DISCLAIMER: I do not own Tales of Symphonia, its characters, its plot, etc

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Tales of Symphonia, its characters, its plot, etc.

SPOILERS: Free use of information from the whole of the game.

COUPLE: Zelos x Lloyd

NOTE: This story was done as a challenge issued by my beta, Intercido Erro. The terms of the challenge, for those interested, were as follows: 1) must be Zelloyd, 2) at least mentions of Lloyd's pirate outfit, 3) Zelos being an angel and not wanting to tell Lloyd, 4) the sentence: "Well, clearly Lloyd is the devil", 5) Lloyd killing with no remorse in a village in front of someone who looks up to him, 6) the word "pantaloons", and 7) mentions of Zelos and Lloyd sharing one bedroom and other people speculating as to why. You will find them all in here, but not necessarily in that order.

WARNING: LONG. "Epic," as my beta called it. Came to about 50 pages in Microsoft Word.


"We were strangers

On a crazy adventure

Never dreaming

How our dreams would come true."

- Anastasia, At the Beginning

"Stand still, Lloyd," Regal chastised, straightening the boy's shoulder back from where he had begun to fidget. The move inevitably caused his other hand to follow, thus tugging it away from the knot so that the older man would have to start all over. "I can't finish tying this if you keep moving." After all the begging the boy had gone through for him to agree to help him with the headband- the final piece of his costume- one would think he would have a bit more patience. But such was only Lloyd's nature. This was the same one, after all, that was more than eager to once more romp around in the pirate's costume. In the middle of the desert.

Yes, it made little sense to Regal as well.

"It's taking forever," Lloyd commented impatiently, trying to subtly turn his head to see if he could watch the nobleman's fingers at work- quite impossible at this angle- but only for Regal to once more fatherly nudge his head forward again.

"That is because I have to keep starting over," was the strained reply. "If you dislike the wait so much, you could go without the bandanna." Regal was trying to be helpful, knowing that the wait was killing the boy's playful spirit. He knew as well as anyone that moments like this were currently too few and far between.

All the same, Lloyd stiffened immediately and forced himself to move as little as possible. Funny how he could apply the discipline learned from swordsmanship to the notion of staying still. It did explain quite a bit about Kratos at any rate. And speaking of disgruntled red-heads, Zelos wasn't looking too pleased himself. Lloyd blinked in bemusement at his friend, having seen such a look only once before when Raine had bit right into the flesh of a lemon. (It had been during her stage of cooking when she had believed that tasting the ingredients before one used them would lead to better results- it didn't.)

"What's wrong?" Lloyd asked, glad for something to keep his attention on. "The desert getting to you?"

"Hn," Zelos roused himself from whatever daydream he had been in. Recalling the question, the foreign Chosen shook his head and stretched out his long limbs, probably stiff from leaning against the wall from so long. "Nah. Just… thinking…"

Lloyd peered closely at his friend. As the two had grown to be friends, Lloyd had learned that Zelos was actually more reluctant to talk about himself than anybody he had ever known. Whereas Kratos had been frustrating on the basis that he gave little and that little being just hints at more and more truths, Zelos had been frustrating on account on being overloaded with half-truths and lies. It had been a complicated relationship for Lloyd to figure out and strangely enough, he had taken the time to make sense of it. Zelos said one thing, but basically meant another.

For a long time, it had just been easier to take him at face value. Lloyd, after all, was used to forthright people. Dirk, after all, had never minced words with him on anything. Collette had been the only one he had known that tried to take care with her words, but even then he had years of experience to see through her. (And it wasn't like Collette was a mistress of subterfuge herself.)

Yet Collette had managed to deceive him and Lloyd had learned the hard way that people saw what they wished to see. Then soon after that revelation, he had met Zelos. Boy, the timing could not have been better on that one.

In all logic, they shouldn't have got along as well as they had. The old Lloyd would have spared little time to delve into something someone didn't want seen. It would have just been a matter of minding your own business. Then it had been exasperating to put up with someone who had something flattering to say to every female in a town. And by every female, Lloyd meant every female. How many times had they been sidetracked into walking the entire of a city before reaching a destination? Then Zelos, mischievous as ever, had let Lloyd in on the secret.

Women gave you stuff.

Well, they didn't give Lloyd stuff. Lloyd was a nobody, an out-of-towner, one face among the thousands. And for some strange reason, he had managed to make it on the most hated list among the women of Meltokio. (What was up with that?) But the idea of profit had given something for the blue blood and the dwarven-raised boy to bond over. Zelos could talk the talk and Lloyd was more than capable of holding open an empty sack. Raine had thought it dishonest, Sheena thought it perverted, but to Lloyd, it was a way to save up on Gald. Perhaps no one else paid attention but Lloyd knew for a fact that had it not been for the extra supplies Zelos had managed to wrangle for them, more than one person would have paid for the consequences. That was pretty thoughtful for a guy that had only been ordered to follow them around. (And spy on them, but Lloyd hadn't known that at the time.)

And maybe that little thing opened up a doorway for a lot more. Lloyd, after all, had been the first one- for the longest time, the only one- to come to appreciate Zelos's sense of humor. Of course, it helped that from their conversations stemmed plenty of inside-jokes. So when Zelos inserted a comment smooth as could be, Lloyd was left to be stared at as he burst out laughing with Zelos beaming with pride and a well-earned grin. Those times had been nice because it wasn't much later that they ran out things to laugh at.

"Zelos," he remembered commenting once, during one of the nights when they lay awake side by side in the bed. The darkness of the night hid their faces so it wasn't like they could see the other was awake, but somehow, they just knew. "You're a pretty ok guy."

The other side of the bed trembled for a bit, vibrations from someone trying to muffle their chuckles. "Only 'ok'?" came the soft whine and Lloyd had to cover his mouth so that his laughter couldn't be heard. (Everyone else, after all, was trying to get as much sleep as they could.)

His grin was heard all the same. "Yeah," he dragged off, knowing Zelos was waiting for the last bit, "y'know… for a city man."

A snort, then, "That, my dear fellow, is because you are just now coming to realize the brilliance that is me. I understand that it can be quite an overwhelming experience at first, but soon you'll see just how wonderful I am. You'll wonder how you ever got by a day without me. Oh!" Zelos gave a theatrical gasp and Lloyd could just picture the other man raising a weak wrist to the forehead dramatically. "All those poor lost souls out there that have yet to be personally 'saved' by me. How I feel for them!"

Lloyd kicked Zelos's feet back to his side of the bed. "How lucky they are," he teased. "I'm starting to envy them."

The momentary silence was filled with what must have been a devilish grin. "As they are envying you, I'm sure," Zelos cooed, entangling their arms familiarly, "Lucky you being in my bed, eh?"

Lloyd groaned at the bad joke, tugging back his arm, and with a playful shove, almost managed to knock Zelos off the bed.


There was a perfectly good reason why they had to share a bed too. Not that they ever told Sheena, who kept inquiring, or anyone else who gave them odd looks- or worse. Genis, for example, distrusted Zelos almost as much as he trusted Lloyd. He loudly made it known that he thought the "Stupid Chosen" was up to something and that if Zelos tried anything "untoward", the red-head might "accidentally" be hit with a Fire Ball sometime during battle. (Afterwards, Zelos confided to Lloyd that he couldn't help but wonder just what the small pre-teen was imagining Zelos would try. Lloyd hadn't understood the joke and had merely shrugged in response.) Really, Lloyd wished he could explain to Genis that Zelos wasn't about to try anything and that he had started doing it as a favor… but the entire story was just too weird and awkward. And really, Raine was practically responsible for most of it.


The group of weary travelers was retiring to Zelos's mansion- now safe from having cleared the Chosen's name- when Raine pulled him and Zelos aside. "Boys," she spoke in that instructing tone of hers, placing both hands on hips to further the impression that she was giving an order, "we're running low on supplies." She looked at them pointedly.

Both boys blinked at her. Just a few seconds ago their minds had been filled with the idea of decent food and actual beds. Going back outside wasn't all that appealing. "Uh, Professor," Lloyd chuckled awkwardly, hoping this was one of the few times she was kidding, "you don't mean for us to go out there and actually-"

A large sack was suddenly pushed roughly in front of his face, its dangling presence leaving no doubt as to what Raine wanted them to do.

"My dear beauty," Zelos tried to soothe her, "normally I would be happy to move the heavens for you, but surely this could wait until-"

"Now," Rain wiggled the sack in front of them and the look she was giving them was setting off all sorts of self-preservation instincts. More dropping it into Lloyd's hands than handing it over, Raine left them to their business, rubbing tiredly at her staff arm. Zelos's faithful butler, who ironically had not dared to step forward until now, rushed to her side.

"Would the young miss like a bubble bath?" Sebastian offered, already taking her coat and staff.

"Why, yes," Raine cooed. "Yes, she would."


Lloyd liked not having to deal with Zelos's "gaggle of hunnies" – Zelos's words, not his- as they wandered around Meltokio. Of all the women in Meltokio, that particular group- oddly including the princess- hated him the most. At first they had swarmed around Zelos, forcing Lloyd as far back as possible in order to not get an eye scratched out. They had quickly made their sentiments known that they were feeling neglected and Zelos was spending far too much time with such unworthy company. There was so much batting of the eyelashes that Lloyd wondered if the girls sensed a dust storm brewing. At first, he had been dismayed because of course Zelos would want to go with the girls. How many times had he heard how preferable a beauteous female's company was to that of… men?

Just as he was planning to leave Zelos to his enjoyment, the red-head managed to cough- almost a hack just so he could be heard over the giggly mass of estrogen- to quiet everyone. "Ladies," he smiled apologetically, discretely- but firmly- removing their various limbs off him, "as much as I cherish your company, I would like to spend some time with my bestest best buddy. You can understand that, can't you?" Lloyd, feeling like a frozen stick in the mud, watched as Zelos sauntered over to lean on him, an arm wrapped around close.

Best buddy... For some reason, Lloyd felt his nose itch and his cheeks were strangely warm. The weight across his shoulders was comfortingly heavy and the touch was different than when Genis or Regal touched him. He was jolted out of wherever his thoughts were leading as the girls let their disapproval show.

"Not fair," they cried as one, hands reaching out like phantoms, trying to grab the Chosen back into their cluster, "he's just a boy."

"Exactly," Zelos snapped shortly in a tone that made Lloyd glance up at him in surprise. The word also brought the girls up sharply but before they could wonder too much about it, Zelos grinned toothily before continuing more soothingly. "Me and my bud here are gonna have some... you know... male bonding time."

Amazingly all the girls remembered something else they had to do, immediately. Left alone once more, Zelos stood back up and removed his arm. Feeling somewhat off balance, Lloyd asked, "Why did they leave so quickly? Not that I'm complaining," he added quickly.

Zelos, to his increasing surprise, threw back his head and laughed, the way Lloyd was used to doing. "Oh, Lloydie McLloyd Lloyd," he sang, looking down at the brunette fondly. "Nothing scares women off more than the idea of 'male bonding'." Gesturing the boy along, he led the way down the streets.

Feeling an odd jumpy sort of energy in his bones, Lloyd followed, "Why? What do we do for... male bonding?"

"Spirtua's spit if I know," Zelos laughed again, shaking his head. "But women also don't know and they don't want to know and they'll do anything to avoid it. It's the one thing going for us guys."

This was something else Lloyd would come to like about Zelos. These kinds of talks weren't the sort of thing he was used to sharing with Genis, and Regal would never discuss these things in a million years. And it was surprisingly easy to talk to Zelos. The man was a natural listener and though Lloyd sometimes worried about taking up the man's time, Zelos never seemed bothered to talk to him. And after that, the little gaggle left him and Zelos alone as they wandered around Meltokio. Though that did not spare Lloyd from several dirty looks, with Zelos he never seemed to notice.

So it was odd to suddenly be approached by a woman. The stranger practically pranced over to them. "Hello Chosen," she purred. Her attire was like that of a cat's- and not the nice, pink humanoid ones.

Zelos gave his trademark smile though Lloyd noticed that his body language gave away that he did not really know the woman. (When had he been able to read so much?) "Hello gorgeous," the red-head cooed, casually flicking back a misbehaving strand of hair. "What can I do for you?"

Leaning in close, the woman wrapped her arms behind Zelos's neck, jerking him forward. "How would you like to come be my kitty?" she whispered, leaning up to rub her nose gently across Zelos's cheek. "I have just the collar for you too..."

A shiver ran both Lloyd and Zelos's spines. "Uh," Zelos gulped, gathering his words while at the same time trying to extricate himself from the strange woman's grasp, "thank you darling but Zelos the Great doesn't belong to anyone." Finally forcing the woman's grip off him, he tried to ease the situation by giving an awkward chuckle. "Never has, never will. I'm here for the world to love, sugar."

She grasped his shoulders instead then and tried to lean on him again. "I can love you more, baby, I promise," she murmured, mewling. "You'll come be my kitty, won't you?" She shifted her weight unto her toes so as to lift her head up, pert lips raising up and aiming for the corner of the Chosen's mouth...

Without much thought, Lloyd stepped forward and pulled the lady off his friend. This was getting more than just a little weird. "Stop it!" he cried, trying to talk sense into her. "How can you just force yourself onto him without thinking about his own feelings?" Just what did the women of this world think Zelos was? Granted he had not known the man very long, but just who deserved this?

The lady scowled at him. (Why did women tend to do that when he was around Zelos?) "Why not?" she whined, hissing at him. Her fingers flexed as though imitating claws. "He plays with all of us without thought. Why can I not keep him as my own?" Titling her head back to look back at Zelos, she smiled. "Pretty kitty..." One hand stretched forward, as the other girls had done, gesturing as though she was already imagining running her fingers through that long hair.

"Look, lady..." Zelos again tried to reason, "I... I can't go with you. I..." His eyes darted toward Lloyd. "I already have someone special." As though with revelation, he continued with this idea. "You wouldn't want me to betray my heart, would you?" Back was the syrupy tone and the defenseless widening of the eyes. Lloyd had to hand it to Zelos; the man really knew how to act.

Now the strange woman truly pouted and sulked in Lloyd's grasp. "Poor kitty," she gazed at him with pity. Childishly, she glanced up at Lloyd, "already collared." She shook her way out of Lloyd's grasp and took in both of them with her gaze. "Watch yourself, kitty. Pets have a bad habit of... getting lost." With one last glance and a meow, she skipped away as cheerful as could be.

"Ooh boy," Zelos whistled as she left. "Another one to add to the stalker list. Wonderful."

Lloyd looked at him incredulously, "Does this happen often?"

Zelos shrugged, uncaring. "Every once in a while," he answered vaguely. "Is no big deal. She'll forget about it soon enough." As though to even more firmly close the subject, he continued his walk down the streets.

The brunette followed hesitantly. "But what if she doesn't?" Lloyd couldn't just let it go. What he had seen had disturbed him. Surely Zelos couldn't be alright with such attention. "Zelos, she could do something to hurt you."

Zelos waved off his worries. "Aw, don't worry about it, bud," he assured but his smile was strained. Lloyd started to suspect that Zelos wasn't as ok with all the attention as he pretended to be. "I'm the Great Zelos, remember? I can take care of myself." And then there was that smile, the same smile Lloyd saw everyday but for the first time he saw just how fake it was.

The heavy feeling from his heart spread to his feet, stopping him in his tracks. Catching sight of this, Zelos turned around to see what the problem was. Lloyd was looking at him in that soulful way the boy had as though there was something Zelos was supposed to understand. "Don't do that," Lloyd finally spoke up, his tone firm as he looked Zelos straight in the eye. "Don't force yourself to be happy."

"What?" Zelos blinked at him, his expression wiped clean with sincerity from surprise. Quickly, he regained himself and back was the smile, if only just a little less false. "Bud, don't worry about it. Comes with the territory of being a Chosen. You get used to it."

