smb814: (TOS Zelos Wall)
[personal profile] smb814
Title: Mental Holiday
Author: smb814
Rating: T
Warnings: Zelos being Zelos (i.e. mild language, adult themes, innuendo, etc.)
Category: Character Study, Friendship/Romance
Pairing: Zelos/Sheena (a.k.a. Sheelos - if you don't like it, don't read it)
Time Frame/Spoilers: Takes place after the first game, so spoilers for everything.
Summary: "I'm sorry. The Chosen One is currently taking a mental holiday. Please leave a message and he'll get back to you in the morning."
Disclaimer: Alas, Tales of Symphonia and all its lovely characters don't belong to me. They belong to Namco-Bandai Games. I'm just borrowing them and not making any money off them, and I promise I'll return them unharmed (and probably happier than they ever were before) when I'm done playing with them.
Author's Notes: *hangs head* And yet again I prove that no matter how hard I try and no matter what fandom I write in, I just can't write anything short. I'm so ashamed. But really, it's all Zelos's fault for being such a chatterbox and for having walls stronger than the vault at Fort Knox that I had to knock down before any of this would work. My first fic for Tales of Symphonia, so hopefully the characters are at least semi-recognizable. And Zelos, I owe you a giant cookie for being so fascinating that you've done the impossible by single-handedly resurrecting my long-dormant writing muse. This is my apology for ignoring and killing you during my first playthrough of the game simply because I'd been on a Kratos kick at the time. Trust me, it's never happening again. Not betaed, so any mistakes or typos you find are entirely my fault.
Feedback: Feedback is love and fodder for future fics.
History: General plotting began July 2008; finally completed December 2008

This story is also available as a single file on FF.net here.

©2008 by SuzieB.

***

"I can't believe Sheila wore lilac earrings with a lavender dress. And then accessorizing with an orchid purse? That is so utterly wrong."

Zelos managed to restrain his eye roll until he was spinning the girl he was dancing with -- now, what was her name? Betty? Becky? Bella? Watch it be Matilda -- away from him, then he plastered on his normal, good-humored smile as he pulled her back to him. Or at least he thought it was his normal smile. He wasn't entirely sure at the moment because his brain had gone into hibernation from all this tedious conversation. Scratch that, this wasn't a conversation; it was brain-numbing droning from an aristocrat trying to put others down to make herself look better. All that energy being wasted on something so negative....

Normally, he could handle these conversations easily. Right now, though, he was having trouble resisting the urge to tell her, in no uncertain terms, how sick he was of her nattering. The worst part wasn't enduring the three-minute conversation that accompanied the dance, though; no, the worst part was that he wasn't sure why he was having such trouble keeping his not-so-polite thoughts to himself. He'd attended so many of these social events that he'd lost count years ago, and they'd always been a breeze to endure and were occasionally even enjoyable -- especially his female admirers' unwavering attention -- but this was the first one where he felt out of place, like he was floundering and frantically grasping for something that wasn't there to save him from drowning. Usually he could respond to inane comments like hers suavely -- "Well, at least she's making a statement" -- and steer the conversation onto something less offensive, but it wasn't happening this time. No, instead he found himself wondering who the hell Sheila was, a thought that quickly turned to Sheena because of their similar names, and with that, his eyes wandered toward the ninja, who was currently dancing with Lloyd along a far wall, rather than focusing on the girl he was dancing with.

Maybe he was just out of practice dealing with this brainless drivel. Sure, the regeneration journey with Lloyd and the gang had been filled with trivial conversations, many stupid in nature (thanks predominantly to the naïveté of Lloyd and Colette, who seemed to exist on a different wavelength of their own making), but even those were far more enjoyable than this. Some were downright fun, some were silly, but others were somber, reflecting the seriousness of the situations they'd faced, and deep and insightful in nature. They weren't put-everyone-down fests like it always was with these aristocrats; no, Lloyd had made it clear that race and status didn't matter to him and that he chose his friends based on who they were, not on where they fell on the social ladder. That was why, at this celebration hosted by the King a week after the Great Seed's revival, Lloyd and the gang were associating solely with themselves, with people who shared their ideological viewpoints, and not with these aristocrats who didn't care what had happened so long as they were invited to the dinner party.

