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Bad Things Happen

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 The first time Zelos coughed, Lloyd thought nothing of it.

 

It was early in the morning, and the two had only just awoken, ready for another day of traveling. The air in Triet was dry, and besides, when Zelos spoke, his voice held as much energy as ever. He only barely picked at his breakfast, but again, there wasn't anything strange about that-- Zelos had never been much of a morning person. Given a few hours, he'd probably complain to Lloyd about how hungry he was, how he would just die if they didn't stop for a quick snack.

 

Right. Everything was completely normal.

 

Lloyd's conviction on the matter started to waver slightly, however, when Zelos coughed again as they left the inn. This time, it lasted just a bit longer. Still, Lloyd said nothing, knowing that even if he did, Zelos would only brush him off. Besides, he didn’t have any other visible symptoms, so there was a good chance Lloyd was overreacting. So he pushed that nagging feeling of something being wrong to the side. They had a lot of business to take care of over the next few days while they were in the area around Triet. There was no time for either of them to get sick, Lloyd reasoned, so it just wasn’t going to happen. He did decide to keep an eye on Zelos, though, just in case.

 

And for a while, Lloyd was right. Besides a nagging cough that wouldn’t seem to disappear and a slight lack of appetite, Zelos was still acting like his usual self. He didn’t seem to have any problems in battle, and he still found the energy to whine about how run down the inn was.

 

It wasn’t until the third night of their stay that Lloyd started to wonder if something was actually wrong. Almost as soon as Zelos had finished eating his dinner (or at least, what little he had taken), he stood up.

 

“Well, I think it’s about time I went to bed,” he yawned, coughing a couple of times when it got stuck in his throat. Lloyd blinked in surprise. The sun had only gone down around an hour ago. Even Lloyd, who followed the saying “Early to bed, early to rise” to the letter, hadn’t planned on retiring for at least another hour or two. For Zelos, who usually didn’t come to bed until Lloyd had already been asleep for a few hours, to sleep this early was completely unheard of.

 

“Are you sure? I thought for sure you’d be heading out again tonight.”

 

“Hmm, well…” Zelos looked lost in thought for a moment before responding. “Y’know, Triet’s nightlife isn’t all that exciting. Plus, we’re leaving town early tomorrow, right?” He winked. “I need to get my beauty sleep. Think of how sad the girls in the next town would feel if I wasn’t looking my absolute best.”

 

Lloyd rolled his eyes, but didn’t push the issue any further. If that was how Zelos needed to justify getting the rest he clearly needed, he wasn’t going to argue. Both of them had had some fairly late nights recently, and though he never would have admitted it, Zelos was starting to look pretty worn out. Lloyd wondered if his coughing, which had only grown more frequent since it began, had been keeping him up as well. But he didn’t ask, instead seeing him off with a quick “Good night.”

 

It didn’t escape Lloyd’s notice that Zelos seemed a bit shaky on his feet as he walked towards their shared inn room. It was looking more and more likely that they would not, in fact, be leaving town the next morning.

 

_____________

 

That night, neither of the two boys got much sleep. Every time Lloyd thought he was about to drift off, Zelos would start in on another coughing fit, each one sounding more painful than the last. Lloyd could hear him tossing and turning, groaning occasionally as he did his best to get comfortable. There was no denying that Zelos had come down with something anymore. Lloyd only hoped that the redhead wouldn't be too stubborn about it, and would let himself rest.

 

When Lloyd cracked an eye open and saw that the sun's rays were beginning to shine through the window, he decided that enough was enough. He forced his tired body out of bed, and knelt down next to where Zelos was laying. Zelos was on his right side facing away from Lloyd, curled up into a tight ball with the blankets wrapped tightly around him. His hair was completely disheveled, and even through the limited light, Lloyd thought he could see him shivering. Considering how warm it was-- they were in the middle of a desert, after all-- this did nothing to ease Lloyd's concerns.

 

Tentatively, Lloyd reached out a hand and gently shook Zelos awake. "Zelos?" he said softly. All he received in return was a groan, and Zelos curled even further inward. "Hey, uh, you're not looking so good."

 

Lloyd half expected some sort of comeback about how he always looked good, and his frown only deepened when it never came. Instead he got another groan and a couple of coughs before Zelos slowly turned onto his left side. Lloyd nearly did a double take. Saying that Zelos didn't look good had been an understatement. His eyes were only open halfway, but they were bleary and unfocused, with hints of wetness in the corners. His face, sickly pale and glistening with sweat, was drawn into a pained expression. Stray bits of his bangs clung to his forehead, and when Lloyd went to brush them away, he recoiled at how much heat was coming off of him. Normally, Lloyd thought, Zelos would have made some sort of comment about how close he was getting, but instead he seemed to move his face ever so slightly into Lloyd's hand, unconsciously seeking the cool relief it had brought. He had one hand pressed against his stomach, and the other stayed near his face in case he needed to stifle a cough.

 

Zelos was definitely sick. Really sick, by the looks of it.

 

Immediately, Lloyd felt a pang of guilt at how miserable his friend looked. He should have made Zelos stop and rest before it had a chance to get this bad, even if he had to force him. He shouldn't have spent the last three days dragging him all over town with little to no downtime. Zelos seemed to sense his concern, and smiled weakly, although it didn't quite reach his eyes. This only made Lloyd feel worse-- Zelos was not going to try and cover up how bad he felt, not this time. Lloyd wouldn't let him.

 

"You don’t need to look so worried, Bud,” Zelos said, his voice slightly slurred and raspy from all his coughing. “‘S’not like I’m dying or something. It’s just a cold.” Lloyd wasn’t convinced, especially not when Zelos was barely able to finish his sentence before falling into yet another coughing fit. It seemed to stretch on for a while this time, and Zelos’s entire body shook from the effort as he attempted to catch his breath. “D-damn, that hurts…” he managed to choke out as it seemed to subside.

 

“It sounds like it,” Lloyd responded plainly, gently rubbing his back in a futile attempt to make him more comfortable. “Is it just your chest? Or is your stomach bothering you too?”

 

“Honestly, it’s everything,” Zelos admitted. “My head, my throat, my stomach, all of it.” He shivered. “I’m pretty cold, too, but I can’t stop sweating. Weird, huh?”

