Only Stone on the Outside

by Dreamsinger

Only Stone on the Outside

a Slayers fanfic

by Dreamsinger

2003

I do not own this terrific series; I just wish I did. Please let me know if you'd like to print or archive my story, though, because it's a real boost to the ol' faltering ego. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing descriptive. PG for minor swearing.

Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Crushed Feelings /

Never Let The Vendor Set The Price

"Stay back, Amelia!" Gourry and Lina had both drawn their swords and stepped in front of the pair. Zelgadis felt Amelia pull herself from his grasp and dash in front of him.

"Stop! I mean halt!" she cried. To her friends' complete astonishment she threw herself in front of the beast, spreading her arms out to the sides. "Shiran, halt!" she repeated. Incredibly, the animal cut its leap short, standing almost nose-to-nose with the young girl. It continued to snarl, hackles raised.

"Amelia, what are you doing?" Lina shouted.

"You can't kill Shiran; she's my friend!"

The threesome gaped at her as she turned to the huge beast and ordered, "Shiran, hush." The animal's snarling died down. "Didn't I tell you to 'remain'?" she scolded, crossing her arms. The beast's long, thin ears pressed back against the sides of her head, and she whined, the glow in her emerald eyes dimming.

Amelia held the stern pose for a few more moments, looking remarkably like her father, then relaxed and placed a hand on top of the beast's huge head. "I know, you probably heard me crying and thought I was in danger. I forgive you."

Zelgadis could not hold back a gasp as the huge creature, whose head was level with his own ribs, opened its mouth, showing razor-sharp teeth...and licked the young girl's face. The princess pushed the animal's head away, making sounds between a laugh and a groan, as she wiped her cheek with her other hand. "Eww! Shiran!"

Lina and Gourry exchanged wide-eyed glances and relaxed. The stone man did not. "Amelia, where did you get that...creature?" He had not lowered his sword. Shiran looked up at the sound of his voice, her green eyes glowing brighter. He stared back, his own eyes as cold and unflinching as the metal of the sword he carried.

"Don't worry, Mister Zelgad-"

"I said, where did you get it?" His voice bit harshly through her reply. He was tense, on edge...all his senses telling him something about the beast didn't feel...right. What sort of creature is this?

Startled, Amelia stammered, "In...in one of the towns I came through..."

Foisted off on her by some conniving villagers, no doubt. "That was foolish," he snapped. He didn't notice her wince as he continued his tirade, intent on making her realize just how much danger she'd naively put herself into. He almost yelled, "It's a vicious, dangerous beast-whatever possessed you to do something so stupid?"

Lina suddenly stepped in between the two. "Hey, Zelgadis, you don't have to jump down her throat. So she scared us-big deal. What's your problem?"

Too late, the stone man noticed the usually cheerful princess was blinking back tears. He opened his mouth to explain his sudden strange intuition, but before he could get the words out Amelia clenched her fists and shouted back at him, "Shiran is not dangerous! If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't even be here. She saved my life!"

Zelgadis took a step toward her, although he had no idea what he was going to do or say when he reached her. With a muffled sob the young girl turned and plunged away into the bushes, her call-almost a wail-of "Shiran, flank!" causing the pale beast to perk up her ears and bound after the girl.

He stood there, listening to the fading sounds of Amelia crashing through the forest, and her sobs. He hadn't felt so callow since...since he could remember.

"Nice going, Zel. She came all the way here to see you, and you had her crying in less than five minutes. Way to go." He winced at Lina's sarcastic tone, feeling worse than ever. He turned away from her and met Gourry's troubled eyes. The chimera felt a stab of guilt-his friend did not have to say 'You went too far, Zel'.

Zelgadis found himself stammering uncharacteristically, "I-I didn't mean to hurt her...it's just that...that beast, it...I can't explain...I just don't trust it."

"Do you trust Amelia, Zelgadis?" He could not believe that words that icy were coming from someone so hot-tempered. He nodded wordlessly.

"Then get your butt out there and apologize to her before I feed you a fireball!" she roared.

He hastened to obey, for once not caring if his departure was less than dignified. Before he was out of earshot he heard Lina scoff in disgust, "Men!"

Either he passed out of hearing range just then, or Gourry had wisely decided to keep his mouth shut.

