I'm very sure this will be the final chapter. It's gonna be a long'en.
I want to take a moment to be flat-out honest. Every single person who has reviewed, I thank you sincerely. Your reviews have spurred me continue writing, and even helped me improve, I figure I'm probably 100 better than when I started with his in early June, maybe not immediately that much better, but still. To those of you who read, but didn't review, I'd really appreciate your opinion, whether it's a flame with chat writing and typos or a written-out, fully functional outlook on this story. If you enjoy quantities of reviews, I always say if you review my stories, then I'll usually review yours.
…While I'm being honest, that was pretty over dramatic… Oh well, STORY TIME!
As they walked on in silence, nearing the exit of the temple, Sheena stopped dead in her tracks. "Uh-oh."
Zelos turned to her quizzically. "What's up, Sheena?"
"I completely forgot. Today's Mizuho's Relocation day…"
"Is… that a good thing?"
She bit her lower lip, "Well…" she cautiously approached a window looking directly outside. Zelos sneaked behind her, peering over her shoulder. "Iselia's gonna have some new neighbors, it seems."
He nodded, "Well, we're not in danger yet, are we? It's only been like a day since you were supposed to return. If they've sent out search parties already…"
"Don't even finish that sentence." She hissed, slowly moving away from the window. "Looks like we'll have to make an escape. Immediately."
"You've got to be kidding me!"
"Wish I was." She responded with a great deal of urgency. "Here's what we'll have to do—"
"No, no! We can't leave!"
"Uh-uh." He pulled out what appeared to be a charm from his pocket. "Remember this?"
Sheena snatched the charm from him. "We don't have time for this—"
"Just look at it." He said coolly.
She shook her head angrily, chancing a glimpse outside. Reluctantly, she unwrapped the charm from her fingers and looked over it. With identification, her eyes softened noticeably. "That half-spider thing… before we battled Mithos…"
"Yup, and remember it told us not to run from our fears. It's the same thing here. Do you really want to run from this your entire life? Wouldn't you rather just get this over with and put it behind you?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"Exactly. So let's take care of this now before it even starts."
"I don't know. I don't want a dishonorable leave. Simply telling them off wouldn't be very admirable."
He chuckled slightly. "But you're already considered a traitor by few. Wouldn't it be kinda hard to have an 'admirable leave' after something like that?"
At a loss for words, she blurted, "Whose side are you on!"
"The winning side." He teased, assertively draping his arm around her, not in the mood though, she politely shouldered him off. "You terrified me the first time you said that! …But I still don't understand how exactly we're going to go about this…"
"Why not wing it?" he suggested openly, unaware of the reaction it would draw from his lover.
"'Why not wing it'!" she repeated heatedly, unbelieving that he could be so ridiculously calm with a situation that could, in worst case scenario, could cost either of them their life. "Zelos, do you fully comprehend the situation at hand? Either of us could be killed if we screw this up!"
"No worries, no worries, babe. I got it all under control." He said waving away her worries with his hand. She wasn't so assured, however.
"Oh really?" She replied cockily, "So do I not get a say in this or something?"
"Well, do you trust me?"
She answered without hesitation, "Of course I do!"
Completely off topic, he mused, "Wow, I've gotten really far with you since chapter one. Had I asked that then, who knows what response I would've gotten."
"Bu… w-what? Chapter one? What, are you novelizing our little journey in your head?"
"Everyday is a new chapter!" he joked, "No, no. If someone were to novelize this, I'd have them make a few, minor details…"
She smiled in spite of herself, lost in their side conversation for the time being, "You wouldn't be able to make changes mid-story, and even if you cou—" It was then the little people in her head banged on pots and pans, blew whistles and hammered on gongs while her common sense smacked her with a two-by-four. "Whoa, wait. This has nothing to do with the situation at hand!"
"Oh, yeah, right. Well, in any case, even if they do come for our heads, we've defeated Nelibium, Yggdrasil, all of Cruxis really. It would be a stupid move on their part. Plus, we've got the King on our side. I don't see why you're so worried."
"Nelibium, Cruxis, the King, Summon Spirits, Mana Lineage, not to mention we have strong connections with the wielder of the Eternal Sword…" she murmured to herself, "Don't you think that may sound a bit… suspicious?"
He blinked, not understanding her view. "Come again?"
Thinking it over, she motioned: "Never mind, I was just over thinking things…"
"So does that mean you're ready to go on?"
She sighed, "I suppose so…"
He grinned broadly. "Alright then! Follow me!" Zelos walked on out of the temple with his ever convinced mind-set. Smiling at how much of a fool he looked marching off in the wrong direction, Sheena pulled him by the back of his vest. "Wrong way, Zelos. Mizuho relocated this way."
He laughed sheepishly, "Riight!"