 

“I’m not surprised. Your fever seems pretty bad.” It scared Lloyd, really, how much worse off Zelos looked than he had the night before. Still, though, he forced a smile and brushed Zelos’s hair out of his eyes. “Is there anything I can get you? Some water, maybe?” What Lloyd really wanted was some medicine-- it didn’t have to be a cure, just easing some of his pain would be enough-- but he doubted the local pharmacy was open so early, and he wasn’t about to leave Zelos alone to go check. He would have to make do with what he had, for the time being. But Zelos shook his head.

 

“I’m… not sure I could keep it down anyways, heh.” He smiled at Lloyd, and this time, it seemed a bit more genuine, though it was still strained. “Just stay here, okay? Keep me company?”

 

“Of course.” Lloyd nodded. Zelos didn’t even need to ask. But the fact that he had , making himself seem so vulnerable in the process? Normally it would have made Lloyd happy to see him be so honest, but right now, it only concerned him even more. He had to have been feeling really bad to let his mask slip that much. “I’ll be right here, so try and get some sleep, okay?”

 

Zelos shifted again, this time onto his back. “Pretty sure I already would be if I could, Bud. This whole ‘not being able to breathe’ thing is making it kinda tough.” As if to emphasize his point, he coughed into his hand a few times. Lloyd sighed, and pulled Zelos’s blanket up to his shoulders. He considered giving him the blanket off of his own bed, but decided against it. He didn't want Zelos's temperature getting any higher if he could help it. Lloyd didn't have much experience treating fevers, so he wasn't sure whether he should focus on warming Zelos up to stop the shivering or keeping him cool.

 

Lloyd felt useless, and he hated it.

 

"Maybe we should go see a doctor in the morning," he said after a long moment. "I'm sure Triet has one. At the very least, they should be able to make you more comfortable." To his surprise, though, Zelos shook his head.

 

"Never really been a fan of doctors. Seriously, Lloyd, it's just a bug. I'll be over it in no time. So--" Zelos stopped abruptly in the middle of his sentence and groaned, squeezing his eyes shut."Ugh, my stomach…"

 

"Do you feel like you're gonna throw up?" Lloyd inquired gently. "Should I get you a bowl or something?" Zelos nodded wordlessly, and Lloyd was up in a flash, rummaging through their bags to find some sort of container. He settled on a pot they usually used to boil water, and ran back to Zelos's side. Zelos had forced himself into a sitting position, a hand clamped tightly over his mouth. Lloyd barely got the pot into his lap before Zelos started retching, bringing up what little he had eaten the night before. Lloyd winced at the sound and rubbed circles on his back, whispering empty words of comfort as his friend's shoulders continued to heave. It continued for a while after anything stopped coming up, until finally Zelos was able to catch his breath. Panting heavily, he turned to look at Lloyd, a thick sheen of sweat on his forehead and eyes glistening with tears. Lloyd swallowed. He had never seen Zelos look so weak and defenseless, not even trying to hide how awful he felt. Without even thinking about it, he pulled Zelos's quivering body into his arms, the only thing he could think of to make him feel better. He thought Zelos would protest, but instead he leaned into the hug, resting his head on Lloyd's shoulder.

 

"Sorry about that," Zelos murmured without looking up. "Pretty… uncool, huh…"

 

"Don't apologize, idiot," Lloyd retorted, running his fingers through the knots in Zelos's hair. "Are you feeling any better?"

 

"Not really. Just a lot more tired, now." He laughed bitterly. "My mouth doesn't taste too great, either."

 

"I can get you something to rinse your mouth out with, if you want."

 

"Mmm… Nah, just let me stay like this for a minute." Lloyd couldn't see it, but he smiled weakly. "You're so warm, y'know that? Are you sure you're not the one with the fever?"

 

Lloyd found himself smiling back in spite of himself. "Don't worry. I'm not nearly as hot as you are." Zelos snorted.

 

"Well, yeah. Coulda told you that from the start."

 

"Pretty sure you already have."

 

"Heh. Probably." With a long sigh, Zelos reluctantly pulled away from Lloyd, settling back against the pillows. Lloyd took the opportunity to remove the soiled pot from Zelos's lap, setting it aside and making a mental note to scrub it clean later. For the moment, though, he had other things to worry about.

 

"I really do think you should try to drink something soon, though," Lloyd said as he sat back down on the edge of the bed. "The professor always said that was important when I got sick."

 

"Alright, alright." Zelos closed his eyes-- keeping them open, it seemed, was getting to be more trouble than it was worth. "Wouldn't want… to ignore advice from my favorite cool beauty…" He tried to maintain a joking tone, but the reality was that he was getting far too tired to do so. Lloyd, as observant as ever, seemed to pick up on this, and laid a cool hand on his forehead.

 

"You really do need to get some sleep, too," he said, gently but leaving no room for argument. "Just try, okay? I'll try to have some medicine for you when you wake up."

 

Zelos coughed, and reluctantly agreed. "Just stay here until I fall asleep," he murmured. Lloyd nodded, although he knew Zelos couldn't see it. He ran his fingers absently through Zelos's bangs, a silent reminder that he had no intention of leaving. "Not gonna lie, Lloyd, this is… it's actually pretty nice." He smiled. "Haven't had someone take care of me like this since… well, ever, really." Zelos was aware that he was letting his fever talk, to say things he normally would have kept hidden under layers of jokes and insincerity. He was aware of it, but strangely enough, he wasn't bothered by it. Maybe it was because he was talking to Lloyd, the first and best friend he had ever had. Lloyd, who would never judge him or lose faith in him, even at his weakest. Lloyd, who said nothing, only continuing to watch over Zelos as he kept talking, his words growing softer and more slurred with each sentence. "I'd take you over those nurses in Meltokio any day. Even the good-looking ones."

 

Lloyd chuckled. That was more in line with the Zelos he knew. "I'll take that as a compliment."

 

"You should." For once, though, Zelos didn't sound like he was joking. "They were never this nice. Just… gave me some fancy drugs and left. Probably went to their friends and bragged about treating the Chosen." Zelos tried to laugh derisively, but it came out as more of a cough. His throat felt like sandpaper, and he really wasn't sure why he was still talking.

 

Lloyd sighed, and took Zelos's hand in his own. He didn't know why he felt like he needed to do it, but Zelos didn't seem to mind, so he gave it a small squeeze before speaking. "I'm not taking care of the Chosen, though. I'm taking care of Zelos , my best friend."

 

If Zelos thought he could laugh without choking on it, he would have. He did let a small smile  through, though, and shook his head ever so slightly. "The fact that you can say stuff like that so seriously always amazes me." He cracked one eye open and looked up at Lloyd. "Best friend, though, huh… that doesn't sound bad at all."

