Note: A response to Hawk of the North's challenge in Minnane's Pairings forum. It was actually quite fun to write a Preloyd; I'd never considered it before now. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: The Scarlet Sky continues to own nothing.
If Lloyd could erase any word from the world's vocabulary, it would probably be this one, as the girl who spoke it let it slide off her tongue in an indifferent, almost amused, manner. Clear blue eyes glanced towards him, her unrelenting stare making eye contact that much harder to pursue. But pursue it Lloyd did, because by now it was too late to back down, and if he didn't, Genis would no doubt unleash Grave on him.
And the latter was something that Lloyd didn't feel too inclined to experience a second time.
"Well, uh, think of it this way," he began, clearing his throat. "You'd be helping the team, by getting his mind off of you."
She pursed her lips in thought. "I'm afraid I don't follow."
"Going on a date with Genis might stop him from worrying too much around you," Lloyd argued. "Think about it. He won't have to think about whether or not he's saying something intelligent around you, or whether or not you think he's a nice guy, or if you like him, or—"
"How does my encouraging his behavior," Presea countered calmly, "make all these thoughts stop clouding his mind?"
The answer to that was, they didn't, but Lloyd wasn't about to swallow her logic that easily. Not when Genis had begged him, practically on hand and knee, to say something to get this porcelain doll of a girl to shine light on his lonely existence. Not when Lloyd been given a brand new twinblade—newly-forged and sharp enough to slice to the bone—and been told, casually, by the white-haired giver that it was something, "best friends do for each other."
So here Lloyd was, attempting to convince this Ozette girl that spending an evening with his best friend might be fun, as they stood guard together at nightfall.
And Presea, of course, was being difficult.
"Genis likes you," he tried again, taking in a deep calming breath. "He likes you a lot. I'm pretty sure you're the first girl he's ever felt this way about, Presea. Couldn't you just…humor him?"
She crossed her pale legs, letting her gaze turn towards the horizon instead, and drew her mouth into a frown. "But why?" she repeated, confusion echoing through that final syllable.
"I told you, it might help the team—"
"That's not what I asked." The breeze ruffled the folds of her dress as Presea cocked her head at him, eyebrows knitted together in puzzlement. "Why?" she questioned again, more softly this time. "Why does he like me?"
What Lloyd wanted to know was why he was fighting Genis's battles, but he pushed that thought from his mind with a steady mantra of I'm doing this for my best friend, I'm doing this for my best friend; as leader, I have to take one for the team.
He studied Presea quietly; her sky blue eyes remained fixed on him as he let his own return the favor. He gazed at the way her pigtails were teased by the wind, the way her hand stayed subconsciously on the handle of her axe, the way she didn't blink as his face contorted in deliberation.
"Well," Lloyd began finally, "you're pretty. And that axe of yours has been a huge help on our journey; it's hard not to be impressed by that. To top it off, Presea, you're really, really smart. Honestly, I don't think there's anything about you that he could hate."
Lloyd couldn't be sure, but something seemed flushed in Presea's expression. "Anything?" she repeated, dubiously.
"Well, yeah," the swordsman admitted, scratching the nape of his neck in thought. "Why wouldn't a guy have a crush on you?"
Her response was immediate: "You don't."
"I don't what?" he almost asked, before the meaning of her words sank in. Oh. That's what she meant. How in the world was he supposed to explain why he didn't have a crush on her? This was another one of those reasons that Genis should be asking her out himself; it would save Lloyd the embarrassment of answering complicated questions that he himself hadn't quite figured out an answer to. Besides, this was one of those double-sided questions: how could he respond without sounding like a heartless idiot, anyway?
"W-well, it's not like I couldn't like you like that," Lloyd stammered, fighting to find an intelligent response. She waited patiently as he continued, "Presea, you and me, let's be honest, I—I'm too old for you."
There, he smiled: a simple, logical answer. And a non-offensive one to boot; she couldn't control her age.
"I see," Presea nodded slowly, leaning back a bit on the boulder she sat upon. "So you're saying you are too old for me, yet you accept the fact that I'm too old for Genis?"
"Ye—no, wait, that's not what I meant!" Lloyd corrected himself hurriedly. How the heck she had manipulated his argument like this, he still wasn't sure, but Lloyd knew that someone with an IQ higher than his own should be handling a difficult mission like this one. Convincing Presea to go out on a date was no easy task.
"What do you mean, then?" she asked him coolly.
At the moment, even Lloyd didn't quite know. But the expectant look on her face plainly said he'd have to explain himself regardless.
