smb814: (TOS Sheelos Sky)
[personal profile] smb814


Part 2: The Date

Women were notoriously late for dates; Zelos had learned that years ago. They spent hours preening, changing clothes, applying makeup, and fixing their hair, and by the time they were satisfied, he'd been left waiting half an hour in their living room, usually with their parents, who were oh so eager to impress him in hopes he'd marry their daughter. Once or twice, with overly vain women, he'd had to wait over an hour for them (making him question why he bothered with the Chosen act at all when it just wasted time he could have spent working to remove his title), and in the process they'd completely wrecked his plans.

Three hours late waiting for Sheena to show up, though, was by far his worst wait ever.

He'd been to numerous briefings with the king, and they never lasted more than three hours since the king was too busy to spend all day in one meeting. Two days ago, he'd checked the timing of Sheena's meeting so he could make appropriate dinner reservations, so he knew it started at noon. By three o'clock, when he'd expected her, he was ready to go. By three-thirty, he'd started getting worried. By four, all the fears and insecurities he'd been ignoring for days, determined as he was to let whatever happened happen, had returned. By four-thirty, when he'd begun pacing, trying to convince himself he was overreacting, Sebastian had gone to the castle to see what was happening. Fifteen minutes later he'd returned and reported that yes, the king was still meeting with his emissary.

That had calmed him for awhile. Five o'clock passed, and he'd started pondering what would happen if their meeting lasted too long -- and he'd started devising ways to subtly hurt the king if he ended up being responsible for postponing this date. By five-thirty he'd begun considering date alternatives. Fifteen minutes after that, he'd sent a maid to the restaurant to cancel their reservations and had Sebastian start working on his backup plan, and by six all of his nerves and insecurities had kicked back up again, twisting his stomach into knots at the thought that she'd forgotten or called it off. And it was after six and there was still no sign of her, thus placing him back in the position of wondering if she'd come to her senses and decided not to bother with him.

It made sense why she'd bail; for too long, he'd done nothing to make her like, respect, or trust him, and now chances were she'd realized this was tooweird for her and had walked away. But still, he knew Sheena. While she might occasionally run, she at least let someone know she was running; if she'd changed her mind, she would've told him that. But her meeting had to be done by now, right? So what if she really was having second thoughts? What if she was wandering around town right now, trying to determine the best way to break up with him? What if she didn't show up at all? He probably should have dropped by Mizuho to verify 'they' had really happened, but not wanting to come across as overly eager -- or find she hadn't informed her people to let him in, thus ending his visit in disembowelment -- he hadn't. But if the king really was responsible for this, if he was holding her hostage to punish Mizuho for something (which he wouldn't put it past Minister Giannovio to convince the king to do), well, king or not, Zelos would make sure he paid for it, dearly.

He shouldn't be so worked up about this. He shouldn't be. He knew that. He'd had plenty of dates cancel on him -- usually accompanied by much groveling for a rain check so his date could still get her chance to 'win' his heart. In fact, while those cancellations had initially disappointed him because it meant he couldn't forget his crappy life for awhile while entertaining a beautiful woman, ultimately it was always a relief to not have to carefully play the part the lady expected from him, either. But none of those dates had been with Sheena, someone he wanted to go out with. He'd never looked forward to a date this much before, and now the thought that it might not happen, and especially why, was turning him into a nervous wreck.

But worrying wasn't getting him anywhere, and so whenever he started panicking, he repeated his special, magic words -- "Whatever will be, will be" -- and reminded himself that if she was dumping him, he deserved it, and that he had at least some good memories of her now to treasure. If she wasn't coming, she wasn't coming. But he wouldn't give up waiting (and pacing, and probably driving Sebastian crazy) until 'today' became 'tomorrow' and no chance remained. He couldn't do anything else.

At quarter after six, when Zelos was starting to wonder if he should be checking around Meltokio to make sure she hadn't been hurt or kidnapped by muggers, a soft, tentative knock came from the front door. Sebastian immediately arrived to answer it, but he smiled knowingly, almost smugly, when he saw Zelos already at the door. "You," Zelos said, pointing sharply at him. "Not a word."

"Of course not, sir." And with that, Sebastian turned and, still smirking, headed back into the kitchen. Zelos glared at him as he left, but then he breathed in deeply, steeling his nerves, and opened the door.

