He had always been there..

I've seen it all. I've done it all. And I've…DONE…it all. But if there's one thing I had never expected, it was him:

Lloyd Irving.
I myself couldn't quite put my finger on what it was about this sixteen-year-old aspiring-hero boy, that was so profound. He would walk in a room, and everyone would feel at ease. He would open his mouth, and a wise guru would speak from it. He would wield his blades, and an infinitely victorious warrior would—

Ah, screw the cheese. My name's Zelos Wilder. The Chosen of Tethe'alla. An arrogant, unhelpful, spoiled-- …but this story isn't about me. It's about him. Lloyd: The hopeless Sylvaranti boy, working at constant for peace and love among…just about everything. If you don't know the guy—well, you're missing out.

I remember when I first met the kid. Just…the look he wore on his face. It was like, he could see right into your heart, and no matter what kind of low-life dirt was in it, he accepted you. Kind of a funny thing to assume about someone, just cause of the way their big brown eyes shone, or their baby face turned up into the most genuine, adorable smile or—

*cough*

Well, point is, it was a funny thing to notice about someone first-thing: how he could see into people's hearts—but I took note of that. I remember the terror I felt. It was like, this kid…this brat kid I didn't even know…could see past my façade. He could see my real thoughts, my real feelings. Everything I've stuffed under my Chosen Duties and hidden behind brainless concubines and undeserved riches. He just knew me.

No one knew me.

Not even my own sister knew me.

But… somehow…

He knew me.

I joined his group reluctantly, but as the time went by, and the adventures grew more great, (…and more fatal…) I knew there was something there.

I, the "Great Zelos", was becoming attached.
This thought was, quite frankly, scary. The last thing I'd ever been attached to had been ripped from my helpless, little-kid hands.
…mother.

But, hey, that's another story! This one is Lloyd's. As told by Zelos, the man everyone thought all along, to be oblivious and uncaring. (Psst. Guess what, guys. I noticed. And I cared. Surprise.)

So I was becoming attached: To the group. The adventures. And more than anything…

…to him.

I remember when we'd team up, jus me an' my Bud, for watch duty, keeping each other awake all through the night to keep watch for any creatures (or Desians) that might ambush our camp. Actual attacks rarely happened during the night, but we had world peace at stake—there was no being "too careful". So we'd stay up, while the others slept around the campfire.
Once, he pointed out the constellations to me. Same ones as in Tethe'alla, ironically, just with different names.
I asked him to name them.

"I…can't," he mumbled, looking uncomfortable.

"Awh…Why not?" I asked, brushing a firefly away.

"…I always fell asleep during Astrology."

Damn, that kid could make me laugh. And usually, he'd only begin laughing along, because he was so clueless about why I was laughing at him. I loved his obliviousness. His innocence. Just from listening to him ramble, (not even necessarily one of his profound hope-inspiring pep-talks) I would feel like…I dunno…pure? Wholesome? Not at all like the stuck-up, whore-clad celebrity that I was expected to be when I was anywhere else but with him.

With Lloyd, I was never… "The Great Zelos" or "The Chosen of Tethe'alla". I was just…Zelos. Not a supreme, or a savior, or a master. Just…a friend.

The air was easier to breathe next to Bud. And around him, I would actually—believe it or not—stop to appreciate being able to breathe it.

This kid…this sheltered peasant kid…had peeled my eyes open. I'd taped them shut so long ago and for so long, for the sake of the loss of the past, and the gain of the duties of a Chosen. But now, Lloyd was teaching me that, no matter how shabby or full of regret, your past is a part of you. You don't have to necessarily wear it on your sleeve. But you gotta keep it with you.

At one point, I nearly got myself killed with my scheme to pretend to side with the bad guys, so as to get inside the base and help the others from within. Getting killed…woulda been a worthwhile sacrifice, but…Things went as planned, and I had been able to pick up the scattered tem members and bring them back--just in time--to Lloyd for the final battle. I remember how speechless everyone was at the fact that I had used my brains (yes, they are in fact existent) to make it LOOK like betraying them, when I was in fact, betraying the bad dudes, Cruxis. And the looks on their faces when I'd pulled out a pair of wings..? Hah. Funny how that works, huh?

