Chapter 1: I Shall Not Want
Colette reflects upon the one attachment she cannot bring herself to sever.
Rated G; angst.
And so the Goddess Martel, in Her perfect will, gave the Chosen's Creed to the Church through Her angelic servants, so that the children of the sacred line would grant salvation through their purity:
A Chosen of Mana shall obey the commandments of the Goddess and allow the world to follow their example.
A Chosen of Mana shall study the Goddess' word and keep it hidden within their heart.
A Chosen of Mana shall not defile their body with acts of indulgence or lust.
A Chosen of Mana shall not defile their minds with thoughts of hatred or greed.
...A Chosen of Mana shall not want; they shall not desire the distractions of attachment, for their body and soul belongs to the Goddess alone...
It was a creed she had committed to memory; the very rules she strived to live by. After all, if she was to succeed in regenerating the world, she had to shield herself from mankind's sinful nature. But Colette was only human. She, too, would harbor sinful thoughts from time to time.
Every birthday she celebrated only served to remind her of how little time she had left. Each passing day was another grain of sand falling to the bottom of the hourglass. There were so many times she wanted to flee; to shun her destiny and live like a normal girl. However, every night, she would rid herself of these seeds of doubt through prayer and meditation. For the sake of the world, she realized, she couldn't be normal. For the sake of the world, she had to die.
She could easily kill her doubts. What Colette could never kill was the undeniable, selfish love she had for Lloyd.
She was doomed from the start. Lloyd was one of the only people who ever gave her a taste of normalcy; who would ever show her affection because she was Colette, not the Chosen. It was no surprise how hard she fell for him.
According to the Church, however, he was a distraction. He was an attachment that must be severed; a selfish want she could never have. She prayed for the strength to leave him behind when that fateful day finally came, but the heartache she felt at the thought of losing him forever never subsided.
Had not the Goddess granted the gift of love to ensure the happiness of Her children? If so, Colette wondered, why would She allow it to hurt so much?
As the Day of the Oracle drew nearer and nearer, Colette made her choice. Surely Martel would have approved her love! But the love she had for Lloyd would no longer hold her back - instead, that love would push her forward. It would inspire her to save this world, not only for the sake of everyone else, but for Lloyd to live peacefully. She would toss aside her selfishness so that the boy she loved could also have a chance to love... without her.
Her life for his. Her sinful desires for his chance to flourish. When Colette put it that way, it was an easy choice. Now, she knew she needed not to fear death.
Chapter 2: The Name Game
After a year and a half of marriage, Colette thinks it's time for some "additions". Whether or not Lloyd will get the hint is a whole other story.
Rated G; family, humor. Contains mentions of pregnancy.
"Alessa... that's pretty! ...Alma? Hmm, maybe..."
Colette mumbled to herself, sounding aloud the girl's names out of a large anthology of baby names she read at the kitchen table. "A" names, she thought, sounded especially pretty - Allison, Anastasia, Amelia... Unfortunately for her, her husband Lloyd didn't seem nearly as interested in names at the moment; instead he was focused on seasoning the steaks they planned to have for dinner.
Occasionally, Colette would look behind her to see if Lloyd was paying any attention. Not one to simply interrupt him while he was focused on something, she had hoped that reading the names out loud would spark a discussion. After running off the "A" names she liked, however, the loud thudding of a meat tenderizer signaled that he was, indeed, off in his own little world and probably never even heard a word she said.
She shook her head a little. Oh, what was she going to do with him? After a year and a half of marriage, Colette thought he'd be a little better at detecting her subtlety. But, then again, Lloyd would always be Lloyd - kind, loyal, and of course, slightly oblivious. She wouldn't have him any other way.
Figuring that the direct approach would work better, she turned her chair towards her husband. "Say, Lloyd?" she asked.
Lloyd stopped pounding the steaks and turned. "Hmm? ...Hey, what's that book you've got there, Colette?"
Colette sighed a little. It was just like she thought. "You didn't notice? It's a book of names." She turned the pages until she found the "C" section. "Oh! Caroline! Don't you think that's pretty?"
The swordsman furrowed his brow. "It's nice," he said, "but I'm not sure it's a good name for a dog."
"Yeah, I mean," continued Lloyd as he went over to the sink to wash his hands, "you usually name dogs 'Poochie' or 'Kibbles'. You know, cute, girly things like that. I didn't think you needed a book of names -- "
"They're baby names."
He blinked. "...Baby names?"
Colette, getting increasingly frustrated that he didn't seem to be getting the point, looked Lloyd in the eyes. "I think we should have a baby, Lloyd."
Lloyd felt something catch in his throat. He coughed. "Y-You really think so?"
His wife nodded. "We've talked about it before, right? You and your father said that as long as people wanted commissions, we'd have plenty of money, right? And if we ever really needed it, the others would help us!" She shut the book and smiled. "Besides... you would make such a wonderful father. I can't imagine a happier life than living as a family with you and our children."
Another smile crept over Lloyd's face as he listened to her. "You dork," he said, taking her hand and helping her stand, "You really think I'd say no to that?"
Colette's eyes began to shine with happiness. "You mean...?"
She was interrupted by a long kiss on her lips. When Lloyd finally broke off, he grinned. "Looks like dinner'll be a little late tonight."
"Oh?" the happy wife giggled, "By how long?"
"However long you want it to be!" They both laughed as they walked upstairs, hand in hand. Hopefully, their first try would be their lucky one.
Chapter 3: Starvation
Sitting in the cold during a journey he never wanted to make, Lloyd finds himself cracking under the weight of his own loneliness.
Rated T; angst. Some language. Set during Dawn of the New World.
"...It's pretty cold tonight, isn't it?"
Lloyd shivered. He had planned on building a campfire, but a cold, wet mist drizzling over the lonely forest prevented him from doing so. Not even the cloak he wore for such occasions could keep him warm - it was already soaked from the rain earlier that day. All he could do now was huddle against a tree, hoping that he wouldn't end up with a cold after this. Or worse.
"Heheh... damn, I should have bought a sleeping bag when I had the chance." He rubbed his arms. "Professor Sage would be blowing a gasket if she saw me like this, wouldn't she?"
He never used to talk to himself like this. Then again, he never used to be so consistently alone. He would go weeks at a time without saying a single word to another living, breathing person, and he couldn't even remember the last time he spoke to any of his friends or family. Well, the last time he spoke to them without having to push them away. Perhaps the sound of his own voice gave him some way to break the constant silence he had to endure.
"Dad would just whack me again... I wonder if there's a Dwarven Vow about not freezing yourself...?"
A lecture from Raine or a punch from Dirk would have been welcome, truth be told. At least he would know they still thought about him; that they still cared about him. His mission - finding those damn Cores - had only turned the people he once fought alongside into enemies. Not to mention that bullshit about Palmacosta - he had to wonder if any of them would even want him back when he finished. If he finished.
"...It was... it was a lot warmer when we were gathering exspheres..." He wiped at his nose, his hand shaking. "At least then... she would have kept me warm..."
He caught himself thinking about her again. Colette. Obviously, he was crazy about her - but every time she entered his mind, his heart would begin to ache. Six months without her was six months too long. He tried to fight his thoughts of her - "Focus on the Cores," he would say to himself - but nothing worked. Day after day after day, all he could do was wish he could go home to her; to tell her how sorry he was and explain everything.
He buried his face in his hands. He cursed himself for leaving her alone, for accepting Martel's mission - for falling in love in the first place. He began to doubt he would ever see her again, and if that happened... then...
He screamed. He yelled and yelled, beating the soggy ground with his fists until they undoubtedly bruised. Damn the Cores! Damn the Vanguard! Damn Ratatosk, that stupid kid, his annoying girlfriend, all of them! If it weren't for them, he could have seen Colette again! He could have seen his friends, the people he loved! He wouldn't have to be here, alone, cold, hungry - it was all their fault that he had to starve for affection...!
As he grew wearier, Lloyd slumped back against the tree. What would Colette think if she saw him like this? She would have held him - she would have kept him warm, telling him that everything was going to be all right. But all she could do for him now was visit him in his dreams, if he was lucky.
Tears began to fall down his face. He laughed bitterly. "Ha... Martel said I was protected from the Cores' power..." He then lowered his head, whispering to himself. "She lied."
Chapter 4: The Gift He Left Behind
Six years after their journey and barely days after their wedding, Lloyd and Colette receive a surprise from Kratos that will change their lives forever.
Rated G; family, fluff.
"A letter? From Kratos?"
Dirk nodded at his brand new daughter-in-law. "Aye, Colette. He left it here before he went away."
Lloyd, who had been sitting next to his wife, looked at his adoptive father with shock. "He - Dad, why didn't you tell me this before!?"
The dwarf grunted and laid the letter down on the table before them. " 'Don't let him open it until he becomes a man.' His words, Lloyd. Now that ya've married, though... I'm sure he'd agree that ya've earned the right."
The newlyweds simply stared at the envelope. It had been nearly six years since they last spoke to Kratos; six years since he left to drift away on Derris-Kharlan with the angels. And now, to see this obviously important message he left behind...
"Well? What're ya waiting for, son?"
Lloyd slowly picked up the envelope, inspecting it carefully. All it said on the front was "Lloyd"; however, the handwriting - careful and neat, just like he remembered - served to remind him of the father he just barely got to know. After a moment, he turned it over, removing the small red seal that held it shut before lifting the letter out and unfolding it. He began to read its contents out loud.
"Lloyd," he began, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, "When you receive this letter, I will not have been with you for many years. For this, I apologize." His voice began to tremble as he continued. "My only wish... was to see how your journey has shaped you... to see how much you've grown. In that respect, you've made me very proud."
Colette took a hold of Lloyd's hand, her eyes tearing up as he read his father's last words to him.
"When you've become an adult, when you've married and have started a family of your own... I want you to have this." Lloyd stopped to gather himself together. "Use this to support yourself, your father, and your posterity... and remember that, no matter what... y-your mother and I will always love you... Be happy, my son - Kratos Aurion..."
Lloyd began to sniffle, setting the letter down to wipe at his face. Seeing the tears his son was trying so hard to stifle, Dirk placed a strong, warm hand on his shoulders.
"...There was something else in the envelope," said the dwarf with a gentle voice.
Sniffling once more, Lloyd reached for the other sheet of paper that came with the letter. A certificate of ownership... from the Tethe'allan Royal Bank?
"It's - " He glanced further down. "...This document hereby declares Lloyd Irving the rightful owner of account number 478836, with a current balance of --"
The three nearly choked as the read the number in unison. "Ten million gald!?"
"That's - " Colette looked up at Lloyd, her eyes shimmering with delight. "Oh, Lloyd! That's - that's so much money! We could support our great-great-grandchildren with this...!"
Lloyd's mouth continued to hang open. "I - oh, man - I'd never have to work another day in my life!"
"W-What was that!?" growled Dirk. "Lloyd, just because yer filthy rich now doesn't mean yer not taking over the family business...!"
"I-I never said I wouldn't, Dad!" Lloyd cringed. "I swear!!"
All Colette could do was laugh as her husband and father-in-law continue to heatedly debate over how the money would be saved or spent. Later, she knew, they would both realize just how precious Kratos' last gift to his son would be - for themselves, for their children, for their grandchildren, and beyond.
Chapter 5: Empty Promises
After a traumatizing attack, Colette is left broken and afraid, while Lloyd is left powerless to do anything but make empty promises.
Rated T; hurt/comfort, drama, slight AU. Violence. Takes place just before Dawn of the New World.
"No!! Don't hurt me!! Please don't hurt me!!"
Lloyd abruptly awoke to a sudden, piercing scream. He shot up, wrestling his legs out of his sleeping bag. "Colette!" he cried, "What happened!?" He made his way over to a hysterically sobbing Colette, grabbing a shoulder and gently shaking her. "Hey, answer me...!"
After a short moment, her crying died down. Unable to answer his question, she simply looked at him, her eyes bloodshot and filled with unbearable fear. Her lip quivered, as did her fingers, while she occasionally let out a pained sob.
She had told him about her night terrors before - however, this was the first time one had frightened her enough to make her wake him up. "...You had another nightmare, didn't you?"
Lloyd cursed under his breath. There was no doubt what her nightmares were about. Even now, three weeks after it happened, the attack still haunted her every thought.
"It hurt, Lloyd," she said softly, "The rocks... they wouldn't stop - they won't stop throwing them...!"
She broke into a fit of sobbing again before Lloyd wrapped her into a tight embrace. Every time she remembered - every time she told her about another nightmare, another flashback - his chest would swell with hurt for her and a desire for vengeance against those bastards who did this to her. But he knew that vengeance wouldn't help. Not this time. Retaliation would only give the angry, unsatisfied people of the new world another excuse to attack them.
Of all of the anti-reunification sentiment in Sylvarant, the vast majority was concentrated in Palmacosta, which had only recently been repaired after the disaster with the Giant Kharlan Tree almost a year and a half ago. They both knew that when they went to meet with the Governor-General. But how could they have known that Colette would get lost? How could they have known that an angry mob would corner her, blaming her for the deaths of their friends and family? How could they have known they would kick her, spit on her, and stone her?
Thankfully, Lloyd was able to save her before - he didn't want to think about it. But the damage was much more than physical. This girl, the girl he loved so much, the girl whose life they both fought hard to save, was now paralyzed by her own fear of death. Her affliction was out of Lloyd's hands, no matter how badly he wanted to help her. Still, he thought, he had to try.
"They can't hurt you anymore," he said. "You're going to be okay."
Colette simply buried her head in his chest, clinging tightly to his arms, as if those people would kill her the moment she let go.
"...I won't let anybody hurt you again, Colette."
She looked back up at him.
"Don't - " she swallowed, "don't let them take it all away from me... my new life..."
"I won't. I promise."
To tell the truth, he couldn't promise her that. He was only human. But she still needed that protection. She needed to feel safe. And if that was the only way for her to feel safe, he would make as many promises as he needed... even if he couldn't keep them in the end.
The trembling girl sighed with relief, resting in Lloyd's strong arms; the only place she felt truly safe. "Don't leave me alone..." she whispered.
"I won't." He kissed the top of her head. "I'll be right here with you. Can you go back to sleep?"
As if to answer him, Colette's energy began to drain from her. She loosened her grip on his arms and relaxed. Once she was asleep again, Lloyd laid her back down and watched over her the rest of the night.
He had no idea just how soon he would have to break his promises.
Chapter 6: Holes in my Stockings
The ever-clumsy Chosen of Mana has torn her black stockings to shreds while Lloyd gets a little more than he bargained for.
Rated G; humor.
Colette let out a loud screech as she lost her footing. Sliding down the side of a steep hill that was around ten feet tall, she tried to stop herself; however, her efforts only resulted in her face being dragged through the dirt before she finally came to rest at the bottom - right in the middle of a thick thorny brier plants.
"Colette!" called Lloyd as he carefully made his way down the hill. Normally, he wouldn't be too worried about Colette tripping. When it involved a bed of sharp thorns, though, it was a different story.
He parted the plants with his gloved hands to discover that, aside from some cuts on her hands, legs, and face, she seemed to be just fine. "Man... you really scared me there for a moment!"
Colette whimpered. "I-I'm fine," she said, trying to stand up. She stopped when she suddenly felt more thorns scratching her. "Ow!"
"Hold still!" said Lloyd. "Just stay right there. I'll get you out." He drew a sword and carefully cut away the plants that entangled her legs before grabbing her by the hand and pulling her up. "There you go. You're lucky you didn't land in poison ivy or something!" he said with a grin.
The girl giggled. "Yeah, I guess so!" She then looked down at her legs. Instantly, her smile turned into an expression of shock and distress. "Oh, no! My stockings...!"
Indeed, the poor Chosen's black tights had been torn to shreds by the briers. Lloyd took a glance before reassuring her. "Hey, don't worry. We're almost to Asgard - we'll get you a new pair there."
"I know," sighed Colette, "but I can't walk into town with holes all over them!" She then removed her boots before reaching under her dress to remove the stockings.
Like any warm-blooded male, Lloyd couldn't help but blush a little at the sight. He'd forgotten the last time he actually saw Colette's legs.
She stepped back into her boots and bundled up the torn panty hose. "It's a little embarrassing," she admitted, "but at least I'm not wearing torn up stockings anymore."
"Y-yeah," stammered the swordsman. He sheathed his blade and pointed to the horizon, where the faint image of windmills could be seen. "See? Asgard's just a little further that way! Let's get going before we get hungry for dinner."
Colette nodded as they went on their way. Not five minutes later did Colette trip on a rock, landing face first in the grass.
That was when Lloyd saw it.
Oh, Goddess, he thought as tried to cover his brilliantly red face, her panties are black, too...!
Chapter 7: The Moon Princess
After a hearty night of food and fun at Mizuho's Festival of the Moon, Sheena tells Lloyd and Colette the old legend of the Moon Princess.
Rated G; friendship. Contains creative licensing of Japanese folklore.
Every summer, on the night when the full moon was closest to the earth, the hidden village of Mizuho held a grand festival unlike anything else in Sylvarant or Tethe'alla. The Festival of the Moon, which originally began as a way to honor the active spirits that emerged on the full moon, was an occasion known only by the keepers of the Igaguri tradition; like everything else about Mizuho, it was virtually unknown to outsiders. The summer after the two worlds were reunited, however, the village chief Sheena personally invited two of her best friends to celebrate with them.
As the guests of honor, Lloyd and Colette were given a warm welcome and the privilege of experiencing an important part of the Igaguri culture. A clan of seamstresses presented the two with their very own summer robes (which Sheena called yukata) - for Colette, a lovely pink one with a cherry blossom pattern, and for Lloyd, a handsome burgundy one with a zigzag trim. Of course, they needed quite a bit of assistance to actually put them on, but Sheena and the other women were more than happy to help.
At the start of the evening, they listened to a band of booming drums and lively flutes while dancers paraded through the village. Then they tried their hand at various games, such as catching goldfish with a paper paddle (Colette, with her incredible luck, caught two!). Sheena then guided her friends through all of the delicious foods the festival had to offer - everything from fried octopus to sweet rice dumplings to meat buns to all kinds of ice cream. And, of course, there was some celebratory consumption of Mizuho Potion; thankfully, the vendor knew not to give the chief and her young companions too much lest they made fools out of themselves.
Once midnight passed, the trio went back to the chief's dwellings to rest on the porch and watch the moon. Sheena prepared some tea and some traditional "moon viewing" noodles to help them sober up before bed.
"Nothing quite like Mizuho on the Festival of the Moon, huh, guys?" she asked, handing the rosy-cheeked couple their food and drink.
"Yeah!" said Lloyd with a grin, "This is amazing!" He eagerly reached for his chopsticks and began to devour his noodles.
Colette simply sipped her tea, giggling at Lloyd. "We've had so much fun tonight! Thank you for inviting us, Sheena!"
Sheena sat down beside them, brushing off her royal blue and purple yukata. "Don't mention it," she said with a smile. She took a drink of her tea. "You guys are always welcome here, you know. All the villagers have been dying to thank you for everything you've done."
"Well, the food's thanks enough!" said Lloyd between mouthfuls of noodles.
Colette found his exclamation particularly funny in her inebriated state and laughed heartily. "Lloyd's always happy when he has plenty to eat, doesn't he, Sheena?"
Sheena couldn't help but join in Colette's laughter. "I'll say! You know, Colette, I bet that men have two stomachs instead of one!"
"Really?" asked the other two simultaneously with widened eyes.
The older girl sighed and scratched her head. "I'm just kidding, you guys," she said sheepishly.
Suddenly a series of footsteps and laughter caught their attention. Two small boys and an even younger girl ran by holding colorful pinwheels.
"Come on, you two!" shouted the eldest, "We need to get home before the Moon Princess comes!"
Colette blinked as she watched the children turn the corner. "Moon Princess?"
"It's an old kid's story," said Sheena. "On the night of the festival, the Moon Princess comes and leaves candy for good little boys and girls. It's a way for parents to get their kids to bed at a decent hour."
"Why does she leave candy?" asked Lloyd, slurping up the last of his noodles. "And how does she get here from the moon? Does she use a Rheaird of something?"
Sheena snorted. "Lloyd, it's just a story. But if you want to know how it goes, I'll tell you."
"Please!" pleaded Colette, who was already listening to her friend intently.
So Sheena told them the story of the Moon Princess. Once upon a time, an old woodsman cut down a tree in Gaoracchia forest. Inside the tree's stump, he was stunned to find a tiny baby girl. She took the baby home, where he and his wife raised her as their own. Once the little girl grew up, news of her radiant, heavenly beauty spread to the far corners of the world. Suitors come from all over to ask for her name in marriage, but the girl rejected all of them.
One day, a village chief from Ancient Mizuho came to visit the girl, and the two fell deeply in love. The chief asked her to return to the village, but the girl instead turned her face to the moon. "I am not of your kind," she said to him, "and I must return to my home someday."
Finally, the day came when ambassadors from the moon came to take the girl away. She explained to her family that, as the moon's princess, she had to go back and lead her people, even though she loved the earth with all of her heart. The princess returned to the moon, flying back to Mizuho once a year to bless the chief's descendents with treats and good fortune.
When she finished the story, Colette sniffled. "That's so sad..."
"Huh?" asked Sheena, tilting her head. "Why?"
"Because the princess loved the chief and her family, but she had to go back to the moon anyway." The girl wiped her eyes.
"But she came back to see them, didn't she?" Lloyd piped in.
Sheena closed her eyes. "...You know, now that I think about it, that story reminds me a lot of you two."
The couple turned to her inquisitively.
"Colette thought that she would have to leave everything behind, too, in order to save the world." She gave Lloyd a look, as if to say, "Especially you".
Lloyd, wondering why she was looking at him that way, added, "Yeah, but that didn't happen! We saved Colette, and now she can be with everybody she cares about!"
Colette sniffed again before smiling at the other two. "Yes... I guess that's why the story's so sad. Because I know how the Moon Princess must have felt."
The chief nodded. "But now you know how important the people you love are." She gave another, sterner look to Lloyd. "Right?"
"Why do you keep looking at me like that!?"
Colette laughed again. Sheena just sighed. She should have realized that subtlety wouldn't help either of them out with something like that.
Once the couple had fallen asleep on their futons inside, Sheena searched the pantry. She pulled out a small jar and opened it, revealed the small, wrapped pieces of Lezareno chocolate candy that Regal had given her as a gift. She poured out six pieces into her hand and tip-toed to the room where Lloyd and Colette were sleeping soundly, placing the candies on the floor between the two.
Satisfied with her work, she sealed the jar shut and put it away before retiring to her own futon. Although the Moon Princess was just a fairy tale, maybe, she thought, this would bring them both the luck they need to be honest with their feelings.
Chapter 8: Bedfellows
Lloyd thought he'd be able to go back to sleep with his lovely fiancé at his side. He was wrong.
Rated T; humor. Suggestive themes.
Lloyd groaned. Must that sliver of sunbeam from behind the curtains land right in his face? It was much too early to get up - he had planned to sleep in today until the sunshine so rudely awakened him.
Grumbling, he squinted his eyes and buried his face in his pillow. At least the light was gone, but now, Lloyd realized, he had quite a bit of trouble breathing with the pillow covering his nose and mouth. Plus, he seemed to be face first in a damp spot of his own drool. Ew. So he turned again to his side, this time towards the wall opposite of his window.
He reached to his side, a habit he'd formed once he and Colette started sleeping in the same bed. Sometimes, just having an arm around her would help him fall back asleep (not that it had been very difficult for him in the first place). He relaxed once his fingers touched her hair and his arm fell over her... muscles?
After it finally occurred to Lloyd that Colette did not have mannish biceps, he started awake with a yelp. At this, the figure on the other side of the bed rolled over.
"Good morning, Hunny", said Zelos with a wink and a wry grin.
"Wh -- " Lloyd flailed about in his bed, nearly falling out of it. "Where - where the hell did you come from!? You shouldn't be here!!"
