Hey, hey, hey you guys! Bet you missed me! Haha. Kidding. Anyway. So, my computer crashed, and I've lost all of the stuff that I had for the sequel to I Should Have Never Thought. Talk about bad luck! Ah, but never fear. Tech-savvy friends have promised to save my stuff, so it's no problemo. I'll be back working on it in a couple months once I get home. This little thing, however, is an in story one shot from I Should Have Never Thought, and, for added coolness, it's told in Zelos' POV! Epic right? Oh yes. Hope you guys love this as much as I do, and I'll let everyone know when I'll be posting Zelos and Orochi's Excellent Adventure ASAP. :) Oh, by the way, look for hints about it in this little thing!

This is a songfic; the song comes from my favorite band, Paramore (of course XD). The song is from their new album and is titled "The Only Exception." I don't own the song, but I have taken out some of the repeats in the song. So if you know it, the repeating lyrics aren't in here for a reason! I just think that songfics with frivilous repeats of the songs in them are kinda silly. I've only left the repeats that are important. So. Yeah. I think this song really works with Zelos' personality, so I hope you guys see it that way too. Haha.

Go Sheelos Community! All my love.


The Only Exception

By Eyelash of the Twilight


When I was younger, I saw my daddy cry and curse at the wind.

He broke his own heart, and I watched as he tried to reassemble it.

When I heard the thud, my heart paused to listen.

It wasn't until I heard her name that it actually stopped.

Getting from Point A to Point B was a little bit fuzzy, but I do remember the sound of Orochi's cross, sonorous protest for me to stop moving.

But I didn't.

Nothing in this world or any other could keep me away from her if I thought she was hurt.

If I thought she was crying.

If I thought she was dying.

The blur eventually lead me to her; the sight of her, face so pale, too pale, and serene, eyes hidden behind lids adorned with long, black lashes. Plush red lips parted, taking in heavy gulps of air with it, as though she wasn't getting enough from just her nose. She was beautiful, like a dove perched on a birdbath in the early morning.

Her grandfather was leaning over her, stroking her face with the back of his wrinkled, bony palm with a tenderness that I wished I had had from a parent. He sighed—long, yet hollow—and brushed some stray tendrils from her face, beads of sweat smearing on her forehead when his skin caught hers. Sheena looked beautiful, she always did, but there was another look on her face, more subtle, that I did recognize.

And that was the look of pure exhaustion.

Igaguri knew there was someone behind him, I could tell, but I wasn't sure if he knew whether it was Orochi or whether it was me. He made no gesture to guess or to clarify either; he just sat there on his knees over his adopted granddaughter, staring with a bizarre assortment of bewilderment, chagrin and capitulation.

I wasn't sure what to do. My instincts prodded me to go to her side; to hold her in my arms so I could be reassured that she was still alive, and I wasn't imagining the rise and fall of her chest. But the more rational side of me wheedled a confession out of me that clarified if Sheena really was dead, her grandfather would have a much more emotional reaction that just standing over her, studying the puzzle that was Sheena Fujibayashi.

And, for some reason I couldn't deduce, it made me think of my mother. And my father.

And how their love reminded me of catalepsy.

Some amount of time went by, and his older frame turned in my direction, and a light of intrigue played in his eyes.

"Master Zelos," the former Chief of Mizuho laughed, somewhat. "It seems you've beaten Orochi in the race here."

"What happened, Gramps?" I wasn't in the mood for witty annotations. "Is she all right?"

"Just a fainting spell," he sighed again, more anxious this time. "What am I going to do with her?"

I took one step forward. "This is my fault. I take full responsibility for Sheena's—"

"None of that," he swatted, wobbling a bit to stand. "Sheena can take responsibility for herself. She's a grown woman."

Orochi came through the door, greeting me with a hard shove out of the way.

I told myself hitting him now in front of Sheena's grandfather was a bad idea.

"What happened, Chief?" Orochi was out of breath.

How could he be out of breath? It wasn't that far of a run...

Was it?

"Sheena fainted," Igaguri walked over to us, a little slower without his wooden cane. "She's fine, just tired. When I told her about divorce…she just couldn't handle it."

Orochi straightened, but there was something that kept his eyes shining. "I am responsib—"

"Tried it," I cut him off. "Best not bother."

He just gave me a pointed look.

"The Chosen is right, Orochi. Sheena is responsible for herself. She's not a baby. You both seem to have a hard time remembering that."

We both looked away from him.

"But, you especially, Orochi," Igaguri shook his head. "Sheena isn't seven or ten or twelve anymore. She's almost twenty. You do not have to baby her, anymore."

"Forgive me, Chief. You're right, I—"

"You can apologize later," Igaguri huffed, motioning toward Sheena. "Someone needs to take her to a bed. She should not be lying on a floor like this."

