Disclaimer: No ownership of ToS.
Revised 4/27/12: Allocated all A/N to the end of the chapters, to minimize any distracting-ness to the reader.
x x x
Being a ninja, Sheena Fujibayashi considered herself particularly skilled at certain things. One of these things, she had known for a long time, was the ability to tell who was at her door depending on the knock. She could do this with other sounds, naturally, such as footsteps, but this one she prided herself on especially. That seemed a bit foolish, she thought at times; most people of her race did not bother to learn to distinguish knocks. The enemy wasn't going to knock politely on your door and ask to come in, of course.
It was as a woman, however, not as a ninja, that she valued this little talent. It was important to know when one should open the door or not. She liked to be sure of who it was she was going to be dealing with at any given time. Especially since she did so value her privacy.
Lying on the bed contentedly with a book in her hands, she didn't feel much like getting up at all, really. The summoner became aware of how cold her body was once she looked up, jerked out of the little fantasy world of reading by the sound of a rapping on the door. 'Tis some visitor, tapping at my chamber door…only this and nothing more! She smiled wryly at her little literary joke, poor though it was, and stuck a bookmark in her place as she wrapped a small blanket around her. There was a reason why she never came to Flanoir of her own free will, and the year-round cold was exactly it.
What the lazy Chosen One wanted with her late at night was beyond her, considering he usually spent as much time sleeping as possible. Although…she recalled him once saying, probably a while ago, that it was the only escape one had from the horrible reality of the waking world. He had laughed when he said this, flashing her that smirk that he had taken to wearing almost constantly as of late, but somehow she had gotten the distinct impression that he really did mean what he had said. That was easy to tell when someone's eyes betrayed the rest of their attitude.
Zelos looked up at her with an awkward smile when she opened the door on him, her hair mussed up from lying down for as long as she had been and her makeshift night clothes hanging down far enough to expose her cleavage. His eyes wanted to go in that direction right away, although he fortunately stopped himself. He didn't find the courage to come bother her right now only to leave with a sore cheek and injured pride.
"Heh…I didn't think you'd be a night owl tonight, hunny," he teased her quietly, coming in without invitation before anyone else in the inn might overhear them. "You ought to be getting your beauty sleep. But then again…" He put a finger to his temple in mock thinking. "It's probably the best time for banshees to go on the haunt, hm?"
Glowering at him, she brought her hand up in warning. "You're the idiot who came to see me, remember? I didn't get out from under the warm covers to be insulted."
He glanced over in the direction of said bed, smiling when he brought his gaze back to her. "Well, if that's your concern, I don't mind helping you warm up the bed. That is, if…"
Her frown increased dramatically as she stepped closer to him threateningly, not in the least bit intimidated that he had several inches on her. He got the picture when he bumped instinctively into the door behind him, shrinking a bit from her rage. "…Or, I could just tell you why I am here," he conceded in a murmur, not looking at her this time.
She didn't relax her ferocity, well aware that it had actually worked for once in subduing him. "Which would be…?"
"You remember…our agreement?" The Chosen continued to look down, scratching his head in a Lloyd-like fashion that she found rather uncouth. Seeing him falter like that would have been pretty amusing if it wasn't one in the morning right now.
Already visibly exhausted with even such a short exchange, Sheena released a loud sigh. "Are we talking about the one in which you aren't to attempt to grab any part of me? I remember agreeing to that one, at least…"
He shook his head. "No, the one from when ah...you-know-who…um…"
The ninja's eyes went wide, her attention at once returned to him in full. "Corrine?"
"Yeah," he confirmed shortly, leaning heavily against the wall. "You promised me that evening, when we talked about him. You said that from then on, if one of us needed to talk to someone…"
Her lips formed the word 'oh' soundlessly, fingers pushing a strand of hair behind her ear in what was no doubt embarrassment. No wonder he was acting so stupid and awkward; coming to her for comfort was probably pretty embarrassing. Whatever it was must be serious to make him put aside his typical cockiness…then again, who could ever tell with him?
"I remember, yes," she admitted at long last, shaking her head as she went over to sit on her bed again. "I guess I do owe you. But after this we're even, okay?"
Much as she disliked considering it, she did owe him for the time he spent comforting her the evening after Corrine had died. She had been nearly hysterical that time, and it would have been pretty easy for him to exploit her lack of judgment when he'd talked to her alone by the fire. Instead, they had just talked. Talked like civilized people would. That was a pretty impressive feat for him, she had to admit.
