AN: Well. Here I am. Attempting fic again. Oh noes. That's never a good thing, neh? Alas, the idea wouldn't leave my head, so... Let's just see how this goes, neh?


Lloyd Irving couldn't sleep. Try as he might, the young man could not force his weary mind to shut down, could not halt the restless thoughts and the twinge of unease coursing through his aching, exhausted body. Nn... This is getting ridiculous... How many hours had he spent lying on his back, staring up at the dark ceiling? How many hours had he spent reliving the previous day's events in his fatigued mind? No matter how hard he tried, the brunette could not force away the images, the words, the... The...

--"...I'm fine, hunny..."--

Lloyd let out a deep, agitated breath, kicking the light, silky blanket off of his lean frame, sending the maroon fabric to the carpeted floor. "Damn it!" he murmured, slowly rising, pulling himself into a sitting position. I give up...

It wasn't that the bed was uncomfortable, as the large, plush mattress was more than adequate. It wasn't the silken sheets, wasn't the maroon blanket, wasn't the plush carpet, or expensive, fancy wallpaper. It wasn't the intricate floral pattern on the walls, wasn't the dark, high ceiling. It...

--"...Stop looking at me like that. It's nothing. I'm fine!"--

But it wasn't 'nothing.'

Far from it.

With another sigh, Lloyd stretched his lean, toned arms, a yawn escaping his chapped lips. Nothing, huh... I... The young brunette's thoughts trailed and he cast his blurred, weary gaze about the large, dark room. A guest bedroom at the one and only Wilder mansion, to be precise.

It was impressive. The room was large and cheery, with maroons and floral prints, with large, beautifully crafted window-panes and lavish, plush carpeting. It was expensive looking and impressive, just like any manor room should be, of course. Yet...

The room felt utterly suffocating.

Lloyd moved to slowly stand from the large, soft mattress, planting his bare feet on the thick, soft off-white carpet. I'm gonna go crazy if I don't get out of here, the young man thought, letting out a deep, agitated breath. Ugh. So with that thought, the brunette carefully made his way to the far side of the large, lushly decorated room, his brown gaze focused to the closed entrance/exit. He wasn't sure exactly where the hell he was going to go in the middle of the night, but... Anywhere has got to be better than this.

The lean, toned swordsman reached out his bare right hand towards the crystal knob on the wooden door, the exsphere encrusted in his flesh faintly glimmering at the motion. He... Damn it, he was worried about the guy. Lloyd paused, a deep frown on his lips as he tightened his grip on the crystal knob, his brown eyes focusing to the thick carpet at his bare feet.

Zelos. He'd been acting off the entire day, and it had all started with a bizarre statement made by one of those obnoxious fangirls of the Chosen.

I... Should have... Never suggested we stop in Meltokio...

Yet, how was the brunette supposed to know that a young woman's odd remark would send his flamboyant companion into... Into a strange lapse of silence. And Zelos, being quiet? That wasn't a good sign. The guy never knew when to give it a rest, after all.

Zelos... Lloyd shook his head, turning the knob held in his hand, gently pulling the door open. He stepped out into the dark hallway, carefully closing the door behind him. I... I really should... The spiky haired teen's thoughts trailed, his gaze focusing about the long passage, noting the ornate wall designs, the rich carpet. Zelos' room was directly across from his own, this he knew. I...

--"Oh, Chosen, your hair is getting so long. It's so beautiful!"-- A squealing, obnoxious voice had rung out in the crowded, bustling square of the Noble's Quarter, and the girl had without warning latched herself onto the redhead with a bat of long, shimmering eyelashes...

Lloyd had seriously wanted to point out to the annoying girl that Zelos wasn't the "Chosen" anymore,--well, technically he still was in title, yet that really wasn't the point,-- but had bit his tongue on that one. Besides, the flamboyant redhead had already started up with that flirty, fake smile of his, and he...

-- "Hahaha, well thank you, hunny. But, really, now. The beautiful one here is you."-- Typical Zelos. That grating, lecherous mask he worked so hard to maintain... Nothing out of the ordinary there. No, it wasn't until the girl opened her mouth once more that things took an unexpected turn.

