Only Stone on the Outside
a Slayers fanfic
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, just 'cause I like to know people are interested. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing really descriptive. PG for minor swearing.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Let Me Help, Lina!
Amelia's First Lesson
I'm sitting in Gourry's lap! Lina's first reaction was to freeze, torn between shock, fury, and sheer astonishment. He had never done anything like this deliberately, never tried to physically impose himself on her in any way-not that she had ever given him any real opportunities, but still... She became aware of his masculine scent, which made his nearness seem all the more threatening.
The hands left her waist, and moved to her shoulders. "Lean against me," came a quiet voice from behind her, as his hands gently pulled her backward.
"What are you doing, Gourry?" she demanded, a note of increasing outrage in her tone. She pulled away against the restraining hands, trying to stand up, to get away from him as her instincts were screaming at her to do. Her bruises ached, and her injured ankle began sending daggers of pain up the length of her leg.
He pleaded, "Lina, please, you have to get warm! You're going to get sick. I can't just sit here and watch you suffer like this." Despite herself, her struggling lessened as she caught the note of real concern in his voice. "Lina, please... let me help you."
"I'm fine," she heard herself say; an automatic reassurance, although she was all too aware of its falseness. As she tried again to rise, awkwardly holding her injured leg up, she noticed distractedly that she could barely feel the stone floor beneath her other foot-both of them had gone numb from the cold. "Let me go, Gourry."
He refused to let go. "No. You're shaking like a leaf. I have to get you warmed up."
The pain helped her temper flare. "Gourry..." she warned, turning her head to the side to glare up at him, although she could see almost nothing in the dimness. Apparently he interpreted her body language for what was about to happen, as she watched him shake his head at her. "Go ahead, Lina-beat up on me if you have to. As long as it gets your blood flowing again I don't care what it takes."
His words went through her with a jolt. Her companion didn't move, waiting for her response to his ultimatum. As yet another shudder racked her body she suddenly noticed how very warm his large hands were on her shoulders. His legs, too, were warm, stretched out underneath hers so that no part of her own legs touched the cold stone floor.
She shook her head. What am I doing? I'm sitting in his lap, for crying out loud! What if he- Her fists clenched as once again she felt the impulse to attack him, to strike out at this man who had the gall to... to... To care about me. Abruptly most of her anger evaporated, leaving her feeling curiously weak.
As another tremor passed through her body the young sorceress was forced to acknowledge that she was in bad shape. In this condition I won't be much good in a fight, she admitted reluctantly to herself. At the least, it'll be a lot harder to try to escape, let alone find Zel and Amelia and make it back to Seyrune in time. And as much as I hate to admit it, Gourry's right. I just can't shake off this chill-it feels like an ice-spell from the inside out.
Lina stared hard at his shadowy form, wishing she could see his eyes. He's willing to let me pound the living daylights of him, for my sake? She hesitated for a long moment, shivering from more than the cold. I guess...it all comes down to whether or not I trust him.
I do. Her instant internal response surprised her, but the more she thought about the man holding her the less antagonistic she felt. She closed her eyes. I know he's only trying to help. It's just... so hard to let go, to deliberately put myself in such a vulnerable position. And yet, within her she felt an equally strong urge to do just that, to let someone take care of her, to make her feel warm and safe.
Her old independence made one more attempt. You don't need him. You can get along just fine on your own. You did it for years before you met him. The emerging part of her replied honestly, Yes, I could... if I wanted to.
And then the young girl relaxed, a slow smile appearing on her bruised face as she realized the truth. I want Gourry to care for me. And I... I want to care for him, too. And this knowledge, instead of making her feel trapped in a bond of dependence, made her feel secure-happy and content in a way she'd never been even as a child.
Lina felt Gourry jump as she suddenly let her body go slack, leaning back against his bare chest. He didn't move for a long moment, but she noticed she could feel the tenseness leave his muscles as he cautiously decided she wasn't going to pound him. She smiled to herself and commented slyly, "You took a big chance there, pal."
