December

x x x

Nearly six years had gone by since he last spent a winter in Meltokio.

It was the thought that passed the former Chosen idly while he watched the fire dancing beneath the mantle, his gaze carefully avoiding the window. The snow had come silently during the previous night, giving him an unwanted greeting when he drew back the curtains in the morning. A sight that left an empty void in the pit of his stomach.

In fact, there had been a time when the chill weather did not drive him off to the safety of warmer climates. That started later. A certain conversation with a dear friend, all those years ago, had given him the slightest change of heart.

Sheena had been the first soul he had ever confessed that horrible story to. After all, she had willingly told him of the accident she was caught up in when her pact with Volt failed. Her eyes filled with tears when she spoke of it, one of the sparse times he had seen the tough girl show a sign of vulnerability.

Years down the road, Zelos knew why he brought himself to speak his darkest memory to her, even against his strong impulse to suppress it. He had fallen in love with her; it was as simple as that. This was something he knew in his heart, not his mind, like a latent instinct.

But that love wasn't complete yet. Sharing that ugly, broken part of him was the final step. So he offered it to her, on the year's first snow, as a symbol of his trust.

He couldn't help but smile an ironic smile at the thought of it. Sheena's unpredictable nature had been just as strong even then, when they were making the awkward transition from friends to, well, "something else."

Having given her the tale right down to the last detail, he had the unsettling feeling that she would respond with the insincere sympathy that the whole world had thrust upon him right after the gruesome death of his mother. Or even worse, just the disconcerting stare that had followed him everywhere since that day, the one that seemed to mark him as the child no one could love.

As it would turn out, he'd greatly underestimated her.

x x x

"…then she died, holding me in her arms."

Zelos could not look at her as he said it. His voice had dropped to a low murmur since he had begun.

The two of them had been lounging together on the roof of an old abandoned building in the slums of Meltokio, one of their many meeting places. He supposed he must have turned a milky shade of green when a flurry of snowflakes began to lightly dust them, bits of the stuff contrasting her dark black hair as they landed.

Even as he spoke, he was still surprised that he was telling Sheena this. Although he had made the decision he would at some point, the sudden confrontation by the trigger of his fears had forced him to do it on the spot.

"She said it quiet enough that none of the people gathering around us could hear." The Chosen hung his head, his reddish-orange bangs hiding his eyes. "But those were her last words. 'You should never have been born.'"

He was silent then, an involuntary shiver passing through him as the chill ice gathered on his hair and clothes. Bringing himself to look her in the eye felt suddenly difficult.

"Zelos…"

His thoughts froze when she gently brushed her hand against his upper arm, the affection of the gesture apparent.

"Don't you think I understand how you feel? A lot of people died when I messed up that pact with Volt. Some of the people in the village still won't even talk to me."

At the strain in her voice, Zelos couldn't help but finally look over into her eyes. They were full of remorse, just as her tone was.

Corrine stood up from where he had been resting in her lap, trotting over a few small paw-steps to stand in front of the Chosen. The summon spirit had yet to take a liking to Zelos, but there was something in his nature that made him unusually sensitive to the emotions of humans. That fact was especially evident in his interactions with Sheena.

"Sheena really means what she says!" he yipped earnestly, his tails thrashing with the sincerity of the statement. "She even still cries out about it sometimes, in her sleep…"

"Corrine!"

"Sorry, Sheena…" He hung his head low, hopping back over to sit complaisantly upon her shoulder.

"W-well, anyway, what I mean to say is you aren't alone, okay?" Her cheeks had become pink, though he wasn't quite sure if that was the cold or not. "But, what your mother said to you…I don't think she meant it the way you think…"

He looked up suddenly. "Huh? Whad'ya mean?"

"Maybe I'm wrong, but from what you told me about your parents, they were very unhappy. They were forced to marry someone they didn't love. And she had to bring you into the world knowing that you would be a Chosen of Mana. The life of a Chosen—"

"—isn't worth living?" he finished, a sour note of irony in his voice.

"No!" she snapped back, her eyes becoming sharp. "Not that. It's just…difficult. You know that's true. But I'm sure your mother must have loved you very much. She probably just didn't want your life to be so tragic, like hers and your father's…"

"I…I s'pose so. I just hope that maybe one day…" He paused, reaching over to close his hand over hers. True to her nature, she couldn't help but blush at the contact. "I just hope we won't blame ourselves for it anymore."

She smiled up at him, her reddened cheeks practically melting him on the inside. "I hope so."

x x x

Talking to his friend that day, many years ago, had been the closest he ever came to feeling absolved from the death of his mother. His life had changed knowing that someone else lived with the same struggle as he did. Just having a friend who understood him—accepted him—was enough to paint his world a different color.

Then, things went back to normal. She eventually did have to return to Mizuho, after her training was over, and again he felt surrounded by darkness. That was when he started leaving the city when winter came around. Altamira had never been a favorite spot of his, practically as bad as the capital city itself, but at least the snow never reached it.