Lloyd took an uncertain step into the dimly lit hall, unable to force away the memory of the look that had so briefly played across the former Chosen's pale face. That brief crack in his carefully placed mask...

--"...You haven't cut it once since you took the title of Chosen, isn't that right? That's sooo cool of you..."--

For a moment, it was as if the redhead had simply frozen. His smile faded, and in that moment... The mask was gone. His eyes utterly blank, his expression so... So...

--"Hah... Hah, hah... Well, you know, a Chosen has to keep a certain image, right, hunny?"-- And it was back. Just like that, the smile, the lecherous, confident voice. As if it had never vanished to begin with. And the worst thing of all? Not one. One of the fangirls crowding about noticed his momentary slip. Not one.

Lloyd certainly had. And his companion had been eerily quiet since.

Sure. Zelos forced the smile, that cocky grin of his, but... It had been halfhearted at best. Those haphazard words that noble girl had tossed out... They had affected the young man. Not that the idiot would admit it.

--"Really, hunny. I'm fine! Just a little tired. How about we crash here tonight. Those exspheres can wait a day, right?"--

So that had been that. Brushing off all further attempts to discuss the matter, Zelos had led the way back to his immense manor.

...Which was exactly why Lloyd was standing in a dark hallway in the middle of the night. He should be sleeping, dreaming of pirates and sailing the seas or something. Instead? He was standing outside Zelos Wilder's door like some sort of creepy night-stalker.

Yeah. This isn't stupid or anything... He... He should probably go back to his room, give the damaged Chosen some space, but... Damn it. He couldn't get that look out of his mind. Those blue eyes had been so... Empty. A shudder coursed down the brunette's spine at this, and he let out an uneven breath, his focus set solely on his companion's closed door. I wonder... If he's asleep? Or....

What if the guy needed to talk? Or... Or banter? Or something? Anything to ease that empty look in his eyes, that...

Lloyd let out another frustrated breath, his decision made. What was the worst that could happen? An irritated glare or smartass remark sent his way at interrupting Zelos' precious beauty sleep? Besides. It wasn't like Lloyd to simply sit back and do nothing. Action was his strong point, right? Or something like that.

With a decisive step, he closed the distance between himself and that door, his lips set in a faint frown. He raised a hand, rapping his knuckles gently against the dark wood separating him from those empty aqua colored eyes. ...Come on, be up...

No response. Lloyd's frown deepened a bit at this, a wave of uncertainty washing over his fatigued thoughts. Maybe this wasn't such a swell idea, after all. If the troubled Chosen was really asleep, then... He isn't. I. I know he isn't. A sudden notion stronger than the unease overtook the twin swordsman, and he gave another knock on the door, this one louder. "Zelos? Are you awake?" he softly voiced, touching the cool crystal doorknob, identical to the one gracing the guest bedroom. "I'm coming in." It wasn't really a question, more of an announcement. He wasn't asking permission.

The door gave a faint creak as he twisted the knob, pressing it open. The brunette's weary eyes traversed the dimly lit room he had revealed, a bit of confusion flickering across his boyish features. "...Zelos?" The bed was empty, the comforter pristine and neat, the pillows plump. No sign that anyone had laid in it for even a moment.

Lloyd blinked his brown eyes, taking a cautious step into the dark room. The only light to be seen was a burned down candle flickering on a small table, the area cast in eerie shadow. Dancing, shifting shadows amidst generically extravagant furniture. Really, it was sort of strange. Zelos' room held no real defining features, nothing that made it truly unique from the rest of the just as lush guest rooms. It was almost a sort of melancholy feeling, looking at the dark shadows and empty room. Empty of expression, empty... Empty, just like those eyes. ...Zelos...

Well. Wherever the Tethe'allan 'Chosen' was, he certainly wasn't in his bed. Better not be in someone else's either... Lloyd found himself thinking, unsure as to exactly why this notion sent such a... Strange sensation over him. Frustration? Was that it? ...No. It went beyond that, and he knew it. Not that he was exactly sure how much beyond, but. Or perhaps he did, yet... ...I... Well. Lloyd did know that he spent far too many nights as of late lying awake, pondering that exasperatingly complex redhead. Exasperating, and... Lovable. What? No. That's not... Yeah. That was definitely the right word. ...Oh, man... He really shouldn't... Think so heavily on that. Not again.