And there, finally, she was. Despite his nervousness, he beamed her a broad, excited smile...but it quickly faltered as he saw her face. She was chewing on her thumbnail, her brows furrowed, clearly upset and distracted, her gaze focused absently on the doorframe. Uh oh. That didn't look good. Maybe she really had had second thoughts about this. "Hi," he ventured.

Sheena jumped a little, her eyes snapping up to his as if she hadn't even realized the door had opened -- not good, not good, not good -- but then she lowered her hand and gave him a weak smile. "Hi."

Unable to resist -- and needing to see if his worst-case scenario had any validity -- Zelos touched her arm, urging her inside. Oh, good, at least she didn't flinch or pull away from him. "Come on in."

Sheena nodded, her smile vanishing as he ushered her inside. She looked around a moment while he closed the door, her brows furrowed, then sighed and turned to him. "Zelos, I am so sorry I'm so late."

While the part of him that had spent the afternoon panicking appreciated the apology, the rest of him was just glad she was here. He was actually more concerned about how upset she was. He gently grasped her arms, rubbing his thumbs over them. "Hey, sweetheart, are you all right?"

"I'm fi--" Her eyes darted at him, but instead of finishing that thought, she sighed in clear exasperation. "The king was late, and then the discussion kept going on and on, and then he took forever deciding what to do, and I still have to go back tomorrow in case he changes his mind, and--"

Her voice abruptly cut off, and she pursed her lips and shook her head, looking away from him. Zelos's eyes narrowed further; as relieved as he was that she wasn't breaking up with him...what was the king doing? He grasped her arms tighter and stepped closer to her. "Sheena, what's going on?"

She released a low, weary sigh, watching him a moment, but then smiled wistfully. "I'm sorry, Zelos, but I really don't want to talk about it. Maybe later, but not right now. Please?"

Zelos blinked several times, his curiosity transforming into concern. While he understood her need to avoid disturbing subjects, because he was guilty of having done the same himself, what was the king doing? And whatever it was, was not talking about it really a good idea? Wouldn't it just keep bothering her? But since he really had done the same before, he'd respect that, at least for now. "Of course. If you want to talk later, the offer will still be open."

Her smile softened into something a little more sincere. "Thanks." Sheena watched him a moment, but then her smile fell and her head sank downward. "Listen, Zelos, I really am sorry about this--"

"Love, relax, it's no big deal," he interrupted, smiling reassuringly -- because whether she was apologizing for not telling him or for how late she was, it truly wasn't necessary. This wasn't intentional, she wasn't dumping him, and that was that. "It's not your fault. You're here now, and that's all that matters."

Her eyes widened as if his refusal to give her a guilt trip over this had derailed her, but then she looked down at his chest and smiled sadly. "I'm sure I ruined your plans, though. I'd understand if you wanted to wait until another day--"

"You're kidding,right?" Zelos cut her off, grinning as she looked up at him in obvious surprise. "Yeah, okay, so I had to cancel our dinner reservations, but that doesn't mean it's too late to do anything." He motioned at the window. "I mean, seriously -- the sun is still out!"

"Barely," Sheena whispered, glancing out the window.

His heart skipped a beat at her disappointment. So she'dbeen looking forward to this too, eh? He smirked. "Well, in my experience, the best things happen at night, so I hope you weren't expecting that to deter me."

As expected, Sheena blushed and glanced down again, a smile toying on her lips again. "I should've figured as much." A moment later, she bit her lip and eyed him again. "So if our original plans were ruined, what are you thinking?"

Oh, Sheena. Sometimes you make it so very easy to hit on you. He knew it wasn't intentional, but man, sometimes the temptation was just too hard to resist. His smirk broadened into a wicked grin and he waggled his eyebrows. "Well, I was thinking we could stay here and have some fun...."

Sheena rolled her eyes. "I should've known that would be your backup plan."

...Yep, exactly what he'd expected, and seeing her smile broaden made his 'idiot behavior' worthwhile. Choosing to ignore her words, he went on, "...But then I dismissed that option and opted for something else that's fun but probably not quite as fun..." ...and there was the expected mock-glare and arched eyebrow... "...something that now seems even more appropriate considering how tightly wound you are."

