While Kratos was grateful that Atreus had been weaned off his mother's milk, the boy now needed other means for food. And that meant hunting and foraging for game.

 

The woman's face immediately softened, her anger dissipating.

 

“ Come with me to my home. I can finish the healing and prepare something for him to eat.”

 

He did not trust the witch or her powers. He wanted nothing to do with her.

 

But another irritable kick from Atreus was a reminder that his boy was not like him and needed sustenance and warmth and a mother's touch. Things that Kratos could not provide.

 

So he followed her deeper into the forest.

 

~.~.~

 

A monstrous serpent (“The World Serpent Jormungandr,” Faye spoke in a low tone to the attentive Atreus. “ It is a great beast, enemy of Thor and the Aesir, yet friendly to those it deems its kindred) rose above the waters, violently hurling their boat against all sides.

 

Kratos gripped Atreus tight who was seemingly delighted in seeing his mother's fabled creature in the flesh.

 

Jormungandr, tilting its gigantic head in a strangely human manner, leaned forward closer to them, to Atreus. Kratos tensed, readying his axe. Atreus squirmed against his strap, peering over his father's shoulder.

 

Its voice, deep and undecipherable, vibrated through the air, shaking the boat that housed Kratos and Atreus.

 

What it was saying was lost to Kratos as the serpent slowly retreated, leaving only mist and Atreus's awe.

 

~.~.~

 

“ Do not lean over, boy,” Kratos sternly told Atreus whose cheeks puffed out in annoyance resembling a pout.

 

Riding in the boat had been a more calming activity for Atreus who delighted in spending long stretches of time from being tied to his father's back. He sat wide-eyed and curious at the spanning mountains, the vast skies and the twisting rivers when he wasn't drifting off to sleep. And during these quieter times with no one to bother them and with no monster to hunt them, Atreus would babble and make all assortments of sound and even reach out for Kratos at times.

 

Kratos was simply uncertain as to what exactly the boy wanted and settled for telling him stories, cautionary lessons for the future.

 

And to some extent, it seemed to appease Atreus who would settle down and listen to his father intently, as if he could understand every word his father said.

 

~.~.~

 

“ Think of it as compensation,” Sindri chirped as he pulled out a mistletoe arrow from his bag.

 

The strap holding Atreus started showing signs of tear after he had fought the dragon. He would not risk continuing the journey wondering when the strap would snap. Kratos nodded at Sindri who beamed and began tying the arrowhead around the strap, cautiously avoiding any gleefully reaching and sticky fingers from Atreus.

 

When there was time, Kratos would find a better replacement for the strap.

 

(much later on, when Baldur attempted to rip a screaming Atreus away from Kratos, only for his hand to be pierced by the mistletoe, Kratos privately admitted that Sindri's gift was far more useful than initially thought)

 

~.~.~

 

“ Make sure his feet are firm on the ground, brother,” Mimir casually added.

 

Since reviving the head, Mimir's company had been both simultaneously an annoyance and a relief. Having another person, albeit a talking head, who could keep Atreus entertained and guard Kratos's back against any foolish enemies, had its uses.

 

“ I know what needs to be done,” Kratos gruffly said, memories of Calliope growing up, smiling and raising her arms as she wobbled towards him all but a distant past.

 

Atreus, uninterested in the two speaking, swayed unsteadily on his two feet, arms outstretched. He managed to take one tiny step before falling forward, Kratos quick to catch him.

 

“ One foot forward first, boy,” he sternly said. He set Atreus firmly on the ground. “ Again.”

 

The boy pouted but obeyed.

 

~.~.~

 

A fight to the death with the sons of Thor was unavoidable, this Kratos knew very well. And he knew he was already at a disadvantage, carrying Atreus and facing against two enemies who would undoubtedly aim for any weaknesses.

 

With great reluctance, Kratos untied Atreus and set the boy down on the icy ground as Magni and Modi began to mockingly encircle him. With solemn eyes that no child should have, Atreus was quiet and still as if he could sense the danger they were in.

 

“ I always wanted a younger brother,” Modi gleefully hummed.

 

Fighting back the growl that rose in his throat, Kratos could feel the fire simmering beneath his veins.

 

“ I'll keep my eye on the boy,” Mimir murmured reassuringly.

 

It was not much but Kratos was grateful nevertheless.

 

~.~.~

 

“ The truth ... I am a god, boy.”

 

The words came haltingly and Kratos did not know why. Atreus stared at him silently. The boy had no understanding for Kratos's words but it did not make it any less easier to say them.

 

He told Atreus he came from a land called Sparta, how he chose to live as a man, how Faye knew his true nature ... and how Atreus was a god, just like him.

 

He expected to see fear and confusion in the boy's eyes.

 

He did not expect Atreus to squirm off the boat's bench and to crawl over to his knee.

 

And in spite all his words, all the distance he had placed between them, all the damage and hurt and danger he had put his boy in, Atreus giggled and reached up for him.

 

Just like that, the weight across Kratos's chest was lifted. He could do this. He could raise his son. Not like him, but to be better. They both could be better.

 

Because Atreus's toothy smile at him as Kratos picked him up was more than enough.