But now, after everything they had been through…had his wish come true? Zelos wasn't sure. Perhaps for her it had. Sheena was now next in line to lead her people, and her recent role in uniting the worlds had definitely added favorably to her reputation among them. That made him happy. Whether or not it was possible for him to be redeemed, well…

"So, you better not be feeling too far in the dumps. These cookies didn't turn out nearly good enough to work any miracles."

His favorite person leaned against the doorframe of the kitchen, a plate of the questionable confections in her hands. He decided to see how long he could manage to talk to her, while her hair was dusted with flour, without laughing.

"Holding up just fine, thank-you-very much," he quipped back, but motioned for her to sit with him all the same. "Although I do appreciate the concern, of course."

Sheena frowned, setting the dish on the coffee table as she settled beside him on the couch. "I thought you'd want a visitor today, because of, you know…" she trailed off, looking into the fire rather than at him. "Why else did you think I showed up here out of the blue?"

"Because I'm your favorite person ever in the whole world?" The ex-Chosen smiled innocently back at her, grabbing away the cookie she had been about to bite into. She glared at him as he munched on it contentedly. "Meh, they're just fine. Better than I could do, I'm sure."

"Now that I don't doubt." She reached over to take a new one for herself, and to his surprise, leaned against him while she nibbled on hers. It felt like a long time since they'd been at ease with physical contact between them, but the sweet familiar scent of her hair demanded a response. He couldn't help but slip an arm around her waist and draw her closer.

When she glanced up into his eyes, Zelos almost regretted the gesture. He still wasn't entirely sure whether she trusted him now, after how much he had lied to her in the recent past. But then she smiled kindly at him, and he thought perhaps the room felt a lot warmer after that.

"Zelos?"

He blinked back at her nervously; that tone of voice always meant she was trying to sugarcoat something unpleasant. "Hm?"

"Are you…y'know…are you okay? I worry about you this time of year. Being depressed, by yourself…"

Serious though she was, he couldn't help but crack a sarcastic grin. "You think I'd off myself or something?"

"N-no! Of course not!" Her face had turned to a scowl, but it softened after a moment. He noticed her glance over at the portrait of his mother hanging on the wall. "I just know you still blame yourself for what happened. And it's just not fair for it to be like that forever."

"Heh, Sheena. You're almost as much of an idealist as Lloyd sometimes." For a moment he paused, not wanting to look at her with any weakness in his eyes. "I never expected things to be different, you know."

"You didn't expect to live past twenty, either. You didn't expect to ever be anything other than a Chosen. But things change. Even for me." She sighed, leaning her head against his chest. "I thought Mizuho would never accept me again. I thought my grandpa would never wake up and that it would be my fault. I did everything I could to repent for my mistake, even if I couldn't undo the damage…"

Zelos heaved a breathy sigh. "But there wasn't anything I could do to fix what happened. If I wasn't around, she wouldn't have been killed, and Seles wouldn't have had to spend her life in exile."

"None of that was ever your fault," she insisted quietly. Sheena had taken to frowning again, he noted. "No one has any say in whether they're born or not."

"I would never be able to make it up to her. That's the thing. I wish I would've had the opportunity to make her proud…"

For a moment she was silent, but then she surprised him by slipping her hand into his. "Then you should live the life she wanted to live. Make your own decisions, and find happiness."

A little squeak of surprise escaped her when he pulled her into a tighter hug. He smiled shyly back at her when she looked into his blue eyes. "I had planned on that, dear. But it would only work if you and I were together, y'know."

The faintest blush broke out on her face. "W-what do you mean? We're together right now, aren't we?"

"In physical proximity, yes," he replied, nosing her face affectionately. He still smelled like chocolate, much to her amusement. "I meant more along the lines of, like, forever."

Her light pinkness took a turn toward a rich red. "What, as in…being married? Is that a proposal?"

"Uh, not formally. Running it by you first sounded like a better idea, just to make sure you weren't totally disgusted by the thought of it." Zelos cast his gaze away, face beginning to flush as well.

Unexpectedly, she started to laugh. His complexion went straight from red to pale. She so had better not find rejecting him that funny.

"Is that a not-in-a-million-years laugh, sweetheart?"

Sheena stopped mid-laugh, staring flatly at him. Sometimes he was just so stupid! Maybe she could only answer him one way this time.

She weaved her fingers through his long hair, in a flash pulling his face down toward hers. In return, she got a nervous smile. So she pressed her lips strongly against his, feeling him smile through their kiss.

And that time, she was pretty damn sure he understood her answer.


A/N: Aw, that's the end. Hope you guys enjoyed, please review! And to those on my Ning community, I'm posting some Christmas pictures soon, you can all feel free to post pictures of what you got too or whatever!

Much love,

-FP