Her eyes narrowed and her smile faded. "What are you scheming now, Zelos?"

...Heh. He'd heard that before, and he knew he'd hear it again. And really, it didn't bother him. Sheena wasn't saying she didn't trust him; she was just wary because they both knew he thought differently from her and she wanted to know what he had in mind before she approved of it. Leaving decisions up to someone who thought so differently wasn't comfortable -- letting act-first-and-think-later Lloyd call all the shots during their journey had gone against Zelos's very nature of careful scheming -- but she hadn't dismissed it yet, either. If she really didn't trust him, she wouldn't hesitate to say 'no'; she'd never been afraid to voice such opinions before. In fact, the fact that she wasn't a cowering, fragile, pushover was one of a hundred reasons why he'd fallen so hard for her.

"Don't worry, it's nothing bad," he said. "You won't mind this. Honest."

Her eyes narrowed further, but she wasn't objecting yet, either. And the thing was, since he'd spent years figuring out what made her uncomfortable, albeit to make her uncomfortable, he'd also figured out what did make her comfortable, and he'd never make a decision like this without taking her preferences into consideration. She had nothing to worry about, and Zelos wanted her to know that.

"Does it involve leaving Meltokio?" Sheena asked.

He grinned broadly. "You bet it does, babe."

She eyed him another moment, but finally her face softened. "Good, because right now I just want to get out of here."

Huh. Considering her current mood, dining out in Meltokio probably wouldn't have impressed her. He'd have to remember that. "Your wish is my command, my lady." He playfully bowed his head to her, then glanced back at the kitchen door. "Hey, Sebastian?"

The door immediately swung open and Sebastian stepped inside. "Here you go, sir," he said, handing Zelos a wicker basket before smiling and bowing to Sheena. "Ah, Miss Sheena. Delightful to see you again."

Sheena returned his smile. "You too, Sebastian."

Zelos grinned. "Thanks, Sebastian." Sebastian bowed his head and then headed back to the kitchen.

Once he was gone, Sheena's gaze fell to the basket, her eyes narrowing. "A...picnic?"

"Hey, you haven't eaten anything yet, have you?" he asked, and unsurprisingly, she shook his head. So now the king was starving his emissaries during six-hour meetings? Couldn't he have at least given her an apple? Or maybe some bread or cheese? Zelos frowned and shook his head, disgusted. "Of course not; the king usually doesn't feed his emissaries, cheapskate that he is. hungry?" She let out a soft laugh and nodded. "Yeah, me too. I had Sebastian throw some stuff together, so...sound okay?"

Being the recipient of that warm, beautiful smile was, by far, the current highlight of his day. "Of course it does. Sounds good, actually."

He grinned. "Great! Then let's get outta here."

Sheena dropped off her bag in 'her' room -- Woo hoo, she's staying overnight again! Zelos silently cheered -- and then they snuck out the back way of his mansion and headed out of Meltokio. Once they'd cleared the city limits, Zelos led her to the north and west, to a low spot amidst the mountains that required only mild hiking. It took half an hour to reach his destination, with Sheena repeatedly asking where they were going, to which he always assured her it was worth the trek, and thankfully, she didn't argue, other than some playful grumbling about how he was exhausting her before the date even began.

Entering a forest of deciduous trees, they followed a barely discernable but thankfully debris-free dirt path (oh, good, looks like only a handful of people have discovered this place since I was last here, he thought with a pleased smile) to the west, the land rising beneath their feet at a low incline. After a few minutes, they reached a stream that wound its way down from the mountains, cutting through the forest to the north and west, and Zelos led them along it for a short ways, mentally checking off the landmarks on the way -- the mossy boulder on the opposite side of the stream, the giant, decaying tree stump off to their right, the 'end' of the path as it reached the remains of a fallen wooden bridge still partially crossing the water. Identifying the final landmark a short ways ahead of them, a fallen tree trunk that served as the 'new' bridge over the stream, Zelos grabbed her hand and carefully led her across it, and then there was the start of the path again, continuing to the west, parting ways with the stream. A few minutes later, he could hear the ocean crashing in the distance, growing louder with every step they took...and then, finally, there they were, stepping into a small but grassy clearing amongst the trees that was only a short distance from a low bluff that overlooked the rippling, sparkling ocean.