Zelos purred, placing a hand on Lloyd's thigh. "That's not what you said last night, Bud!" He licked his lips.
The startled swordsman stared at his bedfellow in shock and horror. "Last night!? What last night!? There was no last night!!" He then froze, his stomach sinking at the thought of his fiancee seeing this. "Dammit, get out of my house before -- "
Just then a roar of laughter came from outside Lloyd's bedroom door. Once he was able to recognize their voices, Lloyd jumped out of bed and angrily opened the door to reveal Genis, Colette, and Sheena doubling over in fits of giggles. It didn't take long for Zelos' obnoxious laughter to join them. In fact, the only one who wasn't laughing was Lloyd himself, who turned beet red at the joksters.
"You - " he sputtered angrily, "Which one of you thought that would be funny!? Huh!?"
"I-I'm sorry, Lloyd," giggled Colette, "it was Zelos' idea...!"
Sheena wiped a tear from her eye. "Haha... I told him not to, but - "
"You were freaking out!" cried Genis, pointing at his friend. "You should have heard yourself!"
Lloyd turned to the red-head, who had fallen off of the bed laughing. "He - dammit, Zelos!!"
Zelos tried to form a witty retort, but words failed him as the look on his friend's face made him laugh even harder. Lloyd finally relented and let out a sigh.
"Fine, fine, you guys got me," he said as he scratched the back of his head.
Colette took his arm. "We did! And we got to see how cute you are when you're mad!" She smiled teasingly at him.
"I am not...!"
"Just get downstairs, you guys. The pancakes'll get cold!" said Sheena as she followed Genis down the stairs.
Zelos stood up and headed out the door, but not before turning back to Lloyd with a wink and puckered lips. Lloyd returned the favor by tossing a big red boot at his face.
Chapter 9: The Tomato Challenge
Lloyd says that there is absolutely, positively no way to make him eat a tomato. Colette is determined to prove him wrong.
Rated G; humor.
"C-Colette, stop that! I already said -- "
"Come on, Lloyd! Just one little bite? Please?"
"I said no!!"
Colette giggled as she playfully followed Lloyd around the campsite, a plump, bright red tomato in her outstretched hand. She seemed to be enjoying herself as she tried to get her boyfriend to take a bite - Lloyd, however, was not having quite as much fun.
"Seriously!" he pleaded, "Cut it out! You know I hate those things!"
"Maybe if you just ate them more often, you wouldn't hate them anymore!" The Chosen walked faster, catching up with Lloyd and holding the tomato in front of his face. "They're really, really yummy, I promise...!"
Lloyd's look of complete disgust only made Colette laugh out loud. Oh, how cute he was when he was flustered! Lloyd placed a gloved hand on the tomato and pushed it away.
"No!" he cried again, backing away from the repulsive fruit. "No way! There's no way you can make me eat that!"
"Really?" Colette approached him again. "No way at all?"
"No way at all." Lloyd frowned and crossed his arms.
The girl pulled the tomato away and smiled. "Are you sure, Lloyd? Because I think I know a way...!" She walked over to the campfire, over which a pot a cream stew was simmering and near which a knife and cutting board had been placed. Colette carefully carved out a small slice of the tomato and returned to Lloyd. She then placed the tomato slice in her mouth and closed her eyes, standing on her toes.
Lloyd blushed a little and gulped. He had no idea she could be so insidious! "Y...You're not serious, are you?"
"Mm-hmm," replied Colette.
The swordsman knew instantly that she had him cornered. There she was, all cute and puckered up, just waiting for him to close the gap between their lips - there was no way he could say no to that. But between him and her bright, shining face was that repulsive tomato slice, and there was no way she was going to remove that obstacle herself.
Whimpering softly to himself, Lloyd shut his eyes tightly and leaned forward. He wasn't going to let some messy, watery, putrid little fruit come between them! He bit into the other side of the tomato, fighting his way through every swallow until he finally found Colette's lips.
After a short, gentle kiss, Colette broke off, giggling happily and throwing her hands into the air. "I did it!" she cried, "I told you I could make you eat it!"
Lloyd coughed and gagged before waving her off. "You got me, you got me..." he said, "Just - don't make me ever do that again...!"
"I won't, I promise." She took a hold of Lloyd's hand. "But because you were so brave, you can have extra cream stew for dinner, okay?"
He sighed, defeated. "Good. I'll need it."
Chapter 10: Mea Culpa
Her body hostage and her soul invaded, Colette is tortured by her own guilt and her very worst nightmare.
Rated T; angst, horror, psychological. Violence.
It was a feeling she knew all too well. The feeling of being trapped inside herself; being chained within her own body by a force she couldn't control. The feeling of doing things she had never wanted to do yet being completely and utterly powerless to stop herself. They were feelings she had known from the days she spent with her soul bound within her Cruxis Crystal, her body empty but her spirit still alive, begging to be set free again.
Yet this time, she was not trapped within the emptiness of her Crystal - it was Mithos who had captured her and taken her mind and body hostage. It was his Crystal, his essence that swarmed her, crawling through her body like an infestation of maggots and flies that wanted nothing more than to destroy her. As he held Colette captive in the depths of Derris-Kharlan, he tormented her, screaming at her, laughing at her for being so useless, so afraid, so powerless --
"Stop it!!" she cried in her mind. "Stop saying that!!"
Mithos' sinister, boyish laugh echoed through her brain. "You want me to stop because you know it's true! You were always weak. You were always afraid to die, no matter how much you told yourself you weren't!"
"That's not true... I didn't have to die - there was another way all along...!"
"Excuses!!" he screamed, making every inch of Colette tremble in pain. "You're just making excuses because you couldn't complete the ritual!! Because you couldn't bring back Martel!!"
"Martel doesn't want any of this --"
"I've had enough of your excuses, Chosen! You were afraid, so you ran away from your destiny! You were born to die, but you were too useless to even do that!"
The words burrowed into her soul. She knew she had failed. She knew she was supposed to die that day. The guilt of not fulfilling her destiny had haunted her ever since, and now Mithos was feeding off of it; making her suffer for it.
"No one..." she replied in one last attempt to gather her courage, "...was born for the sole purpose of dying...!"
"No one...?" Mithos laughed again. "Who told you that! ...Oh, I remember!"
She saw a figure approaching her in her mind's eye. She heard the sound of familiar footsteps and smelled the scent of Iselia as the image became clearer.
"It was him, wasn't it?"
"Lloyd!!" she cried, reaching out to him, "Lloyd, help me! Mithos is --"
Lloyd simply scowled.
"...Lloyd...? Wh-what are you --"
Suddenly, she felt a sharp tug on her scalp as Lloyd lifted her up by her hair.
"You make me sick," he said sharply before throwing her back down on the ground.
Colette thought she felt her heart stop as she crashed to the floor. This wasn't happening - this couldn't be happening! Lloyd would never --
She had no time to complete her thought before a swift kick in the stomach knocked the air out of her. Then another. Then another, and another, and another, until the girl could taste blood in her mouth. Lloyd grabbed her chin and held it up for her to look at him.
"You were always so damn useless!" he spat out, "All this time we've worked so hard to protect you... and you repay us by failing your duty!?"
"L-Lloyd..." whimpered Colette, "St...stop it..."
He grabbed a hold of her neck and squeezed it. "Shut up!! You were supposed to save the world, and now look at what you've done!" He lifted her off of the ground again as she struggled for air. "You made everybody suffer for nothing!! Nothing!!"
The pain she felt as she choked was nothing compared the pain she felt in her soul. It was her worst nightmare come to life. The person she loved the most, the person for whom she was willing to sacrifice her own life to save now hated her for being a burden. He hated her for being useless, for always needing to be protected, and most of all, he hated her for abandoning the world they had tried so hard to save.
"I'm sorry," Colette choked out, "I'm sorry... I'm..."
Lloyd simply laughed at her apology. However, it wasn't just Lloyd's voice - Mithos had joined him. Colette watched in horror as the image of Lloyd vanished before her, his voice dying out as if she had just woken up from a horrible, horrible dream. But this dream had aroused Colette's darkest fears and most painful guilt, leaving her emotionally powerless in the face of Mithos' parasitic evil.
"I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." Apologies repeated themselves in her mind over and over again.
"'Sorry' isn't good enough, Chosen," said Mithos bitterly. "Your suffering has just begun."
Chapter 11: The Morning After
When Emil goes to check on his newest friend, Tenebrae makes an... interesting discovery.
Rated T; humor. Suggestive themes.
Emil yawned as he ventured down the corridor of Flanoir's inn. Although he had already dressed and was hungry for breakfast, he'd decided that the food could wait. After all, he'd seen the way his new friend Lloyd had been treated the day before, and despite knowing that Colette was there to support him, he had not seen him for some time. Thus, he figured, he should probably go check up on Lloyd, just to see if he was feeling any better.
"You're still worried about Lloyd, Lord Emil?"
Emil yelped as he turned around. "T-Tenebrae! ...D-don't scare me like that..."
Tenebrae chuckled a little. "My apologies. But the question still stands."
"I'm not worried about him," he replied, scratching the back of his head, "I just thought it'd be polite to see how he was doing."
"I'm certain he's all right," the Centurion replied with a knowing glint in his eyes, "but it still wouldn't hurt to check, I suppose."
Once Emil reached the room he knew Lloyd was staying in, he quietly knocked on the door. "L-Lloyd? ...It's me, Emil."
The door opened to reveal a scraggly-haired, half-asleep Lloyd in his wrinkled pants and undershirt. "Morning," he yawned, stretching an arm above his head. "Breakfast ready yet?"
"I-I'm sorry, did I wake you up?" asked Emil nervously.
The older swordsman waved his hand and shook his head. "Nah, I was up already. Didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked."
"...Was it because of...?"
"...Hey, if this is about yesterday, don't worry about it." Lloyd smiled a little, sitting down on the bed and allowing Emil to come inside. "It's just - I've been keeping a lot to myself for a really long time, and that's not something I've ever had to do before. Now that I've had some time to let it out, I feel a lot better."
Emil nodded and smiled back. "Yeah. I'm glad. Tenebrae said you'd be fine, but I just wanted to -- " He turned around to see that Tenebrae had gone missing. "...Tenebrae? Huh, he was here just a second ago..."
"'Let it out' indeed," said a voice from inside the room. All of the sudden, a familiar, black tail popped out from under the bed, clutching in its grip a small, white bra with a tiny pink bow in the middle.
The two yelped in surprise when they saw it. Lloyd nearly fell of the bed before turning a brighter color of red than Emil ever thought possible.
"W-what is that!?" cried Emil, pointing to the bra and Tenebrae floated out from underneath the bed.
"It appears," said Tenebrae, "to be a woman's brassiere. Smaller than usual - a B-cup, I would say." He chuckled before waving the bra in front of Lloyd. "So this is the reason you and Colette checked in early, Lloyd? Stealing away her innocence like that... I must say, I'm quite impressed!"
"You -- !!" Lloyd lunged at the Centurion, only to land face first on the bed as Tenebrae teleported behind him.
"I do hope you two were careful, now," he continued. "I don't think the world is ready for a Lloyd Irving Jr. quite yet. Wouldn't you agree, Lord Emil?"
Emil looked at Tenebrae, then back at Lloyd, who looked as though he was about to strangle the creature with his bare hands, then back at Tenebrae. Once the implications of the situation hit him, he covered his face in embarrassment and whimpered.
"You ass!!" yelled Lloyd, leaping off the bed and stomping towards Tenebrae, "I swear I'm gonna -- "
"Lloyd!" cried a girlish voice from across the hallway, "Lloyd, have you seen my -- "
All eyes immediately turned to Colette standing in the doorway. When she saw Lloyd turn whiter than the snow outside, she looked at Tenebrae and gasped, placing her hands on her mouth in horror.
"Good morning, Colette," said Tenebrae without missing a beat. "I believe this is yours?"
Chapter 12: All About Dogs
A young Colette shares her new book with Lloyd and shows him what a wonderful friend he really is.
Rated G; friendship.
"Lloyd! Lloyd, look at this!"
Colette nearly tripped as she ran out of the schoolhouse and over to her best friend. As Lloyd looked over from his spot underneath a large oak tree, he spotted a large book in the young girl's arms.
"Hey, Colette!" the boy of eight said with a wide grin. "What is that? Homework?"
The girl giggled breathlessly as she sat down next to him, "Nuh-uh. Professor Sage said I could borrow it!" She held the book out for him to see. A picture of a large, grey dog adorned the cover, along with the words, "All About Dogs". "It's a big book about puppies! See? See?"
Lloyd blinked. "If it's just about dogs, then why's it so big?"
"'Cause it's got lots and lots of pictures of all kinds of puppies!" Colette opened the book to a page that had a picture of a small, brown dog with a long body and floppy ears. "This is a 'Dack-shund', but people like to call them 'wiener dogs' 'cause they look like sausages!"
The sound of the word "sausages" made Lloyd a little hungry, but he ignored that as he looked at the picture and laughed. "It does look like a sausage!" he said before reaching over and turning the page. "Hey, that one looks like the shopkeeper's dog!"
"That's a beagle!" The girl pointed to the picture on the page. "They've got big brown spots and they're really friendly and they're very cute."
"Yeah, the shopkeeper has to keep him on a leash. He says he'll start licking everybody if he doesn't."
"And look at this!" Colette turned a couple of pages. "This one's a Husky. They run really, really fast and people use them to pull sleds in the snow!"
"Is that why they're so fuzzy?"
"Yes! It keeps them warm in the winter." She paused and placed a finger on her chin. "...Oh! There's this one puppy that reminds me of you, Lloyd!" Colette leafed through the pages, scanning each one until she found what she was looking for. "A Chocolate Labrador."
Lloyd beamed. "Wow, that dog looks really neat!"
The girl smiled back. "Uh-huh! Labradors are really big and strong and loyal. They're always there for you, like you're there for me!"
The older boy couldn't help but blush. "R-really? You think so?"
Colette nodded enthusiastically.
"Thanks, Colette." Lloyd got on his knees and leaned over the book. "Hey, let's try to find Noishe in there!"
"Okay!" She responded as she began to search the book again. Although their efforts would be in vain, Colette would at least be able to share her love for dogs with her very best friend.
Chapter 13: Where Grandpa Lives
The Irving family takes their young daughter stargazing, telling her about the grandfather she would never get to meet.
Rated G; family. Contains an original character.
Allison Irving squirmed, grabbing her father's head and trying to climb onto his shoulders. After an unsuccessful attempt, she whined and slapped his back with her tiny hands to get his attention. She smiled triumphantly once he turned his head to look at her.
"Okay, okay," said Lloyd, grabbing his daughter from behind him and setting her on top of his shoulders, "Up you go."
The little girl of barely two years squealed happily, grabbing onto his hair and tilting her head up at the night sky. Lloyd couldn't help but chuckle - she loved to watch the stars on her father's shoulders, just like he once did when he was her age. Although she definitely took after her mother with her brilliant blond hair and clumsiness surpassing even other children her age, he always thought that she acted like a pint-sized version of himself.
"Allison, don't pull Daddy's hair, okay?" said Colette, reaching up to remove the girl's hand from Lloyd's wild hair.
"She's fine," Lloyd assured her. Allison kicked her feet and moved her arms so that they surrounded his forehead.
Colette moved closer to her husband, holding her knees. "Didn't you say that Derris-Kharlan was going to be visible tonight?"
Lloyd nodded. "Yeah. It'll be the first time in three years." He reached back and repositioned his slouching daughter. "I wanted to get to show Allison."
"That's right. She should know where her Grandpa lives." She turned and smiled at the little girl. "Right, Pumpkin?"
"Grandpa?" asked Allison, confused. She had a grandfather, though - two of them, in fact. Grandpa Dirk played with her while her parents were away, and Grandfather Frank spoiled her far more than he ever could with Colette.
"Grandpa Kratos," clarified Lloyd. He searched the sky for a moment before pointing. "See that big, purple star? That's called Derris-Kharlan. That's where Grandpa Kratos lives."
The girl stared in wonder. "Grandpa!" she cried, reaching upwards. "Wanna see Grandpa...!"
Lloyd felt his heart sink at her words. He frowned, closing his eyes. "...I'm sorry, Honey. You can't see Grandpa Kratos."
"Because - " he swallowed, " - because... he lives up there, on that star. And it's so far away that he can't come back."
"Why? Why?" Allison repeated. Colette, seeing the pain in Lloyd's face, lifted the girl off of his shoulders and sat her in her lap.
"Grandpa Kratos," said Colette, playing with one of her daughter's blond braids, "had a job to do. A very, very important job. So he had to leave." She looked back at Lloyd as she continued. "...But if he were here, Allison, I know he would have loved you very much."
Lloyd looked back at his wife, who smiled lovingly in return. It killed him inside to know that a part of his family, the father he only barely knew, would never get to see his own grandchildren. It was hard to accept that all their daughter would ever know about him would be from stories and the very few pictures that remained of him. However, Colette's words were comforting - even she knew that, despite his cold demeanor, he would have been proud of the little girl and of the loving father that Lloyd had become.
"...Yeah," he said, a smile creeping across his face. "He would have. And who knows?" He looked back up at the night sky and continued, "Maybe he's watching over us right now."
"Grandpa watchin' us?"
"Yes." Colette snuggled with the girl a little. "Grandpa's watching over us."
Allison seemed content with that answer as she continued watching the sky, mesmerized by the bright purple dot where Grandpa lived. Lloyd placed an arm around Colette's shoulders, occasionally glancing back at the girl as he reminisced, taking comfort in the knowledge that his father was undoubtedly thinking of him, wondering about the new family he would never have the chance to meet.
Chapter 14: Turning Tables
After leaving Colette alone for half a year, Lloyd tries to make things right again. But does he really need to?
Rated G; fluff. Takes place after Dawn of the New World's good ending.
It was always hard to go back to the normal routine after a long journey. Although Colette had always warmly welcomed peace and stability, it still felt a little bit weird to readjust to being home after traveling around so much. Nevertheless, she knew that this transition would be far easier than the one she experienced two years prior.
It had been nearly two weeks since their newest journey to protect the new world had ended. Since then, she and the others had gone back to their homes, trying to fix what had been torn apart by the Vanguard. Their dear friend Emil had returned, having been set free by Ratatosk and his Centurions, and was currently standing by Marta's side as she and her father answered for the disbanded militia's crimes. Lloyd had been officially pardoned by the King of Tethe'alla and Palmacosta's governor-general. He and Colette had returned to Iselia, not only to settle matters with the Church of Martel but to also spend precious time with their families.
It was a slight surprise, then, when Colette saw him through the window as he walked to her house, obviously carrying something behind his back. She had expected him to be with Dirk and Noishe, or perhaps spending time with Paul and the other small children who looked up to him. She opened the door before he raised his hand to knock.
"Lloyd!" she said happily, "What are you doing here?"
"Hey," he replied with a small smile. He pulled a small bouquet of flowers - mostly white and yellow daisies, with a few white larkspur sprigs mixed in - out from behind his back. "I brought you something."
Colette's face glowed as she eagerly took the flowers. "Oh, my goodness! Lloyd, these are beautiful!" She gave him a small peck on the cheek in thanks. "Come inside - I need to find a pretty vase for these!"
Lloyd grinned somewhat bashfully and went inside, shutting the door behind him and taking a seat while she searched for proper container. He sighed a little, scratching his head as if thinking of what to say next. When she finally found a clear, pink vase, she sat it on the table and carefully placed the flowers inside.
"Remind me to fill it with water soon," she said, turning to give Lloyd a gracious smile. "I didn't know you'd stop by today!"
The swordsman looked down. "Sorry... I guess I should have told you, huh?"
Colette shook her head. "No! It's okay! I wasn't really planning on much today, anyway."
"Then..." He looked back up at her, a hint of a blush on his cheeks. "Would you... wanna go do something? Like - I dunno, take Noishe down to the shoreline, or get a bite to eat...?"
"I'd really like that, Lloyd." She took a seat next to him.
Lloyd's expression brightened as he took her hands. "Y-Yeah! And later... later, we can go wherever you want! Anywhere you want, just name it!" He spoke with an enthusiasm he hadn't shown in a very long time. "And then, when Altamira's open again - Regal said he'd let us stay there for free! Just the two of us, just like --"
When he saw Colette's bewildered expression, he sulked, letting go of her hands. "...I'm sorry," he sighed, "I - I just got carried away a little, that's all. I-If you don't want to, that's okay, too..."
Colette frowned. "It's nothing like that," she said. "You just - you don't have to try so hard, you know? I know it's been half a year since we could really be together, but - I thought you knew you didn't need to impress me, Lloyd."
"That's not - " he furrowed his brow as he tried to explain, " - I just... want to make up for it. For not being there. For not... being a very good boyfriend."
"Don't say that!" said Colette, her worry showing itself in her face. "You couldn't help that! You had a responsibility, and you had to leave!"
"But I always kept telling you not to keep secrets from me!" Lloyd shut his eyes. "And - then I went and did the same thing to you. I know I had a pact, but... I should have at least let you know I was okay, or... something..."
The girl placed a hand behind his head, pulling it forward so his forehead touched hers. She smiled softly.
"You're acting just like me," she said. "You don't need to be sorry. I was worried... but I always knew that whatever you were doing was the right thing. I knew you'd come back."
Lloyd blushed again, moving his eyes away again.
"And even if you did do something wrong - you know I'd forgive you, right?" She ran her fingers through his hair. "I know it's hard for you. You won't feel all better right after being alone for so long. But you need to forgive yourself, okay? I don't blame you. So you shouldn't, either."
It was the irony of the situation that caught Lloyd off guard. For so long, he was the one coaching Colette, telling her to stop blaming herself. Now, after yet another long, painful ordeal, she was telling him to forgive himself. The whole situation had come full circle. Nevertheless, he was relieved - although it would take him a long time to get used to being loved again, at least, he knew, that she did still love him.
"...Yeah," he said. "I'll try."
Colette then wrapped him in a gentle hug. "That's the Lloyd I know," she said. "It'll be okay from now on. I promise."
"I know," he replied as he returned the hug. After a long embrace, he broke the silence. "So... Altamira...?"
"Oh, you," giggled Colette. She pulled away and affectionately smoothed his hair. "You really want to go, don't you?"
"Well, yeah! I mean, Regal's letting us in for free and everything!"
"We'll have to make sure we thank him when we get there, then!"
Lloyd grinned widely, his true nature finally showing through again. "Of course we will!" Now, he knew, he could rest easy that he wouldn't have to earn Colette's forgiveness - he would only have to make up for lost time with her, and that was something he was completely willing to do.
Chapter 15: Follow That Couple!
When Emil and Marta see Lloyd and Colette on a date in Altamira, what does Marta decide to do? Why, follow them and catch a glimpse of "true love", of course!
Rated G; humor, fluff. Contains some Emil x Marta. Takes place after Dawn of the New World's good ending.
"M-Marta," said Emil hesitantly, "could you, um, not take so much of my cotton candy?"
Marta looked at him and sighed. "But yours is tastier than mine!" she said, looking at her own cloud of sugary thread in disdain. "I thought the blue kind would be better, but yours is so good...!"
The boy looked back down at his cotton candy and pondered. "Well, blue is raspberry, right?" He smiled, holding it out to Marta. "Want to switch?"
"Really!?" Marta squealed in delight as she eagerly switched their snacks. "Oh, Emil, you're such a gentleman!" She took a hold of his arm and bit into her new pink-colored prize.
Emil never could help but blush when she held onto him like that. It was something he knew he would miss had he ended up staying in the Ginnungagap with Richter and Ratatosk, so he was never opposed to Marta's enthusiastic displays of affection. Besides, they were on a date, right? And isn't that what couples did on dates?
"I-I'm glad we got to come to Altamira," he stammered. "You know, when we could actually have some fun here."
"Isn't it great!?" asked Marta. "Regal was so nice to let us come for free!"