"I've got her," I piped up. There was nothing more I wanted then to be with her, to comfort her, when she opened her eyes. And I'd be damned if I let Orochi get to her first.

"Thank you, Master Zelos," Sheena's grandfather bobbed his head as I made my way over to her.

But when she was in my arms, and I lifted, a throbbing pain shot up from the small of my back, shooting up like an electric shock to the middle of my back. I staggered, Sheena's curvy frame flopping in my arms for only a millisecond. I cried out, gritting my teeth to fight off the pain so I could hold her stability. I didn't care if both my legs were gone. I wasn't going to let her go. She'd already fainted once while I wasn't there. What could happen if I wasn't there to watch her while she slept? A little pain was enough of a sacrifice.

"Fool, put her down!" Orochi barked. "You're bleeding."

"Dammit," I lost my footing again as I turned in his direction.

Sheena and I began tumbling, but I stuck out my knees, landing on the hard wood floor with the girl I loved still in my arms.

I hated bandits more than anything at that moment. Even more than I hated Orochi for the stress he put on Sheena. And that was a lot of hate.

"What an idiot," Orochi grumbled moving to take her from me.

"Don't even think about it!" I pulled her tightly to me.

Orochi stopped, eyes wide.

Igaguri was an inquisitive bystander.

"I'm—grr—just as worried about her as you are. Just because I'm bleeding doesn't mean I can't carry her. I don't give a damn if you think I'm a fool or not."

"Master Zelos," Igaguri decided to comment. "While I appreciate your devotion to my granddaughter, you're in no shape to carry her. We've got to get that wound checked out. Give Sheena to Orochi, and he will send for someone to dress the wound. I need to talk to you, anyway."

I snorted. OK, I'd play it their way. But I wasn't going down without some recompense.

"I'm not getting it dressed until I know she's safe."

This made Igaguri smile, but made Orochi even more frustrated. He growled audibly, stomping back towards me, arms outstretched to once again attempt to take my Sheena from me.

I didn't fight this time. Only because he cradled her with delicacy.

"If you're that stubborn about it," Orochi talked to me with his back turned. "I suppose you can come with me to see her there, but then you should come back and get that looked at."

"Is that alright with you, Chosen?" Igaguri asked politely.

"Yes," I mumbled.

Of course it wasn't all right.

It was like settling for milk when you expected cream.

And my momma swore she would never let herself forget.

Orochi and I spent the majority of the walk there in silence. He kept his eyes forward, but I kept mine on the girl in his arms. It had been at least fifteen minutes since she fainted, but it felt like five hours. Sheena's breathing was steady and deep, and her eyes had begun to flutter from the profundity of her sleep, which let me know it was needed. With all of the strain she'd been under since her faux marriage, it was actually amazing that she hadn't fainted sooner. Part of me wished it had been during our conversation when we'd first arrived at Mizuho; the moment where her lips had been so close to mine, I had already begun to taste their familiarity…

Orochi's hate had tipped the scale on the bandit hate yet again.

When we arrive to the home Orochi and Sheena shared, the first thing that I saw was the open door to the bedroom. The sheets on the bed were white; untouched. And that reminded me of when Sheena had accidentally exposed the truth of the intimacy of her marriage. I couldn't help but wonder what Orochi felt. How could he have missed that sign?

Or did he just choose to ignore it?

Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

I was on his tail up until he put Sheena on her back on the soft mattress, the sun's rays trickling in through the window, leaving a stripe of yellow across her mouth. He allowed me to stand over her, to stroke her cheek with the back of my hand. To sing a soft lullaby while she drifted in the safe world of dreams.

He even allowed me to plant one kiss on her nose.

"Take your shirt off." Orochi glowered.

I blanched, biting on my tongue to keep from laughing.

Sometimes, it was just too easy with him.

"Um, sorry to burst your bubble, but I don't swing that way—"

"Spare me the jests, Chosen One." He sounded staid, but his face had a smattering of pink. "I want to take a look at that wound."

"Well, you could have at least said that," I let a smile play on my lips.

"Nonsense. Then you would have ignored me. I had to scare you just a bit," He smiled too. It was an oddly close moment for us. It was almost enough to quell some of the hate that fizzled between the two of us.

Almost.

Bandits were winning again.

I hurriedly through off my peach colored overcoat, noticing immediately that there was a stain of blood in the shape of a straight worm on the back of it. Not sure of where to put it, I just dropped it on the floor by Sheena's bed, along with the black undershirt that went with it. I stood with my back to Orochi, my head bent, humming another song to my slumbering love.

"Watch the hands, mmkay?" I teased.

"Of course I will, especially if the decide to snap your neck. I can't look the person I kill in the eyes."

Touché.