So, the rest of the group wouldn't really talk to me after that. Maybe they were upset with me. Maybe they were ashamed of themselves. Whatever the case was, the only one who really said much to me was Lloyd. When I offered to go pick up supplies for our next big battle, the kid volunteered to come with.

Not much was said at first, except for going over the list of which gels and equipment we needed. We walked together in the hushed atmosphere, both unwilling to say too much. After we bought everything we needed, we began back for the camp, miles from the city we'd gone to for the supplies.

We stopped for a break halfway back. We set down our backpacks, and sat in the short grass, grabbing whatever spare food there was in the rucksacks and nibbling absentmindedly on it.

"Man…" Lloyd muttered, obviously in his own little world.
I smiled, "Hn?"
"It must be incredible…being an angel…flying around…free and weightless."

"…?" that was random, I thought, "Heh. Wishin ya had wings of yer own, huh Bud?"

The brunette laughed, his chin tilting downwards in embarrassment. He scratched at the back of his head, "Well…don't YOU enjoy having them?"
"Ah right…you know about that now. Hmm. I suppose it's not too shabby…"

"…"
I watched the kid go silent. He was obviously thinking pretty deeply about something.

"How about this:" I piped up to keep him from overthinking, and becoming upset, "I TEACH you to fly."
His eyes widened in both disbelief and excitement, "What? Y-you could really do that? But—"

"Sure thing. I'll show you. Stand up here," I beckoned him towards a big boulder next to our picnic spot.
I guided him to it, and helped him up onto the big chunk of rock. He swayed a little, then gained his balance, letting go of my shoulders.

"Now," I continued, fighting a smirk at the determined look on his face, "hold your arms out like this--"

He copied me in holding both arms straight out to each side.

"—and close your eyes."
He eyed me suspiciously for a moment, then let his eyes slip shut.

"Now…Lloyd. Pull out your wings."
He grinned, knowing it was impossible, but playing along with the game.

"And then, feel the air around you. Let it move around to, supporting you. It should carry you. It should guide you. Y'can't leave it all to the wings."

The teen's face was scrunched up into a concentrated grimace. I laughed heartily, feeling lighter myself, and adding, "—but don't hurt yourself! Just…relax."

Lloyd's expression melted into one of bliss, only a small trace of a scowl left on his tough-ish-but-baby-face features. His shoulders slid downwards and he took a big breath. Then, slowly, he turned his head up towards the periwinkle sky, and a soft smile brushed over his lips.
"I…think I'm doing it, Zelos…"

"Nnh. Yep. You got it, kiddo. Just, keep your eyes closed, and your arms out, and—"

"UWAAA~"

Before I could comprehend squat, the kid slipped off the rock and pummeled me, knocking us both onto the stiff ground.

It took a minute to take everything in. I was on my back, staring up at the clouds in the sky. And the weight of a sixteen-year-old hero-boy was pinning me down onto the dirt and grass. I paused, looking down at him, his head was pressed into my shoulder. He pulled up slightly, groaning.
And big, surprised puppy eyes looked up into mine.
I looked back, just as surprised. I waited for him to make some sort of remark, or roll off of me quickly, apologizing. But instead—

--he burst into laughter.
His face turned up into this ridiculously amused smile, and he laughed, loud, his hands clinging on tighter to my arms.
I couldn't help it. I broke into laughter as well.
Woulda been a helluva sight to anyone else.

"I-I fell!" he called between fits of hysteric giggles, "I don't think I'm cut out for this flying stuff!"

I couldn't stop myself. I reached up and brushed the hair from his face.

He raised an eyebrow at me confusedly, his laughter ceasing, and his face going light pink, "Zelos…wh-what're you doing?"

"Helping you fly…"

He paused.

Then he smiled.

Lloyd and I would talk. It was always casual and relaxed, but it was deep. I talked a lot to everyone in general, but it was usually lip-flappings that only resulted in getting whapped over the head and called "Idiot Chosen". I didn't mind. I didn't really like opening up to people. But…then Lloyd would ask about things; he was curious, he wanted to know, he actually cared. To think…someone wanted to hear from the Chosen…to hear my honest opinions and the factors weighing me down in my life. No one ever wanted to listen to me before, unless they were in peril and needed the Chosen to come save the day.
"Chosen! What should we do about the slum situation?"
"Master! Lend us thus-and-such amount of money so we can forget to return it!"
"The Great Wilder! You must redeem our land and keep us from decline and bleh bleh bleh blehhhhhhhhh."