Lloyd frowned at him. "I don't know anything about being a Chosen," he admitted. Lifting his left hand, he gazed down at the exsphere gleaming back at him. The shades of blue reminded him of someone else precious to him that had tried so hard to be happy despite her suffering. And she had... "But," his left hand clenched into a fist, "I do know that's not what friendship is about." He looked back up at Zelos, who was watching him with a blank expression. "Yeah, I'm here to laugh with and have fun. No one wants to be unhappy and besides, Dwarven Vow #25: a happiness shared is a happiness grown." Instinctively, agate eyes darted to the side. He strangely seemed to get into these situations where he bared his heart into the open, but that made it no less uncomfortable. "And I do have fun... y'know... being with you. You're a nice guy, Zelos. People can't help but like you." Now both hands clenched into fists, his desire increasing for the message to get across. "But that's just a fair-weathered friend! These aren't the best of times and when things get rough I want you to know that you can count on me."

Zelos turned to face him straight on. His serious expression hadn't eased. "I was just sent to keep an eye on you guys," he told Lloyd point-blank. "And you know next to nothing about me."

Lloyd felt ridiculously happy with that blunt attitude and grinned foolishly. "You don't have to know someone very long for them to be your friend," he assured. Feeling satisfied, he raised his arms to cross behind his head. "Yep, you're pretty much stuck with me now!" He laughed.

"You," Zelos just shook his head and smiled exasperatingly, "are so weird."

"Hey!" Lloyd dropped his arms to gape at the red-head, indignant.

The sound made Zelos laugh, openly as he had that one time before. "Seriously, man," he continued, teasing, "you really do always talk like that? I don't know whether to say you have nerve or what." Not liking where this was going, Lloyd pouted which only served to make Zelos laugh more.

"Stupid Zelos!" Lloyd finally gave up and stomped past his friend.

"Don't forget 'Idiot Chosen'," Zelos joked, following behind.

"No!" Lloyd shouted, the limits of his temper breaking loose. He turned on his heel to face Zelos, though through his annoyance he couldn't really take in the red-head's surprised expression. "I mean, 'stupid, STUPID Zelos'!" Then once more he whirled around to stomp back to the mansion. Under his breath he grumbled, "Stupid man. It's not some Chosen who is my friend. I just want Zelos!"

He didn't see Zelos's eyes widen to watch the red-clothed hero storm off.


Had Kratos been part of the group of the time, he would have been there to explain to Zelos that Lloyd had inherited his mother's temper and thus there was nothing to fear. (This was, of course, assuming Kratos would tell Zelos anything before delivering Judgment.) People like Anna and Lloyd did not hold onto grudges long and by the time the two boys had reached the mansion, Lloyd's annoyance had- for the most part- gone away. So by the time it was night and everyone was comfortably in their own choice of Zelos's many rooms, Lloyd was left staring up at his high ceiling with a guilty twist in his stomach.

Finally, when his nerves could take it no longer, he finally gave up and threw off his comfortable covers. With the giant house so dark and silent it felt a lot like sneaking around as Lloyd made his way through the hallways. He peered closely at the numerous doors he passed, wondering which was Zelos's and how he would ever tell with them all looking so alike. Finally he managed to stumble upon what he believed to be Zelos's room. Cautiously opening the door, he nearly stumbled back when a flash of silver revealed itself to press against his neck.

"Zelos?" he choked out, heavily feeling the lack of swords at his side.

The sword lowered and suddenly the room was illuminated. Zelos was standing before him, looking at the red swordsman in bemusement, and lowering his sword. "Lloyd?" the red-head blinked. "What are you doing here, buddy? Is everything alright?" He grinned teasingly, sheathing his sword. "You're not here to complain about the room already, are you?"

It took a few moments for Lloyd to regain full use of his brain again. "What? No!" he shook his head. "I just..." He glanced at the sheathed weapon. "Do you always attack whoever walks into your room?"

"Eh?" Zelos blinked in surprise. "Oh that?" He laughed sheepishly. "Nah, nah. That was... just a joke, you know?"

Lloyd glared at him. "Uh huh," he raised an eyebrow. "That woman really did get to you, didn't she? Why don't you just admit it?"

Zelos cocked an eyebrow right back at him. "It would take more than a woman to frighten me, Lloyd," he drawled, then again tried to turn the conversation to a lighter note. "Other than our dear, beloved Professor of course."

Lloyd ignored the words and just strode further into the room. He was getting close to just not listening to anything Zelos had to say. Taking a look around the room, he found it rather... clashing. There was both an extravagant and simple feel to the room, but as though both were trying to outdo the other. Lloyd couldn't put his finger on why he thought so. "So what were you going to do if she came in here?" Lloyd asked him. "Decapitate her?"

Zelos wrinkled his nose at him, setting the sword down on a nearby set of drawers. "I keep trying to tell you, buddy, it doesn't matter," for the first time the red-head sounded truly tired and it caught Lloyd by enough surprise to turn and look at him. "Let's just get to sleep and it'll all be over in the morning. Okay? Okay." Thinking that to be over, he headed over to his own bed.

"Would you like me to stay here with you?"

Zelos nearly tripped over his own feet. His wide eyes would have made Lloyd laugh if it had not been for the fact that the brunette was currently wondering at his own gall. "What?" Zelos gaped. The red-head looked torn between dropping his jaw and laughing.

Lloyd wished he could disappear, but continued on anyway. "I could stay here tonight," he offered again. "That way if something does happen... there's twice as many people to handle it."

"Lloyd," Zelos finally spoke, stretching his words as though trying to get the other boy to understand, "I can take care of myself."

Feeling particularly stubborn at the moment, Lloyd simply strolled over to a chair and plopped down. Crossing his arms, he insisted to the carpet, "I don't like the idea of you having to deal with stuff by yourself. Not while I'm around." There was a very "so there" feeling to the pause that came between them. "So get yourself into bed. I'm not going anywhere tonight."

Zelos rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "That's very sweet... and very creepy," he said finally, laughing it off. "Alright, alright. Have your own way. But just to let you know," he settled himself demonstratively into the bed big enough for five people, as though rubbing it in Lloyd's face, before ginning devilishly, "that chair is very uncomfortable."

Lloyd believed it. Already he could feel the hard frame digging into his back and it only served to emphasize the difference between it and the wonderful bed he had left behind. Still, his stubbornness and pride outweighed his desire for comfort. To demonstrate his point, he settled further in the chair and tried to look as though he were simply lounging. Zelos only laughed more at him before the room went dark.

The chair proved to be Lloyd's most annoying nemesis. Though he tried to ignore it in exchange for sleep, the chair would not let him forget his choice. As time passed he had no choice but to try to find some sort of comfortable position. He tried to do so quietly and only when he really, really had to, so as to not wake Zelos, but his frustration at not finding any such position inevitably echoed in his actions. Still, the thought that just before him was someone who could rest a little more easily because he was here stopped him from getting up and leaving the room entirely.

"Oh, forget it!" Zelos cried, sitting up in bed. The room was once more illuminated and Lloyd blinked at him in surprise. He had truly thought Zelos had been sleeping this whole time. Now he had a very irritated red-head growling at him, "If you insist to continue this charade of yours, it's not going to be in that stupid chair. Just get over here." He pointed to the empty space next to him on the bed.

"What?" Lloyd straightened in the chair. His back, arms, and legs felt sore and he had a bad feeling that he would be bruised in the morning. A bed sounded absolutely wonderful.

"Just get over here," Zelos pointed next to him again.

Not about to wait for Zelos to change his mind, Lloyd rushed off the chair and over to the other side of the bed. "You don't mind?" he asked, already lifting the covers up. Hearing only an unintelligible murmur, he happily settled himself on the wonderfully soft mattress. Overcome with joy, it took a moment to register the odd look Zelos was giving him. "What?"

The red-head was staring at him as though he had never seen anything quite like him before. "You just hopped right in there, didn't ya?" Zelos wondered aloud.

"Yeah," Lloyd answered, not seeing the connection. "You offered, didn't you? What's the problem?"

Zelos just shook his head. "No problem," he sighed. "Let's just get some sleep." And the room went dark.

From there, they drifted off into restful sleep, Lloyd on one side of the bed and Zelos on the other. Zelos, for having such a big bed, strangely slept on the far edge, his chest pressing against the mattress as he lay on his stomach and for good measure, he pulled one of the feather pillows over his head. It might have been a good thing he took so little room for Lloyd was the opposite. As he was prone to doing, Lloyd started in one position but soon shifted in a sprawling layout, his arms and legs spread all over the place. Having already journeyed together for quite some time, Zelos was fortunately already used to the snoring.

Though they started off on opposite sides of the bed, they did not end up that way. It started during an unconscious tug-of-war over the blankets. Lloyd had unknowingly started it but Zelos, used to having everything all to himself, instinctively tugged the covers back over him. The cold made Lloyd fold in on himself but that didn't conserve enough heat. So blindly reaching out, his hands discovered where the covers had gone off to. One hand grabbed hold of the blankets, trying to ensure that they couldn't get away again, and then the body had scuttled over to join it. There, Lloyd found not only the covers, but also a very warm body. Happily, childishly, he snuggled in next to that heat and drifted off once more into dreams. A new sensation at his side made Zelos twitch and roll over.

The morning light streamed in through the window to see the two of them cuddled together in the center. Zelos awoke first and was vaguely confused as to why he had a foreign arm and leg draped over him. Nothing in his immediate memory could reveal why such a thing would be present. Memories of last night hit him then just as Lloyd awoke with a stretch and a yawn.

"Good morning," Lloyd recovered his limbs and sat up. Rubbing at his eyes sleepily, he asked cordially, "Sleep well?"

"Yeah," Zelos answered, stretching. That was odd. He could not remember the last time he had slept so fully and deeply. He must have been more exhausted than he thought.

- - - - -

Not too much longer after that, when Raine was paying for them all to spend the night at a House of Salvation, she commented out of thin air, "You boys won't mind sharing a bed, would you?"

"What?" Lloyd tilted his head. "Why?"

"I'd much rather share with you, Professor," Zelos had smiled charmingly.

"It's cheaper," Raine explained shortly. As she tucked away the rest of their Gald, she added, "And after seeing how comfortable you two were back at the mansion, I figured neither of you would mind."

Now both of them were frozen with nothing to say. "Professor!" Lloyd cried in shock. "How did you know about that?"

"Easy," the half-elf smiled congenially, as though discussing the weather. "I went early in the morning to Zelos's room to ask him about some books in his library- and then there were the two of you." She held up a hand to stop their explanations. "It's alright. I already heard about it from the grapevine."

"Grapevine?" Lloyd furrowed his eyebrows, wondering what fruit had to do with anything.

"The main gossip line of Meltokio," she explained. Crossing her arms, she wondered distantly, "Yep, quite the interesting news spreading about you two."

Zelos frowned, "From whom?"

"Some cat woman," Raine shrugged to show her sincerity.

Both boys twitched.

- - - - -

"I don't get it," Genis complained one evening before they went off to bed. "Why does Sis always pair the two of you up?" He looked sympathetically to Lloyd. "Do you want to ask Regal to switch with you, Lloyd?" Neither saw the blue-haired noble look faintly apprehensive, already imagining just what sort of roommate the Chosen would make.

"Thanks, Genis," Lloyd smiled sheepishly before heading into his shared room, "but it's fine. I don't mind."

Regal relaxed.

"I suppose it works," Genis admitted reluctantly. "You're the only one who can stand him anyway, Lloyd."

The brunette looked upset at the statement but was too tired to say anything. He knew nothing he said would really change Genis's mind about Zelos. For some reason the two of them would never get along. At least not from the observations he had made when he was around. As he closed the room door behind him, he did not see a dark expression come into Zelos's eyes.


Back in present time, it was taking an awfully long time for the group to start their day. Some of their members were beginning to get impatient. "Just why are they always together?" Genis whined as they waited for Regal, Zelos, and Lloyd to emerge. The half-elf knew it could not have just been his imagination that Zelos and Lloyd had grown closer. Granted, ever since the red-head's betrayal he couldn't have helped but to see Zelos in a different light. But even before then, Lloyd had liked being around Zelos. When Zelos had pretended to betray them, he had never seen Lloyd look so desperate yet so full of inner fire. He would accept nothing less than that Zelos was still true to him. And for such a long time before and even now, they had started sharing a bed. It was all directing Genis to a conclusion he'd rather not think about.

"Lloyd and Zelos are such good friends," Collette commented, serving breakfast. No one was satisfied with such an answer.

"You don't suppose... they're already together?" Genis finally proposed, hoping against hope that he was wrong.

Sheena choked, "What?"

"Together," Presea echoed, gathering food onto her plate. "A euphemism for the idea of two people involved in a romantic, consensual relationship with one another." That said, she helped herself to her meal.

"Right," Sheena smiled weakly. "You wouldn't really think that..."

"No way!" Genis pounded his fists upon the table. "Lloyd would never fall for such a... a... whatever kind of person Zelos is!"

Not to mention Zelos falling for such a person like Lloyd, though Lloyd was not exactly the hardest person to fall for, Sheena reasoned in her head, blushing. Still... Lloyd and Zelos? No way could those two go together. It made no sense! Absolutely no sense... Zelos, as much as she had grown to be fond of him- in her irritated, impatient sort of way- he was still the same person who wore more faces than a person could keep track of, was perverted yet cold, and had an impenetrable heart; he was the type of person (to put it poetically) one fell in love with as a safe bet, a fantasy you could never have, to get your heart broken so as to find something better. Zelos offered everything but what he was. And Lloyd... Lloyd wasn't like that at all. Lloyd was so real it hurt. The one that girls, after having their heart broken countless times by guys like Zelos, found was what they were looking for all along. Lloyd was... Sheena blushed harder just thinking about it. To put it simply, she redirected her thoughts stubbornly, Lloyd was too good for someone like Zelos.

But then again... Her mind seemed to be working against her, involuntarily providing her with memories to be seen in a new light. The way Zelos always hung around- often on- Lloyd. The way Lloyd always listened carefully to the advice the red-head had to give. Come to think of it, they had this odd way of zoning other people out, as if they were the only two people together. It was such a comfortable, bright atmosphere that it was no wonder she had not noticed it before. Them together that way just felt so natural... And clearly imprinted in her mind came the image of the two young men talking, smiling together, laughing over something only the two of the could understand and then Zelos had turned to look at the hero in red, the look in his eyes, as if nothing could be more precious...

It was like Sheena's brain stopped working. Poor Lloyd! Clearly, Zelos had less than honorable intentions and this whole time they had just left Lloyd alone with the Chosen. What horrors could have been unleashed without them having any clue?

Zelos, complete with wolf tail and ears, grinned evilly and pulled close a reluctant Lloyd, for some reason dressed with a puffy sheep costume.

"Come with me, scrumptious," Zelos proposed huskily. "And I'll teach you some baaad things, baby."

"Noooo," Lloyd wailed, but could not wiggle away.

No, no, Sheena shook her head furiously. Zelos would not do that. No one could sink that low, right? And besides, she reasoned when her little faith in Zelos failed to reassure her, Lloyd was no helpless maiden. He would sooner punch a hole through the red-head than be subjected through such a thing. (After all, Lloyd tended to scowl a lot when Zelos made such overtures at a young lady- or three- that they would pass by. Clearly, there was a lot of disapproval there.) So there was nothing to worry about. Unless... Lloyd, like any other person, had a weak spot. If Zelos were to play on that-

"Oh, Lloyd," Zelos sniffled, looking particularly defenseless, "I'm sorry about all the evil, mean things I've done. It's just… It's just…" He encased his head in his hands, sobbing just enough to make his voice hitch. "I have been so without love!"

"Oh, Zelos," Lloyd gazed up at him, agate eyes brimming with sympathy.

In sudden desperation, Zelos took hold of Lloyd's hands and gazed deeply into those eyes. "Lloyd," he murmured, his voice becoming husky. He pulled the younger man closer to him, the smaller body reluctant but not completely unwilling. "Please… help me become a better person. Give me love so that I might become… a better man…" As if in a trance, he moved to gently brush his lips against the other's skin.

"Oh," Lloyd moaned, eyes softly fluttering close. "How could I not…? Zelos…"

Sheena's mind shrieked in horror and she promptly smacked it on the table. The sudden move made her surrounding companions jump. "Sheena?" Genis raised an eyebrow. When the girl failed to respond, he gestured helplessly to the others. "What's wrong with her?"