 

"Yeah." Lloyd smiled back down at him. "I'm really glad you came with me on this trip, Zelos. I'm glad you're here."

 

As Lloyd was speaking, Zelos's eyes slipped closed again, a content smile still on his lips. "The feeling's mutual, Bud," he muttered, just before sleep finally took him. Lloyd didn't think he had ever seen Zelos sleep so peacefully. His breathing was incredibly rough still, but the pained look he had had earlier had mostly disappeared, and a faint smile still remained on his face. As soon as he was sure that Zelos was asleep, he slowly rose from the bed, running his hand over Zelos's forehead one more time. He would go get some medicine in a little while, but for the moment? He wanted nothing more than to stay by his friend's side. Moving quietly so as not to wake Zelos, he crossed the room and grabbed a chair, pulling it up next to the bed. He eased himself into it, and before long, he found himself drifting off as well, his fingers still tangled in Zelos's hair.






Chapter Text

Even at the best of times, Zelos had never been a big fan of parties. At least, not the way they were done in Meltokio. There was something so suffocating about them, between the customs that needed to be followed, the stuffy outfits that needed to be worn, and the meaningless conversations that needed to be had. They were an amplification of everything Zelos hated about living in high society. 

 

Unfortunately, as the Chosen, he was given very few opportunities to refuse to attend, especially when the party was being held in his name. For as long as he could remember, his birthday had always been one of the most lavish events of the year, on par with celebrations held for royalty. The festivities would last long into the night, not ending until pleasantries had been exchanged with each of the countless guests (all of whom Zelos was expected to know by name). 

 

Even after the worlds had been reunited and the Chosen system abolished, the fact remained that he was an important figure in Tethe'allan society-- perhaps even more so, now that he was one of the heroes that had helped save everyone from Mithos Yggdrasill. Zelos had been able to escape some of the pressure by joining Lloyd on his journey for exspheres, but he wasn't naive enough to believe he had escaped his responsibilities as nobility. 

 

Which was why, when he received a letter inviting him to his own 23rd birthday party, he wasn't surprised in the least.

 

At first, Zelos had expected Lloyd to help him refuse. The two of them didn't have a lot of free time, and he knew Lloyd had little to no interest in such things after seeing how uncomfortable he had been at the Princess's dinner party. So he mentioned it offhandedly a few days after the letter came, assuming that would be the end of it.

 

He still had a lot to learn about Lloyd Irving's thought processes.

 

"I didn't know your birthday was coming up," he had replied. "We aren't too far from Meltokio, so why not go? Taking a break for a night might not be a bad idea."

 

Well. So much for that plan.

 

As far as everyone else knew, Zelos loved parties. Lloyd was probably just being considerate by agreeing to go. Zelos was sure that if he admitted that he didn't want to go, Lloyd would help him come up with an excuse not to, no questions asked. But then, he realized, Lloyd would figure out he had been lying, which would only open him up to more questions. And being interrogated by Lloyd would be far worse than dealing with the upper crust of Meltokio for the night.

 

Which was why he found himself back at his mansion the next night, the day before the party was to take place. After greeting Seles and Sebastian, who had both been watching his home in his absence, he was quick to retire to his room for the night. It was late, and they had been traveling since early that morning, so Zelos was completely exhausted. His head was starting to ache, and despite his normal insomnia, he found himself in a restless sleep mere minutes after collapsing into his bed. He would think about the party when he woke up. For now, at least, he could rest.

 

_______________

 

It was Lloyd, as always, who woke him up the next morning. Zelos would never understand how the boy could get out of bed when the sun was barely up, let alone have so much energy as he did so. Upon hearing Lloyd call his name and shake him gently by the shoulder, he groaned and rolled to the other side of the bed. His head was already pounding, and the last thing he needed was to face the sunlight streaming in through the open curtains. 

 

"Five more minutes," he muttered into his pillow, realizing as he did so how raw his throat felt. He assumed he just needed a glass of water, but he couldn't remember whether it was usually that bad in the mornings. He tried clearing his throat, but it had little effect.

 

"Not today!" Lloyd grinned. "Sebastian sent me to wake you up. He said if we don't start now, we won't be ready in time for the party."

 

Right. The party.

 

Zelos was going to protest again, but he was cut off by a sudden, overpowering tickle in his nose, followed by a muffled sneeze into his pillow. It didn't give him much relief, though, and he sneezed again moments later, followed by a quick cough in another attempt to clear his throat.

 

Oh, no. No, this was not happening. Not today.

 

Lloyd furrowed his brow, and reached for Zelos's shoulder again in an attempt to get a better look at him. "Zelos? Are you--"

 

"I'm fine, Lloyd." Reluctantly he sat up, and cast his friend a smile. He couldn't help but notice a note of congestion in his voice, and he was sure Lloyd picked up on it too. "Come on, let's go." Lloyd only narrowed his eyes more at this, and without saying a word, he pressed his hand against Zelos's forehead.

 

"You're a little warm," he stated. "Are you sure you're okay? Maybe we should ask them to push the party back a few days."

 

"That's really not how it works, Lloyd. They plan this stuff months in advance. This isn't some small get-together between friends." Zelos sniffed, the itch in his nose refusing to disappear. "Anyways, I'm fine. You worry way too much."

 

Lloyd looked like he wanted to say something else, but closed his mouth at the last second. "If you're sure…"

 

"Hunny, I'm sure . Now come on, we shouldn't keep Sebastian waiting." He winked. "The sooner I get to see you all dressed up, the better I'll feel." Lloyd rolled his eyes, but seemed to relent, moving out of Zelos's way so he could climb out of bed. 

 

_______________

 

The next few hours went by in a flurry of activity. Neither Zelos nor Lloyd had a second to themselves as countless maids fussed over their appearances, making absolutely sure they were up to the standards of high Tethe'allan society. Lloyd, though seemingly overwhelmed by all the attention, was doing his best to keep up. Zelos would have found it endearing, if he wasn't so preoccupied by how much his head hurt. His nose wasn't doing much better, but with so many people around him, he refused to do anything about it, aside from the occasional sniffle to keep it from running. It was only through sheer willpower that he hadn't sneezed all over some poor maid, but even so, he was reaching his limit. He was really starting to regret agreeing to attend this party.

