Disclaimer: Don't own Tales of Symphonia.

Author's Note: The last chapter! (Finally) It feels like I've been writing this forever and at the same time for not long at all. Been watching and reading Memoirs of a Geisha lately—one of my favorite books and movies. If you get a chance to watch/read it, please do—and I have to rewrite Cinderella using cultural elements. My culture was the Celtics, a seriously fascinating culture. If anyone's got any info on them, please share!

I want to thank everyone who's kept up with this! I think you guys are all simply fantastical and I am willing to take requests, if anyone wants me to write something for them.

-/---///-----/////---

We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person. ~W. Somerset Maugham

---///----///

It takes longer than it should have to find Mizuho now that the worlds had been joined. It's as if the worlds had been squished together like lumps of clay, their features merging and creating new mountains and valleys. Zelos flies to the highest mountain he can find to try and find landmarks. He can see the Triet Desert over there and he'd passed by Flanoir, but beyond that, he's lost.

He finally finds Iselia, nestled away in its small corner of the world—he still stumbles over that word sometimes, he's become so used to saying the worlds, or Sylvarant and Tethe'alla—and finds Lloyd assisting, as Zelos knew he would be, with the rebuilding efforts from the fires that the Desians had started.

Lloyd smiles when he sees him and brushes off his gloved hands on his pants. "Hey, Zelos! What brings you all the way over here?"

It's a hard thing to ask because it's Lloyd and Zelos should have been the one who had this piece of information. "Has Sheena told you where Mizuho got moved to?" He attempts a smile and is sure that it comes out more as a grimace. "Mizuho is really living up to its ninja name; I can't find it and I've looked everywhere."
"I think it's near Sybak now, though Sheena told me that they're planning to move closer to the Tree so that they can help watch over it."

It makes sense to Zelos' mind and he wonders why he hadn't thought of Sybak first. Since Ozette had been destroyed, it was the closest town to Mizuho, so logically they'd be nearby. "Wasn't that Yuan's job?"

"It is, but Yuan said something about wanting to explore this new world. I think maybe he just wants to see if it's the same world that was there before Mithos…" It's still difficult to think about what had happened in Derris-Kharlan, still painful for Lloyd.

Zelos nodded. "Thanks, Lloyd." As he turns to walk away, Lloyd asks if he wants to join him for dinner at Dirk's house. "Nah, I'm good. I need to find Mizuho before tonight. It'll be too dark to find it later."

Lloyd smiled and said he understood. And he did. He knew that Zelos wanted to talk to Sheena, but if he didn't do it soon, he'd lose the nerve.

--//-------////-------------//////---------///

"You have a great deal of nerve to be coming back here so shamelessly.'

Zelos didn't need Orochi to tell him that and Orochi knows it. Orochi was standing by the village gate, as loyal a guard and right hand man as ever.

"You know why I'm here, Orochi," Zelos said, "And it's not to cause any trouble."

Orochi had been anticipating this visit after he'd heard from Sheena about what had happened towards the end of their jounrey and he knows that, more likely than not, it would not end well for either Zelos or Sheena.

"I meant no offense, Chosen--"

"There isn't a Chosen anymore." Zelos interrupts.

"I apologize. What else should I call you? I do not know you well enough to call you by your first name."

And Zelos didn't even know Orochi's real name and that thought instantly brings to mind the conversation on their way to the Lightning Temple. Violent Demonic Banshee. "I just want to talk to her."

Orochi observes the man before him. They had known each other before this whole mess began and he knows the look in the steely blue eyes. "I can see that there is no stopping you. Please, come with me."

Mizuho was more lively than Zelos had ever seen it. Crates of food were stacked up against the walls, piles of folded blankets beside them. They should have been planting the season's crops—strawberries, tomatoes and rice—but the fields were unsown. Mizuho wishes to move to Sylvarant. There was no longer a Sylvarant or a Tethe'alla. Moving was a matter of safety now, since too many people could possibly know Mizuho's location thanks to Kuchinawa.

Orochi slides open the screen door, but does not enter. "Chief! A visitor to see you."

Chief. How could Zelos have forgotten that she was the Chief now? Or had he simply not wanted to think about it?

"Bring them in, Orochi."

The Chief's hut was in much the same disarray as the rest of the village. Boxes were packed and clothing strewn about. The scrolls on the wall had been carefully folded up, the bookshelves empty of their contents.

