AN: And here it is, after months and months: a new chapter! Now. Was it worth the wait? Well. Probably not! But we shall pretend it is. XD


He wasn't hearing the doctor's words right. That had to be it. There was no way he'd heard those grave words correctly, no way that solemn look on Amelia's face could really be what Lloyd was seeing. That... that isn't... that...

The brunet gave a blink of his watery eyes, followed by another. He proceeded this with a slow shake of his head. "What... what do you mean there's no cure?" he fought to voice these words, his jaw clenching harshly to keep back the fresh tears from spilling from his eyes. "What does... what does that mean?" It was a stupid question and he knew it. It meant just what the doctor had said: the poison flowing through his dear friend's veins had no cure. Zelos was going to die.

"Now, dear. Don't go getting ahead of yourself. Give the doc a chance to explain," Amelia's soft voice sounded, yet those words were barely even noticed by the increasingly distraught teen. "Lloyd, child. Come on now," again she tried, only mildly succeeding in drawing the brunet's attention her way.

"... What else... is there to say? If it can't be fixed... then he's gonna die," he choked out, his blurred gaze dropping from the kindly woman's face, drawing back to the gasping, feverish man he sat beside of. Lloyd hadn't moved from his spot on the bed, not since breaking down into tears nearly a half an hour before. He simply sat on the edge of that small mattress, clutching a lifeless hand, his free hand gently caressing a damp cloth about that agonized, sweat stained face. How... how could Zelos not be okay? It made no sense, it was impossible. Zelos was invincible, Zelos was... was...

Zelos was going to die right before his eyes.

Silent tears slipped down the boy's face, his teeth gritting in pain—terrible pain ripping through his chest, his stomach, his very being. That steadily increasing sense of dread he had experienced throughout his vigil over his ailing friend had proven correct in the worst way possible. And it was unbearable. Utterly unbearable.

"That isn't necessarily true," the doctor's unaffected voice sounded, giving a faint clearing of his throat. "I'm not going to lie to you—this is the last thing I wanted to find. This makes things incredibly difficult, to say the very least," he continued, his voice still holding that flat, smooth demeanor.

"He's right, child. It's true. There is no known antidote to the toxin. But that doesn't mean it's over. The doc's too stubborn to just leave it at that," Amelia concurred, her voice both grim and determined. "You givin' in isn't gonna help a thing. So dry those eyes and listen up," she ordered, her tenor firm.

'Dry my eyes?' Somehow, the woman's words had the opposite effect intended, his body tensing at the fresh wave of anger and despair overwhelming his already frazzled mind. "You can stand there and say that all you want! You don't know a damn thing about it! Stop telling me what to feel. I... This is my best friend lying here! You expect me to just calmly sit here as you tell me you can't fix him?" he practically shouted, his boyish voice shaking. "I couldn't protect him, and now he's going to die! Don't tell me to 'dry my eyes!' I... I can't. I can't, dammit." Lloyd's words had gotten ahead of himself, so much so that they barely even registered to his ears. Everything was hazy, blurred by tears, anger, guilt... Pain. So much pain.

"You being unable to protect your friend is no excuse to take it out on Amelia. I suggest you calm yourself before you work yourself into a total frenzy," the white haired doctor calmly retorted, his arms lightly crossed about his chest. "Of course it's difficult. She's not asking for you to just brush all feeling aside. She's merely requesting you not to give into that emotion. Stop being childish," he flatly chastised, his expression as blank as his voice.

Lloyd visibly flinched at those harsh—yet utterly toneless—words, his lower lip giving a small quiver at the fresh surge of guilt tearing through his chest. He lowered his head, squeezing his eyelids tightly closed. The man was right: he was being childish. So very childish. Yet how else was he supposed to react? How could he... how could he handle losing Zelos permanently? It was enough to make the boy sick. "... 'm sorry..." was all he could manage, his grip on Zelos' hand tightening. I'm... I'm so sorry, Zel. I'm...