Everyone had been just as surprised as she was in the morning to find her in a more positive mood, if only by a little bit. The things he'd told her about that night, about his mother in particular, she hadn't ever heard him speak of before…even when they had been a couple. Of course, she had known that her death had always brought him a great deal of guilt, but never the horrible words she had spoken to him. Maybe that was what he needed to talk to her about now; maybe the snow of Flanoir reminded him of that. She wasn't quite sure, but she at least decided she would listen. That was the promise: when one of them needed to talk, it would be no questions asked.
Once again without an invitation, he joined her in sitting on the bed, taking note of her snatching the book off of the covers.
"What's that?" he asked quickly, grabbing it impishly out of her grip before she could conceal it. She failed to retrieve it from him, too, as she caught him reading the back of it with a mischievous look on his face.
"Hey, Zelos! Give that back or the deal's off!" Frantically Sheena attempted again to take it from the thieving Chosen, but he rolled over quickly and managed to keep it away from her even still. She was almost ready to full-on tackle him when he suddenly handed it back, a smile yet remaining.
She scoffed angrily as she took it from him, her face getting red in a combination of irritation and embarrassment. Of anyone, she didn't want him to know what she was reading.
"Romance, huh?" he chided her gently, putting his hands behind his head in a comfortable position. "I wouldn't have guessed that, Sheena. Is it naughty?"
"No!" The summoner had turned even redder, stuffing the book in the drawer of the nightstand. She sat down next to him on the bed, slightly bewildered as to how he had managed to find a way to occupy the same sleeping arrangement as her. "Now, what did you want me to talk with you about? Can we just get it done with?"
"Mm…well, I didn't want to interrupt you if you were reading," he answered, no longer smiling. He put his head on her shoulder, rather boldly in her opinion, and closed his eyes. "I just wanted…you know, human company. You're my favorite hunny, remember?"
"Sure…whatever." She felt herself turning a little red again at his contact, though he neither moved nor even looked at her.
Then, they were quiet for a few moments. Sheena could not much remember the last time that had happened, but some relaxing force of nature made her disinclined to say another word that would question it. Maybe this was a little better than reading about romance in a book…although the girl in there had a charming gentleman to court her rather than a mostly insensitive young man who seemed to focus primarily on everything below her neck. Her life probably wasn't a romance to be written about, unless anyone wanted to hear about the obnoxious loudmouth she was always arguing with.
She tried to push that thought out of her mind. Against all odds, she was actually enjoying human company too. Even though the others were her friends, they knew very little about her, and half of them weren't even from the same world. Much as she didn't like to concede it, Zelos probably knew and understood her better than any of them. He just wasn't very responsible with that knowledge.
He looked up at her in surprise when he felt her petting his hair gently, her eyes closed this time. More so then he had ever seen her, she looked very tired and anxious. It was a strange thing to see on such a young woman, but her face looked pale and exhausted compared to the normal way in which she usually appeared. Still…he figured he had much more to worry about than she did. He had a decision to make within the next few hours…and, foolishly, he was pretty sure he had made that choice by coming in here.
She continued to toy gingerly with his soft curls, a sort of nostalgia in the way she had begun to look out the window now. "Are you sure you're alright? You don't need to talk about anything?"
The Chosen did not respond right away, somewhat distracted by the alluring sensation of her curious hands in his hair. "Nah, I'll be fine. I appreciate your concern, though, cupcake. Much less painful than your punches." He laughed softly at this, even more so when he realized she too was laughing with him.
"Hitting you isn't that fun, Wilder." She tugged at a strand between her fingers, earning a little noise of protest from him. "You just deserve it sometimes. Keeping your hands to yourself would be my suggestion. Maybe taping your mouth shut would be a good idea, too."
In answer, Zelos sported one of his wounded pouts for her, though he did know quite well that he wouldn't get any sympathy from her on this matter. "Then you wouldn't get to hear my lovely voice anymore, now, would you? And I couldn't compliment you, either."
She stared at him blankly, a mixture of disbelief and ill humor in her eyes. "Zelos, 'You have an awesome rack' does not qualify as a compliment. Not even for you."
A few uncomfortable moments passed before he could think of a retort, mostly trying to think back to when he had been that much of an asshat. He chose to conclude that she was exaggerating, rather than believe his masquerade of perverted idiocy had really become second nature to him. That was a sickening thought indeed.
"Alright, alright," he waved her off, not quite sure if he was annoyed with her or with himself at this point. "Next time…it'll be your cute face, okay?"
She smiled in victory, ruffling his hair like one would do to a dog that finally had chosen to obey his master. "You're improving, then. Good boy!"