"I know," came his answer, his chest moving against her back. "But I was taking the chance of losing you if I didn't do anything to help you." Oh, Gourry. His hands slid from her shoulders to her upper arms, gently running up and down them to warm them. She couldn't stop her shudder of reaction, feeling again how wretchedly cold she was. Her ankle throbbed.
Gourry's hands hesitated, then slowly, as if to show her that she could stop him at any time, moved around in front of her. She couldn't help tensing again as one arm came to rest horizontally across her chest, above her modest bosom, while the other wrapped itself around her stomach. It hurt where she had bruises. Her shivering increased as her muscles tensed, and her ankle sent out a strong twinge of pain.
Lina took a couple of deep breaths, feeling the unaccustomed pressure and warmth of his arms as her chest expanded, and tried to relax, fighting the instinct to throw off his arms and leap clear. As she became aware that her hands had closed themselves into fists again, Gourry spoke. His voice sounded strange, so close to her ear. "It's okay, Lina. I promise... I won't do anything..." he trailed off, making her realize for the first time that he was probably feeling just as awkward about this as she was.
Somehow that made her feel better. "I know you won't, Gourry," she said softly. "I trust you." After a few moments, she chuckled. "You know what I'd do to you if you did."
"I know," he replied wryly. "How's your ankle?"
"It hurts... but mostly only when I try to move it, or if I hit it on something."
"Are you any warmer yet?"
She frowned. "Not yet. Damn, I'm chilled to the bone. I didn't realize it-I thought I'd be warm enough with your shirt, but I'm still freezing. Aren't you cold?"
He hesitated. "...Maybe a little. But I don't have wet hair, and I can move around to get warm if I have to."
Impulsively Lina placed her hands on his arm, the one over her stomach. He twitched, and made a sound of surprise. She realized her icy hands had startled him. "Sorry." She tried not to laugh, and kept her hands where they were, soaking up the warmth of his skin. "You don't feel cold to me."
The petite sorceress snuggled back closer to him, trying to get comfortable without moving her injured ankle too much. She pulled aside the long, thick red braid from where it was lodged between them, letting it dangle over her shoulder where it would be out of the way. The short hair on her head was mercifully almost dry by now.
The young girl tried to shift her bottom slightly forward, a little worried about just where she was sitting but trying not to think about it for now. She tried to cover up her nervousness. "You know, you're going to end up as wet as me-at least in front. And I'm not taking off the rest of my clothes."
It felt strange to be able to feel it when Gourry laughed. "I'll survive."
Then Lina felt a length of soft-dry-hair brush against her cheek and over her shoulder just before Gourry's cheek pressed against the side of her head. Again she shivered, but this time she suspected it was only partially because of the cold.
"How's this?" Gourry asked. "I figure if wet hair can give you the chills, dry hair might help keep you warm." She could feel his muscles vibrate in his chest as he spoke, and the movements of his face and throat. It was a strange experience... not unpleasant... just weird, and somehow comforting.
His large body was finally helping to ward off the chill. A slow lassitude began to spread throughout the girl's sore muscles as her exhausted body demanded that which is the most essential of restoratives: sleep. As she relaxed, she breathed in his particular scent, no longer perceiving it as threatening; instead it was associated with security and contentment.
"Braiding your hair was a good idea." His voice made her jump-she'd almost nodded off.
"Keeps it off me," she murmured.
After a few moments Gourry said softly, "Sleep well, Lina."
Only the faintest of snores answered him. He smiled, and daringly brushed a gentle kiss upon her cheek. In spite of his earlier claim, he too was growing tired. Gradually, so as not to wake her, the devoted guardian of the most powerful sorceress in the world-if not all four worlds-leaned both of them back until his shoulder blades touched the cold stone surface. He shook his head to let his long blonde hair slide back behind his shoulders to provide a bit of insulation, sensing that the young girl in his arms was getting all the warmth she needed from his large frame.
Sighing contentedly, Gourry bowed his head down next to hers and slept.
Some time later he was awakened by Lina, twisting around restlessly in his arms and murmuring something. He bent down a bit lower and pressed his cheek against hers, tensing as he realized, "She's got a fever."
