AN: I wish I could say there was a point to this thing, but I think what it comes down to is just me wanting to see Lloyd and Zelos rolling around in the grass together. Must force self to write something substantive, now. I've started another ToS fic, one that attempts to relate the events in the game from Kratos's POV, but that's been done so much I haven't decided if I should post it. I don't want to be too redundant.

Smile Like You Mean It

Zelos sliced at the air with his sword, flowing through his forms like water. In reality, he stood in a clearing surrounded by towering pine trees, practicing his swordwork, but in his mind he was hacking away at the Papal Knights. He slashed at the air in front of him and down went a Cardinal, slashed again and did away two more Knights. A final thrust and he enjoyed the image of the Pope himself dying on his blade.

That last, grim picture faded from his mind and so did the last of his anger, so he pulled in a few deep breaths and lowered his sword, but an iron band of tension was still clamped around his middle. He could just make out the walls of Meltokio through the columns of tree trunks, and just looking at it made that iron band cinch tighter. Tomorrow they'd find out if his route into the city was still open.

"Worried?" Lloyd sat before their small fire, his head tilted in a way that made him look like a curious puppy. At the other side of their quaint little camp, Raine was busy giving Colette and Genis an evening lesson. Where Presea and Sheena had wandered off to, he had not a clue.

"Me? Nah," he said with a flip of his hand. Anxiety squirmed like a worm in his gut, but he smiled like he meant it, smiled like the Papal Knights weren't on his ass and his whole way of life hadn't been torn away from him.

"Wanna play cat's cradle?" Lloyd was already working the string over his fingers.

Never had Zelos seen anyone so thrilled with just a bit of twine. It was cute, though, and refreshing to see that kind of innocent delight. He sheathed his sword and sat across the fire from Lloyd. "Nah. But you have fun with that." With every breath came the strong pine scent, and above them, the boughs swayed against the dim sky and the sun sank further toward the horizon. His eyes strayed to Meltokio again.

"You are worried, admit it."

Worried, yeah. And sore from sleeping on the ground, and dirty, and stuck out here with all of you when I could be at a party in the city with my friends. He managed a weak laugh. These guys had enough problems without him giving voice to the stupidity in his head. "Hey, all I'm worried about is Sheena killing me in my sleep. She hit me upside the head five times today! Five!"

"That's because you bother her. Anyway, I've been trying to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a city like you did. All those important rich people around you all the time and waking up every day in a huge mansion every day..."

"Yeah," Zelos said, "Meltokio's the best! Too bad you had to grow up in that little country village. I wouldn't give up the city high life for anything." He looked up toward the swaying boughs, eyes half-lidded, and recalled life in the Meltokio upper class, where superficial happiness was the only kind of happiness to be found.

"There're parts of that city that never sleep, and no matter how low you feel, you can always find something to bring you back up, however temporary it might be."

"Sounds…tiring."

"Hm. It was that, too," he said, but he frowned at the city beyond the trees. Meltokio was everything he'd just said, but it was also vicious backstabbing, and the stink of the slums, and waking up every morning feeling lost. He'd spend an hour or more in the mornings just choosing clothes, standing in front of the mirror and holding up outfits one after the other. He loved looking beautiful, of course he did, but was there nothing beyond that? Was there nothing more?

During the days, he would put in appearances wherever it was needed, prancing around like some ridiculous peacock between the palace and the cathedral and the homes of important nobles. Through it all, he smiled like he meant it. The women of the court swirled and floated around him, lovely and useless as flowers. But don't fool yourself, he always reminded himself. You're no different than they are.

Then, at night, when the fluted champagne glasses were empty and his eyes started burning for lack of sleep, he might go with one of the little flowers to her bed. If it suited his fancy, he might take up with a young lord instead, but whether man or woman it always amounted to the same thing: moans in the darkness, the sweaty tangle of two bodies joined, and the chance to forget, if only for awhile, that he was but living life on the surface, that beneath all this was something richer, something real...if he could just get to it.

How do I know this isn't exactly what I've been waiting for, all this time?

Across the popping, leaping fire, Lloyd was busy with his string. He held it up and beamed. "Cat's eye!"

"Heh. Nice." Amazing a kid like him had lasted so long, traveling the treacherous world as he did. Maybe there was more to him than Zelos had first thought. There had to be, if Lloyd had gone through so much and was still able to find so much joy in such a small thing. How did he do it? How did he go through life wearing his heart on his sleeve and not get it broken every day?

Someone'll destroy him with that if he's not careful. Take advantage. Maybe I can watch out for him.

Now that was hilarious. Lloyd was surrounded by friends—real friends, the kind good for more than just a quick tumble in the sheets—and Zelos the idiot Chosen of Tethe'alla was going to watch out for him? Yeah, that was a riot.