"Aaaaaand here we are," he announced.

He couldn't help grinning as his companion stopped beside him and looked around, a soft smile appearing on her lips. "Wow, Zelos, I'm impressed," she said. "I was starting to question your definition of 'perfect spot' considering how long it took us to get here, but this really is beautiful."

He mentally patted himself on the back. Good. She liked it. "Heh. Isn't it, though?" While he'd never been an outdoorsy person himself, preferring cities with lots of people and things to do, traveling with the gang had instilled in him a greater appreciation of nature, and he'd especially realized how much joy sights like this could bring people like Sheena. And really, while he liked this spot, too, his main reason for choosing it was because he'd known she'd like it and it would help her relax. Being from Mizuho, a village in tune with nature, he would've been shocked if she hadn't liked it.

Sheena turned to him, her smile beautifully sincere, and arched a curious eyebrow. "I didn't take you for the kind to care about a spot like this."

Zelos shrugged, setting the basket on the ground. "Eh, even I have my moments, I guess."

"I guess so." Sheena dropped the blanket she was carrying and looked around again. "So how did you, Mr. Fancy, Luxurious, Big-City Dweller, even find a place like this?"

Darn. And here he'd been hoping she wouldn't ask him that. He gave her a sheepish smile as she looked back at him curiously. "If I tell you, do you promise not to kill me?"

Her eyes narrowed, but she was still smiling, too -- well, actually more smirking than smiling, he noted. "Something tells me I should say 'no' if you have to ask me that instead of just answering the question, but since any murderous feelings I have are still directed at the king and not you...okay? I think?"

She was feeling murderous toward the king? Huh. And again, he really wanted to know what had happened during that meeting. But not yet. Maybe after they ate. "I'll take my chances," he said, shooting her another grin, but then he sighed and looked away. "A few years ago, one of my hunnies brought me here. The date was horrible, and I have awful memories of trying to keep her from getting in my pants," every three seconds, he silently added, which led me to create to that 'manhandling' rule in the first place, "but...well, this place is too gorgeous to waste on memories like those, so I thought maybe we could make some new, good ones now to replace them." He quirked an uncertain smile. "Still feeling un-murderous toward me?"

Sheena chuckled and met his eyes again, the warmth he saw there making his heart skip a beat. "Don't worry, I'm not upset. In fact, I'm actually touched you did think to bring me here."

...Really? Well, well. Wasn't that a pleasant surprise? "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Damn, that smile was beautiful. His heart swelled as her eyes fell downward shyly, and it took all his restraint not to grab her and kiss her senseless. He coveted that smile, especially when he knew he was the cause of it. Oh, was he glad he'd found a way to lure it out of her like this. Well, technically he hadn't found the way; Sheena herself had by convincing him to open up to her that night at the party and by opening her heart to him in return, without either of them meaning to do so. For a moment, Zelos just watched her, mesmerized by her beauty and smiling softly in return, but the moment she noticed him watching her, her blush returned and she lightly smacked his arm. "Quit staring at me."

Oh, was her embarrassment adorable -- honestly, he hadn't even realized he had been staring -- but he averted his eyes anyway and squatted down by the basket. Time to get their picnic started. Fortunately, since it was the middle of summer, they still had two hours of daylight left, but they couldn't waste it, either, or they'd be hiking back to Meltokio in the dark. Grabbing the blanket she'd dropped, he started unfolding it. "Sorry, sweetheart, but it's hard not to stare at you sometimes." He gave her a crafty grin. "But if it really makes you that uncomfortable, I'll try to save that for when you're not looking."

Sheena rolled her eyes, and Zelos had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing again as her lips twitched, indicating she was trying notto smile. "Gee, thanks."

"Welcome!" Locating one end of the blanket, he stood up again and held it out to her. "Here, help me spread this thing out so we can eat. I'm starving!"

"Hey, you're the one who wanted to go hiking for half an hour first, even though you were whining about how hungry you were back in Meltokio already!" she said, doing as he'd asked.

He arched an eyebrow as they arranged the blanket. "But it was worth it, wasn't it?"

Her face softened as she eyed the area again. "Yeah, it was."

