Full-blown warnings began blaring in her head. Zelos was trying to seduce her. And he'd been doing so well tonight, too, keeping his hands to himself and keeping his flirting harmless. But now, asking her to disrobe and lay down like that? That went way beyond flirting. Her heart plummeted. Damn it, hadn't she made it clear that even if she wanted sex, it wasn't an option for her? At the time, he'd seemed to get the message and accept it, but now...apparently the temptation was just too strong to resist.
Sheena was simultaneously saddened to see his ulterior motive shining through, relieved that she now had a legitimate reason to break off their relationship, angry at him for giving her the impression he'd accepted that aspect of dating her, and angry at herself for not recognizing he'd never be able to accept this so she could have ended it before she'd had such a great time tonight, thus making breaking up with him that much more painful. She should have known better. That was why her people discouraged relationships with outsiders: because outsiders just couldn't accept their ways. She wasn't mad at Zelos for having hormones or for growing up in a culture that viewed sex differently from hers, but she was mad that he hadn't just told her his expectations. If dating someone without having sex with them really wasn't possible for him, why hadn't he just said that? How much could he really love her if he was pushing for something he knew she couldn't give him? Actions spoke infinitely louder than words.
Her body tensed further as she watched him warily, readying herself to spring up and either retreat from him or beat him up if necessary. "What are you scheming now, Zelos?"
His eyes widened, his smirk faltered, and he lifted his hands in a show of innocence. "Nothing bad, Sheena, I promise."
Her eyes narrowed further -- he seemed to mean that, but she'd been duped by him far too many times to be convinced yet -- but she just watched him, looking for a sign of the game he was playing with her. She wanted to believe him, that he loved her, respected her boundaries, and had good intentions toward her, but history had proven she couldn't trust him when it came to sex. Sure, she now knew he'd never been serious about it before -- well, she thought she knew that, although it wasn't like she had any proof he'd told her the truth about his lack of a sexual history that night at the party -- but she just...she didn't know that he wouldn't make a move on her now.
If she was really being honest with herself, she'd expected this -- he was Zelos,after all, and sexuality was an inseparable part of his image -- but she'd just...she'd hoped it wouldn't happen, and if it did, not tonight, when she'd been having such a nice time with him. Because now...now she'd have to break up with him, trek back to Meltokio in the dark, retrieve her stuff from his mansion, and then have to deal with the king and Minister Giannovio alone because she was afraid accepting his help would mean indebting herself to him...and chances were he'd insist she pay him back in a way she just couldn't.
When she hesitated, eyeing him closely, Zelos's face fell further, and finally he released a low sigh. Part of her thought he looked sad, but her wariness refused to let her consider that for fear of being sucked into something against her better judgment. A moment later, he closed his eyes, nodded to himself, and then looked up at her, his face surprisingly somber and determined. "Well, I wasn't expecting to have this conversation yet, but it was bound to come up eventually so I guess now is as good a time as any."
...Wait, what? Confusion joined her wariness, anger, and disappointment. "What are you talking about?" she asked, pulling away from him a little further, just in case he did try something.
With another soft sigh, Zelos turned to face her and bent his legs so his arms could rest on his knees. Taking the hint, Sheena drew her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, her heart racing. She wasn't sure what he was doing, but the fact that he hadn't tried anything yet calmed her somewhat -- as did his serious expression as he began speaking again. "All right. I know how this looks, and I know why you're jumping to the conclusion you are. And really, I can't blame you for not trusting me. I know my reputation is in no way honorable, and I know, considering how incessantly I've always hit on you, that you have no way to know my true intentions. And I'm sorry you have to question that. That's why I'm going to make you a promise right here, right now, one I want you to hold me to, and if I don't keep it, I give you full permission to resort to any extreme torture methods you deem appropriate to punish me."
Confusion was now outweighing the other emotions. He...he seemed to be completely serious about this. Where was the 'game' she was expecting from him? "Zelos, what...what are you talking about?" she ventured.
He breathed in deeply, then slowly released it and met her eyes. "Sheena, I will never make you do anything you don't want to do. I will never pressure you for sex or for anything beyond what you're ready for or are capable of doing. If you're ever interested in exploring other options, we'll discuss it, but if not, I won't try anything funny with you. I mean that. However long it takes, I'll wait. A month, a year, more...if you aren't comfortable doing anything knowing what your village would do to you, then we won't do anything. I'm leaving this entirely up to you. And if you're never ready for it, then I'm okay with that, too. Not necessarily happy about it, and I can't guarantee I won't eventually regret this, but the ball is in your court." His eyebrows rose pointedly. "Now, don't misunderstand me: this doesn't mean I don't want you, because Martel knows how much I do, and I have to warn you there's no chance I'll ever be able to stop myself from hitting on you, but it will never go beyond that. Never, not seriously." He leaned forward, grabbed her hand, and squeezed it. "I promise."