"The heat must be getting to her," Collette clucked, going over and placing a palm on the ninja's forehead. "Poor thing! She's all red! I hope she's not getting a fever."

Sheena just groaned as if in pain.


Zelos was unhappy. He didn't know why he was unhappy and the vagueness irritated him. There was a possible reason as to why, but he did not wish to think about it and that awareness made him simultaneous unhappy and irritated about it. All in all, Zelos did not look all that cheery watching his best friend complete his pirate costume.

Ah, the pirate outfit…

At first it had been amusing for such a thing to be handed over to a very surprised Lloyd. Everyone was kind of irritated at the time- what with Alfred swindling the brunette at every turn- but had kind of passed it off to it just being one of those bizarre occurrences that happened only to Lloyd. (The kid had an astonishing knack for trouble.) Zelos, at the time, had figured it better to play jovial while trying to figure out the so-called captain's motives. (Something had to be fishy about a guy who kept trying to wrangle Lloyd away from them!) Then Lloyd had changed into the darn thing and when the brunette had come out awkwardly on the deck, Zelos remembered having a sinking feeling.

For starters, there was very little to it! At first, it seemed almost childish. There was still the long red scarf around Lloyd's neck and surprisingly a white bandanna much like Zelos's own. The white pants looked almost the same too until Lloyd turned to the side and it was revealed that a vertical strip had been removed from both sides, running up the legs, with only criss-crossed threads to modestly cover the bare skin underneath. This all seemed fine and good but unfortunately, it was all outshined by the most blaring part of all- the chest. Gone was the infamous red jacket that had previously covered the boy from wrist to neck to hips. In its place was instead a thin, turquoise vest with golden embroidery that left little to the imagination.

Spirtua's spit, when had the boy developed a chest like that!

Zelos had told himself that as a fellow attractive male, it only made sense for him to survey the "competition" and see how they measured against one another. And if he took his time in looking over Lloyd then it was just because he was being as methodical about it as he did with everything else. And if he felt a strange, whimsical feeling of pride then it was only because Lloyd was his best friend after all and he should be proud that his ugly-duckling of a friend had turned out so fine. Yeah… perhaps a good thing that he had not stayed on these thoughts too long.

Unfortunately, what had distracted him was the notion that he was not the only one to be seeing Lloyd in such an outfit. The rest of the group had also started gawking openly, some a little more flustered than others. (Colette had nearly fallen off the dock, Sheena turned bright red, and Raine dropped her staff and was so embarrassed she dropped it again upon trying to pick it up.) This would not have normally bothered Zelos (it was often amusing to watch everyone else pretend not to be attracted to the young brunette, who was selectively oblivious to all things not pertaining to the saving of the world- and why would it have bothered Zelos in the first place?), but that had also been when he had noticed Alfred's eyes taking in Lloyd with a whole different light. That particular gleam made him growl before he could stop himself and when he had noticed it, he drew up shortly. Granted, ever since he had come clean with his double-agent act and Lloyd had forgiven him with open arms, he had become much more attached and protective of the boy, but to this degree?

'He's precious to you,' he reasoned to himself, as odd as it was to admit such a thing. 'You're still dealing with what exactly that means. Not to mention he's the only real friend you have- the only real friend you've ever had. Does it not make sense that you would be so sensitive to that? So, logically, you would naturally be defensive of anything that could harm him or take him away.'

Yeah, sure. He'd go with that.

Needless to say, he hadn't been a great admirer of Alfred from that point on. He made it a point to hang around Lloyd more than usual and do what he could to block others from seeing that firm, muscular back- er, giving Lloyd uncomfortable attention. His comrades grew a little more irritated at him for such, but Zelos figured that they could suffer for the greater good. Which was, of course, Lloyd. A small part of Zelos told him that it was a bit over-the-top to go to such lengths to supposedly shield his buddy from that dastardly Alfred, but a much bigger part of him pointed out Lloyd's magnetic effect on other people (basically everyone they met) and he decided that this was all perfectly justifiable. Besides, judging from the small, shy smile of relief Lloyd had flashed his way when they believed no one else was looking, his efforts were being appreciated.

So now here he was, probably in the same predicament? Leaning against the wall as he watched Lloyd finish up with once more putting on his pirate costume, he finally admitted to himself that he was, indeed, irritated. As much as he enjoyed Lloyd's childish side, what with the boy wearing the clothing of a pirate so as to live out an old childhood fantasy, there was still this little thing that nagged at him. It was not so much the fact that Lloyd was choosing to wear as little clothing as possible in the desert of all places. He could almost understand the boy's logic behind that. The desert was, after all, hot and the temptation to strip down to nothing and hopefully let a breeze cool you down was tempting. However, Zelos knew that such was a fool's antic. The smart thing to do was not wear as little as possible, but to cover from head to toe so as to avoid damage from the sun. Less than half a day away from their destination of Triet, he figured Lloyd would get nothing worse than a possible sun burn. So it should be all good. However, there was still something bothering him. Following such logic, it could be deduced that people of a village such as Triet were not used to seeing much bare skin out in the open and now here was Lloyd, stripped down to a pirate's uniform, about to waltz right in there? There was a bad feeling written all over that scenario!

He watched as Regal finally finished with the headband and Lloyd turned around to give the noble a grateful smile. The twist in Zelos's stomach eased a bit. Eager to once more regain his usual mirth, the red-head leaped forward and wrapped his arms around the brunette from behind. The joy he felt from having Lloyd fit so perfectly in his embrace was one emotion he had not ever tried to explain away. He had just let it be.

"Well then!" he chirped. "Shall we be off to breakfast?" He sagged on Lloyd, just a little. "Because I'm hungry..."

"Sure, sure," Lloyd just shook his head affectionately, his eyes watching Zelos. The boy was making sure Zelos was as alright as he claimed he was. Zelos hugged him tighter and the brunette laughed in response. The sound lightened the foreign Chosen's mood so that he no longer remembered spending the morning sulking against a wall.


"Ta da!"

Lloyd had wanted to make a grand entrance into breakfast, sure as he was that he was going to surprise everyone. Indeed, the others had stopped their meal in progress to gape at him. He knew they all thought he was being weird again, but adjusting the scarf around his neck, he figured that such was fine with him. It was not often that he got to just have fun and if nothing else, this journey had taught him to enjoy the time you had. Besides, once they got into Triet, he would just visit that strange fortuneteller again. Maybe she would finally have something worthwhile to tell him other than strange murmurings about "the one that cared for him most!". Was possible.

"Lloyd," Raine regained her voice first, "just what do you think you're doing?"

"Aw, c'mon, Professor," he chuckled. "I'm just having a bit of fun."

"Lloyd," Genis groaned, shaking his head. "Why must you be so silly? Did the desert fry whatever brain cells you had left?"

The now miffed pirate growled, "Shut up, Genis!" Reassuring himself that he looked fantastic, he settled himself at the table next to Presea. Good, reasonable, silent Presea.

For some reason, Presea was already done with her morning meal while everyone else had hardly touched their food. Gathering his own servings, Lloyd idly wondered if his companions had had a rough morning. His attention was averted by Presea softly calling his name and when he turned to her, he found something gently placed in his hand. He looked down to see a gel for burnt skin.

"You will surely need it," Presea explained before gracefully hopping off of her seat. Without glancing back, she simply picked up her ax before heading out. It was time for morning exercises.

Lloyd let out a wrangled cry of frustration, even as he pocketed the gel. "Pirates don't get burnt skin!" he insisted, pounding the table with a fist. "Yar!"

"Yar?" Genis raised an eyebrow.

"Yar! Yar! Yar!" Lloyd cried stubbornly, glaring at his friend. "Sheena! Pass me the seasoning, will you?" The lady ninja handed the container to him without raising her limp head from the table surface.

"So excitable in the morning, bud," Zelos took a seat across from him. "Are you sure you need the extra sugars?"

"Yar," was the only decent response Lloyd gave him as he began to welcome the food into his stomach. The red-head laughed at him but Lloyd let it pass. For one thing, Zelos was always laughing at him. And he was glad to see Zelos had left his cloudy mood behind.

The male Chosen finally regarded the issue of a very dead looking Sheena sitting next to him. "Oh my ninja beauty!" he cried, knowing it would irk her. "Why does it look like someone has slain thee?"

Sheena shifted her head to glare at him darkly. A shiver went up Zelos's spine at the same time he chuckled nervously. What could the girl be so upset about this time? Zelos almost wished he cared more so that he could find out the reason she hated him so. As it was, he just served his own breakfast (serving himself! How the mighty had fallen) and started up another conversation with Lloyd.


Once they were ready to move on, they met up with Noishe outside. As Lloyd and the so-called "dog" exchanged greetings, Zelos watched with an affectionate gaze. (The kid was just so unknowingly cute! And that was not something Zelos could admit about a lot of guys. Or any...) It was hard to forget the first time he had encountered the fluffy beast.

The group had just returned to Sylvarant for the first time. The unexpected change in topography had led to several new goals and adventures. When they had first set course, it had not been long before they had been attacked. While normally a usual occurrence when traveling the roads, this had been truly out of nowhere.

He and Lloyd had been talking (talking to the brunette had somehow become the only worthwhile diversion Zelos could find). One moment Lloyd had been looking up at him, grinning, and then next he had been replaced with a giant white blur. It had been the first time in a long span that Zelos had been truly panicked. His vision was suddenly filled with his friend (his several time self-proclaimed and adamantly assured "friend") down on the ground with a strange white monster seemingly gnawing on his head.

"Lloyd!" the then-double-spy had cried out in horror. "Hold on! I'm coming!"

Shrill shrieks filled the air as the red-clothed boy writhed under the monster, trying to claw the monster off of him. Just as Zelos drew his sword to run the beast through, he realized in amazement that the shrieks were actually cries of laughter and Lloyd was in reality petting the creature and scratching it behind the ears.

"Noishe!" Lloyd cheered between the many sloppy kisses his dog was gracing him with. "You found me!"

Zelos stared dumb, dropping his shield and sword. The others had noticed by now and had come forward. Sheena, Genis, and Collette looked particularly excited.

"Hey, it's Noishe!" Genis grinned, looking the creature over. "He managed to find us."

"That's quite a dog," Sheena whistled. "How could he have known that we were here?"

"Noishe is incredible!" Collette chirped, running up to pet the huge dog. "It's so good to see you!"

The green and white fuzz ball looked at all his old friends happily, but made no move to get off Lloyd. When Lloyd finally managed to stand again, Noishe was leaning against his side looking as though he couldn't bear to be parted from the boy again. Several high pitched whines echoed his displeasure. Lloyd smiled understandingly, even as he became in increasing danger of tilting over, and patted his furred friend reassuringly. Zelos, who at the time had been acting a little standoffish so as to hide his embarrassment, curiously noticed the soft, affectionate look Lloyd gazed at the creature with. Just what did this...thing mean to Lloyd?

"I'm sorry, Noishe," the hero in red spoke softly, wrapping his arms around his faithful dog. The long tail wagged even faster at the sound of his name (as though the sheer joy of hearing Lloyd talk outshone all else) and Noishe gave the boy some more wet kisses, making the brunette laugh. (The sound, for some unfathomable reason, struck Zelos's ear oddly, seemingly more crisp and clear than he could remember it before. He shook his head harshly and tapped at his ear with a palm.) "I missed you too... We've never been apart for so long..."

The statement brought Genis up sharply. "That's right!" the young half-elf's eyes widened. "You and Noishe were always together everyday. I hadn't really thought about it."

Lloyd grinned sheepishly. "School had been the first time we had been separated for so long," he explained. "And you can't say that had been for very long." In a spurt of childish enthusiasm, he ruffled Noishe's ears. "It's always been Noishe and I; we're like brothers!"

"Which explains a lot," Genis mumbled, darting his eyes sideways.

"Hey!" Lloyd drew his shoulders up defensively. The jab drew a laugh from Zelos unexpectedly. He touched his lips in surprise and when Lloyd darted a teasing smile his way, having caught the sound, he staunchly insisted that he was not blushing.

The red-head coughed into a gloved fist. "Should I assume that you know this great walking fuzz?" he drawled, trying to look disinterested. He didn't care; he honestly didn't. Still, despite himself, he couldn't help but honestly pay attention to what the other boy had to say.

The answer was simply, "Noishe is my dog!"

A raised eyebrow. Lilac eyes glanced pointedly at the still bubbly creature whose ears were flapping like wannabe wings. Then, "You've gotta be pulling my leg."


It was as they continued walking that Zelos would find out a little more about what made a person as unique as the red-clothed hero. Not until then had he realized that Lloyd spoke so little of his past. Lloyd was so focused on moving forward, on hoping, on seeing what happened next, that it started to rub off on Zelos. Still, there had to be regrets in the boy's past. Lloyd related too well to them all for him not to have his own dark memories.

With Lloyd walking between him and...Noishe, the subject just sort of came up, though he could not remember which of them had brought up the topic. It couldn't have been him, could it? He made it a habit not to ask such personal questions. Conversations were meant to revolve around light topics so as to keep the atmosphere friendly and comfortable. Asking personal question usually invited an equal invitation to yourself. While Zelos was confident in his ability to avert any unwanted questions, no sense inviting a chance for mishaps. So it could not have been him who had asked about Lloyd's childhood, but he just could not remember...

"Dad found Noishe and I at the bottom of a cliff after some desians attacked," the boy had managed to say with a sad smile. This had struck Zelos as strange. He could never look back on his own past and smile- not really, anyway. Yet though the brunette's agate eyes were slightly dazed, it was not with pain and the smile on Lloyd's face was as real as anything Lloyd showed. Zelos wondered, with some trouble, if instead of dwelling on the negative implications of being found at the bottom of a cliff with one's dying mother- he twitched at this- if Lloyd was instead remembering the man who had raised him, of what it meant to go home. He was drawn from these thoughts as Lloyd chuckled sheepishly. "So you could say that Dirk got a son and a dog all in one day!"

(Some time later, but back when Lloyd still believed Dirk was the only father he had, Zelos would ask why Lloyd went back and forth on what he called the dwarf. "Dad", "Dirk": almost like the kid couldn't make up his mind. Lloyd would just tilt his head, quirk an eyebrow, and answer simply, "Because he's both." How like Lloyd.)

"So it's always been Noishe and I," Lloyd regained some of his former cheer and the… dog perked his ears up at the sound of his name. "Not that we haven't gained a lot of friends recently, right Noishe?"

Noishe wagged his tail.

"Oh, is that right?" Zelos cocked an eyebrow and leaned forward to peer at Noishe. The dog looked back at him with bright, intelligent eyes. The red-head was starting to like him already. "What do you think of me, Noishe?" He grinned foolishly, pointing a finger in his own direction. "Do you think we could be friends?"

The giant ears twitched. Zelos was about to laugh at himself- talking to something that couldn't answer back- when he was suddenly on the ground, on his back, getting his face covered with sloppy, saliva-filled kisses. (Oddly enough, not the first time he had been in such a position…)

"Noishe!" Lloyd cried in surprise before rushing to his friend's aid. The dog was somewhat reluctant to clamber off his new friend, but when he finally did so, his tail was wagging like crazy. Unknown to Lloyd and Zelos, for one was currently helping the other off the ground, Noishe was giving them both approving looks.

"What happened?" Genis glanced back at them.

"Noishe tackled Zelos," Lloyd called back, patting the red-head on the back. The man was mostly alright, just got the wind knocked at him.

Zelos could have sworn he heard Genis mumble, "Good boy," to Noishe and he glared at the little cretin.

"Does Noishe always take so fast to everyone?" he grumbled, finally straightening up. Especially to that little snot. He was still glaring to his heart's content.

"Noishe is a personable dog," Lloyd admitted sheepishly, "but it took a couple years for him to grow that affectionate of everyone." If Noishe was ever that affectionate to anyone other than Lloyd. The red-clothed hero was having a hard time remembering Noishe ever reacting like that to someone else.

"Why's that?" Zelos rubbed the spit off his face. All his hygienic senses were shrilling in his head. "Did the brat insult him too?" By Martel, he hoped it took Noishe years to like Genis. (Eventually, Zelos would go from feeling neutral about the half-elf to understanding that Genis was, at heart, really a good kid- but a brat nonetheless.)