Even though she had accepted the necessity of learning to seriously attack someone with a metal blade, the young princess still looked upon the chore with distaste. "I know it's silly, but I've never... made someone bleed before." The girl blurted out lamely. "It's not at all the same as fighting with magic..."
As her voice trailed away in embarrassment, the stone man stood for a moment, gazing at the small girl in front of him. She was looking at the ground, with several dark strands of her hair moving gently in the light breeze. He looked at the sword she held, and noticed her hand. Such a small hand. It's hard to believe a hand so delicate-looking is capable of such power in battle. It's her fighting spirit, of course, that gives her such strength. But how do you make someone want to fight?
Zelgadis had an idea. He turned to look at the dragonwolf, who was lying on her stomach off to the side and calmly watching them. "And what of Shiran? She fights when she has to. She draws blood to protect, to defend. And yet... she isn't evil, is she?"
The dragonwolf chose that time to yawn languidly. Amelia gave the lavender beast a long look, seeing sharp white fangs in a long slim muzzle, teeth whose very purpose was to tear apart flesh. Then Shiran blinked her bright green eyes at her bonded one, and cocked her head to the side as if to ask: What is it?
Amelia could not look into that gaze and see just a creature of evil. Shiran was what she was, with no apology, no shame. If she were human she'd probably tell me to grow up and stop trying to squirm out of my duty. It's time to face my fear and master it. One side of her mouth went up in a wry smile. At least with Mister Zelgadis as my teacher I won't have to worry about hurting him. Unless-
Zelgadis watched as the indecision on Amelia's face smoothed away, to be replaced with that uncharacteristically serious expression that he was noticing more and more often lately. She asked, "Are there-I mean, do you have any-any vulnerable places that I might accidentally hit and hurt you?"
Reflexive caution made him glace around quickly to see if there was anyone within hearing range. "Only my mouth and eyes, Amelia. And so far my eyelids and lips have always provided enough protection, so don't worry about it. I doubt I'll be doing any bleeding."
"Good." Amelia brought her sword up in a passable attack stance, and nodded as if to say 'I'm ready'.
Zelgadis gazed at her grim features. She looks as if she's going into the torture chamber. He remembered his own earliest lessons, using a wooden bokken-sword, practicing with his younger cousin in mock-battles, enjoying rare moments of camaraderie with some of the older trainers. She'll never reach her full potential if she can't relax. The one who tenses in battle is often the first to fall... hmm. If Lina were here, what would she say?
"Amelia." He deliberately let his posture become languid. "Relax. It's not a life or death situation just yet. Come on. It's time we had a little fun with this." He was intentionally emulating their red-haired comrade, although he was long out of practice at this sort of thing. It felt strange to be deliberately trying to let go of his dignity, after working to build it for so many years. There's no one here to see me, he told himself. I can afford to play the juvenile if that's what it takes to get Amelia into the spirit of this.
The look of surprise on her face was amusing. Deliberately giving her a cocky grin, the stone man taunted, "Come on, Amelia, what happened your spirit? Too much time in the palace getting bogged down by responsibilities? Have you forgotten what it's like to live a little?"
As he'd hoped, the young girl's face lost its grave expression and instead took on a more normal look of insulted pride. Her eyes flashed. "Who are you to talk?" she scoffed, but the chimera could hear the edge of laughter in her tone. "I don't think I've ever seen you having 'fun'! I don't think you'd know fun if you stepped in it!"
"Why don't you show me, then?" Encouraged by the return of the spirited girl he remembered, his grin deepened and he slid into an exaggerated pose that said 'come and get me'.
"Okay, you asked for it!"
The old Amelia was back, leaping and whirling and bellowing fierce battle cries, her manner full of the fighting spirit he knew of old. He thought to himself, As long as it's a game, she's able to play. The moment of truth will come when we find out if she's able to use what she learns here in real battle.
Zelgadis was surprised to realize that he was enjoying himself. It reminds me of happier times, times when my future was unknown. I was still a carefree young man then. One of Amelia's strikes managed to barely tap his side. He did not give her time to realize what she'd done, as he scoffed, "What kind of strike was that? I didn't even feel it! You've got to try harder if you want me to admit you might have some talent, girl!"