"Doc. Don't be so harsh. He's upset. You know what it feels like, so don't go hurtin' the boy more than he already is," Amelia softly stated, her voice holding a faint disapproving tint. "Don't pay those words any mind, child. You don't need to worry over that," she gently added, taking a step closer to the brunet. She then placed a hand on that lowered head, brushing strands of wayward hair in a matronly, comforting manor. "It's okay to be upset. You just don't give in, dear. Don't give in, that's all I meant," she soothed, her voice slow, as if speaking to a child.

Lloyd could find no words to speak to this, hell could barely decipher those consolations through his haze of grief. Instead, he merely gave a weak nod. Don't give in... don't... He released a soft, silent sob, his head lowering more-so. It seemed an impossible endeavor. "He... has a little sister. She needs to be here," he haltingly stated, his voice hoarse. "You can... arrange that, right?" he murmured, his voice sounding strained, foreign even. Were those words escaping his shivering lips even his own? Lloyd wasn't so sure.

"Of course we can, dear," the elderly nurse assured, continuing to lightly stroke a hand through the distressed teen's long, spiky hair. "But right now you need to take some breaths. You're shaking something fierce," she noted, her voice holding a tint of concern. "You need to breathe, child."

Breathe? It hurt to breathe. His chest so tight, his stomach churning more and more with each passing second. Was he shaking? He wasn't even sure. All Lloyd knew was that hand held in his own was so warm, so damp and lifeless.

... It was too much. His stomach lurched, a muffled gag escaping his shivering lips. Zelos couldn't die—he couldn't.

"Come on, dear."

Firm hands held his shoulders, and he blindly stood, allowing that elderly woman to briskly direct him to a nearby basin connected to the wall. He barely could contain the bile rising in his throat, and not a moment too soon his head was lowered into that porcelain sink. He retched, watching apathetically through teary eyes as vomit flowed freely into the basin. He gagged, choking up another mouthful of vomit, spitting into the basin. It hurt—everything hurt.

"There you go. You'll feel better once you let it all out, child," Amelia soothed, a warm hand gently caressing the ill teen's quaking back.

He wasn't so sure about that. Even once he had nothing left to vomit, after every last bit of his stomach's contents was expelled, he couldn't stop the tears dripping down his cheeks. "Zel... Zelos..." He lowered his head to the edge of the sink, pressing his forehead against that cool porcelain. "He can't die. I... need him, Amelia," he whispered, his voice rough from vomiting, and from the ever growing tightness in his chest.

"I know that. He knows it too, right? That's why you can't go givin' in. Think about what he would say. Tell me. What would he say?" Amelia questioned, soothingly massaging the teen's shoulders. "Tell me about him, child."

"Tell... you?" Where would he even begin? How could he adequately describe just how amazing Zelos Wilder really was? Not that stupid mask, not the 'Idiot Chosen.' The real Zelos Wilder. His companion, his best friend, his... his most important person. It was impossible. Impossible to describe the beauty of Zelos' genuine smile—so soft, weary and beautiful. And his real voice? Not that chirping, purposefully grating tone, no. The real Zelos Wilder's voice was quiet, thoughtful, solemn even. And he... I'm... probably the only one who even notices. Even knows just how sad and lonely he is, how... Lloyd opened his watery eyes with this thought, realization fully setting in.

Zelos needed Lloyd, just as Lloyd needed Zelos.

"He... he's amazing and an idiot, all at the same time. He'd tell me it's okay to let him go, and that's exactly why I'm not gonna." Lloyd released a long, shuddering sigh, slowly drawing his head up from the basin, running a hand about his tear-filled eyes. "I need him. And he... he needs me. So that's why I'm not giving up. I'm never giving up. So... What are we doing? You said it wasn't over. What are we going to do to save him?" he firmly inquired—as firm as he could manage, anyway. His stomach was still swimming, his chest tight and his body shaking. He couldn't give into that pain, however. Lloyd couldn't give up on Zelos, not now. Not ever.