"Well, I only met them a few years ago," Lloyd tried to explain.

"Met who?"

"Genis, Collete, and Raine."

Zelos hoped he wasn't openly gaping at the boy as he thought he was but from the loose feeling in his jaw, he probably was. "I thought they were your childhood friends," he tried to regain himself. He felt himself floundering; Chosens were supposed to be calm and composed at all times, he was remembering. (Then again, just how was he supposed to know? The only other Chosen he had ever met was Collete and well…. there you had it.)

Lloyd blinked at him, "They are. The only ones I got."

The foreign Chosen wondered if there was air blowing between his ears. Gone was the impression of a foolhardy boy wandering after a childhood romance that had never fully blossomed. (Where had that impression come from anyway? He must be getting poetic with all this new-found free time.) Zelos shook his head. Now he had to find a whole new way to deal with Lloyd. Just what was this kid up too? Did he have any idea what he was up against?

This wasn't exactly a fieldtrip.

He had to cover his eyes with a palm as though to keep the sunlight out. Perhaps a headache was coming on? "Bud," he finally muttered, his tone heavy, "this is an awful lot to go through for people you've known for so little."

Lloyd looked at him and then shook his head. "Time strengthens bonds, Zelos," Lloyd said just as quietly. "It doesn't create them." Those agate eyes looked straight into him and Zelos stared back at him, wondering what the boy hoped to find. Bitterly, he told himself the answer.


There was nothing left to give.

He gave the negative feeling a harsh, mental pinch and shoved it away. This wouldn't do at all. And besides, nothing left to give? Give to whom? Still, those agate eyes…. They made Zelos want to drop hints- more than he was doing already, despite himself- and warn Lloyd, shake the boy until he came to his senses. There was nothing to trust! Lloyd could look and look but there could never be anything Zelos could give back.

"Zelos…." Lloyd started, then stopped as though he had spoken without knowing he had. Well, there was something. The kid was actually trying to pre-plan what he was trying to say. With a sigh and a clenched fist, Lloyd spoke firmly, "Zelos, I trust you."

"Sure, kid," the red-head was already talking, brushing the statement aside as though he hadn't really heard, as though the words meant nothing. (He always was such a liar.) The usual smile was picked up, dusted off, and set firmly in place. Chortling, he pushed the red hero forward, complaining that they had fallen too far behind. But in his mind, he was already calculating. He had always been one to consider all options, all possibilities and a new one had unexpectedly cropped up. The act would stay in place and things would proceed as scheduled but now… lilac eyes would watch Lloyd Irving carefully.

If Lloyd could live up to all he wanted to be, to all these… ideas he kept filling Zelos's head with…

Well, maybe destiny could change after all.

'You do that, bud,' Zelos's mind was racing away and his grip tightened momentarily on the brunette's shoulders. 'Change destiny; change the world… Then maybe I'll have something to give back to you after all.'


It just figures that Lloyd would pull it off.

Really, in all logic, Zelos should not have deviated from his predetermined plan. Sure, it would have been annoying to finally reveal himself to the group and have to put up with all sorts of cries of denial. (The sound of them had actually made it easier for Zelos to give that twisted smirk- apparently even if people didn't like you, they still took offense at being tricked.) Still, he could have pulled through it alright. After traveling with them for so long, it would have also given him an advantage if they had gone into combat. Months ago, he would have been sure he could have pulled it off no problem.

So it had really annoyed him during the events leading up to the Tower of Salvation and the revelation of all his lies- "withheld information"- and in all that he had to deal with… dare he say it?

A change of heart.

Feelings, even the ones you really didn't want, had a way of coming back and slapping you in the face. He didn't really want to think about it in too much detail, because, frankly, he wasn't Lloyd and he would probably die of embarrassment if he had to say any of it aloud. All the same, the truth was that he had investigated that third choice thoroughly. He had never been one to put his faith in anything, but then the best option before him required not only faith, but blind faith. Dammit.

But a world without Lloyd… wasn't really that much of a world at all…

So he did what he always did best- he changed his mind. It didn't matter if the others, if Lloyd, never forgave him, the stupid kid just had to be alive at the end of all of this! The Desians, the Renegades…. Such people were too much like himself. If Zelos couldn't trust himself, he sure as hell would not trust them.

The red hero, however, was different. As crazy as it was- and he almost relished the nonsensicalness of it all- Lloyd would be the one to bring down the holy scriptures of Martel, the slavery that was the Chosen. Everything Zelos had been taught the world needed, he now eagerly awaited to see a world without. Funny how in order to stay true to the thing that mattered most, he would have to turn traitor to all else.

Well, clearly Lloyd is the devil.

To tell the truth, when he had been grueling over the matter of wanting to give something back to Lloyd, he hadn't really counted on his Cruxis Crystal. But when a very embarrassed Lloyd had placed it back into his palm, lilac eyes had stared soulfully back at the crack down the middle. He had rubbed the crevice once with his thumb before smiling back up at a laughing Lloyd.

Zelos had given something back after all.

And though nothing could surpass that gift, he looked forward to seeing what else he would learn to give.


As the group now made its way toward Triet, Lloyd, being "stubborn as hell", gamely was putting up with the desert's heat without complaint. Indeed, he tried to be even more jovial than usual so as to prove his point. Raine, knowing what he was trying to do, just rolled her eyes and kept the water supply circulating. Everyone else was just trying to survive the heat and could have honestly cared less about Lloyd's sudden upbeat attitude. Only Colette and Zelos, it seemed, were able to retain any of their cheer and both smiled sympathetically at Lloyd. The brunette, feeling more drained of energy as time wore on, fell into step beside Genis, who seemed about ready to fold over.

"Hang in there," Lloyd encouraged, grinning despite how sticky and heavy his skin felt. "Triet should be coming into view soon."

The half-elf glared enviously at Lloyd's lighter pirate costume. Apparently the idea was not as ridiculous as it had seemed this morning. "How can you act like that in this heat?" Genis puzzled breathlessly. "Usually you're the first one to complain of how hard it is."

Lloyd frowned sharply. Why did Genis always have to make comments like that? "Some people grow up," he huffed, glancing down at his friend pointedly, "unlike some others, who I will leave anonymous."

"Lloyd!" Rained suddenly chirped. Her eyes were beaming with a pride only a teacher was capable of. "You just used 'anonymous' correctly!" She gave a pleased sigh. "I must say, this journey has done much to improve your vocabulary."

Lloyd's right arm twitched, a reflex from barely restraining the urge to slap his forehead. How long would they have to travel around two globes, collect two sets of summon spirits, infiltrate a fair number of Cruxis (and Renegade) bases, and gather various rare items before they understood that he really wasn't stupid? He wasn't, he wasn't, he wasn't! Fuming, he spotted Zelos giving him a teasing look. He was about to give into the childish impulse to stick out his tongue at the red-head- because who cared if it was petty, it would make him feel better- when Colette- good, sweet Colette- pulled him from his stormy mood.

"It was nice of that man to give you the pirate costume, Lloyd," she beamed at him. "You do seem much better off this time around."

Finally feeling appreciated, Lloyd grinned at her, "Thanks, Colette." Then a memory struck him suddenly and he excitedly gestured to both Colette and Genis. "Hey! Do you remember how we used to play pirates?"

The pretty blonde's smile widened while Genis made a face. Colette clasped her hands together as she reminisced. "That's right!" she declared. "We did use to play that game. Just the three of us, remember, Genis?"

"I remember," the younger boy mumbled under his breath. His contrary reaction made Zelos raise an eyebrow, but the other ignored him. Lloyd also noticed Genis's behavior and grinned mischievously.

"If I recall correctly," the brunette drawled, inching toward his best friend, "it went something like... this!" And suddenly he grabbed Genis around the middle and lifted him up. The half-elf gave a shriek of injured indignity. Lloyd only tilted his head back and laughed whole-heartedly. "I, the Dread Pirate Irving, have captured the treasure!"

"Lloyd!" Genis hissed, pushing at the other boy's arms, which were stronger than he remembered. "Put me down!"

"Why is Genis the treasure?" Sheena asked with a grin, watching the childish play affectionately.

Lloyd blinked at her. "Because Genis is the best cook in the world," was the straight, blunt answer. Then, remembering himself, Lloyd threw a smile over Regal's way. "Right along with Regal now, of course."

The nobleman seemed startled by the sudden attention and sheepishly ducked his head, hiding a pleased smile.

The answer made the rest of the group give a weak chuckle. How like Lloyd. "Dread Pirate Irving" apparently was as interested in food as their own friend.

"C'mon, Colette!" Lloyd called over. "You're the hero, remember? You're supposed to come save him!" Genis squawked about not needing to be rescued, but it went generally unacknowledged.

"Eh?" Colette blinked, as she had those years ago when they had first started the game. "Oh... right!" Despite the girl's enthusiasm, she seemed unsure of just how to go about such a thing.

"Oof!" Lloyd grunted as Genis continued- half-heartedly now- to struggle. "Boy, Genis... you're sure not as light as I remember."

"Shut up!" Genis sputtered, his face turning bright red.

It seemed Colette suddenly had a flash of inspiration. She stopped still and closed her eyes, conveying a serene expression. As the others turned to see what she was doing, out of her back, flawless and elegant, sprung her beautiful angel wings. Surprised eyes took in their glow, watching as a few shimmering feathers fluttered to the ground. Unnoticed by all was the widening of Zelos's eyes, lilac taking in all of the blushing aurora with new meaning. Unaware of the reaction she had caused, Colette fluttered those wings and effortlessly lifted herself off the ground. Without further ado, she hovered over and plucked a speechless Genis from a gaping Lloyd. "I win," she giggled.

The sound shook everyone from their stupor. "Colette!" Lloyd cried, now the one indignant. "That's cheating!"

"Huh?" Colette blinked down at him, the idea never having occurred to her.

"That's a new one for the rule books," Zelos commented, surprising Lloyd by coming to stand beside him. Looking at him, Lloyd wondered if something looked off. Zelos, noticing the inquiring glance, just smiled back at him.

"Hey, look!" Genis suddenly shouted, capturing everyone's attention. The half-elf was pointing over in the distance. "There's Triet!"

True enough, Triet had finally become visible, even from the others' viewpoints from the ground. The sight alone was enough to give them a little more heart. Lloyd watched Colette gently set Genis back on the desert floor and grinned. Impulsively, he rushed past them and made a bee-line for the town. "C'mon, Colette!" he called behind him. "Let's see if those wings of yours are better than good, ol' human legs!"

"Being human is overrated, bud!" Zelos called after him, his voice but an echo in Lloyd's ear. "You haven't got a chance!" He barely heard the laughter that followed before a firm beat strummed the air. Agate eyes glanced up to see Colette smile down at him before easily bypassing him and going on ahead. With a thrill of competition, the young man's legs pumped faster as the others were left behind to follow at a more reasonable pace.

For the first time, Colette found herself enjoying her wings. It was amazing how down on the sand the entire world had seemed too full of bright light and heat, but now... She filled her lungs with cool, fresh air and she maneuvered a smooth rotation, taking in a pure blue sky. So much beauty she would have otherwise missed out on. That was one bright side she could grasp at. Feeling more at peace than she had been for a long time, she landed just inside the Triet wall. "Made it!" she spun around to eagerly look for Lloyd. Even in his pirate uniform, the boy was so recognizable. She allowed herself to take in his form, every line and curve precious. Her heart beat faster as he grinned at her in that way he always did and it gave her a strange thrill to realize he was looking at her and only her- then suddenly that same face twisted.


Zelos had been making some comment to Sheena, but suddenly he stopped still and turned fiercely to look in the direction Lloyd and Colette had taken off to. The strange reaction made Sheena draw back, but her inquiries went ignored. Instead, lilac eyes narrowed as he heard Lloyd's voice crying out.

Something was wrong.


Had it been anyone else, Colette would not have been able to hear her name being called. Blessed with angelic hearing, however, she could hear Lloyd calling perfectly and could almost feel the shadow suddenly draping over her. She turned to see a cloaked figure standing behind her with a long knife raised and poised.

"Chosen," the title was spat out and the hard mouth sneered, "please do us honor and die."

Then the knife was coming down and she couldn't move- she couldn't move- A hard wind brushed past her side- a blur of green and white- and she fell back onto her knees. Her eyes never left the scene before her. The attacker seemed only surprised, the hatred-filled face now instead seemed almost comical with those lips gasping into an, "Oh..." Then suddenly he convulsed, hacking and spitting blood. He stared down disbelievingly at the figure that had arrived faster than he had counted on, a young boy in a pirate suit of all things, and at the sword that was currently sheathed in his own torso- a mortal injury to be sure, but not instantly fatal. Hard, narrow agate eyes dared to stare squarely back into his own. Growing animalistic with rage, the stranger summoned what was probably the last energy of his life and the long knife began to glow, but with a sickly shade- the tell-tale sign of a spell about to be cast. His weapon was still in the air and though he could not possibly strike that foul Chosen from such distance, the spell would be enough- it would be his last mistake. Those agate eyes- more seasoned with experience than they seemed- flawlessly caught the motion and with his free hand, unsheathed his second sword and promptly separated the man from his head.

The world around Colette seemed to grow very dim. She was vaguely aware of the others arriving, hurrying to her side, and making various inquiries of her state of being. But still her eyes could not stray. It had not been the first time someone had been killed right in front of her nor was it the most brutal death she had seen. It was not even the first time her childhood friend had killed right in front of her. Yet all her eyes could see was that young boy she used to know, in the pirate uniform of their long-gone daydreams, that same outfit that was now soaked and stained and spattered with blood. Gone was the inner peace of just a few minutes before. She became aware that someone was screaming and palms were pressing against her eyes, hard so that it hurt. It took a moment to realize that it was her own hands against her eyes, it was herself that was screaming so wretchedly. The recognition did nothing to stop her and indeed she screamed harder, as though to empty her lungs of all their air, and she screamed and she screamed until she could no more.

- - - -

It was a subdued group that entered and settled at the tavern. Colette, sick with shame, kept herself apart from the others and eventually excused herself to her room. Lloyd watched her leave with soulful eyes, but never made any move to go to her. Raine luckily took the chance to set him up with a bath so that he could wash the stains of blood off his skin. The brunette had fingered a dry and cracking patch on his cheek before nodding. The she-elf gave him a reassuring squeeze of his shoulder, but otherwise Lloyd shuffled away by himself They all watched him go, but Zelos in particular felt his heart torn.

He could go to Lloyd; he knew that. The kid obviously needed someone to talk to, a stronger shoulder than his own to lean on. Zelos could be that shoulder, the mirth that would put a smile back on the kid's face where it belonged. He had done so countless times before... But something didn't sit right about this situation. He felt, with the honed instinct that had served him so well through the years, that what the boy needed now was not a friend, but an older brother- or even better- a father. From what little Zelos was able to understand, they were all a tight bunch, but there were some things a boy must look to the man who fathered him for guidance. Again, Zelos could be there. He did not know if he was particularly wise, but he had experience and he honestly cared for Lloyd. (Phew! That was getting a little easier to say.) But suddenly the foreign Chosen realized that he did not want to be another Dirk or Kratos-definitely not Kratos- to the boy. It would be so easy to fall into such a role, but Zelos, for once, did not take this time to go speak to Lloyd. (It was almost funny how those few times Lloyd did not seek him out to talk, Zelos would instead seek the brunette out.) But a relationship could be altered as well from what actions were not taken. He wanted to help the hero in red, yes, but as only a shoulder to lean on and an older soul for advice? Just what role did Zelos want to play?

As he spotted Regal slipping away to go check in on Lloyd, Zelos clenched his fists resolutely, hidden though they were by his pockets, and promptly turned on his heel and headed for Colette's room.

- - - -

Hands cuffed together and arms full with a certain trademark red jacket, Regal somehow managed to knock on the door. Lloyd's voice bade him to enter and skillfully twisted the doorknob to do so. ('Dear Alicia, why wasn't there a simpler way to open doors?') As he entered, he spotted Lloyd sitting on the one bed of the room, staring thoughtfully down at his two swords, twisting them and running a callused thumb down the sides. "Raine still had your jacket packed away," the nobleman explained his presence, lifting up the shirt lightly in his arms. "I thought you would like it back for in the morning." Because he could not wear the pirate uniform anymore, not for quite a long time. Raine had hid it away, quickly and out of sight, but had confided that after running a household all by herself for years, she had learned a thing or two about stains. Lloyd would gain his chance to wear his precocious pirate outfit again, but the question was: would he?