But Lloyd? Nah. Lloyd didn't want to hear from the Chosen. He wanted to hear from Zelos. From his friend. From me. The real me. And once I got started, it was like I couldn't stop. I told him everything. Everything about my past. About my present. And about the future expected of me. He listened perfectly.

"Wow…" he'd say when I was done, "That's tough, but…well…who says you have to let other people decide your future FOR you?"

"Hah! I'm the Chosen, Lloyd. I was kinda born with expectations and a stone-set future."

The brunette shook his head, then held out his hands, cupped to form a bowl-shape. He sat there like that, looking into his palms deeply. I watched, confused, waiting for whatever was gonna come next. Nothing happened. He looked up at me, topaz orbs gleaming, sending an intense gaze right through my eyes and into my heart.

"Here it is, Zelos." He said, pushing his bowl-shaped hands further towards me.

"……what is it?"

"Look inside."
I did. I looked into his empty hands.
Lloyd spoke up again, "What's in it, Zelos?" he asked, as if expecting me to know this game.
"…nothing…"

He nodded once more, closing his eyes and smiling softly, "Exactly. Because. This is your future. No one else can create it for you. You THINK people have decided it for you, but they don't have that power. Put it in what you want in it," he beckoned for me to do the same gesture was doing, "Hold out your hands. Yeah. Like that."
And he poured my new future into my hands.

So I'd gone through all this time with them…with him…becoming this whole new, better person. I had almost forgotten that the journey, not unlike the world, had to eventually come to an end.

It was no surprise, when the kid sprouted wings and flew into the sky, and used some crazy-arse spiritual sword to connect the two worlds and bring peace unto the universe for eternity. I mean…he was always so determined to find a way. And it was intricate, and exhausting. But he did. He found a way. And here he was, flying off, keeping every last promise he had ever made, while still ending up with his goal reached, AND creating a new world for all us undeserving low-lives to live in.
It was hard egging Colette on, "Go, Colette! Get up there with him, and save the stinkin' world already!" I watched her fly up to Lloyd, helping him balance as he teetered occasionally on his new wings. How I wanted to be the one up there with him, helping him grip the Eternal Sword of Fancy Fate and Good Deeds er whatever. But I knew it wasn't my turn. Not yet. It's not like I'd never see him again, right?

After that, things slowed down; the energy from our last battle sliding off our backs like sweat. I remember the sighs of relief. I remember the What-Nows. And more than anything else, I remember the Good-Byes. It was like…we all felt it. It had ended too soon. It couldn't possibly be over like that. Wasn't there some catch? Some side task we had to complete still? Something missing? Anything, we all would've given anything to keep us from parting ways like we knew we now had to.

Lloyd planned on going back to Iselia, his hometown, first. And from there? He'd embark on a world-wide hunt for exspheres; to collect them all and keep them from being used for raw power ever again. (I swear, that kid's job never ends. That's what you get when you make a job out of fighting for world peace.)
I, on the other hand, was bound to this land: Tethe'alla. I had to stay here in Meltokio. I'd sworn--and been born into--a contract of sorts, with these people.

Going back would be hard:

Gazing at the stars alone, waiting for a "Hey, Zelos..? How many d'you think there are out there?" that would never come.

Walking through the paved roads with unwanted hunnies tagging behind, and absentmindedly expecting: "TAG! YOU'RE IT!" then Bud running off too quickly and tripping down the stairs. (Knowing him, he'd lay there at the bottom of the stairs in laughter, despite the dirty looks noble-passer-bys would give him.)

There was so much I would miss about it. But going back to Meltokio was my duty. As a Chosen.

The day after our last battle came all too quickly. It was the day we'd all part ways. Everyone was packing in stern, stiff silence. It made me feel sickish, like the air pressure from the mood was suffocating me. I had to get out. I had to… I had… I had a turn I needed to use before everyone left.

Telling everyone I had an errand to run, I shuffled away from the campsite and off to find the Irving kid. The new hero of the world.