He never really did put his hands on me, but I could feel the closeness of his body, the heat from it wafting off onto mine in this kind of manly challenge. While I had some inches on him, I knew he was a skilled ninja; even more so than my Sheena. However, I couldn't muster up any real fear of him. I was quite aware that he could kill me anytime he wanted to, but, when contemplating a life without my Sheena…death seemed more like freedom than torment.

"You're lucky," he grumbled, and I felt him back up. "It's already stopped bleeding. It definitely needs to be sewed and washed, but it's not that deep or fatal. It's healed quite well."

"Thank you, Doctor Azumi."

I twisted my head to look at him, and his eyebrows were rutted.

"Where did you get that wound, Zelos?"

Like I was going to tell him the truth.

"Playing hopscotch. Don't tell Sheena."

"I'm not even going to call you out on that lie. Can't you be serious for at least a minute? Honestly, you must have the maturity of a five year old."

What a drama queen.

"I got it saving your wife's life."

His unconscious scuffling was terminated when the sentence was out in the air.

"What did you say?"

"You heard me."

"How did you save Sheena's life?"

"With my sword, duh."

"…Could you elaborate?"

"I suppose I could if I tried."

He didn't say anything.

Half a minute went by.

"Well?"

"What?"

"You said you could elaborate!"

"And I answered you. I can. If you want me to elaborate, you should have asked that instead."

"You are utterly impossible! You argue semantics when I ask about something that involves my wife? I do not even think that is morally correct. I deserve to know."

I leaned down and gathered my clothes in my arms.

"She doesn't love you, you know." I whispered, my eyes cast towards the outside. Towards the sun.

Orochi didn't move. Only spoke.

"…She can answer that later. The papers are still valid at this moment. I am still her husband. Her last name is not Fujibayashi."

"Yeah, I kn—"

"And her last name is most certainly not Wilder."

Orochi took a giant leap ahead of the bandits.

"I'm quite aware," I hissed, clutching onto my clothes tightly to keep from punching him.

"By law, her last name is still Azumi. Tell me, Chosen."

I looked at him, copying the glare that he was giving me.

"We got attacked. She got hit, poisoned, and lost consciousness. I got this keeping our attackers away from her. I cured her, she helped dress this thing. There. Happy?"

"You saved her life…" He breathed.

I snorted. "We've been over that part. You can just thank me, you know."

"Why did you save her life?" Orochi pushed, and he looked so confused and discouraged, I was sure he was about to start crying like a little boy.

I laughed with indignation.

"You know why. You shouldn't ask."

I planted one last kiss on Sheena's cheek, fixing her hair so that it lay out of her eyes. I spent enough time here, and I had successfully seen Sheena to safety and ruffled Orochi's feathers. There was nothing left to do but have that one-to-one with Chief Igaguri.

But he asked one more thing as I was halfway out the door.

"You said you didn't sing anymore…so why do you sing to her?"

I just smirked.

And that was the day that I promised I'd never sing of love if it does not exist.

The woman who sanitized the lengthy cut did it with some stinging ointment, but I did my best to disregard it. Igaguri inspected the scene: the woman mutely scrubbing and wrapping bandages, me grunting whenever I felt pain or she pulled the white strappings too tightly. Meanwhile, I mentally prepared myself for what could be said to me.

Obviously, this man was much more important when it came to the relationship I was trying to create with Sheena. Sheena loved him; therefore, it was critical for me to love him too. Truth be told, I already liked him enough because he was a genuinely a good person when it came down to it, and he was very collected when it came to Sheena. Not to mention he already showed a willingness to take my side when I was right. And over Orochi too. This guy was awesome.

But, there was no way I could pull a fast one over him like I did with Orochi. Not only did I have it encoded in me to respect my elders, but Sheena would never permit it. Orochi was one thing, but her grandfather was a whole different universe entirely.

So when he asked how I got that wound, I readily answered with rectitude.

"When Sheena and I were delivering King Tethe'alla's letter to Lloyd, we were ambushed. She got stabbed with some kind of poison, and I was injured protecting her. I cured her, of course, but not without trouble."

"Thank you, Chosen, for saving my granddaughter's life."

Why couldn't Orochi be like that?

Maybe then I'd like him more.

"You don't have to thank me, Gramps—erm—sir."

Igaguri chortled energetically.

"You may call me whatever it is you wish, Chosen."

"Same to you," I winked. "I hate being called Chosen. So you can just call me Zelos."

"Ah, yes. I seem to have forgotten your dislike for that title. Forgive me. I don't remember as much as I used to."

My smile broadened.

Oh yeah, he was way better than Orochi.

When the woman had finished her job, Sheena's grandfather and I both expressed our thanks, and she bowed and promptly exited. I had to admit, it was a tad intimidating being with him alone—a man who was tenfold wiser and more intelligent than I. A man that I knew could kill me faster than Orochi ever could, despite the timeworn demeanor.