And in the midst of it all was her. She'd put her hair up in a messy ponytail and she wore a yukata. Zelos hadn't often seen her in the light, summer robes that were decorated with pale blue flowers on a white background. Corrine's bell jingled from where it was tied to the dark blue obi.

Sheena looked up from packing to face the visitor. When she saw who it was, her face very quickly became an unfamiliar mask, her hazel eyes cool. "And what brings you all the way to Mizuho?"

Orochi quickly retreated from the room. He had no place in this conversation.

"An apology." Zelos said honestly.

"An apology that won't be accepted."

Pretending it didn't sting, Zelos then asked, "…And an explanation? Will that be accepted?"

Sheena crossed her arms across her stomach, shifting her weight to one leg. "Go ahead then. Let's hear your excuses."

Zelos wanted to reach for his dagger, wanted to feel its familiar weight rolling across his fingertips. But he hadn't brought it because he hadn't wanted Mizuho's huargs to perceive him as a threat. Not that he needed a weapon to be a threat. His magic was more than enough for most enemies these days.

"The only reason," Zelos caught the look on her face and amended himself. "Okay, the main reason why I did all that I did was because I wanted Seles to get out of that damned Abbey."

"So you're telling me that the whole not-being-the-Chosen thing had no appeal to you whatsoever?"

Zelos ducked his head, letting his hair fall forward so that he could hide behind it. It was the first time Sheena had ever seen him do that. "…It did. It was…more tempting than you can possibly know. You know I never asked for this, right. To be a Chosen. To be a member of high society. I…would have given anything to be able to live like everyone else."

Sheena did know that, had known it all. She'd known how much he'd hated it, had known how much he'd loved his sister and hated her being stuck in a place like the Southeast Abbey when she had done nothing to deserve it.

And Zelos had given anything—had given his loyalty, his friendship, his trust.

"Since when?" She asked.

His brow creased. "I thought I'd told you ab—"

"Not that." Sheena said. "Since when were you working with Cruxis? Was it like Pronyma said? From the very beginning?"

"Yes. Since before you guys came to Tethe'alla. Pronyma came to the mansion one afternoon and told me that there was a way to be released from the title of Chosen of Mana. And I agreed. It was the next day that I found out that Lloyd and everyone had come to Tethe'alla."

"…It was that easy, huh?"

Zelos' head snapped up to look at her, hands gripping the doorframe. Without a thought, his rage letting the magic flow, making the door explode. Sheena jumped and Zelos wanted to smile bitterly. He'd created a tight bubble shield around the door. He wouldn't do anything to physically hurt her. But that small explosion was enough to turn his temper from ice to fire, so he snapped the leash on it. "Damn you, but I thought you were dead, Sheena! I thought you'd been kidnapped or trapped in Sylvarant! I thought I'd never see you again!"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." She said icily.

Zelos' eyes narrowed. "You can be in denial all you want, but you know as well as I do that you can't kill someone in cold blood."

He was right. They both knew that Sheena hadn't been expected to succeed. "I had Lloyd deliver a letter to the King in my name! How could I have been dead?"

Zelos ran an agitated hand through his hair. "I—How do you expect me to explain it? All I knew was that you'd been gone for three months in an entirely different world and then these guys show up with a letter from you, but you're not there! I didn't know what to think!"

"You never do."
"…Will you tell me the reason that you won't accept my apology?"

"I've told you already. There's something you just don't do and betraying your friends is one of them!"

"You didn't seem to have that problem with Kratos, now did you?" Zelos snapped.

"He didn't go and kiss me before he betrayed us, now did he?"

Zelos stilled. "…Is that what you're angry about?"

"An understatement, but yes."

Zelos opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it once more to tentatively ask, "I'm sorry. Are you mad because I kissed you or because I betrayed you right afterwards?"

Sheena shook her head and uncrossed her arms. "I'm done, Zelos."

"What?"

"I'm asking you to leave. I won't ask again."

Zelos knew full well exactly how she could make him leave and none of those ways were painless. "…I see…Sayonara, Chief."

Sheena stiffened. She'd taught him that word years and years ago, right after they'd left Mizuho the first time they celebrated Celsius Day there. The villagers had been calling it out to them and he'd wondered what it meant. Sheena had never thought for an instant that he would actually still remember. It was a goodbye meant only for long trips or even forever.

