The Edge of Morning


(see this wind-boy falling)

Of so many voices which one lies?
What act is true
if every act is seen through other eyes?
Which touch is real and which is art?
How many-layered is the heart?

. o .

Zelos Wilder had never been a fan of destiny.

It could have been a character flaw. Perhaps (and this was more likely) he merely enjoyed being difficult.

Be manly, a good role model, his advisors told him. A week later, the previously retiring young man had perfected a devil-may-care strut and was never seen in public without a long coral-coloured vest.

Act your age, they told him. Zelos proceeded to perfect the art of flirtation within a month and let the stack of paperwork in his office grow until it threatened to burst into the hallway.

Kill your sister, they ordered as she slept. The Chosen's line needs a clear progression, and she is a diversion. A distraction, Lord Zelos. It's best for everyone.

Zelos looked down at the tiny girl as she lay curled into her blankets, fists balled under her chin and mouth already curved in what was to become her trademark frown. Doubt stirred his thoughts into fury. Not for me. It isn't best for me.

He hadn't hesitated.

He had ignored his mantra of calculated risk and careful provocation and acted. With a flash of steel from the sword he carried at his hip, the two other Meltokians were dead before their bodies hit the ground. Zelos allowed himself to enjoy a moment of smug satisfaction before realization hit.

Reality came in the form of the family's butler, Sebastian, who emerged from around the corner. "Young sir? Young miss—" The butler's face paled as he looked from his teenaged charge to the bodies on the floor. "You - you should not have done that, young sir."

"Help me, Sebastian," Zelos asked; his voice shaky and his cheeks ashen. "They – those sanctimonious bastards – asked me to kill Seles."

Sebastian inhaled sharply, but nodded. "I see." Pressing a hand against his master's shoulder, he calmed Zelos and had helped indeed; that night, two large bundles were dumped unceremoniously over the great Tethe'alla bridge, and the family retainer called in a favour with his youngest sister, who had entered the sisterhood of Martel and was Abbess over a small abbey far away from the bustling lights and backstabbing intrigues of Meltokio.

Taking Seles' character into account, Sebastian figured that the young miss would never forgive him, but he hoped that she would understand in time.

o

. o .

o

december is darkest

Zelos sighed, disgruntled.

There was a half-empty bottle of something dangling from one of his hands, and a shapely brunette whose name he couldn't remember wrapped against his other side in a Flanoir hotel bed when the gravity of the thought fully struck him: he was, eventually, expected to move on from the accidentally-saving-the-world thing.

But it was hard to top that little stint, so he had decided he needed a holiday. It had become a flighty, pointless vacation that was edging on five years now, and even though his was not an unfortunate situation by most men's standards, for the first time, it felt hollow.

The girl didn't matter, not really; he just hadn't bothered to dissuade her the night before. Ten years of having beautiful women throw themselves at his Chosen mantle had destroyed the last of Zelos' resistance, and the young ladies of Flanoir were exceptionally beautiful...

He supposed that the fact that this one – what was her name? Sylene? Sandra? – was the fourth amber-eyed brunette he'd bedded in the last month was telling, but Zelos had always excelled at denial. He wasn't trying to forget anyone, no. He wasn't trying to drink away the sight of the letter on his bedside table crested with the Mizuho seal in ink as red as his hair or wonder just how her couriers had found him. He wasn't trying to think of a spitfire wrapped in shrinking violet who'd stood up to him and pushed him away and let him catch her; he certainly wasn't thinking of her upcoming marriage, detailed in said letter.

He couldn't say why. He'd left her behind years ago, and it had almost been an amicable parting. At least by our standards, Zelos thought, rubbing his jaw in memory of the right hook he hadn't seen coming.

o

. o .

o

that was easy // (i still miss you)

"…Grow up, damn you!" Sheena's eyes had sparkled with tears as she shouted him down. "I had to." she had murmured as he took another step towards her.

"Sheena…"

"It's not 'banshee' anymore? Or 'hunny'?"

