Author's Note: This is a birthday fic for my friend Sabriel, who first introduced me to ToS and thus can be indirectly blamed for all the fanfiction I write for this fandom.
Happy Birthday, Sabe! Here's to wishing you the best!
"Four years," Lloyd said, leaning back in his chair and propping his booted feet up on the table. "It's been four years since we've all been together like this." He cast a glance around the room, taking in the seven other people seated in various places with a satisfied, happy feeling.
"This reunion has been too long in the coming," Regal said, leaning back against the window which looked out onto the garden Dirk had spent the latter part of his years studiously and loyally attending to. Seated on the floor beside him was Presea, who had, it seemed, finally caught up with the time she had lost—though taller and having almost grown into the frame of womanhood, there was still a seriousness about her that alluded to the girl she had been. She nodded in agreement to what Regal said, catching Lloyd's eye as she did so with the ghost of a smile.
"Well, we're here now." Zelos, who had been peering into a case displaying some of Dirk's completed metalworks, straightened and brushed a lock of his violently red hair out of his eyes as he did so. He wore the uniform of his office, a navy and white ensemble of plain and severe style that should have made him look responsible and dutiful as well a Chosen should. It didn't; he looked as he ever did—playful, unabashed, and completely at ease with the world around him. He continued, moving to take the empty chair across from Lloyd, "Let's make the most our time."
"Eat, drink and be merry?" Teased Sheena from where she sat by the fireplace in the rocking chair Lloyd had favoured in his youth. The leader of Mizuho seemed almost to glow with serenity, her hands folded lovingly over the gentle rise to her body that hinted at her impending motherhood.
"I was thinking more along the lines of catching up, filling each other in on what we've been doing," Zelos replied. Eyeing her obviously pregnant form, he added with a wicked grin, "Although I can tell what you've been doing."
Sheena flushed crimson, though she smiled widely and joined in the laughter that filled the room. And after they did as Zelos suggested, each respectively speaking of how the past four years of their lives had unfolded. They had all kept in touch with one or the other, but after the reunification of two lands once sundered life for all of them had become unavoidably hectic. Politics, civil issues and strife in the face of the many tragedies that had befallen the land in those last few weeks before the fall of Mithos had demanded the attention of them all, and so they'd consequently drifted apart. The king of Tethe'alla had altered the status of his Chosen, appointing Zelos as his advisor in the matter of foreign relations, as well as a liaison between his government and the one created by the Tethe'allan half elves shortly after the lands came together. Lloyd had returned to Sylvarant and had taken up the daunting task of locating every Exsphere, but frequently his quest took him all over both countries. Regal, exerting his power as president, had used his company to help with aiding those hit hardest by the calamities wrought upon the land; Presea, by invitation, became part of that effort. Raine and Genis had remained in Tethe'alla, where they worked at creating a foundation through which humans and half-elves could learn to trust and ultimately someday peacefully coexist. Sheena, by request of the king, acted as a political liaison between the two kingdoms while at the same time governing Mizuho and her people.
"And what about you?" Zelos asked of Collette, who stood by another window, this one looking out onto the grave of Lloyd's mother.
She smiled, but it wasn't the same smile they remembered from years past. Collette as a girl had been wholesomely pretty; Collette as a woman was quite simply lovely. But there were lines about the corner of her mouth and a solemnity to the cornflower blue of her eyes that said she hadn't only aged in appearance. She was dressed in a plain, unadorned robe of white and the only other thing she wore was the necklace Lloyd had made for her once upon a time. She wore her hair straight, long, and unbound, and the color was just as bright as it had been when last they'd been together. Her smile was warm, but it was also slightly sad, and it looked as though she were struggling to find a way to define what it was she had been doing in the time since they'd separated.
It was Lloyd that answered for her. "She joined with some of the former priests of Martel. They work out of the old temple now, teaching those willing to learn the truth of Martel and the false church."
"Are there many willing to learn?" Regal asked.
"Not at first," Collette said, shaking her head. "But when it became apparent that things had changed and would never change back, more became curious."
"A lot of people felt all hope was lost when they discovered that there was no goddess." Raine remarked. "Losing your religion is a terrible thing."