He rolled his eyes at her teasing, although he did figure that he probably deserved it. More than anything, he was too tired to address his Complaints Department…and, knowing Sheena, she liked to submit to it quite often.
Perhaps what was more enticing than sheer exhaustion, though, was each gentle motion she made, bringing him closer and closer to falling straight into sleep. Her neck was soft where he had nestled himself, and he could feel when she took each breath. Somehow, though, in a way he did not quite understand, sitting next to her this time was not an entirely sexual thing. It felt more like a motherly touch that she administered, and the more she did it, the more he wanted to wrap his arms around her…and yet…
Just a little while longer, he told himself firmly. He'd wait until she nodded off before attending to that final bit of business for the night. His 'accomplice'—if that was what he could be called—would have to wait. No matter what he chose, tomorrow he would be the enemy…and Sheena would probably never even look at him again. He had best enjoy the time with her while she still had some semblance of fondness for him.
The Chosen jerked slightly when he heard her speak his name, noticing that she had her eyes shut again. "Hm?"
"Do you… really think everything will be okay tomorrow?" She stroked his hair one last time before withdrawing, using her free hand to rub her eyes.
"I'm sure it will, sweetie," he replied with his best impression of confidence. "Don't worry about it. Just…sleep."
She didn't say anything more, but it was then that he recalled a question he had intended to ask her. He took her hand to squeeze gently. "Uh, Sheena…do you remember that lullaby? The one you used to sing…when we were younger?"
When she gave no answer, he guessed that she might have fallen asleep already. Then she began to hum a sweet little tune, just brief enough to give a gist of the melody. "…That one?" she asked sleepily.
He smiled sadly, though she couldn't see him do so. "Yes. That's the one. You can say no if you want, but…would you sing that one for me?"
Unexpectedly, she too showed a small smile on her face. "As long as you don't laugh…"
"Hehe…wouldn't dream of it," he assured her in what was now barely a whisper. "Please, for me?"
"Good night, sleep tight, no more tears…in the morning, I'll be here." Her quiet voice sounded sweet and melodic, much more feminine than her normal voice. She continued hesitantly when she didn't hear the expected laughter. "And when we say goodnight, dry your eyes…because we said goodnight…"
"And not…goodbye." He finished the verse for her quietly, leaving her a bit surprised that he remembered the words. She let him finish, her face still in a smile. "We said goodnight…and not…goodbye."
He hung on the last word, feeling it in his chest like a knot. Of course, Zelos was neither a skilled singer nor usually one who would dare to sing at all…but this was a little different. He'd heard it sung by her many times before, but tonight, it felt more disturbing than anything. Saying nothing more, he simply leaned into her and exhaled a shaky breath.
Tomorrow, would they be saying goodbye? He winced, not wanting to entertain that possibility. Maybe he would just have to take a chance and go with the weaker side this time. The idea of doing the opposite seemed to sit less well with him the more he thought about it.
He looked over briefly at Sheena, her sleeping face smooth and soft enough to touch. This was probably her fault. No matter what he did to piss her off, no matter what fights they got in, they could never really stay away from each other. Probably, that was what brought him to her room tonight…he just had to know if he was walking the right path.
Sighing in what was probably more frustration than anger, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek before leaving the room. He would have to make this one last him a while, just in case it was the last one he ever got. "Goodnight, Sheena…"
x x x
Quiet as he could possibly be, the Chosen snuck back to his room to retrieve his sword from amongst his belongings. Although the covert meeting he was to attend was not supposed to be a confrontation, he knew much better than to ever be unarmed. Certainly not around someone who was a known traitor…though what made him any better, he didn't have the energy to consider.
He slipped down the stairs and out toward the lobby in a ghostly silent fashion, his senses sharpened through his angelic endowment. It was a lot easier to be sneaky in the dark when one could see sharply, or else end up tripping on something in an oafish fashion. Espionage definitely wasn't an easy business.
Flanoir's streets were empty when he emerged onto them, though this could be expected regardless of the time of day. Even the longtime residents didn't seem to ever linger in the cold. That was the curious thing about cold, Zelos mused to himself. While the heat could be enjoyable, like a warm fire or a cozy blanket, the cold was always inhospitable.
A movement out of the corner of his eye caused him to jump, drawing the blade from his side instinctively. From a narrow alleyway came a black form, small and snow-dappled. The green eyes of a midnight colored cat looked up at him uninterestedly before it darted to an adjacent hiding place, its tail disappearing around the corner after it.