The boy (young man really, Regal had to keep reminding himself) had yet to stir at his comments, just kept staring down at his twin swords. Llyod's eyebrows began to furrow, displeased at something. It twinged something inside of Regal and he immediately set down the jacket upon the nearby chair, going to take a seat next to the young hero. The shifting of the bed finally caught Lloyd's attention and he blinked up at the much transformed nobleman. It was such an open, honest look that it really struck Regal how young Lloyd really was. He chuckled and gazed at the brunette affectionately. There was something about the boy- young man- that was just so easy to love. It made the bluenette hope that there wasn't some festering wound within the boy's spirit as they all feared. After all, it could not have been easy to have someone as precious as Colette scream like that at the sight of you. The sound had shaken all of them in a way. Who knew the effect it had had on Lloyd?

"Oh, Regal," Lloyd grinned awkwardly, embarrassed at having being caught distracted. "Sorry. Were you saying something?"

"You were lost in thought?" Regal proposed, glancing away shyly. How long had it been since he had had a true heart-to-heart with another human being that cared for what he had to say? Not the kind where he had only been seeking judgment and punishment, but the kind the ordinary man had everyday, speaking honestly with friends and openly with dear ones. He still retained a general idea of what was expected to him, but he felt clumsy and incapable, like being handed a book after years of not seeing a single word. Still, Lloyd was worth every effort.

"Yeah," Lloyd laughed at himself, rubbing the back of his hands. "Something had..." he looked over at his swords again, "occurred to me..."

Murder was not an easy weight to bear, no matter how many times one put on its mantel. Regal knew that better than most. "Yes?" he encouraged, wanting the boy next to him to understand that he was not alone in whatever he was dealing with, would never be alone so long as they were all there to stand behind him.

"I think I need new swords."

Regal blinked. Any handling he had had on maneuvering through this conversation had just been instantaneously lost. "I beg pardon?" he fumbled.

"Well," Lloyd's tone turned conversational as he attempted to hold up the blades to a better light, attempting to illuminate to Regal whatever he had been pondering, "I think I neglected their maintenance too long. Or maybe it's just wear and tear from too many immediate uses? We have been in-between towns for awhile, after all. Either way, I can't continue like this for much longer. See this?" A thumb ran down a particularly long sliver that had worn away into the metal. "Yeah, these can't be used much longer. But," sigh, "getting new ones would require a bit more Gald than I'm willing to spend right now"- or ever- "and we've been going through gels at a higher rate than usual. Maybe I should stop by Dirk's? Dad might be able to provide me with some kind of sword..." He finally caught notice of Regal's reaction; it was as though a dark cloud was hovering over the president's shadowed face. "Are you ok?"

The bluenette nodded slowly. It was not as if he could complain that Lloyd was not as upset as they had predicted. "Here we had been worried that some dark menace was eating away at your heart," Regal half-whimpered. "I don't think any of us had expected your worries to be of a more lightened nature." Trying to shake off the dark feeling, he attempted to put on a more cheerful disposition for Lloyd. "Still, I suppose such is better than the alternative."

Lloyd cocked his head slightly. For a man that chose to speak very little, it was almost as if Regal went out of his way to use such a flowery vocabulary. He almost passed it off as a habit of nobles save that he could not think of a time when Zelos had spoken to him in such a way. "You..." he had to think about it for a moment before continuing, "were worried about me?"

Regal finally regained his smile and gave into the urge to lay a comforting hand upon the young man's brow. "I would think it a normal reaction," he answered, "considering." He shuffled the brown strands between his fingers slightly, pleased to find the action came as perfectly natural. "We do not doubt your strength. Yet I think it is only human to not want to have a friend carry a burden alone- even if that burden be more imaginary than real. Sometimes just the knowledge that someone will be there is enough to carry on through the hard times that come." Such had always been the case with him. First with George and then later with Alicia. Even after George's betrayal, Alicia's presence- that had never really left him, he knew now- had ever been the core of his strength, especially as Lloyd had helped to ease the pain of her memory. It was becoming easier and easier to think of her and smile.

Wide agate eyes stared up through bangs of brown and Regal suddenly feared that he had been too forward. He quickly let his hand drop down and close to his side. Lloyd's own gloved hand rose up to smooth over the hair that had been rustled and that thoughtful look returned to his eyes, a soft smile coming over him. As he lowered his hand back down, he spoke up softly, "The thing is... when this journey started, I didn't think much about what it meant to kill someone. Then... someone told me that though killing may be unavoidable, I must never forget that I am taking responsibility for that life." Gloved fingers picked at the blanket. "I've tried to always keep that in mind. I can't hesitate or linger on a murder; I would never move forward when I need to. And the things that would be put in danger I can't ever risk." Those loose fingers clenched into a fist. "And I think that would not be fair to those that cross swords with me."

"What do you mean?" Regal questioned, recognizing the serious, mature side to the boy they had all come to admire.

"Take that man from earlier," Lloyd spoke up louder, looking Regal in the eye. "He knew what he was doing and all that he was risking. He was putting his life on the line. And I know that I do the same every time I draw my sword. My first blow would have been enough and had he decided to withdraw, that would have been the end of it. But I could hesitate no more than he when he decided to continue." Then Lloyd flopped back onto the bed, his arms crossed beneath his head. "He made his choice and I made mine. I can't really hang on that forever, can I?"

The nobleman reflected sadly on the truth of the young man's words. "I were it wasn't so," he sighed, then seeing Lloyd's confusion, went on, "All people want is to be happy and yet see how much pain we cause. We continue to fight despite an uncertain future. If only it were otherwise."

"Possibilities make a better handhold than a foothold," the hero in red spoke up, grinning suddenly. He explained, "As long as there's something precious to protect, people will always be willing to fight," the fire was back in his eyes and Regal listened, captivated. "I think if we lost that, we would have lost something more important than our morals." He rubbed the back of his head, sheepishly. "That's something I believe, at least."

A little more of the peace he had been looking for eased Regal's heart. "You are right," he assented softly, closing his eyes for a brief moment and picturing a laughing Alicia vividly in his mind. As he opened his eyes again, he gathered to his feet. "It is getting late and I will leave you to your rest," he bade goodnight and headed for the door. Before he had to once more puzzle out the mystique of the doorknob, Lloyd's voice called to him.

"Regal," Lloyd started, for the first time a little unsure. When the bluenette turned to look at him, gloved fingers once more picked at the blanket, "when this is all over… we'll know we did good. But do we just feel that somehow… how do we know?"

For once, the nobleman did not really have to think about his answer. He just let the words flow from his heart. "Hold on to your love for the future, Lloyd," he advised. "It will get you through most boundaries others stay entangled with." Regal grinned. "But look to today for your reasons to fight. That is how you will always know if it is worth it. At the end of the day, are you exactly where you want to be?" He shook his head at his own sentimental words. "It's what makes all the difference." And he opened and closed the door, shutting it on a thoughtful and wondering Lloyd.


Zelos found his twin Chosen curled up tightly on her bed, head down and knees held close. He had entered silently, without bothering to knock on the door for the action- to him- seemed rather redundant; he planned on talking to her whether or not she let him in. "Hey, c'mon beautiful," he crooned, strolling in and taking a seat next to her on the bed. "Turn that frown upside-down! A girl's smile is her best feature, you know." He grinned over at her as though to provide a "monkey see, monkey do" syndrome, but she did not even raise her head.

"Zelos, please," Colette whined into her knees, strands of angel blond coming down to further hide her face, "go away. I don't really want to talk to anyone right now."

The other Chosen leaned back on the bed and propped his feet up. He knew that the presence of another person- any person- would prove too tempting to not speak to. "Oh, come now, angel mine," he smiled at the irony, "what's got you all upset?" He crossed his arms behind his head, furthering the impression that he had nowhere better to be and in no particular hurry.

Except for a possibly slumbering Lloyd awaiting him in bed.

Damn, he hoped the girl would spill soon.

She did. Raising her head just enough so that blue eyes peered over her knees, she whispered, "You saw what happened earlier. How could I have done that?" Her voice grew louder with near hysteria and she gripped her legs closer. "How could I have reacted like that in front of Lloyd? That was so horrible of me! Everyone keeps telling me it's ok, but it's not! It's not!"

Zelos picked underneath his fingernails idly. "You're right," he agreed promptly, startling her from her inward meanderings. "You were a spiteful little brat who threw a temper tantrum after her best friend just killed in front of her. Geez, Colette, you're so much trouble." He chuckled to himself on the last bit.

Now Colette was sitting all the way up, nearly sputtering at him, "How can you-?"

"-Say that?" Zelos finished smoothly, glancing coyly up at her. "Why not, angel mine? It's just what you've been waiting to hear this whole time, right? Someone to blame you; someone to hate you for what you did. Silly girl, don't you know? No one can hate you as much as you hate yourself." They both knew what it was to suffer, after all; the two went hand in hand.

"I don't," Colette protested softly, turning her attention to the far wall, "I don't hate myself." Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Zelos raise an eyebrow at her. "I could never hate myself… not as long as Lloyd…" She trailed off here, feeling she had said too much.

The red-head propped himself up on an elbow. As long as Lloyd is there to love you… He could finish it in his head. Someone else could say that it was no good having someone else love you in stead of yourself; anyone else could point out that first you need to love yourself before someone could love you. Dragon shit. Zelos couldn't lie to himself- as it was getting harder and harder to do so- and the simple truth was that he couldn't have started to like himself- actually see something good and worthwhile of himself- until Lloyd had helped him see it. It was probably that way with everyone in the group.

And he could already picture the next morning. Colette, all smiles and apologies, and Lloyd, all laughter and forgiveness. They would move on; they would all move on. The incident from earlier would just be a bad memory that would be drowned under the more pleasant ones they would make together. There was no reason for Zelos to push, but he suddenly realized he wanted to. It was no longer for Lloyd's sake- and maybe not even for Colette's- but Zelos wanted to push at a boundary he had long felt shifting near his attention. "Let me make a guess," he set the whole thing up, "you either did not have a father figure or you had a very lousy one."

Colette blinked at him, bemused by the random question. "I had a father," she insisted, but then furrowed her brow at the odd grammatical use. "I have a father," she amended. "He's…" Her voice trailed off and she became at a loss to try and describe the man that had- indeed- sired her.

"Not much of a father?" Zelos prompted.

The blonde chose her words carefully. "He tried as best as he was able to, I think," she explained slowly, figuring out the concept for herself. She paused for a moment and then continued more steadily, for once speaking to someone who was the closest to understanding her- and even if he didn't, Zelos's opinion was not over-important to her. "Their marriage was arranged," she explained, "but I don't think that stops people from growing affectionate of each other. I think that he was truly sad that she had died giving birth to me. But… he could never really regret it. He was always raised to be the husband of the one who would bear the Chosen," her eyes crinkled into mock smile lines as she concluded sadly, "but not the father of the Chosen." And she understood that, in her own way as she had grown older, though she had sensed it from when she was smaller. She had always been raised that an angel had been her true father, the one who sired her. It had been such a confusing concept when she was young. What must it have been like for Phil? Quite possibly he had believed this whole time that he had not really been her father either.

Zelos sat up, no longer feeling like lounging. "And Lloyd," he murmured. "… How do you feel about Lloyd?"

It was a question, oddly enough, that had never been asked to her directly. Yet she knew the answer, simply and honestly. She brought her hands together as though in prayer and closed her eyes, "He is… my most precious person."

He had figured. It was blaringly obvious after all. Now to bring it all together. He leaned back once more. "Colette," he brought up conversationally, as though she had not been bearing some aspect of her past to him, "did you know that in my world- I don't know about this world- there is a common scenario held to be true?" She blinked down at him earnestly and he continued, "It is said that children often hold their parents as models for what to look for in a mate. Such is the basis for the joke that men often end up with wives that act like their mothers," he gave a dry chuckle and glanced up to see that she had not understood the joke. Oh well. "However, in the case of an unfit parent, the child would then look to its own peers for substitutes. Do you follow me?"

"Not really," she admitted.

Time to be more straightforward then. "A girl, for example," he began, pointedly, "when under the influence of an unsuitable father, might look to a young man that she would otherwise court, but instead of a romantic equal, she would instead look for a paternal influence." Then, because he was frustrated with courtly language interfering when he had meant to be more direct, "Colette, I don't think you see Lloyd as a man, but as a father figure." Well, perhaps not that direct, but now was the time to be clear.

The blonde openly gaped at him. "What are you saying?" she stammered to string her words together. A hand flew to the place above her heart and clutched at the clothing that covered there. "I love him!" she declared adamantly. "I love him!"

"Yes," Zelos soothed, sitting up and making easing gestures with his hands. "Yes, you do. I'm not denying that. But, angel mine," he looked her in the eye with a characteristically serious glint, "you are not in love with him."

She turned her head sharply from him, settling for a mousy glare down at the bed covers. "Why bring this up now?" she inquired sharply.

At least he had an answer for this, a plausible one anyway other than his own selfish impulses. "Precisely because of what happened earlier," he inserted smoothly. "You got caught in a moment, Colette. Seeing an item of a precious childhood memory stained with the blood from adult hands?" He almost smiled at the poetry of it all. "It's no wonder you screamed. But now you're conflicted, angel." In a near mockery of the action, he gently brushed back a golden strand from her cheek. "Now you're stuck. Your mind is trying to regain its original picture of Lloyd and it can't do that. Now what will you do, angel?"

Her eyes grew softer though she still could not bear to look at him. "I love him…" she whispered softly. Without even meaning to, her mind conjured the soft memories of Lloyd. How he had accepted her for whoever she was, looking past the Chosen façade, protecting her, encouraging to be her own person… but now that was forever tainted with the haunting thoughts that such was what a father would do, what she had wanted her father to do. Still… "I can love him despite all that; I can look past all the blood and the-"

Zelos allowed himself a derisive snort. He would not allow that train of thought to continue. "I hate that," he muttered to himself. "I will love you despite that-… I will love you even though you-… You keep that up and what exactly is left to love? It's like saying, 'I will love you despite all things that make up who you are'. You're just willing to love the good things about me? It's not worth it; that's not love."

"You're the only who can stand him anyway, Lloyd."

He didn't care. Because Lloyd deserved better. Someone who demanded so much honesty didn't deserve to only be looked at through rose-colored windows. Because Lloyd…

"It's not some Chosen who is my friend. I just want Zelos!"


His body loosened even as Colette stared at him challengingly, wordlessly conveying the same question they both had always pondered: just what did a Chosen know of love? The Chosen, supposedly, was capable of great love, needing to love the whole world enough to die for it, willingly. Such was the whole purpose of the Chosen's life. There was never to be enough room to love individual people or, Martel forbid, hate someone. The strength it took to hate, which in turn gave strength to stronger love, ironically was denied to them. Yes, so the Chosen knew very little of what it was to love a single person.

But what about Zelos? What did Zelos Wilder, one person among the combined millions across two worlds, know about love?


He knew what it was to get irritated at Genis's quirks and jibes, to be hurt at the boy's distrust, but he also knew what it was to get a simple joy at teasing without meaning to be hurt, to be stubbornly admired.

He knew of Regal's awkward social skills, of being unsure of how to interact with a Chosen, of going off of rumors and jumped-to conclusions, but he also knew of eating food where the care spoke louder than words, of the odd juggling act of getting reconsidered for who you are rather than what.

He knew of Raine's exasperation, her unyielding stubbornness to get him to listen, her habit of trying to act the adult because often there was no one else willing to do so, but he was well aware of her beauty inside and out, her hunger for knowledge, and the way she was slowly learning to relax and act younger than her age.

He knew of Presea's bluntness, of being looked at as more of a specimen than a person, but also of starting from a blank slate, so that her impression was built on everything he did, not everything he had once done.