Zelos sighed and pulled his gaze from Sheena and Lloyd as the dance neared its conclusion. He didn't want to be here at this party, dancing with this nameless girl. He'd just spent the past week playing messenger for the King, ferrying letters to Tethe'allan cities and explaining what had happened during their journey, and he was tired. On the bright side, he wouldn't be the Chosen for much longer -- thankfully, after hearing Yggdrasill's true purpose behind instituting the position, the King agreed they'd have to change that, although until that happened, all the power and associated benefits were staying with him, and many of them would probably stay with him for life because of his breadth of experience and knowledge about Tethe'alla, religion, and politics -- but the full implication of that change hadn't sunk in yet. And deep down, the knowledge that his goal of removing that blasted title from his name was now visible on the horizon was probably another reason why he was having such difficulty maintaining the act everyone expected from him and why he was finding the women and conversation intolerable and would have preferred to celebrate privately with Lloyd and Sheena and the others -- or, better yet, he would have preferred to spend the night alone, finally thinking through everything that had happened. While thinking may not be his favorite activity -- "Whatever will be, will be" wasn't his mantra for no reason, and dwelling on things he couldn't change was unproductive, depressing, and threatened to mess him up permanently -- right then he was itching to do just that.

But he couldn't yet. His hunnies expected certain things from him, and if he didn't dance and flirt with them all before the end of the night, they would wonder what was wrong and start talking amongst themselves, and, well, he couldn't lose his fan club until he knew what he wanted and whether or not their presence was still a part of his mental picture for his future.

"Chosen One, are you even listening to me?"

Zelos blinked. Uh oh. Those were never good words to hear. Damn, he must have zoned out. It was hard not to when all you heard was, "Blah, blah, hideous earrings, blah, blah, tacky dress, blah, blah, frumpy shoes." "Of course I am, hunny cakes."

"Then why are you not answering my question?"

Question? Damn, she'd asked him something? Normally he was so attuned to hearing women's voices rising, indicating a question, that he never missed them, even if he blocked out everything else they said. And, worse, he had no idea what she'd asked...and he was apparently drawing a blank as to how to smooth things over with her tonight. "And what question was that again?"

Even he cringed at that, and, unsurprisingly, the girl stopped dancing, dropped his hands, and gaped at him. "You weren't listening to me, were you?!" She huffed, turned, and walked away, but not before throwing a, "Then I guess you won't be seeing me later tonight either, will you?" at him over her shoulder.

Whoops. She was gone before he could think of how to soothe her anger, and Zelos blinked again, dazed. Not good. Not that he would have seen her later anyway, but she didn't know that. At least the dance was over now anyway so no one was paying any attention to her dismissal of him. He sighed, deciding to shrug it off and blame it on his exhaustion from the past few weeks, and settled back into his normal routine of figuring out which hunny to dance with next.

For a moment, he eyed the group of girls standing nearby, all giggling and preening while watching him, as if that alone could make him ask them next -- fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Betty/Becky/Bella/Matilda hadn't gone over to them and told them to avoid him -- but the prospect of dancing with them, just to maintain his reputation and so they could brag about being seen with the 'Chosen,' all while listening to their ramblings about nothing, felt hollow, and he couldn't get his feet to take him toward them. Keeping up the façade and pretending to want to dance with all these women who were only interested in him because he was the Chosen should be easy -- he'd certainly been doing it long enough -- but that night it just wasn't working, mainly because, damn it, he didn't want to, and really, nothing said he had to anymore except a tradition he himself had started years ago...one he might soon drop depending on certain decisions he'd make once he was officially no longer Tethe'alla's Chosen.