"Oh, that's a good sign," the Chosen muttered under his breath, trying to remember if the animal had had any other colors or markings on it. But he'd come too far now to really let superstition shake his resolve; besides, he had done a good enough job psyching himself out over this whole Cruxis business without adding to that any further.
He picked up his pace and turned right onto a small street near the hospital, the very same one where the group had brought Altessa only a few hours prior. He looked around warily before dipping under an overhang, shaking the white powder out of his long hair with a faint disgust.
"I appreciate your punctuality, Chosen One," a voice smirked from a few feet away, causing the redhead in question to jump almost a foot in the air. "You've had enough time to consider my proposal, I trust?"
An older man stepped forward from where he had been leaning against the stone wall of a building, a look that was neither kind nor hostile on his face. This was only one of the many reasons why Zelos had taken an instant disliking to Lloyd's father. Kratos was perpetually impossible to read, and thus he usually made one feel like a haughty child being spoken to by a far more knowledgeable adult.
Even with his usually sharp hearing, he had managed to be snuck up on by this condescending jackass. He took his hand off of the hilt of his sword hesitantly, realizing it was too late to try to play it off like he hadn't just been caught off guard. "Yeah, I've thought about it—"
"So you've come to a decision then?" the Cruxis agent interjected in a very business-like tone, disregarding the young Chosen's obvious irritation. "I cannot afford to have you uncertain on this matter. If you will not carry it out, then I will do so myself."
"Hey, I never said I'd picked either way, pal," he returned sharply, eyes narrowed.
"I've lived a great many more years than you," Kratos began, still calm as he always was. "It is not hard to detect indecision. You don't feel comfortable siding with Lloyd and his allies when they are only a few against a far greater force. And Mithos has promised you your freedom from Chosenhood, has he not?"
Zelos thought back to when he had spoken briefly to Tiga, Mizuho's regent chief. He had been asked what side he would choose, between the force of the Church and those against it. And he was right, then. He would have been lying if he had said that he would choose the side of preserving both worlds…his instincts told him to side with the strongest.
"That's easy for you to say so matter-of-factly, isn't it?" he spat back, not even wanting to look at the other man's falsely understanding expression. "For the past however many years, you and the whole lot of Cruxis has controlled my ancestors like your own personal ant farm. And for what? So that bastard can revive his long-dead sister?"
He paused, regaining his composure. "To be free from that title of 'Chosen'…each and every one of us with that burden has wanted nothing more. So what can you offer me that's better than that? What do I get for running your little errand?"
Neither spoke for a few moments, the silent air hanging heavy between them. Kratos's expression was unchanged when he did begin again. "You find it that easy to betray your companions, do you? You are selfish enough to serve yourself before the greater good?"
The Chosen raised his eyebrows in surprise; the question was almost laughable for him. "So what? I've acted like everyone's fool for most of my life, because that's the Chosenlike thing to do. I work for myself from now on."
"Hm, you do as you will." Kratos shook his head, his wings emerging from his back in preparation to leave. "I cannot decide for you if you care enough about your friends to risk your own satisfaction for them. But there is one thing you should know before you decide: Once you bring your sword down upon a loved one…you will never forget how that feels. Not even if you live a thousand years."
Immediately, his mind went back to Sheena's sleeping face; her long, graceful fingers combing through his hair and her lilting lullaby that he had held so dearly in his memory for many a year. He whispered her name under his breath, forgetting for a moment that he was in the presence of a fellow angel.
"A woman, of course," the seraph mumbled in answer, smiling slightly. "Yes, I think that would be the one thing more important to a man than himself…and that is why I advise you take my warning with the utmost seriousness. Your companion Mr. Bryant, I'm sure, can tell you just the same. But in the end…the choice is always yours." He said no more, brushing past the Chosen to head toward the main street.
Zelos had started after him, his hand brushing nervously over the crystal on his chest. His eyes were still on the ground where the snow lay. In his mind, he could see the color red, and this time…not with his mother's blood. Sheena…
He looked across the snow at the older angel, just managing to find one of his trademark confident smiles.
"…Leave the Aionis to me."
A/N: Alright, there completes the first month of our Sheelos year! Hope you enjoyed, that is my first time really writing Kratos. But I think he's not too hard to write, frankly. And yes, I DID use Flanoir, shoot me. I have always been curious as to how Kratos convinced him over to their side, though, and I haven't seen it written in any Sheelos that I've read, so hell, I took a shot at it. Like Zelos, I'm not taking any complaints at my Complaints Department right now. ;p
R&R, please! And love to you all in this lovely 2009 year.