"Sayonara…"

-//--///--////

"It's all because the Pope opened his big mouth and tried to banish me and stuff. The whole world got messed up!" Zelos doesn't think that the King deserves to know the real truth. Not yet.

"Chosen One, what would you have me do?"

"Send an emissary of peace to Iselia."

"Emissary? Who would you choose for such a job?"

"I would choose Sheena, Chief of Mizuho. She's already involved and Lloyd Irving trusts her. The emissary of death would become an emissary of peace…kina ironic, wouldn't ya say?"

"Ironic indeed. Very well, Chosen One." It was yet to be official, the abolishment of the Chosen status. But Zelos privately considered it a done deal and he couldn't wait for him to be free officially.

-//----////-------////-------/

In the past months, Zelos had gotten into the habit of coming late to the nobles' dinner parties. This time was no such exception, even if it was to celebrate the joining of the worlds. As he entered the dining hall, he instantly sought out Lloyd (How much had changed! Not six months ago, it would have been Sheena's company he searched for)

Lloyd was standing by the buffet table with a woman that Zelos didn't recognize. The woman was clearly from Mizuho because of the kimono. Lloyd smiled and called him over.

Zelos smirked at his friend. "You do clean up nice, don't you?"

Lloyd stuck out his tongue. His brown hair had been gelled back and was dressed in resplendent white with gold buttons, his swords absent from his sides. It's only now that Zelos turns to properly look at the woman does he recognize her.

He'd never before seen Sheena in a formal kimono.

The kimono was the gray of ashes, speckled below the waist with brilliant orange and gold dots that, when Zelos focused on them, turned out to be embroidered fireflies, set against a wash of pale purple mountains and silver-blue water. The charcoal black obi was stitched with gold and a familiar bell dangled from it. Her dark hair was pulled back in an elegant twist. There was no make-up of any kind on her face—not surprising since Sheena hated the stuff—but she was still the loveliest person Zelos could ever remember seeing.

"You're catching flies." She snapped, averting her eyes. She hated it when people stared at her.

Zelos smiled crookedly. That would have sounded friendly had it not been for the ice in her tone. "Sorry. I wasn't sure I recognized you, what with you looking like a proper lady and all." Zelos could have taken the comment further, but, knowing her as well as he did, he was sure that she had either daggers or her cards somewhere on her person. Maybe both.

"How long is this party supposed to go on for?" Lloyd asked, tugging uncomfortably at his collar.

"Definitely until midnight. Probably past it. We can stay the polite amount of time and leave."

"And how long is the polite amount of time?"

"An hour at least."

They sighed collectively. It was going to be a very long night.

Sheena is leaning against a wall, trying her very best to be unnoticed as she picks at her food and stays far away from the punch and the wine. She's only been drunk once—because she'd made the mistake of drinking the punch at a party much like this one—and she'd been throwing up half the night and Zelos had to hold back her hair.

"Do I need to say out loud who I think is responsible for the look on your face right now?" Raine is wearing a cream-colored dress that is tied at the neck. It's modestly cut and the only jewelry she wears is a small ring on a silver chain around her neck. She'd tamed her flyaway hair enough that it was in a bun. Somehow, it all makes her eyes seem much brighter and bigger.
Sheena eyes the ring. "Since when do you have that?" She can't ever remember seeing it during their journey.

"…It was in my mother's diary. Do you remember Exire?" How could Sheena forget? The Floating City had had a haunting beauty to it, its buildings weathered and aged beyond belief. The people there had been skittish. The second time they'd visited, Sheena had made a pact with Maxwell. "The elder there knew my mother. She was living in Exire. Lloyd, Genis and I found her. She…she's gone mad now, but the elder had her diary. Inside it was this ring. It was apparently my father's wedding ring."

Sheena hummed thoughtfully. There had seemed to be a lot of rings on their journey. The Sorcerer's Ring, Yuan's wedding ring…it was a lot more rings then there should have been.

"Now," Raine said, fixing her with a Teacher Glare. "You almost sidestepped my question."

"It's not his fault this time. I've always hated these parties."

"The latter I can believe. But if he hasn't done something to anger or annoy you, then why have you barely spoken a word to him all night?"

"He's too busy with his hunnies." Sheena said automatically, though she knew that this was a lie. Zelos had ignored almost every female here, save for Raine, Presea and Colette. He'd even done a spectacular job of pretending that Sheena didn't exist ever since he'd found her.