A man that held my future in his hands.

"So, Master Zelos—is that fine with you?"

"Huh…Oh! Yes. Thank you."

Igaguri folded his hands in his lap. I suddenly felt exposed. Should I put my shirt back on? I reached behind me for it, but it was gone.

"She's going to wash it for you." Igaguri whispered.

"Oh. Thank you," I let my hands fall. "You didn't have to do that."

"Well, it's the least we could do. You did hurt yourself trying to help Sheena."

I shook my head. "That wasn't your fault, though. I did kind of volunteer, you know, Gramps."

He just rolled his eyes. "Then it is a service from the humble village of Mizuho to an aristocrat of Tethe'alla."

My lips pursed with amusement.

"I have another question for you, Chosen."

I took a sharp inhale.

'…Here it comes…'

"Yes, Gramps?"

"What did you and Sheena do while on your visit to Iselia?"

I blinked.

"Is that all you want to know?"

Igaguri nodded, the expression on his face steadfast.

"I was planning on asking Sheena, but she blacked out before I could ask her anything."

I could feel myself blushing marginally.

"We, uh, we walked together. Talked about some things…"

"Such as…?"

I rolled my shoulders back, deciding a bit of boldness wasn't bad.

"I want to tell you, Gramps, but I can't help but see this as a breach of Sheena's privacy, and I am not at liberty to do that."

Rapidly, Igaguri's grey eyes studied every part of me, probing as deep into the bottomless hole that was Zelos Wilder. When he'd finished, he didn't say anything, but stuck his jaw out and nodded, appearing to agree with me.

"Quite right, Master Zelos. I appreciate your enthusiasm to protect Sheena both literally and figuratively. Please, continue your story."

I wanted to spread my wings and fly.

That could wait till later though.

"Thank you, Gramps. There really isn't much left of the story. We got attacked, I got us to Palmacosta, Sheena helped dress this thing on my back and I—"

But then I stopped, remembering what events had transpired once we were both awake in that Palmacosta in. That technically wasn't a breach of Sheena's privacy, more like mine, but every pore on me supplicated for me to keep that information secret. There was nothing I could do about it though. Sheena would wake up eventually, and if I didn't tell her grandfather, she would without any hesitation. OK, maybe some hesitation, but she would still do it.

There was no other choice.

"You…" Igaguri let the question hang.

My lips were dry as I said: "I…told her I was in love with her."

Igaguri face lit with realization, like a candle in a dark room.

"Ahhh. So that's how this came about."

"I-I'm sorry that I cau—"

"Finish your story first, Master Zelos."

I jammed my hands through my hair, wanting so badly to pull it out.

"There's nothing more to tell, Igaguri. I screwed up, Sheena told me she was married, I tried to convince her that she didn't love Orochi, we dodged the subject, got to Iselia, came home and—"

Igaguri actually looked a little angry when he interrupted.

"Why on earth did you try and do that?"

My palms slapped my legs in frustration.

"I know, it was stupid, forgive me. I could see it in her eyes, and I couldn't take it anymore. I did what I could without pushing it to try and get a clear answer, but—"

"See what in her eyes, Zelos?" Igaguri scowled this time, and it was ten times more frightening than Orochi's could ever be.

I tried to speak, but it was a series of stifled taps.

"I-I…I don't want to break her trust—"

"Zelos," Igaguri boomed. "While I greatly admire your respect for her, Sheena is not here with us to share in this conversation. You must be honest with me. I cannot help her or you if I'm not given the truth. Sheena will not resent you for telling me things I wish to know that she cannot."

I started to grind my teeth.

He was right.

"What did you see in her eyes, My Lord?"

"I-I saw…"

I had to force it out, but there was definitely anguish behind it.

"Hurt. She was hurting. She was miserable. I knew it. I've known her so long, and, dammit, she just kept hiding it from me."

"Why was she hurting? What could cause her so much pain?"

I looked him dead in the eye.

"She thought that you arraigned her marriage with Orochi."

Igaguri's mouth fell.

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely, sir," I leaned back, falling to the floor, mentally drained. "She told me that she married Orochi because you said that she couldn't be Chief without a husband."

"Ohh, that's not what I meant at all."

Every hair on my body stood at attention.

The old man fidgeted awkwardly, as though he were sitting on a rock, and lines of perturbation took shape on his brow, in the corners of his eyes and mouth, and even between his nose.

"Sometimes, I wish I'd never sent her off to be a summoner."

The instinct of flight oozed in my muscles, but the one iota of fight I had concentrated enough power to keep me stationary.

"Why…why do you say that?"

"Because then she would not have had that Volt incident weighing on her mind all the time. That is the reason she acts the way she does. She does whatever Tiga or I say because she believes she will win the respect of the village. The fear of being hated and shunned once again is non-existent if she complies with the village's demands."