When I found him, he was sitting alone, at the peak of a secluded hill, looking out at the sunrise. The warm reddish light poured over the hill serenely, as if thanking him for making that new day possible. He looked older—mature…was it just the lighting? I approached cautiously, finding it suddenly very hard to breathe. I pushed a stray curl off my shoulders and went in for the kill.

"Kinda peaceful, isn't it?" I asked rhetorically, plopping down next to the teen.

He smiled, eyes still hazed over, "Yeah…"

"And it's all thanks to THIS kiddo!" I grinned, ruffling his spikey hair.

He laughed, but didn't bother to pull away. Unusual. Something was eating at him.

"…Yknow…Bud…" I began, wanting to help, "If it's any—"
"I'm glad."

I stopped, turning to him with a confused scowl, "Huh?"

"It's over. We did it right. I'm glad. You don't need to worry about anything. I really am glad."

Wow. Insightful guy. "Heh…if you say so."

We sat in the quiet and watched the orange sphere crawl up out from behind the mountains. It wasn't an awkward silence. Silences with him were never awkward. They were just…blissful.

"M'gonna miss ya, Bud," the words were sticky in my throat. Like molasses. I wanted to move, to make some smooth gesture to show him I was still me, but…I was frozen.

"I'll miss you too, Zelos." He turned to smile at me reassuringly. But. He seemed hesitant.

"…Alright, already. What's got you so worked up?"

He turned away, leaning forward against his knees, sighing. He knew I'd caught him.
"Zelos…" he paused, obviously scratching around for words, "I-if…" another pause, and a sigh, "The two worlds are one now. World Regeneration isn't exactly a necessity anymore, and… Well, if Tethe'alla didn't need it's Chosen too terribly… you could always come with me on my journey."

Something tugged at the corners of my lips. A smile. For once, it wasn't me forcing the smile onto my face. It was the smile forcing me to let it onto my face.

"I dunno--"

Before I could finish, the brunette's head snapped back in my direction, "I want you to teach me to fly!"

Unexpected surprise.

But a pleasant one, nonetheless.

"Ah right…you've got your wings now." I chuckled, turning away, "I'm not exactly an expert there either, kiddo."

"Then…we could help eachother..!" he stopped, looking down, "It'd be easier to get a hang of it, with someone else there to have your hand… I mean…You said so yourself: You'd help me fly. You said so…"

His pout melted my innards. Not fair.

I shook my head slowly, closing my eyes and smiling, "I…I can't come with you, kiddo."

"…"
"…But you knew that already."

"Yeah, I just…hoped maybe you'd change your mind."
I didn't know what to say. But I knew what I was thinking. It just kindof…slipped out:

"Yeah well…I love you."

I didn't see his reaction. And maybe I didn't want to. I was staring at the sun, that big orange ball of flaming inferno burning up the atmosphere around it. Thinking, maybe, maybe, I could jump into it, and it would swallow me, too.
Then it came:

"I love you too."

I felt my lungs tighten. Had I…heard that wrong? I turned to look at him. He was watching me, with a stern look on his face. Determined. He stood slowly, brushing himself off, and continuing:

"So don't go getting in any kinda bind while I'm gone." His eyes were piercing, aimed right at the mellow sunrise, "I don't wanna have to come back save your sorry butt."

I felt a smile tug at the corners of my mouth, "…See ya around, Bud."

He said nothing.
He turned.

He left.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and rested my arms on them, looking back to the sunrise. Yeah. We'd see each other again. We would.
Turning my eyes to the ground, I dragged my arms to my sides, resting them on the grass, extended as far from me as possible. My legs fell limp. The air swirled around the hill I was seated on. It was…serene. Part of me wanted to run after the kid. But the bigger part kept me on that hill.
Little did that boy know, when he'd been asking me all along for help, it was him who was the one helping me. I was the baby bird, and he was the guide, helping me all along, until today—

I had to take off, on my own wings. My new wings. The ones he'd given me. He was pushing me out of the nest. Once more, I was flying solo.
But something told me—

The wind told me—

Someday…

Someday we'd meet up again. Someday, he'd come back. It wasn't over. Not yet.
Cause…this kid, he was my real wings.
And everyone knows…you can't really fly without your wings.