 

Zelos had hoped he would get at least a few minutes between the preparations and the start of the party, but only moments after the finishing touches were put on his braided hair, he was whisked away to the castle, where people were already starting to file in. On the walk over, he let himself stifle two sneezes into the crook of his elbow, careful not to dirty his suit jacket too much. He had a feeling, though, that it wouldn't matter by the end of the night, as he had already caught himself wiping his nose on the back of his gloved hand without thinking. Lloyd cast him a worried glance as the entered the ballroom, but had no time to say anything before Zelos was surrounded by a crowd of admirers.

 

"Oh my, Chosen, it's been quite some time. I've been getting lonely, you know~"

 

"Master Zelos, is it true that you've been out traveling with some Sylvarant boy?"

 

"Chosen One, I trust you'll save a dance for me tonight?"

 

"Chosen--"

 

Zelos spoke over the crowd in as loud of a voice as his sore throat could manage. "Now, now, my darling kittens, the night is still young. We'll have plenty of time to catch up, so there's no need to rush." He winked. "My greatest desire is that you all enjoy yourselves to your heart's content." It had been so long since he had needed to speak in that manner that even Zelos was surprised at how easily the words flowed from his mouth. Even when he wasn't feeling his best, it seemed, old habits died hard. Still, the words seemed to have the desired effect, and the crowd thinned just enough for Zelos to take Lloyd by the hand and pull him through.

 

"You're as popular as ever," Lloyd muttered as soon as they were out of earshot. Zelos shrugged.

 

"I don't know what you were expecting, Hunny, but I am a pretty big deal around these parts." He sniffed. "I've been gone a while, too. They're probably not too happy about that."

 

"Are you sure you're okay with this? You don't sound very excited." Shit. Why was Lloyd only now seeing through him, when it was far too late to back out? For a moment, Zelos contemplated coming clean, admitting how much he hadn't wanted to come. He knew that if he told Lloyd how exhausted he was, both from nerves and the head cold that was getting harder and harder to deny, that would be the end of it. Lloyd would be more than happy to help him make a break for it.

 

And that was exactly why he couldn't say anything.

 

If there was anything worse than dealing with nobility, Zelos knew from experience, it was dealing with nobility that felt as though they had been slighted. All of Meltokio's biggest names had gathered with the expectation that they would be meeting with the ex-Chosen, and if they didn't get what they came for? Well. There would be hell to pay, and it would be far worse than spending the night pretending to flirt while pushing through a cold. 

 

So Zelos said nothing, only planting a quick kiss on Lloyd's forehead. "For the last time, Hunny, I'm fine . Stop worrying about me and go enjoy yourself."

 

"But--"

 

" Lloyd. " Zelos was done arguing. He really didn't have the energy for it. "I'll meet up with you in a little while, okay? People will get angry if I don't start making the rounds soon." He smiled, his first genuine smile of the night. "I'll save the last dance for you, if you'll take it." 

 

After a moment, Lloyd smiled back. "Only if you show me how to dance before that." 

 

"Of course. Be grateful, country boy, you'll be learning from the best of the best." 

 

"Okay, okay." Lloyd laughed. "I'll be waiting for you, then."

 

"Deal." And with one more wave of his hand, Zelos disappeared into the crowd. It was only a matter of moments before he was stopped again, though, and if he thought he could sigh without being labeled as impolite, he would have. It was going to be a long night.

 

______________

 

Zelos wasn't sure how much time had passed, or how many women he had been forced to dance with. His head was caught up in a permanent fog, and thanks to all his sniffling, he had lost the ability to breathe through his nose a long time ago. He was sweating underneath the multiple layers he had been forced to wear, and he was fairly certain that he had a slight fever. If the other party guests had noticed his illness, however, they had either been too afraid or too polite to say anything, even on the few occasions where he had needed to stifle a sneeze in front of them. He hadn't had the time to meet up with Lloyd yet, and he hoped the boy wasn't having too much trouble fitting in. 

 

Still, for the first few hours of the event, Zelos thought he did a good job of holding himself together. He was even starting to think he might make it through without any problems.

 

Then she walked up.

 

"Oh, Master Zelos, I've been looking all over for you," she purred, taking him by the hand and curtsying. Zelos didn't even register her words at first, as he was entirely distracted by something else about her. Namely, the awful perfume she was wearing. He wasn't sure how the scent managed to bypass whatever was keeping his nose so clogged, but it had an immediate effect on him. He felt his nose twitch just a bit, the tingling he had been trying the whole night to suppress coming back all at once at full force.

 

Still, though, he attempted to play it cool. "A-ah, yes, if it isn't my beautiful Henrietta," he said, putting everything he had into keeping a straight face. He wasn't sure it was working. "I must say, you grow more gorgeous every time I-- Ah…" Zelos felt his breath hitch. This was really not good. At this rate, he was going to--

 

"Master Zelos?"

 

"I- ah -I'll be right back," he said quickly, before running off. Normally he would have been more formal about it, but he did not have the time for that. He would deal with the consequences later. At that moment, all he needed to do was go somewhere he wouldn't be seen. He dashed through the ballroom, either not noticing or not caring about the stares and whispers he was getting. As soon as he was out of the room, he saw a bathroom a few doors down the hall. It wasn't ideal , but it would have to do.

 

Zelos barely made it to the sink before the first sneeze tumbled out. It was followed by another, and another, until he lost count. Each one made him pitch forward, and it only took a few before he had to keep a hand on the sink for support. It should have felt good, to finally let out what he had been holding in all day, but more than anything, he was just tired . He was vaguely aware of how much he was soaking his glove, but all he could really focus on was that tickle that never seemed to go away, no matter how much he kept sneezing. It was like his body was making up for the time he had lost during the day, while also making it ten times worse. If nothing else, though, he was glad that he had made it somewhere private before--

 

"So much for being fine." 

 

Shit.

 

Zelos knew that voice all too well. It belonged to the absolute last person he wanted seeing him like this. He struggled to catch his breath as quickly as possible, rubbed desperately at his nose in an attempt to get it to stop, and, finally, found the strength to look up at his obviously concerned lover.

 

"Dunno-- ah -- what you're talking about, Hun. I am completely, one hundred percent fi- achoo!" One last sneeze escaped at the last second, making him double back over. His chest was really starting to burn. Lloyd crossed his arms.

 

"Maybe when you can say that without sneezing I'll believe you." His tone was harsh, but his eyes were soft with concern. Before Zelos had a chance to move out of the way, he felt Lloyd's forehead bump against his own. "Yeah, you're even warmer than this morning. I knew I should have made you stay in bed…"

 

"You might not want to get so close," Zelos muttered. "Idiot." Lloyd turned bright red, and pulled away.

