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Zelos has been counting down days since he was old enough to know how to.

Days until he can see his mother again, without her waving him away with that look on her face. Days until he can spend time with Seles, even though they say he’s not supposed to. Days until people stop saying they’re sorry, as if any of them could possibly understand what his life is like. Days until he can drink all that wine in the cellar without Sebastian taking it away from him and days until the next time he can meet a woman who will stay long enough that he doesn’t have to have that awful dream again, or maybe even long enough that he can trick himself into believing he isn’t completely alone in this terrible world.

And then he met Colette.

He counts down days until he can spring traps on them. Days until he can go behind their backs and leak their secrets. Days until he can wake up, and she won’t even say good morning to him anymore.

But that day doesn’t come.

Everyone else gets sick of him. They say he’s insensitive, a jerk, a good for nothing womanizer. They’re right, of course, but Colette has called him kind.

There’s a part of him that wishes he could be like her. Selfless, to her very bones. Kind, even when faced with such a cruel reality. She says that she’s a coward, but she has faced death head-on and still made it through all right.

Zelos will never be able to understand it.

She has something he doesn’t. Something he can never have, because Mylene wished he hadn’t been born and his father never cared anyway, and maybe if things were different, Seles would he happy and he would be free.

They stay in Flanoir with Lloyd, but Lloyd stays firmly shut inside his own room. Colette is worried about him, but Zelos wonders if she shouldn’t be worrying about herself instead.

Well, it isn’t his place to worry about her. Even when she smiles at him like she really can’t see what he is.

She comes knocking at his door pretty early in the evening, a shy smile and bright eyes.

“Let’s go for a walk,” she suggests.

Honestly, he doesn’t want to. 

It feels cruel, to him. But she doesn’t know that, and maybe the cruelty is on his part, anyway, because of all the things he won’t tell her and all the ways he’s going to hurt her, even though she’s the only person in this world who never made him feel like his own pain was justified.

He smiles at her. “Why, of course, my angel. I’m honoured you thought of me.”

“It’s lonely,” she says, like it is a confession. “And cold. So cold.” She shudders. “Don’t you feel it too?”

“Cold?” He pretends to think about it. “No, not really. Lonely, though—maybe. Where are we going, cutie?”

“I just thought we could go explore a bit.” She bites her lip and looks down at her feet. “It’s been...well…”

There’s just something about her. A few weeks ago, he would have said that it was just his natural inability to say no to a cute girl, but that would have been a lie. He’s more than capable of saying it.

But not when she sounds so hopeful. When she looks at him with those earnest blue eyes.

“Sure,” he says. “Let’s go for a walk, then. Is it snowing?”

She glances up at him again, then nods. “Is that okay?”

“Fine,” he lies. “Got a coat? You’ll freeze out there.”

“Oh!” She straightens up and gives a small, bashful giggle. “I’ll go grab it and meet you out front. Okay?”

His lips twitch up a bit. He winks at her. “Gotcha. It’s a date.”

She laughs again, then turns on her heel and heads back to her own room.

After watching her go, Zelos sighs and grabs for his own cloak from the hook near the open door. It doesn’t matter much, anyway, he thinks.

His time is already out, isn’t it?

Maybe he does still have a choice. Maybe he could leave right now and tell Mithos to go fuck himself. Maybe he could knock on Lloyd’s door until he opens up—whether he wants to or not—and get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness, knowing full well he doesn’t deserve it and Lloyd wouldn’t want to give it to him anyway.

All of that sounds awful, but when he meets Colette at the entrance of the hotel, he wonders if it might actually be worth it.

She smiles at him and waves him over urgently.

“It looks really pretty,” she enthuses. “Before the first time we came here, I really had no idea what snow was like! It doesn’t snow much in Meltokio, either, does it?”

“Not really,” he says, hoping he turns away from her quickly enough that she misses the way his jaw tightens around the words. “Come on, then. Have you checked out the shops around here much?”

She hurries to get to his side as he opens up the door and steps outside. “A little bit! I found this earlier.”

Just outside, they come to a halt while she digs through her pocket and eventually pulls out something white, dangling it between them with a wide smile.

“It’s a Flanoir Snow Bunny,” she says. “Isn’t it adorable?”

“A good luck charm, huh? You believe in that stuff?”

She pulls the charm close to her, pressing her hands against her chest and looking at him with an intensity in her eyes that he can’t quite understand.

“Of course I do! Everyone needs a bit of luck, right? I sent one back for Altessa, and I wanted to give this to Lloyd, but…”

“Did you talk to him?” Zelos certainly hasn’t, but of course Lloyd wouldn’t want to see him right now. He’s hardly Lloyd’s favourite person. Especially not when Kratos doesn’t even have to try to gain Lloyd’s trust, no matter how many times he breaks it first.