Amelia ran through the forest, her breath ragged with sobs. What happened? She wailed mentally. I was so happy a few minutes ago...I thought he'd be glad to see me, but...he was so horrible...he thinks I'm stupid...oh, Shirry, what went wrong?

Lina stomped around the clearing, grumbling about how men always managed to mess up relationships, gradually cooling down. Finally she heaved a large sigh and looked up at her blonde companion with a rueful smile. "What are we gonna do with him, Gourry?"

He decided to take the safest option and simply shrugged.

She continued, "Well, he's probably going to be a while. Let's get some rest while we can. He's been pushing a mean pace lately."

"Sure, Lina." He dropped down to the ground right where he was, sitting cross-legged. Lina settled down with her back against a tree trunk, trying not to think about the last time she'd sat under a tree. She wished Gourry had chosen to sit closer to her.

Several minutes later, Lina sat up. "Gourry, do you smell that?"

The blonde swordsman sniffed the air. "Yeah...something sure smells good."

"Let's check it out."

The eternally hungry pair followed their noses some distance away through the woods, eventually coming upon a narrow road that wound through the trees. Lina took several deep breaths. "It's...stew, I think...I smell beef..."

"And potatoes...and greens," Gourry added, taking in great gulps of air.

"It smells delicious!" Lina grabbed Gourry's hand. "Come on, Gourry, let's hope there's still some left!"

The two of them took off at a breakneck pace, running side by side. Lina released her hold on her companion's hand so she could run faster, but even so she was tempted to use Rei Wing to match Gourry's fierce pace. His long legs gave him an unfair advantage.

Within a few minutes their objective was in sight-a vendor was pushing his cart at a brisk pace down the road. The brightly-painted cart was a clever blend of a tiny firepit with a large, steaming cauldron hanging over it and a miniature kitchen. Pots and utensils were hanging from hooks all around the roof, swinging merrily back and forth as the cart moved with musical pings, like wind chimes.

"Hey, mister-wait!" Lina called out.

The man stopped, looking at them curiously behind large, silly-looking sunglasses and an enormous dark moustache. "Yes, what can I do for you?"

"Food!" Gourry panted.

"I'll give you-" Lina paused to consider her offer. "Ten for the stew."

The man blinked. "Well, my usual price is two per bowl-"

"No, not per bowl-ten for the entire cauldron."

"What?" The man's face went pale. "I can't sell you all of it-especially at such a ridiculously low price. Please excuse me-I have to be in Nedda in time for the lunch rush. I've gotta make a living, you know!"

Lina was not the child of merchants for nothing. She recognized a sales technique when she saw it. But the rich smell of the stew was making her mouth water, so she sighed and said, "Well listen, you've got two customers right here. So how much do you want for say...half of the stew?"

Inside she winced, remembering her parents' advice too late: Never let them know how badly you want something. And never let them set the price! But then, she usually didn't have to worry about prices, since there had always been plenty of bandit gangs around to raid for food and treasure. But this man wasn't just some brigand she could fireball-he reminded her of her parents, in a way. This was the first time in a long time that she had had to be careful about spending money.

Gourry spoke up. "Aw, come on, mister, have a heart!"

The man turned back, stroking the huge black mustache that covered half his face. "You're really that hungry?"

Both of them nodded, looking at the man with huge puppy-dog eyes.

He hesitated. "Well...I suppose I could let it go for...fifteen."

"All right!" Gourry cheered.

Lina's eyes lit up. "Thanks, mister!" Not nearly as bad as I thought. He's probably giving up a big hunk of today's profits, making us a deal like that.

Lina paid the man, who watched with ever-widening eyes as he served them bowl after bowl after bowl of rich stew, all of it disappearing almost before he finished ladling it into their bowls. Lina grinned at Gourry in between slurps, in a good mood because of the great deal they had negotiated, thinking vaguely that it was nice not to have to fight over food with him for once, even if it was sort of boring.

The vendor stopped when he reached the halfway mark etched on the inside of the cauldron. "You weren't kidding-you were really hungry!" he exclaimed, half admiring, half shocked.

Lina nodded. "Yeah, but that's taken off the edge. We'll be able to make it to lunch now without being too hungry."

The man gaped at her. She grinned, and turned to Gourry. "Come on, let's sit down for a few minutes and digest before we go back."

As she walked away, Gourry remembered his manners and said to the man, "Thanks for the food-it was very good."