Instantly, all wariness, hurt, and anger fled her, and her eyes widened. He...oh, Martel, he was serious. He was looking directly at her, his face somber, with no hint of deception in his eyes. Sheena almost couldn't believe her ears. Their cultures were complete opposites regarding sex -- and yes, he was right that Mizuho's restrictions probably were unnecessary, but succumbing to temptation with him really would mean her death -- but yet here he was, saying he understood this. More than that, he was saying he wouldn't pressure her for any 'other' forms of sex, either, something she sincerely did appreciate, because considering the fiery ache she'd felt during a few of their kisses, she suspected those 'other forms' would never be enough. And Martel help her, she believed him.
Seeing Zelos this serious and determined, Sheena almost felt guilty for jumping to the conclusion she just had...but she still couldn't help thinking her concern had been warranted, too. She truly hadn't known his intentions before this -- and she was extremely glad he now had spelled out his thoughts on this matter. She could feel herself blushing again, uncomfortable talking about sex this openly when it related to her and to them, but, surprisingly, she wasn't embarrassed about it, either. In fact, she was touched. Did Zelos really love her so much that he would willingly deny himself something he'd now admitted he wanted? He could have any woman he wanted, especially now that the Church couldn't punish anyone for sleeping with him, and yet he was choosing to be with her, even knowing sex wasn't a possibility?
And just like that, she suddenly wanted to throw all caution to the wind, forget about Mizuho, surrender to the fire she felt when she kissed him, and give him what he wanted, what she was embarrassed to realize she wanted, but she couldn't -- and not just because Mizuho forbade pre-marital sex, but because there was no future for 'them.' Once she became chief, their 'future' together would be cut short. That was why starting a sexual relationship with him, of any kind, would be sadistic, especially if Zelos really did love her as much as he seemed to. And one thing she knew was that she loved him too much to hurt him like that, so she wouldn't.
But still, that was in the distant future, and this was now, and Zelos had just made her this incredible promise that took all pressure off of her. Sheena bit her lip, squeezed his hand, and gave him a shy smile, tears of love and gratitude pricking her eyes. "Thank you."
Zelos nodded and returned her smile, but he quickly grew serious again as he leaned closer to her. "In return, though, Sheena, I need you to do something for me."
Her eyes widened and her smile vanished. Uh oh. She should have known there would be a catch...but then, after what he'd just promised her, what kind of 'catch' could it really be? Asking her for sexual favors would defeat his entire point. "What?"
He squeezed her hand tighter, his face still frighteningly serious. "Don't tease me. Don't lead me on or start something you're not ready to finish. Please. I have a lot more restraint resisting women's advances than people think I do, but when it comes to you, it's only about a quarter of that. I'll keep my hands to myself and behave, I promise, but please, don't test my restraint. This will be hard enough for me to hold to under normal circumstances, but if you teased me in addition to that...well, I really don't want to think what I might end up doing. Because the truth is, Sheena, while I've met a lot of attractive women over the years, I've never felt anything for them like I do for you. You are the only woman I have ever truly wanted. Far more now than ever before."
Her blush flared and her eyes widened further. Oh, Martel. She'd had no idea he felt that way about her; seeing someone as 'beautiful' was different than being physically attracted to them. And the sheer honesty he was showing her, admitting his vulnerabilities and fears and pointing out the power she had over him...it was surreal, and yet she couldn't deny his earnestness. She could see it in his eyes: he would see this through, but only with her help. And the fact that he trusted her enough to ask her this, something she couldn't imagine him asking anyone else...she was floored and touched, deeply. The whole subject may be awkward, especially now that she knew he really did...want...her like that, but she appreciated his honesty. And to that end...how could she not agree to it?
Sheena squeezed his hand tenderly and nodded. "Okay. I won't."
Instantly, his smile returned and he visibly relaxed. "Thank you."
She mirrored his smile, but it quickly faltered. Now she needed to tell him something. "You, um, you'll have to warn me if I'm doing something I shouldn't be, though. I...." She let out a soft, nervous laugh, her gaze falling to their joined hands. "I'm not used to being in a relationship like this yet."
