Zelos was bleeding from the forehead in a thick red ribbon, his clothes tan from dust. The sun had made the grass crisp, spreading long patches of dead tawny vegetation that crumbled to dust under their feet. Lloyd wrinkled his nose and brushed some dust off his own outfit. The heat was terrible, his clothes were damp and clinging to his body, and by the look - and smell - of the others, they were in the same situation.

Marauders had been just outside the town, and it would have been foolish to leave them there after all the gald they'd poured into restoring Luin. The town had been improving, but their soldiers were still untrained and needed more than the few weeks they'd had to improve. Lloyd had figured they'd give the bandits a quick beating and be on their way, but it was turning out more frustrating than he had intended.

There was a slow, animal groan from a large axe-wielder as he slumped to one knee, bleeding from a dozen cuts caused by Genis' air spells. A second later he stumbled up again, and Lloyd cursed softly as the heavy axe thudded into the ground next to Genis, disrupting the next magical assault, then lurched upwards to attack Zelos, crouched a few feet away. Lloyd dug quickly in his satchel, running over to them as Zelos blocked the heavy axe with his dagger, wincing slightly at the shock.

"Here." Lloyd said quickly, pressing the squishy weight of an Apple Gel into Zelos' shield-hand and knocking the axe away quickly. The man grunted, his breath coming in rancid pants that Lloyd could smell even a few feet away.

"Love ya, man." Zelos said, patting Lloyd quickly on the small of the back. He grinned, then stuffed the Gel into his mouth and stood up.

Lloyd blinked, head turning away from his opponent and towards where that very odd comment had come from. He managed to get out a very confused "What?" out, before Zelos pressed a finger to his lips and knocked the axeman's helmet with the hilt of his dagger. As the axe fell from nerveless fat fingers to the ground, Zelos chuckled lightly, sheathed his weapon, and turned to walk away.

Where had that come from? Lloyd wondered, sheathing his swords reluctantly as he watched Zelos retreat. Of course the odd Chosen hadn't meant it, and even if he had, Lloyd was unsure as to why it had been said in that tone of voice. It wasn't quite joking, nor was it really serious, and Lloyd had the sneaking suspicion that if he heard it again, he'd know why Zelos had said it. It was like a word he couldn't quite recall, struggling to get out from the back of his throat – but just out of reach.

There was a sharp yelp of alarm from his right, startling him suddenly out of his reverie. Just as the large axe-wielder toppled forward, hitting the rather confused swordsman and knocking him over. The hilt of one of his swords dug deep into Lloyd's side as the man landed half on top of him. He coughed hard, dust clogging his nose and getting in his mouth.

"Lloyd! Are you okay?" Colette's worried voice rang out clearly over Zelos' sudden laughter, as Lloyd struggled to get out from under the unconscious man, his face bright red and his nose wrinkled. The man had obviously not bathed in quite a while, and the smell was overpowering. After he'd brushed himself off a little, Lloyd felt composed enough to speak.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Zelos' laughter died down slowly into small chuckles and nudging comments to Sheena and Genis that Lloyd couldn't quite hear.

Lloyd's face felt even hotter; there was no reason to have been caught off guard by some silly joke from Zelos. Something in his side felt too soft, and ached somewhere underneath the skin, but it probably wasn't too bad. He'd had worse. Lloyd shrugged mentally. It was nothing, and he wasn't about to admit getting hurt from such a stupid mistake.

"If you're sure..." Colette's gentle voice was heavy with worry, like it had been too often lately. "I guess we'd better head back into town."

Zelos snickered, slapping Lloyd on the shoulder as he caught up with the rest of the group. "Bet you feel pretty stupid, huh?" He smirked.

"Yeah, I do." Lloyd said quietly, and was slightly pleased that Zelos didn't comment on his mistake again for a while.

Lloyd could still feel the thin line of bruising on his hip where one of his swords had been slammed into his flesh, the result of a careless misstep in what should have been an easy battle. The bruise was starting to ache badly, a dull throbbing almost to the bone, and equally as annoying whether he put pressure on it or not. For the last couple of hours he had been turning in bed from one side to the other, trying to find a way to sleep without bothering the soft aching lump over his hipbone. Zelos snored quietly across the room and stretched himself out even more on the bed. Regal was not around, which meant either he'd decided to go out for another walk in the middle of the night, or Lloyd had been tossing and turning until the very early morning when Regal left to train. It wouldn't have been the first time something like that had happened.

The night still hadn't let go of the humid, pounding heat that the day had held, even late into the night. Except for Zelos' snoring and the soft whine of insects outside, the area was silent, everything stuffed under the stifling weight of the temperature and humidity. In the middle of the room the blankets from each bed lay in a crumpled pile, discarded before everyone had settled down to rest. Things were barely visible in the pitch blackness – the moon was hardly even a sliver in the sky, illuminating only the silver outlines of objects.

"...Guess I'm not getting any sleep tonight." Lloyd muttered, slipping out of bed and fishing around for the clothes he'd tossed off next to his mattress. Through the window he could already see the first signs of day, as a wide patch of deep purple dissolved into the sky from the horizon.

