smb814: (TOS Zelos Wall)
[personal profile] smb814

After being away for a little over three weeks, Zelos was glad to finally be home again, even if, an hour after his return, he was having trouble figuring out what he should be doing beyond merely mulling about his bedroom, unpacking and settling back in. The trip had been great; it had been wonderful to finally spend time with Seles now that she could leave the abbey -- and the delight on her face when he'd told her that had made his year even more than eliminating Cruxis and all need for a Chosen had -- and, thankfully, their understanding with each other had grown significantly. He still wasn't always sure how to act around her, but to his relief, she seemed to feel the same around him. Patching everything up between them would take far more than just three weeks, but he was pleased with the start they'd made. In fact, he'd even promised to drop in on her in a few days to say 'hi,' and he was already planning on getting her out of the abbey permanently and into a new home -- maybe even his mansion so he could look after her, at least until he found her a place of her own.

Still searching for something to do, his gaze landed on the stack of notes and maps detailing his findings on the worlds' joining that were sitting on his desk waiting to be catalogued, and he quickly decided -- eh, maybe tomorrow. He needed time to prepare his report to the King anyway, and right then he should just enjoy his ability to have some quiet time to himself again. While Seles was a wonderful, intelligent person, she was also rather high-maintenance at times, and their vacation hadn't been entirely tension-free while they'd started ironing out the kinks in their relationship. Not, of course, that she'd probably found him to be much better than he'd found her. At least now they had all the time in the world to work on that.

Finally deciding on taking a nap until dinner, which was only an hour or so away, Zelos had just flopped down on his much-missed, beloved bed when a distant knock sounded on the mansion's front door. His eyes flew open as he listened to Sebastian open the door and speak with the person, definitely a, damn, he thought he'd snuck back into Meltokio without his hunnies noticing. He groaned and covered his eyes with his arm. At least Sebastian would know not to...crap, he'd forgotten to tell Sebastian not to let anyone know he was back yet. He just hadn't had his regular back-home chat with his butler yet to find out how everything was going because Sebastian had immediately excused himself upon Zelos's return to start making dinner. So much for taking that nap.

Zelos sighed, resigning himself to waiting for the inevitable call summoning him to greet his visitor. At least after three weeks, the mask was back; not only could he easily summon it again, but his mood hadn't suffered any more lapses like the one that night at the party. On the bright side, good had come from that night anyway and he'd managed to knock one major thing off his to-do list, something he suspected he would've procrastinated doing for the rest of his life if the opportunity hadn't arisen when it had. At least, he hoped good had come from it. That seemed to be the case when he'd found Sheena asleep on his couch when he'd returned from the bridge, but then, without talking to her, he wasn't sure how good that had really been, and he was afraid to get his hopes up too high. Why had she been there, really? To smack him again? Or maybe just to verify that what he'd said was true?

He buried his face in his hands and groaned. He never should have left so much unfinished business hanging between them for so long, but he'd just been so flustered at everything he'd told her -- how had she gotten him to let down his guard with her that much, anyway? He'd never been that forthcoming with anyone before, and he'd certainly never planned to tell her all of that -- that he wasn't sure he could have handled it at the time if she had rejected him for good. He'd been too emotionally vulnerable in too many ways that night to take that risk. And he really had started arranging his trip with Seles before he'd discovered her in his mansion, so he hadn't lied about that. But even now, after all that time had passed, Zelos still had no idea how to act toward her anymore. He knew he'd have to see her eventually, and he truly wanted to see her, but...the thought of doing so scared the hell out of him.

He'd said too much. He should have left their conversation as it was; he never should have succumbed to the impulse to speak those final, damning words to her, even if they were true. That single sentence had changed everything between them, forever. Sheena might not be the sharpest woman in the world -- he still couldn't believe she hadn't figured out Regal's identity even after all the not-so-subtle hints -- but she was certainly smart enough to put that together, and her shocked expression when he'd seen her in the ballroom right before he'd left had confirmed that she had. It was too late now, though; he could never take those words back. He'd had an especially weak moment resulting from being the recipient of her beautiful, sincere smile, the one he'd never let himself hope to see but that was now permanently burned in his mind, and it had seared all sense of logic and let his heart run rampant. And while he tried to ease his nervousness by repeating his mantra, "Whatever will be, will be," he also thought he should be developing a contingency plan in case he had to enforce some serious damage control over that colossal slip. It was just unfortunate that traveling with Seles hadn't helped him develop any good solutions -- probably because, also permanently etched in his mind, was his memory of Sheena's peacefully sleeping form resting securely in his arms as he'd carried her up the stairs to a spare bedroom. Too bad all the times Seles had kicked him for daydreaming hadn't kicked that particular memory right on out of him.