Her cheeks were flushed an attractive pink from exertion. "Why, you-! Just you wait, Mister High-and-Mighty Swordsman! Take that!"
After a while Zelgadis found his thoughts wandering. For the second (or was it the third?) time in three days Amelia had been in his arms in the age-old custom of woman weeping, man comforting. What is happening between us? Zelgadis' thoughts wandered as he mechanically sparred with the enthusiastic young princess, who was doing her best to slice him to pieces. I wish Lina and Gourry were here. Their friends' presence was the best check-rein he could think of to keep things from becoming too serious between himself and Amelia. She would never act so openly in front of them.
The stone man could not decide how to behave around the young girl. My instincts tell me to back off, to avoid her, to keep her at arm's length for the time to come when we go our separate ways. It will only make things harder on both of us... not that I'm in love with her, of course, but I do care about her. She's been a true friend to me all these years...
And yet, I'm all she has at the moment. Another man might be able to ignore her suffering, but I have also suffered because of my family. I understand her all too well. He did not notice that he was thinking of himself as a human again.
Amelia's sword almost touched him. His instinctive dodge, aided by super-human reflexes, was just enough to save him.
Amelia's eyes sparkled as she laughed at him. "I almost got you that time!"
The sudden short chuckle that emerged from his own mouth surprised him more than it did her.
Then, with a smile he answered, "Yes, well... you won't be so lucky the next time." Pushing the confusing thoughts to the back of his mind, he focused on sparring. There was something exhilarating about throwing oneself into physical activity, with no time for thought, only actions and reactions; where a fraction of a second could make all the difference in the world. For the most part he managed to remember to take it easy, as Amelia could not match his enhanced abilities, and she did put up a good fight.
As time passed, the 'battle' became less awkward as Amelia's technique improved. Her first clumsy, haphazard charges and dodges gave way to smoother movements until he was forced to admit she did have a certain grace at times. She really did have a well-developed body, with strong, controlled muscles under her feminine curves. The mock-battle became more of a dance than a game, with the object being to throw off the other person's rhythm and gain the advantage.
When at last he saw her beginning to falter, he called a halt to their training and was astonished to see by the sun that almost two hours had passed. The young girl threw herself down on the rusty pine-needle carpet, panting. "I haven't-done anything like that-since I was a little girl."
It was on the tip of the stone man's tongue to comment 'But you are still just a girl', but for once he managed to stifle it. As he looked down at her he thought that sometimes it was difficult to remember just how young she was. The princess was lying on her back, with her raven hair spread out above her head in a shining corona, her impressive bosom rising and falling rhythmically as she took in great gulps of air. Her skin was shining with sweat.
Before he could get too distracted, he turned away and cleared his throat. "Amelia, why don't you go clean off a little? I can hear a stream running not too far off in that direction." He pointed off to the right. "I'll call Sunshine for you."
"Oh-I suppose I should. I'm all sweaty." She climbed to her feet. "Okay, I'll be just a minute."
As always, Amelia's mare responded to her name. The palomino's golden coat gleamed in the afternoon sunshine, her silky creamy-white mane and tail rippling in the breeze as she came cantering out of the woods toward the chimera. As she stopped beside him, she bobbed her head at him, whickering.
Zelgadis couldn't help responding to such an obvious greeting. "Hello to you, my friend." He smiled. Such horses are rare. It's too bad Amelia has to return you to the village where she acquired Shiran, but maybe in the future Amelia or her father will decide to purchase some good riding horses there. If I had had a horse like you back when I was competing, we'd have been unbeatable. I always did get along better with animals.
By the time Amelia returned, he had decided on their next move. "We'll travel until dark, then have another lesson. Our campfire should provide enough light-and you need to become accustomed to fighting in dim lighting, anyway."
She nodded. "Sure." Maybe by then some of these will feel better, she thought ruefully, looking at the multiple hot red spots on her palms and fingers, some of which would surely become blisters soon. It's a good thing I don't have hands as soft as most of the people I know, or I'd already be crippled with blisters. Oh, I wish my magic worked in here!
Author's Note: So, is Lina in character here? I guess it all depends on whether you think she's matured enough to accept Gourry's help-and his love.
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