"Are you still angry at him?"

"He…he made me believe something of him that wasn't true."

"It wasn't true or are you afraid to believe it's true?"

Sheena glared at Raine. "Y'know, I think I liked these conversations more when you didn't have any advice."

"Sometimes you need to hear something, whether you want to or not." Raine tells her.

"Not tonight I don't." Sheena was really in no mood to discuss this. Especially not tonight at an event like this.

----//////----/------////-------///

"You fought with your Chosen." Orochi says, stacking one of the many boxes onto a caravan.

"One, he's not 'my' anything. And there is no Chosen status anymore." Sheena can't be more grateful, after all the things she'd seen on the journey.

"A response that neatly sidesteps the question. So you are fighting with him?"

"No. I'm not anything with him. I'll tell you what I told him—I'm done."

Orochi observes her carefully. She'd been practically his sister nearly for the entirety of both their lives. He's seen her at both weak and strong points of her life. But never has he seen her heartbroken until now. "…The look in your eyes tells me a different story than the lies upon your lips."

Sheena glances up at him as she passes him another crate. "You're one of the last ones I'd expect to be talking to me about this."

"…I do not wish to see a good thing die before it has the chance to grow." He said, taking the box.

Sheena stilled. "What good thing?"

"Your relationship with the Chosen, since you want me to spell it out for you." He lets a note of irritability creep into his voice. Orochi personally thinks that they're both being very stubborn. He knew that forgiveness for the betrayal was a slow thing coming, but it was something sure to happen. "I have told you before. You light up around him. He brings out…a different something inside of you."

"Were you going to say that he brought out the best in me?"

"I thought about it." Orochi confessed. "But then I thought about it and came to the conclusion that it wasn't quite the right wording."

"That entire 'relationship' as you call it, is a dead horse and I would greatly appreciate it if we could stop beating it."

"If you wish it so." Orochi hops off the back of the caravan. "I nearly forgot, but the King requested your presence."

Sheena frowned. "As the Chief?"

Orochi lifted his shoulders and let them fall. "He did not say."

She nodded. "Alright then. I'll head over there and try to get here in time so that I can help finish up with the move."

"Wasn't Lloyd supposed to help?" Orochi distinctly remembers that being part of the move.

Sheena laughed. "Now that I think about it, he is. He can help us unpack then. I'll send him a message from Meltokio."

"Yes, Chief."

-//----/////------///----//

The ivory keys felt odd beneath his fingertips. True, he'd hardly touched them ever since he'd started on his journey—had it truly been almost a year since then? The temperatures were cooling once more, the air crisp and the leaves once again changing their colors.

"Sebastian?" Zelos called.

The butler came out from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. There was a proper cook, but it seemed that the cook and Sebastian seemed to be getting friendlier and friendlier, though the cook was a large woman—not fat, just large and she didn't need magic to lift a fifty pound bag of flour with one hand.

"Yes, Master Zelos?"

"…You were married once…weren't you?"

Sebastian blinks. He can't ever seem to remember Zelos asking him for advice on romantic matters, which is where he's sure this conversation is going. "Yes, but this was almost ten years ago."

"And you guys…you had your fights?"

"Naturally."

"How did you get past the really bad ones?"

Sebastian remembers his wife, a lovely woman to be sure, though sassy and full of child-like mischief. They'd been young then, so young… "It would take some time, usually. We would sit and stew at each other, but it was as though we couldn't really stay away. We always seemed to make up when we were doing laundry. I would sort and she would fold, you see. She was always far better at it than I.'

"And how did…how did you know that she was…y'know, the right one? To marry and all?"

Sebastian smiles fondly. He remembers that day. She'd been from a lower noble family and her parents had naturally not approved. "I believe it was when she looked straight at her parents and said, 'Well I'm marrying him anyways." Zelos frowned, playing a few lonely notes. "Master Zelos, I believe that it is when they do something so simply extraordinary that you simply…know, I suppose."

"…Thanks, Sebastian."
Zelos sits there until long the sun is nothing but a red line on the horizon, the sky darkening to its lovely dark blues and speckled silvers.

"Is this the response of a former Chosen and one of the saviors of the world? To tuck his tail between his legs and hide in his lair when he doesn't wish to see the world?"

That familiar voice. That wonderful voice that still held its trace of a Mizuho accent, that sounded so melodic when it read aloud. He turned towards her.