Damn it, why did Sheena have to be such a kind, understanding, lovely woman? Why couldn't she have gone on hitting him, calling him names, and refusing to believe in an idiotic Chosen like him instead of making him fall for her all over again as she had? That, he realized, was how she'd gotten him to let his guard down so much: by refusing to leave even when he'd tried to push her away, and then by pressing until he'd given in. She'd detected his moment of weakness and had gone straight for the jugular. Life would be so much easier and less confusing if he'd never met her -- although that would mean sacrificing some of the only truly good moments he'd ever had in life....

His eyes few open as Sebastian knocked on his door and pushed it open. Oh, damn, he'd forgotten about his 'visitor.' "Master Zelos, a woman is here to see you."

Ugh. Whatever happened to having time to one's self without some fan girls insisting on fawning over you? Man, he never thought he'd be thinking this, but sometimes it really sucked to be irresistible to women. He really hoped that would change once that damned title was removed for good. "Tell her I'm busy and will stop by to see her later."

"I do not believe you wish to do that."

...Huh? Since when did Sebastian make assumptions like that? Zelos made a mental note to talk to him about that later. "Sorry, Sebastian, but I believe I do." His eyes popped open. "Why? It's not Seles, is it?"

"It is not."

He closed his eyes and threw his arm across his face again. "Didn't think so."

"Rather, it is Miss Sheena Fujibayashi."

Oh, crap. Oh...crap. Zelos bolted upright, his eyes wide as he stared at his butler. No. He hadn't just heard that correctly. "Tell me you're joking."

"I would never do such a thing, sir," Sebastian replied. "She has been here every day since you left, always at this time, waiting for your return."

"She what?!" Oh, crap. "You didn't mention that when I got home!"

"I have not had an opportunity to do so yet, sir. She informed me that you gave her permission to stop by under any circumstances."

"Yeah, I know what I told her," he mumbled. This was so not happening. He'd only been home for an hour, for crying out loud! Go away for three weeks and the entire world changed on you. "I just didn't actually expect her to."

"She seems quite intent on speaking with you."

"Apparently." Zelos sat quietly on his bed for a minute, his mind racing and stomach churning nervously. Crap, crap, crap. He wasn't ready for this conversation yet. Sheena would skin him alive, and he didn't know how to act toward her or what to say to her anymore. And if she'd been here every day, looking for him...her persistence was astounding. And very, very frightening.

"You do realize that the longer you make her wait, the more likely you will be to upset her, sir."

Zelos bit back a groan. He'd done something to make Sebastian hate him, apparently. The damned butler, the closest thing he had to a father, was sending him to his death. Pushing him toward it, in fact. Was Sheena threatening him and so now he was returning the favor? Because he'd had to entertain the banshee for three weeks? It had to be, because wouldn't Sebastian have warned him to be expecting her before this otherwise?


Oh, right. "Yeah. Um, tell her I'll be down in a minute." Zelos waited until Sebastian had bowed his head and left before he finally stood, his voice lowering to a mumble. "Too bad all my shields are being cleaned and polished right now. I'll probably need one to deflect the never-ending barrage of punches I'll be subjected to by a crazed, bloodthirsty banshee."

He quickly peeked into the mirror and fixed his hair, then, once satisfied, he took a deep breath, fighting to calm his nerves. He had no reason to be nervous, right? This was just Sheena. He'd say something stupid, she'd get pissed at him, smack him a few times, and leave. That was the standard routine between them. Just pretend everything is normal, he told himself. You have the mask back, so use it.

Right. He could do this. He always had before; he could now, too. Sliding the mask on, Zelos plastered the typical, cocky, self-assured grin on his face and headed out the door.

She was standing downstairs at the window, watching the street, her face blank and unreadable. His heart skipped a beat -- damn, he had missed seeing her every day -- and he fought back another wave of nervousness as he again floundered for what to say. Damn it, he should not feel like a teenage boy going out on his first date with a gorgeous girl he'd been crushing on for years...but he did. And it was his own damned fault for letting that conversation get so far out of hand and for letting himself get so caught up in the moment and in her atypical willingness to listen and push past his defenses that he'd spilled countless secrets he'd never intended anyone to know. Now, for the very first time, he was meeting someone who had seen the real him. And not just any 'someone' -- her.

No wonder this was scaring the hell out of him.

