Lloyd was different on their last night together.
They had nearly been rejected from another inn, the innkeeper being so kind and apologetic. He hadn’t wanted any trouble, he said, but everyone was scared of the new world that had appeared, and the strange decree that all Exspheres needed to be returned. Monsters still appeared on the roads outside, and the weather went through all four seasons in just under a few weeks. And didn’t they have Exspheres of their own? He wanted no trouble at all.
Colette was unsure how she had convinced the innkeeper to let them stay. Maybe her practiced bright smiles, or her pleasant tones, had helped somewhat. To her side, she watched Lloyd underneath lowered eyelashes, seeing him so quiet, so tired, his shoulders pulled down as if he carried some unknown weight. But she couldn’t ask him about it there.
Colette knew she could be incredibly lucky at times – her standing alive right there at that moment proved it. By now, her soul should have been shackled, her memories buried deep, but here she was, in the middle of a room, exchanging soft words with another. When the innkeeper finally handed over a room key, she gave it to Lloyd. “Do you wanna put our things away?” And maybe rest?
Lloyd must have been exhausted. He hadn’t responded at first, blinking at the key in her hand. “Oh. Uh, yeah! Sorry.” His smile was brief, a muted pain in his eyes. Her fingers brushed against his, but he was already moving towards the stairs.
For the past few days, Lloyd had barely said a word. There would be long stretches of silence between them, his gaze always fixated on something ahead. Colette would try to prompt something from him, but only get a few noncommittal answers here and there. Lloyd, who had always told Colette everything, suddenly hid something from her.
The journey had been long, over a year at most, but she was able to whether the aches with him. She knew that if the inn had turned them away, they could still sleep under a dark sky.
But Lloyd had looked so tired. Maybe a bed was what he needed.
“Thank you!” she said to the innkeeper, waving politely, as she finished paying him and finally headed for their room. The floorboards creaked as she walked, the hallways decorated with potted flowers, of lilacs, roses, and lilies. It still reminded her of the outside, but with the added protection of walls. She walked quickly down the hallway, grateful to find their designated door unlocked. Sometimes she had a terrible habit of locking it automatically, and Lloyd would need to knock to be let in. One reason she thought it was best he went to their room first…
Once Colette opened the door, arms took her before she could think to say a word.
The room was dark, but even in the darkness, she recognized Lloyd’s familiar red jacket. The memory of the scent of flowers were replaced with Lloyd’s, also familiar, also comforting. She breathed him in, hands instinctively reaching to hug him back.
She couldn’t see his face. He buried himself within the crook of her neck, his breathing even, but his hands slightly trembling. They gripped the back of her overcoat. She could hear the cloth crinkling between his fingers.
“I love you,” he whispered to her.
It could simply have been her own thoughts, becoming so lucid at the nearness of him, at how densely he surrounded her. It could be the darkness giving rise to small imaginings, the feel of his warm breath on her neck.
She couldn’t say anything at first. Her voice was gone, her head began to sway.
But he held her up. She gripped him back tighter. She felt the steady rising of his chest move against hers.
The hands that held her shook a little more. “Colette.”
Lloyd was always so gentle, lifting her easily from tumbles and scrapes. But now they gripped her desperately. The voice that came out of his throat held something else she rarely heard – desperate and a little wild.
“I…” She tried to speak again, but her voice trailed off in the presence of Lloyd’s despair.
She heard him tell the words she had always wanted to hear. But then, why was he hurting so?
His breath moved from his neck to her ear. She shivered. “Colette…” he said again, finally moving back to see her.
His kiss was hard and bruising, but she was grateful for such sensations, for harshness and pain. She felt through his hands how much he tried to control himself. In his kiss was that same despair she couldn’t understand, but she pushed against him, moved with him. Her lips were wet from him, her tongue reaching out, answering his need.
She let out a sound, tight in her throat, already so out of breath. Lloyd would not let go of her. She didn’t want him to.
It was either the darkness or her own fragmented memory, but soon she found themselves in the bed, his body over her, the powerful way he gripped her feeling so raw and barely restrained. His jacket was already unbuttoned, his hands moving up her dress. She arched into his touch, her sounds never stopping.
Hands that were once so gentle, roamed her skin feverishly, fingers making indents in her skin. Maybe once before, such an experience would frighten her.
But in Lloyd’s voice, she heard something broken.
“Colette…” he whispered again, unzipping her dress. He said little else, panting into her chest, until she felt his kiss that was so strong against her skin.