Instead, the toned twin swordsman let out a particularly loud sigh, brushing stray strands of drooping, mussed hair away from his face. Now what? Should he go look for Zelos? Or... Forget it, I... Should just go back to bed, he halfheartedly thought, knowing this option was pretty much out of the question. He'd never get any rest until he was certain that Zelos... Zelos didn't have that look in his eyes again, that hollow, blank expression...

With one last glance about the dim, shadow-painted room, the young man started to turn, yet paused, his eyes catching a bit of movement in the darkness. Huh? What the... His thoughts trailed, and he took a step further into the room, his eyes pulling to the full length mirror on the far side of the large bed. "...Zelos?"

It seemed the Tethe'allan noble was in the room after all. Only... Lloyd moved to the opposite side of the bed, his eyes drawing to the floor. Zelos sat upon the plush carpet, leaning against the mattress, his blue eyes fixed ahead of him to the mirror a mere foot or two away. He hadn't even changed out of his clothes, his pink duster and long gloves visible in the dim light. Just how long had the man been sitting there? This whole time? Has he...

"Zelos." Lloyd's voice came out softer than he had intended, yet... That utterly expressionless face dimly lit by candlelight... It sent a chill throughout his lean frame. ...I was... Right, after all...

The redhead gave no real response for a moment, his eyes never drawing from his own reflection. He finally gave a slight motion of his hand, silently inviting the teen to sit beside him on the carpeted floor.

Lloyd wordlessly accepted the man's invitation, plopping rather gracelessly down beside the redhead. He scooted himself back a bit, resting against the mattress, all the while carefully watching that blank, unexpressive face. He... It was a mixed feeling as he gazed upon the unmasked face of Zelos Wilder. It wasn't often he was allowed to see that true expression. ...At least... He's not hiding it for once... And yet it still sent a pang straight through him. That painfully empty face...

"...Couldn't sleep, huh, hunny?" Zelos suddenly inquired, his voice soft, just as expressionless as his pale face.

The brunette sat in silence for a moment, contemplating how to answer that quiet inquiry. "I was worried about you," he admitted, his focus drawing to the Chosen's reflection in the mirror, to those hollow eyes. "I wanted to talk to you..." Lloyd let his words trail, attempting to gauge Zelos' reaction—if any—to his quiet admissions. ...I... I wanted to... Wanted to what? Make that hollow look fade, make the man's smile real? He...

A faint smile graced the Chosen's pink lips, and his aqua colored eyes slowly moved to Lloyd's reflection, meeting the boy's brown eyes. "...Should have known," he murmured, a melancholic tenor to his quiet words. "Never did get that," he added after a pause, the smile that had briefly overtaken his lips fading.

Lloyd frowned at the young man's ambiguous response, his head tilting to the side a bit in a questioning gesture. "Never did get what?" he gently inquired, carefully watching the true face of his companion. ...What's going on in that head of yours... he couldn't help but wonder,—not for the first time,--casting the redhead's reflection a small, unsure smile.

Zelos simply sat in silence for some time, and after a bit, Lloyd started to wonder if he was going to give any reply. The slender Chosen finally let out a sigh, however, his blue gaze moving away from the mirror, directing instead to the brunette sitting beside him. "Never got how you can take one look at me and see things no one else has ever noticed, or. Hell. Even bothered to try to see. And... Even weirder. You actually care. I really don't get you," he slowly stated, his words taking on a bitter tint of humor, another slight smile appearing on his pale face. "You don't make any sense."

Lloyd raised an eyebrow at the man's statements, a wry smile overtaking his own lips. "I'm the one who doesn't make sense?" he dryly remarked, turning himself a bit so that he was directly facing Zelos, fully meeting those empty aqua eyes. ...Zelos... It was a rare moment of truth. One of dropped masks, true expressions, and... "Of course I notice. It's kind of a best friend requirement. If I didn't, I'd be a pretty lousy friend, right?" he pointed out, his voice warm, his smile lopsided. How could I not notice? How could... How could anyone fail to notice that hollow, weary expression in those melancholy eyes? It was enough to make Lloyd vaguely ill. How... How could no one notice? It really made no sense.