She still hadn't noticed him, or if she had, she wasn't acknowledging it, for she never turned toward him, not even when he reached the top step -- and without seeing her face, Zelos still couldn't gauge the reaction he would get from her. Yknow, you're not helping me decide what route to take with you right now, Sheena, he silently told her. Should he act as if that night had never happened? He was undoubtedly hoping against hope that she'd ever feel even remotely the same for him as she now knew he felt for her, especially when he didn't deserve it, so acting nonchalant would probably be the most likely option to keep his sanity intact.

Okay, fine. The mask it was. He could adjust if necessary. Really. "Well, well! If it isn't my voluptuous ninja hunny here to welcome me back. I knew you couldn't stay away from my beautiful visage and masculine sexiness for too long. Good to see you again too, hun!" Sheena finally turned from the window and eyed him closely as he descended the stairs, but he could see it brewing in her eyes: the anger he'd expected. His heart plummeted, even as his grin broadened. She watched him until he reached the first floor, quickly -- and visibly -- reaching critical level, before, swift as a fox, she sprang forward, grabbed his arms, slammed him against the wall, and pinned him there. "Whoa!" he exclaimed. "I was expecting a hug, not that."

"Hunny?!" she seethed. "After everything you did, you still have the gall to lump me in with all your floozies?"

His eyes widened further and his grin faded as he looked down at her face, mere inches from his own, and swallowed nervously. "Note to self: Sheena really doesn't like being called 'hunny,'" he murmured. "Um...Beloved Banshee?"

Her eyes narrowed, her hands tightened painfully on his arms, and suddenly Zelos was starting to fear for his life. "You're going to want to rethink that very, very carefully."

From the corner of his eye, he noted Sebastian standing in the kitchen doorway, watching with what Zelos couldn't believe was a smirk on his face. "Addendum to earlier note: she hates 'banshee,' too," he said to himself before giving her a timid but hopeful smile. "Um...babe?"

She was breathing heavily, her brown eyes flaring, and not for the first time, Zelos wondered how someone so much smaller than him could be so very, very strong and intimidating. "Sebastian, can you give us a minute alone, please?" she suddenly asked.

Sebastian bowed his head. "Of course, ma'am."

Panic mode instantly kicked in. "Ah, wait a minute, Sebastian," Zelos said. "You're not going anywhere. If she's going to kill me, I want a witness here to see it."

"Ignore that order, Sebastian," Sheena countered.

"Very well, ma'am."

Zelos's eyes widened further and he gaped at his butler. "I'm telling you, Sebastian, if you leave, I'll cut your pay in half for a month!"

"No, sir, I do not believe you will." His face was expressionless, but Zelos could still see the humor twinkling in his eyes before he turned and left, closing the door behind him.

"Traitor!" Zelos turned his glare to Sheena. "You formed a summons pact with my butler while I was gone, didn't you?" Her eyes narrowed further and her hands gripped his arms even tighter, and he laughed it off nervously. "Never mind, don't answer that." He took a deep breath, his heart pounding, before offering her another awkward smile. "So, ah, Sheena, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

She leaned closer...and damn, he shouldn't be enjoying this so much, feeling her body press against his, when she was seconds away from killing him. He always had, though, which would explain all the fist-shaped bruises on his face while keeping her at arm's length when he should have just left her alone completely. "Tell the Chosen One to go take another mental holiday," she demanded.

Instantly, his smile vanished. Uh oh. Not good. Warning bells were ringing in his head. "Y'know, babe, that guy really does have a mind of his own. I mean, you make it sound so easy, like I can just push a button and poof! Chosen persona on, Chosen persona off, but...."

"Make it be that easy," she cut him off. "I want to talk to Zelos, not the Idiot Chosen."

Oh, crap. "Sheena...."

"No. If I don't get to talk to the real Zelos Wilder in the next thirty seconds, I'm walking out this door and never looking back."

Zelos met her gaze for a long moment, his heart racing. She was serious. He doubted his poor, beat-up heart could handle it, letting his real self face the rejection he was now sure was coming based on the anger and frustration she was displaying toward him, but he also realized she would follow through on that threat unless he complied. And he...he couldn't have that, either. He would go lick his wounds later, alone, as he always did, but to have her write him off completely...damn, he should've kept his big mouth shut that night. He didn't really regret it, and actually, it had felt pretty good at the time to share all that crap with someone who wasn't judging him, but had apparently doomed him to a life of misery.

"You're an evil, evil woman," he said, then he sighed, closed his eyes, and nodded. A little incentive -- or, in this case, a lot -- was a powerful thing. "Fine. Done."

