Disclaimer: I do not own Tales of Symphonia. Not even the game itself. It's my brother's ;)
"Just hold still a second, guys," Lloyd murmured as he carefully sharpened his blade. Genis and Raine waited patiently, their wrists rubbed raw by the iron shackles that bound them. Just looking at the blistered, angry skin made Lloyd's blood boil, and disgust to burn fiercely in his normally soft dark eyes. Eventually he set aside the whetting stone and beckoned to Genis, who shuffled forward and knelt down, stretching the chain linking his hands as far as it would go. The young swordsman rested his blade against the metal, aligning it, then swiftly drew it up and cut downwards. The clank of severed chain echoed faintly around the clearing.
Sheena glanced up momentarily from the curry she was preparing over the fire. She watched Genis' face crumple in pain when Lloyd finally managed to break the shackles open with Zelos' dagger, as the young half-elf gingerly rubbed at the inflamed skin.
Even Sheena could admit that when she first found out about Raine and Genis' heritage, a small part of her had recoiled in distaste. A wave of shame had crashed over her immediately afterwards, drowning her in guilt, as she recalled the Professor (albeit grudgingly) saving her life in Luin. Had it not been for her healing skills, the deep wounds she had received would have surely claimed her life. And her younger brother – with his quick wit and surprising maturity – had quickly formed a strong bond of friendship with the summoner.
And yet she had still succumbed momentarily to the mindless discrimination that her own people of Mizuho faced regularly. Sheena felt a deep pang of guilt and self-disgust resonate in her stomach.
"Sheena?" Presea's quiet monotone voice drew her out of her thoughts. The younger girl was holding out a handful of perfectly chopped vegetables to be added to the bubbling pot. Sheena quickly accepted them and dropped them in, but not without noticing that each piece of pepper was exactly the same length and thickness, each onion precisely diced. She felt a chill nudge down her spine as Presea turned her blank, doll-like blue eyes away from her face. Since meeting the smaller girl earlier that day, there had been something uncomfortable niggling at the back of Sheena's mind. Something was definitely off, and it set her on edge.
A final clang informed Sheena that Raine was now also free, and the tightness in her throat eased slightly. The Professor's low voice carried easily across the quiet clearing, even though Sheena kept her attention firmly focused on the food.
"Thank you, Lloyd. You undoubtedly saved our lives."
"It's nothing compared to the number of times you've saved mine," was his simple reply. "Besides, you're my best friends. I couldn't just sit back and let you get taken away and executed!"
"But Lloyd, we're..." Genis trailed off, clearly still uncomfortable discussing his true nature.
"Half-elves, I know," Lloyd said calmly, setting down his sword. "And I told you at the Bridge, I don't care. We have more important things to worry about than the fact that you're not full elves..." Sheena glanced up from her stirring to see Lloyd staring sadly at Colette, who was sat motionless at the edge of the clearing. Her disturbing red eyes were dead and empty. The grief and guilt displayed on his face made her own heart twist and ache.
Raine nodded slowly, and then excused herself to sit alone for a while outside of the comforting sphere of light cast by the campfire. Genis shyly ducked his head, then reached over and pulled Lloyd into a quick, fierce embrace, before pulling away and treading softly over to Sheena.
"Hey," she murmured as he hesitantly sat down beside her.
"Hey," he replied, discreetly wiping at the corner of his eye. Lloyd had resumed sharpening his blade, glancing up every so often to sadly watch the oblivious Colette. "D'you mind if I... help with dinner?" Genis asked warily.
Sheena smiled back warmly and ruffled his hair. "Of course you can! I get my cooking buddy back!"
Genis blushed and grabbed some more peppers to chop. "Where's Zelos?" he asked after a while, the blush finally receeding.
Scowling, she glanced around the clearing, but saw no sign of the red-headed Chosen. "Well he volunteered to go get some meat, since our supplies are running low. But knowing him, he's probably fallen down a rabbit hole or gotten lost or something. He's certainly taking his sweet time."
As always, it seemed, she spoke too soon.
"Honey, I'm hooooome!"