"Yeah. We should stop by his office and -- "
The two suddenly stopped in their tracks. Marta blinked.
"Hey, Emil, isn't that Colette and Lloyd?"
Indeed, through the spaces in the constantly moving crowd they could see Lloyd and Colette at a snack stand. They saw the former say a few words to the latter, who nodded enthusiastically in reply. Lloyd then held up two fingers and ordered before receiving two vanilla ice cream cones.
"Hey, it is!" Emil grinned. He hadn't expected his other friends to be here, too! "Let's go say hi to them!"
As he tried to walk over, Marta took a hold of his scarf and pulled him back, earning a surprised choke from Emil.
"Are you crazy!?" she said. "And ruin the best opportunity ever!?"
Emil gulped. "O-Opportunity...?"
The girl grinned her characteristic mischievous grin. "Uh-huh! Think about it: they're obviously here for the same reason we are, right?"
"Y-You mean, they're on a date, too?"
"Exactly! Haven't you ever wondered what kind of a couple they were like?" She placed a hand on her cheek and sighed dreamily. "Two childhood friends, bound together by fate! A man who would change the whole world for the woman he loves! Isn't it romantic?"
The timid boy dreaded what she would say next. "Y...you're not gonna -- "
"Of course I'm gonna!!" she cried as she pumped a fist into the air. "I'm gonna follow them and see what true love is like!! And you're coming with me!"
Clearly, this was not what Emil had in mind when he and decided to go to Altamira. They were supposed to go on rollercoasters and ride the teacups and eat lots of fair food! But instead, they found themselves hiding behind a bush, spying on their best friends' date!
"M-Marta, I really don't think this is a good idea..."
Marta hushed him as she continued looking through her binoculars. "Be quiet! They're just about to finish their ice cream!"
"Where did you get those binoculars, anyway?" he asked in a whisper. "You didn't have them when we walked in!"
"Remember the guy in the gift shop? He let me borrow them so we could have a good view of the park on our date!"
"I-I don't think this is what he meant by "a good view"...!"
A blush instantly appeared on Marta's cheek. "Oh my gosh!" she cried, shoving the binoculars into Emil's face. "Look! Look!!"
He hesitantly took the binoculars and looked. After spotting Lloyd and Colette, he watched as the two began giggling over a smudge of ice cream that had gotten onto the tip of Lloyd's nose. Colette then reached over, wiped off the smudge with her finger, then put her finger in her mouth, causing Lloyd to start laughing again before he kissed her on the forehead.
"Isn't that the cutest!?" said Marta, taking back the binoculars and continuing to watch the two. "They're just so adorable!"
"Well... I'm glad they're happy together, but..." Emil rubbed the back of his head. "Should we really be watching this?"
"If they didn't want people to see it, they wouldn't do it in public, now would they?"
"Then why are we hiding like this!?"
"Because obviously they wouldn't do it in front of us!" She huffed. "They probably think we're too young or something."
Emil had trouble following her logic - after all, it wasn't like they were doing anything inappropriate, and it was already common knowledge that they were dating. Then again, it was Marta's logic, and while it couldn't match up to Colette's cloudcuckoolander thinking, it did have certain rules that didn't quite match up with the rest of reality.
"Oh, oh, they're headed for the teacups!" The girl grabbed her bewildered boyfriend by the wrist. "Let's go, Emil!"
Wait - teacups!?
Of course, Marta insisted, the best way to get a close-up look at the other couple on the teacups was to get on the teacups themselves. The idea didn't sit well with Emil for a number of reasons: first, how would they be able to watch them while rapidly spinning around? Second, what if they ended up getting sick from all the spinning? And finally, they shouldn't even be spying on them in the first place!
"You all buckled up, Emil?" asked Marta with a smile.
"Y-yeah, but --"
"Look, they're getting on!"
The boy turned his head to see Lloyd hop into one of the other teacups before reaching out to help Colette on.
"Now why didn't you do that when I got on, Emil?" Marta shot a sour look at him and crossed her arms.
"B-because I didn't think you needed any help -- whoa!"
With a jolt, the ride started up. They started rotating, slowly at first, only to speed up to a point where the two could only take momentary glances at their friends in the other teacup. At one point, Emil could have sworn he heard Lloyd whooping as he shot his arms into the air. A few rotations later, Colette was giggling and throwing her hands up as well. It seemed like Marta had taken the hint, too - not a moment later did she raise her arms as well, giggling the whole time.
Wasn't she supposed to be watching Lloyd and Colette? he asked himself. However, he decided not to think about that for too long and to just enjoy the ride.
When the teacups stopped, the two watched as Lloyd regained his balance and stepped off. Then, in a manner typical of the clumsy Chosen, Colette lost her footing and cried out as she tripped - right into Lloyd's arms. The older swordsman said something to her with concern on his face. When she answered back with a smile, he sighed and ruffled her hair affectionately.
Marta laughed some more. "I wonder if he always does that?"
Despite himself, Emil couldn't help but smile himself at the scene. "I wouldn't be surprised," he said. "Colette needs someone like Lloyd to catch her when she falls."
"Yeah," she sighed. "It's like they were made for each other... oh, I can't stand how cute they are!!" She giggled wildly and placed her hands on her cheeks.
"Hmm?" She looked back at him. "What is it?"
"Shouldn't we get off now...?"
The rest of the day was fairly predictable - wherever Lloyd and Colette went, Emil and Marta went too, following their trail like bloodhounds on a hunt. The boy had all but given up resisting; he knew that trying to fight with Marta's stubbornness was a futile endeavor and, instead of wasting his energy, he should just go along with it and enjoy the ride as much as he could.
Once the sun began to set, the two couples ended up at a lone bench overlooking the beach in a quieter area of the park. The older two were, of course, sitting on the bench, admiring the sunset. The younger two, on the other hand, hid themselves behind a tree well within listening distance. Marta had her eyes closed and her hand behind her ear, listening intently to what Colette and Lloyd had to say. However, they remained silent for much of the time.
"Marta?" whispered Emil, "Marta, I don't think they're going to say very much -- mmph!"
Marta covered his mouth and kept listening. When Colette's voice finally reached her ears, she opened her eyes.
"I had a lot of fun today, Lloyd," said the Chosen, looking down at her hands and smiling. "More fun than I've had in a really, really long time."
Lloyd nodded. "Me too. The last time I had this much fun - " he looked at her with a loving smile, " - was when I was with you, over half a year ago."
Colette looked back, smiling sadly. "Oh, Lloyd, I can't imagine how lonely you must have been -- "
A gloved finger placed itself on her lips. "Don't. That part of my life is over now." He moved his arm around her shoulders and held her close. "What matters now is that we're together again. And this time, it'll be forever."
With that, Lloyd tilted her chin up and leaned over, kissing her passionately on the lips. Marta and Emil both turned beet red at the sight, with Marta gasping and clamping her hands over her mouth.
"Oh my gosh..." said the girl, her voice muffles by her hands. "Oh my gosh! He kissed her!"
Even Emil was left stunned by the sight. He had no idea Lloyd could be so smooth! In fact, he found himself feeling quite a bit jealous - if only he had the guts to be like that with Marta...!
"Look at them! Look!!" She cried as she latched onto the boy, pointing. "That's true love!! That's a romance that defies all the odds - those are star crossed lovers, Emil!! Isn't it so romantic!?"
"M-Marta!! They'll hear you!!"
"...Lloyd? W-was that...?"
The couple and the bench looked over, finally noticing the other two. Lloyd turned a bright pink when he saw them.
"M-Marta!? Emil!? What are you doing here!?"
Marta squeaked in surprise. "H-Huh!? ...W-we weren't - we weren't doing anything, I swear...!"
Colette tilted her head. "Were you... watching us?"
The mortified girl turned to her boyfriend, who could only look back nervously. Then she led him out from behind the tree and sighed.
"I-I'm sorry, Colette," she said dejectedly, "We didn't want to ruin anything! ...We just wanted to see what you two were like... you know, as a couple..."
Lloyd cocked an eyebrow. "That's why you were spying on us? Couldn't you have just... asked?"
"W-we didn't want to get in the way," said Emil, looking down at his feet. "B-besides... wouldn't it be inappropriate to ask about... well, that?"
Just then, Colette began to giggle. "Oh, you two are so silly!" She stood up, clasping her hands together. "Really... you could have asked us. It's not something to be embarrassed about." She smiled. "You should have told us you were here, too! Then the four of us could have done something fun together!"
"There's still time, you know," said Lloyd, standing up as well. "We've got just enough time for one more ride before we have to meet Regal for dinner." He turned to their younger friends and continued. "You should come with us! Regal would definitely love to see you guys again!"
"Really?" asked Emil, relief washing over his face.
"We'd love to!" said Marta excitedly, her prior embarrassment seemingly gone. "Hey, let's all go on the roller coaster! You haven't done that yet, right, guys?"
"You - " Lloyd sputtered, "You were watching us for that long!?"
Emil and Marta looked at each other, blushed, and laughed nervously. Perhaps they went a little overboard on their mission this time?
Chapter 16: Grow
The World Tree is not the only thing that grows in this special place.
Rated G; family, fluff.
They never seemed to have much time to take a break, but when they did, they loved to rest in the peaceful grove that protected the brand new World Tree. It was a special place for them; a beautiful place where the sun and the stars always shone brightly. It was a place that reminded them of everything they had accomplished and everything that was still waiting to be done. It was a place where they could talk together, laugh together, rest together, and dream together, all under the protection and blessings of the spirit Martel and all of the souls that dwelled within the small sapling.
After beginning their journey to collect and destroy Exspheres, they came to rest near the tree, admiring how much it had grown in such a short amount of time. They sat next to it, back-to-back, talking about where they should go next. Because of the way they were sitting, he was able to hide his flushed face as she told him that she would follow him wherever he went. He thanked her, smiling and wondering where these feelings for her had suddenly come from.
As the tree grew, so did they. The following year she napped in the grove, the sun lighting up her face and making her golden hair seem to glow. He watched her, sitting by her side, smiling as he wondered what sort of things she was dreaming about. He realized then that everything he had fought so hard for could all be represented by the sleeping angel beside him. She shared everything that was good and beautiful about their world, and most of all, she was his inspiration to change that world. She was like a precious stone whose worth had only just begun to be discovered, and he wanted to keep discovering that worth for as long as he lived.
Another year passed, then two, then three. The World Tree now stood quite tall, having now surpassed the heights of the couple who took care of it. He had taken her there the night of her birthday, leading her by the hand and promising a special surprise. And surprised she was - before she knew it, a ring, handmade with all of his love, was placed on her finger as he asked her to marry him. She kissed him with tears in her eyes, accepting his proposal without uttering a single word. As they embraced, he thought he saw the tree's leave shimmer, as if the Spirit of Mana herself was moved by the scene; no longer were they shy children who sat back-to-back, but two lovers who held each other close with no reserve to hold them back.
It had now been nine years since the tree had been planted. Now tall and mighty, it watched over the lovers as they slept peacefully with their first-born daughter snuggled between them. Perhaps the spirits also knew of the other child forming within the wife, and perhaps it too would receive the same blessings its family did.
Chapter 17: Fatherly Favors
Lloyd surprises Kratos by telling him first about his new relationship with Colette.
Rated G; family.
"Dad, I'm home!"
Lloyd shut the door behind him and began removing his two blades from his belt. Having received no answer, he then called once more into the house. "Dad? Are you here?" He sat his swords down against the wall and turned towards the kitchen table. Surely, he thought, one of them had to be here --
"There you are, Lloyd."
The voice startled Lloyd slightly as he looked at the staircase. He grinned bashfully. "Oh... hey, Dad," he said awkwardly. "Where's Dad?"
Raising his eyebrow slightly at the rather odd nature of that sentence, Kratos descended the stairs and answered. "He went to gather firewood," he said. "I would have assisted - " he flinched slightly as he stepped off the last stair, " - had these injuries not prevented me from doing so."
"Oh," said Lloyd. "Well, you know Dad. If he knows somebody's hurt, he'll make them rest whether they like it or not." He pulled a chair aside. "Come sit down before you pull something, okay?"
"Thank you," he groaned quietly as he sat himself down. "I can see why you think of Dirk so highly. He is a very generous man."
"Yeah," Lloyd took his own seat, setting his elbows down on the table, "he's a great dad. But... you're a good dad, too! You know, in your own way."
Kratos simply shut his eyes.
"...Speaking of, there's something I wanted to talk to you about." The boy flushed slightly and scratched his nose. "I thought you and Dad should be the first to know, because... well... you're my dads and all."
The older man glanced back at him in silent anticipation.
"You know Colette? I, uh... I kinda... asked her out. You know? Like... b-boyfriend and girlfriend?"
The thought of his son being romantically involved startled Kratos somewhat - a parental instinct he had managed to retain all these years. Once the nature of the situation hit him, however, he simply sighed.
"I assume she said yes?"
"Yeah!" Lloyd grinned brightly. "I thought, well, we were already going to collect exspheres together, so I might as well..."
"I see. I... wish the best for both of you." He said nothing else.
Lloyd frowned at his father's silence. "...So... that's it?"
"W-well, you're my dad! I thought you'd have a little more to say about your son dating somebody for the first time!"
"What else is there to say? I have no objections." Kratos crossed his arms. "And I'm certainly not surprised. Colette has always seemed to be good match for you."
"That's not what I - " Lloyd groaned and turned even more red. "...I mean, advice, Dad! Just because I asked her out doesn't mean I know anything about this kind of thing...!"
Advice? Surely, Kratos thought, he wouldn't be seeking dating advice from him, would he?
"Besides," Lloyd added, looking down at his lap, "Dad - the other one - he's always been a bachelor, and you... you had Mom, at least, right? So..."
"You want to know," Kratos replied, a very slight hint of embarrassment in his voice, "how I dated your mother...?"
The seraph tried his hardest to regain his composure. After clearing his throat a bit, he began.
"...When I met your mother, she was, for all intents and purposes, my prisoner. She hated me. In her eyes, I was a traitor; a human who would side with Desians to enslave and kill my own kind. It was only after I allowed her to escape - after I could no longer bear to be responsible for the slaughter - that she began to trust me. And, even then, it took many months for her to be able to return my feelings for her.
"You, on the other hand... you have long since earned Colette's trust. You've already proven many times over that you care for her very much. In that respect, you are far more fortunate than I, and have a much easier - much happier path ahead of you. As for how you should travel that path, I can only say this: Respect her. Treasure her. Protect her with all of your might." He smiled at the boy. "And I have no reason to believe that you would ever do otherwise."
Humbled by his father's story, Lloyd smiled back. "...Yeah. Yeah, I think I can do that." He stood up. "Thanks, Dad. I'll go out and help Dad with the wood - I'll be sure to tell him about Colette, too!"
Kratos watched as his son wriggled out of his red jacket and ran outside to help his other father. Never in his wildest dreams had he ever thought he would be the first to witness this massive first step in Lloyd's life, let alone advise him on it. However, being able to do at least this one fatherly favor for him left the weary angel with a deep satisfaction.
Chapter 18: Ophélie
In one of Palmacosta's oldest inns is a room with a strange and haunted history. When Colette and Lloyd are forced to spend the night there, its morbid secret is revealed along with the secret they both hold in their hearts.
Rated T; horror, drama, fluff. Contains an original character, moments of terror, and mentions of suicide.
Palmacosta was a frequent stop for Colette and Lloyd on their journey for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they wanted to assist in the city's reconstruction as much as they could - after all, it was their mistake that destroyed it in the first place. Because of the incident with the Giant Kharlan Tree, it also became a center of anti-reunification sentiment, and the only way the pair felt that they could make it up to the people was to assist them in their time of need. However, it was also a very beautiful city, one where they could relax by the seaside and allow the stress of Exsphere collecting to melt away, and for that reason they always looked forward to passing through, often spending a few days at a time in the city's newly rebuilt inn.
This trip was no exception. After handing Noishe off to one of the town's stable boys (who had gotten used to taking care of the giant dog-like creature after some initial hesitance), the two walked into the inn, catching the eye of one of the front desk workers, who beamed brightly.
"Chosen One!" she said with a bow, "Mister Irving! It's an honor to see you both again...!"
"It's good to be back!" replied Colette.
"Yeah," Lloyd said. "It looks like everyone's been really busy. All the buildings look a lot better than they did last time!"
"That's because the reconstruction effort has been growing," answered the worker. "In fact, the Governor-General was able to use donation funds to hire builders from Luin and Asgard to help since you last stayed."
The Chosen clasped her hands together. "That's wonderful!"
"Yeah, good luck with that!" Lloyd dug around his bag for some gald. "Anyway... you think you could get us a room?"
"Of course." The woman glanced at the key rack on the wall, looking for a set that was not used. However, there was only one left, and when she saw it, she bit her lip nervously.
"...We... i-it appears that the workers have rented out most of the other rooms," she said. "There's only one left."
"That's okay, we'll take it." Lloyd placed a few gald coins on the desk.
"...I don't know if you should, Mister Irving."
The two glanced at each other, confused, before turning back to her. "Huh? Why not?" asked Colette.
The worker closed her eyes as she spoke. "Room 204. We always try to make sure no one ends up in there. It was one of the rooms that managed to survive the disaster last year, but even before then, everyone who's stayed there has checked out early. They say strange things happen in that room."
"Strange things? Like what?" the swordsman asked, his hand still covering the money on the desk.
"Voices," said the woman, a hint of nervousness in her voice. "Eerie sounds. Footsteps. Some even say their luggage is moved around while they aren't looking. Even the staff has experienced things when they go to clean that room. They all say it's... haunted."
Colette tensed up. "H-haunted?" She looked back at Lloyd. "Lloyd, should we find someplace else to stay...?"
Lloyd had to think for a moment. "...I don't there there is any other place, Colette. This is the only inn they've managed to open back up."
"I'm terribly sorry, Chosen," the nervous woman said, looking down. "I-I would book another room for you if I could, but..."
"We'll be okay," Lloyd said. He turned to Colette and smiled with a wink. "Whatever's in there, it can't be any worse than some of the things we've seen. Right, Colette?"
Reassured by his smile, Colette nodded. "R-right! We'll be just fine!"
The worker hesitantly took the keys off of the rack and handed them to Lloyd. "...If you're sure," she said. "Please, if anything goes wrong, let us know. The safety and well-being of our guests is our top priority."
"We will." Lloyd took the keys and placed a hand on Colette's head. "You'll be safe, Colette, as long as I'm around. You know that, right?"
The girl blushed a little and nodded, relieved. "Of course...!"
The worker bowed once more and sent the two off to their room. When they were gone, she let out a small sigh. "Goddess Martel, please protect them," she muttered as she returned to the back.
Room 204 seemed no different from any other room at the inn. A thin layer of dust that covered some of the furniture did suggest, however, that housekeeping did not like to come up very often. Other than that, however, the two found the room to be quite inviting, its sea green wallpaper and soft, comfortable beds giving it an atmosphere that made them feel more at home.
After settling in and eating lunch, Lloyd and Colette spent the remainder of the day wandering about the city, observing the phenomenal rate at which the reconstruction effort was moving forward. Although a handful of townsfolk saw them and turned away and disgust, the vast majority of them were warm and friendly, offering information about which stores and restaurants had reopened and thanking them for their support. After a late dinner consisting of fried fish and potato wedges, the pair returned to their room, tired and eager to get some rest.
For Lloyd, however, that rest would soon be interrupted by a gentle hand shaking his shoulder.
"Lloyd?" Colette whispered, "Lloyd, wake up!"
The swordsman opened his eyes to see Colette's face, her eyes wide with fear. "Colette? W-what happened?"
"I-I heard something... listen!"
They listened quietly. Suddenly, the sound of a small hiccup resonated throughout the room. Then as sniffle. Then a sob, followed by louder cries of anguish. At first, Lloyd thought he was still asleep, and that this eerie weeping was part of a strange dream. Once he realized the sounds were indeed real, however, he turned back to his friend.
"A-are you sure it's not coming from the other room...?"
She shook her head. "I know it's not. I would have been able to tell with my angelic hearing." The sobbing grew louder, and Colette grabbed a hold of Lloyd's arm in response. "Lloyd... there - there isn't someone in our room, is there!? Or is this place really -- "
Lloyd sat up and swallowed nervously. "...I'll check. Stay here, okay?" He got out of his bed and turned on a lamp hanging on the wall before thoroughly checking the closet and the bathroom. The search only confirmed his suspicions - no one else was in the room with them, yet the weeping continued. He shut the bathroom door and returned to his bed, clearly unnerved.
"There's - there's still a chance it's coming from another room, right? Maybe if the walls were really thin, or -- "
"It's not coming from another room, Lloyd! I know it's not!"
In truth, Lloyd knew she was right. Her hearing was indeed more sensitive than his, and if anyone could tell where the crying noise came from, it would be her. However, he also knew how scared she was, and the last thing he ever wanted was for her to lie awake with fear.
"Here." Lloyd gently placed his hands over her ears, refusing to acknowledge his own nervousness. "I think you need this more than I do.
Colette shut her eyes and placed her own hands over his, desperately trying to muffle the mysterious crying. Then, after a few moments, it stopped. She opened one eye, the darkness hiding the pink in her cheeks.
"...Thank you, Lloyd," she said, taking his hands from her ears and holding on to them. "You're always looking out for me."
"No problem." He gave her a nervous smile. "Let's go back to sleep. We'll... figure this out in the morning, okay?"
The two returned to their own beds. However, the strange voice they heard left them both unsettled, and sleep eluded them for quite some time.
Sleeping in didn't help either Lloyd or Colette shake their uneasiness. The next morning was silent and awkward as Lloyd offered to inspect the room for anything suspicious that could have been responsible for the noises they heard the night before. While Colette was still adamant that they were supernatural in nature, Lloyd was desperate for something, anything that would explain what was going on.
He inspected the walls, windows, and the ceiling, looking for any kind of crack, hole, or opening where sound could come through. As his searches yielded nothing, Lloyd became increasingly frustrated - hadn't he promised Colette she'd be safe in here? How could she possibly feel safe believing there was a ghost in the room? And if there really was a ghost, how was he going to protect her from it?
"Dammit," he whispered as he inspected the front door. He reached for the handle to open it, when a sharp coldness suddenly gripped his face. He froze, inhaling sharply at the sudden sensation as an intense fear rushed through him.
A fear that only intensified when he realized that two freezing, invisible hands were caressing his cheeks.
Had the feeling lasted a moment longer, he would have screamed. But the hands left just as quickly as they came. Lloyd's breath became quick and heavy as he realized that his own hands were left shaking by the experience.
He spun around nervously, then sighed with relief. "Oh... it's just you, Colette."
"Nothing," he replied sharply as he brushed past her. "It's... it's nothing." Telling her what had just happened surely would have undermined his efforts to keep her calm.
Sensing his unwillingness to talk about the subject further, Colette fiddled with her fingers. "I'm going to go take a bath," she said. "I'll try not to take too long."
Lloyd looked out of the window. "Right."
After another pause, the Chosen gathered her day clothes and took them in to the bathroom with her, shutting the door behind her.
Colette turned off the faucet and sat down in the bathtub. Perhaps, she thought, a warm, refreshing bath would wash away the jitters she had from the night before. She knew something was wrong with the room, and she knew that Lloyd knew it, too. However, she knew he wouldn't admit his uneasiness very easily - Lloyd always was quite stubborn. Then again, she also suspected he was trying so hard to figure out what caused those awful noises for her sake, and not just because of his boyish pride.
For her sake... Colette smiled at the thought. Ever since they were young, he had always been there for her. He was the one who ended up saving not only her life but the lives of countless others as well. And how he placed his gentle hands over her ears to protect her from that terrible crying - she couldn't help but sigh a little at the thought. She knew she was crazy for him and crazy for everything he had done for her.