Lina sat down on the grass, watching the vendor head off down the road. This time Gourry sat down next to her. "It's kind of funny to see a vendor out here instead of in town, huh, Lina?"

"Mm hmm. He must live nearby, but doesn't want to live in town for some reason. Some people just aren't very sociable. Look at Zel," she commented idly, not really paying attention. She yawned. That stew made me sleepy. I'd better not sit too long, or I'll doze off.

The two of them sat together peacefully, listening to the singing of the daytime insects, letting the warm sun ease the kinks out of their muscles. The gentle breeze whispered around them. Lina caught herself listing to the side, about to lie down on the inviting grassy bed. She shook her head. Gotta get up soon, she reminded herself. Can't lie down. Her drowsy mind came up with a solution-lean against Gourry. That way she would remain upright.

The little sorceress snuggled against her friend's side, murmuring, "Don' lemme fall asleep, 'kay, Gourry?" She felt his arm go around her waist, and smiled. Almost instantly she slid into slumber.

Gourry looked down at the young red-haired girl. He was tired, too, but decided to let her rest for a bit before waking her. He smiled, enjoying the feel of her pressed trustingly against him, glad that things between them had finally gotten to the point where he could sit with her like this and not have her accuse him of some horrible crime when she woke up.

Though she had not really treated him any differently since they had left the Oracle, she had smiled at him more, and once in a while he'd caught her gazing at him with a questioning, wistful look on her face when she thought he wasn't looking. If he managed to make eye contact with her, she always turned red and looked away. He sensed that she was confused, and he understood her longing, but something seemed to be holding her back. He wasn't sure, but it almost seemed to be fear.

That's silly. Lina's never afraid. What could she possibly be scared of? Me? Sighing, the swordsman reminded himself to let her make the first moves. It's all new to her. It is to me, too, but Lina's not used to showing people that she cares. It's not so hard for me.

Asleep, the red-haired girl's face was both that of a young woman, and a small child. Gourry felt a familiar surge of protectiveness wash over him, along with more recent impulses that were not so pure in nature. He could feel her abdomen rising and falling gently with her breathing under the palm of his hand. I wonder how much longer before you're ready to let me show you that I love you?

A curl of bright hair was threatening to cover one of Lina's eyes. He reached up with his free arm and gently brushed the strands away. His hand lingered, caressing her cheek. Her skin's as soft as...as that cloth rich people wear-silk. For the first time he thought, my Lina. With a smile of contentment, the blonde man nodded off. His head dangled over the girl's, their long hair blending into a warm red-gold mane.

As they slept, a shadow loomed over them. "It took long enough for that sleeping draught to work."

"Yeah, yeah, but you gotta admit my idea worked. We got her and there ain't a scratch on us."

"Yeah, well, let's hurry up an' get 'em to the boss before it wears off."

Zelgadis jogged through the forest, following Amelia's trail. It wasn't difficult-there were broken branches and footprints here and there to mark her passage. He could have caught up to her within minutes, but he had purposely slowed his pace when he realized that he had no idea what to say to her. How am I going to talk to her now that I know how she feels about me? How can I look her in the eye and tell her I have no feelings for her beyond friendship?

Perhaps for sanity's sake, he had managed to put out of his mind his surprising admission to the Oracle that he felt it possible that he could develop feelings for Amelia that went beyond simple friendship. He'd had a lot of practice in not thinking about things that bothered him...too much practice.

But now another thought dawned on him. She's probably shocked that I'm still a chimera. She must have been focusing all her hopes on me being human so that she-we...well, anyway, now I'm going to be stuck explaining what the Oracle told me a lot sooner than I expected to. I haven't really decided what I'm going to tell her. He frowned grimly. But I do know one thing-I'm not going to let her put herself in danger because of me. She's already risked her life more times than I care to think about-

The plaintive weeping of a young girl in distress interrupted his thoughts. He slowed, moving quietly, his pointed ears moving slightly as he followed the tremulous sobs to their source.

"Oh, Shiran...I was so happy to see him." She spoke in spurts through the sob reflex. "And-and he looked-glad to see me, too...How did-everything-go wrong so fast? One minute he was holding me-in his arms, and the next he was-looking at me with such a look of...oh, Shirry, do you think he hates me?" Her cries became muffled, as though she was covering her mouth.