She grimaced as a pale, muscular arm was slung around her shoulders. "Sheena, I never knew you were such a domestic goddess!" Zelos exclaimed, laying two plump rabbits down by the fire pit. He tossed back his hair, and finally noticed Genis glowering at him on Sheena's other side. "Beat it, twerp."
"Hey!" Sheena snapped, shrugging off his arm. "Don't tell him to get lost when you've only just decided to saunter back here so late! Those rabbits must have been such a handful," she sneered. Genis snickered, then cried out when Zelos pulled off his long gloves, 'accidentally' smacking the young boy in the face.
"Whoops, sorry brat." He sent Genis' back a self-satisfied smirk, and turned to see Sheena's pretty face contorted into a fierce glare. "You know, you really shouldn't pull that face, it's highly unattractive. It might get stuck like that," he commented lightly. He pulled the first rabbit towards him and began to quickly skin it. He soon became aware of a faint, persistent grinding noise. "And that really can't be good for the old molars, my domestic goddess."
Sheena stopped gnashing her teeth, but her glare only intensified. Mere mortals would have burst into flames from it by now, but of course she was dealing with a particularly irritating, self-absorbed Chosen, who unfortunately wouldn't go down quite so easily. "Don't call me that," she ground out eventually, snatching up the skinned rabbit from him and a knife. She proceeded to cut up the meat, imagining she was carving up his perfect, smirking face instead.
"Call you what, dearest?"
"Your domestic goddess. And dearest too, for that matter!"
Zelos turned his wide blue eyes on her. "But you need a nickname! I gave all the others nicknames while you were gone."
"I'll pass," she growled, throwing the diced pieces of meat into the bubbling pot. The simmering surface hissed and spat in agitation as each piece sank. She longed to dunk his angelic face in the liquid too.
Zelos chuckled lightly, handing her the second skinned rabbit. "Oh Sheena, I've missed your lovely voice and kind demeanour," he teased, wiping his hands clean.
"Bite me," she muttered savagely.
He quirked a red eyebrow and grinned devilishly. "Gladly."
Sheena threw him her most murderous look, two spots of pink appearing on her cheeks. Her face reddened further when he waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. "You... impossible man... useless, philandering, perverted –!"
"Sheena, my darling Goddess, you don't need to flatter me."
"Never mind flatter, I'll batter you if you don't shut up!" she growled. She threw in the last of the meat and cursed sharply when her fingers grazed the boiling pot with the violent gesture, singeing her fingers. Cradling them, she fought back a hiss of pain and blew on the burnt red skin. A second later a pale, long-fingered hand had reached out and gently taken hold of hers. Sheena scowled, met his brilliant blue eyes and tried to pull away, but his gentle grip was surprisingly strong.
"Hold still," he commanded, examining the extent of the burn. Apparently satisfied, Zelos murmured the spell for First Aid. The burnt skin healed instantly, and Sheena snatched her hand back as if his grip had been the hot object that had harmed her in the first place.
"...Thanks," she mumbled, trying not to notice how large the Chosen's hands were, how long the porcelain fingers were, how the soft skin was marred by calluses from his sword.
Because she shouldn't be noticing things like that, damn it.
"The pleasure was all mine, my Mizuho flower." Zelos actually had the audacity to wink at her. Wink! She felt her cheeks heat up once more, and tried to hide it by shoving the ladle at him. She refused to let him see how much he bothered her.
Stay cool, Sheena.
"So I guess we'll be travelling together for a while, huh?" Zelos asked, cheerfully shattering the tense silence that had sprung up between them.
"Unfortunately," she replied shortly. He felt a smirk lifting the corners of his thin lips.
"Sitting on the fence, as usual I see. To be expected I guess, you being from Mizuho and all."
"You're no different," she snapped, digging through one of the packs for some seasoning. "You've been sent to keep tabs on them too."
"Touché," acknowledged Zelos, happily stirring away at the curry, forming a vortex at the centre of the pot. "Although our situations are pretty different – the Church has already decided it doesn't like this lot. I'm merely childminding them, making sure the commoners and half-elves don't go gallivanting off and try to destroy the world."