"...Best friend, huh... You're such a dork," Zelos feebly remarked, a weak laugh escaping him as his gaze shifted back to the mirror before them. "...Kinda what I..." he started, however his words trailed, and the young man tightly closed his eyes, his head leaning back against the mattress.

"Kinda what you what?" Lloyd inquired, choosing to ignore the 'dork' comment for the moment. He'd file that one away for later. At the moment... He... Lloyd was far more concerned over those softly mumbled words, those tightly closed eyelids...

"...Kinda what I love about you." With these flatly stated words, the redhead let out a bitter laugh, his head pressing back against the mattress a little more firmly. "One of the many things, actually."

Love. There was that word. Lloyd's brown eyes widened at that abrupt confession, his heart skipping a beat. Or three. There was nothing but honesty in the Chosen's admission. ...Love... How... What was he supposed to say to that? What was he supposed to even think of those sudden, utterly emotionless words?

"Sorry, huh. Probably not exactly something you wanted to hear," Zelos went on to just as flatly remark, another of those hollow laughs escaping his frowning lips. "...That girl... Really screwed my head up more than I thought. Damn it," he added with a shaky sigh, the gloved hands resting at his sides tightly clenching.

...Love... Damn. Who was Lloyd kidding, anyway? Certainly not himself. Despite how little sense it made, despite the conflict it had brought about over the past few months, sleepless nights and... He knew. Had known for quite some time. Maybe even as far back as that night in Flanoir. Choosing to acknowledge it however was an entirely different story. "I..." the brunette started, yet his words faltered, and he frowned, struggling to make sense of his thoughts. I... Zelos had apologized. Apologized for... That. Actually that. Lloyd shook his head, a frustrated breath escaping him. Screw it. I'm tired of thinking about it. He was a man of action, right?

"Don't apologize, stupid! It isn't... Something to be sorry about," he finally managed, his words a little uncertain, yet he forced a confident smirk on his lips. "But. I guess you being an idiot is... Something I kind of... Love about you." And there it was. Love. Love for that Idiot Chosen and his antics, love for the true broken soul hidden beneath those fake smiles and carefully placed masks. Love. It was like a punch in the gut as realization slammed upon him. All this time... He truly loved the guy. Something he had known for quite awhile, deep down, but. Openly acknowledging it, even to himself? Not so much. It was... I'm an idiot. Sudden clarity. Total clarity. ...Idiot. Complete idiot...

"...You..." Zelos' sole, uneven word pulled the teen from his racing thoughts, the forced confident smile on his lips fading at that shaky sound to the redhead's voice. Zelos... Were those teardrops glistening in the candlelight? Faint wet streaks on that pale, shadowed face... "You really are... Such a damn bumpkin," the Tethe'allan Chosen murmured through a strangled laugh, his tightly closed eyelids jamming down even tighter as tears streaked his cheeks. "Hahah... So... Stupid..." he mumbled, raising a hand to his leaking eyes, pressing his palm against those wet eyelids.

"...Zelos..." Lloyd whispered, uncertainty tinting his boyish voice as he took in those silent tears. Zelos... Zelos was crying. This was almost as much of a shock to the brunette as the man's confession. It seemed... The mask was finally... Completely gone. Crumpled and broken, cast aside. This. This was the true face of Zelos Wilder.

"Yeah, so I'm a bumpkin. But you're an idiot, so it makes us even, right?" Lloyd finally found his voice, and he forced the gentle, teasing words from his frowning lips. "But I... It is true, you know. I just... Damn it," he murmured, his unsure words trailing. The teen cleared his throat, and then let out a shaky breath. What was he trying to say? Even he wasn't sure. "I..." Why wouldn't the words come?

The words to console that miserable, sad face, that broken young man that he... Cared so deeply for. ...Love... Love. The pained, sharp sensations in his heart, brought on by those teardrops, the...

Words, he wasn't so good at, but...

Unsure as to what the hell he was even doing, Lloyd drew closer, taking hold of the hand covering Zelos' eyes, drawing it away. His insides shaking, his heart racing, he gazed down on that pale, tear stained face. I... The brunette closed the distance between the two, gently pressing his lips against Zelos'. Soft, silky lips against his own chapped skin.... An awkward kiss, melting away all thought and reason, leaving behind nothing but the sensation of cool lips.