Sheena stood leaning against the doorframe of the door leading to the gardens. She is as lovely as ever, but perhaps more so now. She's in street clothes. Not the purple haori that she'd worn during the journey, no kimono, formal or otherwise. Just a pair of black cotton breeches and a light blue tank top, a jacket thrown on as an afterthought. It had only recently begun to get cold enough to wear one after all. Her hair is in the messy ponytail it had always been in and Zelos can't quite read the twist of her lips.

"Wh—what are you doing here? How'd you get in?"

She gives him a look. "I know I'm not the most graceful of ninjas, but I can break into a house." Sheena pushed herself off of the doorframe. "Apparently, someone thought that I'd be a good peace emissary. Now who could that have been?"

"The King told you?"

Sheena tilted her head at him. "No, you did. Just now. The only part I can't seem to figure out is why."

Zelos didn't quite look at her, instead choosing to stare at a spot a little over her left shoulder. "You're the best person for the job. Like I said to the King, the people in Iselia know and trust you and you're already involved with all of this."

"Is that right?" Zelos scooted automatically so that Sheena had room to sit on the piano bench. "Thanks for asking me if I wanted the job."

"It's not so long a flight, especially now." He's right. Iselia is fairly close to the Tree. Or, Zelos thought it was. Now that they had the Rheiards and he had his own pair of wings, there wasn't much of a need to walk long distances like that anymore and his perception of distance had become a little skewed. "And you get to eat Dirk's cooking."

"He is an excellent cook." Sheena agreed absentmindedly. "And you can eat it too. I don't think you're banished from the house at dinnertime."

Zelos glances at her out of the corner of his eye. "I know. Lloyd offered the last time I was over there."

"When was that?" There's no suspicion in her voice. Only curiosity.

"…A little before I was in Mizuho last."

Neither of them appreciates the reminder of that fight. But Sheena says, "You owe me a door."

Zelos looks at her incredulously. "What?"

"You destroyed my door. You owe me a new one." But her lips are twitching with a smile and Zelos can't help but laugh. And certainly can't stop laughing because his Sheena is back. She may not have forgiven him yet and she might still be a little mad at him, but she's willing to go back to what they had and that has to be the best news he's heard in years.

-///----///---//--//

She tosses him his Celsius Day present from where she's seated on the floor by the armchair dubbed 'Yuan's'. They'd taken to celebrating it in Altamira, since Regal couldn't be away from work for too long with all the rebuilding efforts going on. And, the best part yet, it didn't snow in Altamira. It didn't even get cold, really. It was the same temperature here, in the midst of winter that it had been in Meltokio three months ago.

He unwraps the package—she'd wrapped it with newspaper comics, how very like her—and is surprised when his eyes meet the thick, warm blankets from Flanoir. So she had brought them with her.

Zelos had thought for a long time on what to give her and had come up blank almost every time. It shouldn't have been hard. They'd gotten each other Celsius Day gifts before. Finally, he'd settled on a book. He would've asked Raine for help had he not been so full of pride.

Sheena unwrapped her present and read the cover. Tales from Around the World. True, it was a Sylvaranti book and might not have all of, or any, of her favorites, but Sheena beamed at him just the same.

He's staring at the ceiling that night, hands behind his bed and unable to sleep. Maybe it was because winter had always equaled cold his entire life. Even when he'd spent the Celsius Day's with Sheena in Mizuho, it had still been cold. It simply hadn't snowed.

A knock comes at his door before a familiar head pokes out. "Oh good, you're awake."

Zelos sits up, still leaning on his hands. "Can't sleep?" He guessed and the look on her face is answer enough. "So why're you here?"

Sheena holds up the book as she pads across the room. "…Figured I could read to you."

"We'll trade off." Zelos bargains. After all, Sheena deserved to be read to sometimes too.

Sheena agrees and he moves back so that there's room for her on the bed as well. She sits with her knees raised and her back leaning on the footboard, Zelos with his legs stretched out opposite her.

The stories are ridiculous and heartbreaking, childish and almost (but not quite) grown up. Sheena hadn't really noticed the rhythm of Zelos' voice before, though she knew she'd been hearing it for years (whether she liked it or not). Zelos tries to do different voices for the different characters, but after Sheena nearly collapses from laughter, he decides to stop, though he pokes her in the ribs with his toe as payback.

