A/N: As you can see, I waited 24 chapters to introduce the romantic aspect of this fic. I didn't want to rush it, since I have seen lots of stories on this site that only focus on romance starting from the very first chapter. Frankly, although I am guilty of doing that in some of my older stories, I'm aware of how that can get old pretty quickly. That is why I didn't rush things, as I wanted to build toward that point. Either way, I'd like to let you all know that the blossoming romance between Sub-Zero and Zeleve is only a small part of the overall plot, but not as important. That said, please don't expect a lot of fluff past the 27th chapter. Lol.
Moving on, I've received quite a few PMs and reviews overnight from some of you guys. They were nice to read, but one of you requested that I make the chapters a little longer. I mostly only make the chapters around 1,500 words long so as to not damage your eyes. That said, I feel more comfortable in keeping them within the 1,500-2,500 word range.
Either way, here's another update. Enjoy!
Down in the Netherrealm, demons of all kinds segregated themselves along a burning path inside the grand hall of the dark, gloomy spire as Quan Chi made his way toward his throne room. None of the undead inhabitants dared to look the sorcerer in the eye, for they respected and revered him. It was considered disrespectful for a mere minion to give eye contact to the realm's ruler; to do so resulted in immediate death. Not like they weren't already dead, however; it did not matter if a creature of the underworld was dead. If considered to be a nuisance or threat of some sort, Quan Chi could always use his dark powers to permanently eliminate any demon that annoyed him.
As Quan Chi got closer to his throne room, he noticed two guardsmen outside the large, closed doors, whispering amongst themselves in what appeared to be a frantic state. Not one to outwardly display impatience, the sorcerer made his presence known with a mere tap of his booted foot. Startled, the two guardsmen silenced themselves and turned to face their master and overlord. The shorter of the two knew better than to not trifle with the sorcerer, quickly dropping to one knee as his partner followed suit.
"Quan Chi," spoke the stout, armored man. His rusted steel mask hid his fearful expression, but Quan Chi was no fool. He knew the guard was terrified, his quavering voice proof enough.
The other guard remained silent as Quan Chi signaled for them to rise. Once standing, the short guard spoke again. "Excuse us for the interruption, Sir. We believe that there is something you must know."
Quan Chi's interest piqued at this statement. His thin, black lips formed a straight line as he pondered on what could be of such importance. Annoyance swirling within his deep voice, he said, "Enough of the pointless formalities, scum. Get to the point."
The guard flinched at his master's reaction, although his partner was unfazed. "Y-yes, my lord."
"What do you want?"
Not wanting to be ousted for his partner's incompetence, the guard that hadn't spoken at all chose to answer in his stead. "Noob Saibot requested for us to guard your throne room. He is very angry."
Quan Chi raised a brow. "Why is he angry? Is his plot to capture the woman not going as planned?"
"No, Sir. It's not. The poison he injected into Smoke's drink did not seem to work very well. Noob Saibot is trying very hard to find a potion that can kill him, but unfortunately the Enenra has a distinct physiology that makes them hardy and unnaturally strong."
This annoyed Quan Chi greatly. While he understood that killing an Enenra was no easy feat, he was disappointed in the former Lin Kuei assassin. Noob Saibot was among the most ruthless in the Lin Kuei when he was still the elder Sub-Zero, and that was a major reason why Quan Chi had explicitly chosen him. He believed that Bi-Han's darkening soul would prove useful in his plan to conquer all of the realms, but now, after hearing this bit of information, he felt like he might have been wrong in his judgment.
Quan Chi wanted to find Noob Saibot. He needed answers. No qualms would be had if a lack of answers would result in the shadow demon's permanent obliteration. Calmly, but menacingly, he asked the taller guard, "Where is he at this moment?"
"I believe he left to find a spell book. Enenras are hard to kill, as we all know."
He's in the dungeons, in the palace archive room, Quan Chi thought. That was the only place where he kept age-old records of books that contained information regarding the dark arts. Knowing what his next plan was, he ordered the guards to leave. Although Noob Saibot had ordered them to keep watch, Quan Chi did not need to be protected. This was his realm, where everyone ordered his every single whim.
Little did Quan Chi and Noob Saibot himself know that what they both wanted to keep from happening was already beginning. It was too late now. Too late.
Zeleve could only stare at her grandmaster at this point. Stunned silent, she did not expect Sub-Zero to feel affection toward her. Not in the way she felt it toward him. All this time, she thought he had resented her. She thought he was angry at her for forging a bond with Smoke; after all, she knew that Smoke was the only other person Sub-Zero was closest to. She thought he felt betrayed, and although she was initially angry at Sub-Zero for having avoided her like a plague, she understood his reasons for doing so.
She knew that Frost had been a problem for the Lin Kuei, that she was very arrogant, power-hungry, and vile. Hell, Zeleve had personally been on the receiving end of Frost's atrocious personality that day they had encountered each other not too far from Arctika. It came as no surprise that Sub-Zero was afraid to let Zeleve in. After having to have dealt with such arrogance in a protege, who could blame the Cryomancer?