"If you don't want to play cat's cradle, we could spar," Lloyd said.

"We don't have any practice swords."

Lloyd untangled his fingers and crawled over to their packs. "I've got some! Catch!" Spinning through the air came a wooden practice sword, and Zelos caught it by the hilt. He stood and gave it a few swings. The weight in his hand was heavier than what he was used to, and the sword was longer than his own. It would put his rhythm off, but it would serve. "Who did this belong to?" he asked.

Lloyd had pulled out two slimmer wooden swords for himself, but he paused to frown at the one in Zelos's hand. His eyes betrayed his emotion too well; a confusion of anger and melancholy were writ there. The kid would never have survived in Meltokio. "Just a guy. It doesn't matter. He's gone, now."

The rough clearing they chose was out of sight but within shouting distance of the camp. The sunset had set the sky afire and stained everything in orange. Zelos held the sword out before him in a defensive position, enjoying the nervy, restless energy that always built up in him before a fight. Fighting, he had found, was just as effective a distraction as sex.

Lloyd shuffled his feet, jogging in place, ready in an offensive stance. "Tethe'alla versus Sylvarant. Prepare yourself, knave!" Lloyd pointed one curved, wooden blade at him.

"Ha! Come and get it, country-boy!" Ah yeah, this would be fun.

Lloyd darted forward, one sword slashing horizontally, and Zelos met him, the swords impacting with a loud crack. Zelos blocked, pushed his own attack. His eyes went wide when Lloyd parried, and wider still as they fought, for Lloyd's technique was not the unrefined improvisation of one who was self-taught, but with the precision and skill only formal training could give. His style was fast, sharp. He jabbed and kept the offensive while Zelos danced through attack and defense as it suited.

When they pulled back to circle each other like hunting wolves, when he had a moment to breath, Zelos said, "You've had real training. Who was it?" So there was more to Lloyd than a naïve boy with a short attention span.

"Nobody. Leave it." Those expressive eyes followed Zelos's sword arm, watching for that twitch of movement that would mean an attack, and that too was a sign of formal training.

"Was it the owner of this sword?"

"I said leave it!" Before the last word was fully out of his mouth, Lloyd leaped forward again, both swords flashing. Zelos blocked once, twice, but the sword's extra weight threw him off and he was too slow on the last parry. With a dull smack, Lloyd's right-hand sword slammed into Zelos's left shoulder. A shock of pain shot down his arm.

"Ha!" Lloyd said, jumping back.

Well, he wasn't about to let that go unpunished. The hair on the back of Zelos's neck stood on end as he called a trickle of mana and conjured heat with it. Lloyd gasped, dropped one sword, and grabbed his rear where Zelos had given him a tiny pinch of fire. "Now we're even, bud."

"That's not fair!"

With a flip of his hair and a shrug, Zelos said, "All's fair in war."

"Oh yeah?" A sudden grin near split Lloyd's face in two and he tossed his other sword away and charged forward. He hit Zelos in a flying tackle that sent them both tumbling to the ground. The impact drove the air from Zelos's lungs, but he gulped air and laughed, grappling with Lloyd on the floor of the forest, kicking up dirt and pine needles.

"Wanna play dirty, huh?" Zelos said. While Lloyd tried to pull his hair, he yanked Lloyd's shirt up out of his pants and tickled him. That proved to be the fatal blow. Lloyd succumbed to uncontrollable laughter, kicking and trying to get away, and it all ended with Zelos pinning him, straddling Lloyd's chest, holding his wrists captured above his head.

Panting, grinning wildly, his hair falling around Lloyd's face like a silken waterfall, Zelos said, "Does Sylvarant yield?" He felt electric and alive with the heat of Lloyd's body beneath him. Meltokio seemed a vague and pale concern. In that moment there was only the intoxicating scent of pine filling his head and his hair pooling in red curls around Lloyd's face.

"Yes!" Lloyd said, grinning his boyish grin. His chest rose and fell rapidly beneath Zelos. Dirt smudged the side of his face. "Sylvarant yields." He took a moment to catch his breath, then said, "Feeling better?"

Zelos could see his own reflection in Lloyd's chocolate eyes. They held him for a moment, mad impulses coursing through his mind, but before he could do something stupid to ruin the moment he rolled off and onto his back next to Lloyd. "Yeah. Not that I was worried or anything."

There must be something wrong with me, he thought. Because he was smiling. He'd been labeled a traitor, was living as a fugitive, and was in conspiracy with a group of people who could easily have been his enemies under different circumstances. He had needles and leaves tangled in his hair and more needles pricking him through his clothes. A painful bruise was growing on his left shoulder, and his clothes were covered in grass stains, and he was smiling.

And for the first time in a long while, he actually meant it.