He shrugged with a confidence he wished he felt. "You sure you want me calling you those things?"

"I never did," she sniffed, tugging angrily at the ends of her ponytail.

"Aww," he'd purred. "I bet I could get you to like it, in time…"

But she'd stalked away from him and the hand he'd extended to touch her cheek, breaking whatever sort of moment he'd been trying to build. She also missed the way his eyes shifted miserably. "The world does not revolve around you, Zelos Wilder, and I sure as hell don't."

He'd never taken well to being insulted. "Yeah, that's right," Zelos snapped, melancholy forgotten. "The Ice-Princess's got a village to run, right. Damn, hunny, you've been hanging out with Celsius too much."

She'd punched him for it, whether for the hated nickname or the various insinuations behind his words she wasn't sure, and was secretly, sickly glad for his pale skin that she knew would bruise. "We – not all of us can be children forever, idiot." And she'd looked pointedly at his shoulders as she'd said it; his wings weren't out, but they might as well have been.

He looked straight at her as he'd said "well, it's best that we never worked out then, isn't it?" Despite his anger, he couldn't help the smile that was curving his lips up – he'd never managed the trick of staying mad at Sheena for very long.

She'd tried not to, but he could see her nose wrinkle in amusement. "Guess not," Sheena replied. "Grandfather'd have a heart attack. Another one." She clapped her hands over her mouth after realizing what she'd said. "I mean – "

Zelos's smile turned sneaky. "I think, Shee, you've been spending too much time with me. Disrespecting your elders? Perish the thought that the respectable Heir of Mizuho would do such a thing."

Shaking her head, the ninja looked up. "'Shee?'"

"What can I say? I'm a hard guy to break of nicknames. But it beats 'hunny' or 'banshee,' doesn't it?"

"It certainly does." Sheena smiled at him through her bangs. "It's about time."

He smiled back crookedly, fiddling with one of the toggles on his vest. "Guess so, hey. Well, seeing as you're staying and I'm going, I guess this is goodbye, but are you sure you want to be stuck 'round here?"

She looked around at her village: its humble buildings and tall forests with pines and paths she knew like a lover's skin slowed her speeding heart and slowly, she nodded. "I… I am. It's good to be home at last."

He couldn't argue with logic like that, so he'd stretched his arms behind his head before smiling down at her. "Aw, hell; good luck with running your village, then."

"Get going," she'd replied, her voice striking an unusually gravelly note. "You've got skirts to chase, don't you?"

"So I do, Shee; so I do." Zelos bent, successfully kissing her cheek before she could ward him off. As she spluttered, he unfurled the wings she'd once compared to a sunset and was in the air, making his way from the last of the adventurers of their haphazard band without looking back.

(…Without looking back more than once.)

o

. o .

o

your ex-lover is dead

He hadn't looked back for five years, assuring himself there was no need to. Sheena was a grown woman (who had told him as much) who could take care of herself, and he was no child to tug on her skirts. Haori. Whatever.

And yet the letter she'd sent him to herald her upcoming marriage sat (mostly) undisturbed and he wasn't sure why.

He wasn't a coward.

A blue-eyed girl had made sure of that fact a score of years ago. Colette's trusting smile and lissome form had been the last thing to turn his heart as she'd lain in his arms while he flew her to what was supposed to be her death.

He'd burn as bright as his wings one day, he knew, but he'd seen what his kind had been named for as he flew with her and took the time to look past her clumsy grace and curtain of blonde hair as if it was the last time (because it was. Supposed to be.)

He was a parody of the real thing: flirtation with a bittersweet edge. She was golden-sun beauty in body and soul and the love (or so he had thought) of the boy he would give anything to call brother, though he knew he would never deserve to.

Zelos was always the first one to admit he was lucky beyond words that Lloyd never cared much about what other people thought.

o

. o .

o

my true love
( is a man who
never existed at all )

It was in thinking of the golden pair that Zelos had dragged himself out of the lumpy bed, kissed the brunette's cheek with affection already distant, and left enough money for his room before pulling himself together in time to make it to Sheena's wedding.