He opened his eyes as she relaxed her grasp on his arms, relieved to see her face soften a little. Her intense gaze, though, searching his face, was still nerve-wracking enough to keep him on edge and make his gut twist. "I'm only going to ask this once, Zelos," she said. "What you said that night at the party...was it true?"

Nervousness got the better of him, and with an overly cheerful laugh, the words burst out of him before he could think them through. "Of course it's...." Zelos finally caught himself before he could deny everything with the word 'not' when he saw her face sink in disappointment. That was when it hit him: this was it, the moment of truth. He couldn't go back after this. Whatever he said right now would make or break everything. If he denied it all, she would swear him off as an idiot, and he would completely undo his apology to her. Even if she felt nothing for him, she would never forgive him for pulling such a huge lie over her, even if this would be the actual lie, and she would certainly never trust him again. He didn't want that, either, because now that he could live his life how he wanted to, he still wanted her to be a part of it somehow, even if only as distant friends and bickering partners. And before he could change his mind, he closed his eyes, bolstering his nerves, then opened them and met her gaze, decision made. "Of course it's true."

Sheena swallowed hard, still searching his face, but for what he couldn't tell yet. "All of it?"

Zelos nodded. He had already damned himself that night by being so honest; might as well seal the deal. "Every word."

Not feeling confident or strong enough to see her reaction, he looked away uncomfortably. It felt like he had just signed his life away, and now he could only wait for the inevitable hysterical laughter and firm rejection. What he received, however, was definitely not what he expected.

Without warning, Sheena lifted herself up on her toes and kissed him, catching him completely by surprise. With one hand she grasped his neck, holding his head to hers, and he quickly pushed aside his shock that Sheena was voluntarily kissing him and sank into it, kissing her back, overwhelmed by her passion. His arm, now freed, immediately lifted so he could cup her face, holding her to him, his thumb playing over her cheek. From her hesitation and uncertainty, she was obviously inexperienced when it came to kissing, but that didn't stop him from feeling lightheaded and giddy, like his heart was about to burst, as he savored the taste of her mouth and felt her soft, warm lips pressed to his, nipping them...oh, sweet Martel, he was addicted already and never wanted this to end....

Upon hearing her moan softly into his mouth, though, and realizing how much he craved hearing that sound again and again, Zelos suddenly regained his senses, recognizing exactly what was happening. As much as he wanted to keep kissing her forever and it killed him to realize the truth about this, he couldn't accept it, either. "Mmm...Sheena, stop," he mumbled against her lips, then forced himself away from her with a low groan, already missing the warm, incredible sensations she'd sent racing through him. "Wow." Zelos cleared his throat and breathed in deeply, barely able to believe he'd just stopped her -- and clearly she couldn't believe it either, for she just watched him with stunned brown eyes and licked her lips in a way his brain deciphered as, while immensely alluring and seductive, also decidedly nervous. He waited a moment for his racing heart and mind to slow down enough for him to formulate coherent words, his gaze drifting back to her full, kiss-swollen lips, wanting only to go back to kissing her. But he couldn't, not yet. "I can't believe I'm saying this, and I suspect I'm going to seriously regret it in a minute, but...I told you already, you don't owe me anything for that."

Her lip tugged upward so cutely, so shyly, as she looked down and released a soft, nervous laugh, her face flushed and her hand drifting down from his neck to rest lightly against his chest, that his resolve not to kiss her again nearly collapsed. "I know. That wasn't because I owed you anything, Zelos."

He blinked at her stupidly, his mind refusing to grasp that. "Then what...?"

"That was because I wanted thank you for trusting me enough to tell me everything you did that night." Sheena met his eyes again, and Zelos let his hands slide down to her hips, holding her to him...not that she was making any effort to leave, much to his mushed-brain's inability to comprehend.

"...Oh." Zelos didn't find himself speechless often, but at that moment he couldn't have responded even if his life depended on it.

She bit her lip...and man, did he want to kiss her again. "I know that wasn't easy for you, and I just...thank you."

He watched her, surprised -- Sheena truly believed him, didn't she? That thought alone was inconceivable -- and his heart skipped a beat again as she smiled softly, shyly, so unlike her normal tough girl self that he felt honored she was showing him this side of her. It was a smile that made him weak in the knees and left him willing to do anything for her, no matter the cost. He may have been burned in the past by insincere, flighty, manipulative, power-hungry women and had told himself he'd never trust anyone again for fear the resulting pain and disappointment would break him, but now, seeing that smile...he was helpless to resist her. He trusted her; wise or not, he couldn't help it. She was Sheena, and he wanted to trust her, just like he'd wanted to trust her that night at the party. While she'd undoubtedly had plenty of opportunities these past three weeks to break his trust and share his secrets with the world, he instinctively knew that she hadn't, a simple fact that spoke volumes about her. Maybe it was worth taking that chance on a woman one last time -- taking a chance on her. Heaven knew how much his heart wanted to.