He knew of Sheena's hatred, of her being deferential due to his status but also unafraid of slapping him if she had to, but also of her fiercely independent nature, of her willingness to change her views, of never having to doubt whether she would protect his back in battle.

And he knew of Colette, her unceasing smile, true smile, and how everything she felt was so real.

Then Lloyd… Lloydie McLloyd Lloyd… the Lloyd-ster… Bud… All the stupid little nicknames he had made up for him in the squeezed in hours between it all because it had been childish and stupid and he hadn't expected to be around long enough after to care. The jokes, the laughs- and then the hushed talks, the confided secrets of both their lives. The ease, the awkwardness- how he thought too much about how Lloyd would react to what he was saying and at the same time he would often speak without thinking. The way the boy's reactions changed repeatedly because the simplest thing could make him happy, sad, enraged, irked, embarrassed, silly- a whole colorful array of emotion Zelos could never try to mimic and was so exotic he couldn't help but be attracted after spending a lifetime among masks. How the boy thought he was so imperceptive, but could actually see more clearly than people twice his age. The ignorant, naïve, and sweet notion he had somehow picked up that it mattered more to live than to die. All of it made up a complex and beautiful picture of Lloyd in his head…

Ok, this was getting a little too sappy for him.

Colette stared at him with soulful eyes, a little sad and reluctantly understanding. Feeling self-conscious, Zelos rose from the bed and stretched casually, regaining his composure. His back now safely turned from his twin Chosen, he allowed himself to speak, "We're both alive right now, Colette. A lot longer than either of us had probably planned for. I'm not so sure what every life is worth, but that's the simple truth at the moment. And if Lloyd's right- and we're both banking a lot that he is- then we won't even be Chosens anymore." A chuckle crept into his voice and he allowed himself a small smile, though no one was there to see it. "So who cares how a Chosen is supposed to see people, you know? We both have long, long lives ahead of us so we might as well get started on where we want people to stand with us. Lloyd will love you no matter what; we both know that, but..." His face grew shadowed. "We should both proceed with our eyes wide open."

"Holding on to what's important," Colette finished for him softly, smiling gently. It had become so clearly evident the impact Lloyd had had on them. She closed her eyes and allowed her heart to once more fill with ease, remembering the clear sky from earlier today and her heart began to pound at the thought that there would be more days like that, with the bright open sky above her with no limits to who she could be or where she would go.

They would both step forward.

- - - -

A disgruntled Zelos finally entered his own room. Disgruntled because a certain hero was currently draped all over the bed. Now just where was he supposed to sleep? (Zelos the Great did not do floors- not for sleeping or for cleaning.) There was only one thing to do and he set himself to pushing the boy over to one side- his side- of the bed. The boy's limp body seemed heavier than usual, but luckily the jostling roused Lloyd from his dozing.

"Zelos…?" he called, dreamily. Agate eyes attempted valiantly to blink back sleep.

"You better believe it," Zelos grinned, having finally cleared enough space for him to squeeze through. He promptly took off his vest and headband and clambered childishly under the covers. Seeing Lloyd with his eyes closed once more, he figured they might as well get some sleep and reached over to turn off the light.

As the room was engulfed with darkness, he was surprised to hear that same voice call, "Zelos…?"

"Hmm?" Zelos allowed his eyes to adjust to the dark. He could not see completely clearly, but more than a normal human would have with the lack of light. Lilac eyes could trace the curves of the boy under the covers and they were caught by one hand laying palm up between them. There was a long pause, so long that Zelos wondered if Lloyd had accidentally fallen back asleep.

Then, at last, softly, "… I'm glad I'm at where I'm at, Zelos."

The older man's heart gave an odd flutter. He used the extra energy to settle himself closer. Eyes drawing back to that hand between them, he allowed himself to hover his own hand above it. Fingertip traced along fingertip, then the hand curled into the other's groove with warmth against warmth until they nearly intertwined.

"Me too, Lloyd," he breathed into the night.

- - - -

The next morning, Lloyd, now unfortunately back in his usual trademark red jacket, trudged back to the tavern where the others were waiting. After the incident from yesterday, it was the unanimous decision to leave as soon as possible the next morning. Presea and Sheena had kindly taken their turn to gather supplies and all that was left was the usual morning preparations. Lloyd, meanwhile, had taken the opportunity to slip away (out of the way) to see the fortune teller. Not for the first time, he wondered why he even bothered.

"Yo, Bud!" Zelos called to him, catching sight of the hero first. The red-head waved enthusiastically. "There you are!" As soon as Lloyd drew close enough, a strong arm shot out and seized the brunette by the shoulder, pulling him chummily under. "So," he whispered, conspiratorially but with a wide grin, "did you make up alright with Colettie-poo?"

Lloyd wrinkled his nose at the new nickname, but otherwise nodded. He and Colette had never really sat down to have a heart-to-heart, as Raine continually professed was essential, but rather he had looked to her- as the second person awake- and she had smiled back at him. It was not one of her energized, bubbly smiles, but instead a smile of "okay". Such had somehow been enough.

"Wonderful!" Zelos cheered and promptly smacked Lloyd hard across the back, almost making him choke and at the least causing him to stumble forward. Purposefully ignoring that, Zelos set his hands on his hips and stuck his chest in the air, letting out a mighty guffaw, " Ha ha! Today is turning out splendidly!" The others glanced at him, somewhat annoyed due to the early hour clashing with his robust energy, but Zelos just nodded to himself. "Yes, indeed," he continued- loudly- to explain why the day was so wonderful. "Colette is back to her angelic self, dear Presea personally picked out our supplies, Sheena is in drag-"

"They're pantaloons, you chauvinistic moron!" the she-ninja shrieked with indignity and Lloyd turned to see that Sheena had indeed opted to wear her Successor outfit instead, presumably in an effort to better protect her skin. He was somewhat glad she had done so; he could now recall that she had looked red for most of the previous day.

Zelos picked up flawlessly, "And our beauteous scholar, Raine, was unable to make breakfast today!" The last was boldly a cheer and a dark leer was sent his way from a certain half-elf. Good thing he was so selectively observant… "All in all, a good day to be alive, eh, Lloyd?" he winked down at the red hero.

'Your smile looks more real today,' was the thought that went through Lloyd's head first. He found himself grinning and nodded. "Yep!"

"Though you know," Zelos murmured thoughtfully as he loosened his hold on Lloyd, allowing the younger man to finally straighten, "that's too bad about your pirate outfit…" Not wanting to linger on that too long, he flashed a thumbs up and one of his toothy grins. "But if you want, we can all prance around in our swimsuits." He didn't even have a chance to laugh at his own joke as he suddenly had to reach out and stop Lloyd from falling over. "You ok, man?" he blinked down at his friend.

Lloyd weakly smiled sheepishly back up at him. That had been weird. Even as Zelos had finished his sentence, he had suddenly remembered the red-head's choice in swimwear. His whole face got uncomfortably hot as his slowing mind added together that tiny piece of purple fabric and the area of skin it failed to cover, so much skin… So apparently he should have been paying more attention because he must have tripped or something because suddenly his whole knees decided to give way on him. It didn't help that he was now strangely very aware of Zelos's hand on his arm. Fully straightened and steady on his feet, he negated the suggestion, "That's alright. I think we're fine as is." To stop any further expansion on the subject, he firmly began to push Zelos toward the town entrance. "Now, let's go! The others are waiting!"

"Right, right," Zelos pretended to whine, though lilac eyes peered curiously down at the brunette. "Just out of curiosity," he brought up innocently as they walked, twirling a strand of red round his index finger, "why did you look so frustrated when you came over?"

Lloyd let himself relax. "Ah, that," agate eyes darted to the side in remembered annoyance. "I had gone to see that fortune teller again." Red clothed arms were brought up behind his head as he settled once more into a long conversation with Zelos.

Zelos blinked idly, recalling the brief instance he had seen said-fortune teller before the woman had rudely ushered him and the others from the tent. Apparently it was a habit of hers to say whatever she had to say to them and then privately give Lloyd some sort of fortune. Some girly thing about relationships and levels. Zelos had never personally bought into such things. (How many times had he been confronted during Festival by a girl, fresh from a fortune teller's booth, exclaiming that the heavens had ordained them to be each other's own true love? Bah.) "So what did she have to say?" he figured he might as well ask.

Lloyd made the disgruntled face from earlier and gave a casual shrug. "Beats me," he huffed. He focused his eyes on the bright blue above him. "Something about soul mates, a life-long bond, yadda yadda yadda," he yawned and stretched his arms. "She shook me by the hand, for crying out loud." He scowled lightly at the memory of the woman, tears in her eyes, and how she- for once- seemed more disbelieving of her own telling, muttering about stubbornness, thick heads, and banging said thick heads.

As both puzzled over the woman's strange behavior, the strangeness of women in general, and moving on to dozens of different conversations, neither noticed Colette glance back at the picture of two smiling warmly, walking side by side along Noishe, and smile herself; they were both much too caught up in each other.

- - - -

Not much later, they were drawing near to the end of their adventure. There was no blaring sign and no one dare really bring it up for pondering, not only because they were so busy with everything else going on at once but also because it felt as delicate as a dream and to consciously think of it was to bust that illusion. Yet they could feel it, could altogether sense that they were getting closer.

And now here they were.

Mithos had been defeated but the group couldn't help but wonder if such had only been the prelude of what was sure to be the toughest match, especially for Lloyd. Once more the hero in red seemed more calm than any of them were. As they had grown to do during moments like these, Zelos and Lloyd had drawn aside, alone, to talk during that long, long night. Surprisingly, it had been Lloyd helping Zelos lift the weights off his chest, setting them down gently with that same smile and "stubborn as hell" assurance. For the first time they dared to talk of "after", of a future beyond all the chaos.

And it would come tomorrow.

Surely, surely tomorrow.

And as they had smiled at each other to once more lie down beside the other in the night, where it was literally demonstrated how much closer they had become, they couldn't imagine it any other way.

And Zelos, laying sleepless that night for it seemed an ability almost beyond him now, soaked in Lloyd's heat and felt his heartbeat echo through the darkness, his thoughts swaying on the edge of the realization that he was now carrying two secrets between his shoulder blades.

- - - -

Origin was won.

Huffing for breath, Lloyd reached out to take hold of the summon spirit turned sword. His joints ached from the two consecutive grueling battles, but at the same time his nerves were filled with not only the rush from victory, but from the resounding knowledge that this was it. They were so close, so achingly close... The blood flooded to his head as one of his red gloved hands reached out to grasp the gleaming handle...

Then some voice- familiar, yet it should not have been there- spoke up behind him and his hand grasped at air. Bewildered, he turned to the others, looking for a 'how' and a 'why'. His eyes locked with Genis at the same time he realized why he should not be hearing that voice. A red flickering orb removed itself from Genis's hold and regardless of the many stunned gazes watching, promptly moved its way over to Lloyd. Perhaps he should have dodged or moved away, but Lloyd had no time to think before the orb struck him just above his heart and a fierce wave of cold- a frozen cold so sharp it bit and burned him- drowned him.

With a shuddering breath, he tensed all his muscles in an instinctive attempt to keep a hold of himself. Yet even though his fists were clenched with all his might, there was no enemy to swing out at, no opponent to beat back- for the foe lay within. His body, however, seemed to be slipping from his control, growing lax even as his fists continued to clench so tightly; it was like slipping into sleep, his mind fading into an ease as though to fade away into dreams…. The core that was still Lloyd shrieked out in terror and defiance.

He was losing himself!

A burning ache growing between his shoulder blades registered itself to him, but since it made as little sense as anything going on, he dismissed it. What troubled him more was the belated realization that his vision had gone from hazy to fading in black. Such prevented him from seeing the torn looks on his friend's faces, though they were ready to spring at the slightest opening. He also could not see his father struggling in vain to clamber to his feet. Yuan, without taking his eyes off the dangerous situation before him, rose with him but tightened his grip to hold the man back- he needn't have bothered. The sake of his only child might have given Kratos the impossible strength to rise to his feet, but it was not enough to charge forth; he would not make it in time.


Words were whispered in Lloyd's ear but their meaning was lost to him. It was all dark now and a freezing cold slithered into his bones, chilling even the burning between his shoulders, but it was all fading now… fading even as his soul screamed out…

Then he was jostled all at once, like leaping awake, as something- someone- pushed him away. His vision and feeling abruptly returned all at once, making him momentarily dizzy. The strength seemed to have all but disappeared from his body so that he became lock-kneed and trembled. Yet when his mind finally caught up with what his eyes were seeing, it just further knocked the breath out of him.

It made no sense… no sense whatsoever…His heart pounded with the remembered frustration and helplessness when he had watched Colette… then Kratos… and even this one…. All walk away. But this, Lloyd's mind couldn't put it together. Because Zelos was not a self-sacrificial person. Zelos wouldn't sacrifice a damn thing. Ever.

Which was pretty ironic because Zelos was thinking the same thing as he stared down at the Cruxis Crystal in his palm. But it just further added to the bubbling feeling in his chest, a swell of laughter that contained no fear, just a sweet, luscious sense of victory. For this was what he considered it to be, even as the orb began to glow and the light flooded into the corners of his mind. Because Zelos Wilder never sacrificed a damn thing.

And then there was nothing….

- - - -

And then there was snow.

Zelos felt no cold, even with his arms bare to the fluttering snowflakes and whispering wind. A normal person would have been bewildered at the loss of sensation, but Zelos had long since fallen past normal. Instead, resignedly, he watched as a lone snowflake floated down into his open palm and with a grim humor, observed it melt into a tiny puddle in his hand. Well, at least he had some body heat left.

He shook his hand off in habit to clear off the moisture, despite the fact that more and more snowflakes whirled around him. Lilac eyes peered off into the grey sky that was all around, the only shade distinguishable from all the white. A notion itched in the back of his mind, a feeling that something that was off but dream-like, he couldn't bring himself to care. He did know, as he peered down his nose superiorly at the gathering ice crystals at his feet, that he did not like being in all this snow, not one bit.

Cursed snow. Die, snow, die! He childishly rubbed his foot into a particularly high pile, squishing it down.

Again came that nagging notion at the back of his mind. Just where was h-

A voice called out his name; a voice he knew so well that the sound drove away even his unfinished thought. Puffing out a single breath, Zelos turned to face the one he knew would be coming. Even so far away, that streak of red came blazing out the snow. His evolved vision allowed him to take in the grinning face, the waving arm, and his ears almost pricked forward to hear the laughter in the voice.


Breathless, the hero in red finally stopped in front of his friend. Seeing the puffs of breath the brunette released, Zelos eyed the boy's light covering critically. "Hey man," he began, falling into his usual tone flawlessly, "what do you think you're doing? Aren't you cold?" The fact of snow equaled cold was jolted back into his memory and looking at Lloyd almost brought back the bite of the sensation.

Lloyd grinned up at him, his cheeks flushed from both the run and the cold. "I found you," he cheered, heedless to Zelos's question. "You dork, what are you doing out here?" Then, as though he had not noticed their surroundings before, he turned to take in all the bleak white and gray. But even as the snowfall dusted his hair with the absent color, nothing seemed to able to lessen the vitality of that red.

Zelos grinned back, happy to see it, but again was that funny feeling. Like Lloyd wasn't supposed to be standing here in front of him… but he squashed that firmly. Whatever dreamy sort of sensation had infiltrated his head, he rather liked being focused on only the here and now. Still…

"Lloyd," he called softly, not really sure of his intent but wanting to mouth that name. He reached out to grab- touch?- Lloyd by the arm, but before his touch could land, Lloyd's attention swung from the sky over in his direction, his eyes widening with horror. With a guilty twist in his stomach, Zelos let his hand hover before he realized that Lloyd was not looking at him, but rather behind him. Then it was Lloyd reaching out to him, Lloyd calling out his name, and Lloyd-

Zelos fell backward, but it was more like the world tilted on its axis and a bright light filled his vision, such a splendid white that was it the snow or... The twist in his stomach tightened so hard that it hurt more than when his back collided with the ground; indeed, it was as though there was no pain through his back at all, but an absent part of his mind put together falling and colliding and concluded that there must be pain. But there was no time to think about that, because even as Zelos scrambled up, his vision became stained with red- bright crimson red.