 

"What else was I supposed to do? I can't check for a fever with my hands if I'm wearing gloves!"

 

Zelos couldn't help but laugh at this. "You do know gloves are removable, right?"

 

"Shut up. You're trying to change the subject." 

 

"And you're overreacting. It's just a cold, Lloyd, I won't die if I push through it for one night."

 

"Well, yeah, but…" Lloyd sighed. "You know I hate it when you pretend there's nothing wrong. I wouldn't worry so much if you didn't give me reason to." 

 

"Lloyd, I--" Zelos wanted to respond, but his nose clearly disagreed, as he was forced into yet another sneezing fit. He was starting to feel dizzy, and he knew that wasn't a good sign, but he also didn't want Lloyd to be right. There was a fine line between concern and pity, and as always, Lloyd was coming dangerously close to crossing it.

 

When his fit finally subsided, Zelos looked back up at Lloyd, who only shook his head.

 

"Yeah. There's no way you're going back out there looking like that. " He crossed the bathroom, grabbed some toilet paper, and thrust it towards Zelos. "Blow." Only then did Zelos notice how much his nose was running, and he gladly accepted what Lloyd was giving him. Blowing his nose didn't actually accomplish much, but he was able to wipe himself clean for the first time that night, which made him feel a little less disgusting. 

 

"Does that mean you'll let me go back out there if I don't look gross?" What Zelos really wanted was to go back to his mansion and sleep, not waking up until this miserable cold had subsided. He wasn't sure anymore why he was so insistent on staying-- word was going to spread quickly about how he had run out of his own party, in the middle of a conversation no less. The damage to his reputation had already been done.

 

Lloyd sighed. "I'd really rather you didn't, but we are here to celebrate your birthday. That only comes once a year, right? If you think you can make it without ending up like this again, I won't stop you." He paused, his gaze shifting down to his feet. "Besides, you haven't taught me how to dance yet," he muttered. Zelos stared at him for a moment, and broke out into a grin.

 

"Fortunately, I think I have one last dance left in me." He released his grip on the sink, and took Lloyd's hand. "I'll even do my best not to sneeze on you."

 

Lloyd rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks."

 

"Don't mention it. Now come on. Let's go show those nobles what a real dance between lovers looks like." Lloyd's face turned bright red. 

 

"D-do you really want to be so open about it? Won't all those girls get mad?"

 

"Oh please, Lloyd. They won't be the first hearts I've broken." He pulled Lloyd's hand up to his lips and gave it a light kiss. "Besides, they're going to find out sooner or later. Why not give them a show while we're at it?" Zelos pulled Lloyd towards the door. "Come on, let's go." 

 

It took them a few minutes to get back into the ballroom, with Zelos being stopped every few feet by his admirers, but after handing out several polite refusals, they finally made it. The whispers began as soon as they set foot in the room. Most were about how the Chosen had a lot of nerve, abandoning such a fine young lady, but a few were already starting to make comments about the man he was still holding hands with. Zelos didn't seem to pay them any mind, though, and didn't stop walking until they had reached the very center of the dance floor. When he knew most of the room had their eyes on him, he spun Lloyd around and grabbed his shoulder with his free hand, pulling him closer. 

 

"Just follow my lead," he whispered. "Don't worry about messing up, just follow the music." Lloyd nodded, and wrapped his arms around Zelos's neck. He stumbled a bit at first, but after a few measures of the song, the two of them seemed to find a rhythm. Zelos wasn't paying attention to how much his head hurt, or the other guests' critical gazes. All he saw was the boy in front of him, doing his best to keep up in a world he knew nothing about. The boy he wouldn't trade for anyone in the world, who wasn't afraid to show how much he cared. 

 

The final note of the song echoed through the hall, and there was a very brief silence. By then the whole room was watching their dance, disbelief evident in their eyes. The Chosen, known flirt and lover of all women, dancing with another man, who wasn't even close to royalty? It was unheard of. Even those who spent all their time gossiping, at that moment, had nothing to say, holding their breath as they waited for Zelos's next move.

 

The whispers and shocked gasps began anew when he pressed his lips against Lloyd's. It wasn't a long kiss, but it was enough. "That should keep them entertained for the night," Zelos whispered, grinning ear to ear. "C'mon, let's get out of here." Not letting go of Lloyd's hand, he gave a dramatic wave to all the onlookers and used the last of his limited energy to dash out of the room, his (still very stunned) lover in tow. People called for him to stop, but he ignored them entirely. They were followed all the way out of the castle, and up to the doors of his mansion. Even after the doors were tightly shut and locked behind them, the sounds of the crowd were still audible.

 

Zelos collapsed onto the couch, panting. He had made it back home thanks to pure adrenaline, but now that the moment had passed, he was once again becoming increasingly aware of how ill he still felt. Still, he didn't regret what he had done a single bit. He sniffed, and smiled up at Lloyd.

 

"Maybe we should stay in bed tomorrow." He paused, the screams of his fans still ringing in his ears. "Maybe for the next few days, actually. They're gonna need a chance to calm down." His sentence was punctuated by a sneeze, and he shivered, suddenly feeling chilly despite how uncomfortably warm he had been only moments before. Lloyd laughed and shook his head. He grabbed a blanket that had been hanging off of a nearby chair, wrapping it around Zelos's shoulders.

 

"I was thinking the exact same thing."

 

_______________

 

Lloyd sniffed, and coughed weakly into his elbow, before shooting another glare at Zelos, who laid next to him. Zelos put his hands up in self defense.

 

"Hey, what's that look for? I said I was sorry."

 

Lloyd shook his head and groaned. "I still can't believe I let you kiss me while you were sick. I must be an idiot."

 

Zelos tried to laugh, but found himself coughing instead. "It's okay, Hunny, I didn't fall in love with you for your brains."

 

"Don't act like you're any better, running around with a fever like that. It wouldn't have gotten so bad if you just stayed in bed in the first place."

 

"Heh, maybe you're right." Zelos closed his eyes. "Still don't regret it, though."

 

"Easy for you to say. You were already sick. I could have avoided this." Lloyd sneezed into his pillow, and groaned again. "This sucks…"

 

Zelos shrugged. "Hey, look on the bright side. When was the last time we got to relax like this?" He rolled over and lazily threw an arm over Lloyd. "I, for one, think we should get sick more often."

 

"You'd better be joking."

 

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry. Too soon."