With another sigh, Zelos's gaze drifted around the room as the orchestra readied for the next song, and yet again, his gaze fell on Sheena. Damn, she looked gorgeous tonight. He'd liked that dress at the last dinner party, when the King had honored him for rescuing Princess Hilda, and he liked it again now, and especially that she, too, had apparently been so busy the past week that she hadn't had time to find a new one. The dark mauve coloring, her toned body, her sleek ebony hair, the minimalist yet elegant fabric, her creamy skin, the soft curves of her bare neck and shoulders and everything else...oh, what he'd give for a dance with her. While she might hate him and constantly smack him, at least she was real, and her conversations didn't consist of belittling her competition with ridiculously petty accusations. Locating his typical Chosen One mask, he slipped it on, beamed a cocky smile, and headed toward her. Asking her to dance was probably futile, but it was still worth risking a nasty right hook in case she was feeling generous tonight.

Before he could reach her, though, a cute blonde with darling dimples and wearing waitress attire suddenly appeared between him and his destination, carrying a tray on which sat a single glass of champagne. "Chosen One, I have your champagne."

Instantly, his determination was derailed. The cocky smile vanished as he eyed the glass, then the girl's pretty smile. It was always her, and she was the only waitress he would accept a drink from; that was his deal with the kitchen's head chef. For once, he considered rejecting it -- because really, why was he still adhering to such precaution when it wasn't necessary anymore? Hadn't he promised himself he'd rethink habits like this once he achieved his ultimate goal? -- but he quickly realized he wasn't ready to take that step. Doing so involved too much of an unknown, and he wasn't willing to take that particular risk yet. No, the potential ramifications...he had to think those through before he completely discarded all precaution.

His gaze darted over the girl's shoulder at Sheena, and without warning, the figurative mask slipped from his face and crashed into the ground, cracking in half. Lloyd was asking her for another dance. While Zelos knew it was nothing serious between them, despite Sheena's not-so-subtle crush on Lloyd, since Lloyd had made it clear his heart belonged to Colette, and Lloyd was just making the rounds since Colette was talking nearby with Regal and Raine, even that knowledge couldn't stop his sudden, but common, flare of jealousy. The worst part, though -- the part that had hit him like a blow to the gut and knocked the mask from his face -- was Sheena's smile as she accepted Lloyd's invitation. She had never pretended to like these parties, nor had she ever smiled at them before, and yet when she was with someone she sincerely liked, the smile that graced her face was sublime -- and oh so sincere. There were no pretensions with Sheena, no masks. Everyone knew when she liked something and when she didn't. She never pretended to be someone she wasn't to save face, like he regularly did. While Zelos knew he could always wait for the next dance and try again to ask her or simply cut in and steal her away from Lloyd, he was concerned, too, that even if she accepted, it would hurt just a little too much to not receive the same beautiful, sincere smile she'd just given Lloyd. And right then, in his already atypical, contemplative state, with the happy-go-lucky guy so difficult to summon, he doubted he could handle that subtle rejection unless he had a surefire backup plan.

No wonder he hated having her here at these functions. For some reason he could never think or act normally when she was nearby.

Unsmiling, Zelos accepted the champagne with a simple, "Thanks," which elicited a puzzled look from the waitress; normally, he flirted with her or made a pass at her, and she must be surprised he hadn't this time. Heck, a part of him was surprised he hadn't, either. With the mask now apparently broken in half, though, nothing was happening like normal. He slowly turned and walked away, taking a sip of his drink and heading past the hunnies still watching him and giggling. He slowed, eyeing them as they blushed coyly and waved at him, but seeing them made him feel even emptier, and he couldn't even summon a smile for them. And why? Because as much as he loved the female ogling and attention, he was no longer sure how much he really, truly did -- at least not for the reasons they flocked to him.

Yes, something was definitely wrong tonight. He was supposed to be smiling, flirting, sweeping them all off their feet and whispering sweet nothings in their ears. Instead, he just wandered past them toward the banquet table to try to find something to interest his appetite. The urge to leave the party, alone, was nearly unbearable; he felt restless. He wanted to go think everything through now that he finally could, even if his mind kept insisting he had to resist that urge and stay here. This, after all, wasn't the right time for that; he could do that tomorrow. Or maybe he'd go to the bridge after the party; that always helped him shake this questionable mood from his system.