The Chosen was slow to react, but eventually the man's kiss matched his own, and he felt slender arms wrap about his neck, pulling Lloyd even closer. His heart pounding in his ears, all fatigue forgotten. All that was left? Those tears on the Chosen's face, his warm breath, the feel of his tongue sliding across Lloyd's lips...

All that was left was the one and only Zelos Wilder.

What seemed like hours couldn't have been more than a minute before Zelos slowly pulled away, and Lloyd forced open his eyelids, meeting those watery blue eyes. "...Zelos?" he inquired, his voice dazed, his breaths a little short. That... That was...

"...Hahah... Not so bad, huh..." was the redhead's murmured reply, his eyelids slipping closed, a bittersweet smile overtaking his wet lips. "...I..." It seemed the Chosen was unsure of what it was he wanted to say, so instead, the lean young man moved to rest his forehead against Lloyd's shoulder, gently wrapping his arms about the boy.

Lloyd's face felt fiery hot, and his breaths were still a little uneven, but he returned the embrace, pulling Zelos closer. "...Not so bad... At all," he whispered into the Chosen's ear. That... Was an understatement.

The two simply sat in silence for some time after that, Lloyd gently holding Zelos as the man silently cried into his shoulder. Soft, shuddering breaths, wet tears soaking through his short sleeved shirt... Those heartbreaking tears... "Zelos... It's okay..." he finally whispered, brushing a hand carefully through strands of red, wavy hair.

Lloyd wasn't entirely sure why the broken Chosen was crying, but he was content to simply hold the young man, to let him shed those tears. ...What that girl said... What about that.... Those words the noble girl had so carelessly stated. What about those words had led to such a breakdown? He wanted to ask, but at the moment... Somehow, the brunette had a feeling it was more important to let Zelos simply cry. "...It's okay..."

"It's really... Stupid, you know. I... Heh..." the Tethe'allan swordsman hesitantly whispered, his soft voice taking on an almost meek tenor. It was... A truly foreign sound to Lloyd. Heartbreakingly so.

"What are you talking about? You're upset. It's not stupid," Lloyd murmured in response, continuing to gently run a hand through the Chosen's silky hair. It was... Deep down, past the confusion and unease, it was... A motion he had longed to do for quite some time. To simply hold Zelos and let him... Let him be the real Zelos Wilder. To ease those hollow eyes and empty smile.

"Hahah.... My hair. My stupid fucking hair," the redhead remarked, a bitter laugh following those just as bitter words.

...His hair? Somehow, Lloyd really just... Didn't quite understand. He carefully pulled the slender Chosen back so that he could see the young man's face, meeting those teary eyes with his curious gaze. "What about your hair, Zelos?" he quietly inquired, touching a strand of red in a gentle gesture. She was... Talking about his hair...

"...She was right. I haven't cut it. Not once since. Heh..." Zelos started, only to have his words interrupted by another of those painfully hollow laughs, his teary gaze pulling away from Lloyd, moving instead to his reflection. "...Really long now, huh..."

The brunette gave a blink of his eyes in response to the Chosen's rather vague statements, still not quite getting it. "...You don't like it?" Lloyd questioned, his voice unsure. What about his hair could have possibly... Wait. He hadn't cut it once, since...

"...A Chosen has to keep a certain image, right?" the redhead hollowly parroted his response he had given to that clingy noble girl, only this time... His mask was nowhere in sight. "...Mom's hair... Was about this length... When she died. Only seemed fair that... If I killed her, I should... Carry on the tradition, right? I know it doesn't make sense," Zelos mumbled after a brief pause, his teary eyes locked on his shadowy reflection. "...I tried to... help her, get her off of me and hold her, but... My hands got tangled in it... Her hair was so long..." he whispered, his voice cracking. "It's stupid, right? It's so stupid..."

"...Zelos." It was the only initial reply Lloyd could manage. At some point during the so very broken Chosen's whispered confession, his own brown eyes had grown moist, a deep frown on his lips. "...It... It isn't stupid at all. There's nothing stupid about you... Other than the way... You want to blame yourself for something you couldn't control," the teen quietly replied, carefully watching that tear stained face. His mask. That long, silky hair was another piece to his carefully crafted persona. A persona of a carefree, conceited man, one with no mental scars, with...