Zelos felt five pairs of eyes turn on him after he finished speaking, ranging from the incredulous (Sheena), to the annoyed (Lloyd), to the uncomfortable (Genis and Raine). Presea's expression didn't really change enough to garner an emotion, and Colette's blank, disturbing gaze never wavered from staring unseeingly into the darkness. "What?" He held up his hands in a surrender and shrugged. "It's the truth."
"Nice to see you still haven't managed to find a set of manners," Sheena muttered, throwing him a contemptuous look.
"Don't segregate the Professor and Genis off like that," said Lloyd tersely. Zelos' keen gaze didn't miss the younger boy's hands tightening on the hilts of his twin swords. "They're just as much a part of this group as you are."
"Did I ever say they weren't?" Zelos replied smoothly, before tasting the curry casually. "At least I didn't say they were blood traitors, or dirty, rotten criminals."
The metallic hiss of Lloyd's swords being drawn sliced through the uncomfortable atmosphere as he jumped to his feet. "How dare you say that?" Lloyd bit out, his brown eyes filled with anger and contempt. "They're much better people than a lot of the people we've met in this world, especially those... snobby nobles in Meltokio, who think its fine to treat everyone else like dirt!"
Zelos stopped stirring and slowly stood up. With her close proximity, Sheena could discern the stiffening and straightening of his posture, and the ice seeping into his blue eyes. "Like I said earlier, Bud," he said calmly, coldly, "I'm just stating the view that I've been brought up with, that everyone in Tethe'alla has been brought up with. It's not being prejudiced or discriminatory, since I don't really buy into that particular bullshit. I get enough crap for being the Chosen, thanks. And you're right – they probably are a lot better than some of the people you've met here. That includes me, right?" He finished on a biting, icy note.
Sheena scrambled to her feet and quickly intercepted the two young men as Lloyd took another step forward, his face tightening. "C'mon guys, that's enough! You're both acting like children," she said, pushing a hand against both of their chests.
Lloyd's dark eyes stared up into Zelos' azure eyes for another long moment, as Sheena held her breath, before throwing down his two swords and stalking away into the darkness. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Genis leap to his feet and hurry after him.
Zelos' heavy exhale ghosted over Sheena's cheek, and she turned her head to face him. "Come help me finish dinner," she instructed quietly. He searched her eyes for a moment, then nodded once and sat down again. Sheena breathed a small sigh of relief, then seated herself as well.
"It needs some pepper," he muttered, picking up the ladle again and slowly stirring the curry with none of his former enthusiasm. She passed the container over and his sprinkled some of the tiny black flakes in. Sheena tucked a strand of dark violet hair behind her ear, and bit her lip. Then she reached for another pepper, and slowly began to carve it up.
Presently Lloyd returned with Genis trailing after him. He apologized to Zelos for his violent reaction, and Zelos nodded, saying he was sorry for causing the initial upset.
Dinner was strained and tense. It was their first evening as a group, and Sheena couldn't help but notice that the Sylvarant four all sat close together. She didn't feel quite... right choosing to sit with them, and leaving Zelos and Presea as outsiders – despite the fact that Preasea was practically a stranger to her, and Zelos anything but a friend. To mediate, she chose to sit alone, right in the middle of the two groups. Zelos noted this with a half-smile, and struck up a conversation about What Comes Next (one they would have most nights from then on, as they would soon find) which successfully kept the awkward atmosphere contained to at least outside the sphere of light cast by the fire.
After volunteering to go on watch first, Sheena settled herself down on a nearby tree stump and drew her blanket close around her. The sounds of her sleeping companions soon filled her ears, and she quietly summoned Corrine to keep her company. The small, fox-like Summon Spirit happily curled up in her lap as she stared up into the heavens until her eyes blurred and her vision was fractured when her eyes began to water.
Hours later, a rustling sound made her head turn, snapped back to reality from her musings and memories. A tiny smile lifted her lips when she saw Zelos sit up, his hair matted and knotted in a wild mane, his eyes cloudy with sleep.
He yawned and rubbed at his eyes, and Sheena quickly slid on a face of indifference. "Man, my back is killing me," he grumbled. His voice was throaty and low with tiredness, and Sheena rolled her eyes.