Her reverie continued as she closed her eyes and allowed her tense muscles to relax, her form sliding down into the hot water. She'd wanted to tell him everything, one day. But was this journey they were on really the best time? After all, shouldn't their first priority be looking for Exspheres? She then thought about the dangers of this new journey; all of the people who tried to steal the Exspheres, and all of the people who wanted revenge for ruining their illegal trade. What would happen if something horrible occurred? What would happen if she never got the chance to say how much he meant to her? She couldn't stand it - she didn't even want to think about it, she --
Something in the tub caught her eye. She drew her knees in and gasped frightfully as a woman's pale, melancholy-looking face stared back up at her from underneath the water.
"What..." Her knees shook. She was right! This room really was haunted, and its resident spirit just appeared right before her eyes! "What's going on!? What do you want!?"
The face in the water faded away just before Colette swooned and fainted over the side of the tub.
A loud "thud" had startled Lloyd out of his seat and he immediately knew something was wrong. In a room with spirits that could physically touch living beings, he should have known better than to leave her alone, even in the bathroom! He pounded on the door, hoping for a response. When none came, he swung the door open to see the girl's unconscious form draped over the bathtub.
Lloyd felt his gut tighten. He kneeled beside her and took her by the shoulders, shaking her. "Damn it!! What happened!? Hey! Answer me...!!"
He wasn't prepared for what would happen once her eyes opened. In a daze, she looked around for a short moment before fixing her gaze on Lloyd's face. She smiled.
He sighed, relieved. "Yeah, it's just me. What happened -- "
"Lloyd... Lloyd... Lloyd..."
Colette kept repeating his name over and over in a monotonous, listless tone. Taken aback, Lloyd let go of her shoulders.
"C-Colette? Are you okay...?"
She draped one arm over the side of the tub, then the other. Slowly, she crawled out of the water, her eyes glazed over and her head rolling lazily along her shoulders like some kind of puppet. Lloyd backed away from her.
"Y-you're freaking me out!" he said. "What happened!?"
"...I've been waiting so long..." Colette murmured softly, pushing herself up off of the floor. "I've finally found you..."
The frightened swordsman backed himself into a corner. When he caught a glimpse of Colette's wet, naked chest, he quickly shut his eyes. "What are you talking about!? Colette, snap out of it!!"
"I've wanted to tell you all these years," she continued as she placed her hands on Lloyd's face, "how I feel about you..."
Lloyd couldn't help but widen his eyes again at her words and her touch. How she felt about him? Did that mean she --
"I need you... I need you more than anything... you're the only person I think about... you've given me so much..." Colette inched her face closer to his. "Lloyd... I love you... so much..."
Instantly, a lump caught in Lloyd's throat and a bright red color covered his face. He was ecstatic to hear her confession - he'd long since accepted the fact that she was the most important person in his life - but this suddenly? Why was she holding him, naked and sopping wet, telling him all these things for no reason at all? He took a hold of Colette's shoulders again and looked her in the eye.
"Colette, I... I'm glad! I really am! But you've got to get a hold of yourself!"
With that, Colette collapsed once more, falling wordlessly into Lloyd's chest. For a moment, he held her, stunned at what had just occurred. He then realized that he had to get her to a bed as quickly as possible. He struggled to stand and cradled her in his arms, looking away from her nude form as much as he could. After laying her down on her bed, he wrapped her in a towel and placed the covers over her.
He didn't have to wait too long for her to wake up once again. She groaned, moving her head around before spotting Lloyd at her bedside.
"What..." Suddenly, her face grew white. "T-that woman - oh, Goddess, what did I do!?"
Lloyd didn't tell her what she'd said to him - yet, for some reason, he felt like he didn't need to. The look on her face as she told him about the apparition in the water and the way it "entered her body" made it clear that she already knew. Although it disappointed him that her confession wasn't truly her own, his first priority was to get Colette out of that room and figure out what had been terrorizing her.
After Colette dressed herself and after they packed their belongings, they quickly checked out of the inn and headed for the city's half-finished library. They addressed their questions concerning the inn's haunted history a librarian, who then showed them an encyclopedia of Sylvaranti hauntings and ghost stories. After thumbing through the contents, Colette let out a loud gasp.
"There!" she cried, pointing to a picture of a young woman in a dark-colored gown, "That's her! That's the woman I saw!"
Lloyd placed a hand on her shoulder. "Shh. It's okay." He then looked at the title of the passage - "Palmacosta's Haunted Inn".
"It says," said Lloyd after he glanced through the passage, "that a woman died in room 204 about fifty years ago. She drowned herself in the bathtub."
Colette looked at him, horrified. "She...? But why?"
He turned the page and kept reading. "Her name was Ophélie LaRoache, and she was originally from Luin. She traveled to Palmacosta to meet with a man she was in love with. Her family said that she was determined to confess how she felt to him. But the man had already died in an accident by the time she got there. That night, she was found dead in her room."
"It says here that the man was a citizen of Palmacosta, so his death certificate is still in the office of the Governor-General. His name was -- "
The girl let out a shriek, her hands quickly covering her mouth. "Lloyd Herrington...!"
It couldn't have been a coincidence. Although Colette was the one whose consciousness was invaded, it was definitely Lloyd who had been targeted by the spirit. The lonely ghost of a woman who never got the chance to confess her love had used Colette to fulfill her only wish. Perhaps, they reasoned, Ophélie had simply confused Lloyd for her Lloyd in her loneliness and desperation. Once Colette fully realized this, her fear became a deep sorrow, and she wept quietly in the middle of the library as Lloyd gently rubbed her back in an attempt to comfort her.
The two returned to the inn at Colette's insistence. Although their brief stay was a frightening experience, the young Chosen couldn't help but feel moved by Ophélie's story. Bringing with them a bouquet of white lilies from a nearby flower stand, they obtained permission from the staff to re-enter the room and pay their respects.
Lloyd placed the flowers at the base of the bathtub, where Ophélie had tragically drowned herself. He then watched as Colette got on her knees and began to silently pray. When he saw the streams of tears that flowed down her face, he too began to feel Colette's pity for the poor woman who had succumbed to sorrow years before. Although he did not know who to pray to, he shut his eyes and wished for Ophélie's spirit to be laid to rest and for her to find her own Lloyd, wherever he might be.
Once Colette finished, she stood and looked back at Lloyd, wiping the tears from her face with her sleeve.
"She was so heartbroken," she said, sniffling. "To lose the person you love before even getting a chance to tell them..."
Lloyd nodded sadly. "I don't think anybody should take their own life, but... I think I can understand why she wanted to." His gut wrenched as he recalled the times Colette had almost been taken away from him forever. "Losing someone you love like that hurts."
Colette nodded. "It does. She must have been in so much pain, even after she died. In a way, I'm glad she got to tell you how she felt, even though you weren't her Lloyd. Because of you, she could do what she never had to chance to do in life."
"Y...yeah." He had to look away a little at that. Of course, he was glad, too, that the spirit had finished her business and could probably rest in peace now. However, he had so desperately wanted Ophélie's confession to be Colette's that a wave of disappointment hit him when he realized that it wasn't.
Sensing his discomfort, Colette struggled to find something to say. She looked down at her hands. "I wonder if she chose me because she knew how I felt?"
"I think she knew what I was going through. I... I loved someone, too, but never had the courage to tell them. I always worried what it would be like if I ever lost that chance. If I did, it would have broken my heart, just like her." She looked back up. "When I said those things, Lloyd... it wasn't just Ophélie speaking."
Lloyd stared at her with his mouth hanging open. "Y-You mean, you...?"
She took his hands, smiling up at him. "She let me do what I couldn't bring myself to do before. She... she let me tell my Lloyd that I loved him before something terrible happened to him."
"I - " instead of answering, however, Lloyd simply embraced her. "Thank you."
Colette reached up and wrapped her arms around him. After a moment, she spoke. "Now that I've told you, I - I'm not going to lose you, will I?"
"Of course not," Lloyd answered. "You're one more reason I have to keep living. I won't let anything tear us apart. I promise."
The couple never noticed the lilies shifting at their feet as the lonely spirit moved on, eager to find her own love once again.
Chapter 19: Wrinkles
On her sixty-sixth birthday, Colette looks in the mirror and sees not wrinkles, but symbols of her long, precious life.
Rated G; fluff.
Colette smiled as she gazed upon the beautiful silver pendant around her neck, turning it delicately in her hands. A masterfully crafted image of an angel held in its hands a sparkling diamond, all whilst suspended from a chain that had been linked together with patience, skill, and love. Of all of the presents her husband had given her over the years, his one-of-a-kind, hand-made jewelry was always the most special to her. After all, making beautiful things with his own two hands was how Lloyd showed his love, and how wonderful it was to be able to wear that love with pride everywhere she went!
Lloyd chuckled as he watched her, adjusting his glasses. "I guess you like it?"
"I love it, Lloyd," replied Colette, looking up at him with a smile just as bright today as it was when she was young. "You always make me the most wonderful things."
"Well, what good would these old hands be if they couldn't make you something nice every once in a while?" He grinned as he took his wife's hands. "Happy Birthday, Colette." He kissed her on the cheek.
"Thank you," replied Colette. She took one hand and brushed away her pale, greying hair from her face. "Does it look okay on me?"
"Why not go look for yourself?" Lloyd said as he took her to their room, where a tall mirror stood in the corner near their closet and armoire.
Her smile grew as she looked at her reflection. Of course, as usual, the pendant was the perfect accessory, even when she had her Cruxis Crystal exposed. But as she spent more time in front of the mirror, she placed a hand on her face, and her bright blue eyes began to fill with tears.
"Colette?" Lloyd placed a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
The old woman sniffled. "I turned sixty-six today, Lloyd... Look - look at my face. These wrinkles show just how old I'm getting."
"Oh, Honey," he replied sadly, "Don't say that. You're beautiful; you know that, right?"
Colette shook her head, turning back to him. "It's not that," she said, "I'm not sad at all." She took his hands and placed them on her own wrinkled cheeks. "Fifty years ago... I never even dreamed I would have these. I thought I would never even see my seventeenth birthday. And now... here I am, an old woman, growing even older with the man she loves...!"
Lloyd watched as she happily wept, swallowing the lump that formed in his throat. "That's right." He wrapped his arms around her. "We'll grow even older together. Much, much older."
And she returned the embrace, silently thanking him for wonderful, long life he had given back to her all those years ago.
Chapter 20: Pillow Talk
So, who loves who more, again?
Rated T; humor, fluff. Suggestive themes.
"Huh? What is it?"
"...You're all sweaty. Hee hee."
"...So are you, you dork."
"Then why did you say that?"
"Mmm... I don't know. Maybe I just wanted to hear your voice."
"Heh. You're weird, Colette."
"That's not nice, Lloyd."
"But I love you that way!"
"I love you more."
"Nuh-uh. I love you more."
"Really? Because I love you a lot."
"How about I show you?"
"Show...? ...Ah, Lloyd - !"
"Yeah. I'll show you who loves who more...!"
Chapter 21: Stardust Rain
During the meteor storm of the century, Colette can't think of anything to wish for. Lloyd, however, has an idea.
Rated G; fluff.
Colette hummed a soft tune under her breath as she ran a brush through her hair. Having taken a bath and having donned her nightgown, she took her time preparing for bed in her and Lloyd's room in one of Asgard's famous inns. She wasn't quite sure what Lloyd was up to downstairs - perhaps he was outside, watching the stars and thinking of the friends and family he hadn't seen since they first left on their journey to collect exspheres. Nevertheless, he had told her not to wait for him to go to sleep, and she trusted that he'd be back before he got too tired.
"There," she muttered to herself after brushing out one last tangled knot. She brushed her hair aside and threw it over her shoulder before turning out the gas lamp beside the vanity. Colette then began to make her way to her bed, having just pulled the covers back before something outside of the window caught her eye.
She watched as a bright streak flew across the sky. That streak was followed by another, then another, until a storm of falling stars lit up the town. Colette gasped in amazement, walking over to the window and opening it to get a closer look.
"It's so beautiful!" she thought aloud. Mesmerized by the sight, she yelped in shock when the door to the room slammed open.
"Colette!!" cried Lloyd excitedly as he ran over to her, forgetting to shut the door behind him. "Colette, are you seeing this!?"
After sighing in relief that it was just her friend, she nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! Oh, Lloyd, it's amazing!" She turned back to the window, watching as people across the street opened their own windows to behold the spectacle.
"Yeah! Man, this is so cool!" Lloyd's face lit up. "This is the first time I've ever seen a meteor shower!"
"It's just like a shooting star," added Colette, "only there's so many of them!" She turned to Lloyd. "Do you think, if we made a wish, it would count for all of them?"
"All of them, huh?" He grinned. "I guess we could try! It'd be worth a whole lot more than just one shooting star, that's for sure!"
"Okay," said the girl before closing her eyes and clasping her hands together. However, after a moment, she looked back up with a frown. "...I can't think of anything to wish for..."
The swordsman looked at her in surprise. "You can't? Seriously?"
Colette shook her head. "Whatever I saw a shooting star before, I always wished for one thing." She looked down. "That you would be happy... without me."
Her words were like a punch to Lloyd's gut. "You... Colette, why would you wish for something like that?"
"Because I didn't think I would be alive to see this." She looked outside the window again. "I thought I would have to leave you and the others behind. I had hoped you could move on without me. But... now, I know I don't have to leave." She smiled. "So I don't know what else to wish for...!"
Lloyd swallowed a lump in his throat. It was so like her to think of him, even when her own death was looming over her. But that was all in the past - he had risked everything to save both their world and this girl that was so important to him. He took one of her hands as an idea formed itself in his mind.
"I think I know what to wish for," he said, turning to the night sky. "I wish on every single shooting star tonight that me and Colette can be happy... together!"
The girl could feel tears forming as he made his wish. "Lloyd...!"
"...Maybe that'll cancel out all your wishes," he said with a frown. "If I had lost you back then, I... don't think I'd ever be as happy."
"I-I'm sorry," she sniffled, rubbing her face with her free hand.
"You'd better be," Lloyd replied, flicking her forehead, "you dork."
Colette giggled, turning a pale shade of pink as she fought back tears of joy. Never before had she been so happy to regret her wishes; from now on, she thought, she would share all of her shooting star wishes with Lloyd and continue to pray for happiness - for both of them.
Chapter 22: Carry On
When Colette begins to struggle without Lloyd at her side, Zelos helps her gain the strength to carry on and to keep believing in his return.
Rated G; friendship, hurt/comfort. Takes place just before Dawn of the New World.
It was a natural reaction he had at the sight of snow; Zelos tried in vain to suppress the discomfort he felt at the sight of a snowball fight just outside the cafe window. It was pretty pathetic, he thought, that after all these years his bitterness could still show up from time to time. However, the lingering stress of the past two months were certainly not helping his emotional state - the constant damage control he had to provide for Tethe'alla's Church alone gave him headaches. The so-called "Blood Purge" in Palmacosta had left him scrambling for ways to dismiss accusations of his and Lloyd's involvement. The worst thing was that Lloyd himself had just up and left shortly beforehand, giving himself no alibi and more than likely putting himself in a dangerous situation.
The Chosen looked away from the window and rubbed his head. Of all the times for that stupid, stupid kid to run off --
He looked to his right to see Colette, a mug of coffee in each hand and a look of concern on her face. "There you are, Colette." He flashed a small smile at her. "You got mine black, right?"
Colette nodded and returned the smile. "Here you go," she said, setting a mug down on the table.
Zelos picked it up and took a long whiff from it. "Just the thing to get rid of this headache," he said before taking a sip.
"You have a headache?" the girl asked, sitting down.
"A little, yeah. Don't worry your cute little head off about that, though."
"If you say so..." Colette started to pick up her own mug; however, her hand slipped, certainly risking a nasty burn had Zelos not caught the drink instead.
"Whoa, whoa, careful there, butterfingers!" he teased, setting the coffee back down on the table. "I swear, if you didn't have somebody looking out for you, you'd be seeing the doctor way too often."
After staring at him for a short moment, Colette looked down sadly. "I'm sorry," she muttered.
"...Hey, I'm kidding. Don't take it so seriously, okay?"
She shook her head. "But you're right. I would get hurt a lot without help, wouldn't I? I'd always be dropping things, tripping and falling..."
Her statement boggled the older man for a moment. Normally she took such teasing with a grain of salt and a cute giggle. Then, after a good look at her face, he got it. He frowned, resting his elbows on the table and leaning forward. "...It's hard now that Lloyd's not here to catch you, isn't it?"
Colette shut her eyes in response.
"He's got a reason, I'm sure of it. He'd never leave you alone unless he had to; he's crazy about you."
"I know, Zelos," she replied. "But... he helps me, he - he's like a source of strength for me. I'm trying to be strong without him, I really am! But, some days, I just..."
It always killed him a little to see Colette like this. She and Lloyd were both everlasting springs of hope in his eyes, fueled not only by their own strength but also by each other's. Now, to see Colette lose some of that hope, all because he walked away from her without saying a word... he knew when he got back that he'd have a few choice words with that country bumpkin.
"Let me tell you a story, Colette. About the last time I saw him."
She looked back up. "You saw him? When?"
"Not even three days before the Purge."
"What did he say?"
Zelos ran a hand through his hair. "It was pretty late," he began, "and Sebastian let him in. I knew something was wrong when I saw that you weren't with him. He never really smiled, either. I asked him what was going on, but he said he didn't have that much time. He asked for a drink -- "
"Lloyd doesn't drink, though!"
"That's what I said! But, honestly, he looked like he could use one, so I had Sebastian pour him something. After he finished, he looked at me and asked me something. 'If for some reason, I had to leave for a while, you'd take care of Colette, right?'"
The younger Chosen's eyes widened, watering a little. Zelos took a deep breath and continued.
"I said I would, and I asked him where he was going. He just said he couldn't say. ...And that's when he left. Haven't heard a word out of him since." He reached across the table and grabbed Colette's hand. "Think about it. He came all the way here, all by himself, just to make sure you were taken care of. He didn't forget about you, and I bet he misses you even more than you miss him. And if I know Lloyd - and nobody knows Lloyd like I know Lloyd - he'll be crawling back to you once he's done and begging for your forgiveness."
The girl blinked the tears away and smiled. "But he has a reason, right? He doesn't need to ask for forgiveness."
Zelos let out a small laugh. "He will anyway, though. If he knows how much you miss him, he definitely will." He grinned. "And in the meantime, the great Zelos Wilder will take good care of you. I owe him that much."
Colette wrapped her other hand around his and squeezed. "Thank you, Zelos. You're such a wonderful friend."
"Of course I am! I may not be your knight in shining armor like Lloyd is, but I can come pretty damn close."
She nodded happily. "I know you can. I trust you."
And her trust was contagious, it seemed. Zelos finished his coffee without a doubt left in his heart; Lloyd was coming back for her; he was coming back for all of them. In the meantime, he'd watch over Colette, making sure she had something to smile about while he was gone.
Chapter 23: The Siren
An extra-credit field trip goes awry when Lloyd is bewitched by the song of a Siren.
Rated G; action, friendship. Some violence and blood.
"Man, why isn't Genis out here, too?" complained Lloyd loudly as he walked along the sandy shores near Izoold, lagging behind Raine and Colette. "Doesn't he have to do this assignment, too?"
"He doesn't need to," replied Raine with a sigh. She turned back to her student. "This is an extra credit assignment, remember?"
"Extra credit?" Lloyd scowled. "You told me this was required!"
"I said that you needed to do it," she replied impatiently. "You need it in order to bring your grade up; Genis has done well enough that he doesn't need the extra points."
Colette turned to her teacher. "This will bring my grade up, too, right, Professor?" she asked. "I didn't do as well on my last few homework assignments as I needed to..."
"That's right." Raine rummaged through her bag and pulled out a book chronicling Sylvarant's various life forms. "As long as you both can correctly identify ten kinds of creatures native to the coast before we have to head back to camp."
"Ten?!" Lloyd groaned. He knew he couldn't name that many off of the top of his head!
"That's why I let you two work together. As long as you band together, you should be able to finish the assignment."
The Chosen glanced back to Lloyd with a small smile. "Don't worry, Lloyd. We can do this together, right?"
"...Right." The boy still wasn't convinced - however, there was no way he could just give up and let Colette down, so he begrudgingly began to look around. When he saw something lying on a rock, he turned and pointed. "Hey, look! A starfish!"
When Colette saw it, she giggled happily. "Oh, it's so cute! And it's pink, too!"
"It is," said Raine, flipping to the relevant page in her book. "Now, can one of you tell me how most starfish reproduce?"
The other two looked at each other for a moment, thinking. Finally, Lloyd chimed in. "Well, I don't think it can get pregnant like people do. That'd be really weird."
"You're right," said Colette. "Oh! I think I remember! When their arms come off they grow into brand new starfish, right?"
"Very good, Colette." Raine smiled at her pupils. "That's one. Let's go find nine more, all right?"
Suddenly, over the sound of the rolling waves, the three heard what sounded like singing in the distance. It was a song none of them had ever heard before; a kind of strange, otherworldly lullaby with alien lyrics that sounded almost, but not quite like their own language.
"Where's that coming from?" asked Colette, looking around.
Raine gripped her staff tightly. The song was beautiful, of course; but she couldn't help but feel apprehensive. She had heard stories of monsters who sang in order to lure in their prey. "Be careful, you two," she said, "this could be a -- Lloyd? Lloyd, are you listening to me?"
Lloyd didn't respond. He had already locked eyes with something sitting on a large pile of rocks ahead of them.
"Lloyd!" Raine said sternly. "Did you hear me? I said you need to be careful!"
"Huh?" Colette looked at her friend nervously. "What is it?"
"You shouldn't be up there, Colette... it's dangerous..."
"Up where? I-I'm right here..."
Ignoring her, the swordsman began to run over to the rocks, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.
"Stop!" cried Raine as she dashed over and grabbed him by the arm. "Lloyd, that isn't who you think it is! You need to cover your ears, now!"
"Let me go!" He shoved her away angrily. "Colette's up there - she's in danger! I've got to help her...!"
"No, Lloyd!" Colette called out to him. "I'm right here! Please, listen to me!"
Lloyd kept making his way to the rocks while the singing continued. When Colette and Raine caught up with him, it was too late - he was already climbing up the dangerously slippery rocks, going after the source of the song. The singer was a dreadful creature of the sea, a half-human, half-fish hybrid with scales all over and an arsenal of sharp teeth and claws. When Lloyd finally made his way to the top, he smiled at the creature, completely unaware of its true nature.
"There you are, Colette," he said, tilting his head. "What song is that, anyway? It's really nice..."
Still singing, the monster looked at its prey, raising its claws into the air, ready to impale the hapless boy as he continued to stare at it.
The spell hit the creature, which shrieked loudly and fell from the rocks and into the sand below. After regaining its bearing, it glared at the two women, hissing at them.
"Ray Thrust!" Colette tossed her chakrams at the monster, cutting open its side. After violently shrieking in pain, it retreated back into the ocean, leaving a trail of fresh blood in its wake.
The older woman looked up at Lloyd. "Lloyd, are you all right?"
The swordsman blinked. "...Professor? Colette?" He looked at where the creature had been perched earlier, only to see nothing. "B-But Colette was right here! I saw her...!"
"That was a Siren," said Raine, "and it would have killed you if we hadn't been here!"
"A Siren?" asked Colette.
"I'd heard the stories, but I'd never actually seen one before." The half-elf placed her hand on her chin. "Sirens use an enchanted song in order to lure its prey to them. We're lucky we only saw one - in groups, they've been known to sink entire ships hunting down the men on board."
"Are you serious?!" cried Lloyd. "Th-then, why didn't you two get affected by it?"
"Because we're women," Raine replied matter-of-factly. "The spell only works on males."
Lloyd grumbled to himself, embarrassed. "Dammit... I can't believe I - " He caught a glance of the shore beneath him. "...Hey, Colette? You think you could help me down from here?"