Zelos nodded, still smiling softly. "I know. And don't worry, I'll speak up if I think something could become a problem." Without warning, his smile transformed into a goofy, awkward grin. "Just tell me if this thing between us really does work out, that one day you could want me, too. Not that, you know, you find me physically repulsive or something."
Her eyes widened. Had he really just said that? Was he, Mr. Ego, Mr. I Am Beautiful And Don't You Dare Scar My Pretty Face!, really not sure she was attracted to him? Sheena couldn't imagine him saying anything if he was sure of her answer, but obviously he wasn't sure because he had asked her -- and he looked surprisingly nervous about it, too. He was doing a good job concealing it, but the way he was biting his lip indicated he was afraid of her answer. The whole thing was preposterous; Zelos really was a gorgeous man -- his face, his physique, his incredible red hair, all of him -- and Sheena was certain most other women had not only thought that, but had told him so.
And as for being attracted to him...her blush deepened. Oh, yeah, she was. She'd recognized years ago how attractive he was. She had never felt like this about any other man, actually, not even during her Lloyd-crush phase, someone she felt physically drawn to touch and kiss and hold and, yes, do even more than that with. Before this, her problem with him, the thing that had turned that attraction into annoyance, had been his obnoxious, arrogant, philandering attitude, but now...now that wasn't a problem anymore. No, now the sole problem was their nonexistent future together -- but again, she viciously shoved that thought aside. Even though tonight had gone beautifully and she'd fallen even harder for him with every new thing he did, 'they' would still most likely drift apart before that other future could become imminent. At least, she hoped they would. Because if they didn't, the end would hurt them both very, very badly.
But right now that future wasn't imminent, and Zelos had asked her for reassurance she could give him. She gave him another shy, embarrassed smile. "Of course you're not...and of course I do. You...you're...."
Her voice trailed off as she struggled to articulate her feelings. After watching her a moment with curious hopefulness, Zelos beamed her a crooked grin. "I know, I'm dead sexy, right?"
...And there was the Idiot Chosen. Sheena rolled her eyes...but the uncertainty on his face took her aback. In fact, she received the distinct impression he'd only said that because he'd figured a stupid response would give her an easy 'out' to this whole thing. And again, she was astounded to find not only that Zelos had been serious about letting her see the real him, but that he struggled with some pretty strong insecurities about himself. He was still trying to hide them, maybe intentionally, maybe not, but now that she knew what to look for, the truth was easy to spot. In the past, she would have smacked him for making a comment like that, and he probably expected her to do so now -- but she could see it in his eyes: he truly wasn't sure why she'd always smacked him before, whether it was because of his attitude or because she didn't see him like that and was expressing her disagreement with his assessment through physical violence.
Well, that much she could clear up for him. "Idiot," she muttered, but then she sighed, her face growing even warmer. She was reluctant to say this, because saying things like this was still weird, but Zelos needed to hear this, shockingly enough, and so he would. "But actually...yeah, you are."
To her relief, Zelos didn't respond with a stupid, cocky, "Hoo, yeah, Sheena thinks I'm sexy!" comment. Instead, he just looked at her, his eyebrows rising in obvious surprise, and then offered her a pleased smile. "Then that's all I need to hear. Until you're ready -- if you're ever ready -- I'll wait patiently. Because when you are ready, Sheena...it'll be worth it."
Oh, Zelos. Sheena didn't have the heart to tell him the likelihood of that ever happening, short of her being released from her obligation to become Mizuho's chief or her saying "Screw this" to Mizuho, was slim to none, so she didn't. The simple fact that he was doing this at all meant the world to her. Sure, she had no guarantee he wouldn't go back on his promise, because words really were one thing and actions were another, but she believed him, that his heart truly was in the right place.
Right or wrong, smart or stupid, she was trusting him far more than she'd dreamed possible; his willingness to do things like this for her was making her fall dangerously hard for him. She shouldn't be letting that happen, but she couldn't help it. She wanted to give him her heart. She wanted to ignore the problems that awaited them if their relationship continued and embrace and nurture this love growing within her for him. She wanted to hear him laugh and make him happy again; she wanted to love him and be loved by him in return. And she would.
Climbing onto her knees, Sheena crawled forward and straddled his legs, his blue eyes widening and his hands gently going to her waist to steady her. Once settled, she gently cupped his face and gave him a long, slow, tender kiss before pulling back and quirking an eyebrow at him. "Is that okay?"