“It… ah…” She gasped, her head feeling so numb, floating in the dark. The harsh sounds of his mouth on her, the patterns that his tongue engraved on her. She bit her lip. “Lloyd…”
Lloyd, tell me what’s wrong.
Even as her body moved with his hands, hearing his belts fall to the floor, along with the soft rustle of her underwear as he pulled it past her knees, there was someplace out of reach. Something she didn’t really understand.
But would this help things?
She was rooted in place, but she’d never want to be anywhere else. His mouth took her where he could, eyes closed, hands gripping her waist tight, as if she would disappear.
“Ah… Lloyd… Are you…?”
He moved from her chest to take her mouth again, muffling her words. Hard muscle pressed against her skin. She threaded her fingers in his hair, dizzy and losing breath. He took everything as he kissed her, rough and desperate. She had never felt him be this desperate before, except for when he thought…
Are you afraid you’ll lose me? I promised I would stay by your side…
It was too much to say. She was selfish and wanted his kisses, the sensation of his breath mingling with her own, the sight of his face so near hers in the dark, his hair falling across his eyes. She felt his fingers trace down her stomach, slipping between her thighs before she could comprehend it.
“Ah! Lloyd, Lloyd…”
In that darkness, she saw the light in his eyes, always staying close as edged inside her as much as he could. He didn’t pause, or stall, or anything. He kept going, and still, and still, he looked like he was in pain.
“Does it feel good?” he asked her, still going, watching Colette writhe under him. The feel of his naked chest against hers, his other hand still gripping her waist tight.
“Y-yes.. but…” Please tell me what’s wrong.
You always said we shouldn’t hide things from each other.
Did he know what she wanted to ask? Another rough kiss, their teeth hitting occasionally, but still continuing. Her vision was fading. Those same fingers that would hold her hand tight, that would cup her face so gently on those nights when she thought he would kiss her, but then would only say goodnight… they left from their place inside, but still he wouldn’t leave her. She was filled again, and the suddenness, the rush of skin, the long slow gasp that Lloyd let free from his throat-
Colette embraced him tight, losing herself in skin and sweat. The pain was always welcome. It reminded her that she was still alive. She wasn’t stuck in a long dream, locked inside a sphere that was slowly burying further inside her body until she was consumed whole.
I’m here… but you seem to think…
Lloyd moved through her until she was completely engulfed in the feeling. His hips hit against hers, the rhythm changing, his own words slipping. Always her name, and then something else. Part of her pain was in not understanding his own, but she would take everything gladly if this helped. Besides, she was selfish – taking everything he would give was what she had always wanted.
She couldn’t remember when she fell asleep. But the dull ache between her thighs woke her up, warm and tingling. She felt cocooned in something so protective, close to losing consciousness again.
Lloyd was holding her as he cried softly.
She was stunned once more, her voice gone again. She felt his hot tears against her skin, him still half in her, hands clutching her shoulders.
But different. Much softer, gentler. He pressed his forehead against her own.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, then buried his face in her neck again.
Colette hugged him back, her legs moving to keep him enclosed within her. “It’s okay,” she said, wishing her voice didn’t sound so breathless when she finally got it back. Was that why he was worried? “I’m not hurt.”
He wouldn’t lift his head away. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
Colette held him close, as he had done with her. She kissed the space just beneath his hair. “You should… tell me… because I love… too…”
She couldn’t stay awake, and maybe that was the problem. If she had stayed awake, if she had listened more to him… but the darkness of the inn room was so comfortable, and his hands on her had never felt any safer than now. She let her fingers stroke his hair, wanting to brush away whatever fears he had, as easily as brushing lint off her dress.
But she couldn’t stay awake, she could only breathe softly, she could only leave him a kiss as he hid away his tears in her neck, echoing so many, many nights ago, underneath an array of stars that she had been in the middle of counting.
She had been selfish, the happiness of being together with him like this slowly lulling her to sleep.
The letter she found the next morning let her know how little she understood.
Lloyd was not good at masking his pain, his worries, his fears. But Colette was experienced in it. It was why she could stand on his balcony and lie to his face about when she would leave. Only in the quietness of her room did she allow herself to cry, careful to not let any tears hit the parchment as she wrote.
She noted Lloyd’s letter was dry. He had already spent all his tears with her last night.
The inn room was empty. His own pack was gone, leaving her alone with her things. She knew that if she left to ask that kind innkeeper, he would tell her that Lloyd had left earlier that morning, or maybe even during the night.
But for now, he was gone and she was alone.
Colette felt herself start to cry, only now after everything. Unlike her, Lloyd had always been brave enough to show her his tears, hadn’t he? She wished she could do the same.
If she found him, she could do the same.