Everlasting Embers
By Queenie Z

She sat on a sofa near the fireplace, basking in its warmth with a soft, fur blanket wrapped around her. Everyone else was doing their own thing - Zelos was cooped up in his and Lloyd's room, avoiding anything having to do with Flanoir's constant snowfall as much as possible. Genis and the Professor were probably reading, and Presea had gone with Regal and Sheena to do some last minute supply shopping before it was time to go to bed. However, Colette didn't mind being by herself for a moment. It was actually quite peaceful and cozy inside the nearly empty inn; a perfect place to rest her weary feet and simply gaze at the fire.

The light of the fire engulfed the room that had been darkened by nightfall. Crackling and popping, the flames jumped and danced in a way that was almost mesmerizing. It was a calming sight, warm, familiar, and comforting - almost like a lullaby. But there was also something sad about the fire; as the tips of the flames reached towards the sky, they flickered out, vanishing into smoke, and finally into thin air. An instance of shining grace and beauty, disappearing from this world as soon as it has appeared... a precious, fleeting moment in time becoming merely a memory, and finally forgotten among the threads of the past...

Colette's trance was broken by a small creak from the old, wooden door. She jumped a little before she heard a voice.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't think anyone was -" it started, then softly added, "Colette? Is that you?"

She sat up and turned around. Just as she thought, it was Lloyd, carrying a bowl of something hot - probably the chicken soup that was left over from dinner.

He flushed a little, embarrassed at getting caught in the middle of his nighttime trek. "I was just hungry, so I decided to sneak into the kitchen and grab this leftover soup..."

Colette shook her head, giggling a little to herself. "It's okay. I won't tell."

The older boy sighed in relief, as if he had actually done something terribly wrong. "That's good. What are you doing here, anyway?"

"Nothing really," she replied. She yawned before continuing. "I was just watching the fire, that's all."

"Sounds boring," he said. Then, he scratched his head with his free hand and asked, "...You mind if I join you? I'm not really tired anyway."

He never needed to ask, but she was glad he did anyway. She had always liked Lloyd, more than anyone else. She seized and treasured every single moment she could with him, and every second when they were together only made her more and more happy.

"Of course," she answered brightly, and made room for him on the couch, which he ungracefully plopped himself into, nearly spilling his soup in the process. Colette smiled in amusement at his boyish behavior, from the lazy position he sat in to the eagerness with which he ate his soup. If there was one thing he could do quickly, it was eat, and soon he had drank the last drop of chicken broth from his bowl before setting it down to his side. He wiped his mouth and let out a sigh of satisfaction.

Then, he burped.

Lloyd covered his mouth with his hand in embarrassment, for his dad had always told him not to burp in front of girls. However, to his surprise, Colette began to giggle. Her giggles then erupted into full-blown laughter. Before he realized it, he couldn't resist any longer and joined in.

Laughing until she could hardly breathe, Colette fell onto his shoulder in breathless giggles. But it was only after she regained her composure that she knew what she had done. Flustered, she began to quickly remove herself from him, when suddenly, she caught a quick glimpse of the fire. Its glowing embers were dying out, and soon, it would be nothing more than ashes - forgotten traces of the beautiful blaze that once danced in front of her.

Her heart sank into her stomach as her euphoria was replaced by a grim realization: these precious moments might someday disappear. This happy time with Lloyd, filled with laughter and joy, might never come again. There may come a day - maybe tomorrow, maybe even tonight - when everything would just fall apart and vanish into nothing, just like the smoke of a dying fire.

The thought of loosing him terrified Colette. She clenched her eyes shut and held on tightly to his arm. She didn't want to let him go and take all of the happy times away with him. More than anything, she wanted to stop time in its tracks; to drink deeply of this one second in time when she could hold him close to her, safe and warm by the fireside. However, she couldn't make anything last forever - only make the most of what little time she had, and wait for it all to go back to nothing.

"What's wrong? You feeling okay?"

"...Lloyd, when will it end?"

He looked at her, confused. "When will what end?"

"This," she answered, squeezing his arm tighter. "Being with you like this... being happy like this, laughing... when will it end?"

Lloyd was at a loss for words. Without knowing what to think, he hesitantly replied, "Well, um... I guess when we don't want to be friends anymore... or when the world ends. Or if one of us -" He stopped himself and shook his head. "...No, that won't happen. We can't let that happen. Not now."

Colette lifted her head. "But, Lloyd, what we're doing - it's too dangerous! What if -"

He gently pushed her head back onto his shoulder. "Don't," he said. "Now's not the time to think about things like that."

Of course, she knew he was right. She couldn't waste this priceless moment worrying about loosing it. Soon, she thought, he would go back to bed, leaving her all alone in the dark and empty foyer of the inn. But before that happened, she wanted to enjoy the warmth of his touch, even if it was merely resting her head upon his arm. That alone would have been enough to satisfy her.

Instead, she felt his arm move across her shoulders and pull her close to him. She quickly glanced upward at him.

"Don't tell the others," he whispered with a mischievous glint in his eyes, "they'll never let me hear the end of it."

Comforted by these words, Colette allowed herself to relax. She melted in his embrace, savoring every single second of it. The last thing she felt before drifting off into sleep was the soft tickle of Lloyd's rich, wild hair on her forehead.

Finally, the glowing coals in the fireplace faded away, leaving behind only a smoldering mass of ash.