"Heh. I...well, that's because you're you. I wouldn't have told just anyone all that. But like I said, don't expect me to ever mention or acknowledge it again. Once is all I can manage."

There was a sparkle in her eyes as she held his gaze. "I know. I won't bring it up again unless it's necessary. But if you ever want -- or need -- to talk again...."

He grinned and nodded. "I know who to contact." He paused, watching her closely, rubbing his thumbs lightly over her fine hipbones. "And if you're ever sick of keeping your own secrets to yourself...I'm here for you too, babe. It's the least I can do for you for letting me finally get all that crap off my chest."

Sheena blushed and looked down at his chest again, smiling that cute little touched smile that he adored...the one that, before this, he'd always inevitably had to wipe off her face by being insensitive and hitting on her or making fun of her for fear of letting it go any further than that. Not this time, though. Fighting the habit to respond to her like that felt strange, but he would not do so now. "Th...thanks. Maybe I'll take you up on the offer one day."

"It'll always stand." Zelos arched an eyebrow, his nervousness now dissipated, even if he still wasn't sure where she was going with this yet...and damn, now he really wanted to kiss her senseless. "Okay, now that the time out's over and we've cleared that up, could we maybe go back to, y'know, what we were doing a minute ago...?" She met his eyes again, but instead of kissing him, her face suddenly grew cold. Without warning, she backed away and slugged him, hard, making his head snap to the side. Her sudden turnabout temporarily stunned him, but after a moment, he rubbed his jaw, blinking dazedly. "OW." He turned back to her and looked her over, his eyes narrowing and his jaw dropping as he took in her furious expression. "Y'know, I'm getting whiplash here from all these emotional bank turns, babe. What the hell was that for?!"

Oh, yeah, she was pissed. He knew that look all too well. "What, you're denying you deserved that?"

He considered that a minute, trying to remember what he'd said the instant before she'd slugged him, but he was drawing a blank. All he'd done was ask to go back to a kiss she had initiated that he had interrupted, so she couldn't be ticked about that. And if she was, well, she had a very strange, confusing sense of justice. He wasn't yet ready to revoke all the trust he'd just placed in her, at least not until he knew her reasoning since she might actually have a good reason for this, but man, something like this seriously made him reconsider it. "Well, of course I deserve it, for a lot of reasons, none of which I feel like listing right now, but is there anything in particular this time that resulted in my face becoming target practice for your fist?"

"You really don't know?"

Yep, she was still pissed; clearly she had something in mind worthy of hitting him and it wasn't just a reflex response to any request from him for a kiss. His eyebrows flew upward. "No! I don't! So hurry up and tell me already!"

She nearly growled and shoved him back into the wall. "That was for making me fall in love with you and then running away from me for three weeks without stopping even once to see me in Mizuho while you were traipsing around the world with your sister! You took her everywhere else! I thought you said you were going to stop running!"

Zelos blinked at her again, his brain not catching anything beyond the whole 'Sheena's mad because I didn't stop in to see her' thing. He released an incredulous laugh. "What, you're mad because I didn't drop by Mizuho to say 'hi'?"


Oh, sweet Martel, would he ever understand how her mind worked? He'd spent years trying to comprehend how women thought, and yet he still found their minds impossible to interpret. Just when he thought he'd gotten somewhere, they went and did something like this. No wonder he had so many issues with trusting women. "Well, y'know, babe, I seriously considered doing just that, but in the end I had more reasons not to."

"Such as?" she challenged.

What, she wanted a detailed breakdown of his thought processes? Fine. If that would alleviate this latest bout of anger and get them back to that kiss he'd interrupted, he'd do it. "Well, let's see here. One, Mizuho is hidden for a reason: so no one can find it. I didn't think you'd appreciate my sharing its ultra top secret location with anyone, including my sister, who we both know isn't your biggest fan. Two, I couldn't even find it since nothing's located where you'd expect it to be anymore...although, granted, I didn't look too hard because of all my other reasons. Three, I knew whatever conversation we had would take awhile, and I didn't think you'd want Seles listening to it -- and I seriously doubt she'd want to listen to it, either. Four, I'll have an easier time explaining to the King why Mizuho isn't on my maps when I sincerely don't know where it is anymore. Five, I had some serious doubts that I'd even be able to get into the village past Orochi, your Wonder Bodyguard, to see you. And six, well...I wasn't even sure you wanted to see me again after that last time or if you'd beat me up again like you just...." It clicked. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Back up a minute. Did you just say what I think you said?"