"Quit whining, then." Zelos grinned cheekily. "If you're not careful, you'll start sounding like me pretty soon!"

Sheena's brows furrowed in something resembling irritation, only her smile completely betrayed her. "I'm going to ignore that for fear of wrecking the peace and beauty of this place by beating you up."

Heh. So the violent tendencies still lingered within her, despite the shyness and sweetness he'd seen so much of lately. Good. As painful as it usually was for him, he just loved seeing her life and fire displayed like that. "Probably a good idea," he said, his grin broadening.

She rolled her eyes again but didn't respond to that, and they fell silent while setting up their picnic site. Once the blanket was stretched out across the grass, she helped him pull out containers and determine what each held -- and even he had to admit that the assortment of foods Sebastian had put together for them so quickly was impressive. They then grabbed some plates and started divvying up the food; thankfully, Sebastian had also given them plenty of everything so they didn't have to argue over sandwiches or salads. He'd really have to thank Sebastian when they got back.

Finally, once settled, Zelos stretched out on his side, while Sheena folded her legs beneath her, and they began eating. For several minutes they ate in silence, too hungry to talk other than to ask the other to pass a container, just enjoying the sparkling ocean in the distance, the clear blue sky above the branches of the trees, the gentle breeze rustling the leaves, and the soft sounds of chirping birds. The sun was sinking closer to the horizon, but the night was looking to be gorgeous. Good food, perfect temperature, gorgeous location, the most beautiful, voluptuous woman he'd ever met as his date...he couldn't think of anywhere else he'd rather be at that moment.

"Okay, I have to admit it: Sebastian is a really good cook," Sheena finally said between bites of potato salad. "For simple picnic foods, somehow he...he...." Her face wrinkled uncertainly.

"Makes it taste far better than it should?" Zelos said, popping the last of his chicken salad sandwich in his mouth.

She pointed at him with her fork. "Yeah, that. It reminds me of the stuff Regal used to make us. Genis, too, but especially Regal."

"I've never figured out his trick myself, but yeah, I know," Zelos said, grabbing his cup of water and draining it to wash down the sandwich. "He's probably just using higher quality ingredients, like Regal did. That was Regal's world before his little stint in prison, you know."

Sheena arched a teasing eyebrow. "Yeah, well, you always used 'higher quality' ingredients than the rest of us, too, but I don't remember your cooking tasting like this!"

His eyebrows flew upward and he pointed at her. "Hey, my stuff was alwaysedible. Maybe not gourmet cuisine, but c'mon, I always had Sebastian cooking for me! Do you reallythink I had much incentive to learn anything beyond the basics before our journey? I'd only ever cooked before that when he was on vacation and I was craving hot food, not the cold stuff the church always overanalyzed for poison! All things considered, I think I did a pretty good job picking up those skills, if I do say so myself."

"Yeah, I'll give you that," she admitted, tilting her head. "But now that you know the basics, you could probably pick up some pointers from him."

"True, true. And maybe now that I have a girlfriend I can try to impress with my manly cooking skills, I'll think about doing that, because he really does have some snazzy cooking tricks." She blushed and chuckled -- but, surprisingly, she didn't argue that (which, he supposed, she could have legitimately done after a few of the barely-edible things he'd produced at times). "Then again, Sebastian had better know a few snazzy cooking tricks. I certainly pay him enough to cook me meals that actually taste good!"

"Yeah, I bet you do," she said, taking another bite of her sandwich. She chewed it thoughtfully a moment before arching an eyebrow at him. "What about once you're not the Chosen? Do you think he'll stick around?"

"Man, I hope so." Honestly, the thought of Sebastian not staying was depressing, not just because Zelos suspected he'd turn into a slob (although he wasn't nearly as bad as there was a guy who needed someone picking up after him 24/7), but because that mansion would be downright empty and lonely without him. He wouldn't have anyone to go to for advice or help or anything. "He's practically family. I just don't know how long my fortune will hold out without the Church paying me regular tributes, a.k.a. bribes so I'd either die and/or reproduce for them to preserve my bloodline, so I can keep paying him like that, though. Hopefully awhile, but I won't know that until I figure out how much I've got." He didn't think he'd have any problems, because while he had no qualms about spending money, he never bought the overly showy, expensive, ugly trinkets other noblemen always wasted money on trying to impress their neighbors, but he made a mental note to check his financial records anyway and determine where he stood. He didn't want to accidentally find himself broke one day, either, because then he would have to let Sebastian go. And right now, when he'd probably be needing regular dating advice, was definitely not the time to lose his primary, trusted touchstone with regular, working class people.