"Of course!" replied Colette, bringing out her angel wings. "I'm just glad you're all right, Lloyd." She flew onto the top of the rocks and grabbed him. "Hold on tight, okay?"
Later that night, Colette sat beside the campfire, watching it as the others began to fall asleep. She was fairly tired herself - a feeling she had grown to be grateful for - yet she seemed melancholy, thinking about the events of that afternoon.
"Aren't you tired yet, Colette?"
She turned to see Raine, who had already shed her outer coat and boots and seemed ready for bed.
"Professor..." She looked down at her hands. "Professor, I know this might sound silly, but - I can't stop thinking about what happened with the Siren."
"Really?" Raine sat down next to the younger girl. "How so?"
"Well, Lloyd said he saw me, right?" Colette frowned. "He really thought it was me up there, and that I was in danger. He was almost attacked by the Siren because he wanted to help me. ...Is it my fault? I feel awful that he risked his life like that because of me..."
The older woman sighed a little, brushing back her silver bangs. "Colette, let me tell you something. The Siren's spell only works on men who are in love with someone."
She nodded. "That's why it's so effective. Their song directly affects the man's mind, making him see them as someone they have feelings for. A wife, a lover, even a crush."
Colette blushed brightly and placed her hands on her mouth. "Y-you don't mean...?"
Raine couldn't help but chuckle a little. "I didn't mention it before because I didn't want to embarrass Lloyd," she said. "Besides... it's his prerogative to tell you how he feels, not mine. But it wasn't your fault he fell under the spell. It was just the way Lloyd is."
The blushing Chosen lowered her hands slowly, breaking out into a big, warm smile. "Thank you, Professor."
"Perhaps now you'll take the time to let him know you feel the same way?"
"I-I-I..." she stammered, "H-How did you...?"
"It's not hard to notice after a while," replied Raine, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Take your time, Colette. Be honest with your feelings, and I'm sure everything will work out."
Colette pondered her words for a moment, then let out a deep sigh of relief. "...Right! I'll do my best!"
Raine smiled at her, content with the advice she'd given. The next step, however, rested on Lloyd and Colette's ability to be honest with each other, and hopefully they wouldn't need another monster attack in order to do so.
Chapter 24: Don't Forget to Breathe
As Colette enters into labor with their first child, Lloyd learns never to doubt her courage and fortitude.
Rated G; family. Pregnancy.
"Hey," said Lloyd, peeking in through the doorway and smiling nervously. "How're you holding up?"
From their bed, Colette gave a warm smile to her husband. "I'm okay," she said before taking a deep breath. She let it out and shifted a little under the covers. "You don't have to worry so much, Lloyd. It doesn't hurt that badly."
"I'm not allowed to worry about you when you're about to have our baby?" he asked, sitting in a chair beside the bed and handing her a mug of warm, plain chicken broth. "Hungry?"
"A little," she replied, taking the mug and sipping from it. Then, she winced, grunting a little.
Lloyd placed a hand on her shoulder. "H-hey, don't forget to breathe, okay?"
She took another series of slow, controlled breaths before relaxing again. She turned to Lloyd. "Really... the contractions aren't that bad at all. I'll be fine."
"You didn't look fine just then."
Colette looked down at her mug. "They're a little more uncomfortable than they were before... but, all mothers go through this, right? I can handle it."
The worried swordsman couldn't help but frown a little. He'd heard stories from Zelos about how painful the labor process was for women. For the past eight or so hours, Lloyd could think of nothing but his wife, suffering and screaming as she delivered their first child. After watching her go through so much throughout her life, he wasn't sure if he could stand the inevitable scene that would take place later that day, even if everything went well.
"...Oh, Lloyd," Colette said, taking his hand. "Don't look like that. We're going to meet our baby soon! Aren't you excited?"
"I am! Of course I am!" He sighed, taking his other hand and massaging hers (he'd heard that it helped with the discomfort). "But it's going to hurt for you. And you've been through enough already."
Colette took another sip of the broth and set it on the nightstand with a small noise of discomfort. "I know it's going to hurt. It usually does." She closed her eyes and placed a hand on her stomach, stroking it absently. "But I can do this. After all we've been through to get this far... I can do anything. Even this."
Lloyd flashed a grin at his wife. "You're really strong, Colette. You know that, right?"
She blushed and giggled a little. "Thank you, Lloyd. You'll be here to help, too, won't you?"
"Yeah, I'll be here. So will Professor Sage and the midwife."
"Okay." Colette took some more deep breaths. "Then I know I'll be fine. And the baby, too."
"Let's just hope it's as strong as Mommy is," he replied, continuing to massage her hand. Now, he knew he had no reason to worry - the same courage and strength that had guided her throughout their travels would help ensure that Colette would be all right.
Chapter 25: Pieces of this Broken World
After a request from the mayor to help quell racial tensions in Luin, Lloyd and Colette witness firsthand the depths of hatred and begin to question their dream of putting their broken world back together.
Rated M; drama. Original characters. Themes of racism, disturbing racial violence, and strong language.
"I do apologize for inviting you here on such short notice," said Luin's mayor with a hint of exhaustion in his voice. "I'm sure you both have been quite busy."
"Part of our job is to help people when they're in need," replied Colette, folding her hands together. "It's not just about collecting the exspheres. Isn't that right, Lloyd?"
Lloyd looked up from his seat at a bench overlooking the water. "Yeah." He looked at the Mayor. "If there's a problem, you know we'll do our best to help out, right?"
The older man wiped a brow. "If this was a problem I could fix on my own, rest assured that your help would not have been needed." He frowned. "However, it's grown in such a way that much of the town will no longer listen to me."
Colette looked at him, puzzled. "But you're a very respectable man, Mayor! Why wouldn't they listen?"
"This town," said the mayor, turning his head to look at the water, "is traumatized. We're known as the City of Rebirth because of our determination to grow even better than before. ...However, that does not change the fact that, half a year ago, its people were attacked, enslaved, and murdered. Our accomplishments merely hide the bitterness that's been brewing ever since."
Lloyd shook his head. "But it can't happen again, right? The Desians are gone. We got rid of the people responsible."
"Not in the minds of many folk." The mayor turned again to his two guests. "Many still believe that the Desians and half-elves as a whole are one in the same. Our half-elf population is small, but over the past few months, they've been put in a considerable amount of danger." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue sheet of paper and handed it to Lloyd. "Read this."
The Chosen hunched over her friend's shoulder and read the paper aloud. "'Remember the massacre - join Luin's Blue Water Brigade and rid our city of half-elf filth...!?'" Her eyes grew wide with shock and anger as she read.
"'Protect our children from another Desian slaughter -- '" Lloyd scowled as he crumpled up the flier. "What kind of crap is this!? This is exactly the kind of thing we've been trying to stop...!"
"This Blue Water Brigade popped up around two months ago. Its leader has managed to gather quite a number of our more... embittered citizens." The mayor sighed. "I understand their pain more than anyone else. But their vigilantism is destroying what made Luin so great. Instead of everyone working together, now they're turning against each other. They've already vandalized a store owned by a half-elf and ran one poor couple out of town. Among other things."
"This is horrible!" cried Colette. "We have to make them stop!"
"I believe you're the only ones who can. Chosen One, Lloyd - you're both heroes in this town. Human heroes." The mayor then glanced at the tall statue of Raine around the corner. "I considered asking the Sage siblings... but I don't believe this hate group would take kindly to them."
The other two spotted the statue themselves, a sick feeling growing in their stomachs. Lloyd got up from his seat and inspected it. When he saw what the mayor had been looking at, he angrily stomped the base of the statue, causing Colette to run over and see for herself. She gasped in horror and put a hand to her mouth when she saw that the words "half-elf whore" had been scratched into the engraved plaque.
"Son of a bitch..." Lloyd swore. How could someone do this to his teacher, his friend!? "This is how they repay everything she's done for them!?"
"Lloyd, please..." Colette took a hold of his shoulders. "The Mayor - he'll make sure it's fixed. Won't you, Mayor?"
"Of course. The new plaque will be finished this evening." He walked over to the two. "This is why we need your help. Please, help us find some way to convince this group that it's destroying our city. Or, at the very least, convince the rest of the town to not fall for their lies."
Lloyd narrowed his eyes. "...All right," he said. He knew that hatred this strong would be difficult to extinguish - however, for the sake of the half-elves living in fear, he knew they had to try.
The two spent that evening brainstorming at the inn. The mayor had arranged for them to speak at an assembly the next afternoon, and they were eager to try and come up with a convincing argument against this Blue Water Brigade that had been causing so much trouble and stirring up so much hatred. They knew the flaws in the group's logic and all the reasons why such an organization was dangerous - however, neither Lloyd nor Colette were speechwriters, which only frustrated their attempts to make something presentable.
Lloyd sighed in annoyance, running a hand through his hair and hunching over in his chair. A blank sheet of paper stared him in the face; he knew that the last thing he should be doing was trying to write something coherent.
"If only Genis was here," he muttered. "He'd know exactly what to say. I can't write a speech to save my life!"
Seeing the frustration in his face, Colette placed a hand on his head and smiled. "It's okay, Lloyd. I think we'll both know what to say when the time comes."
"But aren't we supposed to prepare something?"
"Well, we already know what we need to tell them, right? That innocent half-elves shouldn't be punished for what the Desians did." She removed her hand and continued. "I think, as long as you remember that, you'll do fine. You always were able to persuade people just by speaking from your heart."
Lloyd looked up at her. "I was?"
Colette couldn't help but giggle and nod. "You really were!"
"Thanks, Colette." He moved the paper aside, stood up, and lifted his jacket up over his head. "We should get to bed soon, so we can -- "
A piercing scream suddenly caught their attention. Colette rushed over to the window and opened it, looking towards the source of the noise.
"Lloyd!" she gasped, "What are they doing to her!?"
The swordsman looked as well. Near the town's gate, illuminated only by the flame of a single street lamp, he saw a woman being dragged kicking and screaming by two men while a group of five or six others followed. As she cried out for help, the small mob tried to silence her by kicking her in the ribs and stomping on her stomach.
"My babies!" they heard her sob out, "Don't hurt my babies! I beg you!!"
Without saying a word, Lloyd ran to fetch his swords before heading for the door.
"I'm coming with you!" Colette grabbed her own weapons and followed.
They followed the group into a patch of dark, thick woods just outside the city. Colette was able to keep track of where the woman's screams were coming from, although, to their horror, they seemed to grow more weak and infrequent with each passing moment. They ran as fast as their legs could take them, hoping that it wouldn't be too late when they caught up.
Finally, they came across a clearing, where the sudden glow of lanterns momentarily blinded them. When their eyes adjusted, they could fully see the terrible sight before them: a large group of about twenty men and women, shouting and jeering as the men from before dragged their victim's near lifeless body to the front. They then saw bodies - three of them, one adult man and two young boys, all hanging by their necks from tree branches. The beaten woman saw the bodies and collapsed onto the ground. She shook violently and sobbed, her voice hoarse and almost inaudible.
"No," Colette muttered, her shaking hands covering her mouth. "No, no... oh Goddess...!"
The scene made Lloyd's knees almost give out from under him. The hanging man was an elf; the children, then, were most certainly half-elves, and the broken woman in the front of the crowd must have been their human mother. He had no idea that the hatred had grown so much - he never could have dreamed that, in this brand new world he had struggled so hard to create, there could be such wickedness in the hearts of ordinary people. To murder children, innocent children, and to destroy a family for the mere fact that they were half-elves...!
"My friends," called a man in a blue dress suit who stood in front of the hanging bodies, "it is my greatest honor to call each and every one of you heroes of Luin!" He raised a fist, shaking it in front of the crowd. "The Blue Water Brigade has just liberated our city from two more future Desians!"
The crowd cheered at his words, raising their own fists up high.
"Remember the massacre!" cried the leader, "Death to the Desians! Death to the half-elves!!" He looked down at the grieving mother. "And death to all traitors who would breed half-elves!!"
The crowd's cheering grinded to a halt when Lloyd rushed through them and tackled the man to the ground. He grabbed his collar and began slamming his head down repeatedly.
"You bastard!!" cried the enraged swordsman, "You fucking bastard!!"
Some men from the crowd rushed over to grab Lloyd. He screamed at them, cursing and flailing about, his exsphere-enhanced strength making it difficult for the mob to keep a hold of him. Finally, they pried him off, kneeing him in the stomach screaming back at him.
Colette cried out and tried to use her angelic strength to free Lloyd. However, she could only throw off two of the attackers before more crowd members came to drag her away.
The man in the suit finally stood and yelled at the crowd. "Stop this! Stop it, all of you!"
All eyes instantly turned towards him, the only sound in the grove being Lloyd's winded coughing.
"Well... I don't believe this," said the leader, adjusting his glasses and taking a good look at Lloyd. "Our town's greatest heroes, Lloyd Irving and the Chosen. Why in the name of the Goddess would you just come and attack us like this?"
"Because you just murdered a whole damn family!!" screamed Lloyd, causing him to start another coughing fit.
"A family of future Desians, my boy." The man approached Lloyd and crossed his arms. "You should understand better than any of us! You may have helped destroy their bases, but that won't change the fact that every half-elf born in our city is a threat!"
"Not all half-elves are Desians!" cried Colette, tears streaming down her face. "You killed children! They had nothing to do with the Desians!!"
"They'll only grow up to be Desians!" the man said angrily. "It's in their blood! And a new generation of Desians means a whole new era of death and destruction!!"
"You're insane..." growled Lloyd, "You're insane! We didn't help your city so you could kill innocent people! We didn't save you from the Desians so you could act just like them!"
The leader paused, glaring at the two heroes before turning his back on them. "Leave them," he said to his followers. "Just leave them here. We at least owe them that much."
The two fell to the ground as their assailants dropped them.
"I believe it's time we retire for the night," he continued. "We'll celebrate our victory tomorrow!"
The crowd cheered once more before dispersing, leaving Lloyd, Colette, and the beaten woman alone with the corpses. Immediately, Colette ran to the mother's side and rolled her over.
"...She passed out," she said, sniffling and cupping the poor woman's face. "This is horrible..."
Meanwhile, Lloyd simply stared at the bodies. Then, without saying a word, he collapsed, catching himself on a tree. He clenched his teeth and let out a small sob, staining his black undershirt with tears.
Colette turned her head. "Lloyd?" she asked, "Are you... crying...?"
The two suffered a night a fitful sleep after alerting the authorities and the mayor of what had happened. While members of the town's militia worked to cut down the three bodies and carry the poor mother to the clinic, Lloyd and Colette tried to rest, but found it difficult with fresh memories of the massacre swirling around in their minds. The sights and sounds they had endured that night not only robbed them of their sleep but also filled them with a heavy sense of doubt; doubt for the state of the city and doubt for the state of their new world.
Once the sun was shining through the windows again, Lloyd laid motionless in bed, awake, yet completely silent. He stared outside with a sullen frown; outside at the city he had fought so hard to help rebuild. Now, he realized, that Luin truly was broken - the whole world, while united as one, was still as broken as before. The fear and hatred he had witnessed the previous night made him wonder if it would ever be fixed.
He suddenly felt someone sitting on his bed and a gentle hand running through his hair. Looking back, he saw Colette with a sad smile on her face.
"You didn't sleep well, either, did you?"
Lloyd shook his head before looking back at the window. "I thought we could stop this," he said quietly. "I thought we could show the world that discrimination was wrong. But now... now, I don't know if we can."
The girl's face faltered, her hands still. To see Lloyd, her eternal fountain of hope and courage, doubt their own dream like this... "Please, Lloyd," she said, "please... don't talk like that. We can't afford to doubt ourselves like this."
"But is it even possible?" he asked. "That guy hated half-elves so much that he slaughtered children! How could we ever convince someone like that to stop?"
"We don't have to convince him," said Colette. She reclined on the bed and placed and arm around Lloyd. "It's probably too late for him. But we can prove to everyone else that he's wrong. Some people won't change, but people as a whole can. Just like in Iselia."
Lloyd realized he had forgotten about the incident in Iselia. When he returned their after being banished, the Mayor had tried his hardest to keep out Raine and Genis. But the townspeople wouldn't listen - they had learned to accept two half-elves as one of their own. Maybe, he thought, the same thing could happen in Luin as well.
"You're right." He rolled over to face Colette. "Luin needs us, now more than ever. We may not convince everybody, but at least we can try."
Colette smiled at him once again. "That's right. We need to do this, for that poor woman and her family - for all the half-elves here."
He nodded. "Thanks, Colette," he said, brushing her bangs to the side affectionately. "I think I would have gone nuts by now if it weren't for you."
She giggled. "I think you're plenty strong on your own, Lloyd. You've always been."
"I know." Lloyd grinned at her. "But I think we're only strong enough to change things when we have each other."
Colette agreed with him. Together, they both knew they could fight off the doubt that threatened their dream. And together they would have the strength to fix the broken pieces of their world and make that dream come true.
As soon as the two were dressed, fed, and ready to go, they headed straight for the mayor's house. Although they had answered all of his questions concerning the tragedy the night before, they were both eager to know how the injured mother was faring and what sort of action would be taken against the Blue Water Brigade. There was also the matter of planning an assembly to denounce the group as well as ways to protect the half-elf population during this spike in racial violence. There were so many things to do and so much they needed to accomplish; yet, in the face of such intense hatred, Colette and Lloyd were determined to finish what they came to Luin to do, if only to stop such crimes from occurring again.
The streets were oddly quiet for that particular time of day. Most stores were open, but enough remained empty or even closed for the two to find it strange. As they passed the locked doors of a normally popular cafe, Colette turned to her friend.
"It looks like a lot of the stores are closing," she said. "Where could everyone be?"
Lloyd took a quick glance around the block. "Yeah, that is strange," he answered. "Aren't people usually starting to get lunch about now?"
"Maybe they're scared to leave their homes," mused Colette. "I bet that people already know about what happened last night. If we couldn't fight, I'd be awfully scared, too."
Just then, a swarm of four children rushed up from behind them, all chattering about and eager to get to their destination. As they ran past, Lloyd and Colette heard them yell out to each other.
"Come on!" cried one boy, "They're gonna arrest the guy!"
"I wanna see! I wanna see!" yelled another.
"Wait for me!" a third boy shouted as he trailed behind the group.
Lloyd's eyes widened. "Arrest...? Colette, you think they found him already!?"
"Let's go find out!" The girl began to run ahead, following the children around a series of street corners. Lloyd soon caught up with her.
After nearly tripping into a small herd of murmuring women, Colette looked up to see a house surrounded by an enormous group of people. The group numbers were hard to determine - somewhere around the one-hundred to one-hundred and fifty range - and included familiar faces such as shopkeepers and clergy members, as well as ordinary townsfolk. Some half-elves with their ears shown were sprinkled amongst the crowd.
What caught Lloyd's attention once he stopped running, however, were the signs. As they yelled and chanted at the house, they carried signs that set alight a new spark of hope in his heart; "Get Out, Blue Water Brigade," "Peace in Luin," "Murderers Unwelcome," among various other slogans. Lloyd's face grew excited, and he pointed to the protesters.
"Colette," he said, "look! Can you believe this!?"
"This is wonderful!" she replied breathlessly. "It's like the whole town's here!"
They soon spotted a man's face peeking out of the window and instantly recognized it as the Blue Water Brigade's leader. The face scowled at the crowd before vanishing, prompting the mayor and two militiamen to step out of the crowd and onto the doorstep. The crowd went silent as the older man knocked on the door.
"Mr. Monticello?" A moment went by without any answer. The mayor knocked again. "Mr. Monticello! You're under arrest!"
The door creaked open, Monticello's barely visible, frazzled eyes glaring menacingly. "Over my dead body," he hissed.
A militiaman, with his lance in one hand, forced open the door and grabbed the man by the wrist, throwing him out onto the porch. The other soldier placed handcuffs on him while he was restrained.
"Your charges include three counts of murder, trespassing, destroying property, and inciting public violence," said the mayor sternly. He furrowed his brow in disgust. "You call yourself a hero, but your irrational fear of half-elves has only served to tear Luin apart. The Goddess will see to it that you'll never walk these streets again."
Monticello began screaming curses as he was taken away; however, they were vastly overshadowed by the sound of cheering and clapping from the crowd. As she applauded, Colette noticed a dark-haired woman in bandages falling to her knees in fervent prayer out of the corner of her eye. Although others in the crowd rushed to her soon after, she knew for a fact that it was the grieving mother from the previous night giving thanks that the monster who slaughtered her family would have to answer for his crimes.
"Lloyd," she said softly. "Maybe... maybe Luin doesn't really need our help."
He smiled back at her. "Yeah." This was his dream - the sight of all these people coming together to denounce hatred and discrimination was their dream all along. "I think they weren't as broken as we thought they were. If they can come together to do something like this..." He then looked back at the crowd with pride. "...We can do this, Colette. We can help fix this."
Colette joyfully took a hold of his hands. "Let's go find the mayor," she said, "and keep fixing things."
They walked away from the crowd, hand in hand. After witnessing both the pinnacle of hatred and the summit of compassion, they both knew without a doubt that they could help fix this world, healing its wounds and putting together the broken pieces scattered throughout the hearts of everyone in it.
Chapter 26: Best Man
On their honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Irving receive and unexpected wedding present – a precious memory from their dearest friend.
Rated G; family.
A bellboy knocked on the door of the VIP room at the very top of Altamira's grand hotel, a brown envelope under his arm. A moment passed without any answer, and the bellboy bit his lip and knocked again, slightly louder this time. Although he was one of the more experienced in his profession, he couldn't help but worry - he had been told that the guests in the VIP room were important friends of the President, and he wanted to be sure that they received anything that had been sent to them during their stay. Otherwise, he knew he would make a terrible impression on them, and who knows what the President would think if he caught word of it.
After his second knock, the bellboy was relieved to see a rosy-cheeked young man in a white tuxedo open the door. The man grinned, using one hand to lean on the doorframe and the other to run through his messy brown hair. "Oh, hey there!" he said cheerfully, "Sorry we didn't hear you!"
The guest's demeanor and dress was a sight the bellboy had seen many times before. Ah, yes, he thought, the telltale signs of a newlywed couple on their honeymoon - presents lining the floor, an open bottle of champagne on the table, a happily intoxicated groom and his giggly bride sitting on the bed, her wedding veil sitting awkwardly on her head. The bellboy's worries melted away at the heartwarming scene as he read the label on the envelope.
"Mr. and Mrs. Irving?" he asked.
The groom seemed to light up at that. "That's us!" he said. He turned back to the woman on the bed. "Hey, Colette! We got another present!"
"Really?" she giggled. "What is it, Lloyd?"
The bellboy respectfully handed the envelope to Lloyd. "You should open it and see," he suggested with a smile. "And you both have my sincerest congratulations. Please, don't hesitate to ask for anything during your stay."
"Okay! Thanks!" He took the envelope and waved to the bellboy as he walked away. Lloyd then shut the door and headed back to the bed where his bride waited for him.
Colette made room for him, tucking the skirt of her wedding dress under herself. Her cheeks were also quite pink, both from her makeup and from the champagne. Although the two had already put it away for the evening, they were still fairly tipsy after their private celebration. "What is it?" she repeated. "Open it up...!"
"Okay, okay," he replied, undoing the fastener on the envelope and pulling out its contents. After looking at it for a moment, his eyes widened. "Colette, this is...!"
She leaned over to look for herself. "Oh my goodness... I had completely forgotten about that!" she said with a surprised smile.
"Man, how old were we back then?" wondered Lloyd. "Let's see, I was ten, and you were nine, and Genis..."
"All right, class! You all have five minutes to finish your paintings," said the young teacher at the end of the classroom. Although merely sixteen years old, she already had quite the command of her pupils. "After that, it's time to clean up the watercolors!"
"Yes, Professor Sage!" cried a chorus of young children as they worked diligently on their art projects. However, the youngest member of the class did not join them - instead, he focused all of his attention on his watercolor painting, clumsily streaking the paper with yellow.