She blinked at him, her anger abating as she clearly tried to remember what she'd said that would make him suddenly act like a kid in a candy store with a thousand gald. Her grip on his arms slackened, and Zelos took the opportunity to grasp her arms, swing her around, and pin her to the wall where she'd just held him, anticipating her upcoming desire to run. Uh uh. He was not letting her go, not now and not ever again, and especially not before she answered this. Her eyes widened at his reversal of their positions, looking like a little girl caught with her hand in the cookie jar, and he could see the instant she realized what he was talking about when she blushed, deeply, and looked away from him. ""

Her blush continued deepening, and Zelos couldn't restrain a giddy grin, his heart pounding faster. "Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't." Sheena briefly met his eyes as his grin broadened smugly, recognizing her lie, before looking away again. Oh, was she cute when she was embarrassed and flustered, especially when caught in a slip that huge. "Okay, maybe I did, but I didn't mean to...."

Now that he believed. He leaned closer, making her hold his gaze, and forced himself to soften his grin. "Did you mean it?"

She fidgeted beneath his hands but, surprisingly, didn't force herself away from him. Zelos had never seen her this red before, and he'd been making her blush for years. "No." His eyebrows rose expectantly -- her uncertainty and especially her inability to meet his eyes as she'd said that made it obvious she was lying through her teeth -- and she sighed. "Yes." He backed off a little, grinning smugly as that confirmation sank in, alleviating his remaining nervousness and making his heart soar. She meant it. The woman he'd never dreamed could stand being anywhere near him had just admitted to that. And oh, was her embarrassment and defensiveness over it adorable. "I mean, you showed me a side of yourself that I'd only ever suspected was there, and...I liked it, okay?"

He had died and gone to heaven -- or maybe this was all just a very, very good dream. Man, he hoped not; he wanted this to be real. He briefly considered asking her to pinch him, only knowing how easily roused her violent tendencies were, he'd undoubtedly regret that so he didn't. "Really? You serious about that?"

Sheena bit her lip and nodded. "I liked it a lot, actually."

Yup, it was official: he was grinning like an idiot. His long-held, 'impossible' fantasy had just come true. Sheena loved him -- him, not the Chosen. Zelos doubted he'd ever recover from this shock -- and he was pretty sure he never wanted to. "Well, who would've thought?"

That wasn't meant to be answered, so she didn't, instead looking down at his chest again as her fingers played over the edges of his Cruxis Crystal, trailing over his skin and sending little tendrils of fire racing through him. "And did you...did you really mean it, that I was the one you regretted pushing away because...?"

He silenced her by kissing her again, that time slow and sensuous, taking his time to show her exactly what he'd meant that night, and he was amazed when he felt her sink into it and kiss him back for all she was worth, showing him how much she meant what she'd just said. It was the best kiss he'd ever experienced, not only because it was her, but because for the first time in his life it felt real, and he wanted to make it the same for her -- and judging from how tightly her hand was clutching his shirt, as if she was afraid her legs would give out beneath her, it was working. Her little moan into his mouth, the one he now wanted to hear every day for the rest of his life, and her other hand tangling in his hair, though, nearly crumpled all his self control. He didn't want this kiss to end, ever, but he needed to say this while he had the courage to do so. He reluctantly pulled away, giving her lips a few more lingering nips, then brushed her nose with his and lightly pressed his forehead to hers. "I love you, Sheena. I've loved you for a long time. And I'm so, so sorry that I had to...."

She smiled shyly and, using the hand still resting on the back of his neck, gently pulled him back down to her. "Shh, you idiot. I already figured it out." She kissed him again softly, short but very, very sweet, then looked him in the eye seriously...and sadly. "You have no idea how much it hurt to lose your friendship back then, though. No, I didn't love you then, but I could have. That's probably why I got so mad at you after you transformed into that obnoxious, egotistical, perverted jerk. You frustrate me to no end, you always have...but I never hated you, Zelos. I mean that. I may have wanted to at times, but even then I never did. And much as I hate that you did that instead of telling me the truth so we could've figured out a better way...I do understand your reasoning and I forgive you for it."