"Now that's more like it," Amelia gently replied, a soft smile on her lips. "I knew you were a fighter—and that fighter in you will keep your friend fighting too," she added, her voice taking on a confident tenor once more—whether it was genuine or merely for Lloyd's sake, well. He wasn't sure. He'd take the comfort in it, regardless.

"Drink this. It should calm your stomach," the doctor's voice captured the young brunet's attention, and with a blink, Lloyd realized the white haired man now stood before him, a small glass of clear liquid held out towards him. "It's nothing sedative, if you're worried about that," he added, his voice flat, still showing no sign of emotion whatsoever.

"O-oh. Uh, yeah. Thanks," the boy quietly replied, taking the glass into a shaking hand. He stared down at the liquid, his stomach lurching at the thought of consuming the medicine. Not so... sure about this...

"It'll help. Just drink it," the doctor's toneless voice again sounded, and the man turned away, stepping back towards his critically ill and injured patient. "The sooner you calm yourself, the sooner we'll continue our discussion. Or you could hover over the basin instead, if you like."

Lloyd gave a small nod of his head at the man's seemingly uncaring words, then tipped the glass to his lips, drinking down the contents. The medicine was hardly pleasant tasting—a faint grimace flickering across his boyish face—yet he managed to keep it down. Ugh... If it would settle his swimming stomach? It was more than worth it.

"Alright, child. Let's sit yourself back down," Amelia calmly remarked, a thin hand moving to take the empty medicine glass from the teen's hand. "You up to walking on your own?" she then inquired, her kindly eyes traversing Lloyd's frame, obviously in search of any apparent signs of weakness.

"Yeah... yeah, I'm okay." Maybe 'okay' wasn't the best word, but Lloyd was certainly up to walking. His legs were shaking, his head throbbing and his chest tight, but that... that wouldn't stop anytime soon. It wasn't a real illness of any sort—it was worse than that. The worry and dread were nearly unbearable.

Snap out of it. Lloyd gritted his teeth with this self-admonition, taking unsteady steps back towards his suffering companion's bedside. He'd already wasted enough time; he needed to refocus on what could be done—no matter how little that may be.

The brunet settled himself on the edge of Zelos' bed, his hand immediately reaching for one of his friend's. That moist, lifeless hand... Lloyd swallowed hard at the fresh surge of fear-induced nausea nearly overwhelming him. "So. What do we do?" he inquired, his voice hoarse, and his brown gaze locked on that agonized face. What... what can we do, Zel? What can we do to... to save you?

"Well. One of the largest obstacles we face is the unpredictable nature of the toxin. The effects on the body can be numerous. Predicting, let alone treating the symptoms that will surface is going to be no easy task," the white haired man explained, his words matter-of-fact. "There is no known cure, as I said. However, that does not mean it's impossible to survive. The toxin eventually breaks down within the system—it's a matter of keeping the patient alive until then."

Lloyd shuddered at the man's words, at the unaffected, matter-of-fact manner of his statements, yet he gave no comment. Instead, he ran those words through his mind, struggling to comprehend their meaning. "So... what you're saying is..."

"If we can treat the effects of the toxin until it breaks down and leaves his system, he may survive. That's far easier said than accomplished. This will be difficult. And costly," the doctor interjected, his arms crossing about his chest in a casual manner.

"You really think money matters at this point? Would you just get to the damn point?" Lloyd retorted, though he was unable to force much irritation into his hoarse voice. He was too focused on Zelos' uneven breaths and flushed face.

"Now, now. Calm down child," Amelia softly remarked, casting the boy a reassuring smile. "Keep calm, remember?"

"... Yeah." It was another of those 'easier said than done' things about the situation, but Lloyd would try his hardest. Still... it wasn't easy when faced with the doctor's continued unfeeling attitude. Does he... does he even care? Somehow, Lloyd wasn't so sure. "So the point?"