"Genis! Genis!" A ten-year-old Lloyd bounded over to his friend. "Did you finish your painting yet?"
"Go away, Lloyd!" Genis huffed, still gripping his brush. "I'm trying to!"
"Then let me see what you're working on - "
"No, Lloyd!" said Colette from behind him. "Genis said it was gonna be a present for us! So we've gotta wait for him to finish."
Lloyd blinked. "A present? Whoa... thanks, Genis! Now I wanna know what it is even more!"
"You'll see!" After a few more brushstrokes, the younger boy placed his brush in his cup of water and held the picture up to his friends. He grinned mischievously. "There, I'm done! Here you go!"
The other two looked closely at it. Colette's face brightened. "Oh! Is that a wedding?"
"Yup!" Genis pointed at the three figures. "That's you, Lloyd, in the suit. And Colette's in the dress! And I'm next to Lloyd, 'cause I'm your bestest man!"
The brown-haired boy turned a bright red and grumbled. "Y-You made a picture of me and Colette getting married!? Why!?"
"'Cause you're going to!" snickered Genis. "Lloyd and Colette, sitting in a tree...!"
"Sh-shut up, Genis!!"
Genis stood up after placing his painting on his desk and stuck out his tongue. "Just wait! You're gonna get married and have lots of babies, and I'm gonna be your bestest man!"
Colette giggled at the two. "Will I get to wear a white dress? And carry flowers?"
"St-stop going along with it, Colette!" Lloyd turned back to Genis, ready to pounce on him. "You're in for it now, Genis...!"
A chase began, with Genis laughing and sprinting around the room and Lloyd following close behind. They would eventually get caught by Professor Sage and be made to stand out in the hallway for roughhousing. However, Colette simply went over to Genis' desk and placed a hand on the painting.
It could never happen, she knew. It wouldn't happen. But to know that her young friend could see through her feelings like this made her feel, for a short moment, that it really would come true one day.
The young couple laughed heartily as they recalled the story of the watercolor painting. Although they had forgotten about it during the past decade, to remember Genis' prediction and how accurate it turned out to be brought even more joy into an already perfect day.
"Wow, he really got it right!" said Lloyd as he handled the slightly yellowed picture with care. "Even the thing about him being best man!"
"Genis always was smart," replied Colette. She placed her head on Lloyd's shoulders, her stomach muscles hurting from laughing so hard. "No wonder he knew."
Just then, Lloyd's fingers slipped, and a small note that was behind the picture fell into his lap. He picked it up and read it aloud.
"It says, 'Told you so. Genis.'" After exchanging a glance with each other, the couple burst into laughter once again and fell back onto the bed. After their giggles finally subsided, the bride took a hold of her groom's hand.
"We need to send him an extra special thank you," she said, "for thinking of us all this time."
"Yeah," Lloyd replied. "He really is our best man, isn't he?"
"We'll get a nice frame for it," she said, snuggling up to Lloyd's side, "and put it up in the new house. Then he'll really say that he told us so."
The happy groom snickered again. Of course he would, that obnoxious, precious friend of his. And he would never stop letting them know how important his support and friendship was to them for all these years.
Chapter 27: Love Letters
Lloyd hates love letters. He didn't help save the world so strangers could tell him how much they loved him! But is he just waiting for one from someone else?
Rated G; friendship.
Read, read, don't read. Present. More packages. Definitely don't open. Read, don't read, read - did that one have glitter all over it? - don't read.
Lloyd had no idea he'd be spending part of his break back home in Iselia sorting his own mail. He'd wanted to help regenerate the world, but he never thought that he'd get so many letters for it! It wasn't just letters, either - packages, all kinds of them, filled with presents and who knows what, all from complete strangers who either hailed him as a hero or who wanted to see him dead.
"Lloyd, this one's purple," said Genis, waving shiny purple envelope with delicate cursive writing on it to his friend. "You tossing it?"
The annoyed swordsman sighed. "Yeah, toss it," he said. Truth be told, he liked the fan mail. He liked the tales of families reuniting after being separated by the Desians. He liked the children's drawings of him and his friends. He especially liked the handmade snacks and treats he'd received as thanks. What he hated, however, possibly even more than the death threats, were the love letters.
"Man, Lloyd," Zelos said with a chuckle as he placed a few letters in their designated "read" pile, "you're almost getting as many of these love letters as I am! And you're not even gonna read them!" He tossed a bright pink envelope into the "don't read" pile. "I'm telling you, I'm jealous, Bud."
"Can it," snapped Lloyd. Another present, tied with red and white ribbon and marked with a label saying, "To my one and only Lloyd Irving". He threw it across the table and into the pile of the other unwanted packages. "It's not like I wanted those stupid things."
If the envelope was pink or purple, had overly girly handwriting on it, or had any trace of hearts on it, it automatically went to the "don't read" pile. It was a little flattering at first to see these confessions of love from total strangers - but that was before he realized how annoying they were. They all sounded the same - how the writers would dream of him every night, how they'd need a hero to sweep them off their feet, and all that sappy crap he'd seen in Zelos' trashy romance novels. It was all so contrived, so fake - besides, he'd never be interested in any of them, not as long as --
"I think he should read them," said Genis with a smirk, "out loud."
"No, Genis, I'm not gonna read them!"
The older man laughed heartily. "Aw, come on, you owe the poor ladies that much!" He winked at the irritated boy and nudged him with his elbow. "And who knows? Maybe with these you can finally find yourself a girlfriend!"
"I don't want a girlfriend who sends me this kind of crap!" He slammed three more envelopes onto the table. "It's annoying! It's embarrassing!"
Genis stared at Lloyd. "H-hey, don't take it so personal... You know Zelos is just being an idiot again!"
After shooting a glare at the young half-elf, Zelos turned back to Lloyd. "Hey, all I'm saying is that these fans of yours went through the trouble to write you something nice." He picked up a letter that reeked of perfume. "Even if they are annoying. I just don't think you should be so angry about it, that's all."
"I'm not interested, okay!?" Lloyd buried his head in his hands. "I don't care that they think they're in love with me, I'm not interested! I already like -- "
After stopping himself from saying anymore, he turned bright red. Then, he looked up from his hands, only to see Genis and Zelos grinning wickedly at him, like two sharks cornering a helpless fish in order to devour it.
"Oh?" Zelos asked. "You already like someone?"
Genis stood. "Ooh, ooh, I think I know who it is!"
"I-I didn't say anything like that!!"
The red head eagerly leaned into Lloyd's personal space. "All right, Bud, let's play Twenty Questions! Is she someone we know?"
"Would you shut up already -- "
"Someone who traveled with us, right?" chimed Genis.
"And does her name begin with a "C" -- "
" -- and end in "olette"!?"
A mortified Lloyd yelled wordlessly at them, knocking over his chair as he stood. "All right!! Okay!! I admit it! I - I like Colette, are you happy!?"
Suddenly, a large hand slapped him on the back. Zelos laughed along with Genis as he affectionately patted the poor swordsman. "See, doesn't it feel so much better to let that out?"
Lloyd looked down at his feet. ...Well, he thought, at least now he could explain why those letters annoyed him so much.
When Genis finished laughing, he gave the others a knowing smile. "It was pretty obvious from the beginning, Lloyd," he said. "You're just wasting time by denying it."
"Yeah! Wasting time you could be using to tell Colette!"
"G-Genis, I can't do that!" stammered Lloyd. "Not now!"
Zelos waved his free hand dismissively. "Ah, let him go. He'll do it on his own time, won't you, Bud?"
Lloyd nodded. "Y-yeah. On my... own time." He picked up his chair and sat down again, wordlessly leafing through some more envelopes.
He wondered what it would be like if she sent him a love letter.
The next morning was a lazy one. Having already thrown out the unwanted letters, Dirk and Lloyd's house was already much cleaner than it had been the previous day, so it gave Lloyd a chance to sleep in without worrying about his father being angry over the clutter. At around eleven o'clock, he rose out of bed and went downstairs to greet his father and find something to eat. Dirk was already hard at work pouring molten iron into a mold when he saw his son.
"Mornin', ya lazy scamp," he greeted.
Lloyd yawned. "Morning, Dad." He rubbed his eyes as he sat at the table. "I just had a busy day yesterday, you know that."
The old dwarf snorted. "I didn't teach ya how to be a mail sorter, Lloyd. You've got more energy than that!"
The boy waved him off before noticing an envelope on the table. This wouldn't have been so odd, had the rest of the mail not already been in neat piles on the other side of the room. He picked it up and looked at it - a plain envelope, no address... and extremely familiar handwriting.
"Dad?" he asked, "Where'd you get this?"
Dirk noticed the letter and laughed. "Heh! You'll see. It's a special delivery, son."
Lloyd opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. As he read it, his eyes widened. This was Colette's handwriting, he knew, and what she had written was --
-- He finished the letter and folded it again, stuffing it in one of his pant pockets. He then stood up, grabbed his red jacket from a hook on the wall, and stepped into a pair of boots.
"Yeah." Lloyd flashed a grin at his father. "I'm gonna go see Colette. And then - I'm gonna give Genis and Zelos a piece of my mind...!"
Chapter 28: Her White Dress
He loved her childlike sweetness, that innocence which allowed him to carry on. He was also deathly afraid of taking that innocence away from her. Does fulfilling lust come with a price… or is Lloyd just worrying too much?
Rated T; humor. Sexual themes.
White always was the color she looked best in, he thought to himself.
She bought the white sundress with tiny straps tied into bows on her shoulders the day before at a boutique in Meltokio. She claimed she was sorely in need of new clothing - after all, she hadn't gone shopping for any since before their problems with the Vanguard and Ratatosk began over eight months before. She'd returned from her excursion with a number of cute, girlish items, including the white dress and the white and gold ribbons she now tied her braided hair with. As she strode merrily along the city streets, she would occasionally look down at herself and let out a giggle.
"Lloyd, look at this," she would say before twisting back and forth, making the bottom of the dress twirl about her.
He laughed in response. "You look like a little kid, Colette," he teased.
"You think so?" Colette asked as she looked up at the building in front of her. "I guess I really do feel like one. It's been such a long time since I could spoil myself like this - new clothes, new shoes," she turned back to face him, "a fun vacation with the person I love."
The swordsman's cheeks turned pink at that as he fiddled with his burgundy tank top. "Maybe that's why you look so young, then. You're enjoying yourself!" Truth be told, though, it was a lot more than that - Colette had always had an air of youth about her. No, not youth, it was more like a childlike innocence. That was one of the reasons he fell in love with her; her never-ending faith and optimism was a fountain from which he'd always drawn some of his own strength. In that sense, then, she was always like a little kid, but especially so when she was smiling and laughing like she was today.
The Chosen took a hold of his hand. "It's so wonderful how we can keep enjoying ourselves even after everything that's happened. It's like a part of us will always be children." They turned the corner, heading towards a crowd of snack stands. "At least, I think so."
Lloyd nodded at her before eyeing one of the stands. "Hey, they have sausages!" He lead her over and ordered an authentic Meltokian sausage on a stick.
The girl laughed at him. "See what I mean?"
"Yeah," he responded, handing his money to the vendor and taking his food. "At the very least, my stomach will always be like a little kid's, won't it?" He eagerly took a bite of his new snack and swallowed.
It was their first time staying at Meltokio's inn in nearly two years - normally when visiting the city they would stay with their friend Zelos. This time, however, he'd been called to Mizuho on some unexpected business, so the couple opted to stay at the inn instead. It had undergone some drastic changes over those two years - new carpet, new wallpaper, new bed sheets. Half of the rooms even had new doors installed once the older ones began to fall apart. Colette and Lloyd's room, however, was not one of them.
Lloyd had noticed that their door was loose on its hinges and would creak open when it wasn't locked. He paid it little mind, though, as ventured through the hallway, carrying a bundle of clothes he had just finished washing downstairs. He whistled a tune to himself before stopping at their door, ready to call out to Colette and have her open it for him. That was when he noticed she'd merely locked the door with the chain lock, resulting in a noticeable crack about two inches wide through which anyone could have clearly seen what was going on inside.
He grimaced, thinking about how he'd have to deal with any creepers who could have easily watched his girlfriend while he was gone. He inhaled, but before he could say "the door's open", she came into his field of vision - wearing only her plain white panties.
Shocked and flustered, Lloyd nearly dropped his laundry as he watched her walk over to the closet and grab her white nightgown with pink trimming. There was something stupefying about seeing the girl he loved topless for the first time - didn't she say she was an ironing board? Either she was lying or she had a terrible self image, because what he saw looked nothing like --
Wait, what was he doing!?
He quickly spun around, putting his back against the wall next to the door. He began to breathe heavily, quickly, as he tried desperately to keep his blood from flowing to his face and - other places. This was wrong, he thought. This was Zelos level wrong. No, even worse; he'd convinced himself that he'd respect her, not leer at her like some kind of perverted old man! He had to get a hold of himself and act like nothing had happened when he went back inside.
He stood there until the flush had left his face. Then swallowing hard, he turned around. Thank Martel, she was dressed this time.
"...Colette?" he called, "You, um, kinda left the door open."
The Chosen turned her head, then turned pink in embarrassment. "Oh, no! I forgot to lock it, didn't I?" She undid the chain lock and let him inside. "I'm sorry! I really am a klutz, huh?"
Lloyd refused to make eye contact with her, instead burying his face in his laundry. "D-Don't worry about it. Just try to remember next time - you never know what kind of creeps will try to look inside."
Yeah, he thought. Creeps like himself.
That night was restless for Lloyd, to say the least. For a good while he lay awake, thinking of what he had seen that evening and of the shame that came with it. He had convinced himself that thinking of her like that was wrong and disgusting and disrespectful and a whole other slew of negative adjectives. He then thought of what she would do if she knew he'd seen her changing - would she yell at him? Break up with him? Or, even worse, hate him? The thoughts of "what if" kept him from resting, until he finally managed to clear his mind and let sleep overtake him.
Turns out, however, that not even sleep could let a late-blooming teenager escape his own lewd thoughts. His mind was a volcano erupting in thoughts he'd had before but never wanted to admit he had. That white dress she wore earlier was torn off in his dreams, those ribbons in her hair were yanked out. He saw her, he touched her, and she enjoyed it. He enjoyed it. And when he finally woke up again, early enough so that even Colette was still sleeping on the other bed, he instantly hated himself for enjoying it.
That dress was her innocence, and he enjoyed tearing it apart.
Disgusted and weary, Lloyd changed his underwear and clothes in the bathroom, then walked over to the pencil and paper pad the inn had provided. He wrote a note - "Didn't sleep well, went to get coffee. Be back soon." - and placed it on his pillow. Then he grabbed his knapsack and left the room, double checking the locks as he went.
He could have simply gotten the coffee they served downstairs at the inn. However, he'd wanted to get as far away from Colette as possible before he knew he was ready (and caffeinated enough) to face her, so he walked across the street and down a few blocks to a cafe they'd frequented on their journeys. Plus, there, he knew he could just say he was Zelos' friend and get a discount, if they didn't know who he was already.
Lloyd was by no means a coffee addict, so the barista was undoubtedly surprised when he ordered four cups, all with extra sugar, and a blueberry muffin. His excuse was that he had a lot he needed to think about - and, indeed, he thought about many things as he drank.
By the time he'd finished the final mug, Lloyd realized he'd gotten jitters. His fingers shook when he tried to hold them still and his legs bounced uncontrollably under the table. It was then that his mind started to race - where did these thoughts come from? Was it just seeing Colette topless that started it, or was he always like this? Does everyone go through this? Was this a part of being in love, or was it just him being a pervert? If he told her what he'd wanted to do, would she - he turned red at the thought - feel the same way?
Most importantly... what would the others think, if they knew what he was feeling?
The answers to that question came to him all at once in a self-conscious, caffeinated flurry. He could see Sheena and his father giving him a few good punches. He saw Kratos cough in embarrassment and give him that glare he was so good at. He heard Presea tell him, in her monotone voice, how inappropriate he was being, and Regal warning him not to be rash about these things. He saw Marta going on and on and on about how "romantic" the whole thing was while Emil just stood there and covered his ears. Then Professor Sage spoke in his reverie, going on a long, boring lecture about puberty and the importance of using protection, but then Genis interrupted her with his obnoxious laughter and immature jabs at his competence. Finally, overwhelming all of his other thoughts, he heard Zelos screaming "Just do her already!!", at which point he groaned and laid his head on the table, his shaky hands grabbing at his hair.
Then another thought suddenly came to him. What if he simply... told Colette the truth?
He peeked up at his blueberry muffin, which he still hadn't touched. Then he grabbed it and took a bite. Honesty, he thought, was a big part of their relationship. After all, he'd told her not to hide things from him two years before, and not even a few months ago did she tell him to do the same. Keeping feelings like this from her seemed too dishonest, a direct violation of the promises they'd made each other. Besides, he thought as he placed the last few crumbs of his muffin in his mouth, what was the worst that could happen? If she loved him, she most certainly couldn't hate him over this.
He stood up, his arms still shaking and his eyes fairly bloodshot. Whatever happened, whatever she thought about the situation, he at least had to be honest with her. So he decided to go back to the inn - after he'd walked off some of these damned jitters, anyway.
It was another half hour before Lloyd arrived back at the room, a freshly cut sunflower in one hand and a rather embarrassing "just-in-case" in his pocket. If he was going to tell her how he felt, he thought, then at least he should come prepared for whatever may happen (although the wry grin he got from the general store's cashier was a bit uncalled for). In his head he went over what he was going to say to her - it was almost like the time he first told her he loved her, in a way. However, he knew this confession was going to be much more personal and far more awkward.
He knocked, and shortly after he heard the jungle of the chain and the click of the lock being undone. Colette greeted him, alert and awake yet still in her nightgown. She looked at him with a hint of concern in her face.
"Good morning," she said, allowing him to come inside before shutting the door and locking it again. "Are you feeling better?" Her eye then caught the sunflower. She giggled. "Oh! Is that for me, Lloyd?"
"Yeah." He grinned shyly in response and handed her the sunflower. "Got it on my way back. I, uh, thought you'd like it."
"I like it very much. Thank you!" She held the oversized flower to her bosom, making her look even more innocent and childlike in Lloyd's eyes - and making him feel even worse about what he was going to say to her.
He sighed and scratched the back of his head, looking down at his feet. "...Actually, Colette, I got it because... I need to say something to you. And you might be mad at me for it."
The Chosen looked confused. "Huh? But you didn't do anything wrong, Lloyd..."
"That you know of." He sat down on his bed and took a deep breath. "It was an accident, really - last night, I saw you didn't lock the door all the way, and you were... um..."
The gears turned in Colette's head for a few seconds. Then, with a small yelp and a blood-red complexion, she dropped the sunflower and put her hands to her mouth.
Oh, hell, he knew this would happen, he knew it - Lloyd turned away and continued. "I swear I didn't mean to! I just kind of... saw it. And then... then I started thinking about things. About you."
Slowly, the girl moved her hands away from her face. "About...?"
"I think I've always thought you were... cute?" The flustered swordsman winced at his choice of words. "No, that's not right - well, you are cute, but you're also... beautiful, I guess. Not just in how you look, either." He shifted in his seat. "It makes me want to do... things to you. With you. And it's driving me crazy!"
"Lloyd...!" Colette's eyes widened at his confession, the redness in her face clashing violently with the white of her gown. "You really think I'm that -- "
"I do!" he cried as he balled his hands into fists, "And I feel awful about it! I always loved how sweet and innocent you were and if I took that away from you... I'd never forgive myself as long as I lived!"
Colette stared at him for a short moment. Then, with a small smile, she got on the bed and wrapped her arms around him.
"...I'm glad," she said softly, "that you feel that way about me."
Lloyd started when she said that and swallowed hard. "B-But Colette, I -- !"
"It just means that you're grown up," she interrupted. "That we're grown up. Nothing else would change if we took that step." She rested her cheek on his shoulder shutting her eyes. "I'll still be me. And you'll still be you. Remember?"
He suddenly felt a great weight of guilt being lifted as he remembered those words. How could he have been so dumb as to forget? Even though they'd changed so much as they grew older, Colette was still the same person he'd fallen in love with. That wouldn't change, no matter how mature their relationship became.
"Besides... you'd never take anything like that from me." She looked him in the eye and smiled bashfully. "Because you'd never hurt me. I'd trust you... with everything."
She folded her hands behind his head and nodded. "...I've thought about it, too. I-It's embarrassing... but if you were ready, I'd... um..."
Her shyness only made his own blush brighter. He laughed softly. "Eheh. You're so cute." He kissed her forehead. "I'm ready. Er, whenever you're ready, I mean."
Colette giggled in response. Then, they stared at each other silently, wondering how they should start this next step they've agreed to take together. Eventually, they decided, a long, passionate kiss would be a good way to start things out. By the end of their tryst, while watching her lay spent and giggling beside him, he noticed something.
She had been wearing her white night gown the entire time.
Chapter 29: Acknowledgment
After years of self-denial and suppressed wants, Colette finally acknowledges her own anger and jealousy and exposes it to the person at the source of her desires.
Rated G; angst, hurt/comfort.
"Colette, have you ever been angry?"
Surprised by Lloyd's sudden question, Colette looked up from her mug of hot cocoa and back towards Lloyd, who was sitting on the loveseat behind her. He was bundled up, as she was, in thick blankets, fleece pajamas, two layers of socks, and gloves, yet the cold that had come with Flanoir's largest blizzard of the year still managed to turn his nose red. His inquiry seemed to her an odd way to break the silence between them as they tried to keep warm by their room's fireplace. She blinked at him.
"Angry?" she asked, "How so?"
Lloyd rubbed his gloved hands over his face and clarified. "I know, I know, it sounds weird. I don't know why I was thinking about it." He looked down at his friend after returning his hands to his side. "But I've never seen you get angry. I mean, really angry. I've seen you get annoyed and all... but it's like you're incapable of having angry thoughts or something."
The girl laughed sheepishly in response. "Well, um, I like to try and see the good in people before I get mad at them." She shifted her feet so they could be closer to the fire. "So I guess I'm not a very angry person at all!"
"I didn't say you were," Lloyd responded, giving her a look of disbelief. "But I have a hard time believing you've never hated something. Or that you've never been bitter, or jealous."
Colette suddenly frowned and looked back at her mug. After a moment of brief silence, Lloyd sighed and sat down on the floor beside her.
"...I'm sorry, Colette, I didn't mean to get you all upset. It's just - you've had such a hard life, and I just don't understand how you couldn't be angry about any of it." His eyes grew soft, yet they still managed to see past Colette's reluctance to speak. "It's almost like you're ashamed of being angry... like you don't want to admit when you are."
She drew her knees up before finally answering him. "...I was never supposed to be angry. A Chosen... is supposed to love the world more than themselves. They're not supposed to be bitter or jealous." She suddenly felt two fingers pinch her ear and gently yank on it. After letting out a squeak and nearly dropping her mug, she turned and glared a little at Lloyd. "Lloyd, don't do that!"
She got a stern look in return. "I thought you weren't the Chosen anymore," he said. "So stop saying you're 'supposed' to do things. You're a person, and people get mad and don't have to be ashamed of it." He grinned. "Like you did just then when I pulled your ear."
Colette sulked, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. He had a point, she thought. She was comfortable enough with him to scold him for something minor like that... so perhaps she should be more comfortable with sharing more of herself with him; the darker parts of herself, the parts that were bitter, jealous, and angry. Perhaps she could be completely honest and bring the person she cared about the most face-to-face with the feelings she herself was ashamed of facing.
She thought about it and thought about it. Then, she decided to start from the beginning.
From the time she was old enough to understand her fate, she was angry. She cried for hours, her father's strong arms and her grandmother's look of abject pity unable to console her. She learned not to cry, eventually, but the same thoughts would run through her head whenever she read her picture books about heroes and princesses and Chosen Ones of the past. No one died in those; the heroes always lived happily ever after with the princesses, and the Chosens always watched over their loved ones as an angel in Heaven. So why was it that she had to die? Why her?
