Disclaimer: Wild Arms 3 and all associated characters are not mine.

-o-

Malik was working alone. He'd had an argument with Melody, again: she had been pressing his busy self for an answer which affirmed her beauty, and got nothing but a strained 'ah' in response.

When that had happened, Leehalt had been watching from the upper floor, and he'd been a witness as Melody smacked Malik full-force across his right cheek. And with his body frame, Malik had felt it, and he continued to feel it even as Leehalt was knocking at his door. In fact, he still found it painful and wanted to rest. But he had to let Leehalt in, there was no choice in the matter, and he felt his cheek throbbing as he ran, grabbing his hem to avoid a fall. Then he unlocked the door, pushing thoughts of the smack out with it, and stepped aside.

"Something tells me this isn't a social call," he said merrily.

"Correct. I came to tell you to apologise to Melody," Leehalt said finally. "I don't care what your problem is, but the two of you will argue over it in your own time."

"She called me a pig," Malik said, and then he quivered. "All I did was, I may have called her fat." he raised his hands in protest, "But she's the one who asked me! She just doesn't like the truth."

"Malik, you studied the human form. You know she isn't fat."

"No, but I thought it was funny."

Leehalt was a picture of narrow-eyed indifference. He knew Melody was a woman, noticed her as such, but Malik… He knew, of course; but Malik was strange. He had intelligence, humour (Leehalt loathed this above all, besides Werner), and cleanliness, yet also a constant need for assurance. And when someone talked to him on personal matters, Malik just smiled goofily and wandered off. He never listened.

Only, Malik did. He just chose not to listen to women. To listen meant to grow close, and growing close to someone meant affection, and in that he wasn't interested. As if he could grow close to women other than Mama…

"Malik, do you know why she was mad?"

Malik shook his head.

"You hurt her feelings."

"You do it all the time," Malik said crossly.

"But not to those I work with."

"Ha! Werner says hi." And Malik waved his right hand, making a mouth like a sock puppet.

"Malik."

"What?"

"Shut up."

Leehalt's reply had been the wrong one. Both knew the catchwords that put a stopper in Malik's mouth.

"Bored now. Wanna grab lunch?" Malik asked.

"Malik, you don't grab lunch."

"I do."

"You eat with your fingers?"

"That too. Don't you?"

"I'm normal. You aren't."

"Nope, I'm sweet fifteen again," said Malik, turning back, "and I want my beauty sleep. But you're not going to watch, I hope. Don't know where to look these days."

"Of all the ridiculous…"

"You're blushing!" Malik was smiling. "Look, you actually have some blood left. Who'd have thought it?"

"Shut up. You're starting to tick my gourd."

"What?" His head was cocked. "What, that actually means something in Ballack Rise? What's it mean?"

"You sound like a parrot. What, what, what. Go splice yourself."

"Come on, tell me!"

"All right, look. If I tell you, that'll be the end of it, because I'm tired and need a break from your constant whining. And if we're to remove these Guardians at all, I need the energy to think."

"All right," Malik said humbly.

But he was more concerned with what Leehalt thought of him. He felt close to Mama and didn't want to dirty himself with a woman's company, but a man wasn't a woman, and thus Mama would be happy. And him; he didn't want to be a disloyal son. Perhaps something more: the centre of her life, as she was his. And he liked to feel loved, but he couldn't wait forever. That was why he teased everyone – he wanted them to react, to chide him, scold him, and congratulate him when he did well.

And then came the plan. It was impulsive, strange, but felt right:

"I'm bored," he whined. "Gimme a story."

"Go to bed."

"But I don't want to."

He was looking not for a tale but company. The room was cold without Mama and he hated being alone in such a spacious place; Yggdrasil was full of hidden crooks and chambers, and the tower itself dwarfed most ordinary ruins, above ground and below. He hated going up and down, up and down. It was boring. That was why he had a habit of using the Teleport Orb. Leehalt disapproved of ancient artefacts being used for 'personal business'.

But he liked Leehalt's company.

It ticked all his boxes. Male, easy to annoy, intelligent, dominating, pays attention. He found it pointless to challenge those who couldn't give a fight. Things were always uninspired.

And it was ok, what he was feeling. So long as he put his Mama first.

"Then I'll join you," Leehalt said, "It's been a few years since we last talked."

They headed to Malik's room. On time, and as planned. Books arranged by title, date, and time, a mahogany desk standing in the corner. Stuffed bunnies, fluffed lions and blue-fur whales with aghast eyes on the pillow, the mattress, the chair. No, those eyes were Leehalt's. As if there was any water for those whales… Though, now he thought it, a room revealed a lot for one's character. He'd been expecting bunny pictures on the walls, not just the bed.

"Leehalt," Malik said. "I wish you'd say you loved me once in a while."

That wasn't what he meant, but they both knew what it sounded like; but somehow Leehalt was remaining anyway, and Malik was thankful. He thought he'd never seen anything as sour. He looked away and grasped his hands.

"I didn't mean it like that. I meant…"

"I know what you meant. Malik, my mother is alive, but I could imagine there would be adverse effects to one's…"

"I'll have you know my psyche's perfectly fine. She says hello, by the way."

"I meant your mother."

"She's fine and dandy."

There was a pause.

"Are you serious?" Leehalt said finally.

"Course. She's alive up here." Malik tapped the side of his head. And she was alive back in the lab, not that Leehalt needed to know. Nor Melody.

Malik then laughed. Leehalt wasn't a woman (so he hoped, it'd explain the constant anger), which made him fair game. Get close to thy enemy, catch them unawares till they knew you better than you yourself. Then lure them in. And since Leehalt was a man, Malik could mess with him all he desired and never once feel bone-shaking guilt. If he couldn't have a woman, he'd have a man. And children always know how to get what they want. Be it attention, candy drops, or love.