The stunned awe on his face made her smile, and after a moment he grinned and lightly touched her cheek. "Definitely. You can do that anytime you want."
Her smile broadened, and she gave him another quick kiss before wrapping her arms around him. Zelos immediately returned the hug, burying his face against her neck, his breath warm against her skin, sending shivers down her spine. "That's probably the sweetest, most selfless thing anyone's ever done for me," she murmured, holding him tightly to her. "Thank you, Zelos. I know that's not easy for you, but I really do appreciate it."
He was still smiling when she finally pulled away again, and he gently brushed her hair back behind her shoulders. "As much as I may want you, Sheena -- because any heterosexual male with decent eyesight and normal hormone levels would -- I know you can't, and the truth is, I want you to trust me and feel safe with me even more than I want that. If I have to sacrifice sex to make that happen, I will."
Then that mission, too, is accomplished, Zelos, because I do. Oh, how I do. Sheena swallowed hard and bit her lip, then she gave him a soft, shy smile. "I love you, Zelos."
His smile broadened into a happy grin, his eyes shining with unbridled love. "I will never tire of hearing that." He pressed another kiss to her lips. "I love you, too, Sheena."
He wasn't the only one who loved hearing those words. In fact, those words, especially when coupled with such tenderness and certainty, made her want to forget about Mizuho and run away with him to Martel only knew where so reality could never disrupt this beauty. Squeezing her eyes shut, Sheena gave him another hug, just enjoying feeling so safe, warm, and loved in his arms. It amazed her how much more comfortable she already felt with this whole thing than she had mere hours ago. Being there with him, the infamous, perverted, idiotic Zelos Wilder, was still a little too weird and new for her to fully accept yet, but she was getting there. And she liked it, a lot. This whole thing, this whole night...it felt right, and that rightness was slowly but surely wearing down her remaining fears and defenses. And oh, was she glad it was, because she wanted to enjoy this lovely, hopeful moment with him -- and considering how stubbornly Zelos had fought to overcome every obstacle that had arisen tonight, he did, too.
For a moment, they just sat there, enjoying the warm, loving embrace, but finally his hands slid down to her waist and, taking the hint, she pulled back to see his face again. "So now that we've cleared that up, if I ask you again to take off your robe and lie down on your stomach, would you trust me enough not to molest you to do so?" he asked, his eyebrows rising.
Sheena considered that a moment -- it still sounded dangerous, especially now that she thought she knew what he had in mind -- but she quickly reminded herself that he'd never be able to prove his good intentions unless she let him, and this was a good opportunity to do that. Taking a deep breath, she nodded. "Okay. I'd still like to know exactly what you're planning, but...."
"You'll figure it out," he said, grinning as she climbed off of him and began untying her robe, forcing herself to keep going even when embarrassment threatened to still her hands. Zelos watched her a moment -- but then, to her surprise, he politely averted his eyes and began pulling off his gloves. "Trust me, sweetheart, you're going to love this."
Biting her lip, she watched him toss his gloves aside before turning around and slipping off her robe, thankful for the shirt left underneath. She then knelt on the ground, bunched up the robe, and laid down on her stomach, her arms clutching the robe like a pillow. She could hear Zelos shift closer to her...and her suspicions were confirmed the second his warm fingers touched her back, so lightly, so gently, that it made her gasp. Yep, this was why his suggestion had set off her mental alarms, not only because it meant he'd be touching her, something easy to take advantage of, but because his hands felt so good that she suspected her ability to resist him would have been decimated. Now, though, she thought she could actually relax and enjoy this without worrying he'd get any ideas...and a moment later she gasped again as he began working on a knot in her upper back. Yeah, she would enjoy this. Zelos knew what he was doing...and oh, did it feel good. And then, without warning, it felt a thousand times better as a strange tingling sensation traveled through her...oh, Martel, that felt heavenly. Sheena tried to bite back her moan but failed -- miserably.
The idiot had the gall to snicker. His hands stilled and he leaned down closer to her face. "Careful, love, or I'll have to stop."
...And there was no way she could allow that. "If you do that, I will have to kill you, you know," she muttered, an eye popping open to look at him.
He smirked. "You do realize how much I want to do inappropriate things to you right now, don't you?"
Sheena arched a challenging eyebrow at him. "And what you're doing to me right now isn't?"