"Losing Martel does not mean they are alone," Collette said. "And that is what we teach. There will always be something divine looking after us, but it is up to us to find that something and learn from it."
"Collette and the other priests have done great work," Lloyd said proudly. "People come from all over both Sylvarant and Tethe'alla to learn from them."
This time when Collette smiled, it was the smile they remembered from the past—bright, pure and delighted. Their discussion dissolved into more trivial and mundane things; they reminisced about the past and argued, light-heartedly, about current issues. When finally the room began to darken with the setting of the sun talk turned to that of dinner, and Genis and Regal agreed to see what they could concoct by combining both of their considerable culinary talents. Raine drew a chair up close to Sheena and they began to speak in low, happy tones about motherhood. Presea followed Lloyd upstairs, where his own experiments in metalworking were housed. Zelos, remaining in his chair, watched thoughtfully as Collette opened the door and quietly slipped through. It was a long moment before he rose and followed, determined to discover just what had changed about her in the transition from young girl to young woman.
She was standing on the bank of the small, crystalline stream that meandered its way through the yard, her hands clasped behind her back and her attention apparently on something fascinating in the water. He moved carefully up behind her, hoping for the element of surprise, but was thwarted when she whirled around suddenly to face him, another careful smile flickering about her lips.
She said, "I thought you'd be better at sneaking, Chosen."
"I thought so, too," he replied, walking up to stand beside her. "But apparently I overestimated my prowess."
"Don't take it too hard," she said; it took him a moment to realize she was teasing him.
He glanced sidelong at her to find her smile was now full blown, and he shook his head with mock despair. "You wound my ego—a little false praise is all I ask for."
She laughed then, the sound rising clear and unguarded on the air. He found himself rather intrigued by the way her expression changed with her merriment, by the way the unfamiliar seriousness and caution melted from her features. It was almost, he mused, like looking upon the Collette of old. She caught his gaze from the corner of her eye and abruptly sobered, the shift mercurial, while her cheeks colored slightly.
He asked with uncharacteristic insight, "You don't laugh often anymore, do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know." He was silent for a moment, working his way through words in order to find a concise way of stating what it was he was thinking. "You're not the same as you used to be," he finally said, and winced inwardly at the lameness of it.
"Neither," she said, "are you."
She sighed. "The world is a very different place. And as you grow older, it seems more things change, perception being one of them. People are not always how you remember them to be, or even want them to be. It is the same with life." She moved her gaze from the water to where he stood, and seeing that he waited to hear what more she would say she continued. "After we defeated Mithos—after Sylvarant and Tethe'alla were joined—I don't know what I expected. I think perhaps I thought everything that was wrong would right itself again. It was a nice dream to cling to, but it was also naïve, and I've had four years to come to terms with that fact."
Zelos surprised her by nodding. "I think most of us though things would get better. We'd gone through so much that it was depressing to actually realize the truth. However," he said, and there was a sudden mischevious curve to his lips, "Something good did come of it—my role in the whole ordeal did raise my appeal with the hunnies."
She stared at him for a moment before bursting into laughter again, and he joined her this time. When she'd quieted she said ruefully, "I've missed you. I've missed all of you."
"You know, as Chosen we really ought to see each other more."
"I agree." She nodded.
"And because we are the only two Chosen, we also really ought to set about creating a bloodline, if you get my drift …"
"I get your drift," she said, lips twitching as she struggled to suppress a grin. A second later she leaned in close, startling him, and laid a quick, soft kiss upon his cheek. She stepped back, blushing, and gestured to the house. "I think it's time for dinner. I smell food."
Zelos sniffed the air and was inclined to agree with her; there was a decidedly mouth-watering aroma on the breeze. As Collette turned to make her way back to the house he caught her by the arm and returned her gesture, planting a kiss on the tip of her nose. He withdrew with a wide smile that grew wider when he noticed how very red her face was turning.
Raine's voice rang out, calling them in for dinner. Zelos reached out and took Collette's hand before leading her towards the house. When they reached it, he opened the door for her, and as she went past him he said softly, still smiling, "I missed you, too."