The affair had been just as beautiful and ceremonial as he'd expected, and he'd caught Colette just before the tiny blonde - who had tripped over her own feet, strapped into white sandals with a considerable heel - could collide with the pristine wedding cake, so the bride even had to smile at him once.

Zelos hadn't given Sheena more than a chance to smile. Steadying Colette in his arms, he'd swept the other angel around the dance floor in a breathless swing, laughing despite himself as she twirled in his arms, her dress a blue halo of skirt and petticoat and ribbon with bare hints of girl in the soft curve of her elbows, the flash of her ankles as she turned in his arms just as trustingly as she had curled into them during their flight to a Tower that stood no longer. He'd complimented the younger girl on her oddly instinctive dance abilities; give her someone's hand to hold and shoulder to lean on and she suddenly rivaled the carriage of any of the sophisticated lords and ladies who had turned up.

She'd beamed at his compliment, blushing beautifully and denying it even as he let his fingers brush her cheek; hey, hey, I don't waste time saying things I don't mean, he'd said. Colette just looked at him until he'd pouted, laughed and admitted not to people who matter, anyway. You used to be so sweet, Tiny Angel.

I - I grew up, Casanova.

Huh, he thought, but he couldn't disagree. She stuttered a little, but she certainly hadn't known that particular smile when he had traveled with her.

True to form, Zelos made Sheena dance with him later, and had teased her over her unusually prudish and traditional garb. To his amusement, although the cake had been from a modish bakery in Meltokio and the orchestra hailed from Sybak, the rest of the ceremony had been pure Mizuho. He'd also ignored Sheena's slap to his shoulder and her shushing when he'd whispered if he ever, and I mean ever makes you cry, Shee, all ya gotta do is shout.

Sheena hadn't refused him, so he'd walked away from their dance smiling. Zelos had learned – maybe earlier and harder than most – to work with what cards life dealt him. (He'd also learned to stiff the dealer when the schmuck wasn't looking, but he'd never sworn to be a saint. Angel, yeah, but the two words were hardly on exclusive terms.)

To his surprise, Colette found him again that night, dragging her fellow ex-Chosen out onto the floor as the orchestra shifted to the upbeat cadence made for a swing. "Come on," she beckoned, slipping the goblet of wine out of his hand and threading her fingers through his with faith and familiarity.

He had followed – how could he not? Zelos was many things but not yet a fool – wrapping her into his arms and twirling her out in time with the music. And for seconds at a time he could pretend that she could stay where she was, this girl of white-gold and blue.

Her company was as refreshing as a wind swept down from Flanoir's northerly climes, he thought… and then he remembered Flanoir and what he'd been doing there, feeling his taint slide invisibly across their joined hands. It took all that he had to wait to draw away from her until the dance ended, managing a smile and a go back to your angel-boy, Colette, that he hadn't – entirely – meant for her to hear.

But she had heard, twisting her hands together before curling into herself defensively and fixing him with a glare. He'd never known her blue eyes could scoff, but there they were, and there she was, sweet, soft soprano stinging: don't you see - don't you see, Zelos? He was never really there to go back to.

o

. o .

o

fingerpaint the sky

Along her journey, she met a woman who had a mouth like his. The first time had been when they were not quite women: she had both looked and acted her age, uncertain of the redheaded child with vicious, envious eyes and birdlike hands that had fluttered and clenched in her lap, at her sides: a beautiful little caged bird. And he – her brother – had been the one who had caged her.

Colette had wondered at that, and felt fear and anger towards the mercurial duo bouncing guarded looks and barbed phrases at one another as they lived up to their shared name.

Once the angry little girl had flown from her Abbey, they met again. The former had become a respected scholar and was a mother of three; Colette felt unchanged: still sweet-sixteen on the surface with swirling hair and clumsy feet. As she tumbled over the Sages' doorstep, Colette felt as if she had stepped out of a time lapse when she saw Seles cradling her youngest and speaking of alchemic theory with her silver-haired husband.