"I guess that depends on your definition of 'inappropriate,'" he said, chuckling. "But if you insist this is, then I guess I'm done here, eh?"
...Yep, she was going to kill him. "That's not funny. If I'm not allowed to tease you, then you aren't allowed to tease me, either."
His eyebrows rose. "So do you want me to continue or not?"
Ugh, she really was dating an idiot. He had offered to do this for her, and now, when she'd realized how much she liked it, he was threatening to quit? It was too bad she loved him too much to actually kill him. "What do you think?"
An infuriating sparkle lit his eyes as he moved his lips to her ear. "I think I would very much like to continue, but only if I can rest assured my girlfriend won't tempt me to do inappropriate things to her by making any more dangerous sounds. Believe me, babe, moans like those are music to my ears, but they're also an overly effective resolve killer."
Instantly, her eyes widened and her face flared. "O...oh." She gave him an awkward smile. So that was what this was about. Heh. And here she'd thought he was just being difficult. She just wasn't used to anyone being sincerely...turned on...by her like this yet. "S...sorry. I didn't mean to. It just felt...incredible."
"Yeah, I know," he said, still grinning as he resumed his earlier position and began working on her back again. "It would be better with oil, but eh, I've done without before -- and you're definitely not the first woman who's told me how good it feels."
...Yeah, she'd suspected as much. He wouldn't be so good at this if he hadn't practiced before -- even if the reminder of how many women he'd dated before her made her heart sink a little. But still...Colette had given her a backrub once after a particularly strenuous battle, and it had felt nice, but nothing like this. Zelos had to be doing more than just kneading her back. "What...what is that?" she said, struggling not to make any more suggestive sounds. The warmth and tingling was slowly spreading from her back through the rest of her body. "That's more than just a massage, isn't it?"
"Heh," he said, and she could just hear the grin in his voice. "That would be my little secret."
Sheena's brows furrowed and she closed her eyes, concentrating on the incredible sensations. It actually felt somewhat familiar, but she knew she'd never let him do this to her before, so where...? Without warning, her eyes flew open. "Are you...oh, Martel...are you using healing stream on me?"
"A mild form of it, yep," he said. "It makes up for the lack of oil. Although apparently the oil in addition to the spell makes it completely irresistible."
Now that she'd believe. One day she'd have to ask him to give her a massage with both. She chuckled, her eyes sliding shut again. "I guess your little secret isn't so secret anymore, is it?"
"Yeah, well, that's because this isn't the first time I've used it on you." His left hand lifted from her, and she opened an eye in time to see him point at her. "Just no telling my hunnies that."
"I wouldn't dream of it...but why not?" she asked, turning her head so she could see him, but his only response was a soft, "Heh." She closed her eyes again, reveling in the sensations, but he'd piqued her curiosity now. "Zelos?"
He was silent another moment before answering. "Let's just say this was my way of tricking my hunnies into thinking we'd done more than just fool around a little on a date. Or, if they were still conscious afterwards, leave them not caring if we didn't do anything else."
Her eyes popped open again, and she propped her head up to look at him. "Are you serious? All you did was give them a back rub and they thought you'd actually had sex?"
His eyebrows flew upward. "Give me another minute and see if you still doubt me."
Sheena eyed him a moment warily, but then she laid back down again as he resumed his work. "Well, I can't deny you're really good at this, but...oh, Martel that feels incredible...."
"This would be another one of my many odd talents, love," he said, chuckling.
His fingers trailed down her spine, still casting that spell, and finally she understood why his hunnies bought it -- because the combination of his gentle, kneading and that spell really did feel...well, it felt extremely sexual. Another moan snuck out of her, and she quickly bit her tongue. Whoops. Gotta distract him or he'll quit. "Keep this up and I'll hire you as my personal masseuse."
"Hire me?" He bent down to whisper in her ear. "Just for you, sweetheart, I'll do this for free."
A knot of desire was slowly building within her at the huskiness of his voice, but she ignored it, instead giving him a wry grin. "Yeah, right. Nothing is ever completely free with you."
Zelos smirked and cocked his head in acknowledgement. "Okay, so you might have a point there. But believe me, babe, I'm getting just as much enjoyment from this as you are."
She was tempted to roll her eyes at that, but the smile was far more powerful. "Yeah, I bet you are. But right now...I really don't care. That just feels..." don't moan, don't moan, don't moan "...oh, that feels good. Just...keep doing that for awhile, okay?"