 

"Idiot…" Lloyd found himself smiling in spite of himself. "When we get better, we should celebrate your birthday again. Just the two of us."

 

Zelos smiled back, not with a dumb grin like before, but with a genuine smile. "Yeah. I'd like that." Without opening his eyes, he maneuvered his hand around the bed until he found Lloyd's hand. "I'd like that a lot."



Chapter Text

When the blade first sliced through his chest, all Zelos could do was wonder why it didn't hurt as much as it should have. Not that it didn't hurt at all, of course, but he had always assumed that when he inevitably took a lethal blow in battle, it would far surpass anything he had ever felt before. In a sense, he was almost disappointed.

At once, the world around him became fuzzy around the edges, and everything seemed to move in slow motion. He was aware that he had fallen to the ground, but he had no memory of doing so. It had all happened so fast , and Zelos was having trouble catching up. They had been attacked, that much he knew. Their group had let their guard down, and a group of what he assumed to be common bandits had taken full advantage of it. Lloyd hadn't even had time to draw his swords before one of the four men charged at him, dagger in hand. Zelos had yelled at him to move, to get out of the way before it was too late, but Lloyd either hadn't heard him or was simply unable to react in time. And before he knew it, Zelos had been running, hoping and praying to a goddess he had no faith in that he would make it in time.

And then.

The blade had felt so cold, but all at once his chest was on fire, and everything was red. So, so red. Zelos wasn't sure if it was the blood streaming from his wound, or the blood of the man who had cut him, or the boy that he thought he heard screaming his name, over and over again, as he ran his sword straight through the last of the attackers. It was all the same, really.

He must have been bleeding a whole lot more than he initially thought, because his vision was fading fast, and everything around him sounded like it was taking place a million miles away. Bits and pieces of the commotion reached his ears, but he wasn't really processing any of it.

"--fessor, you've got to--"

"--aside, Lloyd, before he--"

"--mn it, Zelos, stay with m--"

"You idiot --"

Zelos only briefly felt the warmth of a healing spell start to surround his body before everything went dark.

___________

At first, when Zelos opened his eyes, he wasn't sure whether he was dreaming or awake. He didn't even know if he was alive or dead. All he knew was that by the looks of it, he was at an inn somewhere. The bed he was in was far from comfortable, and even without looking up he could see paint peeling from the walls. They must have still been in Sylvarant.

Well. If he was dead, this was a pretty shitty afterlife.

Zelos heard the creaking of a door opening from the other side of the room. He tried to look up and see who it was, but couldn't help letting out a gasp of pain as he did so. His chest hurt. He ran his fingers over it, only to find thick white bandages where bare skin or a shirt should have been. At that point, he knew he was very much awake and alive, but he still had a lot of questions lingering in the back of his mind. He didn't have a chance to voice them, however, before Raine Sage reached his bedside, a strange combination of shock and relief on her face. "You're awake," was all she could say.

"As you can see." Zelos tried to shrug, but winced. Moving, he was starting to realize, was not a good idea at the moment. "Why do you sound so surprised?"

Raine opened her mouth to respond, but quickly shut it again. After hesitating for a moment, she asked, "How much do you remember?"

"Let's see…" Zelos closed his eyes, deep in thought. "Lloyd was about to get hit, and then--" his eyes shot open, and his words ground to a halt. In all the pain and confusion, he had almost forgotten about the boy he'd jumped in front of in the first place. Zelos had taken the first hit that was meant for him, but he couldn't remember anything after that. He managed to keep his voice steady, but his eyes betrayed just the slightest bit of panic. "Lloyd's okay, right? He wasn't hurt?" Raine shook her head, and Zelos let out a long sigh of relief.

"Lloyd is fine." Raine sighed, and rubbed at her temples. "Although you scared him half to death. I had to force him out of the room so I could finish patching you up." Zelos could imagine it. He knew how stubborn Lloyd could be: Raine had probably needed to physically push him out of the room. It hurt to think about, so Zelos switched the topic back to himself.

"Was I really hurt that bad?" Sure, his chest hurt like hell, but he only remembered being hit once. Raine's expression darkened.

"You lost a lot of blood," she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I… almost wasn't able to fix you."

Zelos felt his heart skip a beat. "...Huh," was all he managed to say. It was strange. He was surprised, for sure, but he was having a hard time figuring out how to react. All he could really feel was relief, not just that he had survived, but that Lloyd had survived. A tense silence briefly filled the room, only to be interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Professor?" Zelos froze. The door was opened just a crack, enough for Lloyd to poke his head in. "Colette said she heard you talking, is Zelos--" He stopped midsentence as his eyes met Zelos's. His eyes widened, and he took a step forward.

"Zelos…?"

Raine sighed yet again. "I thought I told you to stay in your room." Lloyd clenched his fists.

"How am I supposed to sit and wait around when Zelos is--"

"If you want him to recover, you need to let him rest." Raine's expression softened, but her words remained firm. "I know you're worried, but please, Lloyd. Just do as I say." Lloyd hesitated for a moment, but shook his head.

"I just need a few minutes. Professor Sage, please. "

Zelos couldn't watch any longer. Seeing Lloyd so desperate? On his behalf? It almost hurt his chest more than his wound. "Let him in," he said, smiling just a bit. "I promise we won't do anything weird." He winked, and Raine buried her forehead in her hand.

"I suppose I shouldn't be too worried if you can talk like that," she muttered. "I need to go get some more supplies, anyways, so if you want to stay, you can. Just for a few minutes, though, okay?" Lloyd nodded."If anything happens, come find me right away." And with those words, Raine left the room, the door closing behind her with a click.

For a moment, neither of the two said a word. Slowly, Lloyd made his way over to Zelos's bedside, and sat down in the spot where Raine had been sitting moments earlier. Right away, Zelos noticed how tired he looked. He wasn't sure how long he had been unconscious, but he doubted Lloyd had spent even a second of it resting. His eyes were bloodshot, as though he had been crying. That alone was enough to make Zelos feel sick to his stomach. Lloyd was supposed to be their strong, fearless leader, but the reality was that he was still only seventeen. Sure, he had been through a lot since setting off to travel with Colette, nearly enough to age him beyond his years, but that didn't mean he had gotten any better at controlling his emotions. He was still human.

Lloyd took a deep breath, seemingly unsure of what to say. Finally, he spoke, looking away from Zelos.

"Why did you do it."

Zelos blinked. "Do what?"