-/----///-------//////

"What're you making?" Zelos asked, handing her her mug of coffee. From what he could see, it was a rectangular wooden board with four slim posts around it. Sheena had a roll of paper out and was painting something on it.

"A floating lantern. It's for a traditional festival in Mizuho. Everyone makes a lantern and we send it down the river and out to sea. They say that if someone finds your lantern while the candle inside is still burning, your wish will come true."

"Wish?"

"Yeah. You're supposed to write a wish down on a piece of paper and burn it with the candle in your lantern."

"So you're decorating your lantern?" Zelos can see the calligraphic characters for the Summon Spirits, their elements surrounding the character.

"Mmhmm." Sheena hesitates for a bare moment before holding out the brush to him. "You want to decorate it a little?"

Why not, he figures. Then he realizes that he doesn't know Mizuho characters. "Little help?" He asks and Sheena chuckles. She moves to stand behind him—he's ambidextrous where she's right-handed—and corrects his hold on the brush.

"You're holding it like a knife. It's a paintbrush." Her hands are too small to fit properly over his, but they succeed enough to guide him through the strokes. Zelos works hard to focus and pretend not to notice the tingling effect her palms have on his hand.

The character for Fire is four strokes and a dot. Zelos appraises it and says, "This ain't so hard."

Sheena laughs and it makes Zelos' arm shake as well as she hasn't removed her hand. "Let's see you do it on your own then." She says as she releases him.

Zelos mimics the same movements. His character is shakier, but still recognizable. Sheena congratulates him and asks if he'd like to come to the festival. He agrees immediately.

Sheena is dressed in a yukata, its pale purple flowers spiraling up her legs. Her hair is loose and drying and she returns his smirk with a half-playful glare. Luckily, Genis and Zelos had branched off some pieces of the river a few miles away so that it would feed the Tree. It had taken the better part of three days, but it had worked. The Tree had a steady supply of water and Mizuho, being almost next door, now had a stream that didn't need to so far to do their festival.

Yuan had decided to stop by as well. He hadn't brought a lantern and wore his old cape around his shoulders for it was still rather cool this early in spring. But he no longer wore his armor. Just a loose white tunic, black breeches and well-worn books. But he only greeted them and, when he thought no one was looking, released a small flame, hardly larger than the other flames dancing above the lanterns, and sent it down the river as well.

-//----////----////---///

She asks to see his wings one summer night.

Zelos stared at her, not quite sure what it was he was hearing. Was he still not entirely back from the film they'd just been watching? "Excuse me?"

Sheena bit her lip, but repeated the question anyways.

"Why?"

Sheena stuffs her hands in her pockets and doesn't meet his eyes. Zelos can imagine a hundred reasons for it and at the same time can't think why she would want to see the proof of his betrayal. "If you don't want to show me, that's fine. Just thought I'd ask."

It's more than that, he can tell. But sometime when he wasn't looking, she'd learned a new face. A face he hadn't learned to read yet. "I-I don't mind showing you, exactly…It's just that I can't seem to figure out why you'd want to see them."

"I think it's something I just need to see. Please?"

Zelos nods and shrugs his tank top up so that it's resting on his shoulders and exposing his back. There's a very faint, orange glow and her hand brushes over the few feathers that never quite disappear entirely. Zelos releases a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding and his wings spread, the orange glow strengthening. Zelos isn't sure about the other angels, but it never felt natural for his wings to be brought out. He always had to make it a conscious decision.

Her fingers are gentle on the feathers. "They're warm."

"They are basically solid mana."

Zelos isn't sure what it is she's looking for as her hands map out strange paths along the veins of the wings, stroking them from tip to base, tracing each feather. Sheena doesn't say a word as she switches to the other wing to repeat it all and the movement is the barest whisper of air over the skin of his back.

"Did you know," Sheena finally says, "That different colors mean different things?" Zelos glances over his shoulder at her, not quite sure where she was going with this. "It's like that for flowers. I wonder…I wonder if it's the same with wings."

"What're you talking about, darling?" The endearment slips from his lips without thought, but he hasn't called her that in nearly a year. Since Derris-Kharlan.

Sheena's fingers freeze for half a moment before they continue with their tracing. "…We were taught herbs and stuff back in Mizuho. The women are supposed to learn flower-arranging and different colors mean different things. Like pink…" Immediately, Colette jumps to his mind, her wings as bright as the sun. "It's supposed to represent gentility, femininity, elegance. When the flowers are pale, they mean grace though I suppose Colette kind of fails in that area, and gentleness, admiration and happiness."