A mother, Colette thought, her heart beating a steady tattoo of love and jealousy and joy for her childhood friend, who helped her up with open arms and a ready smile on his still-youthful face. How long had it been since she'd been around a real mother, that bizarre alchemy of passion and faith and feral protectiveness?

Genis had grown into his own, and she was thrilled to see it – he was a proud father, answering her questions and ruffling the hair of whichever child was closest, his eyes as bright as those of his son and two young daughters. He was also a quietly proud husband, although it was clear that Seles ran the household with a firm grasp under her fashionably dainty gloves.

The Sage home was a house of books and high windows, but also of smeared finger-paintings plastered on the wall and small wooden toys she could guess that Dirk had made for the young family. Theirs was a warm house, filled with laughter and carefully mitigated chaos, and Colette rubbed her hands together even though the night was balmy, hoping to keep some of their warmth as a memory for the days to come.

It wasn't until after the children had been nestled up in their beds and the three adults curled into armchairs to catch up on their travels and triumphs that Genis asked "Lloyd couldn't join you this time, hey," either ignoring or oblivious to the sharp kick that his wife aimed at his leg.

"You know Lloyd," Colette giggled, catching her breath and trying to smile. "He's always finding a new adventure or another princess to save from a tower."

Genis felt the second kick. "I – I think I hear Roja crying," he stammered quickly, as he pushed himself out of his chair. "I'll, um, let you two catch up for a while."

And so he did, slipping quickly up the stairs and leaving the two women to talk through the twilight. Colette fidgeted nervously until Seles, sighing, bustled into the kitchen and brewed a cup of tea.

Returning, Seles passed the teacup to Colette with a no-nonsense look. "Here," Seles said. "Drink. It'll help, and if you want to talk about my idiot husband or brother or neither, I'll listen."

"T-thank you," Colette stuttered, smiling timidly. "I, um, I don't want to be a bother."

As if on cue, Zelos' head emerged from around a doorway at the other end of the room. "Who's a bother?" Catching sight of Colette, Zelos ran a self-conscious hand through his hair. As he did, sawdust fell to the ground around him. "Colette! Sis, you didn't tell me we were having company."

Seles sighed. "You didn't tell me you were going to be company, brother-mine."

Zelos laughed and ruffled his sister's hair. Pausing in front of Colette with a smile, he dropped a carefully carven Thunder Bird into her open hands. "Hey, angel-girl; hold onto that for a second, please?"

"Hi, Zelos," Colette replied, giggling at Seles as the little redhead rolled her eyes at her brother, who disappeared, whistling, into the kitchen.

Looking down at the wooden bird in her hands, Colette realized that perhaps Dirk hadn't been the creator of the various toys around the Sage house after all. "He's really good at this," she said to Seles.

"Don't let him hear you say that. You'll never hear the end of it," Seles suggested. "You should see him, trailing woodchips all over my carpet and teaching Evander to do the same…"

"Aw, you know he loves it, and so do you, sis." A matching teacup in his hand, Zelos re-emerged from the kitchen, grinning unrepentantly. Collapsing on the couch next to Colette, Zelos slipped into the conversation, his smile soft as Colette weighed his carving in her hands, letting the thunderbird slip from palm to palm.

Seles' lips pursed in amusement as she watched the pair on the couch look and not look at each other as they spoke and teased and bantered like the old friends that they (by all rights) should have been and yet were not. Honestly, she thought to herself, kids these days…

. o .


(and it's partner found, it's partner lost
and it's hell to pay when the fiddler stops )


. o .

all the white horses

Zelos took a swig from the bottle in his hand, saluting the little sister who'd learned from the best how to keep someone at arm's length, but mocked the teaching, drawing him in despite his best intentions to stay away.

Unbidden, the salt air of the Abbey coast flooded his memory; the narrow bed in the tower room, the hovering priestesses, her family out in the hall with the brat – well, the Sage patriarch wasn't a brat anymore, what with three brats of his own (and that was weird and not even really worth thinking about, but they were good kids; took after Seles, thank Luna for small mercies.)