"The point is there are experimental medications that can be administered to quicken the breakdown, but it comes with a price. The effects of the drugs alone can put additional stress on the body. It's a gamble." With this said, the man gave a sigh, his narrow eyes focused solely on Zelos' pained face. "It's a necessary gamble, however. With his extensive injuries, there is little chance his body will be able to survive the full life of the toxin. We need to quicken the breakdown of it as much as possible."

Lloyd gave a faint nod of his head at this, his heart racing painfully fast against his ribcage. "So... you can give him these medicines? You have them?" he haltingly inquired, his throat so very tight with dread it was hard to voice his thoughts.

"I'm in contact with members of my former research team in Sybak," the doctor replied, his lips twitching into a slight frown. "It shouldn't take very long for the medicines to be made. It's a rare cocktail of drugs, but they're experienced with it. By morning we'll have them," he added, his arms uncrossing, a hand raising to fiddle with his glasses in an almost uneasy motion.

Wait... did he say research team? What the heck did that mean? Lloyd slowly pulled his focus away from Zelos' damp face, instead directing a questioning look the doctor's way. "Research team? Why would a doctor in Flanoir have a team in Sybak?" he curiously questioned, his expression thoughtful.

"Oh, now you know our ole doc. He's been a little bit of everywhere over the years," Amelia quickly answered, taking a step closer to the man in question, giving an affectionate tap to his white-clothed shoulder. "Ain't that right, doc?" she inquired, her voice seeming to soften a bit.

"... That's one way to look at it," the bespectacled man murmured, pulling away from that affectionate touch, turning his back on both Lloyd and Amelia. "As of now, we're running on a timeline of at least seventy-two hours. Once the medicines are administered... we'll go from there. Prepare yourself. This will not be easy. Your friend is going to suffer, and you won't be able to do a thing about it. So be prepared, Lloyd," the white haired man quietly added, his voice grave.

Lloyd's chest constricted terribly at the man's warning, his brown eyes growing watery. "I'm... I'm ready," he forced the reply from his lips, his voice shaking, yet still resolute. He was ready. He had to be. For Zelos? He... he had to be.

"Are you? I wonder." The white haired doctor gave a slight shrug of his shoulders, turning back to face his patient and the young boy by his side. "We'll see."

"Doc—" Amelia began, a frown on her lips, only to be cut off by the man she addressed.

"Don't, Amelia. Just... don't." The doctor's voice was utterly toneless, his expression blank.

"Ah... sorry. Was just—"

"I said don't."

That was harsh, wasn't it? Treating his supposed friend so shortly? Was the doctor really that unfeeling? Sure, he was used to the man being a smug, confident jerk, but this? Maybe if Lloyd could focus on something other than Zelos' gasping breaths, his lifeless hand clutched in his own... Maybe he could better read the man's strangely blank mannerisms. But at the moment? He didn't have the energy to force himself to focus too heavily on the doctor or his strange attitude. All he knew was this man was the only hope Zelos had for survival. It's... it's okay, Zel. He might be a jerk, but he... he's gonna keep you alive.

"So... these symptoms? The things that can happen to Zel? What are we watching for?" Lloyd softly inquired, his free hand moving to cautiously stroke his companion's flushed cheek, his touch gentle, hopefully soothing.

"I think the better question is what not to watch for. This is an unpredictable monster, I assure you. We need to be alert. One minute of carelessness is all it takes," he explained, his voice still holding that utterly unaffected tone.

Lloyd wasn't sure which sent the most chills racing up his spine—the man's words, or his calm, unfeeling voice. He was starting to wish for the doctor to return to that cocky asshole he was familiar with. This? This was totally unfamiliar to the brunet, and more than a little unnerving. He's acting so weird. Does that mean he... he doesn't think he can fix Zel? Or is he... Debating it wasn't gonna help anything. As frightening as it was, there really was little the brunet could do at this point. So instead of question the man, he focused his full attention back to the situation at hand—the toxin and its effects.

"You... you act like you know a lot about this stuff. Have you... have you ever treated it before?" Lloyd broke the silence he had fallen into, his voice tight, his hand continuing to cautiously caress that flushed, pained face of his companion.