Sheena snorted as she set down her plate, grabbed the water jar, and poured herself a cup. "You just don't want to clean up after yourself. Or get a legitimate job to pay him like a normal person would."

He mock-gaped at her and handed her his glass as she held up the jar, asking him if he wanted more. "Wait, you mean flirting with women for gifts isn't an occupation normal people have?"

She abruptly stopped pouring and narrowed her eyes at him. "You'd better not be doing that anymore."

And there, again, was her jealous streak. He knew he shouldn't feel so smug at seeing it again, but oh, was he ever. "Hey, I will have you know I quit doing that four days ago. Not a single instance of flirting since then." He smirked. "Besides you, of course."

For a moment, Sheena eyed him warily, but then she grinned and finished pouring his water. "Good boy."

'Good boy'? Seriously, love? What's next, a pat on the head and a biscuit to encourage good behavior? ...And unfortunately, that was ridiculously accurate. He'd given up hitting on other women because she'd asked him to; he was doing whatever he could to please her so he could see her smile again; and if she were to toss a stick and ask him to fetch it for her, he'd be back with it in a heartbeat. But he'd never tell her that or she'd never stop throwing sticks for him. Although, granted, while his hunnies might have taken advantage of him like that, he just couldn't see Sheena doing that. Despite that, he still muttered, "Slave driver," and then reached out to take back the glass she was handing him.

She quickly pulled the glass back, her eyebrows rising and her lips curling upward. "What was that?"

"Nooothiiiiing," Zelos sing-songed, then snatched his glass back the second it was within reach. He lifted it and said, "Thanks," to which she smiled and nodded, and then he took a drink and set it down on a container cover so it wouldn't tip. Finished eating, he rolled onto his back so his head was resting near her legs. "I do think I'm going into withdrawal from flirting with beautiful women, though." He grinned, waggled his eyebrows, and poked her leg. "Guess I'll just have to make up for it with you, eh?"

Sheena's eyes narrowed as she leaned closer, smirking. "Oh, you think so, eh?"

"Yup! Let's see here...." Locating the most over-the-top line he could think of, one he would never actually use with a woman he liked, he puffed up his chest and lowered his voice. "'Hey, hunny, see how amorous the ocean is tonight? Can't you hear its love song, crying out for all the world's lovers to join it in ecstasy? How 'bout you and me go down to the beach and make some waves of our own, eh?'"

For a moment, Sheena gaped at him as he grinned seductively, but then she snorted, dipped her finger into her potato salad, and, with a wicked grin, painted a line on his forehead just above his eyebrows. "That is what you get for such a pathetic attempt to hit on me. And for calling me 'hunny,' joke or not."

"Hey, hey, hey!" Zelos said, batting her hand away. "Watch the headband! You have no idea how hard that thing is to clean, do you?"

She broke out laughing, the beautiful, happy sound tugging at his heart. "You are such an idiot."

He closed his eyes and swung a dramatic arm across his chest, summoning his best 'Be still, my aching heart!' routine. "Alas, my poor face, slayed by yon fair maiden wielding that most dangerous of all weapons, potato salad!" His eyes popped open and he gave her a pointed, pouting look. "And here I was planning on giving you such a nice present as incentive, too!"

Aha, that got her attention. "Oh, you were, were you?" she asked.

He pointed sharply at her. "Yeah, but you won't be getting it anytime soon unless you hand me a napkin so I can attempt to salvage the pretty perfection that is my face!"

"Fine, fine," Sheena replied with a showy sigh as she grabbed a clean napkin. To Zelos's surprise and pleasure, though, instead of handing it to him, she actually wiped off his forehead herself, her fingers lightly trailing over his skin, the sheer fondness in her dark eyes sending a thrill of excitement through him that made his stomach twist in knots. And suddenly, he desperately wanted to kiss her again...only that was currently impossible considering his position. Damn. And lying down like this had seemed like such a good idea at the time.... "There, all clean," she announced with a grin, tossing the napkin aside.