Colette learned to suppress that childish anger soon enough, but occasionally more jealousies and insecurities would rise to the surface. When her classmates started dating, she knew she could never have that kind of relationship. At first, she didn't think it was fair that other girls would have dates, engagement rings, white weddings, and families of their own, and that she wouldn't. But she then remembered that, if it weren't for her death, no one would be able to have a white wedding. It was the shame of realizing her selfishness that led her to suppress all of her self-centered desires. Indeed, she had to right to want what she couldn't have - this was the fate given to her by the Goddess Martel, after all.
It wasn't until after her soul had been returned to her that she could even remember what jealousy felt like. She loved Sheena, Raine, and Presea with all of her heart - but she loved Lloyd even more. Although she did not mention anyone by name during their conversation by the fireplace, she wanted to show Lloyd what her darker self was like, including the aspects relating to him. Whenever he would turn his attention to the other girls, her heart would sink a little lower. Now that she knew she would not have to die, she began to hope again for the dates, the ring, the wedding, and the family. And even more selfishly, she wanted them with him. It all culminated the day she decided to ask him if he liked girls such as Princess Hilda. After that, she even became angry at Lloyd for failing to understand her.
As she showed to him her bare self - her selfish self - she began to cover her face in shame.
"...I became so angry at that person," she said weakly, "that he didn't love me like I loved him."
Lloyd could feel his heart breaking for her as he saw that side of her. He could only imagine having to tell himself that he wasn't allowed to want or dream - and what was worse, that it might have been his own ignorance that caused her jealousy... He slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"He probably loves you more than you know," he said uncharacteristically matter-of-factly as he tried to hide his own embarrassment.
Colette lifted her head, the tears in her eyes just about to overflow.
"I never want you to think that you're not allowed to hope for things ever again!" He realized how flustered he was getting and reined himself in. "What I mean is... you can want to live. You can want to fall in love, save the world, grow old with the people you care about - you can want all that! That's what living is all about...!"
Instead of replying, Colette simply shut her eyes and leaned into Lloyd. When he began to see teardrops on his blanket, he held her close to his shoulder, allowing her to release those negative feelings she'd denied for so long. Her catharsis took up whatever energy she had left, and soon she was fast asleep.
Lloyd took a pillow from the couch behind him, rested her head on it, and covered her more completely with her blanket. He was happy to have come face-to-face with Colette's hidden feelings, but he now had to think about how he was going to show her his.
Chapter 30: Lezareno Brand Black Tea
When Regal receives a surprise visit from Lloyd, he attempts to console his feelings of inadequacy over a pot of Lezareno brand tea.
Rated G; friendship.
Regal quickly shut the book he was reading at his desk and laid it upon a small stack of confidential files before leaving his chair to clear a nearby table of various stray documents and clipboard. Although he was not a disorganized person by any means, he had been caught by surprise this afternoon with the unexpected arrival of a guest. Moments before, he had received a call from one of the receptionists on the first floor stating that Lloyd Irving had arrived and wanted to see him right away. Sensing that the visit might involve some sort of urgent news, he had George escort him to his office before clearing away the sitting area.
He had just finished shelving the last of his papers when he heard a knock on the door. After adjusting his tie, he opened it and smiled warmly at Lloyd and George.
"Hello, Lloyd," he greeted before motioning to George. "Thank you, George. Would you care to bring the two of us some tea?"
"Certainly," the older man replied before bowing slightly. When he left, Regal stepped aside, letting a weary-looking Lloyd inside. The swordsman flashed Regal a sheepish grin.
"Sorry to barge in like this," he said. "It was kind of a short-notice thing, I know."
The president led Lloyd to the armchairs in the sitting area. "You know that you're always welcome to Altamira whenever you like, Lloyd. Please, have a seat."
Lloyd flopped down in the plush chair and let out a sigh. Regal followed suit, taking his own seat opposite of his friend.
"You look exhausted," he said with a hint of worry in his voice. "Did something happen?"
"Nah," said Lloyd with a dismissive hand motion. "Nothing bad. It's not like anyone else is trying to destroy the world or anything."
Regal chuckled a little. "Yes, that's always good to hear." He then folded his hands together in his lap. "I can't help but notice, though, that Colette's not with you. Is she waiting back at the hotel?"
Lloyd's complexion suddenly paled a little in response to that question. For a brief moment, Regal wondered what this reaction meant. He'd said nothing bad had happened, and Lloyd, being head-over-heels for her, would not have come to him so calmly had she been in danger. Perhaps they'd simply gotten into a lovers' spat?
George returned that moment with the tea, and he silently delivered it to them, shutting the door behind him as he left. Regal nodded his thanks to his employee before pouring Lloyd a cup of strong, aromatic, Lezareno brand black tea.
"Thanks," said Lloyd, taking the tea and tasting it. "W-Wow, this tastes even better than last time! Did you guys start using a different formula or something?"
The question seemed forced to Regal, who was beginning to think that he was trying to change the subject on purpose. "No, Lloyd, it's the same formula we've used for over a decade." He poured himself a cup and sat back in his seat, smiling. "If you've come here to talk to me about Colette, perhaps changing the subject to tea is a little counterintuitive."
The bashful brunette laughed nervously. "Man, Regal, you can read me like an open book."
"'Enigmatic' isn't exactly a word I'd use to describe you. After three years, most of us have learned how the gears turn in your mind." He sipped his tea and continued. "Now, about Colette. Is she here in the city with you?"
Regal raised an eyebrow at that. "I see. I thought you two were staying in Ozette for the week. At least, that's what your last letter said."
"Yeah. We are."
"Then why is it you came to Altamira alone? Does she know you're here?"
Lloyd bit his lip. "Yeah. She knows." He looked down and sighed again. "...But I told her you needed to talk to me one-on-one. I didn't tell her why I came."
An almost fatherly look of disappointment crept onto Regal's face. "I thought you two had promised to be honest with each other," he said. "Why didn't you tell her the truth?"
"Because..." He went silent for a moment. "...Because I needed your help. For our - you know, relationship. I don't know if we can stay together, Regal."
Regal was shocked to hear this. He set his tea down on the table. "Now, Lloyd, think about what you're saying. The two of you have risked your lives for each other. You even managed to weather six months of being apart. What on earth would make you think you couldn't stay together?"
"H-hey, don't get me wrong! I love her more than anything, you know that!" After a brief moment of reactionary defense, Lloyd pulled himself together. "...Sorry, I know you know that. But she asked about getting married, Regal!"
"I would think you would be happy she was considering such a thing."
"I am! I really am! I told her I was, even!" He started scratching the back of his head with his free hand as he looked down into his tea. "But ever since we planted the World Tree, the two of us have gotten more death threats than we can count. And it just got worse after the Blood Purge, even after I was pardoned." He suddenly looked back up at his friend with an uncharacteristically frightened look on his face. "Last month, when we were visiting Marta and Emil in Palmacosta... someone hung a doll that looked like Colette by its neck, right outside our inn room's window. We can't get married in this kind of environment! What if some crazy person tried to kill one of us!? What if I couldn't protect her from that!?"
"Lloyd," said Regal, sternly yet calmly, the same tone he always used when trying to calm him down. "Take a deep breath and calm yourself."
The swordsman immediately obeyed, breathing deeply and exhaling slowly.
"Such a vulgar threat is plenty reason to be concerned for her safety," the older man continued. "But you must remember that you're not the only one responsible for her protection. Colette is a strong young woman in every sense; she can defend herself if need be." He smiled reassuringly. "She also has the rest of us to help her. In fact, I would gladly lay down my life to protect either one of you. Although I know you're apt to object to such statements."
Lloyd frowned. "Like I'd let you do that. But... I get the gist of it. I think."
"You have little to worry about. I would hate to see the actions of a few terrorists scare you away from the woman you love." He took a long drink, finishing his tea. "If it will make you feel better, I'll even lend you the best of my company's security officers for your wedding."
"Whoa, Regal," said Lloyd with a bright blush on his face, "aren't you thinking ahead a bit too much? It's not like we're even engaged or anything yet..."
Regal laughed. "Of course. But the offer is still on the table for when the time comes." He stood, walked over to Lloyd, and placed a strong hand on his shoulder. "Now, shouldn't you be getting back to Ozette? I'm sure Colette would love to hear the truth about why you came to see me."
Lloyd gulped. "I guess I don't have much of a choice. Hopefully she won't get too mad at me."
"Bite the blade, Lloyd. Sometimes the best choice is taking the blame."
"Right, right." He stood, and in that moment Regal noticed the adult he had become, willing to accept his mistakes and take action to fix them. It was, after all, what made him different from Mithos. "Thanks for your help, Regal. You're always able to talk some sense into me."
"My pleasure. Please, don't ever hesitate to ask for my assistance."
"Will do." With that, he stepped outside and waved to Regal from the doorway before heading to Altamira's massive gift shop. After all, he thought, a box of Lezareno brand chocolates might help soften the blow of a boyfriend's lie, wouldn't it?
Chapter 31: Adoration (Part One)
After returning to Iselia to celebrate Colette's seventeenth birthday, she and Lloyd find themselves wrapped up in a bizarre murder case. Could it have something to do with their blossoming romantic relationship?
Rated M; mystery. Original characters, violence, gore, and themes of racism.
The girls surrounding her applauded and cheered when Colette blew out a single lit candle on her cupcake. Her cheeks turned bright pink and she giggled nervously as a joyful chorus of voices wished her a happy birthday. Although she was quite embarrassed by the sudden shower of attention, she was glad that her former classmates had all decided to throw her this small cupcake party outside their schoolhouse in Iselia; Indeed, only a year before, she could never have even dreamed that she'd have a seventeenth birthday at all.
"Thank you!" she said, "Thank you all so much! Mary, did you say that you baked these?"
A girl with a yellow dress and dark auburn hair nodded. "Yup! All by myself!"
"You should have seen the mess she made!" teased a younger girl with glasses beside her. Everyone giggled in response.
"I'm so happy you went through all this trouble." Colette took a bite out of her quite large cupcake that had been covered in a mountain of whipped cream. She wiped her mouth and smiled brightly. "Oh, strawberry's my favorite! How did you know?"
"We asked Lloyd, duh," answered a freckled girl in between bites of her own cupcake. "You're travelling together, so we knew he'd know what your favorite kind is!"
The Chosen laughed once more. "Yes, of course he'd know."
Suddenly, a blonde girl's green eyes began to sparkle with mischief. "Speaking of Lloyd -- "
"Ariel, don't! You'll embarrass her!"
"Aw, lighten up, Carol! You're dying to know just as much as I am and you know it!"
Slightly confused, Colette turned to Ariel and asked, "Um, dying to know what?"
"What everyone's been wondering since you two came back yesterday," she said smugly. "Colette, is it true you're dating Lloyd?"
The birthday girl squeaked a little as her blush darkened into a deep crimson. "Y-You knew!? W-We were waiting to tell everyone...!"
All the girls simultaneously broke into "ooh"s and giggles. Mary nudged the younger girl with her elbow.
"See? See? I told you I saw them holding hands!"
Colette sank a little. "Are we really that obvious?"
"Don't be embarrassed! It's super adorable!" Ariel finished her cupcake and continued. "Ever since you came back from the Regeneration Journey, everyone's been wondering when you two would get together!"
"It's just like in a fairy tale, when the hero and heroine fall in love and live happily ever after!" A dark-haired girl said with a sigh. "It's so romantic; wait until everyone else hears about it!"
"L-Like a fairy tale..." When she thought about it that way, Colette couldn't help but smile a little. The comparison made sense - Lloyd had saved her in more way than she could count - so to think that they were starting on their own happy ending was comforting and a little bit exciting at the same time.
Carol frowned at the others. "See? I said she'd get embarrassed, didn't I? Let's just leave her alone and finish up."
"Aww, you're no fun!"
As that single conversation dissolved into many, Colette stayed silent and ate her cupcake. She'd need to tell Lloyd that she'd spilled the beans a bit early; hopefully he wouldn't be too angry at her.
"Let's see... um... let's make it red and pink roses. Can you do that?"
The florist adjusted his glasses and smiled. "Sure thing, Lloyd. I'll fix up a bouquet right away." He stepped away from his cash box and grabbed six pink and six red roses from baskets behind the display shelves, along with a large sheet of shiny, golden paper. As he went to work trimming and arranging the roses with his chubby yet skillful hands, he began to chat with his customer. "You know, kiddo, there've been rumors going around about you, and these roses you're getting aren't helping any, you know."
The old man laughed jovially, his pudgy cheeks rising into a large grin. "Just something about you and Colette - that our town hero and the Chosen one have taken quite a liking to each other!" He chuckled again. "Ha ha, young love... Reminds me of when I was a lad your age."
Lloyd bit his lip. Hadn't they been trying to keep this a secret until later? "Heh... I guess me coming here tipped you off, huh?"
"Not just that," the florist answered. "I see it in your eyes, too. It's the same look I see in nervous young men trying to impress a certain young lady with my flowers."
"I'm not nervous!" said Lloyd nervously. After realizing that his tone was contradicting his statement, he added more calmly, "It's just - it's her birthday today, and I'm a bit behind on my real present for her, so..."
The florist let out a belly laugh. "You sure are something, Lloyd! Normally a man doesn't start forgetting his girl's birthday until they're married!" He rolled the bouquet in the paper and tied it with a large, red ribbon. "All right, that'll be 450 gald."
Lloyd took the roses and handed the old man a few coins. "Thanks. I hope she likes these."
"I'm sure she will. May the Goddess bless both of you today."
The young swordsman nodded and turned to leave, only to be startled by a girl with short black hair and a pale grey dress who had bent down to look at the flower displays. "Ack! ...S-Sorry, I didn't see you there!"
The girl simply smiled nervously and returned her attention to the flowers. Meanwhile, the florist chuckled at Lloyd's reaction.
"It's all right, Lloyd. She just likes to look at the flowers, that's all; certainly not anyone you should be scared of!"
"R-Right." He waved goodbye to the girl and the old man and walked off, hoping the flowers would make up for him revealing his and Colette's relationship so early.
"You mean Mr. Foxglove knew, too!?" Colette seemed shocked to hear that yet others had managed to see through their secret as she walked the sunset-tinted roads with her boyfriend, holding her gift of roses in her arms.
"Yeah. He said he could 'see it in my eyes' or something." He grinned sheepishly. "Guess you can't hide that kind of thing from a florist, huh?"
"Or your classmates," she replied. "Mary and the others asked about it at the party today, too."
A look of annoyance crossed Lloyd's face. "You think we're being too obvious, Colette?"
The girl giggled. "Maybe a little. But... I think I like it that way. We shouldn't have to hide our love, right?"
Lloyd looked away and cleared his throat at the word "love". "W-Well, yeah, but I'd wanted to make sure everyone would be okay with it first. Not that I care if they weren't - but we get enough crap as it is for what we did. I don't want to make it worse because we're dating now."
"Lloyd," Colette frowned in concern. "You're that worried about it?"
"I'm worried more for you. When the Church finds out, they might not be too happy with you."
The Chosen placed a hand on Lloyd's shoulder. "Let me worry about the Church," she said. "I've already gotten Father and Grandmother's blessing. And I'm sure that we can convince the pastors and nuns that it's okay, too."
The swordsman frowned and thought over this for a moment before sighing. "Yeah. You're right. I should be happy about all this, not worried." He flashed a grin at her. "Just let me know if they don't listen to you so I can give them a piece of my mind."
Colette simply laughed. "You're so silly, Lloyd. I'm glad you care about me so much." The two reached the Brunel household and looked at each other on the doorstep.
"See you in the morning, Colette."
"Wait, Lloyd..." She stepped closer to him, stood on her toes, and planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. "Hee hee. That was your goodnight kiss."
Lloyd blushed, then smiled and returned the favor on top of Colette's head. "There's yours," he said before jumping off the stairs. "Sweet dreams!"
The girl waved to him before letting herself in, eager to show her family the flowers she'd gotten.
The next morning turned out to be quite overcast, much to Lloyd's surprise. In fact, when he rode into town on Noishe to go pick up Colette, he had not thought of bringing un umbrella in case it rained. Luckily, Colette showed a little more forethought; she brought a large, white umbrella for the two to share should the rain begin to fall.
After being treated to a free breakfast by the owner of their favorite childhood eatery (complete with a candle in Colette's stack of pancakes in honor of her birthday the day before), the two began to walk towards the town entrance, intending to spend the rest of the morning at the shoreline nearby. However, not far from the gates of the town, a small crowd of people being pushed away from a store by three militiamen caught the couple's eye. As they approached, a man in the crowd spotted them and redirected everyone's attention.
Colette put her hands together and addressed the man. "What's going on, sir? Is everyone all right?"
"Oh, Chosen One," he said, glancing at the guards. "That's what we're trying to figure out! But nobody's telling us anything!"
She turned to Lloyd. "Lloyd, maybe they'll tell us," she said. "If somebody's hurt, it's our job to try and help, right?"
Lloyd nodded. "Yeah. Hey!" He made his way through the crowds and addressed one of the militiamen. "Why aren't you telling anybody what's going on? Someone could be in trouble in there!"
"L-Lloyd Irving..." he replied shakily. He shook his head. "I-I'm sorry. We were given orders to keep everyone away from the crime scene."
"Crime scene?" Colette found her way to Lloyd's side. "Was there a robbery? Is the owner okay?"
The guard hung his head and sighed. "He's -- "
Suddenly, a tall man with thick brown hair and a handlebar mustache walked out of the building, adjusting his tiny spectacles on his long, narrow nose with his middle finger. "All right, boys. One of you come inside and help me bag the evidence." He grimaced a little when he saw Colette and Lloyd. "...Who told you you could let anybody in?"
"Inspector Severins!" the guard said as he started a bit. "Th-These are town heroes, sir, they only want to -- "
"I know who they are," said Severins as he rolled his eyes. "But I specifically told you not to let anyone inside!"
"But I didn't let them inside..."
Lloyd cleared his throat and interrupted the argument. Once he had everyone's attention, he crossed his arms. "Look, somebody's hurt in there, and we need to help them! If you know who we are, you'd know that we've sworn to protect Iselia - we can't do that if you don't tell us what's going on!"
"This isn't any of your business, boy!" the inspector snapped. "There's nothing you can do; the man is dead, and we need to find out who killed him before -- "
As the crowd gasped at the reveal, Severins finally noticed the horrified Chosen before him. After studying her intently for a moment, he readjusted his spectacles.
"...You two should come with me," he said. He turned to the guard. "And you, help me bag the evidence. The rest of you, keep that damn crowd away from my crime scene!"
Confused by his sudden change of heart and fearful of the scene they'd find inside, the young couple looked at each other before following the inspector and the guard he'd chosen to help him. Although they expected something violent, they had no idea just how terrible and bloody it would be inside the store.
When Colette saw the corpse - the middle-aged owner of the kitchenware store laying in a pool of his own blood - she covered her mouth to keep from shrieking. Lloyd immediately took her by the shoulders, but he too was disturbed by the thought that an innocent man's dead body was right in front of them. He had a noticeable head wound as well as a large kitchen knife sticking straight out of his throat. There were also bloody holes in his shirt and vest, which were quite obviously stab wounds.
"Who..." Colette looked up to the older men to her side. "Who did this!? Who could do something so terrible!?"
Severins answered coldly. "That's what we want to ask you." He walked over to the window, took a wooden sign, and showed it to the couple. "Do you recognize this sign, Chosen?"
However, it was Lloyd who gritted his teeth at the sign and answered. "'Half-Elves Not Welcome'... dammit, what are we fighting for if people are still getting away with that!?"
"Lloyd!" Colette attempted to calm her boyfriend down. After all, the man he was getting angry at was dead. However, Severins interrupted them abruptly.
"Half-elf activism is something you both feel very strongly about, I believe?" He smiled a little, as if relishing in his own powers of deduction. "Someone who still hates half-elves would quickly become the object of your ire, would they not?"
"What!?" Lloyd let go of Colette and approached the inspector. "Are you crazy!? Are you saying we did this!? Dammit, I hate when people discriminate against half-elves, but... but no one deserves this! No one!"
Severins simply turned to the guard. "Bag the hair for me. I want to show the Chosen my evidence." When he received a bag containing two long, blonde hairs, he shoved it into Colette's face, making her gasp. "Not many people in this town have such long hair. Combined with a possible motive, I don't think it's too farfetched to assume that -- "
"You bastard!!" cried Lloyd as he landed a punch squarely on Severins' jaw, knocking him back on his bottom. "Don't you even think about saying Colette is a murderer!! She'd never do something like this, ever!!"
The inspector glared and got up on his feet, staring at the militiaman on the other side of the room. "Wh-What are you doing!? Arrest him!!"
The guard looked to Severins, then to Lloyd, before finally gaining the courage to speak. "H-He's right, inspector! Colette is a hero! She's kind, a-and she's always helped the people of Iselia!"
"Oh, Martel, not you too!" Severins stormed over and snatched the bags of evidence away from him. "All the evidence so far is pointing to her! The motive, the hair - even the stab wounds are consistent with an attacker of her height!! I don't care if she's the Chosen or the Goddess Herself, the evidence doesn't lie!!"
The guard cowered at his words, but held his ground. "I-I refuse to arrest the man who saved our world...!"
"You won't have to," said Lloyd, who had been holding a tearful Colette. "Come on, Colette. This asshole doesn't know what he's talking about." The two stormed out of the store together, ignoring Inspector Severin's protests.
"Damn!" he cursed, rubbing his jaw. "She thinks she's so special that nobody will convict her..." He placed his chin in his hand. "Clearly, I'll need much more evidence to convince this town. Much, much more."
"I couldn't have done it, Lloyd! It wasn't me!"
It wasn't until they were a few blocks away from the kitchenware store that Colette began to finally panic over being accused of murder. Although she managed to refrain from crying, her eyes were red and wet, as if Lloyd's presence alone was keeping her from outright weeping. The swordsman looked at her sadly and held her hand as they walked - back to her house, of course, since there was no way they could enjoy their day at the beach after that incident.
"I know it wasn't you," he told her. "You were at home, right? Besides, only an idiot like that inspector guy would ever think you could hurt anyone like that!"
"H-He wouldn't even listen to me! He didn't let me talk!"
"He doesn't even care about all that you've done!" Lloyd began to raise his voice again in anger. "If he knew you, he'd know what a wonderful, kind-hearted person you are... he'd know you weren't even capable of killing somebody like that!"
Colette suddenly stopped and snuggled into Lloyd's chest. Although flustered, he knew she probably needed the affection right now, so he placed her arms around her.
"We'll talk to Frank, and he'll talk to the Mayor." He knew it was a better choice than confronting the Mayor directly, considering his own history with the man. "Everyone here is on your side, Colette. We won't let that jerk accuse you of anything."
"Thank you, Lloyd..."
"Oh, my, what a lovely couple you two make!"
Their embrace was suddenly interrupted by a small old woman who stood in front of her tailoring studio. She smiled warmly at them as Lloyd quickly let go of Colette in embarrassment.
"I-It's not -- "
"Thank you, ma'am." said Colette as she tried to smile back. "We were going to make it public soon, but I think everyone already knows by now."
The tailor chuckled. "That's quite all right, dear. You just have those old fogies at the Church to worry about - you know how they are with their 'tradition' and all." The irony of an old woman calling the clergy "old fogies" made the young couple laugh a little, easing their distress. "Oh, yes! I know why I came outside now! Chosen One, the dress you ordered is ready."
"...Dress?" Colette then looked at Lloyd. "Lloyd, did you order a dress for my birthday?"
"M-Me?" He shook his head. "No, I'm still working on your present. I mean, it's just about done, I swear, but -- "
The tailor "hmmm"ed to herself and scratched her head. "That's funny, are you sure you remember? I believe you were here four days ago and asked for a blue sundress..."