"You know what I mean, Zelos." Lloyd gripped the blanket next to him so hard his knuckles turned white. He turned his gaze back to Zelos, who shrank back into his pillows as he noticed how piercing his eyes were. "Why did you take that hit for me?"

"...Did you come in here just to ask me that?" Zelos closed his eyes. "I'm doing fine, thanks for asking."

"That's not-- don't act like I wasn't worried sick about you! Zelos, you could have died !" Lloyd's eyes were wide, and when Zelos looked back up at him, he thought he could see tears starting to form in the corners. "That's why I don't get it. I don't get you, Zelos. You act like you don't care about anything, and then you go and do something like this. Of course I'm going to ask what your reasons were!"

"My reasons… huh." Zelos looked down at the bandages on his chest. "I don't know what to tell you, Bud. I saw that guy about to attack you, and before I knew it, I was running over. I didn't really have time to come up with a reason."

"That's…"

"All I knew was that one of us was going to take that hit. And…" Zelos paused, realizing he had backed himself into a corner. He knew Lloyd wouldn't like what he said next, but it was the truth. And if nothing else, Lloyd deserved not to be lied to. "And I decided that it would be better if it was me."

All the color drained from Lloyd's face. "...How can you say something like that so easily? How can you even think that?" Zelos could feel Lloyd starting to tremble next to him. He knew he was probably pushing the boy too far, especially with how shaken he had already been. But it was too late to turn back. Now he needed Lloyd to understand. Even if it hurt him.

"Are you saying you would have preferred to get yourself killed, then? Because that was the only other option."

"I--" Lloyd seemed to be at a loss for words. "I don't--"

"It's okay to prioritize your own life, Lloyd. It doesn't make you selfish." Zelos smiled. "And besides, I don't know if you realize it, but you have a lot of people counting on you right now. Way more than I do. So--"

"Don't you dare talk to me about 'prioritizing my own life,'" Lloyd said, his voice low. "Not when you almost threw yours away for no reason. Do you have any idea how sad I would have been if I had lost you? When are you going to accept that people actually care about you?"

Zelos couldn't help but laugh. "Lloyd, I guarantee that if you asked any one of the people in the next room which of us they would save given the choice, it would be you. No questions asked."

"But why does there even have to be a choice?" Lloyd's voice was growing steadily louder and shakier. "Who says there isn't a way to save everyone? You can't just give up without looking for another option first."

"You think I had time to look for another option?" Zelos was starting to raise his voice as well. His chest was protesting with every breath he took, but he barely even noticed in his current emotional state. "They were going to kill you. All I knew was that I couldn't let that happen. I didn't get the chance to consider how else to stop it."

"I--"

"You're not going to change my mind, Lloyd. I don't regret saving you. Even if I had ended up dying, it wouldn't have mattered. I'm--" Zelos stopped talking as soon as he felt the impact of Lloyd's hand against his cheek. It stung, and it surprised him enough that he momentarily forgot about his other, much larger injury.

" 'It wouldn't have mattered? " Lloyd wasn't even trying to hold back the tears anymore. "Damn it, Zelos, are you really that much of an idiot? Do you really not get it? I don't want to lose you . You're… you're…" He sniffed and rubbed his arm against his eyes. "You're so important to me. If the only way I could live was by losing one of my best friends, then…" he trailed off, letting the implication hang in the air. Now it was Zelos's turn to be speechless. "I want you to live. I want us to finish this journey together. I-I want-- I want--" Lloyd couldn't say any more as he collapsed into sobs.  He buried his face in his hands and cried, and Zelos could only watch, knowing that it was his fault. Why would Lloyd want him around, when this was what he was capable of? Making people unhappy was all he knew how to do. He had ruined his parents' lives, been an inconvenience to the church, eliminated Seles's chances at a normal life… and now, when he thought he was doing something right for once in his life, he had only made things worse.

What he needed to do, Zelos knew, was apologize. Even if he hadn't been convinced by Lloyd's words, he had to pretend. That, he supposed, was another talent of his. All he had to do was be the man Lloyd wanted him to be.

But was that really what Lloyd would want?

"You're important to me, too, you know," he finally murmured, placing a comforting hand on Lloyd's arm. That, at least, wasn't a lie. Of all the people in his life, there were really only two that Zelos would have put his life on the line for. One being his half-sister, and the other being the boy sobbing in front of him. That, more than anything, was what he wanted Lloyd to understand. "That's why I did it. That's the real reason."

Lloyd moved his hand from his face, his eyes still brimming with tears. "Zelos…"

"You have to remember, I'm still pretty new to this whole 'friendship' thing." He laughed, but there was a note of sadness to it. "Besides, I'm the Chosen. I was born to die for the people I love." Lloyd tried to respond, but Zelos only smiled and put a finger to his lips. "So I guess… dying for the person I love the most just seemed like the natural thing to do."

If Lloyd's face hadn't already been red from crying, it would have flushed at Zelos's words. It looked like he was torn between responding to the first part of his sentence and the end. Zelos felt his heart start to pound as he waited for Lloyd to make up his mind, making his chest hurt in a way completely unrelated to his injury. On the list of ways he had planned to tell Lloyd how he really felt, "almost dying and making him cry" was pretty damn close to the bottom. But there he was, hoping, praying that Lloyd would pick up on the meaning behind his words. He didn't think he had it in him to say it any more clearly.

After a long, long moment, Lloyd smiled, his eyes still watering. "Live for me instead, then. That's all I ask." And just like that, Zelos felt Lloyd's lips against his forehead. "Even after we're done with this journey, and the world is at peace, stay with me." His smile grew, turning into more of a grin. "That's your punishment for scaring me earlier."

Before long, Zelos felt himself grin as well. "Not much of a punishment, is it?" he said, before pulling Lloyd's head back down and kissing him again, this time on the lips.

When the world was at peace.

Zelos wasn't going to wait that long to start paying his debt.

 

Chapter Text

"Zelos…?" 

 

Lloyd's voice was trembling nearly as much as he was as he fell to his knees, blood seeping into his pants as he tried desperately to understand what was happening. Only moments ago, Zelos had been standing right next to him, in the middle of casting a spell, when Lloyd had dealt the finishing blow against… well, he thought he was an assassin of some sort, seeing as he had been rambling through the whole fight about getting revenge on Tethe'alla's Chosen. But with how fast everything had happened, Lloyd wasn't overly concerned with the identity of their attacker. All he knew was that just as Zelos had turned to him with a congratulatory grin, ready to praise him for ending the fight so quickly, there had been a flash from behind, and suddenly, Zelos had crumpled to the ground.