He smiled softly. Yet again, Sheena was proving herself capable of surprising him...and he loved it. "Thanks," he murmured, then smirked. "My forehead -- and the rest of my pretty face -- appreciates it."

She rolled her eyes, but then, furthering his amazement, had the gall to smile sweetly and bat her eyelashes at him. "Now about this present...?"

For a moment, he just eyed her, biting back a laugh at her curious, eager expression, but then he grabbed a container he'd snagged earlier, held it up, and grinned. "Knock yourself out, sweetheart."

"It's a container," Sheena deadpanned, arching an unimpressed eyebrow. "Wow, that was really worth cleaning off your forehead for, wasn't it?"

Zelos rolled his eyes and pulled his hand away as she reached for it. "Okay, just for that, I'm running back to Meltokio to get you some edible body paints, since you obviously have a thing for finger painting me." Oh, wait. He cocked his head, pretending to consider that. "Actually, I like that idea far better than my original one. I mean, I've always dreamed of being a canvas for the next Sheena masterpiece...."

Heh, she hadn't expected that, judging from her brief, albeit shocked, expression, but when she leaned closer, glaring at him, she was grinning again, too. "I. Di. Ot," she said, punctuating each syllable with a poke to his forehead. "Have I mentioned that yet?"

He grinned proudly. "Once or twice now, yeah." She snorted and shook her head, but then he cocked his head again as a look of sincere puzzlement crossed her face. "What?"

"Did you say edible body paints?" she asked.

Heh, so she'd caught that, eh? "Yep!"

Her eyes narrowed. "Somebody actually makes those? Seriously?"

Oh, Martel, she'd never heard of edible body paints? She really had been sheltered in that backwater little ninja village, hadn't she? "You've never gone into Meltokio's more...specialized...stores, have you?"

"No, definitely not...and now I think I'd be afraid to," she said, her face wrinkling in distaste.

"Every color you could possibly imagine. They're really kinda pretty." He grinned and swept his arms out to indicate the grand scope. "Like a beauuuuutiful rainbow."

Sheena gave him a wry, pointed look. "Why am I not surprised you have been in those stores before?"

Zelos pointed at her. "Hey, I'm not admitting or denying anything!"

"Yeah, well, your answer is pretty obvious," she muttered. "I mean, how else could you know that unless you'd been in one before?"

"Oh, believe me, I could know. You have no idea how many bottles of that stuff my hunnies have given me over the years, thinking it would serve as a hint. Seriously, I could start my own store and have enough to sell for the next ten years." He grinned. " there's a legitimate profession for me!"

"Selling edible body paints," Sheena stated flatly. "Riiiiiight."

His eyebrows flew upward. "Hey, is that any better or worse than flirting for gifts?"

"Probably not," she said with a light snort, then tilted her head. "So have you tasted any of them?"

Heheheh...Sheena, Sheena, Sheena. Zelos waggled his eyebrows. "Curious now, eh?"

She smacked his shoulder and glared at him, her cheeks red. "Just answer the question."

He shrugged. "A few...they're actually pretty good. One tasted fruity, one was chocolaty. They're all sweet, but not unbearably so. Each color is a different flavor."

"Huh," she said. "Interesting."

Okay, stupid or not, he couldn'tpass by this opportunity. "They'd probably taste better on a person, though, and not just on a finger dipped into a bottle, like I did...." His eyes widened and his face lit up. "Hey, I have an ide--!"

"No," she soundly cut him off.

His mouth snapped shut, but he quickly countered, "But you didn't even hear my idea!"

"I don't have to. The answer's still 'no.'"

He pouted. "Aw, but...."


Damn. Not that he'd expected anything different. But still, even though he'd only meant it as a joke, he wouldn't let her off the hook quite yet, either. Had to sell the act, after all. "What good is a girlfriend if I can't even try things like this?" he said, folding his arms to his chest.

Her eyebrows flew upward. "You do not want me answering that question."

...No, he probably didn't, but he waved that off with his hand. "Fine, fine. You're no fun." Sheena glared at him a moment, but then she popped the last of her sandwich in her mouth and shook her head, a smile toying on her lips. And again, Zelos just couldn't resist. "What?" He smirked as he poked her leg. "Change your mind?"