Zelgadis felt a sharp pang in his stone chest. She thinks I hate her? Then he spotted her, sitting on the pine-needle-carpeted forest floor, her face buried in the shining lavender fur of the large wild beast, who was lying patiently beside her. He felt the same jolt of uneasiness that had struck him earlier, and clenched his fists, fighting the irrational urge to get Amelia away from the beast who was obviously not offering her any kind of threat.

The animal knew he was coming, of course, but he deliberately stepped on a dry stick, snapping it to let Amelia know he was there. She looked up with a gasp. "M-mister Zelgadis?"

He stood for a long moment, feeling the wall between them as never before. She gazed up at him plaintively, her cheeks wet and her dark blue eyes shimmering with unshed tears. He wanted to comfort her, but could not make himself go to her, or even reach out his hand or smile reassuringly. Thankfully, his impassive gaze gave away none of his inner conflict. Finally, after nearly a minute of awkward silence, he managed to murmur, "I-I'm sorry," and lowered his head, unable to meet her eyes any longer.

He came after me. Amelia couldn't help pulling in her breath sharply as she stared at him, standing there with fists clenched, his pale blue head bowed in shame and regret. Oh, he does care about me. He does! She remembered how hard it was for him to show people that he cared, and felt a warm wave of tenderness wash over her, soothing away the hurt he'd inflicted.

Zelgadis heard her gasp. For several moments there was nothing more than the sounds of birds chirping and the wind stirring the surrounding vegetation. He listened to her rise to her feet and walk toward him, and could not help tensing himself as if for a blow.

"Mister Zelgadis?" came her soft voice. A small hand came into his field of view, gently touching his forearm. Slowly he looked up, past her waist, her bosom, her throat, to cast his gaze on her face. She was smiling at him, still a little teary but her eyes were shining. "I forgive you," she said, smiling at him in a way that sent an unexpected surge of emotion through him.

"Amelia?"

"I know you didn't mean it," she replied, patting his arm reassuringly. She was trying to comfort him! That realization somehow enabled him to ease his control over his tongue.

"I didn't mean to yell-I wasn't really angry at you," he confessed. "I was afraid for you." He clamped his mouth shut, startled at his own admission. A band of pink appeared over his nose. Detachedly he noticed a loud fluttering sound as a bird took flight somewhere nearby.

Oh, Zelgadis. "You were?" Her voice was a blend of surprise, wonder and delight. Her hand tightened on his sleeve without either of them paying much attention to it. He's so adorable when he blushes!

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak in case he should say something even more embarrassing. Her eyes melted into liquid tenderness. Then the raven-haired girl was leaning toward him, standing up on her toes, her face coming closer to his, her eyes drifting shut...

"I mean, you're my friend, after all," he blurted out, stepping back a little. Amelia blinked as if jolted out of a waking dream, looking away from him as her face turned an interesting shade of pink. The chimera stared at her. What just happened? This is getting too...We'd better get back to the others.

He noticed her hand still clutching his sleeve. "Um, Amelia..." he gave a gentle tug with his arm to remind her.

"Oh." She looked embarrassed, and released his sleeve.

He cleared his throat. "Well, we'd better go back before Lina comes looking for us."

"I guess so." She sounded a little disheartened.

The stone man sighed. I'm sorry, Amelia, but it wouldn't be right to encourage you. He was a little surprised she hadn't asked him yet about his cure, but he was not looking forward to when she did. I'd rather fight Shabranigdou again.

"Shiran, flank," Amelia said, lightly slapping the side of her thigh. The huge beast rose immediately and moved to her side.

Zelgadis eyed it. "Amelia, you're sure that this..."

"Shiran."

"Shiran...can be trusted?"

She looked him in the eye, her gaze unwavering. "Yes. She was bred to be a protector."

His teal eyes met her blue ones, and finally Zelgadis nodded. They began walking back the way they had come.

Author's Note: I know in Japan they don't eat a lot of beef, and what they do eat is nothing like what we would call 'beef stew', but they do eat soups made with beef, I'm sure.

I'm not sure just how much experience Gourry might have had with women in the past, but since he's 25 years old, physically very attractive, and used to be a mercenary, I would be willing to bet that at least a few women have offered to show him a few special things over the years...things he would be willing to share with Lina, now that he knows she really does love him.

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