He sighed. While hearing that she forgave him for his stupidity was a huge weight off his chest, his gut still twisted at her honesty of the pain he'd caused her anyway, regardless of his good intentions. Cupping her cheek, Zelos brushed his thumb over her smooth, soft skin. "It killed me having to do that to you, Sheena. I never wanted to hurt you. I really am sorry, for all of it."

The warmth in her brown eyes as she looked up at him soothed his guilt-ridden nerves. "Just promise me you'll never do it again."

In a heartbeat. "Promise." He chuckled softly. "To be honest, I don't know that I could do that to you again even if I had to -- and believe me, I already know I'll never want to. I love you too much to hurt you like that again."

Sheena smiled, the blush on her cheeks deepening. "Then I won't hold it against you anymore." She paused, shaking her head and sighing. "Heh. Is it sad that that's actually the most romantic thing anyone's ever done for me? Pushing me away because of how much you cared about me to prevent me from being hurt even worse?"

His eyebrows flew upward. If she thought that was romantic, then he had a lot of work cut out for him -- and that time, he would rise to the challenge. Assuming, of course, that she gave him the opportunity to do so, which was something he really should be checking on before he let his hopes rise too high. "Listen, I know I don't deserve a second chance to make it up to you, but...."

Sheena touched his lips to silence him, watching him with so much longing in her eyes that he was amazed, again, to realize he was standing there with this woman in his arms and that the feelings he'd held for so long, feelings that had refused to go away no matter how often he'd tried to dismiss them, feelings that had grown to nearly unbearable levels during their journey together, were sincerely reciprocated. "Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but you're getting it regardless. Don't make me regret it."

Zelos smiled softly as she held his gaze, her eyes shining. "I won't. And if that is the most romantic thing that's ever happened to you, then we're definitely going to have to fix that."

Her smile broadened into a grin even as her flush deepened. "You know I'm going to hold you to that now, right?"

He mirrored her grin, pleased to hear the playful tone in her voice. That, too, was another goal he was now setting up for himself: getting Sheena to loosen up, to have more fun with life, and to not be so serious all the time. She'd probably fight it, but then, he could fight back, too. Besides, fighting back with her tended to be plenty fun in its own right, even if he'd never tell her that. "You'd better."

Without warning, her grin faded. "Just do me one favor, okay?"

He pulled back a little to look at her more closely. He'd start working on the 'less serious' thing with her later; even he occasionally recognized when seriousness was appropriate, and until they'd ironed out the details outlining their new relationship, what they both wanted, and what their boundaries were, he refused to ruin the moment with a badly timed joke. For her, he would see this through. "Anything."

She reached up to trace the lines of his face, her soft touch sending fiery desire racing through him. "I want to see this guy again, not the Idiot Chosen. I want to see you, Zelos. You're the man I'm in love with."

He nodded somberly, even as his heart skipped another beat or three at her words. That touched him far more deeply than anything else she'd said so far had. She didn't just love him, she loved him. "Got it, although I have to warn you, it'll take me time to break some of those habits. They've been there for years, and like I said, there's no button to push to turn them on and off at will. I mean, I'm not used to being completely honest with anyone but myself yet -- and sometimes not even with myself. I promise I'll work on it, though." He smirked. "Just don't expect me to act differently when I'm amongst my adoring public. I still have an image to maintain, you know."

"I'll try to be patient." Sheena grinned cheekily. "But don't expect me not to smack you if you act stupid or hit on every girl you meet."

"Should've known." Damn, there went that fun diversion -- but then, he'd only ever really wanted to hit on one girl anyway, so it was all good. Whoops, maybe he should check on that, too. "I can still hit on you, though, right?" He couldn't help waggling his eyebrows at her.

She sighed but shook her head fondly. "Chosen or not, you really are an idiot, aren't you?" Zelos's response, however, was to give her his best pleading, puppy dog eyes, and finally she rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine. But only me. Got it?"

"Heh. I always knew you were jealous." Sure, that may not be the wisest thing he'd ever said, but since when had that stopped him from saying something, especially when her words had just confirmed something he'd long suspected -- hoped -- was true?

As expected, Sheena's eyes narrowed and she pointed sharply at him. "Don't push it."

He gave her his best, 'Who, me?' look, although it quickly reverted into a smirk. "Then if you let me hit on you, I'll give you permission to occasionally smack me -- but only if I really deserve it, m'kay? Oh, and think you could try to tone it down a notch? I'd really rather not have my pretty face constantly looking like it's been mauled by a tiger, even if that's the truth." He grinned deviously. As tiring as it was sometimes not to be serious, he found it just as tiring to have to be serious for too long. Playful was good -- and he loved the side of her that it brought out. "Besides, I seriously doubt you want to see my pretty face looking like that all the time, either."

