Child's Play
By Queenie Z

"Red Rover, Red Rover, let Joseph come over!"

A young boy with matted hair and a freckled face grinned as he let go of his teammates' hands. Then with all of the strength his tiny legs could muster, he charged at the enemy line, aiming straight for the linked arms of the two survivors. Although their captain, a young man of about eighteen years, could have withstood the force of impact, the tiny girl beside him was no match for the little boy's strength. Instantly, the boy broke through, taking the pigtailed girl down with him. She stood up again and huffed, dusting off her denim dress and stomping over to the other team, linking hands with the boy who had just defeated her in battle.

Completely alone on the field of battle, Lloyd looked around in disbelief. "Wh-what the - how did you get so many, Colette!?"

Colette and the children on her team laughed. "Don't worry, Lloyd!" she said, "You can still make a comeback! Red Rover, Red Rover, let Lloyd come over!"

The young man smirked and rolled up his sleeves. Of course he could win - he was a battle-hardened hero, after all, with the strength and speed of ten normal men! At least, he liked to think so. With a gleam of determination in his eyes and victory in his grasp, Lloyd sprinted across the field. He let out a blood-curdling battle cry as he ran into the arms of Colette and another young girl -

- and was promptly thrown back onto his bottom with a loud "thud".

"Oww..." the winning team celebrated with laughter, high-fives, and childish gesturing in the fallen captain's direction. Lloyd merely rubbed his bottom and sighed, begrudgingly accepting his humiliating loss. Suddenly, Colette offered her hand to her friend with her usual, warm smile.

"Don't worry, you'll do better next time!" she said with a giggle.

Lloyd frowned. "That wasn't fair!" he said, "You can't use your angelic strength like that! That's cheating!"

Colette giggled some more. "Okay, I won't."

"Good." The young swordsman took her hand and stood up, brushing the dirt off of his pants. He smiled. "But... I guess that was kinda fun, even if your team did win."

The two quickly noticed the sun setting over the rebuilt city of Luin, casting an orange glow on the rooftops and the water surrounding them. "It's getting late," said Colette. "Dinner should be ready at the inn soon."

Lloyd nodded. "Yeah, I could use a good meal after all that running around."

"But it was nice of you to play with everyone!" said the girl, clasping her hands together. "I'm sure all the kids appreciate it."

He blushed a little and scratched his head. "Well... it was fun, you know? And you wanted to play with them, too, so -"

A small tug at his pants interrupted their conversation. Lloyd turned around to see a small girl no more than four or five years old. If he remembered correctly, her name was Mary, and she was the only child in the group who was too young and too shy to play the "big kid" games with the rest. Her pleading blue eyes looked straight into his face as he knelt down to her height.

"What's wrong? You hurt or something?"

Mary shook her head and looked down at her feet.

Colette hunched over the little girl as well. "Maybe she wants us to take her home," she said to Lloyd. She turned to Mary. "Do you want us to help you get home?"

She nodded, clutching the hem of her dress.

"Wow, Colette," said Lloyd, "you sure know a lot about kids." He smiled at the shy girl. "It's all right, we'll help you get home. Here," he held out his hand, "just hold on to my hand so you don't get lost, okay?"

However, Mary didn't take the hand that had been offered to her. "I... I-I..."

"Huh? What is it?"

She let her gaze meet his again. "P...piggy...?"

"Piggy? What are you - oh!" As he realized what the little girl meant, he turned around and hunched over. "You want a piggy-back ride, right?"

Mary's faced beamed as Lloyd said the words "piggy-back ride". She eagerly climbed onto his back, settling herself on the young man's shoulders. He grabbed on to her legs and stood up.

"Hold on tight now, okay?"

The girl giggled wildly in response, gripping onto Lloyd's wild brown hair. However, the swordsman didn't seem to mind as he and Colette headed back towards the main part of town.

As they walked, Colette couldn't take her eyes off of Lloyd and the child he carried on his shoulders. It was a side of Lloyd she never had much of a chance to see - however, as gentle and kind as he was, it wasn't hard to guess that he would be great with kids. It seemed almost natural, the sight of him playing with children, understanding and identifying with them, almost as if he was still a child at heart himself. Along with his bravery and protective nature, Colette knew that someday, Lloyd would become a perfect father. And maybe - just maybe - she, too, could be...

"There!" exclaimed Mary as she pointed to a small house with a dark roof.

Lloyd looked up at her. "Is this your house?"

She nodded and squirmed, letting him know that she was ready to be put down. So he did, gently setting her down on her feet.

"There. Was that fun?"

Instead of the answer he expected, the joyful little girl threw her arms around Lloyd. Immediately, he blushed a bright red hue, turned brighter when he noticed Colette giggling at the sight. He hesitantly patted Mary on the head, ruffling her dark brown hair a bit.

"...I'll take that as a 'yes'," Lloyd said with a bashful grin. Mary let go of him, gave him one last big smile, and hurried towards her front door, where her mother stood waiting to scoop her up in her arms.

The two teens couldn't help but smile as the door shut. However, Lloyd noticed something odd about his friend - something he couldn't quite put his finger on.

"Colette? What's up?"

She looked back at him with a tiny blush tinting her cheeks. "Oh, nothing, really." She grabbed his arm and began towards the inn. "Come on, let's go eat!"

Perhaps tomorrow they could play some more... and perhaps, she thought, they would someday do the same with children of their own.