He chuckled again, then kissed her cheek. "Of course. Glad I can please you, my lady."
Silence settled upon them then. Sheena wasn't sure how long he kept working his magic on her back, ironing out all the knots and relaxing her beyond anything she'd ever felt before, but eventually everything became a fuzzy blur of pleasure. No wonder his hunnies had bought it and then felt so possessive of him; Zelos really was incredible at this. It was, by far, one of the best things she'd ever felt.
Her mind was drifting, lost in utter bliss, when his warm breath suddenly grazed her ear and he whispered, "Wake up, sweetheart."
...Oh. He'd stopped. Wait, why had he stopped? "'M not asleep...." she mumbled, one eye slowly prying open, only to quickly slide shut again.
"Yeah, sure, you're not," he said, resting a hand on her back. "Keep staying 'not asleep' like this much longer and I'll have to carry you back to Meltokio myself. Not that I'd ever complain about that, mind you...."
...What? Back to Meltokio? It couldn't be that late, could it? Or had she really fallen asleep? She wasn't sure, although the sky was definitely darker now than she remembered it being earlier. But she really didn't want to get up; after such a stressful day, she finally felt relaxed again. "You're just looking for an excuse to grope the rest of me."
He chuckled. "Guilty as charged." He sat up, rubbing a few light circles on her back. "C'mon, get up. You need to see this."
Ugh, get up? How could she when she was so content and...boneless...that even thinking was a chore? "Don't wanna."
He sighed showily. "Sheeeennnnnaaaa...don't make me beg. Or threaten to never do this again for fear I'll put my date to sleep again."
...Neither of which was an acceptable option. His begging was downright obnoxious ("Please? Please, please, please, please, please, please, please?"), and the thought of him refusing to ever do this for her again reignited murderous thoughts in her mind. "Then tell me what you want me to see."
"Nope!" he replied, way too cheerfully. "Sorry, love, not telling. You have to see this for yourself." Ugh, how could he be so chipper while the very thought of moving made her want to beat something up? Oh, right, he hadn't had to deal with Minister Giannovio all day. She growled warningly, and he sighed. "Just get up, sweetheart. Please?"
Agh, he wasn't giving up, was he? All right, fine, she gave up. He had asked nicely, after all...and after the beautiful night they'd had, she didn't feel like arguing with him. Besides, she shouldn't be falling asleep so far away from Meltokio anyway. But man, that had felt good -- and the best part was knowing Zelos really hadn't tried anything inappropriate with her. He'd meant it about not pressuring her for sex, hadn't he? If he hadn't, this would have been the perfect opportunity for him to try to seduce her, but he hadn't -- and oh, was she grateful for it. If his goal really was to make her feel safe with him, then he'd achieved it.
And because he'd proven he was willing to make sacrifices for her, she would do the same for him now. With a groan, Sheena pushed herself up and rubbed her face blearily, then she sighed and opened her eyes...and gasped. Out over the ocean, the sun was sinking into the water, setting the rippling ocean waves ablaze with a sparkling mixture of orange, pink, and purple that mirrored the sky above, while above that, a full, luminescent moon was slowly rising through the trees, the first of the diamond-like stars poking out amongst the darkening blue sky. It was, without a doubt, themost beautiful sunset she'd ever seen, almost like a fairytale or an incredible watercolor painting.
Any annoyance she still felt at his insistence she get up was now gone, and she looked back at him where he'd retreated to his 'backrest' tree, her face lighting with an awestruck smile and her heart melting. Giving her a soft, knowing, 'I told you so' grin, he patted the ground in front of him, between his legs, indicating she should sit there. Her gut reaction, which still hadn't caught up to this new reality between them, told her no, absolutely not, that sitting there like that would be far too intimate -- but her mind quickly reminded her not only of his earlier promise, but that so far tonight he'd given her no reason to doubt him and every reason to believe he'd behave. He really had earned her trust tonight.
Despite that, she still must have hesitated a little too long for his face fell and he lifted his hands. "Hands to myself. Promise."
Sheena took another deep breath, then she smiled and, opting to leave her robe off a little longer, crawled over to him. Once she was comfortably settled between his outstretched, bent, Zelos wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back against him, keeping his hands in a safe location over her stomach. She relaxed into his cocooning embrace, letting her head fall back into the crook of his neck and covering his arms with her own. Her smile broadened as he pressed a kiss to her cheek that sent pleasurable shivers through her, his lips lingering there and his breath warm against her skin, and she let her head rest lightly against his. Martel, she felt so warm, so safe, so loved. And this view...no wonder he'd moved their picnic site over here if he'd suspected they would get something like this tonight. Idiot or not, the man really did think of everything, didn't he?