I pulled one knee to my chest. "She's so focused on what the village wants and what it needs, she doesn't consider taking the time and figuring out her own wants and needs."

"Exactly, Chos—Zelos. Excuse me. You're absolutely right. I believe I made the right choice in making her my successor because I was aware of the love she had for Mizuho, and I was certain she could take care of it. However, she's completely abandoned the idea that she, too, needs taking care of. This concerns me."

"I'm right there with you." I sighed, blowing hair from my face.

Igaguri's shoulders slumped. "I thought Orochi could help her. They were so close growing up, next to Kuchinawa, of course. I had arranged a marriage between the two of them, but it seems as though Kuchinawa's hatred for Sheena ran deep—"

I dropped my knee back to the floor. "Kuchinawa and Sheena were…?"

"Yes. But, in Mizuho, when the two become of age, they may decide whether or not to decline. Kuchinawa obviously declined."

"Trying to kill her is definitely declining."

"I agree," His smile was only an inch or two. "So, I assumed that, when Orochi formally asked to wed her, that she would be thrilled, and I was wrong. She loves Orochi no more than you love him."

My smile turned into a slash of lips. "Actually, Orochi and I aren't fans of each other at all, so Sheena probably does love him more than I do."

"I have noticed your dislike for each other," Igaguri's smile grew an inch. "While it is somewhat humorous, I'm sure Sheena is not happy with it. Do you plan on kindling a friendly relationship?"

I shrugged. "Eh, what can I say? Whatever will be, will be. If he wants to, I suppose I'll make an effort, but if he tries not to, then what's the point?"

Igaguri settled into a stony position, his face wrinkling again, but it wasn't from anger this time.

"I have a question for you, Master Zelos."

"I'm sure I'll have an answer."

Igaguri leaned in. "Do you believe in true love?"

I pulled my eyes toward the floor.

But, darling, you are the only exception.

"Why-why do you ask that?"

Igaguri backed up; pulling is old frame up so as to appear taller.

"Well, you are here for my granddaughter, aren't you? You've told her that you love her. So you must believe in true love, correct?"

Images began to flash in my head, like a slideshow of photographs. I'd never had a good example of love growing up as a child. My parents might as well have been total strangers. Instead of fond evenings reading stories by a fire or flying kites in the fields, mine were all of father never being home, mother skulking through the house like a ghost in search of something she would never find. When father did come home, he was usually with another woman, or drunk, or both.

He'd yell at me, strike me, and tell me to get out of his face. He's say the same thing to her, and she'd cower at his feet; run back into her dream world and pretend that her life was just a fleeting thing. That my father didn't exist, our house didn't exist, her marriage didn't exist.

I didn't exist.

That wasn't love.

That was fear and denial.

Those are the exact opposites of love.

And, as I grew older, I learned still that love was something that was usually bought and earned, not given.

The girls who would follow me told me they loved me, but their words were laced with the toxin known as Deceit. But, while I still clung to that childhood innocence, I saw value in those words. I put all of my heart in those words, hoping that I'd finally found someone, something that could love me for who I was; the person that existed inside of me.

Until Deceit finally took it's paralyzing effect, and I was left writhing in pain, wishing for Death to come with swift feet and an unwavering hand.

They didn't want to know what I was, what I believed in, what I knew, what I thought and felt. They didn't even want me for how handsome I was, how polite or how decorous. They wanted to bask in the limelight. To be seen with the person that I was supposed to be, not with the person who really existed. I could have been cruel; I could have been brainless, dull, snarky, snobbish or even ugly. It didn't matter to them.

The wanted the name, not the man with it.

So I let myself be consumed by that name

Because, even if I touched the spindle, I would only receive the pinprick of Deceit, it was better than what my mother gave me, which was nothing.

Because once you tasted Deceit, you were trapped.

Deceit was addictive.

The most habit-forming hallucinogen you could get your hands on.

And it gave me that rush, that wonderful high that I couldn't find anywhere else.

But, still, I knew that, in the end, I would have to settle for solitude.

That way, I would never have to end up like my mother. Or my father.

I could be happy in my own way.

Untroubled, drawing in life from my sweet narcotic.

I wouldn't have to share who I really was with anyone.

And that brought the most important think of all.

The protection from heartbreak.

Maybe I know, somewhere deep in my soul, that love never lasts.

And we've got to find other ways to make it alone or keep a straight face.

And I've always lived like this; keeping a comfortable distance.

"I've never been loved before…" I muttered, each word a stab to the chest.

"Come now," Igaguri prodded. "I'm sure that's a bit of an—"

"No, sir, haha…" I ran my tongue over my acrimonious, smiling lips. I could feel the itch of Deceit on them. I had to fight and tell myself that it wasn't delicious. "My mother never loved me, my father never loved me. Everyone woman I've tried to love has never loved me. They don't want Zelos Wilder; who I am to them doesn't matter. They want the affluence, the power and the celebrity that comes from the label "Chosen One." That isn't love, sir, not by a long shot."

