Between Heaven and Hell
By Kasmi Kassim

Author's Note: This story takes place before the game of Xenogears. All standard disclaimers apply. This is my first attempt at a fanfic; please give me feedback!

The July heat was relentless. The air surrounding the quiet house was humid, quenched with a call for an oncoming storm. The trees were hushed, the tiniest leaf frozen in lack of wind.

The scorching rays of the sun penetrated the quiet house that stood among the silent trees and found its way to the figure inside, kneeled before an unlit candle. The heat danced around his form, as a beast spying on its prey. It licked him, cradled him and began to seep into him. Slowly at first, but it dug deeper and deeper. It burned into the material covering him, biting into his flesh. Yet his eyes remained closed, hands clasped together.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

The sounds of the neighbors' children outside were drowned out by the voices that haunted him.

You have a family to feed, don't you?

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

Beads of sweat slid down his forehead, dampening his robe. He didn't notice.

How will you feed her without a job? You know this is the only chance you got...

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned...

A sudden touch on his shoulder halted his feverish prayer. Slowly, he waded his way out of the abyss of voices that threatened to swallow him. Allowing his eyes to focus, he slowly raised his head. For the first time, he noticed the heat surrounding his body. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he turned to face a pair of eyes that mirrored his own.

"Sorry, princess. I didn't notice you coming in." His pale face broke into a tender smile. He reached for the girl's small hands and gently pulled her down, embracing her frail body on his lap. The girl wrapped her white arms around his neck and leaned her head against his chest.

"Are you bored, Prim?"

The child shook her head silently. He continued to hold her, and raised his hand slowly. His fingers made contact with her smooth, silver hair. She looked up. She knew her brother had a habit of stroking her hair when he felt guilty or sad.

"I know it's kind of late, but I have to go out again, Prim. I think I may be able to get a job today." He waited for her response. The child watched his eyes, not giving him any. She saw his eyes flicker. Was it guilt? Her brother was always honest to her, and though she was young, he told her everything except for things that would bother her. She could tell.

But, that was all that she could tell. His eyes gave away no thoughts, no hints just guilt and a wall that locked away everything he didn't want her to see.

Finally, she nodded.

"So you're back after all!"

The boy gracefully steered himself away from the embrace of the woman. She pouted at him with full red lips.

"Oh, come on. You have to be a little more gracious if you want to work. What's your name?"

Billy hesitated. He didn't like the idea of letting these people know anything about him at all. But it was too late now. These people knew his weakness. And he seemed to have no way out of this predicament without their help.

He had been walking in the marketplace in despair, letting his mind reply the images of starvation. Of Primera, without any food. Her sweet innocence, wilting away. He gripped his gun under his coat.

"Hey, Billy!"

He turned his head to see a running figure. It was the man who had told him of his misfortune over a week ago. The man, covered in sweat and matted beard, came to a halt behind the boy and bent his back to gasp for air.

"Still didn't find a job, I see," he panted. Straightening his back, he wiped his brow and met the serene gaze of the 14-year-old before him.

Billy shook his head. The man's expression broke down into that of pure guilt and sadness. "I'm sorry, Billy. I really am."

The boy smiled. It was a sad smile, and it burned into the guilty salesman even more. "It's all right, Mr. Conner. It's not your fault they cut off the trade route. You know I don't blame you."

The man's heart scorched painfully at the boy's calm demeanor. "You know I'd love to do anything to help you, Billy. Oh man, stupid war! What are you gonna do now? Do you have any other place you can go to for a job?"

Billy's eyes fell. He was silent, and the man hung his head. "I'm sorry, my boy. If it would help, I can gather up what I have and pay for your items..."

Billy's voice stopped him. "You can't afford that, Mr. Conner. Don't worry, I can take care of Prim."

The man's foot kicked a pebble. "Yeah, I know you can, but what about yourself?"

He walked away, mumbling under his breath. Billy watched him leave, silently contemplating the answer to the question. Realizing that he had none, he turned to continue on his way when he found himself staring at the face of a stranger.

The man was burly with dark masses of hair that resembled that of a sailor's. He held a pipe in one hand, and his other hand was fingering a concealed object in his jacket pocket. He peered down at the boy who turned to go around him.

"I heard the conversation, kid. Lost your job because of the army, huh?"

Billy nodded and walked past him. The marketplace was filled with all kinds of people, and he didn't trust himself to talk to strangers.

The man, however, got his attention when he said his next line.

"I can get you a job."

Billy stopped abruptly. There was a silence. Then the voice behind his back spoke again.

"Yeah, you heard me. I can get you a job."

Billy slowly turned to face the stranger. The man was smoking, looking down at the boy with an unreadable expression. Finally he turned his back to Billy and took a step forward.

"Follow me."

Billy watched the woman turn briefly to greet a customer. Clad in a shiny silver dress with a slit on the thigh, the woman was smiling in a fashion that seemed a bit too friendly for a stranger, at least to Billy's standards. She asked for his preferences and taste, and began to lead him up the stairs after receiving pay. Billy looked around the lobby as the man in the counter put away the cash.

The dimly lit lobby was decorated lavishly in a combination of red and black. The crimson rug with black intricate patterns not only dominated the floor, but up the spiraling stairs as well. Contrary to the darkness of the lobby, which held slot machines and a casino at the back, bright light flooded down the stairs from above. Music and laughter could be heard, and Billy noticed that the smell of the place was a mixture of all kinds of alcohol as well as perfume.

The woman returned shortly afterwards, flashing Billy a sly smile. The boy dropped his gaze in discomfort, and waited for her to return to her place by the door.

"Billy, huh? Come here and stand next to me. Don't worry, I don't bite." The woman was twirling her blonde locks, which cascaded down her back aside from a loose bun at the top of her head. She was an attractive woman, but her demeanor somehow tempted Billy to look the other way.

"My name is Katrina. I'm the guide and the attention icon at the door, so you can always ask me if you have any questions. Now, about you. How old are you?"

Billy forced himself to look direct