"Okay. So maybe age differences aren't a big deal," he stated slowly. "But the thing about crushes is that they just happen. Part of it is that you don't expect them; for some reason, you just see someone, and you get this feeling—like butterflies fluttering about in your stomach. You think about this person all the time, and you just don't know why, but being with them makes you happy."
This time, she didn't reply so swiftly. The hand resting atop her axe tightened its grip, making her knuckles even whiter than they had been before. Her pigtails swirled in the grip of the wind as the power of the gust intensified, twin pink propellers spinning as she shut her eyes tight.
"And you've…experienced this?"
It was a challenge to hear her above the howl of the wind, but Lloyd made out her quiet question as it crept from her lips. It was a fair question, he admitted reluctantly, but all the same it was an unexpected one, and Lloyd found himself once again stumped to find an answer.
The big joke back in Iselia was that the only person stupid enough to fall for Lloyd Irving would be someone just as clueless as he was, and according to the villagers, that meant he and Colette were destined to be together. They'd taken the joke lightly, not minding as their friendship kept being titled something more, their long walks and talks being termed "flirting" when in reality all Lloyd remembered doing was laughing with a good friend.
Had there been butterflies?
He remembered how his stomach had tied itself in knots when he'd learned Colette had left without him, when the one thought lording over him was whether or not she was breathing and alive. It didn't feel like a crush—not the kind he'd always expected to have. Crushes aren't supposed to be driven by fear, by terror, by loyalty. Are they?
Butterflies aren't supposed to thrash about within you. Butterflies aren't supposed to eat away at everything that had once been content inside your soul. Butterflies simply float, long for the sweetest thing imaginable, and flutter until they find their flower.
"Nah, I guess not." Deflated, Lloyd shook his head, gazing skyward as he explained, "I know what it's supposed to feel like. I know what it is you're supposed to be looking for. But…I don't think anything I've ever felt qualifies exactly."
Presea allowed his words to soak in, a somewhat foreign emotion sparkling in her blue orbs. The wind had died down some, and the pink propellers became still as nature let her reply, "Then, if you've never felt it…how do you know when it's real? It's so illogical. When you're happy, you smile. When you're sad, you cry. So why is it when you fall in love…or have a crush…it's so difficult to analyze?"
"Got me," he shrugged, tracing the outline of the stars with his eyes. Raine had tried to teach him a few constellations once; all she had succeeded in doing was helping him find another reason to blow off homework at night. Stargazing was fun, but if anyone asked him where to find Pisces or the North Star, he'd be stuck. To him, the stars were nameless, and he liked that. Sometimes beauty didn't need an explanation.
Sometimes love doesn't either.
Too late did Lloyd realize he'd said his little story aloud, and Presea stared at him with rapt interest, drinking in each word.
"…S-so, um, Genis probably doesn't even know why he likes you," Lloyd finished lamely, kicking himself for letting the whole conversation get so off-topic. "But he's a great guy, and—it'd be nice if you gave him a chance."
She didn't appear to have heard him as she stood up, letting the axe dangle in her grip as she faced him, a whole foot shorter than the swordsman. Her free hand extended upward, and as Lloyd raised an eyebrow in confusion, she said simply, "The stars above you. They're different than the ones of Sylvarant, aren't they?"
To be honest, Lloyd had no idea, and he told her so. "Stars are stars though, right?"
She didn't answer, crossing over to where he stood and following his gaze upward. "Isn't it strange?" she said finally. "That in a place so different from Tethe'alla, there can still be stars? That even on Sylvarant, people feel the exact same way people here do?"
"We're all the same in the end," Lloyd concluded, shrugging. "People are people. They smile, they cry, they laugh. They live. They love."
He moved towards her, and as he drew close, Presea shivered, his arm brushing against her own. Startled, Lloyd gave her a confused look, and as she gazed back at him, it struck him how very fragile and beautiful her pale features looked illuminated in the moonlight. How much older than Genis she appeared, how much maturity shone in those bright cerulean eyes. Surely she wasn't the girl he had come to see for Genis's sake.
Yes, Presea was pretty. Yes, Presea was strong. Yes, Presea was intelligent. Anyone with common sense could notice these three things, and anyone could see why someone like Genis had fallen for her. Lloyd had known these three traits as well, but now...now it seemed as if something on this list was missing. Something nameless, like a star, but equally beautiful.
"What is it?" he asked, seeing her tremble slightly as he drew near. Those clear eyes gazed his way once more, and staring at him in disbelief, heat seemed to spread its way across her face as her cheeks turned a faint pink.
"…Butterflies," she said simply, turning away. "That's all."
End Note: And thus, the author ends without a decent explanation as to how Lloyd is going to explain this to poor Genis. For that, she apologizes profusely. But I hope this worked out, seeing as I'm a bit foreign to this pair, and I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. :)