"Yes, of course," Igaguri acted as though he'd heard all of this before. "Being loved doesn't mean loving someone for their money or their recognition. It means loving them for the person that exists under the title. You are correct, Master Zelos."

I didn't move, just sat and stewed in the past, wishing with all my strength that it would disappear.

"But," Igaguri's voice grew soft. "Why do you let that define your belief in love?"

My skin began to burn. "Why do you think? After all of the supposed "examples" of love in my life have turned sour, would you expect anything less of me? I tried to give my heart to many, but no one would ever take it. They were too busy trying to get their hands on "Chosen One". They'd take my heart and toss it, like it was some trinket or ornament that had broken!"

"Yes, but, Zelos—"

"And it was broken!" I was standing now, shouting, even though I couldn't feel the vibration of speech in my throat. "Each time it was abandoned, it cracked a little more. And, eventually, it was so wrecked that if I gave it away again, it would be-be…be unusable! So pretending, not hoping and believing love wasn't real hurt so much less than clinging on to something I could never have!"

"But Zelos—"

"Do not tell me I'm wrong for being afraid!" I swore I saw the tiny wooden shack shake. "Fear and selfishness is-is-is…is all I've ever known! All I've been given! And expecting me to throw it all on the line again isn't going to work, because there's no way."

"Open your eyes, you fool!" Igaguri stood, quickly for his age. Anger had smeared red on his nose and cheeks, the already prominent veins on his neck becoming more pronounced.

My voice died, and I sank back to the floor.

"Zelos," the old man took in a deep breath. "You say you've never given your heart away, are too afraid of being hurt all over again, but don't you see what you're doing?"

My eyes started stinging from tears I wouldn't let go.

"You are letting your past control your future, just as the "Chosen One" controlled your future."

I started to quiver, realization washing over me like rain.

"You're keeping yourself from living life to the fullest, that you're lagging behind everyone else in the race. Letting that fear control you is what is making you miserable. If you let it fly free, it will, and, with time, you will find someone to keep your heart safe, who will fix all of the cracks in it."

"But there's…there's always…it could go-"

Igaguri came back down to my level, putting one hand on my shoulder with the strength of twenty men. The other held my chin in an effort to keep our eyes locked. In those eyes, I saw so much determination and faith that I was overwhelmed by it, and I felt like a small child all over.

"You're right, it could go bad. It's gone badly before, hasn't it?"

I nodded.

"It's gone badly many times. And with each new bad time, you can only assume that it will just get worse and worse."

I nodded, more vigorously this time.

"But, Zelos, don't you see what's been going on?"

I blinked; he did too.

"You've been such a fool, so wrapped up in your failures that you're blind to your victories."

"I haven't won—"

"Oh, but you have. You see, you no longer have to worry about giving your heart away. Because it's gone."

"How—"

"Like a thief in the night, she came in and stole it from you. There was no giving to it. You gave it up keenly without even knowing you did so."

And that was when I knew.

"I'm still in love with you, Sheena Fujibayashi…"

"…Just like I love you…just like I want you…"

"I loved you. God, I love you still…"

"…but I never stopped loving you…"

"And I just loved you more…"

"So, naturally, I fell deeper in love with you."

"Zelos, you admitted it to me yourself. You are in love with Sheena."

And, up until now, I had sworn to myself that I'm content with loneliness.

Because none of it was ever worth the risk.

For a moment, everything in the room turned black.

But I was, unquestionably, was not out cold.

"And your silly statement about letting this be? You've completely ignored it. Had you really pinned all of your faith in it, you wouldn't have gone to such great lengths to prove to my granddaughter that she wasn't happy. You would have just "let her be" because, in the end, it never matters; everything thing that is will never change, correct?"

I put one palm up, deer-eyed. "N-No, I don't believe that things don't change—"

He stabbed a finger in my direction. "Ah, but that is just another way of phrasing "whatever will be, will be", Zelos. Every time you utter that phrase, you are confessing that you do not believe in change, but look at you now! Look at how the world has changed in the last two years, after all of this, can you walk around throwing that phrase around like you have been?"

I sighed raggedly. The old man had me.

Igaguri's tone became rougher, his eyes sparking with passion; the kind of passion that I'd seen whenever he was dead-set on protecting Sheena.

The kind of stare that was meant to stir up fright.

"My question to you now is, what do you, Master Zelos, think that I should do with my granddaughter?"

A new kind of fervor began to clang and bang inside my chest. I knew exactly what Sheena wanted.