And then he remembered- he had gone through all this before.

The snow, the grey, the red-

The Red...

Except before him, on the ground, wasn't his mother, her red gown spilling out along with her life's essence and golden hair coming undone for the first time in his short-lived eyes. No, that haunting image faded from his mind's eye. Gold hair dissolved away into simple brown- no, not simple because he could remember bright, sunny days that tinted those strands with an auburn glimmer- and there was no red dress so much as a very familiar red jacket that was getting soaked with red snow. No, wait, it was the other way around...

How stupid, how utterly brainless was it that his first thought was: "Poor Lloyd. First his pirate costume and now his jacket, both getting stained with blood. How unlucky."

Then it was like the world cracked open and focus slid into his vision allowing him to see what was before him clearly for the first time. Lloyd, on his back, before him with his chest looking like it had been torn out. The burnt fringes of his once-whole jacket still steamed slightly even as the winter air chilled them. And there was blood... so much blood... Yet still the white snow continued to fall, heedless of where they fell and simply adapted the brilliant color as its own as it started to frost over the young man's body.

"Lloyd!" the name was screamed as an echo into his head and regardless of whether he actually said it aloud or not, his throat still felt achingly raw. With his faster reflexes, Zelos scrambled up and over in a clumsy display because the only focus was to get as close as possible to Lloyd. His knees landed hard by the boy's head and he crouched over, wanting to lift the boy up and into his arms to clutch at that life for as long as possible, but the pooling red so held his attention that he was afraid to even move his friend in the slightest. In a heartbeat he settled for cupping his hands around the hero's face, brushing away a few strands of hair kindly from those agate eyes.

At the touch, Lloyd's eyes became somewhat more aware and turned his attention from the endless gray sky to the face above him. Amazed beyond belief that the boy was even still conscious, Zelos struggled to put on a semblance of a smile on his face. "Hey boy-o," his voice shook despite his efforts, "what a silly thing to do, eh?" He swallowed, hard, because his throat was getting too dry to speak easily. "Now," his mind was racing, trying to put some order to what should come next, "I need you to stay focused on me, ok? I'm gonna..." Shit- what was he gonna do? "... I'm gonna get some help, ok? And I need you to stay awake so we can fix you up, ok?" What was with all the "ok"s? It was uncharacteristically unsure of himself but he just felt if he could get Lloyd to respond then...

Then what? Everything would be ok?

Raspy breaths were his only reply and one hand managed to lift itself, barely, to tug on Zelos's pant legs. The red-head gingerly dared to gently lift the brunette's head the meager distance from the ground onto his lap. Tan hands gripped tighter at his pant legs although out of gratitude or pain, it was hard to tell. Zelos once more smoothed back the young man's hair, an ironic human gesture. Lloyd's mouth opened once, mouthing what he could not say, and agate eyes stared intently into lilac ones, again trying to see something that probably was not there. Then, even as those eyes stared forever onward, the hand grasping at him loosened and fell limp. For a moment, two hearts stopped beating at the same time until the next single breath when one disappointedly continued on alone.

For the third time in a short while, Zelos heard himself calling Lloyd's name. He started patting the face still cupped in his hands as though to rouse the boy from sleep and then, to rouse himself from the nightmare, started shaking the shoulders wildly. 'Why!' was the question shrieked within his own mind and continued to echo for there was no answer. He finally looked up in the direction the killing shot had come from, peering through faster falling flakes of snow which momentarily blurred his vision with more white. Sure enough, a shadowed figure stood not too far from him. The still figure seemed to watch him arrogantly.

And he recognized that person.

It was that woman again... the same as that night long ago that his young eyes had discerned through falling snow. But it was impossible, this was all impossible! Had he not seen that same woman escorted from a hastily made trial into a death sentence? Yet it was her, a younger him exclaimed within. It was her, it was her, it was her!

And then the woman strode forward and her coloring became more visible. Their eyes connected even as she lowered the hand that had sent such a blow. Yet it was not that woman, but-

"Celes?" Zelos murmured, once again not understanding. It made no sense, absolutely no sense! "This is a lie!" he cried out rebelliously, shaking his head even as he held the body in his arms. "This is nothing more than a trick!"

Cold eyes stared down at him, having yet to even glance at her unfortunate victim, and as they filled with growing disgust and hatred, Celes sneered. "How pathetic," she spat. "Have you so blinded yourself to the truth that you no longer recognize your own blood in front of you?" Giving a derisive snort, she casually flicked back a few strands of the red hair they shared- a habit the both of them had somehow managed to acquire.

Zelos's resolve flickered and thus weakened. "But," his shoulders sagged as he began softly; he looked down forlornly at Lloyd, whose blank eyes were still ever-staring up at him, "… why?"

"You should have given it to me, brother," Celes snapped, her brilliant eyes narrowing down into slits. "But, no- you just had to overreach yourself. Silly fool."

"Is that what this is all about?" Zelos cried incredulously. "Over that stupid position as Chosen?" For the first time, he was growing angry. "Because you wanted that horrible status?"

"No," Celes answered softly, "because you did."

That brought Zelos up short from his righteous fury. "What?" he gaped openly.

The girl's small shoulders sagged, weary and worn. "Because there's a difference between a destiny forced and a destiny accepted," she whispered, her eyes distant. But then the hardness came back into them and she straightened herself haughtily. "And you messed everything up the moment you deemed him worth staying on as a Chosen- even if only for a little while." She sneered. "What an arrogant attitude for someone who was not even supposed to be born."

The harsh mix of cryptic and blunt words made Zelos's spirit flinch. And indeed, he had little clue as to how he was supposed to reply to such a thing. Lilac eyes squeezed shut in firm denial.

"That won't save you," Celes's voice still managed to pierce into him. "You know everyone would have been better off if only you had never been born. See for yourself!"

And images flooded into his mind…

Lloyd with Sheena, both dressed in the clothing of her culture and stationed outside her house in Mizuho, his head on her lap as he dozed in the moonlight and her smiling so gently as she ran her fingers through his hair…

Lloyd leaning against Genis's back, next to a flickering campfire illuminating a dark night of one of their many adventures, and they spent the long hours exchanging made-up ghost stories to scare the other while trying to hide their own nervous fear...

Lloyd playfully teasing Regal as the businessman shyly loosened his professional tie to don an apron and chef's hat to cook a dinner for two...

Lloyd and Presea hiking their way up a mountain trail when the pink-haired girl stumbles slightly and the hero in red effortlessly catches her hand, casting a faint blush upon the normally stoic face...

Lloyd sitting backwards on a classroom seat, getting inward pleasure at watching an awkward Raine- the poor professor pointedly ignoring his presence- lecture to a whole new generation of little ones...

Lloyd coming to a simple home at the end of a long day, exhausted yet still managing to put on a glorious smile to a welcoming Colette, looking even more angelic with a warm aurora of love as she enveloped him into her arms...

All different futures, all different paths that could have been taken- who was he kidding? - that could still be taken; all futures of a loved, happy, smiling, alive Lloyd Irving-

... with no Zelos Wilder by his side.

It was as though his own existence had been snatched, crumpled, and then stuffed down his throat because he was choking on it. The images were so burned into his mind that he did not notice a sad looking Celes fade away in the white or that the heavy weight of Lloyd's body suddenly disappear. But this did not leave the poor Chosen alone. Another presence joined him, smirking even as he laid an unsympathetic arm across the shaking red-head's shoulders.

"Ssh, ssh," came a boyish voice by his ear, mocking the tone used to soothe an upset child. "There, there. Do you see now?" The hand on Zelos's shoulder clenched, as though to sheathe claws into his flesh. Strands of golden hair fell forward into the edge of Zelos's vision. The young boy then hissed out his words with venom, "You should never have double-crossed me, Zelos Wilder. Just what did you think you were doing?"

It was Yggdrasil. Mithos. Whatever the hell the psychotic, self-proclaimed ruler of the world(s) wanted to call himself.

Zelos couldn't bring himself to care.

Mithos, smirk overflowing with smugness, idly twirled some of the Chosen's red strands round his finger. "Everything in the world you ever wanted, ever dreamed of, I offered you," his child's voice spoke softly, deceivingly calm for a moment before hardening to stone, "and you dared to spit it back in my face." He tugged hard on the strands, pulling so roughly on the hair that it brought Zelos's head drastically forward. Mithos grinned cruelly, baring his teeth. This is what he wanted, to see the red-head in as much pain as he was capable of inflicting and more. Heart beating fast with this vicious pleasure, he couldn't help but lean forward himself to try and catch the delicious expression that was sure to be on the young man's face. The moment he caught sight of it, however, he froze.

Zelos was smiling.

Even as the soul inside his eyes was breaking, a wide grin was planted onto the handsome face. The same as he wore after meeting his sister, the same as upon meeting Lloyd and the group with the knowledge that he could very well lead to their death, the same he had used to hide his mixed emotions while telling Lloyd the darkest part of his past, the same used to disguise his calculating mind even as he betrayed those closest to him. It was nowhere near the sort of smile he used after gathering a bit of hope that perhaps Celes did not detest his entire existence, different from the hazy quip of the lips that he couldn't help upon waking after the most restful sleep he could remember, different from the grin cracked up when he just burst out laughing for no reason, and utterly different from the touched smile he had buried into his pillow without letting go of the hand of the one person who loved to be with him. His heart had carefully, but unceasingly, regained feeling and sensitivity, but if that were the case why couldn't he stop smiling admist all this sorrow?

"Stop it," Mithos muttered, bewilderment evolving quickly into anger. "Stop it!" He swung his grip on the red hair back and forth. "Why aren't you hurt?" he cried out, using his other hand to grab onto the scalp under all that crimson and the color filled his vision. "I want to see your pain, you inferior being! I want to see your blood!" Mithos was screaming by the end of it and words disappeared into grunts and nonsensical cries. "Submit to me!"

Even with the emotional hurricane inside him, Zelos wasn't taking the shrieking pain of his head passively. At first he had been stunned when, with each harsh tug, the feeling of pain was being restored to him and quickly. Then, just like with any human, being hurt gave way to annoyance and anger. "Get away from me!" he cried. Building up those feelings, he hardened it into the strength to pull back his head, clench his fist, and promptly slug the legendary hero of old on the nose.

Or, at least, that's what should have happened.


"His will is… throwing me out…"

"Mithos! Leave him alone!"

Just when one mass of flesh should have made contact with the other, everything disappeared again. It was kind of like going through the pathway that connected the twin worlds- the feeling of being pushed, cramped down and then being pulled and stretched out- except to a much higher degree. And the world went from an empty void of white to a sharper, brighter image of color and sunlight. It took Zelos, whose mind was still reeling, a few moments to take in the sight of trees, grass, and bright blue sky.

However, all was not well in this bright atmosphere.

Bewildered as he was, Zelos felt his body trembling with rage and his eyes began to tear up. Without really thinking, his eyes were already blinking them away rapidly. His throat was so hoarse, made worse by the dry-heaving he was inducing upon himself by trying to talk. It was as though Zelos had been transported back in time to that short while ago when Lloyd had slipped away in his arms, but there was one drastic difference this time around- these emotions were not his own.

This overwhelming wave of despair, of rage, and utterly loss of hope was not of his origin, but rather his to feel as though through someone else's eyes. As tears fell- and he could feel their wet descent down his cheeks even though he was growing more convince that these were not his cheeks at all- his vision came a little clearer and Zelos became able to discern the limp form of a body before him. The pooling of the blood under an unmoving corpse that even with her- the natural curves were somewhat visible- face down on the ground had an arm outstretched as though seeking something, the sweep of the- emerald, not gold- hair...it was so hauntingly familiar that the twist of nausea that gutted his host was felt twice as much by him.

Feeling that looking any longer would cause a throbbing heart to come up through his throat, narrowed eyes turned their attention past the body and Zelos took in a new character. It was male- he thought- but the features remained blurred, although "his" eyes were now so dry that it could not be tears that were deadening his vision. Though only a mental self, Zelos did his best to squint whatever it was that he was using to see to try and get a better look. Apparently, no matter what he became his heritage as a Chosen was carried over, for he still managed to make out some details.

Zelos's put his sharp mind to use and settled on the firm possibility that this was most likely the killer. The man had a wide smirk, bordering on the edge of a manic grin if anyone cared to notice, but his pallor so white, so pale... Was this all some terrible accident? But then the image flickered. There was still a young man standing there, but now he looked completely bewildered, even taking a step back as he glanced from side to side.

"What is this?" someone outside exclaimed, but no one seemed to hear.

Then the image flickered again and the smirking, steadfast, man replaced whatever illusion that was.

Wait a minute... illusion...

"Martel…" his lips moved on their own to softly put the name out in the air. Zelos's host timidly reached out a hand as though to take hold of the hand reaching out to him. "How could this have happened?" the small boy's voice screamed hoarsely at the villain before him. Zelos's self shifted in recognition. Mithos…

"Human!" someone screamed to his left. His host did not turn to look, but he caught, in the edge of his vision, long blue hair... that cloak... that voice... Yuan. The man's voice was simultaneously filled with utter rage and despair. The sound of it touched a sense of shared pain within Zelos, although he couldn't remember that mere moments ago he had been filled with the same intense emotions of his own. "We take you in and you repay us with treachery!" The half-elf angel outstretched a hand with an energy bomb fully ready.

"Wait!" came that same voice again that no one seemed to hear. "Hold on a minute... What is this?" The enemy in front flickered again... browns... red...

The quick unsheathing of a sword... Zelos peered to his left. Red hair... that mass of purple... Ugh. Kratos. "So this is how far you are willing to go," the ever-serious angel growled, incredulous all the same. "And all for the sake of controlling the mana?"

"Father...?" the voice whispered with such emotion one could almost see the shoulders sagging.

"I will never forgive you!" Mithos cried and Zelos again felt the eerie sensation of lips moving without his control. Their fists were curling tight too. Forget magic and swordsmanship, Mithos was willing to beat the man to the ground himself. "You… your kin…" Mithos ground out the words through clenched teeth. "All of humankind! I've had enough! None of you will have any of my forgiveness."

There was a poignant pause in the air. It was the moment for the clash, all three readying to unleash all their fury and might. Zelos's vision blurred again and all he could see was red… all that red… He had no voice, but with well-bred stubbornness, he willed the words to reach the one he knew was truly standing before him. It made no sense, no sense at all, but he could not afford the chance that this all could be true.

And so he called out, though he had no voice, "Lloyd!"

Things flickered again and for a moment he could clearly see the brunette in red. The familiar features twitched in a recognition not fully realized. Zelos took hope in that.

"Don't fall for it!" his being called out. Stupid him. He had to give more, explain more. So Zelos put out his theory, "It's an illusion! Nothing more than something put together by Mithos's memories!" He couldn't help but feel worried. Would Lloyd be able to understand? Hell, Zelos himself didn't understand half of everything going on!

"Quit interfering," Yggdrasil's voice hissed in his mind.

"Oh, put a sock in it!" Zelos snapped back without hesitation, feeling a bit less vulnerable in this existential state. In the edges of his vision, he saw the hesitation flow out of Lloyd as the hero took hold of his twin swords.

And then the dream was over.

- - - -

"You freakin' idiot!" Zelos yelled back at him for the umpteenth time.

Lloyd pouted and would have shaken his head had he not been busy with running at top speed behind a strangely irritated red-head. While a small part of him was mischievously pleased with his friend suddenly talking so much, he was overall confused. However, as he usually did with Zelos, he just took things in stride. "I'm not gonna apologize," he asserted childishly. "And I don't get while you keep trying to start an argument when all I can think about is how happy I am to have you back." Honestly, even Lloyd had to think it was kinda rude when the person rescued just turns around and yells at you for having lost everybody else.

Like he really could have planned such a thing.

Zelos stumbled, almost imperceptibly so, but Lloyd managed to notice. In fact, for a moment everything became so deeply focused and the detail of his vision so sharpened that it hurt. He squeezed his eyes shut for just a moment and when he opened them again, everything was back to normal. Must have just been his imagination.

With an almost ethereal sort of grace, Zelos effortlessly recovered and kept charging full steam ahead. Laughing over the awkward moment, Zelos teased, "Lloyd, when this is all over, do you still plan to have all these heart-to-hearts?"