"That can't be. We weren't even in town then."
"Oh, really? Ho ho, perhaps my memory really is beginning to go!" The tailor shuffled back into her studio and called out to the two. "I should double-check my receipts, then! Terribly sorry, Chosen One!"
When she shut the door, Lloyd looked back at the girl with an arched eyebrow. "Maybe she just confused some other girl for you. Weird."
"Let's go home, Lloyd. I... I need to talk to father, after all."
He took her hand in his once more as they continued their walk to her house.
"Chosen One, you must listen! This kind of courtship is strictly forbidden! You know this!"
"Why!? Why is it forbidden!? Lloyd loves me! He saved all of us! It's thanks to him that we're all even alive!!"
"I understand what he's done - but that has no bearing on the teachings of the scriptures! The Chosen One is to be pure! How can anyone put their faith in a Chosen when she doesn't follow the scripture!?"
"Shut up!! Lloyd saved us!! I love him!! There's nothing you can do to stop us - nothing!!"
"Ch...Chosen? Wh-What are you -- put that away -- "
The pastor then choked on a surge of his own warm blood, barely even noticing as he fell to the ground. Over and over again, he could feel his own letter opener being thrust into his stomach, his precious life draining away with each stab. Once his eyes rolled upwards and his breathing stopped, she left the weapon inside her victim and stood over him, breathing heavily.
Lloyd's dream - that was her goal. She wanted Lloyd's dream to come true. And she was going to do everything in her power to make that happen.
Chapter 32: Adoration (Part Two)
The body count has risen, and Inspector Severins has even more evidence linking the crimes to Colette. Even with the whole town behind Colette's innocence, however, the mystery remains unsolved and a killer is still on the loose.
Rated M; mystery. Original characters, violence, and themes of mental illness.
It wasn't until late afternoon the next day that Lloyd saw his girlfriend again. After returning home, emotionally drained and worried for her, he told his father about the experience and asked his advice. Although Dirk was admittedly never a "touchy-feely" kind of person, he took a great deal of pity on his son and Colette. With a deep sigh, he suggested that Lloyd simply keep believing in her and reminded him to finish her birthday present - after all, he wouldn't have a son who couldn't make good on his promises to lady, would he?
So that was what Lloyd did the rest of that day; cutting and polishing her present until it somehow managed to turn out even better than he'd expected. Surely, he thought, this would at least make her feel a little better.
The following morning, the swordsman helped his father pack for a short trip to Triet. He would join with the caravan at noon, deliver a pair of hand-crafted halberds, and return in two days at the most depending on the weather. The old dwarf trusted his son to watch the house and take care of Noishe, as usual, but this time added a stipulation that if he and his "little lass" did anything uncouth in his house Lloyd wouldn't be able to sit down for the rest of his life. The boy nervously accepted his terms, saw him off, and then rode into town to check on Colette.
When he reached the house, the first thing he heard was Frank's voice, yelling at a third party in a way Lloyd had never heard him yell before. He desperately wanted to make sure Colette was okay - thoughts of the murder the day before spiraled through his thoughts - so he quickly ran to a window and peeked through it. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her unharmed, albeit sobbing into her grandmother's chest. Her father stood in front of her, angrily confronting Inspector Severin and a couple of militiamen.
"You can't be serious," Frank said, his eyes narrowed like a wolf protecting his young. This startled Lloyd, but it did not surprise him - after regaining the daughter he thought he would have to lose, he understandably became more protective of her. "The Cho -- Colette was here with us all night! She couldn't possibly have gone to the abbey!"
"Are you calling the pastors liars, Mr. Brunel!?" hissed Severin. "They all stated that Pastor Marcus met with her! They saw her walk into his study with him!" He pointed a slender finger at the weeping girl. "The abbey is only a seven minute walk from this house along the path to the Martel Temple - she could have easily snuck out of her bedroom window!"
"Preposterous!! Why in Martel's name would she go there in the middle of the night!?"
"To murder Pastor Marcus, that's why!!"
"No!!" screamed Colette, "Pastor Marcus was a good man!! I would never hurt him!! I didn't -- !!"
Phaidra turned her granddaughter's head towards her, gently holding it against herself to stop her from going into hysterics.
At that, Lloyd could feel his blood boiling. That damn "inspector" was going after her again, harassing her for crimes she didn't commit! Luckily for him, the door was left unlocked, so the enraged boy easily let himself inside.
"My daughter could never do such a thing! If you were from Iselia, you'd know this! You're being a damn fool -- "
Severins was suddenly shoved into one of the guards by Lloyd, who stomped inside and went straight to Colette. Shocked, Frank turned to him.
"Lloyd! What are you doing!? This doesn't have anything to do with -- "
"My girlfriend is being called a murderer! It has everything to do with me!" Lloyd placed one hand on Colette's head and turned back to the inspector. "Didn't you learn your lesson when I decked you yesterday, you bastard!?"
The inspector regained his footing and snarled back. "I'll have you arrested for assault, you punk!!" After a moment of silence, he looked at the guard he had fallen into. "...Well, what are you waiting for!? Go get him!?"
The two militiamen could only smirk at each other knowingly. "Inspector," the braver of the two said with confidence, "we're here to assist you with finding the killer, not with harassing the people who regenerated the world."
"With all due respect," added the other one, who was barely containing his own laughter.
Severin roared in anger. "You good-for-nothing -- you're useless, your whole town is useless!! You're willing to protect a celebrity even when they're clearly guilty!!" He stamped his feet on the ground and stormed out of the house, muttering to himself, "You're all no better than those idiots in Meltokio! I should never have taken this job! The evidence is always right!" After his tirade about the "evidence" fell out of earshot, the two guards looked at their heroes sadly.
"Please, Chosen... forgive us," said the first guard. "We know you weren't involved."
Colette's crying had stopped by then. She wiped her eyes and turned to the apologetic guards. "Th-Thank you," she said before facing her family and Lloyd, "all of you. Father, Grandmother, Lloyd... thank you all for believing me...!"
"Of course we believe you, you dork." Lloyd welcomed her in his arms when she stood from the couch she and Phaidra sat on. "That asshole is the only one who doesn't."
Seeing that she had begun to feel better, the two militiamen decided to take their leave, bowing respectfully before shutting the door. After they left, Frank sighed wearily and took a seat.
"That was an awfully reckless act, Lloyd," he said, "but I suppose I should thank you for it. I may have hurt him myself otherwise."
"Colette is very fortunate," said Phaidra with a warm smile, "to have her father and her love defend her like that."
The girl nodded in agreement. "The whole town, too. Everyone believes me." She began to tear up again. "I'm so blessed...!"
Lloyd let her go, opting to hold her hand instead. "Maybe it'd be a good idea to come stay the night with me," he said, earning an odd look from Frank and Phaidra. "...W-Wait, I don't mean - I-I just mean that she'd be safer outside the town! You know, in case that crazy inspector tries to find her again, not to mention the murderer that's still on the loose."
Phaidra's face softened and chuckled. "After what you've done for Colette, we know you'd never let any harm come to her." She turned to the seated father, who was clearly uneasy about the whole situation. "He has a point, Frank. She'd be much harder to find at Dirk's house."
Frank sighed again. "If you say so." He then gave Lloyd another brief look of suspicion. "...Take care of her, Lloyd."
Lloyd nodded and gave a nervous thumbs up. "You've got it. Come on, Colette, I'll help you pack."
Colette nodded enthusiastically and led him upstairs to her room. Phaidra followed the two, insisting they pack extra clothing in case of an emergency. This left Frank to lie down on the couch, shutting his eyes and rubbing his temples. He clearly was not used to worrying about his daughter this much.
"Here you go! Happy late birthday, Colette!"
Colette uncovered her eyes and gasped at the sight. "Oh, Lloyd! It's beautiful!" She gently took the silver butterfly statuette into her hands and looked at it. The creature was quite well-crafted for an amateur craftsman; its wings, eyes, and the tips of its antennae were decorated with colored glass. She leaned over and kissed him in thanks. "I'll keep it on my nightstand, so I'll see it every morning when I wake up."
Lloyd chuckled bashfully, relieved that she liked it so much. "Th-Thanks. Sorry I didn't exactly get it done on time."
"Actually, I'm glad I got it late."
She fingered the butterfly's wings as she spoke sadly, "It makes me happy, even though so many terrible things are happening right now." She closed her eyes as her voice began to quaver. "That poor shopkeeper didn't deserve to be killed... and Pastor Marcus - Pastor Marcus was a kind and wonderful man...!"
Lloyd gently stroked her hair from his seat beside her. "Once they figure out you didn't do anything wrong, they'll find the real killer. And if they don't, we will. No one attacks our home like this and gets away with it."
"I just hope no one else has to get hurt."
They suddenly heard knocking from downstairs. This surprised the two, since Dirk wasn't supposed to be home for two days. Lloyd then scowled and stood up from the bed they were sitting on.
"Hopefully it's a customer or something who doesn't know Dad's gone," he said, "and if it's that damn inspector, I'm going to kick his ass...!"
"Lloyd..." She looked down. "I'll stay here. Just in case."
The swordsman went down the stairs to open the door. What he saw behind it made his mouth stand slack jawed.
It was a girl who looked almost exactly like Colette, wearing a bright blue sundress and leather sandals. When she saw him, the girl beamed brightly.
"Lloyd!" she said before embracing him and planting a small kiss on his lips. "I was so worried you wouldn't be home! I missed you!"
Lloyd cried out and broke free from her grasp. She may have looked like Colette, but her voice sounded completely different. "Wh-What!? Who the hell are you!?"
The girl's eyes widened. "Lloyd...? Lloyd, that's not funny! It's me, Colette! Your girlfriend!"
"What are you talking about!? You're not Colette!" He then noticed the girl's features; she wasn't exactly Colette's height, rather, she was about an inch taller, and she looked quite a bit skinnier, almost dangerously underweight. Then there was her eyes, bright blue like his girlfriend's, but off in some way, like the person behind them wasn't quite all... there.
The mysterious girl pouted, becoming visibly upset. "What's the matter with you!? I am Colette! I'm the Chosen of Mana - the girl you love!"
"No you're not!" cried Lloyd nervously. "Colette is upstairs! I don't know who you think you are, but get out of my house!!"
Hearing the commotion, Colette ran down the stairs to see what was going on. She nearly tripped when she saw her lookalike and grabbed the railing to steady herself.
The other "Colette" stepped back in horror, shaking her head widly. "N-No... Who is that!? Lloyd, who's that girl!?"
"That's Colette!" He glared at the girl. "See!? That's all the proof you need! That's the real Colette, not you!"
She continued shaking her head, muttering "no" to herself until she finally found the words to speak again. "Lloyd... you've... you've been cheating on me... even though I did so much for you... even though I got rid of those people for you...!!"
The couple froze at her words. It suddenly all started to make sense - the hair, the pastors' testimonies - since the culprit wasn't Colette, it obviously had to be somebody who looked like Colette, or even thought she was Colette...!
The real Colette broke the silence. "You... what did you do!? Did you kill Pastor Marcus and the shopkeeper!?"
"I-I got rid of them! That shopkeeper didn't believe in Lloyd's dream!" She turned to Lloyd. "He didn't believe in humans and half-elves being equal! I tried to convince him but he wouldn't listen to me!!"
Lloyd's breathing sped up and his sense of danger was heightened. "A-And the pastor...?"
"He wouldn't let us be together!" the girl screamed, "I had to hurt him, I had to!!" She glared at Colette. "And after all that, you cheat on me with some other girl!? I wanted to make your dream come true!! I thought you loved me!!"
"Colette, get back upstairs! Now!"
Colette began to stumble back up the stairs; however, the frenzied lookalike pushed past Lloyd and seized her by the throat. The Chosen tried to scream and claw at the girl's arms, but she didn't even flinch. Lloyd then grabbed her by the dress, yanking her and Colette up off of the stairs, before Colette could finally use her angelic strength to shove the girl into the wall.
That was when the long, blonde wig the girl wore fell off, revealing short, jet-black hair. The two stared at her for a long time before, finally, she noticed the pile of golden hair laying beside her. She gasped and felt her own head.
Then, she screamed.
The end of the next month brought the couple to Flanoir on their journey to collect exspheres. However, they did not come just to make deals with the town government, nor did they come only for the snow and serenity the town was known for. The last reason they came to Flanoir was to visit its world-renowned asylum for the mentally ill.
So, with a bouquet of springtime flowers in one hand, Lloyd approached the front desk at the facility and rang the service bell. When a secretary arrived, he smiled.
"Hi," he said, "can you tell us where Heather Holtzmann is staying?"
"Room 23," replied the secretary. "You might need to wait for Dr. Wallace to give you permission, though."
"That's all right," chimed Colette. "We're friends of hers."
After receiving a visitor's pass, the two climbed the stairs to the second floor, where Heather's room was.
"'Friends'?" asked Lloyd with a bit of a bitter look. "I know you feel sorry for her, but she did try to kill you..."
"Lloyd!" she snapped back quietly. "...Lloyd, she was sick. You saw it, too. She really, honestly believed she was me. That was why we asked the Mayor to send her here in the first place."
"...You're right," he said, instantly regretting his choice of words. "She was sick. Really sick. ...Hell, I would be, too, if I survived what I heard she did."
When they reached the hallway, they saw a young doctor walking out of room 23. Colette stopped him.
"Excuse me, are you Dr. Wallace?"
"What? ...Oh, yes. Can I help you with anything?"
Lloyd motioned to the flowers. "We're here to see Heather," he said. "How's she, um, doing?"
The doctor sighed and shook his head. "She isn't very responsive. I've only gotten her to talk to me a few times." He took his clipboard out from under his arm. "What I did get, though... was quite extraordinary. From a psychology perspective. Now, if you don't mind me asking - you're Lloyd Irving, correct?"
"Yeah. We asked the mayor of Iselia to send her here after - what she did."
"I see," he said. He then looked around to make sure no one else was in the hallway. "...Heather's room is connected to an observation room. It's for especially violent patients, so we can monitor them more thoroughly. Come with me."
Wallace led the couple into a door next to Heather's room. Inside was a sitting area, a table, and a large window leading into room 23. There they could see the young woman, sitting quietly in a chair and staring at the room's floral wallpaper, oblivious to their presence.
"Heather..." Colette placed her hand on the glass.
"It's a very sad case," said the doctor, sitting down in one of the plush chairs. "I've seen only a few patients who were human ranch survivors, but they normally only have to deal with post-traumatic stress, survivor's guilt - among other things. But Heather's two years locked away in the Iselia human ranch were so terrible, so traumatic, that she dissociated herself from reality completely."
"D-Dissociated...?" Lloyd struggled with pronouncing the word.
"She, um, disconnected from the real world, let's just say." Wallace adjusted one of his suspenders. "It was a way of coping. If she didn't believe she was the person being tortured, she didn't have to feel that pain."
"Is that why she wanted to be me...?"
"It wasn't so much that she chose to be you, Chosen. She developed an alternate personality based on you. At least, on the things she heard about you."
A light bulb seemed to go off in Lloyd's head. "She was the last surviving member of her family, I heard. So she didn't have anyone to care about her." He looked through the glass with a look of pity. "She wanted to be Colette because... because so many people did care about her. And when she heard we were dating -- "
" -- she started believing Lloyd loved her, too."
The doctor looked quite impressed. "...I see... she never went into that kind of detail, but that's quite a reasonable assumption." He stood up and smiled. "I thank you for your insight. I wasn't technically supposed to tell you all of this, but since you are the only people who have come to check on her... I figured you would have the right to know."
Lloyd handed the bouquet to him. "If she won't talk to us... could you give these to her? Mr. Foxglove knew her - he said she loved flowers more than anything else in the world."
"I will," he replied, taking the flowers carefully. "When she begins to feel better, I'm sure she will be very, very grateful."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Colette softly. "Please... take care of her. Help her feel better, so she won't have to hurt anyone anymore... so she won't have to be hurting anymore."
Dr. Wallace nodded and led them out of the room. Before they left, however, Lloyd noticed that Heather had turned her head to face them. When her eyes met the flowers, he could have sworn that he saw tears.
Chapter 33: Fools in Love
What if the Renegades hadn't found the party in time at the Tower of Salvation? What if Lloyd and Genis had no choice but to join them in order to save Colette and stop Cruxis? As the day of the Renegades' most important operation grows near, Lloyd is determined not to let the person he loves become a "secondary objective".
Rated G; drama. AU, major character death.
"...Here," said Yuan as he circled a spot on the map with his pencil; a niche in the cliffs surrounding a large icon representing the Tower of Salvation. "We'll lead the infiltration team through this passage. In the meantime, the decoy team will lure the bottom-level guards to the main entrance."
The two others sitting at the conference table furrowed their brows as they watched the Renegade leader scribble pathways on the map, indicating the direction each team would move. The person on the right, Botta, nodded silently, trusting that his superior had indeed thought of the most efficient plan possible. The person on the right, however, clenched his lips together anxiously and tightened his gloved fists on the table.
"Our goal is to climb the Tower as high as we possibly can before being noticed," continued Yuan as he unrolled another map, an aged yet intricately detailed map of the Tower's lower floors and security measures. "Yggdrasill places a greater concentration of guards on the lowest floors; he intends to wipe out any intruder before they can even climb past the entryway. But with Botta and the decoy team distracting their attention away from us," he drew more arrows on the map, "we can focus on disabling the security measures. The infiltration team will split up at that point - I will lead the engineers to disable the traps, and the rest will lead the final assault against Yggdrasill."
The boy on the left finally spoke up. "And me, Genis, and Sheena will be part of that group, right?"
Yuan sighed. "As much as I'll probably regret it, yes, you are, Lloyd." He sat his pencil down. "You two will need to keep Kratos' attention away from Yggdrasill."
"And save Colette."
Botta glanced at the boy sternly. "Rescuing the Chosen is a secondary objective."
Lloyd slammed a palm on the table. "How many times do I have to tell you!? Her name is Colette!"
"Settle down, you half-wit!" scolded Yuan. "Botta's correct - the primary objective is to defeat Yggdrasill. All other objectives will be abandoned if necessary in order to accomplish this."
"Where the hell do you two get off calling Colette a 'secondary objective'!?" He stood from his seat. "Professor Sage died that day telling us to bring her back! We've been waiting a whole year for this chance, and now you're telling me we might not even get to save her!?"
"The Renegades' goal is to stop Cruxis through any means necessary. We cannot become distracted by rescue missions -- "
Botta silenced himself and nodded knowingly. "...Yes, Lord Yuan. I'll let you handle this."
The blue-haired leader stomped over to Lloyd. Then, without saying a word, he reached his hand inside the swordsman's collar.
"Hey! What are you -- "
Before Lloyd could reach for Yuan's arm, however, he had already torn off the gold chain he was wearing. He then opened the attached locket and shoved it in Lloyd's face.
The boy turned red with anger. "Give that back!" he shouted as he tried to take his locket back.
The leader yanked it back out of arm's reach again. "You knew from the very beginning of the possibility that we couldn't save her! You joined the Renegades with full knowledge that it might come down to this!" He looked at the picture inside the locket - a clumsily cut out photo of Colette's face, one of the few pictures Lloyd could salvage before enlisting in the only organization that could help bring her back. "You don't even know if she's still alive or not, and even if she was, she wouldn't be herself anymore!"
"If she's not, I'll bring her back! I've already made the key crest and -- "
"The point is that I won't allow you to jeopardize our mission because you're a damn fool in love! You will follow my orders and treat the Chosen as a secondary objective! Do you understand me!?"
Lloyd gritted his teeth. "If I'm a fool in love with Colette," he growled, "then you're even a bigger fool for Martel! You want to save her so much that you won't even let me save Colette, you hypocrite!"
Yuan narrowed his eyes at the boy. Then, he dropped the locket on the table, where it landed with a soft clink.
"Do whatever you want." He turned his back to the other two. "Don't expect to be some kind of martyr if you allow Kratos to get the better of you, though."
Lloyd quickly snatched the locket up again, looking at the photo for a moment before angrily shutting it. "You just watch," he said before storming out of the conference room and slamming the door shut.
Once Botta knew the boy was out of earshot, he spoke. "Allow me to speak, my Lord."
"You didn't happen to let him join because of his resemblance to you, did you?"
Yuan sighed and placed his palm to his forehead. If even Botta could see the parallels, he thought... then maybe Lloyd was indeed more perceptive than he thought. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way, he's been far more trouble than he's worth." He sat down at the head of the table. "Damn teenagers."
Chapter 34: Blades of Grass, Rays of Sunshine
To celebrate her newly regained humanity, Colette partakes in all the experiences she once took for granted – the grass, the sun, and the touch of the person she loved most.
Rated G; fluff.
"Lloyd!" Colette cried breathlessly up the hill, "Come on!"
"All right, all right! I'm coming!" Lloyd laid down on the grass with his face towards the sky. "Here I go!" He shifted his weight to his left side, instantly sending himself tumbling down the hill and barreling towards Colette. With a yelp, she stumbled out of his way, allowing her friend to come to a halt once he reached the level ground. Once he stopped, he laughed, wobbling as he pushed himself up.
"Ha ha! ...Whew, I forgot how much fun that was!" He rebalanced himself, then glanced at Colette before bursting into a new fit of laughter. "Colette, you've got grass all in your hair!"
"Really?" Colette took a lock of long, blonde hair in her fingers and looked at it. Sure enough, a streak of green was resting in it. She giggled and pulled the blade of grass out, twirling it around in her other hand. "Yeah, I guess I do, don't I?"
The boy reached over and brushed more grass out of her hair. "You sure sound happy about it."
"But I am happy!" She continued looking at the small piece of grass in her hand. "I haven't had this much fun in a long, long time."
His mouth cocked in a half smile, Lloyd nodded. "Yeah. It's been a long time since we could do anything fun." He sat down beside their picnic basket, which was filled to the brim with used napkins, crumbs, and orange peels, and leaned back on his palms. "It was hard to have fun while knowing you... couldn't join us. You know?"
Colette eagerly sat beside him, drawing her knees up into her arms. "I'm sorry... But I'm back now, thanks to your present!" She closed her eyes and breathed in before continuing. "Thank you for bringing me out here, Lloyd. This is... this is everything I missed. The taste of a picnic, that dizzy feeling you get when you roll down a hill," she turned to him, "talking to you. I feel like I'm experiencing the world for the first time."
"It's nothing," he replied, turning his head away slightly from her to avoid turning red. "I just wanted to celebrate having you back."
"But it's more than that! It's -- " She interrupted herself with a yawn. "Oh, all that rolling around must have worn me out!" she said with far more enthusiasm about being tired than one would expect. However, Lloyd had come to expect such a reaction from her - ever since her spirit was freed from the confines of her Cruxis Crystal, she had been so eager to experience things he himself had taken for granted.
Knowing this, he grinned. "Then take a nap, you dork."
"Huh? Here? But won't the others worry?"
"It's okay, we've got plenty of time." He laid back down on the ground, lacing his hands behind his head. "I'll wake you up if you sleep too long."
Colette fully expected him to break that promise, knowing how easily he would fall asleep if given the chance. Nonetheless, she took him up on his offer, laying on her side and curling her knees up. As she snuggled into the grass, savoring its texture and smell, she let out a small sigh.
"...Yeah. I guess it is."
Her voice quavered a little. "It feels so nice..." Lloyd could see her eyelids begin to clench closed, as if she was trying to fight back tears. It really had been too long since she could feel the warmth of the sun.
Colette's eyes shot open again when she felt Lloyd's hand squeeze hers. At first, she looked quite startled, then, with a smile, she wrapped her other hand around his. "...But this feels even nicer. Thank you, Lloyd. For everything."
He chuckled bashfully. "You're welcome. Sweet dreams, Colette."
Blinking away tears of joy and relief, she slowly drifted into a deep, relaxing sleep with the help of the sunshine and the touch of Lloyd's hand.