Title: Undiscovered Countries
Fandom: Tales of Symphonia
Summary: Strangers in a strange land.
Pairing: Sheena/Lloyd/Zelos, sort of.
Rating: Hard R.
Author's Note: For Empatheia, on the occasion of her extremely belated birthday, because she is beautiful and I think she is awesomecakes. Much thanks to Ikustioa for the glorious beta, without which this fic would never have seen the light of day.
death(having lost)put on his universe
and yawned:it looks like rain
-- e. e. cummings
The world ended, just as planned. And then everything went wrong.
No. Not so much wrong as strange. Which is the least one would expect when the world as you know it comes to an end; but in a way it was worse than if everything had gone wrong, because you sort of kept on living just fine, but there were no more maps to help you, no more familiar landmarks, nothing to indicate that you hadn't gone completely crazy. Cut adrift, no mooring, no anchor, no way to know which way was which.
Zelos wasn't used to feeling crazy. He'd always been very sane and rational. Minimize pain. Maximize benefits. Sure, sometimes the softer side surfaced, but in general he gambled all his days on tomorrows, even though he never quite believed those tomorrows would come. Pick the winning side. Look out for number one. Don't rock the boat, don't stick your neck out, take what you can, give nothing back, as if the title of Chosen weren't a death sentence. As if his life were his own to live.
But hey. He'd always thought of himself as an optimist.
And then Lloyd came along, and it all went haywire.
In a rush of light, the World Tree arose, and the land stretched and heaved, reshaping itself into a place it has never been before. Now they are lost.
"I don't recognize anything," Genis whispers, though they can all hear him in the sudden and profound silence that follows the breaking and mending of an entire planet.
"There were mountains, over there..." Raine trails off, frowning in a direction where there are no mountains any more, her meticulous mind sliding along the strange contours of the earth, cataloguing the changes.
Regal sniffs the air and frowns, and Presea says nothing, like always.
And as for himself, he feels like he did the very first time he unleashed his wings and became a stranger in his own body. There is nothing familiar anywhere.
Well. Except one thing.
Sheena, standing next to him, draws a sharp breath. "Which... which way is home?" she breathes. She turns her eyes to him, the fallback, the one she used to lean on, until Lloyd passed by. "How will I find it?"
He reverts, finds comfort in being a pill. He smirks at her. "I told you you'd misplace your hidden village one of these days, babe."
She smacks him, and the world tilts a little back towards normal. But only a little, and not nearly enough.
He doesn't want to get all metaphorical, but Lloyd changes things. That he's changed the world, literally, is only one of the transformations he has wrought, and perhaps the easiest one to do.
Zelos knows he's different now, and it's not just the wings. It's the inside. It's the thoughts he sometimes thinks out of habit that don't feel right, that drift down from somewhere above but get caught on corners that weren't there before, or the slimy feelings that ooze up from some still-lingering shadow, searching for dark pits to hide in that have long since disappeared.
He doesn't always know how to be this different person, and he has to watch Lloyd from the corner of his eye to get it right, or at least to fake it enough that it makes no difference. It's hard, this business of cobbling together an acceptable soul out of the bits and pieces he has laying around, but he does the best he can with what he has.
After all, not even Lloyd can make someone brand new.
He doesn't want to get all metaphorical, but he's lost, inside and out, so when Lloyd and Colette don't return after a long while, it's all he can do not to lay down on the unfamiliar ground and not get up.
That's a lie. He almost does. He gets as far as buckling knees when he feels her hands on his arm. She leans on him, a little too heavy, just like she used to. He'd thought those days were long over.
"We should..." she trails off. "Do... something?"
"An inn," Raine cuts in, her voice clipped and businesslike. Trust Raine to always know what to do, even after the end of the world. "We should find an inn. We're all tired. Lloyd and Colette will be tired, too. We may find the same one, but either way, we need rest. Tomorrow can wait."
"Probably a wise choice," Regal agrees. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not in much condition to go looking for two people in a strange world."
"They must be by the tree," Genis cuts in.
"Yes, but that's very far away," Raine says, "and who knows how long they will stay there, or what direction they will go? No, I don't like the look of those clouds. We should find an inn,"
"Good idea," Zelos says, because it is a good idea, especially the bit about the clouds gathering on the horizon. The clouds are lost in an unfamiliar country, just as they are, and just as they are, the clouds are gathering together for comfort. There's just one flaw in Raine's plan. "Lead the way," he adds, with a bow.
Raine shoots him a hard look, a very professorial look. "We'll find a road and start walking," she says. "Zelos, would you like to scout ahead?"
He sighs, and heads out.