That long hair was just another symbol of his past, the burdens weighing down on his shoulders. ...I never even... Thought of it like that... Until now. A new piece to the puzzle of Zelos Wilder had fallen into place, it seemed. "...It's not stupid," Lloyd murmured once more, gently running a hand through those long, red locks.

"I've thought about... Cutting it all off a thousand times... Never could do it... It... Reminds me too much... Of Mom, as weird as that is..." Zelos murmured, and with a small, wavering smirk, he cast his blue focus to the floor, reaching for something in the darkness. "See? Heh..." The redhead found what he was looking for, and he held the object up for his companion to see.

A pair of scissors faintly shimmering in the weak candlelight.

Cut it off, huh... Lloyd cast the redhead a small, tender smile, and he carefully took the scissors from Zelos, his brown gaze focusing to the instrument now in his hands. ...He... A determined expression flickered across the young man's boyish features, his brown eyes pulling back to the Chosen. "Let me see."

Zelos cast the boy a questioning look, his eyebrows furrowing a bit. "...See what?" he inquired, meeting the teen's resolute brown gaze.

"Your hair," the brunette firmly replied, giving his companion a small, confident smile. You may not be able to cut it, cut the past away, but... Zelos may not be able to cut that tie he had forced on himself, but... Lloyd could cut it for him.

The redhead looked thoughtful for a moment, but gave a nod, and he turned, granting the scissor-wielding teen better access to his long, wavy locks. "...Get rid of it?" It was a weary request, his voice soft, melancholy, his moist eyes closing.

In the dim light cast by the waning candlelight, Lloyd gently grasped those long locks with one hand, bringing the scissors close with his other. Snip. Snip. Snip. It took a few mere snips, and gone was that long hair, replaced with shorter, near shoulder-length locks. Lloyd cast a look to the long locks held in his hand, then focused his gaze back to the young man before him. "...You don't have to keep focusing on the past, Zelos. You've got a future now, too. Don't forget that," he gently stated, setting that handful of cut hair before them on the floor. "See?"

Zelos slowly opened his aqua colored eyes, his attention pulling to the mirror, to the short red hair framing his face. He simply stared at his reflection for a few moments before letting out a soft, bittersweet laugh. "...It's uneven, you idiot," he murmured, his voice holding a faint tint of amusement, his lips curving into a small, genuine smile.

Lloyd cast the redhead a smirk, his cheeks reddening just a bit at that smile on Zelos' lips. It... His real smile? Was... Well. He liked it. A lot. "I'm not finished. It just needs a little more work and then it'll look great," the teen retorted, his smirk widening. Even if Zelos' hair was a little on the uneven side at the moment, it... In Lloyd's eyes? It was... Pretty damn attractive. But not as much as that soft, weary smile.

"Who knew a bumpkin like you could cut hair, huh?" the Chosen weakly teased, his melancholy smile widening just a bit.

"Hey, we didn't have fancy people to cut our hair where I grew up, you know. You had to learn to make do," Lloyd pointed out with a feigned exasperated sigh, though his smile didn't wane, only grew.

"...Heh... My bumpkin hunny is not only a hero, but a hairstylist on the side? Who would have thought. Though I guess it does explain why your hair is so uneven and crazy, right?" Zelos playfully murmured, his teary eyes warm, despite that tint of emptiness, that tint of fatigue. The slender Chosen moved to rest his forehead on the teen's firm shoulder once more, wrapping his arms around the boy. "...You do realize you just hacked off hair that took almost all my life to grow out, right?" he dryly remarked, his hold on the brunette tightening.

Lloyd returned the man's embrace, his face warming, and he ran a hand through those now short, wispy locks framing his hidden face in a tender, teasing gesture. "...Well. I guess you'll just have to spend the rest of your life growing it out again, only this time you'll have to deal with me teasing you about it the entire time. How's that sound?" the Sylvarant teen quipped in response, his fingers caressing those freshly cut strands. "...And my hair is not uneven," he added as an afterthought, his smile widening, despite himself.