Genis would always be a kid to Zelos, but that was neither here nor there. So too – in Zelos' mind at least – was Seles always his baby sister. The years in which she had held his Cruxis Crystal had prolonged her life, but immortality was her brother's curse. Seles' recurring illness had been a powerful reality check, yet despite her convalescent state, she chided her brother for his recklessness as he sailed into the sickroom at her old Abbey, worried but hiding his uncertainty behind the largest bouquet he could physically carry.

He had worried about Seles returning to a place that she had hated so much as a child, but she had reassured him that any hard feelings had passed: the clerics were the best medics money could afford, and had a soft spot for the redheaded woman from her time there so many years ago, and if he was so worried, he could just foot the Abbess' bill and everyone would walk away happy.

He stuck his tongue out at her suggestion. Zelos might have been over a hundred years old (in standard-human time, not that that counted for anything) but the juvenile gesture had never felt better.

To a casual observer, he could have been Seles's son as he leant with constructed nonchalance against the post of her sickbed. Seles had told him as much, her voice crackling with irritation and reluctant affection, and he ruffled her silvery hair for it.

"Yeah, yeah. I love ya too, little sis," he said, and laughed at her expression "Should've told ya years ago, hey?"

"Of course you should have," she scolded. "And don't you look at me like that. I may be sick," Seles coughed, but glared at the handkerchief that her brother had proffered even as she took it. "I actually may be dying this time. But I'm not made of glass, Zelos."

He'd told Seles before that immortality was his curse. By morning, he couldn't deny it: his sister had lived, but her childhood heart condition had resurfaced. Zelos was selfishly glad she was alive, and so he winged away from the Abbey as soon as the Abbess brought down the news. Closing his eyes, he flew on, unable to reply to the medic's proclamation, much less the reaction of a beleaguered but gleeful family that was – and was not quite – his own.

As Zelos pulled himself out of his thoughts and leant over the railing of his balcony – testing the wind, testing himself – he caught sight of a flash of golden hair. He hoped futilely, ridiculously, just for a half-second, that it was her whom he had seen. It had been years since he'd seen her, laughed with her on his sister's couch. It had been almost a century since he'd tried to kill her. He'd meant to keep in touch; he wondered if she still had the little bird he'd pressed into her hands at the end of their weekend together, but he knew that the worlds could be a big place when they wanted to be.

Drawing back from the rail and catching sight of a subtle glint of jewelry from around the woman's neck, he decided to follow – just long enough to see if the girl below was Colette. His legs could use the stretch. That was all.

So he hopped over the rail and scrabbled down the maze of a trellis that had overgrown in the years after Sebastian's death; a Romeo in reverse jabbing the toe of his boots through the thick, twining vines.

o

. o .

o

the lighting of the lamps

o leave me
my final illiteracy
of memory's languor

my preference
to drift in lenient coma
an older Ophelia
on Lethe

It took at least an hour to track her down, but he found her at last in the small tavern at the end of the Meltokian market district. The lissome blonde spun around on her chair at his halloing, but as her eyes met his, his grin died. (It was roughly at this point that he realized that something was very, very wrong. She looked the same as she had ten years ago, but the look in her eyes screamed that time had not left her unscarred.)

He took the drink she slid over to him with a nod and an arched eyebrow; alcohol didn't do anything much to angels and it had been a while since he'd seen her, but the gesture seemed off...

Her first words silenced his greeting before it crossed his lips. "They killed her and made her Goddess, you know."

Zelos blinked. To say that this hadn't quite been what he'd expected…

"…they locked her in a glass casket; pretty, shiny glass, Zelos, and they worshipped her and loved her from this world and they never forgot her, and that was the cruelest part. I think," she whispered, her eyes not quite her own, "I think you never could have guessed it was cruel, because what is worse than people forgetting you, Zelos?"

