Morality (the final reason)
theme - all the reasons were a lie
When it all comes down to it, Zelos is never going to be like Lloyd.
Why? Well, maybe it's because Lloyd's so naturally idealistic, whereas Zelos knows he'll never be able to shake off the deep cynicism he once considered healthy. And maybe it's because Lloyd isn't afraid to be himself, and is loved by everyone for it, whereas Zelos has spent years hiding behind a mask that earns him nothing but scorn... and now he's too scared to come out and show himself again. Maybe it's really, mainly, because of the way Lloyd has always been surrounded by people he can depend on, and who depends on him in turn, something Zelos has never known. Maybe it's because of that that Zelos turned out this way: quick to judge, slow to trust, unwilling to open up to anyone. And maybe that's why he's the only one who can do this.
It's like walking through a dream. Zelos sees himself leading the group into the Tower of Salvation once more. He hears, as if from a distance, their Phews and What now?s. He feels himself step forward and hears himself say: Leave it to me, and it's like second nature to ignore their confusion: this is a perfectly rehearsed act, even if he's never actually rehearsed it, and it comes to him so naturally that it's almost painful. He calls Colette over, frowning internally behind his easy, confident smile, takes her arm, pulls her a little closer...
And that's when, for the rest of the party at least, everything falls apart.
Raine's face is shocked: she knows immediately what's happened. Sheena's is a mix of disbelief and growing fury; Genis's is taken aback; Regal's combines betrayal and anger. Presea, ever the emotionless one, has a look of startled surprise on her face. Colette, next to him, is wide-eyed and scared.
But though his eyes only flicker over the rest of them, they can't help but freeze on Lloyd. The young swordsman's expression is one of confusion, surprise, and anxiety. It almost seems to say, What are you doing? or I trusted you, or most of all, Please tell me there's an explanation for this! Zelos's eyes close, a reflex to protect him against the look on his friend's face, and he grits his teeth and turns to the Desian Grand Cardinal, Pronyma. The carefree look never once leaves his face - keep smiling, don't let them see how you feel, don't show weakness, don't lose the mask...
He listens to their outbursts, their accusation and pleas, with a stony face. There was a time when it all would have rolled right off him like water, a time when Zelos wouldn't have given a damn about the hurt and betrayal emanating from his companions. There was a time when he could have walked right off, whistling, with a smirk on his face and left them to comfort themselves.
There's one important difference between this time and what would have happened that time.
This time, Zelos isn't just in it for himself. This time, he's in it for his friends (can he really call them that, even after all that's happened? Yes, he can.) He's in it for the sake of the two worlds and everyone who lives in them, and he's in it for Lloyd's sake too, and Colette's and Sheena's and Regal's and Presea's and Raine's, and Genis's as well, and even Kratos. He's in it because, for once in his life, he wants to do the right thing, no matter what the cost. Even if the cost is all of their trust.
How could you?
I always knew you were a pervert, but I never doubted you were a good person!
You hate your status as Chosen so much that you would betray your friends?
I still trust you, you hear me?!
Zelos ignores their words coldly, not releasing his grip on Colette. Just a little while and then he'll be gone with Pronyma... He can get the Aionis and apologize to everyone... and especially Lloyd...
...wait, what was that last one...?
Lloyd. Of course... Lloyd would never believe anything bad of his friends. And for a moment, Zelos is sure things will work out all right, after all, and he turns to leave with Pronyma, when he sees a flash out of the corner of his eye and barely moves in time to deflect a blow from... Lloyd's swords?
And Zelos realizes, right then, what part of the equation he'd evaluated wrong.
Because even though Lloyd trusts his friends completely, and even though he's the last person to believe anything wrong of them... There's one thing about him that overrides all that.
Lloyd is a fiercely moral person. And even he can force himself to accept the fact that Zelos is a traitor (it all adds up, he even saw Zelos's wings the night before...) and do something about it before it's too late.
Zelos looks down at him, and for a moment, his face falters at the completely and utterly betrayed expression on Lloyd's face.
Then the mask is back up, and he knocks Lloyd away, teleporting off with Pronyma and Colette.
Maybe Zelos was wrong about everything. Or maybe he was just right in the most horribly wrong way possible. All the numerous reasons why Lloyd made such a difference in him turned out to also be reasons why Zelos could never be like him. And maybe (and this is the most painful one), maybe the reason he didn't notice is because he's been lying to himself all along. Zelos knows that he wanted to believe he could become like Lloyd... and the fact is, he never will. They're just... too different.
And despite this, or maybe because of it, the mask is back up and stronger than ever when Zelos appears, always the dashing hero, to save the day. He grins as if he's already been forgiven, fights against Yggdrasill like he's one of them, but doesn't meet Lloyd's eyes at all when he hands him the Aionis. And it's not until late that night, at the inn in Heimdall, that he realizes the story isn't over yet.
Zelos can't bring himself to go talk to Lloyd - keep running, run fast and your problems can't catch you - but Lloyd finds him and, quietly, coaxes him out of bed and out into the warm Heimdall night, where lamps and fireflies are the only source of brightness. They sit, and for a while they don't talk... until Zelos begins to apologize.
He doesn't finish, because quite suddenly, he finds himself in Lloyd's arms, chin against the younger man's shoulder.
And - and here's the most surprising thing - Lloyd whispers that it's all right, that he knew Zelos would never betray them, but also that he doesn't want Zelos to ever do something like that again because he loves him and it's too painful and please tell us next time, we can work it out, I know it...
And Zelos sits there in silence, letting Lloyd support his weight, wondering what happened... what went right.
Because Lloyd knows to always do the right thing, no matter how painful it is - attacking someone you considered a friend... or coming to them afterwards and saying you forgive them. And that's something Zelos still has to learn... and he's not sure he ever will.
Maybe he's been lying to himself the whole time. Maybe everything he thought he'd learned, all the ways he'd thought he changed... maybe Zelos really hadn't changed at all.
But now, he knows that that's okay. Because sometimes, whether they're lies you tell yourself or lies you tell to protect others, it's okay to lie. Even when it's not, if you search hard enough, there's always a way to make things right again. And sometimes, it's only by sorting through the lies you've told that you can figure out what the truth of the matter really is.
Because Zelos knows, at this moment, that he's found something true. It doesn't matter whether he knows what it is, but he knows that for once in his life, he's happy to be alive, and he knows that there are others who feel the same way. And he realizes that maybe what he did wasn't all bad after all... and he thinks, maybe, he'll make better choices in the future.
And whatever all of this means, Zelos knows, somehow, that things have turned out how they're meant to be.
And Lloyd still has to fight Kratos, and the worlds still need to be reunited, and nothing is really over, but they're both happy, for this moment.
And, just for now, Zelos knows he can lie to himself and pretend this moment, right now, is how it ends.
But he's told enough lies... and the truth is, right now, what they both need more than anything is a good night's sleep for tomorrow.
And they walk to Lloyd's room, he tells himself that the only reason they're sleeping in the same bed is so he doesn't wake anyone up walking to his own room.
Little lies like that never hurt anyone, after all.