Many times in his life, Zelos had heard the word "love" thrown around.
As he walked through Meltokio, women shouted it to him, addressing him by his title but giving him no other respects as they fawned and swooned over his peacocking. They draped themselves on him like accessories, even though Zelos was the one being used.
He heard it echoed in the hall of the church, from the pages of a musty book, empty words deafening in his ears. Tears streamed from the eyes of the faithful, no matter what the Chosen said. Zelos wondered why he never felt the same about the words he spoke.
The word appeared in his dreams, blonde hair and sunlight blinding him as he sang it. Back then he'd never realized she felt the same way about the word that he did now. To him, she was the only one who deserved it, and he never realized she couldn't even give it back.
Love. He hated hearing it.
And then one day, he felt it.
It happened subtly, starting with the color red. A young man appeared, who blazed through his problems with determination and spunk, who shouted his feelings in more words than he needed.
He hated the color red, the color of the curls that twisted around his face, until that young man came around clad in it up to his fingertips. He hated the color red until it clasped around his shoulders, filled his eyesight, and lit up the grin on that young man's face, sparked fire in his brown eyes.
He hated the color red, until Lloyd showed him that it could be something other than blood. Red was the wild strawberries dropped into his palms, the clouds as the sun set, the flush of Lloyd's cheeks when Zelos winked at him. With Zelos' hair entwined in his fingers, Lloyd told him red was his favorite color.
After that, Zelos found a feeling in the flash of Lloyd's smile, in the way he called his name over rolling hills, and in the space between his fingers.
He found it in the way Lloyd spoke to him, laughing with him and listening to his stories even when they weren't funny. Lloyd made sure Zelos got his plate of food first if it was his favorite. He made sure their sleeping bags were right next to each other, and he made sure to clutch Zelos tight when he woke from his dreams shaking and cold. He became addicted to his clumsy charm, his heart quickening as Lloyd learned from him, as Lloyd surpassed him, as Lloyd dragged him along, despite Zelos kicking and screaming the whole way.
He felt it when Lloyd kissed him first, removing his gloves before cupping his face and asking with his eyes. Zelos smiled for hours after that, remembering the blush on Lloyd's cheeks and the way he giggled and sighed when Zelos kissed back.
And he felt it every time after that, when he asked for affection and received it freely, when he opened up to Lloyd and Lloyd listened, really listened to him. When Lloyd was enthusiastic and giddy, when Lloyd was passionate and angry, when Lloyd cried with his entire heart and tore into Zelos’ soul.
He felt it in his belly, in his bones, in his fingertips. He felt it light in his head and heavy in his chest. He felt it like he’d never felt anything else before, something precious and close to his heart, something nothing else could ever live up to.
Zelos couldn't name the feeling. Or maybe he was too afraid to. But Lloyd became bolder.
Lloyd whispered into Zelos' ear one red evening, a quiet wind their only intruder as they leaned into each other. Zelos almost didn’t hear him among the rustling trees and the cries of birds above them.
“I love you.”
His words crashed into him like a wave. Overwhelmed with emotion, he could only laugh, relieved that he didn’t hate this, overjoyed that he could say the same. He could say the same, and mean it with his whole heart.
Zelos loved him, too.