Zelos thinks of what he knows of Colette, of all of the little details that he'd learned about her. She liked cucumbers and burnt toast, preferring iced coffee. The look in her eyes when she thought no one was looking. How fiercely she'd fought against Mithos… "…And orange? What does that mean?" Zelos asked quietly.

Her hands haven't stopped in their constant, soothing motions. "Orange is for enthusiasm. For desire and passion. For excitement. But y'know, your wings aren't only orange. There's some red and a little yellow in here too."

"Is that so?"

Sheena hums in affirmative. "Yellow means friendship and joy and caring."

"Such a happy color." He commented, trying to keep his heartbeat calm.

Sheena chuckled. "Yup. And do I really need to tell you what red means?" Instantly, his shoulders tense, his entire body rigid because red is the color of blood on white snow and traitors and— "Maybe I do need to tell you." Sheena can read his posture and knows his thoughts almost as though he'd spoken them aloud. "It's a little like orange. Enduring passion and the creative spirit of love as well as respect. And it represents love that can overcome and is stronger than thorns."

Zelos hears her words and his mind processes them, but it's difficult for him to understand. All he can see is bright red, brighter even than his hair and the roses that the woman down near the slums would sell. It was that red on the pure whiteness of snow and the feeling of suffocating and seeing empty empty eyes.

Sheena had known that the subject of his wings would lead to Zelos' mother. Unthinking, she glanced toward the portrait in the corner. Mylene Wilder had been a beautiful woman, to be sure. Strawberry blonde hair falling all down her back in a crimson dress. Zelos had her eyes.

Sheena moved from Zelos wings and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's in the past. You can't change it."

It's in the past. If I worry about the past, I'll be worse than a cripple.

But Zelos had always been better at hiding his fears than she was.

"Much as I'd like to believe you, darling…" He doesn't finish his sentence because he doesn't know exactly how to put his feelings into words. But Sheena nods. "I'll get some cocoa."

Because the first—and only time before now—that the subject of Mylene Wilder's death had come up, they'd been drinking hot cocoa because of the snow.

Zelos follows her into the kitchen, absentmindedly folding his wings and shrugging his shirt back down. Sheena moves around his kitchen as though it were hers, and in truth it practically was. She's melting the cooking chocolate in the pot when his arms circle around her waist, pulling her close and his nose is buried in her shoulder.

Instinctively, she stiffens, but his voice is a warm breath by her ear. "Just…let me hold you for a moment. Please."

Sheena is glad she doesn't have to force herself to relax and he kisses her cheek gratefully when she does. His hold loosens slowly as the smell of melting chocolate fills the kitchen.

-/-///---/////----////

They get word that Luin has officially finished its rebuilding process in early fall. Sheena sends word that she'll meet everyone there, that she had some business to finish up first. When she dismounts the Rheaird not far from the town, she can already see the difference.

The bridges have been fixed, sturdy and with rails on the side. There are cobblestones where once there was dirt paths, the buildings had been freshly painted, their inhabitants smiling and waving when they recognized her. She sees Genis standing near the bridge that led to the mayor's house, talking with Zelos.

When Zelos sees her, he grins and Sheena doesn't like the look of the grin. Genis turns and smiles at her almost apologetically, shrugging his still small shoulders. "What's that look for?" She asks warily.

Zelos' grin only widens and he points back towards the item shop. Following his finger's path, she sees what it was. An enormous statue of her. "…Am I having a nightmare?"

Zelos slings an arm around her shoulders. "Nope! If it was a nightmare, there'd be quiche and evil bunnies."

"Very true. Whose idea was it to put the statue up?"

"Statues." Genis corrects. "There's one of Raine and Lloyd too."

Zelos nods, a pout on his lips. "Can you believe they didn't think to make a statue of me?"

"Your ego doesn't need the boost. Where are the others now that you mention them? I thought I'd be the last one here."

"Raine, Regal and Lloyd are all talking to the mayor and Pietro. They wanted to thank them for all the donations that let them rebuild Luin. Colette has been talking with the item shop owner about that dog—Lucky I think his name was?—and Presea's been with the weapon smith and advising him about the folding of the steel or whatnot."