He couldn't answer, utterly lost as he looked from her fingernails that had been torn to their quick to her hair, which shone in the reflected glow from the lamps. Zelos was breathless, the hair on his arms raising; Colette had always been ethereal but she'd never been eerie. Even red-eyed and possessed, she'd never felt this far away.

The tiny blonde drained her glass of what looked like gin and pineapple juice – she still had a sweet tooth after this time, and he tried to smile. But she continued like he'd answered, clapping her hands together in childlike delight. "Remembering them is the cruelest fate of all, don't you see?"

He couldn't, but he pulled his chair nearer. He was afraid to touch her, to pull her, like a sleepwalker, too far out of her dream-world, but was equally unable to draw away or dismiss her with a belly laugh and a charming line. It wasn't that his lines had ever worked on Colette; she'd either smiled and thanked him, or blinked adorably as his innuendo slipped right over her head. But this – the area of Emotional Female – was one he had always tried to avoid.

"They laughed for all they'd lost and they kept her alive in their tears and whispers and curses… she built them and she broke them and because they never let her go, not even Kratos, they broke her too, don't you see; and she was never really a goddess, she was just a girl so with all those memories and hopes and dreams that she couldn't help but hear – dear Martel this and praise Martel that and oh please, lover, if you could only come back to me – and she couldn't do anything because she was just a girl in a glass case who had bled and loved like they did but she had to hear their voices and screams and prayers," Colette whispered sibilantly, spin-dancing-drifting out of the bar and tipping a glance over her shoulder to make sure he would follow.

He did, after throwing down enough to cover her drinks and his own. Once outside, he breathed in, catching the hints of autumn in the night air; dried leaves and apple trees, or maybe that was just her hair as she twirled around madly, still murmuring.

"And – and she had to hope for them, you see, because if she didn't, no-one would, and she didn't like letting other people feel bad. But she was so tired, she told me; she wanted someone else to listen, and she loved me for listening; she didn't mean to, I don't – I don't think, because I wasn't pretty like her and she didn't really want to hear that the brother she loved had slipped even further away than she had, but there I was and there she was and we didn't really have much sway in the decision, did we? And who would listen if she wouldn't? If I didn't? Your smile says 'yes,' you'd give it a chance, and maybe you'd try," Colette sighed as he gestured for her to come down from the fence. She spun away, her blonde hair a dim halo under the streetlight as she somehow managed to keep her balance on the thin rails.

The hiccup that bubbled over her lips as she danced ahead was considerably less poetic, and Zelos hid his smile of relief. She was tipsy – tipsy and talking absolutely bloody crazy, but he could deal with an intoxicated young woman more easily than a crazy one.

Colette wasn't finished. "Maybe you would try, and I'm sure you'd do well if you had to, because you could always make those girls smile with a word or two; you were so brave, Zelos, and I – I liked that about you."

Colette came back to herself for a second; blue eyes cleared and a familiar stutter fractured her sibilance.

He reached for her hands even though he was just as frozen by the evening air as she was. "Hey – hey – hunny, Colette, what's going on? What's wrong?"

"It – it was so hard," she said, biting her lip and trying to hold his gaze. "So hard as the years slipped by, she would tell me, because she wasn't a goddess, she was just a woman and so, so was I, and though everyone tried to put her to sleep and pull her out of me, they failed, don't you see…" Pausing and shaking and taking a deep breath, she took his hands, stepping from the rail as gracefully as if it had been a carriage step. Once she touched the ground, Colette sighed, looking up at the redhead with a determined expression. "It's – it's not so bad, really; don't worry about me! Just some nights when I'm tired, she… I'm sorry, Zelos."

Not for the first time, Zelos silently cursed his former employers.

"We're going to see a family who loves you – us – because you need it." Sweet Luna above, he thought, because I need it. And if Seles can't snap you into shape…

o

. o .

o

st. elmo's fire

"Call her in." Seles' voice, weakened by her illness, was no less commanding.