The storm chases them across the newly minted plains, and the first huge drops begin to fall just as they spot a roof in the distance. It's a small inn, but good enough, and its owners are shellshocked and wondering what to do about the fact that their tiny establishment has been relocated to a main road. They are Tethe'allan, but their eyes pass right over him, as if they don't recognize him, and he doesn't know what to do about that. It doesn't matter. The storm breaks just as they make it inside, and that's where they're going to sleep for the night.
He follows the rest of them upstairs. He trails Sheena, and he knows she thinks he's watching her ass, but really his eyes are trained on her hands, searching for the tell-tale shaking at the sound of thunder. But like so many other familiar things, it has disappeared.
Years ago he met her in front of the Elemental Research Laboratory, early one dark morning when the storms were rolling in and so was he, after another night gone on too long. He wouldn't have even noticed her if not for the sound of her breathing, and he finds her hyperventilating behind a tree, huddled up, her knees squeezed tight in her arms, her head pressed into the cave of her body, her shoulders heaving.
As he watches, another flash of lightning and roll of thunder echo in the sky, and a tiny keening sound escapes her. She looks abandoned, like a rose tossed aside on the cobblestones. Even though he's young, he knows there is only one thing to do with something so lovely so carelessly discarded: pick it up.
As he watches, another flash of lightning and roll of thunder echo in the sky, and a tiny keening sound escapes her. She looks abandoned, like a rose tossed aside on the cobblestones.
Even though he's young, he knows there is only one thing to do with something so lovely so carelessly discarded: pick it up.
"Hey, beautiful," he says.
"Hey, beautiful," he says as they pass each other in the hall on the way to the washroom. She hits him, an old familiar pattern that feels so out of place now he's not sure if it's a comfort or a curse.
She hates to be rescued, but there was no way for him to know that, so he introduces himself and climbs under her tree with her as the rain starts pouring down.
"So you won't be scared," he says. "I appreciate the thought, Chosen, but I just want to be alone," she insists. "I'm not scared of thunder!" But she is, and all he wants is to help her. "I'm scared of snow," he blurts, which he hadn't meant to say, because it was almost true. But she couldn't know that.
"So you won't be scared," he says.
"I appreciate the thought, Chosen, but I just want to be alone," she insists. "I'm not scared of thunder!"
But she is, and all he wants is to help her. "I'm scared of snow," he blurts, which he hadn't meant to say, because it was almost true.
But she couldn't know that.
"Don't tease me," she snaps, and he thinks, What's a little truth?
"So cold," he says, wringing out his hair, and because only a little truth is okay it comes out like a teasing whine. "So cold and fluffy!" "Fluffy? You've got to be kidding m--" "Just the thought of flurries--" he wiggles his fingers at her, "--gives me the heebies something awful. Oh no, I'm thinking of them! Hold me!" He pretends to cuddle up next to her and she squeals so loudly she doesn't even notice the next lightning strike, or hear the next roll of thunder.
"So cold," he says, wringing out his hair, and because only a little truth is okay it comes out like a teasing whine. "So cold and fluffy!"
"Fluffy? You've got to be kidding m--"
"Just the thought of flurries--" he wiggles his fingers at her, "--gives me the heebies something awful. Oh no, I'm thinking of them! Hold me!"
He pretends to cuddle up next to her and she squeals so loudly she doesn't even notice the next lightning strike, or hear the next roll of thunder.
"Stupid Chosen!" she cries as lightning dances through the clouds and her shaking subsides, just a bit.
Lightning, lost and lonely, darts down from the sky and kisses a new world. He wants to do the same, and he's just a little crazy when he sneaks into her room.
"I heard you were scared of thunder," he says.
"Sweet Martel!" she squeaks and sits straight up in bed, nearly knocking him in the nose. "What the hell are you doing in here, idiot?"
He shrugs. "Just wondered if you were all right," he says, and he uses his serious voice so she knows he is serious. And the funny thing is, once he sounds serious, he feels serious. This is serious.
She stares at him in the gloom, and the lightning flashes again outside her window. She casts her shadow back against him, and she looks the same, the same, the same as always, even though she isn't.
"I'm... all right," she says at last, and he knows she is, because she took the time to think about it. If she just didn't want to be rescued, she'd say it quick and forceful, an assertion she could make true just by her passion.
"Well," he says. "Good."
She keeps staring at him. The rain pounds on the roof above their heads.
"Is that really the reason you came in here?" she wonders.
"Yes," he says, and he uses his serious voice so she won't know he's only telling half the truth. He wants to reach out and touch her, but between them there are long silent years, are long dark thoughts he never found his way out of, are a hundred things unsaid and undone, and maybe he could have crossed the chasm of their unfinished time if it weren't for the ghost that also floats between them, who wears red and wields dual swords and it really is damnably inconvenient that he's still alive.
Everyone wanted something. "My brother is sick, and I can't afford medicine," or, "my mother wants me to make a good marriage, but all the men look at my sister," or, "I'm in love with a commoner." Things he could influence. Just his presence could change the world they moved in, make their lives a little easier. He wasn't any sort of great Chosen, who could move mountains, but maybe molehills were enough.