"It's beautiful," she said.
Zelos nuzzled his nose against her cheek, his lips grazing her skin and sending incredible fire racing through her. "Would you believe me if I say, in my eyes, it doesn't hold a candle against you?" he whispered in her ear. "Or are you going to argue that point again?"
Warmth flooded her cheeks, and Sheena shifted, careful not to loosen his embrace, so she could see his face...and the softness and sincerity in his eyes took her breath away. To him, she was even more beautiful than this sunset. She was still astounded that someone like him who'd lived around physical beauty his entire life could find anything beautiful in a rough, unsophisticated country girl like her, but he really did mean that. She could see it -- and she was positive it wasn't just wishful thinking.
Tears pricked her eyes, and she smiled shyly and shook her head. Zelos returned her smile and pressed his cheek to her forehead, but she needed more than that. Pulling back just enough that her lips could reach his, she reached up to touch his face, wove her fingers through his silky red hair, and drew his head down to hers so she could kiss him again, slowly and softly...and oh, Martel, his body pressing so intimately against hers and his fingers trailing up her bare arms to cup her face with such reverence filled her with incredible warmth and made her heart swell. When the kiss finally ended, she pulled back and lifted her eyes to his. "I love you, Zelos," she whispered.
His smile softened as his fingers trailed, feather-light, back down to her arms. "I love you too, Sheena."
Her blush deepened as she watched him another moment, but then she leaned forward, resting her forehead briefly against his, and then shifted around to see the gorgeous sunset again, reveling in his arms slipping back around her waist, holding her to him. She couldn't remember ever feeling this happy before -- and she suddenly wanted him to know that. "You know, weird stalker issues aside, I really had a good time tonight."
She felt him smile as her head fell back against his neck again, his grasp on her tightening. "Me, too. I now have infinitely better memories of this place than I did before."
Good. She would hate to be the only one who would always remember this place with such fondness. "I have some really good memories it now, too," she whispered. These were memories she knew she'd cherish the rest of her life, even if this relationship ended in a fiery, horrible wreck tomorrow. "And...is it just me, or is this whole thing between us feeling more...comfortable...already? You know, not quite as...weird...as it was a few days ago?"
"Nope, not just you; I was thinking that, too," Zelos said. "I don't think I've ever enjoyed a date this much, actually. It was nice to not have a woman constantly pouncing on me, trying to get me out of my clothes. I wasn't expecting this level of comfort to happen this quickly, but I'm certainly not complaining."
"Me, neither." And she already knew she never would.
"Glad we're on the same page with this." He let out a soft laugh. "Y'know, I never thought my Plan B would be better than my Plan A, but I'm pretty sure this was. Maybe it's a good thing the king did delay you tonight."
"Maybe," she acknowledged with a smile. And speaking of the king.... "And while I'm thinking about it...thanks again for putting so many of my concerns to rest about the king and Minister Giannovio."
He rested his head against hers. "You're welcome. I'm just glad I could help. Maybe I can help you out even more tomorrow."
"I hope so." Oh, how she hoped so. "But traveling together again wouldn't be so bad, either."
"No, it wouldn't," he murmured. "We'll just have to see how tomorrow goes and, until then, enjoy the moment. There's no use worrying about something you can't change. Whatever will be, will be."
"Yeah...you're right." She released a soft sigh, snuggling further into his arms, trying to hold onto this beauty forever. 'Forever' might not be possible for them, but maybe they could continue this moment another night. Because like it or not, their relationship had survived one date without falling apart, and that meant a repeat was possible. "We'll have to do this again sometime."
"Definitely," he whispered, giving her another tender squeeze. "I'm looking forward to it already."
She leaned her head against his. "I know some nice spots near Mizuho. The lake would be great for this."
Zelos smiled and pressed another kiss to her cheek. "Sounds perfect. It's a date."
Sheena closed her eyes, savoring the moment, as silence finally settled upon them. Part of her felt guilty for setting up another date with him instead of breaking this off like she should be doing, but weakness and the part of her that was completely entranced by this beauty wouldn't let her. The future may be an unknown, shrouded in thick, impenetrable fog, but deep down she knew what lay behind those clouds: heartache and a messy breakup. 'They' simply couldn't last. For awhile, maybe, but not permanently. She knew it, and even though Zelos hadn't said as much, she knew he did, too. One day she would become Mizuho's chief, and when that day came, he would have no part in that life. There was no place for him in that future. The lifestyle would never suit him, and Mizuho would never accept him in such an important role, anyway. And the sooner she ended this, before these feelings could grow any stronger than they already had, the easier and less painful it would be for them both.