So he did, pacing down the stairs and into the small garden outside the Abbey to find Colette sitting restlessly on the single stone bench by the pond, swinging her feet back and forth like a pendulum. "C'mon, Colette," he said, hiding his smile at the way she jumped in surprise and blushed at his proximity as he sat down beside her.

"It's – it's just family in there, Zelos – I couldn't possibly…"

He took her hands gently, guiding her from the garden. "The way I hear it, angel-girl, you are family."

So she followed, and was ushered into the tower room by an unusually subdued Zelos. She clasped Roja and Melody's hands in greeting; the girls had grown into young women and Colette had to tilt her head up to smile softly at the elder of the pair, silver-haired Melody. From his chair by the window, Evander shot Zelos and Colette a sleepy smile, but the teenager's head sunk down again almost immediately.

Soon afterwards, Seles sunk into a fitful sleep, leaving nothing to do but wait. Hoping to give Genis and his children some time alone, Colette brushed her hand along Zelos' shoulder and, once she had his attention, swept her gaze to the door. This time, he was the one to follow.

Rain pattered down on the roof and windows of the Abbey, and as it did, Zelos Wilder was very happy he did not believe in omens or anything of the sort – after all, raindrops could only mean impending tears and tragedy if you believed they would. It didn't help that he could only watch as Colette rose from where they had been sitting by the fire and begin to pace, her steps becoming faster and faster across the floor of the small sitting room. Hoping to lighten the mood – to stop her pacing – to do something because the waiting was killing him too – he joked, badly, about wearing a hole in the carpet.

"I didn't think – I'm sorry – I'm sorry!" Colette stammered, rushing past him and out into the storm.

Well, damn.

As he followed her, pulling the door shut behind him, he looked around only to stifle an inappropriate laugh. She had unfurled her wings and was actually pacing in mid-air. He hadn't known that such a thing was possible, but he did know that the storm was intensifying. "I didn't mean it, Colette – come down from there!"

Her smile was tiny but knowing. "The Zelos I knew wouldn't have been afraid."

"The Zelos you knew grew up," he replied.

"It doesn't look like it," she answered, her voice soft but carried by the electric air between them.

He recoiled. "Do you want to be struck by lightning? Come on; come down now, Colette."

"It can't hurt me if I'm in the air," she replied, whirling in lopsided circles above his head. "Come on up; the view is lovely."

"I'd like to keep this perfect body intact, thanks."

This jibe went over much better: she giggled, but pouted as a thought occurred to her. "You'd have danced with me, once."

Uh-oh, he thought, recognizing her expression. "I'll dance with you all you want once we're inside – I promise, angel-girl." Playing off his concern for her as vanity, he continued. "Besides, this rain's making my hair all frizzy."

"It looks like a halo," she shouted over the wind. "Won't you please dance with me, halo-boy?"

"We'll both be struck then, and that would just be silly."

"Maybe," she said, reaching a hand out, "but – but you've always liked blazes of glory."

"Lightning hurts," he conceded, but he reached up to take her hand. "I guess I can't let you have all the fun, can I?"

Smiling brightly, she placed her other hand on his shoulder and led him into an aerial version of the swing-dance they'd shared at Sheena's wedding. "See, it's not so bad! And it – it doesn't matter if I step on your toes at all if we're in the air, right?"

Zelos chuckled – she was right about one thing. But… "Don't be so hard on yourself. You're a talented dancer," he insisted.

Colette's laughter joined his. "Silly, I told you we'd be all right," she said, resting her head on his shoulder. "Who says all of that about airborne lightning, anyway?"

After thinking about it for a moment, he smiled. "You know, I don't know."

"You see?" she sighed, relaxing.

His eyes widened as the tips of his hair and the hem of her skirt crackled with visible sparks. Saent Elmo's fire, said his years of education; the worst of the storm was nearly overtop of them, then, if he and the blonde in his arms – his arms, who would have ever believed that she'd find her way back to him twice? – had flown high enough to become living lightning rods.

Sobering at the thought but continuing to spin, to not think about waiting and uselessness and potential bolts of concentrated mana that made the kid's husband's spells look like child's play, Zelos started to descend.