Zeleve's mind raced a thousand miles a minute as she struggled to speak. She desperately wanted to reciprocate her honest emotions, just as Sub-Zero had only a few moments prior, but she couldn't. Her heart felt like it had stopped in her chest; it was pumping pretty heavily. Was she on the verge of another anxiety attack? She wasn't sure, but the symptoms felt all too familiar.
Zeleve had also heard love stories from Smoke. He once told her about how finding out that someone a person liked shared mutual feelings felt as though a weight had been lifted, but then dropped back onto them. After taking his words into consideration, Zeleve realized that she was not having an anxiety attack, but rather that she was still internalizing everything that had only transpired moments before.
Sub-Zero, however, noticed that Zeleve was still silent. Her steely eyes were fixated on him, wide yet sparkling like the midnight moon in a dark sky. Stunned as she was at that moment, Sub-Zero still thought she looked beautiful. That did not change the fact that he now worried that his confession, brash and unexpected as it was, had frightened her. Shame and guilt flooded his own soul as he offered a sympathetic smile before turning to walk away. He couldn't stand the idea of facing a wound to his pride; he'd endured enough ego wounds over the past few months. It was better to walk away and suffer a wounded ego privately, than to allow the source of his heartache to see him behaving like a scared child.
He had only made it a few yards away from her when Zeleve suddenly appeared in front of him. Now it was his turn to be startled. Stopping him in his tracks and staring at him with a calm expression, she whispered, "I'm sorry..."
She knew she had embarrassed the Cryomancer. Her reaction had caused the poor man to think that he had scared her off. Who could blame her? She'd never felt such feelings before! However, she did not give Sub-Zero any time to reply, because suddenly her body acted out of its own accord. She caught herself and the man by surprise when she held him in a tight embrace. Her arms tightly wrapped around Sub-Zero's torso, tears fell from her face as she sniffled into his tunic. Sub-Zero could tell Zeleve was crying, too. Although she hadn't really said anything other than an apology, he already knew she shared the same feelings toward him. It was then when he took it upon himself to wrap his own arms around her.
Sub-Zero had always wanted to know what it was like to hold Zeleve. From the very first moment he saw her, he felt a strange connection toward her. It manifested in fear at first, but now he realized that he was in love with this woman.
And he wasn't afraid anymore. He wanted this. He needed this. He needer her. He didn't care if there was a high chance of a war starting soon. That didn't matter at this moment. But Sub-Zero also knew that if he wanted to establish a connection with Zeleve, he would need to do it now.
Gently placing his hand on the side of Zeleve's face, he pulled her away from him by a few inches so that eye contact was in place. Zeleve was still crying, the pristine tears slowly running down her china doll-like face. Wiping her tears away with his finger, Sub-Zero then said, "I'm sorry, too."
Then he released her from his embrace. Zeleve didn't take her eyes off of him, however. Finally having found the words she had wanted to say, she looked at the floor. "I thought you hated me," she said.
Sub-Zero felt even guiltier now. Hearing those words coming from Zeleve's mouth made him want to hug her again, but he held back. He remained silent for a few moments before replying, "I was afraid of you. I never hated you. I'm sorry for making you believe otherwise. You didn't deserve to be treated that way."
Zeleve looked up and saw the sincerity in the Cryomancer's vivid blue eyes. She couldn't not forgive him for his honesty, after all. She allowed her lips to curl into a smile as she stepped closer to him.
"Hey, it's okay. I forgive you."
"It doesn't matter how many times you forgive me, for I cannot forgive myself for having hurt you." Sub-Zero was too hard on himself, Zeleve noticed.
"I know you feel guilty," she said. Tears slowly fell from her eyes as she continued in a barely audible whisper, "But don't hate yourself. To be honest, I had fallen for you a long time ago. I just didn't think you felt the same way..."
Now Sub-Zero understood why Zeleve had reacted the way she did. The entire time, she had felt the same way toward him. It was no wonder that she had gotten so quiet when he had confessed his feelings toward her. And now, he didn't feel so bad anymore. Taking Zeleve's hand, Sub-Zero allowed himself to smile widely. He hadn't smiled like this in a very long time, and Zeleve could tell. She thought it was cute how Sub-Zero, a normally stoic man, smiled like a young child who had just gotten a lollypop.
"You know, I think you should smile more often. It suits you," she said, smiling back.
Sub-Zero's smile immediately faded. He scoffed as his face turned red. "It does not!"
"Yeah," Zeleve protested. "It does."
Although he did not reply, Sub-Zero allowed himself to smirk as he turned to walk away. Before he got too far, he turned back around and said, "War might come soon. We should see each other more often. It gets boring in that office of mine, you know."
Zeleve rolled her eyes playfully. "Ha-ha. I might just show up when you least expect it. I can turn invisible, you know."
"Nice try. If I'm able to sense when Smoke is around, then I'm sure I'll be able to sense your presence, too. Anyway, I'll see you around."
Zeleve watched on, not replying as Sub-Zero turned the corner and vanished from view. She stood where she was for what seemed like an eternity, already missing him. I look forward to it.