"Ah, Sheena." Vice-Chief Tiga greeted her warmly, "Um, Zelos, correct?" he said, more erratically.
"Yessir." The former Chosen responded politely.
He nodded, "Yes, well, have a seat." They did as he said; he went on, carrying a heavy, yet undetectable, pretense of carefree naivety. "So, Sheena, what brings you here?" he questioned, occasionally glancing towards Zelos.
"Well, she was gonna—" Zelos began, but Sheena discreetly nudged him in the ribs with her elbow to silence him. "Sir, Vice-Chief Tiga, I know this may sound… ungrateful, but I would like to request a Leave from the village and clan… permanently." She added hastily.
"Why is that?" he pried further, "Have you done something ignoble?"
She laughed nervously, "I certainly hope I haven't."
He nodded, whether in acceptance or defeat, they couldn't tell. "I see. ..Sheena, would you go fetch Chief Igaguri and bring him here? I must… speak with him over this Permission of Leave. After all, he is the Chief."
"Yes sir." She rose, bowing respectfully before leaving. The two men watched her leave. Tiga, like a vulture over prey, turned to Zelos, his deceit again appearing thickly as he spoke.
"So, Sir Zelos. I hear you are deeply in love with Sheena, and she with you, I would assume."
Taken aback by the sudden radical change of subject, he sputtered, "Y-Yeah. Er, yes sir."
Tiga smiled, "Oh now, you can forget the formalities. It really doesn't matter how an outsider speaks, in terms of respect." He picked up his small cup of herbal tea, sipping as he continued. "That aside, what is the true reason Sheena seeks a leave?"
"Ah, well, I don't really think it's my place to speak."
"Oh come on. We both know she won't tell straight forward, women and dignity, they say." His approach reminded Zelos a great deal of his old man over a cup of whiskey. "Buut, if you don't want to tell that, then just how do you plan to get her a Permission for Leave? And don't try to weasel your way outta this one, I know you have an ace up your sleeve, Chosen."
He held up his hands in mock defense. "Alright, you've seen me through." He paused for a moment, thinking on how to phrase it correctly. "I suppose I can't really mince words, but I was kinda hoping…"
"That I could… or that she… get hitched." He finished irregularly and unprofessionally.
For a second, his façade all but dispersed as he looked to Zelos, eyes wide with shock. Realizing his abate, he laughed heartily. "You really plan on purposing to Sheena? If you get tongue tied just saying it with me, then I dare say you'll be able to spit it out with her!"
He abruptly stopped laughing when he felt a small weight hit his knee. He looked down to see a small sack of what he assumed was Gald. "A hundred gald for you. Keep it on the down low." Zelos stated mirthlessly.
"You really are serious, aren't you? Don't worry, I won't utter a word of it—" he pushed the small bag back to Zelos, "—and I can't take a bribe for anything, village policy. …But frankly, I am happy for the both of you. I'm glad to see she'll say 'I do' to someone who truly cares."
A bit surprised at his forthrightness, Zelos replied, "Ah, um… thank you." Just as he finished, Sheena entered with Chief Igaguri who, despite being in a coma for over ten years, looked as vigor as ever as he sat down next to Tiga. He smiled, looking over the couple. "Well then. What are we here for?"
After what seemed like hours of going through Leave procedures, the two stood at the edge of the village, facing the village of Mizuho for the last time.
"So, you do understand the Leave policies and vow to uphold them, so help you Goddess?" Vice-Chief Tiga inquired, "The both of you?"
The couple looked to each other, and answered traditionally: "Hai."
He then nodded, and Chief Igaguri stepped in. "Alright then, we'll go on your word. Your pendant, Fujibayashi-san?"
"Hai," she reached into her pocket and withdrew a small silver adornment gleaming in the sunlight, and handed it ceremoniously to him; he nodded.
"Then by the prowess vested in me, as Chief of Mizuho, I grant thou, Sheena Fujibayashi, freedom from thy clan, and so thou shalt be bound no longer by the laws tied upon our village. By also the representative power vested in me, as Chief of Mizuho, I wish the best of luck upon thou. Now go forth, free."
Sheena couldn't help but grin as she bowed deeply, "Arigatou gozaimashita, Chief."
The rest of the day passed by without incident. Yet as the day drew to a close, the big question approached nearer and nearer. Plenty aware of this, Zelos made one final trip into the night, cursing his procrastinating, stickler-like nature.
Morning entered her day with—as she put it mentally—a polite knock on the door, followed shortly by a cannon ball blasting through the window, metaphorically speaking anyway.
Still half asleep, Sheena groped around the bed with her hand, trying to feel out where her Zelos was. Her search, however, ended abruptly when her hand had led her off the bed and face first onto the floor.