"She can't stay married to Orochi, Gramps. It's driving her insane. She told me she feels like's she's runnin' arou—ahem—being unfaithful to him just because she doesn't love him. Sheena needs to make her own choices when it comes to love."

Igaguri's lips shifted from side to side, ruffling his somewhat voluminous mustache. Bit by bit, it became a warm smile.

"And she loves you?"

I grinned as well, fluffing the sides of my hair.

"I-I guess that's what it sounds like…"

"And you love her as well."

It wasn't a question, but I answered it.

"Absolutely. I've known I wanted her since we met as kids. I watched her grow, then had to leave her, and it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do—well, OK, the second hardest. Maybe the third…it was hard, mmkay? Anyway, when she came back and I saw her, how she'd turned into such a beautiful woman…I-I just…my heart stopped. It was liked I died and she brought me back to life all over again. I wanted her even more then, and I didn't even think that was possible. And when I told her that I didn't love her…I never meant it. I didn't. I-I was too weak to try and fight for her. They threatened to take her away from me, and I wouldn't—I couldn't. So I had to cut her away from me. Make her hate me so I wouldn't hurt so much from losing her. And I thought that I've we hated each other, and she was gone, I thought I'd be fine…"

In my mind's eye, I replaced those dreadful images of my father's rage, my mother's disdain and my harrowing isolation with her. The day I we first met, the day she came back to me, and everything she'd tried to convince me of before I let her go. I saw her smiling, laughing, listening to me sing or talking about something that wasn't important with attentiveness. And my memories of me swearing that love wouldn't ever find me, and if it did, I would hide from it so it lost me all over again. Aching throbbed in my throat, and my eyes stung with the tears that were working double time to push through the dam that was my bottom eyelids.

"But when she came back from Sylvarant…"

I don't cry.

Never.

Ever.

Crying was beneath me.

Crying was something my mother did.

Crying was something only people who were easily broken do.

Crying was not Zelos Wilder.

But when I looked that man in the eye…I cried.

Well, you are the only exception.

"When she came back from Sylvarant, I knew!" I bawled like a baby. "I knew that if I let her go again, I'd-I'd die! I can't live without her! I know what I said, everything I've ever said, and I thought I'd never find any exceptions to the rule, but…"

I sniffled, pushing my eyelids tightly to stop the tears. I was slowly becoming a mess, and I couldn't have that. My mother was a mess, and there was no way in hell I wanted to be more like my mother than I already was.

"But you love her," Igaguri finished. "You think you would die for her. Protect her. You think you can love her like no other man could love a woman."

The tears were still rolling, but my eyes opened with an ardent resolve.

"I don't think. I know I can love her like no other man could ever love a woman. My parents couldn't love, at least not that I saw, but that doesn't mean that I can't."

Igaguri wisely nodded. "Then you do believe in love, Master Zelos. You must, correct?"

"I believe that I love Sheena. I don't know about the rest of it, but I do know that I can love her. I already do."

"So," he chortled. "Where do you want to go from here?"

I didn't really think before I spoke. I should have, but I didn't. I just got myself lost in those flights of fancy, and blurted out how I really felt.

"I want to marry her."

"Does she want to marry you?"

I blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Does Sheena want to marry you?"

"Wha—I—what?" I was definitely disoriented; I hadn't yet realized what I'd said.

"You said you wanted to marry her. I am asking if she, in turn, would like to marry you."

"…I really said that didn't I?" I buried my face in my hands. "I'm so sorry, Gramps. I didn't mean—"

"She does," Orochi's voice thundered from behind me.

I turned to see Orochi, my apparent arch rival, standing in the doorway like the waiters in the galas at the palace ballroom. Suffice it to say I was a little pissed off that he'd left Sheena alone while she was unconscious, but the shock of hearing him admit that Sheena wanted to be my wife shoved all of that to the side.

"Is she awake?" I was ready to stand; to run.

"No," Orochi grumbled. "I was worried that there was some conflict, so I decided to check on you, Chosen."

"Well, hey, I didn't faint here, buddy." I let some of the acerbity leak from my head into my words. "I think you should have stayed with her if you weren't going to let me."

His acridness was stronger than mine.

"I merely came to tell you that I know that if Sheena was really intending on kissing you, she loves you, Chosen. If she loves you, than she wishes to marry you. It's simple logic."

"I can do simple logic." I rolled my eyes at him.

"Orochi," Sheena's grandfather piped up, aggravation dripping from his words. "Zelos Wilder wishes to marry Sheena. Do you have anything to say."

Orochi paused, taking in the words one syllable at a time, and with every beat, he would clench and unclench his fists. It was pretty much a slap-in-the-face kind of blatancy when it came to his love for Sheena, but whether he would give her up or not was all up in the air. His face was constantly brick-textured, but once he fully understood the choice at his feet, that face softened to a watery pudding.

"I love her, Chief…" his voice shillyshallied.