She chuckled and ran her fingers over his cheek again. "Fine. I'll try to control the 'Demonic Banshee' a little more carefully. Unless, of course, your fan club gets too pesky, in which case I might just have to...make you more unappealing to them."

Zelos couldn't bite back his gasp in time. Whoa, so Sheena really could be feisty! Heh. He'd always suspected as much. Oh, yeah, this was going to be fun. "You wouldn't."

Her grin broadened. "Try me."

"As much as my face might hate me for saying this...I might just have to." He leaned closer, watching her carefully through narrowed eyes, not wanting to push her too far but unable to resist seeing how far he could safely get. "Marking your territory, huh? If only you knew how much that turned me on, babe...."

Just like he thought, her fist shot out and smacked his shoulder so quickly that it could be nothing but a reflexive response to his innuendo, but he was relieved that not only was it barely painful, but that the grin on her face had brightened further, despite her deep blush. "Perverted idiot." They both chuckled at that for a moment, but suddenly she looked him in the eye, growing serious again. "Look, Zelos, the truth is I really don't care anymore how you act out there so long as when we're alone, you show me the real you. Even if you decide to keep hiding yourself from the rest of the world, don't hide from me. Please."

Zelos swallowed hard and nodded. Oh, Sheena. Damn, he loved her. It would be a struggle at times, he already knew, but if that was what she wanted and it would make her happy, he had no choice but to oblige. "Deal. And Sheena...I meant what I said before. Let me be there for you, too. I want to be there for you. You have enough responsibilities and other crap to deal with that you've always tried to hide from everyone, but you don't have to hide from me. Any secrets you tell me are as safe with me as mine are with you." He smiled. "I mean, take it from me. Sometimes letting down those walls with someone you trust really does feel good."

Sheena returned his smile and nodded. "Deal." He was pleased to see her eyes drifting to his lips again, her fingers toying with a stray lock of his hair. Without warning, she grasped his neck, dragged his head down to hers, and pressed her lips to his again...oh, thank goodness, apparently she couldn't get enough of this, either. He'd really hate to be the only one enjoying this so much.

That time the kiss continued growing progressively deeper and more heated and passionate, tasting and exploring, with neither pulling away and Zelos pressing her harder into the wall as his desire for her flamed again, until Sebastian suddenly cleared his throat. With reluctance, they broke apart and looked at him where he stood by the kitchen door, and since even Zelos could feel himself blushing, it was no surprise that Sheena's face, too, was bright red at being caught like that. "My apologies for the interruption, Master Zelos, Miss Sheena, but dinner will be served in five minutes. How many places shall I set?"

Zelos looked back at her, letting his eyes ask the question, and her shy smile and faint nod answered it for him. "Two, Sebastian. We'll be there in a minute." He quirked an eyebrow as an idea struck him. Talk about appropriate. "Oh, and could you pop open a bottle of champagne for us? Y'know, the good stuff I keep for special occasions?" He flashed Sheena a grin and was happy to see her grin knowingly right back at him.

"Of course, sir." Okay, so no, Sebastian's pay wasn't getting cut. Zelos was just feeling too generous right now. Heck, maybe he'd even double it.

Sheena's smile softened as Sebastian bowed his head and left, and she touched Zelos's face again, looking him over as if taking everything in. "So where does this leave us?"

He smiled tenderly, admiring her beauty, and recognizing she truly did love him like he loved her, Zelos knew he would forevermore be grateful for the gift he'd just been given. It had cost him everything he had, but oh, was the incredible end result, the second chance he didn't deserve but would never turn away or take for granted, worth it. This was something he would treasure every day for as long as she could put up with him. "I don't know yet. But I'd like to take our time with it and see where it goes. Y'know, do things right this time."

She bit her kiss-swollen lip again and nodded. "Me too." And with nothing else he could see worth saying right then that couldn't wait until later, Zelos dipped his head down to hers and kissed her again, and in that moment, as he started to see a clear vision of the future awaiting him with this incredible, beautiful, strong, smart, kind, sexy woman as a major part of it, he knew he would never get enough. For the first time in his life, he had a future worth looking forward to. There would be road bumps to overcome, and further issues to work out, and important things to discuss, and nasty fights to have, and misunderstandings and cultural differences to sort through, and lingering emotional walls to knock down, but in the long run he knew he would never jeopardize that future. Temporarily, maybe, because of his own stupidity and her hot-blooded nature, but never permanently.



August 2012

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