But Lloyd never trusted Zelos. It wasn’t even really a competition, was it?

“I tried to,” Colette says after a long moment. “He didn’t answer the door when I knocked.”

Before she came to Zelos’s door, then.

It shouldn’t bother him. They’re childhood best friends, and Lloyd’s been dealing with a lot of shit lately, hasn’t he? Colette is kind to all of them. It’s just who she is. Virtuous. A helper.

“Can we go this way?” she asks, gesturing to their left. “The lights look so beautiful.”

“Lead the way,” he mutters, and his words fcel even colder than the air that condenses them.

If she notices anything wrong, though, she doesn’t remark on it.

They walk on, the evening darkening into night around them. Colette asks about a few of the buildings and Zelos tells her the answers when he knows them and tells her a joke when he doesn’t, but she smiles either way—radiantly, like the sun, so bright Zelos thinks it might even be enough to melt all this snow around them.

But it doesn’t melt it. Each flake that falls against him carries with it the weight of her words and every single step Zelos has taken to get here.

Maybe he could take Colette’s hand now. Maybe he could tell her everything. Maybe she could shake her head and tell him that it doesn’t matter, it’s all in the past, and she’ll save him now.

The thought is so ridiculous it nearly makes him laugh.

“I’m pretty nervous about what’s going to come tomorrow,” Colette speaks up suddenly. “Are you? You always seem so collected…”

“It is pretty nerve-wracking,” he agrees. “But, hey, what good does it do to fret about it? What comes will come, and when it does…” He stops, then shoots her a grin. “Well, then Lloyd will deal with it, right? He’s gotten you through everything so far.”

But Colette is frowning. “Everyone has worked together,” she says quietly. “Maybe Lloyd is kind of like...our leader, but he couldn’t have done it alone. Genis and Professor Sage were there. Sheena, Presea, and Regal were there. You were there.”

“So were you.”

They’ve come to a stop, now, near the steps leading up to where they came from. She looks down, shoulders hunched.

“I’ve been more a burden than anything.” Her voice is so soft, Zelos has to lean closer to hear her. “I’ve held us all back.”

She’s held them back, huh?

“Pretty sure Lloyd doesn’t care about any of that,” he tells her, shrugging. “Besides, you didn’t choose for all of this crap to happen to you. You’re the one being burdened, not everyone else.”

She glances up at him. “But…”

“Didn’t you already say everyone is in this together?” He crosses his arms over his chest and raises an eyebrow at her. “That includes you. You’re part of a group, and they all care about you. Whether or not you really are holding them back, they’re willing to stick around for you.”

It’s far more than they would do for him.

She exhales slowly, her breath billowing out in front of her. Then, she smiles, just a bit.

“I guess you’re right. I’m glad we’ve been able to go on this journey together.”

He turns away from her, throat tight. He knows that when she says “we” she means all of them—and, really, he’s probably the last on her list—but it stings a bit anyway.

His time is already out, isn’t it?

“It’s getting late,” he says. “We should probably get to sleep.”

“Oh.” She is quiet for a moment, and then she steps up beside him with an anxious sort of air to her. “Are you...okay?”

“A little cold, is all.”

She blinks, then visibly relaxes. “Let’s get inside, then.”

They take the stairs together, but both come to a halt as they hear a familiar voice not too far away from them.

Before either can get a word in, another voice Zelos recognizes begins to speak:

“Until I met you.”

He freezes.

Something like rage swirls in his stomach, but it is so much nastier than that. A sickness, toxic through and through, a reminder that—yes, he made his choice.

Lloyd made his choice.

And here is Colette, looking down at him in concern, the one thing in this entire world Zelos thinks could possibly stand between him and the end of all of this.

“Are you coming?” she asks, eyebrows knitted. She’s worried. About him.

But his time is already out.

“Colette,” he says.

She watches him, frowning.

He made his choice.

He moves up so that they are on the same step, then grabs her by the wrist, as gently as he can, and leans down until their lips touch.

She lets out a startled noise against his mouth, but doesn’t pull away. It’s tender, loving, nothing like any other kiss Zelos has ever shared with a woman in his lifetime.

He wants to linger, desperately, but he can’t. Pulling away, he offers her a quick smile, then turns and hurries up the stairs. She follows him quickly, but neither of them speak, not while knowing that Lloyd and Kratos are so close.

Not that he would give her a chance to say anything, anyway. It’s too late, for both of them. This is his last act of selfishness, is what he wants to tell himself.

After this, things will be easier. Seles will be happy. He will be…

Well, it doesn’t matter.

“Good night,” Colette calls out to him, voice high and tight, cheeks flushed pink with more than the cold.

Zelos has been counting down days for as long as he can remember.

“Good night,” he responds hollowly before turning to enter his room.

This is the first time that reaching zero has hurt so much.