If Colette noticed – and she did – she said nothing, becoming the more grounded of the two as Zelos' grasp tightened and his worried eyes shot to the stone Abbey. In half-whispers, they reassured each other that this was not the worst place to be; that they would be – were – all right.

(Maybe this won't be true when we land; maybe in five minutes we'll crumble. But for now…)

It was with arms slung around each other's shoulders and drenched to the skin that the two made their way back to the Abbey. The blonde and her redhead were met at the door by a pair of clerics who shooed the duo towards the fireplace and dropped wool blankets over their shoulders and hot cups of cider into their hands, murmuring all the while in amused and exasperated undertones. Colette and Zelos accepted the itchy blankets with sleepy smiles, trading amused looks of their own as the clerics buzzed about them.

When an exhausted Genis stumbled down the stairs six hours later – a sleepless, grumpy wreck but still together, for Seles had also weathered the storm – he froze at the sight of his old friends, who were still on the couch but had curled towards each other at some time in the night. Colette's legs were draped over Zelos' lap, her head resting on his chest, where the redhead's chin had dropped to rest on her crown and his arm cradled her back.

Shaking his head, Genis walked to the stove where the Abbess was heating hot water. Pouring the water into a teapot for the mage, the Abbess smiled at him and at his friends. "For everything there is a season," she murmured.

"…and a time for every purpose under the heavens," Genis replied, nodding.

"We were glad to see your wife's recovery," the Abbess continued. "Seles has always been special to us."

"Thank you," Genis replied gruffly.

The Abbess' eyes darted towards the occupied couch. "It looks as if you will have something to tell her when she wakes."

Genis returned her smile. "Maybe so." It was more likely, he thought as he ascended the stairs, that Seles had caught the sparks between Colette and that idiot brother-in-law of mine ages ago.

o

. o .

o

(i ain't scared of lightning)

In every story that Zelos had ever read – and he had read more than a few – the villain never ended up with the girl. A girl, sometimes, but not the girl, and never, never for keeps. But here he was, and there she was, her hair distilled sunlight as it fanned across the pillow. He must have done something absolutely brilliant in a past life, he thought some mornings, because while he'd seen a lot of beautiful girls and thought himself relatively immune to their charms, every glimpse that he had of her sparked happiness and love so fierce it was almost painful.

Not everyone could be a child forever, Zelos thought, remembering Sheena's words from that day so long ago. But if destiny or whatever made sure that you had to be, he mused, smiling as white cotton slipped along his wife's back and she turned, smiling, into his arms, it was best to find someone to be a child with.

o

. o .

o

...finis.


o

Sabe's Scribbles: For Silv: friend, rock, fellow writer. He was okay with weird, and got this, the poor guy. You'd think that asking for a piece where Colette and Zelos were married would be a safe request... (as an aside, there is a much prettier version of this story on my livejournal; formatting has limited it somewhat.)

Disclaimer: References include the poetry of T.S. Eliot (preludes), Mina Loy (letters of the unliving), and Anne Lindbergh(riddle). Musical references are many but the most obvious are to the songs of Franz Ferdinand, Leonard Cohen, the Postal Service, PJ Harvey, Stars, Tom McRae, Tori Amos, and Vienna Teng; also, the Abbess' quip is from Ecclesiastes (III:3:1) – fitting? Maybe. That and it's a lovely line.

The mini-title stylistic (experiment and pretension; this entire piece is experiment and pretension) was inspired by the work of the nature writer Christa Wolf and by Quillslinger's "Above Reproach" – which is an eloquent, tragic, horrifying, and oddly, painfully beautiful 'fic. It is also a particularly dark Itachi/Hinata story (as such, it is also very not safe for young children, the particularly sane, or the workplace. The Wolf is more accessible.)

...it's also worth noting that the characters aren't mine, either...

Feedback (of all varieties) is really, honestly welcomed. I doubt this is a style I'll go with (it's exhausting) but I'm really intrigued as to what you think of it.