 

Their attacker, Lloyd realized, hadn't been alone.

 

Lloyd looked around frantically, trying to find the spellcaster that had knocked his friend down, but saw nothing, a rustling in a nearby bush and some retreating footsteps the only sign that anyone had been there at all. Part of him considered chasing after the assailant, but as soon as his eyes fell onto Zelos's mangled torso, he was faced with a different problem entirely. Zelos was bleeding out, and fast. Lloyd removed his bag from his back and started rummaging through it, not taking his eyes off of Zelos. He was doing the best he could to remain calm, but his heart was about to beat out of his chest.

 

"H-hang on, I'm going to get you a life bottle or something. You're gonna be fi--"

 

"Lloyd." Zelos's voice was faint, but it was enough to make the other boy stop talking. He raised his shaking hand and tugged at Lloyd's sleeve, trying to move it away from the bag. "Don't. Don't bother. It's… not going to do anything." There was a faint smile on his lips, stained with blood. 

 

"You don't know that, damn it!" Lloyd's fingers closed around a single life bottle, the last one they had, and wasted no time in getting the cap off. "Just drink it. Please ." But Zelos shook his head.

 

"We're a long way out from town. You might need it later." 

 

"What am I supposed to do, then?" Lloyd yelled back, although he did set the bottle and the bag aside. "I can't just leave you here to go find help. You're--"

 

"I'm not going to make it , Lloyd." Even though he had to have been in unimaginable pain, and even though his voice was growing weaker by the second, he kept his tone firm and his expression reassuring. "I… I can tell. I just can."

 

"You're wrong." Lloyd couldn't maintain the same level of control over his emotions as Zelos, and spoke through gritted teeth as tears streamed down his face. "You have to be. This is too sudden, you just-- you can't. You can't leave me like this." He grabbed Zelos's hand, gripping it for dear life as though it would keep Zelos from slipping away. 

 

Zelos laughed softly, although it was muffled by a choke as more blood fell from his lips. For the first time, his smile wavered, and he let out a small moan. "I… can't even keep my eyes open much longer, Bud. I'm…" His eyes widened, shocked, as though the gravity of the situation had only just hit him. "I'm… really going to die here."

 

Lloyd opened his mouth to protest, but said nothing. He wanted to reassure Zelos, reassure himself , but there was so much blood. Lloyd couldn't bring himself to look closely at the injuries, but the magic had ripped straight through him. Zelos had a few minutes left at best, and Lloyd, though he was trying to deny it, already knew it. 

 

"Hey… could you do me a favor?" Zelos focused all his energy into keeping his eyes on Lloyd while he still could. If he was going to lose his sight soon, then he wanted the last thing he saw to be his best friend-- the person who had made him care about his life in the first place. The reason he had even made it as far as he had.

 

The reason he felt so terrified of fading out, when until recently, it was all he had wanted.

 

"Don't… don't leave yet." Zelos lightly squeezed Lloyd's hand. "I… I don't… want to die alone, Lloyd." It was the most honest he had ever been with anyone. He didn't have the strength left to lie anymore. "I… want to know that you're still here, even if I can't see you."

 

"You really think I could leave, idiot?" Lloyd was outright sobbing, now, his tears mixing with the pool of blood around him. "I'm right here. I'm right here, Zelos." Lloyd lifted Zelos ever so slightly by the shoulders, doing everything he could not to cause him any more pain, and rested Zelos's head on his lap, keeping his arms wrapped around him. Sometime during all of this, Zelos felt his eyelids slip closed. He was still conscious, but he knew it wasn't going to last much longer. "Is that alright?" Lloyd asked tentatively, and Zelos nodded. He felt some of Lloyd's tears splash against his cheek when the boy lowered his head, sobs wracking his entire body. Zelos knew he should feel bad, and he did , but he still couldn't help but smile.

 

"Can't believe… I really have someone crying over me," he murmured. "Never… thought anyone would miss me that much." He felt Lloyd tighten his grip ever so slightly. "Figured you'd… be fine without me, really."

 

"I… Zelos, I don't want this, I never wanted this. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do without you here." 

 

"You'll figure it out. I know you will. You've still got everyone else, right? They'll help you, more than I ever did." Slowly, Zelos felt his smile fade. He was inching closer and closer to his last breath with every shuddering gasp, but he kept talking. He was scared, more scared than he had ever been in his life, but soon, he wouldn't feel the fear or the pain anymore. Only Lloyd would be left behind to pick up the pieces, and Zelos was going to help him do it if it was the last thing he did. 

 

And, really, it would be.

 

"They can't just replace you, Zelos. No one can. You're… I… Zelos, I…" It seemed like Lloyd wanted to say something, something important, but no matter how hard he struggled, he couldn't get the words out. But it was something he needed Zelos to hear, and it was now or never. He regretted with every fiber of his being that he hadn't had the courage to say it earlier, before any of this happened. And he knew that if he didn't get the words out in the next few moments, he would continue to regret it for the rest of his life. He inhaled a deep, shaky breath, and lowered his head some more, resting his forehead against Zelos's. 

 

"I… always loved you, Zelos."

 

Zelos kept his eyes closed, but for the first time since he had fallen, he felt himself starting to cry along with Lloyd. "You're… so unfair, you know that?" His voice was barely a whisper now, but Lloyd clung to his every word. "Why… did you wait so long? I… wouldn't have rejected you, you know." Lloyd's eyes widened. "I… for so long, I…" Zelos was interrupted by another hacking cough. His time had run out, and he knew it. He knew Lloyd knew it, too. "Kiss me," he whispered. "Please."

 

Zelos's pale lips tasted like blood. Lloyd wanted to vomit, but he didn't let go. He kept his mouth against Zelos's for as long as he could manage, fighting every instinct he had that told him he should let go. When he finally did pull apart, he saw that Zelos had managed to open his eyes again, just a crack. But they were clouded and unfocused, like he wasn't seeing Lloyd at all.

 

"...Zelos?" He didn't get an answer right away, and for a moment, Lloyd thought that Zelos was already gone, that he had slipped away while he hadn't been looking. But then he saw the corners of Zelos's mouth pull upwards, ever so slightly, for the very last time. Somehow, despite how weak it was, it was the most beautiful smile Lloyd had ever seen.

 

"...Thanks." That was the last thing Zelos said before his head fell to the side, away from Lloyd.

 

When Zelos stopped breathing, for several moments, so did Lloyd.