"...Yeah, that sounds good. As long as I get to hang around you and... Get on your nerves for the rest of my life," Zelos softly replied, his voice weary, his grip on the brunette tightening a bit.

"You got it."

"...You still have to fix my hair. It looks awful."

"I told you I'd fix it, geez."

"Sure, sure. I'm doomed to have awful hair like yours from now on..."

"H-hey!"

"...Heh..."

Lloyd shook his head at the all too familiar banter, his hand never stopping that gentle caressing motion through the Chosen's short red locks. ...I really do... It seemed more had been cut than Zelos' hair.

A clean cut from the past, a fresh cut for new beginnings, in more ways than one. "Your groupies aren't going to be too happy, are they," he murmured, a dark tint of humor in his brown gaze.

Though, in a warped sense, Lloyd should be feeling gratitude to one groupie in particular, shouldn't he? Those careless, haphazard words had finally been the breaking point for a new beginning.

A kiss.

A hug.

A cut to release a hollow young man from even a bit of pain from his past.

Yeah. Guess I do owe her that, at least. A begrudging thought, but true none the less.

"Well, luckily I can just blame my crazed, scissor-happy hunny here. You can take their wrath," Zelos' soft, teasing words pulled the boy from his thoughts, and he rolled his eyes. Oh. Great. And despite this, his smile only grew brighter. It was a 'wrath' he didn't mind taking. Not if it meant seeing the true face of Zelos Wilder more often. That soft, weary, lovable Zelos Wilder.

"Yeah, yeah. Blame it all on me."

"Of course."

Lloyd shook his head. Make that the annoying, loveable Zelos Wilder.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Epilogue~

Stepping out into the bright, sunlit Meltokio Noble's Quarter, Lloyd blinked his bleary eyes. He really hadn't gotten enough sleep. Yet, he really couldn't complain. Spending the night simply holding the Chosen, and of course, fixing his slightly lopsided hair, had been... Far more fulfilling than a few hours of sleep, that was for sure.

Still. Maybe he should reconsider that brilliant get an early start idea of his. Exspheres could have waited a few more hours... Besides, it had been so warm and comfortable curled up next to Zelos, and... Yeah. Lloyd was really starting to regret that 'early start' thing.

"What's the matter, hunny, tired?" a teasing voice drifted over the boy, and he cast his companion a bleary smirk. The mask was firmly in place once more, the young man's grin bright, his posture confident. It wasn't a surprise, after all. It's not like he's going to be able to put it away after one night, the teen thought, and he moved to pull on a strand of Zelos' short locks in a gentle, affectionate manner. "Yeah, thanks to you," he retorted, his voice dry.

"Oh sure, blame me. I can't help it if it took you all night to get my hair right," Zelos nonchalantly remarked, shrugging his broad shoulders in a blasé motion.

"...Only because you were so picky."

"Me? Picky? You hurt me. Seriously. So meaaan..."

Lloyd smiled at that familiar whimpering tone. Just another thing... He really loved about his idiot companion by his side.

"Waaah, Master Zelos, your hair!"
"Oh my! Master Zelos?"
"Oh no!"

...Unfortunately, Lloyd's amusement was dulled by the sudden shrill voices reverberating off of his eardrums. Well, he didn't have to look to know that the Chosen's group of fangirls was quickly approaching.

"Oh, hunnies! What do you think, hm? Pretty sexy, right?" Zelos' reply to the girls' flocking him was as bright and Chosen-like as ever, his smirk widening. "My favorite hunny did it, what do you think?" he added, his smile taking on... A faint devious tint.

...Why did Lloyd suddenly have a bad feeling about this?

"Whaaat?"
"Who? Who did this to our Master Zelos?"
"How awful!"

Yeah. Lloyd had a really bad feeling as Zelos without warning hugged onto his toned frame from behind, resting his chin on the boy's shoulder. ...You... Wouldn't.

"We make a cute couple, right?"

He totally would. Lloyd's cheeks erupted into flames, and he sputtered, struggling—and failing—to think of any coherent reply as he was faced with a group of livid noble girls drawing near.

"Y-you bastard!"

"Well, you said you'd take the blame, right, hunny?"

He really should have slept in.

~~Fin