All efforts at resistance failed for good, though, as his angelic senses picked up the conversation of the hunnies he'd just passed. "What's with him tonight?" "I don't know, but did you see how upset Betsy was before?" "He's been acting so strangely ever since he traveled with that group of dirty peasants." "My friend Sally at the castle says she heard he won't be the Chosen for much longer." "I bet it's all that filthy ninja's fault. She's been hanging around the Chosen for weeks. I mean, have you seen how she treats him? What a hag, trying to get his attention like that! I wish she'd just go away; how many times have we told her to? But does she listen? No, of course not! I can't stand that bitch!"

Upon hearing that last one, Zelos finally realized just how serious his problem that night was because it took all his restraint not to grab that girl, drag her over to Sheena, make her repeat her words, and let Sheena have her way with her -- something he never, never would have let himself even entertain the notion of doing before because of how self-destructive and un-Chosen-like it was. That was when the terrifying truth finally hit him like a sledgehammer: for some as-of-yet unknown reason, the Chosen One had now completely vacated the premises, and Zelos Wilder couldn't step into his shoes until he knew exactly what he wanted, not only with these women but for himself. Until he figured that out, he couldn't be here, because the damage control required if he stuck around any longer...no, actually, no amount of damage control could repair what he would break tonight if he didn't get away from these hunnies immediately. He needed to retreat until he either figured out what the hell he really wanted, formulated a new Grand Master Plan now that his last one was obsolete, or glued his mask back together again so no one saw him like this.

He reached for his breast pocket and sighed, relieved, as he felt a key there; thankfully, he'd had the foresight to grab it before leaving his mansion. He smiled at everyone he passed, although how many of those smiles came across naturally, he didn't want to know, and headed toward a back door that the serving staff used to enter without anyone noticing. He casually snuck out and headed down the hallway, ignoring the cacophonous kitchen to his left, and to another door at the far end before climbing up a deserted flight of stairs.

The majority of his adult life, Zelos had always had one single goal: to be free of the damned title of 'Chosen.' Everything he'd done had been according to his Grand Master Plan, which focused on achieving that end. Now it had finally happened -- and not a moment too soon considering his utter exhaustion of being someone he wasn't, manipulating everything around him to fit his plan, and carrying out the responsibilities he'd never wanted but had been forced to accept. It wasn't official yet, but he would soon be the 'Ex-Chosen,' and once upon a time, when he'd first started formulating those plans, he had promised himself he would do certain things when it happened. Now, finally, it was time to revisit those things and develop a new Grand Master Plan, one where he claimed the life he'd never had. After how certain things had played out, he knew he'd have to face a lot of regrets -- he'd already felt it starting upon seeing Sheena earlier, an ache he'd frequently felt before but had never let himself really feel -- but it had to be done. Maybe he could even build ways into that plan to make up for those regrets...and make it up to her, because she deserved it, and because that was probably the only way to alleviate this damn ache in his chest that he'd tried for years to ignore or eradicate altogether.

It was time, because for the first time in his life, freedom was waiting for him on the horizon. The door on his gilded cage was open. He hadn't stepped outside yet, but as soon as he knew where he was going, he would, and he would never look back. And right then, knowing it was inevitable was good enough for him.

Reaching 'his' spot, Zelos locked the door behind him, headed out to the spacious, private balcony, and sighed in relief at reaching his sanctuary of solitude. After all, only he had a key -- a special arrangement he'd made with the reception hall's owner years ago under pretense of having a place to bring a 'special girl.' He looked up at the cloudless night sky and its blanket of a thousand stars and full moon, relaxing. Now this was a world he could finally begin to enjoy now that it was no longer conspiring to kill him or keep him trapped in his cage. Finally at peace, without having to worry about anyone catching him with his guard down, he settled in, alone, to start contemplating his new Grand Master Plan, one that didn't include constant ruses or acting solely out of habit, and one where he could find out who he really was -- and who he really wanted to be.

***

Part 2

August 2012

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