"How's the Academy?" Sheena asks. She knows that it was in Palmacosta and Palmacosta had been half decimated when the Giant Tree went berserk, but she could only assume that the Academy hadn't been wiped out.

"Not too bad. It still feels weird to be going to school one month and the next going with Raine to help her excavate some ruin that got uncovered when the worlds were joined."

Sheena laughed. That sounded like Raine. "And you can keep up with not going to school for a month?"

"Sometimes it gets a little hard, but for the most part I'm handling it."

"You are an incredible kid, Genis Sage.'

"Oh yeah, the kids have been asking after you."

Sheena stared at him. "What kids?"

"The ones from this town. They saw us and naturally wanted to know when you were getting here because they want to play hide and seek with you again."

Sheena smiled. "I'll go find them now."

She's jogging towards the fountain, the best place in the village to find the kids. Zelos can hear shrieks filling the air. A small pack of them dashed towards Sheena and threw themselves at her. Sheena only laughed and knelt to return their hugs.

"You'd think that we'd brought them up in a barn, wouldn't you?" A woman with a basket of sweet potatoes says to Zelos, who couldn't help watching. "Climbin' on her like she was a hobbyhorse. But then, they've always loved Sheena so much."

"She's easy to love." Zelos replied without thinking.

"Maybe for you." Lloyd said as he walked to join Zelos and Genis, one hand in his pocket, the other resting on the hilt of one of his swords. "I can think of a few monsters and offenders of the King's law that don't find her loveable at all."
Everyone shares a dinner of yams, smoked meats and spiced tea. They share stories as they sit against the fountain wall as they watch the sunset. It occurs to Sheena that this is the very place where she'd joined Lloyd and the others. Everything had been so different then. The town, the group and Sheena herself. Everything had been destroyed the last time she'd really walked through this town, and they'd all still been not really comfortable travelling with each other and she'd still been a cowardly failed summoner.

It's as everyone is getting up, stretching and yawning, to get to the inn before they all headed back to their respective towns that Sheena notices that Zelos is still staring around Luin.

"Something wrong?" She asks. In the last glimpses of the day's sun, she thinks that she can almost see his wings, precisely the same color as the sunset.

"No. I've actually been really okay today." He's stood up by now, but he's still leaning on the fountain. "You told me about how this town was destroyed, but now that I'm looking at it, it's almost like it never was destroyed."

"You seem rather…pensive…today."

"It's just that now that I'm looking at this place, I can see how you loved Sylvarant so much. Enough that you wanted to stay here when we thought that the worlds were getting split apart rather than joining."

"I never said that." Sheena said quietly, mimicking his position.

"You didn't have to. I could tell that you never really liked Meltokio and considering how Mizuho was treating you at the time…"

Sheena leans forward enough that she can see his expression. "Are you tipsy?" It was difficult for him to get actually drunk. His being an angel gave him a high tolerance for alcohol.

He shook his head. "I'm fine. I've just been thinking lately."

"That's pretty obvious."

Turning his mind from the thoughts of what might have been if things had gone differently during their journey, he says, "So, those kids seem to really love you."

Sheena smiled fondly. "I love those kids back .They're amazing really. Even after what they've been through, they can still smile like that."

"Y'know…they're not the only amazing ones." Zelos' voice was oddly hoarse.

Sheena didn't look at him, instead choosing to look down at her toes. "I'm not that amazing."

"A lot of the time, you are." He swung her around to face him, his lithe hands on her waist. "And other times, you're just my darling and…the only woman I could ever want." One hand reached up to stroke her hair, kissing her cheek. It was something he'd done frequently since that night that she'd asked him to show her his wings. Then he kissed her mouth. It was a restrained kiss, making no demands and made her wish he'd made a few.

Sheena pulled away just enough so she could properly look into his eyes. As familiar as the sky above them. They still didn't fit together quite right since he was still so bony and she was all soft curves. But it felt right and she thought that that mattered more. "I'd hoped you'd say that." She kissed him back and it was a little clumsy, but he was very warm and tasted of curry and coffee.

"Seems like I finally tame myself a banshee." He murmured against her lips, eyes dancing.

Sheena couldn't help but laugh. "I wouldn't call it tamed. A banshee shouldn't be tame."

Zelos grinned at her. "And not when she's the Chief of Mizuho. But I think I can live with that." His hand grasped hers. "C'mon, banshee. I think Lloyd and the others will want to know about this."

--//---//

We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. ~Author Unknown