Lloyd blushed, despite himself. "I wouldn't have to if you would just get some things through that thick skull of yours," he muttered, but Zelos seemed to pick up on it anyway. The redhead just laughed and paused at a corner to let the brunette rest, having noticed that the brunette was starting to become flushed and close to hyperventilating.

"Oh?" Red eyebrows quirked as he stared Lloyd down, somewhat worried as the hero tried to steady his breathing. To distract him, Zelos went further with the teasing, "I'm thick, am I? I seem to recall catching on a lot faster than you in most instances."

As Lloyd's breathing eased, his annoyance escalated. This was really not the greatest time to be provoked. An ache had begun to build up between his shoulder-blades as well as amongst his ribs which wasn't helping much with his anxiety over the unknown fate of his friends. The moment he had retrieved Zelos, he had been able to breathe easier, to think clearer, as though the world had shifted right back into focus. Things were just right when Zelos was with him. Lloyd couldn't understand it, couldn't understand it, but- Quick as a dart, he took hold of Zelos's collar and pulled him down closer. "Then why don't you get it!" he exclaimed, with as much frustration at Zelos as he had with himself. "Why can't you see it?" There was something somewhat hopeless about this, wasn't there? Something a great deal like resignation. It was draining the strength from his grip but he just couldn't let go. So, really, though slightly ashamed, he couldn't bring himself to look up into those lilac eyes as he whispered, "I don't ever want to be without you."

A moment of silence that was broken only by the whir of machinery that made up this cold and unfeeling world.

Lloyd's breath almost caught as Zelos gently tipped his chin upward. Inwardly he braced himself for a snide remark, the joke that always came that would clear away the seriousness, yet at the same time, just push Lloyd away farther. But nothing was said. He just stared up into lilac eyes and tried to convey meaning without words. Don't laugh it off. Take it seriously. Take me seriously. Yet he couldn't say any of this, for Zelos had to mend that break. In those lilac eyes there was so much confliction and it stirred a sort of... yearning in Lloyd.

Realizing this, he suddenly became very aware of his close proximity, of the blood pumping in his ears, and even more aware- almost inhumanly aware- of his breath mingling with Zelos's. He should step back, move away, because this was feeling too personable. He was used to contact with people, but there was nothing casual about this. Lloyd was completely comfortable with his friends- patting Genis on the back, holding Colette close, and the numerous touches that filtered throughout the day. But none of them had ever produced- what was the word? What Zelos produced with every look, every touch, every instance of proximity next to him.


Zelos's eyes surveyed him gently, taking it in like a sentimental treasure, once thought lost but then found unexpectedly. Then those lilac eyes darted down to Lloyd's lips and the brunette felt a thrill of victory. There was a clear course of action before them- almost scary with its ease and certainty- but why did Zelos still not say anything?

Lloyd's heart sank. He bowed his head again and released his hold on Zelos, stepping back to physically convey the separation. The guilt emanating from Zelos was almost palpable, but Lloyd only felt foolish. Now was not the time.

Zelos started, "Lloyd-"

"There's an angel at your shoulder," Lloyd interrupted. In the time it took for Zelos to blink at the odd weirds, Lloyd had already unsheathed both his swords and unleashed a Demon Fang and Sonic Thrust at an empty-eyed angel who had attempted to sneak up on the pair. The angel was easily vanquished and its even emptier shell collapsed at the feet of the hero. Lloyd could feel Zelos's stare upon his back and he gripped the hilts of his swords tighter. This was really going to be the climax of it all. He was feeling that now. One way or another, everything would come to its culmination. Just as he had once stepped out of blinding light that had manipulated his world for so long so too must he move out from the shadows that warped what was really there. And that would apply to everything as big as the world to- his heart growing stronger, he turned to look over his shoulder at Zelos- even something as small as this.

But for now... Lloyd shook his head. "Our friends need us," he put simply to Zelos and he felt a twinge of guilt at remembering them. "We must go." The red-head nodded solemnly and they continued on, full pace. 'I hope this means you won't leave me,' the brunette thought to himself as the Zelos raced beside him. 'Will you still come with me when this is all over? Perhaps if I could understand what was going on in your heart, I could finally understand what is going on in mine.'

- - - -

Everything happened so fast.

Mithos's final moments. Being confronted by Origin. His honest wish, that came not so much from his own self, but from the spirits of all he had encountered- let everything return to the way it was meant to be. It had felt like an ending...

But then it all slipped away again. Back on the earth, the seed of mana floating away- it somehow had gone so horribly wrong. Another heart might have despaired, but frankly it just pissed Lloyd off. He raised up Origin once more, throwing every bit of will into this last wish. Voices tried to tell him it wouldn't work, it would be impossible for anyone. The only thought Lloyd spared them was the wish for them all to shut up.

Then Origin was gone.

It hadn't worked.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

The sunlight gleamed off of his exsphere. All those sacrifices, all they had gone through... had it all been nothing? "Wait!" he screamed, because his limbs felt so heavy and useless. "Don't go! Please, wake up!"

His shoulders suddenly felt like they had caught on fire, but then in the next instant, they cooled. It felt so odd, as though he had been sitting a long time and then stood up to stretch his arms and legs. Yet this feeling was not coming from his arms or legs. That's when he saw at the corner of his eye shimmering blue light.

Wings… His blood inheritance had finally come through.

And Lloyd thought, 'Well, I can use this.' Without much further deliberation, he raised up his newly released wings. It was as natural as standing, as simple as lifting a hand. The wind was so cold across his sensitive feathers and it lifted him up so easily. With the strength of young limbs, his infant wings gave a powerful beat against the air and up he went into the deteriorating sky.

It was time to end this.

- - - -

"That idiot!" was the censored version of what Zelos cursed between clenched teeth. He almost couldn't believe that his best friend had just sprouted wings and flown away, but, hey, this was Lloyd after all. Still, as he watched Lloyd go higher and higher, becoming less visible by the second, he was growing increasingly agitated. A small part of him was envious that Lloyd had taken so effortlessly the freedom he had been denying himself. Even now, his angel wings remained contained within him, never having fully achieved their potential.

For so long he had simply reaped the benefits of being turned into an angel by the Institute: extra sharp hearing, heightened vision, higher physical endurance. Without them, for example, he would never have heard of that incident with Colette before anyone else or see Lloyd cut-off the man's head with his own eyes or reach them before anyone else. Yet, at the same time, he also had to deal with the mean whispers behind his back. Always the good with the bad and usually the bad outweighed everything.

But now here was his chance. He could unfurl his wings and go up there, join Lloyd in this conclusion. He knew that, could feel it, but he could not summon the self-confidence to unfurl his wings in turn. Instead Zelos was plagued by the uncertainty that even if he unfurled his wings, he would lack the ability to fly. It would just figure that someone such as he would be cursed in such a way.

But still… But still….

"Colette!" he finally snapped, whirling around to meet startled blue eyes. "Get up there! Get up there now!"

The rest of the group was taken aback as well.

"Zelos!" Sheena shrieked. "Don't be so unreasonable!"

Zelos blatantly ignored her, concentrating instead on staring down Colette. Don't do this. Don't let him be up there all alone. Colette returned the seriousness; of course she, of all people, would understand. A faint nod was all she gave before unfurling her beautiful pink wings and taking off into the sky. Her twin Chosen watched her go, his heart with her.

He soon noticed Sheena giving him a look. "You're up to something," she grumbled, wiping dark strands from her eyes. "But don't get too full of yourself. When this is over I fully intend to get in your way."

Zelos's lips twitched for a smile; there was almost something comforting about Sheena's old habits. Smirking slightly instead, he countered, "What makes you think there will be an after? This could be the end of the world as we know it."

This time Sheena's smile was true and she turned her gaze up into the sky. "With those two up there," she murmured, but Zelos heard her clearly, "can it be anything other than fine?"

'How sentimental we've grown,' Zelos thought fondly and turned his attention to the hope of their future.

- - - -

Two worlds as one.

Balance restored.

The quest was over.

- - - -

"Mom…. Dad left," Lloyd stared fondly down at the tombstone, the only physical memory he had of his mother. In his hands he bore his father's sword, the one thing Kratos had left behind. Even with a whole world newly created and with his entire self-appointed journey ahead, it had felt right to come back home, to where Dirk and his mother were waiting. The others had also naturally gone their own way. Lloyd had been a bit taken aback when Zelos had waved and chuckled that he was going back to Meltokio, but in the end he convinced himself that Zelos had only been joking about joining him after all. Despite the hopefulness of this new beginning, Lloyd couldn't help but feel more than a little forlorn at being left behind twice.

"Don't die before me… Lloyd…my son."

Lloyd gently set the sword down. "That was ok, wasn't it?" he whispered to the stone, as he had in his younger days, having quiet conversations with his mother. Even now, with all he knew, it seemed to make more sense than talking to the stone on his hand. "For me to let him go… it was ok, right?" He was trying to convince himself, he knew that, but it seemed that had Kratos had left them both, not just him.

"Lloyd," Dirk called softly from behind him. The brunette rose to his feet, not yet turning around. "You wanted to go with him, didn't you?"

Lloyd shook his head with a small smile, "No… I have my own path to follow." He looked up to the blue, blue sky. Such was what Kratos had really wanted, he knew. Kratos would've wanted his son to live freely. "And Dad has his. … And besides," he dipped his head and spoke quietly, "I already have a dad here."

"I see," Dirk gave a slight tilt of the head, but with the ingrained knowledge of a parent, knew his son would be alright. "Then I won't say any more."

Lloyd stretched. "Mom, I'll leave Dad's sword here with you," he continued in a normal voice. He felt somewhat content looking at the sight of the tombstone and the sword together; his parents were finally together. "Well, I'll be off!" He could hear Noishe trotting over and he felt his spirit fill with the excitement of an oncoming adventure.

Dirk stroked his beard. "I should get back to work then," he murmured, his mind already conjuring wonderful images of a hearth and his tools and his-

"Dad?" Lloyd called suddenly, turning around sharply.

"Hm?" Dirk mumbled, startled from his ponderings.

Lloyd just grinned and turned back into the gravestone, "Nothing. Just checking."

The dwarf tweaked an eyebrow and turned around, intending to mutter about "strange kids" when he stopped short. He blinked in surprise, but then chastised himself. He really should've known better. "Lloyd," he called back, "there's someone coming down the path."

"Hm?" Lloyd turned around then. There was Noishe and Dirk… He stopped still and his breath caught. For indeed there was a figure walking up the path. The red hair, the pink jacket, and that stupid grin spread across that face…

"Oi, Lloydie McLloyd Lloyd!" Zelos waved an arm, calling gleefully. "You weren't going to leave without little ol' me, were you? Ha ha!"

Agate eyes focused on nothing else, Lloyd hurried over to him until he stood before him, staring up at the man disbelieving. "But…you…I thought," he was forced to stammer as his thoughts refused to organize themselves.

Zelos chuckled. "Right, right, sorry about that," he waved a hand dismissively. "But I had to take care of some things back in Meltokio first." A bead of sweat slid down the back of his head as he remembered…

"See, look what happened!" Zelos spoke loudly for the whole court to hear and a nearby guard winced at his volume. The red-head didn't care. This was his moment of triumph and he wasn't going to let anything ruin it! He gave a dramatic sigh and continued to lecture the king standing irritated before him. "It's all because the Pope had to open his big mouth and tried to banish me… and stuff." No need to get too specific. They would be here all day and he had better places to be. "The whole world got messed up!" Technically two worlds, but who was counting?

"Well then, Chosen One," the king massaged a throbbing vein on his forehead, "what would you have me do?"

Zelos grinned. That had been precisely what he had been waiting for. "We'll send an emissary of peace to Iselia," he proposed. He had to start off slowly, lead the guy to the right place.

"Emissary?" the king blinked, surprised. "Who do you plan to send?"

Check and mate. The smirk Zelos gave was positively devilish.

"How about Sheena from Mizuho?"

Poor thing. But it was her own fault for openly announcing her intentions. An amateur mistake and one Zelos almost felt guilty about taking advantage of.

Almost, but just not quite.

"But that's all taken care of now," Zelos laughed nervously. He'd have to keep an eye out for assassins… again… Damn.

Lloyd shook his head. "So…" he began, taking a breath, "what are you doing here?"

Zelos's smile faltered. "We're going on a journey aren't we?" he gave a half-hearted chuckle. "Did you forget, Bud?"

"No!" Lloyd cried suddenly, but then brought himself up short. He tightened a fist and bowed his head, averting his eyes. "But maybe…. I don't think it's such a good idea for you to come with me now." The words screamed against the very thing he wanted, but… Argh! He was so confused!

The red-head gaped, "Why?"

"Because…" Good question. "Because…" Lloyd squeezed his eyes tight and laid his fist over his heart as though to give it comfort. "Because of this…"

A happy, soft sigh of relief. Lloyd opened his eyes just as Zelos gently tipped his chin up. The thoughtful look had returned to his eyes, but there was no longer any torment in them. An elated feeling filled Lloyd's heart, making him slightly giddy, but he could not tear his eyes away. His fist loosened and Lloyd let the hand fall to his side. Something inside seem to whisper, "Finally," as Lloyd's agate eyes slid closed and Zelos leaned forward.

The older man was trembling. He had kissed and been kissed before, had even gone on to further levels beyond kissing. Hormones had lent him pleasure and more than once his body had been satisfied. But- as cheesy and stupid as it sounded- nothing like this. Before he had disdained those that had combined the feeling of love and the agreeable activity that supposedly followed it. One was not necessary for the other and Zelos had not been about to deny himself what little selfish pleasurable he was able to glean from life. Now, though, with a willing Lloyd leaning into him and the two of them so close…

Holy Martel, the two of them hadn't even done anything yet and already the feelings of pleasure flooding him were more powerful than anything he had gone through previously. The strength of it made Zelos feel almost guilty, surely he wasn't meant to take part in this sort of pleasure. Lloyd was nothing like those girls that had been merely bodies, as full of hormones as he had been. They were nowhere near the same category! And Zelos didn't just want bodily release, he wanted… He wanted…

Closing his own eyes, Zelos leaned forward and softly brushed his lips against the corner of Lloyd's left eye. There was a sharp intake of breath on both sides but as lightning had yet struck Zelos down- sure proof that Kratos had indeed left the planet- the red-head continued on more heartedly. He took in every scent and feel that the brunette had to offer by kissing Lloyd's cheekbone, under his ear, the bottom of his chin… He was growing more and more intoxicated, but he needed one final shove until he was pushed over that edge.

Lloyd, meanwhile, was completely enraptured with the array of emotions he had never even dreamed he could ever feel. It was so strong and so right. How could he had ever dreamed that he could belong anywhere but in this man's arms? A growl purred through his throat as Zelos kissed the tip of his nose. The blasted man was taking too long! He wanted… He wanted…

As Zelos dipped down once more for a target unknown to even him, Lloyd went with an impulsive desire and fell forward into the red-head's arms, catching that warm mouth with his own. At first Zelos had been greatly surprised by the boy's sudden weight, but then more important things entertained his thoughts. His heart became full and he embraced Lloyd tightly, never wanting that presence to leave him. He kissed the bruising mouth again and again, never harshly, but with all the firmness of his feelings. Whatever bruises remained on his spirit were smoothed continuously as the hero proceeded just as eagerly and returning those feelings in full.

Three words. Zelos whispered them against the brunette's mouth even as he went to capture the boy's tongue. As he drew a breath, the boy leaned in closer and repeated the words back, but this one adding a fourth word to the very end.

"I love you."

"I love you too."

Dirk sighed and turned from the display. Rolling his eyes, he pondered momentarily if the two would ever be sensitive to a father's feelings. Probably not. The joke amused him and he chuckled to himself as he stepped into his house. "How many times must I tell that boy?" he sighed despairingly to himself. "Dwarven vow number seven, Lloyd. Dwarven vow number seven."

Dwarven Vow Number Seven: Goodness and Love will always win.


For Erro,

Without you, this would have never gotten finished nor would it have been as much fun. Thank you for the wonderful journey.

And for you, dear reader,

For reading through this ridiculously long piece, you have my thanks.