"...ey... bud...where are you goin'?" Zelos' bed creaked and shifted, and Lloyd froze in the middle of pulling on his shirt. He sighed, sitting on the edge of his bed as he finished dressing.

"I'm just going to take a short walk. You should get some more sleep, it's late. Well, early, anyway." He winced as the heavy weight of one sword brushed against the thick bruise, sending a deeper ache through the flesh. Zelos was sitting up now, rubbing one of his shoulders, his lengthy hair splayed out all over the place. "No sense in staying up with me."

Zelos stretched, his back cracking noisily as it arched. "Good thing I'm not sensible, then. Hold on just a sec, kay?" There was short scramble for clothes, accompanied by soft curses as Zelos stubbed a toe or stumbled in the dark, then suddenly there was a warm clap of a hand on Lloyd's shoulder. The soft weight of Zelos' hand squeezed slightly, thumb pressing against collarbone, then settled with the smooth edge of one thin nail brushing up against the back of Lloyd's neck. "Woo! There you are. I can't see a damn thing in here." Zelos' expression was hidden mostly by the dim light, but he imagined the familiar smirk had settled itself onto the Chosen's face. "So where are we headed?"

Lloyd shrugged and sidestepped slowly, feeling his way towards the stairs. "Outside. Maybe it won't be as stiflingly hot out there."

"Good idea! Outside it is, my man." The hand slipped from Lloyd's shoulder, tracing down his arm in one smooth motion before settling on his wrist. Zelos yawned widely, shuffling towards the stairway, his hand wrapped firmly around Lloyd's wrist as he led him through the room. There was a hissed curse from him suddenly, the gentle grip on Lloyd's wrist suddenly becoming a sharp tug downwards as the pile of blankets twisted around their feet. A few, awkward moments of tangled limbs and one painfully squeezed arm later, Zelos recovered gallantly and helped Lloyd straighten up. "Gotta be more careful, bud. That's twice today you've tripped all over yourself."

Lloyd cleared his throat, tugging his arm firmly away from Zelos' grasp. "You're the one who fell. And that was a stupid mistake earlier."

"Eh, I know, I just like teasing you." Zelos said calmly, patting Lloyd's arm before taking him by the wrist again. The stairs creaked on every step, Zelos' feet leaving loud thuds with each impact on the ancient wood as he pulled his comrade out of the inn. Outside, the heat wrapped itself around them oppressively, blanketing them in humid, sick air that sapped even Zelos' will to speak, at least for a few minutes.

Somewhere out in the distance there were insects buzzing and crickets chirping, but the town was surprisingly quiet, the sound of running water the only discernable noise besides the quiet creak of buildings shifting their weight in the breeze. Zelos seemed content to walk, staying oddly but pleasantly silent. Lloyd kept pace with him, just as quiet, one hand on the hilt of a sword (just in case) and the other still being gripped very lightly by Zelos. It was almost as if the Chosen had forgotten it was there, leaving only the tiny weight of fingertips on Lloyd's pulse and the heavy thumb brushing against his Exsphere. He could almost feel the pressure through the stone, not unpleasant but strange. Zelos kept one step ahead of him, leading him along through the streets and over one of the new bridges, where the wood was still unweathered and smelling of resin.

Lloyd was starting to wonder whether something was wrong, unused to silence while Zelos was around to fill in the quiet spaces. It was unnatural; a strange glimmer of something he didn't get to see often in his companion was peeking through as they walked.

"At least it's getting lighter out." Zelos muttered, finally, and Lloyd pulled his hand away, resting it on his sword hilt and letting the other drop to his side. "Hey...Where exactly are we headed, anyway?"

"...Weren't you the one leading us?" Lloyd sighed as Zelos laughed nervously and rubbed the back of his head. The horizon brightened slowly, soft oranges etching their way into view. Lloyd watched the color flow back into his vision as the light slowly brightened, Zelos rambling on about sunrises he'd seen, though Lloyd had never seen him willingly awake this early before.

"...And man, nothing's better than having one or two or six of your sweet hunnies next to you. Women love that sort of thing." Zelos nudged Lloyd in the side playfully, leaning in close. A heavy arm clapped into the back of Lloyd's neck, settling comfortably onto his shoulders. "So, who's it going to be?"

"What?" Lloyd shifted his weight, one hand fiddling with his sword.

"The women! So, are you going after Sheena or Colette? Because to me it looks like they'd both be glad to have some fun with you, if you know what I mean." There was a long pause in the conversation, and behind Zelos the sun was just edging over the horizon. "You don't know what I mean, do you, bud?" Zelos asked, a slightly rueful grin spread across his face.

Lloyd shook his head. "No, I don't. We all have fun, as a group, and we're going to save the two worlds." Zelos slapped himself on the forehead with his free hand.

"Nevermind, then." Zelos said, giving Lloyd's shoulder a gentle squeeze, and the arm suddenly slipped off, quickly brushing down his back before patting his side and staying there. Lloyd squinted and shaded his eyes as the sun drew itself lazily up into the sky. "You sure we're going to be able to do this?"

"We have to try."

--

First fanfic in a very long time! I hope I haven't lost any writing ability.

Reviews would be nice.