"Sorry, it's kinda hard to find portable four-poster beds," she taunted, surreptitiously hiding a yawn. Zelos stuck out his tongue at her, dug under his bedroll and groaned quietly when he unearthed a large stick that had obviously been causing his discomfort. Sheena sniggered quietly as he threw the stick onto the smouldering fire and ambled towards her.
"No kidding. I already miss my bed," he muttered, flopping down on the grass beside her. He stifled another yawn and glanced up at the night sky. "What time is it?"
Sheena glanced up too, noting the position of the moon and stars, shining small yet persistent against the inky sky. Almost like a metaphor of their group, she mused – so small against the darkness, the evil, yet burning bright with determination and passion. Bringing light to a dark world. "About one, I guess," she murmured eventually.
He groaned and rubbed at his face roughly. "Fantastic," he mumbled through his fingers. "You should get some sleep, I'll cover this watch. Lloyd's dead to the world anyway." She followed his eyes and smirked when she saw Lloyd sprawled on his back, his mouth wide open and one wrist thrown over his eyes.
She sighed and re-tied her hair, scraping it back into a loose braid to sleep in. "Oh well, it was nice of him to volunteer."
"And even nicer of me to take his shift, since I'm saving him some sleep." Zelos stood and stretched, all the muscles in his lithe body springing to life. "C'mon, Domestic Goddess, beddy-byes."
She scowled and punched his arm as she uncoiled herself from her seat on the stump. "Shut up, assface," she muttered.
He snatched her blanket before she could and instantly wrapped himself up in it as he snorted with laughter. "Assface? Nice to know you consider my face to be as attractive as my behind. I didn't realise you'd noticed its perfection. It certainly keeps the girls looking." He shuffled happily on the stump, wriggling his ass from side to side as he teased her.
Rolling her eyes, she shoved Zelos off the stump and grabbed her blanket back. "Shut up!" she hissed, mindful of their slumbering companions. She began to pick her way carefully over to her own bedroll, when –
The near-silent whisper held a subtle, almost... pleading tone that made her stop and glance back. Zelos stood where she'd left him, his eyes carefully trained on the ground as he slowly drew his toe through the dust.
"Was I... I mean... I didn't mean for it to come out like it did."
Finally, he lifted his head up and met her gaze. His milky, porcelain skin seemed to glow white in the moonlight. "Earlier, at dinner," he clarified. "You know that, right? The others know that... right?"
Sheena held her tongue as she slid her gaze to the sleeping half-elves, their hair glinting silvery-blue in the firelight. She sighed and raked a hand through her hair. "Yeah, we know," she murmured eventually.
He nodded once, a short, sharp jerk of the head. "Good. Because we're... me and them... even you, I guess - we all know what it's like." The blue of his eyes was intense. Startling. "To be different. To be treated differently." He ran a hand through his flaming mane of hair, tugging futilely at the strands. "And I hate being a hypocrite," he whispered, so softly she almost didn't catch it as he looked away.
Sheena felt a tug of pity in her gut, thinking of the isolation they all felt. And none would have felt the loneliness more than the young man standing a few feet away from her. After all, Genis and Raine had each other, while Sheena had the support of her village.
Zelos was truly alone, trapped by his destiny.
Zelos nodded again, once, but slower, then turned and seated himself on the tree stump with his back to the camp. A minute or so later something hit his back, and he whirled around to see Sheena's blanket lying innocently on the grass, having been thrown at him. He glanced up to see Sheena shifting onto her side, her back to Zelos, curled up underneath the scratchy spare blanket. A small smile covered his face, lighting his eyes as they roved over the curvy silhouette and mussed purple-black hair of the summoner, as he picked up the blanket – still-warm – and wrapped it around himself.
The lingering lavender scent of her filled his head as he lifted his eyes to the star-strewn heavens.
A/N: I'm back! And with a new string of not-quite one-shots, but not-quite a story either. Basically I'm going to follow Sheena and Zelos' relationship through seven specific nights, like this one.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it :) Next update should be pretty soon, since school finishes next Friday FINALLY!