"I know, but so does Master Zelos. And Sheena loves him. Do you still plan to go through with this divorce?"

And, then, Orochi did something I never thought he would ever do.

He cried too.

He bawled like a baby.

Just like me.

It was then I knew.

Maybe he we could be close…one day.

So, the bandits definitely deserved all my hate.

Igaguri smiled again. "I could never ask for two more respectable men for my Sheena. It is so clear to me that you both have a love for her that could move mountains. However…Sheena can only be married to one of you. Normally, I would have her here with me, and I would let her decide. But she is not able to be with us to decide, so I will say what I have allowed, and let her make the final choice when she wakes up."

We both looked to him, hoping that he would choose us for his granddaughter.

But one of us had to go.

I've got a tight grip on reality, but I can't let go of what's in front of me here.

I know you're leaving in the morning when you wake up.

Leave me with some kind of poof it's not a dream.

So we held are breath, and it was so quiet I could hear the pitter-patter of children's feet as they ran around the shack. I could hear the rustling of the grass outside as the wind swept through Mizuho. I could hear the insects crawling in the wood floor under my feet.

I could hear the former chief of Mizuho breathing.

I could hear Orochi breathing, heavily than the old man.

But the loudest sound of all was my heartbeat.

And it got even louder when Igaguri looked right at me.

And with all the warmth in the world, he spoke.

"Sheena is in love with Zelos. There is no denying that she doesn't, at least from what Orochi has told me."

I really wanted to just pick that old man up in my arms and hug the life out of him, but the goal wasn't to actually kill him. Glancing back to Orochi, the perceptible storm of confusing, dismay, and a bit of bargaining was raging in his eyes, but he never once said a word. He probably hated me at this moment, though mine was a great deal less now that I knew we weren't that different after all. Nonetheless, I couldn't convince him of that quite yet.

Hopefully, though, I would have that opportunity someday.

"Orochi," Igaguri added in a rather guarded fashion. "I would like to know if you are willing to let Zelos Wilder substitute his name for yours in Sheena's marriage documents."

Orochi's mouth hit the floor, and Igaguri put his hands up defensively, so I was inferring that that kind of gesture didn't happen every day. It was more like a "never in a million years" kind of thing.

"That-that isn't…those are very sensitive documents, Chief. That isn't Mizuhoan custom—"

"I am quite aware," Igaguri bit. "But if we are all decided that Sheena should be Zelos' wife, then this is the best of course of action, is it not?"

The phrase "Sheena should be Zelos' wife" left me tingling.

But Orochi didn't contest with Igaguri's choice, he seemed to nod in a fast succession, then bow.

"Very well," Orochi was back to being his flinty self.

"Hey, Man of Many Rocks," I stood at attention. "Are you just gonna give me the go ahead on this? I mean, you love her, you know. Are you willing to let her go this easily?"

Orochi gave me the coldest, heart-broken look I'd ever seen in a man.

"It is no longer my choice. I will go wait with Sheena until she awakens."

And he…just left.

So I turned my attention back to Igaguri, who had already removed the papers while I had been bombarding Orochi with questions. They were yellowed, but not crinkled or torn. A small pencil sat on top of them, though the other handwriting on the actual papers was crafted out of some sort of ink.

"Does this normally happen—this…crossing out of names and whatnot?" I asked, taking the pencil and twirling it in my hand.

"This is the first time." Igaguri coughed, then pointed to where Orochi's name was on the sheet, but the old man had already scribbled over the first one.

Wow, the second name business in Mizuho was much more serious than I thought.

I was too busy staring at Sheena's real name in any case.

"Yuri…man. Yuri. Sheena. Fujibayashi. Gorgeous name for an even more gorgeous girl, right?" I chuckled.

"That is my wife's name."

The pencil froze inches in front of the paper.

"Really?"

Igaguri's wrinkled face smoothed out from despondency.

"I lost her in childbirth. I lost both her and my newborn. When I found Sheena, she became my world. I would do anything to make her happy."

We locked gazes. "I know the feeling, Gramps."

"I know you do," Igaguri patted my pencil-less hand a few good times. "Which is why I've done this."

"Thank you, sir, from the bottom of my heart."

Sheena's grandfather just kept on beaming.

"You have made her your exception, so I will make you mine."

My smile matched his as I scrawled my name over Orochi's blacked out name.

And true happiness was mine for the first time in a long while.

"Well, I feel like a million bucks!" I threw the pencil down so hard on the paper it made a loud smacking sound. "What do I need to do now, Gramps?"

Igaguri shooed me with a motion of his wrist.

"Go to her. I will follow shortly."

And, before I knew it, I was flying back towards her.

But I was running towards much more than just Sheena.

I was running to something so much more.

My only exception.

You are the only exception.

And I'm on my way to believing.