"Of course," came the bespectacled man's simple response, his words holding a faint pointed tenor, as if the answer to the teen's question should have been obvious.

Lloyd nodded his head at this, another question forming in the back of his mind—a terrifying question he was afraid to ask. Did... did you... He released a shaking breath, his focus turning to the doctor, meeting his cold eyes. "Did you save them?" he forced the inquiry from his frowning lips, a harsh shiver washing over his body. He was afraid to hear the man's response, yet he had a distinct feeling he already knew the answer. I'm wrong, I'm...

"No. No, I didn't." For the first time in awhile, the white haired man's voice shifted, his words softening.

Lloyd's stomach flipped at the man's answer—not that he was the least bit surprised. He had fully expected that reply. Maybe not the tone, but the response? He... he had somehow known. Damn it. Damn it, Zel...

"It's gonna be different this time. I won't forgive you if it isn't." Lloyd's voice was tight, yet his gaze determined. "You're gonna save him. I know it," he said, casting the man a faint, shivering smile.

"Hm. Is that so." The doctor tilted his head a bit to the side at this, his lips twitching into a semblance of that familiar smirk. "We'll see, won't we."

"He's right, doc. This time's going to be different," Amelia concurred, her own lips set in a soft smile. "This is a new day, doc."

"How naïve." The man gave a slight shrug of his shoulders, his focus abruptly dropping to his patient, to his heaving chest. "Let's hope that crystal of yours is enough to keep up your stamina," he quietly stated, his words obviously directed to Zelos.

Lloyd blinked, his focus also drawing to his companion, to the cruxis-crystal attached to his chest. Would the power of that crystal—Zelos' angelic powers—be enough of an edge? And... did the doctor even know the true nature of the stone? "That's... that's not just a normal ex-"

"You think I don't know? I'm not stupid," the man scoffed, not even allowing the Sylvarant teen to finish his sentence. "He's the Chosen. Of course it's a Cruxis Crystal. I wouldn't be surprised if your attackers targeted him just for this fact alone." He released a sigh with this, a hand moving up to adjust his glasses. "Whatever the case, it's possible the crystal may play a part in your friend's recovery. We will see."

Targeted Zelos? But that didn't make any sense. The bandits were after exspheres, right? Then why-... "Oh goddess." If they had known... known 'the Chosen' was traveling with Lloyd, known that Lloyd was in search of exspheres, then... I led Zelos right into a trap... didn't I. His shoulders slumped, his focus lowering to the hand resting in his own.

"It's merely a hypothesis. It could be nothing more than bad luck on your part, but it is still a possibility. Even now, there are more than a few that would like to see Tethe'alla's Chosen dead," the man evenly remarked, as if speaking about something simple. Like the weather.

"Those bastards!" Lloyd gave a violent shake of his head, a few fresh tears spilling from his eyes at this abrupt motion. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that even now, with the worlds merged, with no need to burden Zelos with the title of Chosen, even then, he... he still had to suffer because of that title forced upon him. Whether it was an outright assassination attempt, or an attempt to rob him of his crystal... Either case meant that his Chosen status was responsible. It... It wasn't fair. Zelos... Zelos, I'm so sorry...

"Save your anger for another time. It can come later. For now, focus on your friend, not his attackers," the doctor smoothly interjected into the boy's dark thoughts. He turned, apparently heading back towards the various medical instruments lined up on his desk. "We have too much work to do. Anger will only prove to be a distraction. Trust me."

Amelia gave a nod of her head, then a soft clearing of her throat. "Right now isn't a time for anger, child. It's..." she began, yet paused, her expression uncertain. This look slowly morphed into one of certainty, and she stepped forward, placing a thin hand gently upon Lloyd's shoulder. "Right now isn't time for hate. It's a time to give your friend—not the Chosen, but your friend—all the love he deserves. You give him that love, child," she softly stated, her words quiet, yet firm. "You focus on giving him that love of yours."