Or so he thought, until she danced into his life, twirling in her strange clothes, tossing her strange hair, forever just out of range of his help. They were very alike in that way. "I'm a summoner, but not a very good one," she would say. Or, "I'm not very popular in my village." Or, "I made a mistake, and now they're dead."
Or so he thought, until she danced into his life, twirling in her strange clothes, tossing her strange hair, forever just out of range of his help. They were very alike in that way.
"I'm a summoner, but not a very good one," she would say. Or, "I'm not very popular in my village."
Or, "I made a mistake, and now they're dead."
He could make her laugh, but he couldn't keep her from crying.
Lloyd made everything different, and Zelos knows he can't go back, even if he wanted to, and he doesn't, but sometimes there is comfort in those old familiar things that should be put behind you, once and for all. Or really, things that look old and familiar, but which underneath aren't really the same at all. She's changed, just as much as he has.
But he can't help but feel they aren't completely done yet, and if he has to choose between comfort and loneliness... well. He's no angel.
Something still has to be the same. Some thread must still connect them from that old life, that old world, and he can't move on to the next if it's still dangling free. What hasn't he done?
"Remember when I peeped on you in the shower?" he says.
She scowls. "I remember."
"That was an accident. Remember when I taught Corrine all those naughty words?"
He can't see very well, but he knows she's just rolled her eyes at him. "I remember that, too."
"That wasn't. Remember that night?"
She stiffens, and for all the rain and the wild sky, the room is curiously silent and bright.
A reversal. She's the one climbing through his window late one night, when winter came back as a ghost in the middle of spring, and there's snow all around. He always went south, in the winter, but now he's here, too soon, and he's burrowed into his bed, trying not to drown in it.
"I heard you were afraid of snow," she says, right next to his ear. He is immobile. He doesn't know what he's afraid of, anymore, just that he's scared all the time. "Zelos?" she says, and she's sitting there, beautiful and near enough to touch, but there is a weight on him so heavy he can't even lift a finger. He starts to laugh, and not because it's funny. She rocks back on her heels, and he can't stop laughing.
"I heard you were afraid of snow," she says, right next to his ear.
He is immobile. He doesn't know what he's afraid of, anymore, just that he's scared all the time.
"Zelos?" she says, and she's sitting there, beautiful and near enough to touch, but there is a weight on him so heavy he can't even lift a finger. He starts to laugh, and not because it's funny.
She rocks back on her heels, and he can't stop laughing.
"Fine!" she says, and she's out the window and across the snow, and he laughs until he can't breathe.
Yes. That night. The last time he saw her before Lloyd.
(Not before Lloyd did anything, just before Lloyd happened.)
He opens his mouth to apologize, and instead starts to laugh again. He can't help it. He's never been able to, especially when they mattered. He's ruining it again, he hasn't learned a thing, and she's going to--
Fingers find his face.
"I'm sorry," she says. "About back then, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have just--"
No, he thinks. I wanted to save you.
He can't bear it. He leans in and tries to kiss her, but he can only laugh until she puts her arms around his shaking shoulders and does it for him.
(Two helpless people can't make a whole. Sometimes you need a third to fill in the gaps.)
"Oh," he says, and makes a note to thank Lloyd later before she pulls him down onto the bed.
She's dark hair and dark eyes and dark space between her thighs, and he's nothing but dark thoughts a-jumble, and where they touch the body meets the mind.
Hard and hot he roams her landscape, which hasn't changed, and she sighs at his lips on her skin. Her fingers weave through his hair. He's living and dying against the hard planes of her shoulder as she lifts her legs and twines her thighs around his.
This is a grand moment. It will probably never be repeated, not without another apocalypse, and it's probably okay that way. He wants to give a speech about it, maybe talk about honor and friendship and saving the goddamn world together but she already knows it all, because someone else has said it for him, so he just drags his mouth over the shell of her ear and she writhes, her hips grinding against his, sending heady heat from his aching groin straight up his spine and through his brain. He cradles her face in his hands, kisses her again, teeth clicking, tongues tangling. He tries to taste her heart.
When she rolls him over and takes charge of the situation he almost says, "Oh boy!" and cracks a joke about summoning, but her hands, though hesitant and unpracticed, are on him and it's probably a good thing he can't form words. And when at last she slides over him, slick and aching, he can only speak in the language of the hot, wet dark and pull her to him. She rides him short and sharp, and he slips his hand between them, moving against her in tight quick circles, wondering if he can make her come before the next flash of lightning, and time ticks down, ticks down, and after a few moments of sudden revelations he just hopes she gets there first--
--and when she bears down, quakes and moans, he feels it all, and just in time lightning flares and he follows her into the new world beyond.