She rolled her eyes, but her smile broadened further. "Not a chance. I was just wondering how we ended up talking about edible body paints anyway. I mean, seriously, Zelos. Edible body paints?!"

"I dunno," he said. "Didn't we start out discussing Sebastian's cooking abilities?"

"Oh...right." She sighed and shook her head, but then she beamed him an amused smile. "You can corrupt any conversation into becoming a discussion about sex, can't you?"

"It's one of my many, many talents, babe," he said, grinning slyly and waggling his eyebrows.

"'Talents'...riiiiight," she muttered. "'Perversions' is more like it." She set her plate aside and stretched out her legs, leaning back on her hands. "And that ridiculous line you tried before...does something that stupid really work on women?"

He shrugged. "Well, I'm not sure that one would actually work, but I'm sure it would make most women blush and giggle and throw themselves at me, overcome with lust by my sheer prettiness and sexiness."

"This coming from Mr. I've Only Slept With Two Women Ever," she said with a snort.

Zelos poked her hip. "Just remember, only you and I know that. To the rest of the world I am Paramour Extraordinaire, World-Renowned Casanova Himself, the Great Zelos Wilder!"

Sheena leaned down so her face was directly above his. "Like I said, I. Di. O--"

Okay, he couldn't resist any longer. She was finally close enough, and so Zelos pushed himself up onto his elbows and planted a quick kiss on her lips, effectively silencing her. It was a little weird, kissing her upside down like that, but it still quelled that particular burning need. And oh, did he like that he could now do that without it resulting in her beating him up.

As expected, the kiss briefly stunned her, and Zelos took advantage of her speechlessness to lift the container and remove the cover. He grinned as she gasped, her eyes widening and her lips forming an adorable little 'O.' "Is that a...?"

"No, babe, I'm just teasing you with a plastic peach," he said, rolling his eyes. "Of course it's real, and of course it's for you! Now hurry up and eat it before I do!"

Sheena bit her lip, looking from the peach to him and back again, clearly touched. "Two in less than a week...I'm dreaming, aren't I?"

"Nope, not a dream," Zelos said with a soft chuckle, finally sitting up and turning to face her. "Just be sure to savor it because it's the last one you'll get for awhile."

She quirked an eyebrow as she reached out for the container. "Why's that?"

"Because peach season's over now and it'll be months before any more are available," he said. "When I sent Sebastian to Sybak to buy more, this was the only one he could get."

Her face fell as she looked at the peach, but then she released the container. "Then I can't take this. You should have it. I don't want to be greedy...."

"Oh, for the love of...." Zelos groaned and gave her a pointed look. "Seriously, Sheena, haven't we had this conversation before? This thing is yours." He picked up the peach, turned it, and, smirking, held it up to her. "See? It even has your name on it. Literally."

Eyes narrowed, Sheena snatched the peach from him and held it up to see it, but then she lifted her other hand to her mouth and burst into beautiful, incredulous laughter. "Zelos! Tell me you didn't!"

Zelos grinned smugly; oh, good, that was the reaction he'd hoped for. "Oh, but I did, my dear." When he'd devised this backup plan earlier, he'd headed into the kitchen and, while instructing Sebastian what to make, had taken one of his daggers and etched her name into the peach, channeling his nervous energy into something semi-constructive. "So as you can clearly see, I'm not allowed to eat this thing since it's reserved for some chick named 'Sheena,' not 'The Great and Sexy Zelos.' But oh, hey! Your name is Sheena, right? I guess that means you can eat it!"

"You are unbelievable," she whispered, giving him a soft, sweet smile that made his heart melt. Oh, how he loved this woman and her smile. For years, his primary form of entertainment had been trying to make every woman he met giggle and blush, but he wouldn't even miss that game anymore. No, now he had a new game: Operation Make Sheena Smile. And so far it was proving to be infinitely more rewarding than his original one had ever been. She bit her lip and shyly met his eyes. "Thanks."

"Enjoy." Because he knew he sure would; he would enjoy every second of watching her eat it. And oh, was he glad that pointless chatter had helped her relax and momentarily forget about her meeting with the king. He would still push the issue later, but not yet. No, right now he just wanted her to enjoy her peach.

Part 5

August 2012

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