... Love? Lloyd slowly raised his head to meet the elderly woman's astute gaze, his lips set in a deep, unsure frown. "Love," he murmured aloud, carefully taking in the woman's certain expression. Was she suggesting what he thought?

It wasn't like he didn't know, after all. Deep down? He had known for some time. Of course it was love. Of course he knew how very much that suffering young man meant to him, how much his heart ached and how much he, he... No, it wasn't that he didn't know perfectly well what Zelos Wilder meant to him. It was just... was it that obvious to the elderly woman?

Judging by her knowing expression? Apparently so.

"I... love him so much, Amelia," he whispered, his focus dropping to the angel, to that damp, pained face. Amelia had seen right through to the heart of the matter, and really, now that he thought about it... why should he be surprised? Amelia was both matronly and sharp; he had a feeling not much got by her. Heh, of course she'd figure it out. Not that he had been exactly subtle about it, anyway.

"Of course you do, child. Now don't go telling me. Tell him." With this said, the elderly woman released a soft, bittersweet laugh, gently patting the brunet's shoulder. "Go on. You've waited long enough."

She was right. He he had waited too long, had never told the man, and now? Now...

Lloyd slowly moved closer to his suffering companion, close enough so he could lightly rest his forehead against Zelos'. Just as he had before, when he had lost himself in his misery and guilt. This time however... this time he wasn't going to apologize to Zelos. No, this time he had something important to say.

So rest close against the man he did, his tear-blurred gaze set on that face—that beautiful face. He simply stayed like this for some time, both hands placed against the redhead's flushed cheeks. "Zel?" he finally whispered, his thumbs lightly stroking the man's cheekbones. "Zel, I've been... a real chicken," he softly confessed, his watery eyes leaking a few fresh tears—those tears pelting Zelos' cheeks. "But when you wake up? I'm gonna tell you something. And... I don't know what you'll think about it, but... but I want you to know. I want you to know, Zel." He again paused, his voice cracking and his breaths quickening at the tightness present in his chest. It was hard, so hard to express his feelings to Zelos—even with the man dying before him. "I want you to know how much... how much I love you, Zelos."

He had said it. Said it aloud for the room to hear... for Zelos to hear. The feelings springing forth from his confession were a mixture of contentment, pain, fear... too many emotions to describe. It hurt and felt so damn right, all at the same time.

"So... wake up for me, Zel. Wake up so I can tell you... tell you I... love you." With these words, he closed his eyes, biting down on his lower-lip to fight off the fresh wave of grief crashing upon him. What if he never woke up? What if Zelos died, never knowing? What if... What if I never get to... what if...

"I hate to break up such a touching moment, but if you'll let me through, I need to get another blood sample," the doctor's smooth voice cut in, and Lloyd started, pulling his head from Zelos. He rubbed harshly at his teary eyes, then slowly stood on shaking legs, his focus never leaving his most important person.

"S-sorry. Go ahead." His voice sounded foreign to his own ears. Everything but Zelos' face was so far away.

"He heard you, I'm sure," Amelia softly said, her hand gently placed on his arm.

All he could do was nod; nod and hope with all his heart the kindly woman was right. Even if he wasn't sure what Zelos' reaction to those three words would be, he still... Lloyd desperately wanted the ailing redhead to know. He wanted Zelos to know.

So he would have to keep believing. Believe in the doctor's abilities, Zelos' strength, in... in his own resolve. He would believe. Believe until those beautiful blue eyes opened, until...

Zelos let out a soft, pained sound, and Lloyd moved to sit on the chair next to the bed, taking the man's hand into his own. He watched as the doctor drew blood from Zelos' limp arm, watched as Zelos' chest rose and fell in sharp bursts, watched it all with a deep, twitching frown. He wouldn't stop believing. No. Not until Zelos woke and heard his words.


AN: And there you have it. Will Zelos really be able to pull through? Will Lloyd ever get to see Zelos open his eyes and hear his words? Hmmm. Not looking too great for our favorite couple, now is it. Hmm, hmm. Well. Until next time~.