Right now, though, being held so lovingly, so protectively in his arms, Sheena couldn't even consider that. Her heart had fallen for him, and it refused to let her give this up yet. She'd never felt anything like this before; she'd never believed herself capable of feeling anything like this before. She loved it. She loved him. How could she walk away from that? She couldn't. He was her first love, something so much more powerful, fulfilling, and real than any crush she'd had before. She wanted to see where this went and continue experiencing this love; she wanted to get to know the realZelos better and getmore opportunities like this to smile and laugh and have fun with him. No, right now, she couldn't walk away from this even if she wanted to -- and she definitely didn't want to.
All she could do, she supposed, was have faith that everything would work itself out eventually. She had to believe fate would end this relationship as it was supposed to, preferably in a way that left them with a strong friendship intact. One day soon, when the newness and excitement wore off, their different, probably incompatible personalities would shine through their efforts to be on their best behavior, and once they started seeing each other as the flawed human beings they were, they'd probably start bickering and fighting again, like they always used to. And when that happened, she would finally have a legitimate reason to break it off with him -- one he would hopefully agree with.
But until that happened, she wanted to enjoy this beautiful, unexpected ride while it lasted. She would let fate do its thing. She would use this experience to learn what real love was. Maybe Zelos would teach her a few other things, too, like how to have fun with life, and maybe she could help him learn some things, too, like that it really was okay for him to be himself with others. The messy breakup awaiting them if fate didn't take care of things scared her, but the thought of ending this relationship and, in the process, hurting them both was even worse. She loved him too much to do that to him, especially after everything he'd now done for her. This love was a gift for some as-of-yet unknown reason, she wanted to believe -- Zelos hadn't meant for her to fall for him, after all, and she hadn't meant for him to fall for her, either -- and refusing that gift without seeing its purpose first would be premature and ungrateful to whomever it was who'd given it to them.
Maybe fate was trying to tell them something they couldn't see yet. Maybe something unexpected awaited them behind those clouds; maybe she wouldn't become chief, or maybe one of them would, Martel forbid, be killed before it could become an issue...anything was possible. And that knowledge, too, that everything could still change, was another reason why she couldn't end this. She would never forgive herself for burning such a beautiful bridge if the future did bring her something different than she expected. The minute her grandfather told her she had to become chief, though...well, then she would know her time was up, and if their relationship hadn't ended by then, she'd have to do it herself. But she would cross that bridge when and if she came to it. Besides, Zelos was smart enough to realize he'd be miserable in Mizuho, so if hewas still willing to give this relationship a shot, shouldn't she do the same?
They were standing at the same crossroads where they'd once stood six years ago, with two directions to choose from. One was the road Zelos had forced them to walk the last time, by ending their relationship before it reached a devastatingly painful conclusion. The other road, the one shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, would most likely lead them to the same heartache of a love cut short, but the journey itself to get there...well, judging from tonight, it might just be worth the risk. Zelos had made this decision for them the last time, one they'd both hated but that had eventually brought them right back to this spot; this time the decision was hers. And now she'd made her choice: she would pursue that unknown but potentially amazing road. It may still prove to be devastatingly painful, but she wasn't going to run away this time. She wanted to experience this journey with him, to see where it went and to admire the view along the way. One time letting fear prevent them from walking this road was one time too many.
No, this time she was choosing that other road. It would hurt like hell when it ended, and one day she would probably regret this choice, but right now, Sheena just didn't care. She wanted to see something new this time and enjoy life, and she knew she could do that with Zelos because now that he could finally live his life, he wanted to do the same. She wanted this to last. She wanted to be held in his arms, to sink into his kiss, to touch him and hold him and love him and be touched, held, and loved by him in return. That shrouded, mysterious future was just too far away to worry about yet. Right now, only the present mattered. Whatever will be, will be.
And with that decided, Sheena sank into his warm, protective embrace, determined to not only enjoy this beautiful moment and make many more memories like these while walking this new road together, but to make sure Zelos enjoyed it just as much as she did for as long as their journey might last.
And that was exactly what she was going to do.
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