Growling into the wooden floor, she slowly picked herself up off the ground, scanning the room for the red-haired, pink dressed man she loved. Though upon looking in the mirror she found something quite peculiar…
…there was a bright pink note stuck to her forehead. It read: Morning Sheena, Went out for a while, be back soon. Love you much, Zelos.
As she went to get dressed, she continued to peer over the note, not so interested in what it said, but how he had managed to leave and stick it to her forehead without her noticing.
"Untroubled and free-spirited as ever, but I guess that what I dig about you." She mimicked.
Boring quickly in waiting patiently, she spotted paper and a pencil lying on the desk near the window. Having nothing better to do, she picked the items up, lay back down on the bed and decided to try her hand at sketching.
By the time Zelos returned, Sheena had drawn two pictures of Corrine, though not ones she was particularly proud of. "Hey, miss me?" he teased.
She smiled, crumpling her papers into balls and shooting them at the trash against the wall. "Take a wild guess."
Smirking roguishly, he pounced onto the bed directly next to Sheena and captured her in a long, avid kiss. After a while, she felt his hands migrate, and half pulled away, giggling: "Down boy, down."
"Oh, you want me to go lower?" he mock questioned, his eyes still gleaming mischievously.
"Don't you just wish?" She pushed him off playfully, so he lay adjacent to her. He paused for a moment, simply gazing at her beauty. "…Let's go somewhere." He tried experimentally.
She raised her eye brows, "Where to, though? Heh, more like, where haven't we been?"
"Hmm… I think I know of a place…."
Sheena fixed her eyes on the scenery around them, gaping. "Only you could manage to find the needle in the hay stack in an unfamiliar place."
They had traveled deep into the forest surrounding Iselia and found the desert jewel, so to speak. The area resembled the Ymir Forest in Tethe'alla greatly, save for it was not as expansive but merely a wondrous patch of greenery amidst glum willows.
Oh, how Zelos ached to just spill his guts and get this whole thing over with, however the perfectionist inside him demanded—what else?—perfection. Had he been on the outside looking in, he would have hooted in laughter at how nervous he was. Hands shaking, steps faintly off rhythm; the whole nine yards (and surely that expression would've drawn a snicker as well).
"So, how exactly did you manage to find this place, anyway?"
"Stumbled upon it when I was out this morning."
"You went this far from the village?"
He stopped. The jig was up and he felt it a proper time to explain all his 'misdoings'. "Alright, alright. I give."
Partially dumbfounded, she stopped as well. "Nyah? What?"
"I… I've been lying about a lot of things in the past couple… well, a lot. But you know I wouldn't lie to you without good reason."
She raised an eyebrow good-naturedly. "So it's not always immoral to lie?"
"Perhaps…" he sighed nervously, inhaling deeply before continuing. "To list a few: the note you found, where I've been and what I've been working on; all little white lies."
She laughed airily, "So, this is all some little scheme of yours to achieve world domination? And I, but a mere pawn alive but only for my ability to make pacts with Summon Spirits, huh?"
"Now that, would be all too easy for the Great Zelos Wilder." And before he could even feel the words form on his tongue, he heard himself blurt, "Hey Sheena… let's get hitched."
Zelos nearly internally flinched at the shock in her voice meanwhile the perfectionist inside his head ran around screaming and cursing. "Yeah," he went on much more smoothly. "I mean, I'll be honest, I planned to bring you out here for this overly dramatic proposal, and such… buut… it just slipped out." he smiled sheepishly, not knowing what else to say and what not to let slide.
"So was this what the note was really about?" she found herself smiling like an idiot, however she was in good company. "Yeah, though I guess I didn't really need it after all…"
"Then what…" she paused, "…was with the whole 'elves' thing?"
He snickered quietly. "Elves, E-L-F-S, it was basically an acron—er, no, a… scrambled word replacement for 'self', put literally."
She nodded, understanding. An awkward silence proceeded, until Sheena finally said, still unable to rid of her idiotic smile, "Well? Aren't you going to ask formally?"
"Aww, heck, why not?" lowering onto one knee, he pulled from his pocket a shimmering ring of black silver, lavished with various gems. "Sheena, will you hitch me?"
She smiled even more, if at all possible at this point, "Yes, I'll hitch you, Zelos."
As Zelos performed the traditional sliding-of-the-ring-onto-the-fiancée's-finger ordeal, he had only one word runnning through his head, and it was anything but traditional.
Post Story Notes: I literally squealed with delight upon finishing this. So there! Forever Strong, my first true, multi-chaptered story, IS DONE! Now that's is done, I can finally start on it's direct sequel: Never and Forever. It'll be a while, but I'll try to make it worth the wait.
But of course, there will probably be many oneshots between now and then. So enjoy those in the downtime!
Until Never and Forever!