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-Eight: Fever!
An Unexpected Proposal
Gourry's first reaction was to frown uncharacteristically. Oh, great. I told her she was gonna get sick. And her magic's not working. He couldn't see in the near-darkness whether or not her face was flushed, but judging by the hot, moist feel of her cheek against his own, it probably was. The swordsman used his ears instead, listening to Lina's breathing, and thought he detected some hoarseness.
What do you do for sick people? Take their temperature, I guess. But I don't have one of those thingys you use to check it. Hmm. Maybe one of the guards does. The one who brought Lina back here seemed like an okay guy. He might help.
Carefully the swordsman laid the sleeping girl down on the cold stone floor, then stood up, shaking his legs to get the kinks out. He walked in the dimness to the door, then pounded his fist on it to get the attention of any guards who were around. The loud thump as his fist hit made him wince, not from pain but because he abruptly realized that he should try to let Lina sleep, to regain her strength.
He tried to yell quietly through the tiny barred window. "Hey...is there anybody out there? My friend's sick and I need one of those therm-thermom-ther-mom-o-meters that moms use, to take her temperature."
Nothing happened. After a minute or so he repeated his request a little louder, and then again, finally, at the top of his lungs. Nothing.
In the kitchen area several of the men heard Gourry's bellow and laughed. "Like we'd fall for the oldest trick in the book!" one of them guffawed.
The blonde swordsman continued to shout for several minutes, alternately asking for help and cursing the guards' indifference until he finally gave up, at least for the moment. With his broad shoulders sagging he turned back to his small companion, biting his lip as he thought, What should I do?
Gourry tried to remember what you should do for a person with a fever, but since he had seldom been ill, even as a child, he couldn't remember much. He managed to dredge up a memory from somewhere, one of his mother making him stay in bed and drink warm broth and nasty-tasting herbal brews. I don't have anything for you to eat, but if bedrest will help, I can make you comfortable, anyway. You must be really tired, if you slept through all that yelling. When those guards come to take you back to see their leader they'll see you're sick and maybe they'll get you some medicine.
"After all, they can't ask you questions if you're unconscious-or dead," he added aloud.
As he sat down and lifted the limp sorceress into his arms again, Gourry was suddenly struck by the memory of his Oracle-dream. A jolt of fear ran down his spine, far more chilling than the cold stone wall he was leaning against. Lina...she...she died right in my arms. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms protectively around her body. I couldn't save her then, but I'm gonna do my damndest to keep her alive now! If I have to, I'll kill the guards and make a break for it without our weapons. It's not like I have the Sword of Light anymore, and I've gotta get her some help! The big man had never felt so useless, so helpless to protect his chosen one. I just hope she doesn't get any worse.
Gourry settled her onto his lap with his legs under hers and sat silently in the near-darkness for several minutes, waiting for something to happen. Suddenly his stomach growled, clearly audible in the quiet room. I wonder when they're gonna feed us?
He was still for several moments before something occurred to him. You don't suppose that meal we ate earlier was all they're going to feed us today? he thought in horror. That was hours ago-I think. He rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. Hmm. I wonder how long we slept? It's hard to tell when you're underground. He shook his head. Anyway, even though I can take it, they shouldn't expect Lina to go for too long without eating...how will she ever grow if she doesn't eat properly?
Gourry Gabriev could hardly remember a time when he had not traveled with the fiery young sorceress. Most of his life from before he'd met her seemed pale and dreamlike, as if his true life began at the moment he'd seen the small red-haired waif facing down a bloodthirsty gang of bandits all by herself. His life had never been dull since.
She'll never be what you'd call a real lady. She's stubborn, brash, and mercenary. She can be really ruthless when she's after something she wants, and really vicious to her enemies...but she's also good-hearted, and one of the bravest people I've ever met. I can't remember how many super-powerful villains she's defeated, but I know we've saved the world more than once. How many real ladies can say that?
On his lap, Lina stirred, and a small sound somewhere between a moan and a whimper was heard. Gourry held still, trying not to do anything to wake her, wondering, Is she in pain? The blonde swordsman listened to his companion's somewhat labored breathing. I know when you have a cold all your muscles ache. Sometimes you have a sore throat, too. Should I try to massage her skin? It always feels good when we stay at fancy inns with hot springs and those ladies who rub nice-smelling oils on my skin.
The young man began to rub his friend's body where his hands were holding her, trying to remember how the people at hot springs did it. Without thinking he moved his hands in a circular motion over her upper chest and belly, until his top hand slid down and he suddenly realized that he was holding her small, soft breast in his hand. He froze, his eyes as wide as dinner plates, then ever so slowly moved his hands back to their former positions.
She did not stir. "Whew," he said, relieved.
...On the other hand, if Lina wakes up and thinks I'm 'taking advantage of her' it would take a long time before she'd trust me again. "Not to mention the fact that she'd probably kill me," he added matter-of-factly.
Lina murmured something in her sleep. Gourry tried to make her as comfortable as possible, shifting her gently on his lap to lean back squarely on his chest, moving her arms and legs into natural positions, taking extra care with her swollen ankle. He was struck again by how small she really was. After a while you forget...she has such a big personality that every time I notice her size it surprises me. It always makes me want to protect her.
He put his arms around her body in the same places that she had allowed him to earlier, above and below her small, soft bosom, and resisted the urge to hug her tightly, to give vent to the feelings that lay just below the surface. Instead he bent his head down to bury his face in the dry, fluffy hair on the top of her head, breathing in the fresh smell of clean hair. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you, Lina. I'd be lost. I need you...
He began to speak in a soft tone, hardly realizing he was talking aloud. "It's funny, that time when we were heading back to Amelia's and you told me not to say anything about romance...it wasn't Amelia and Zelgadis I was thinking about...it was us. All that talk about marriage made me wonder about the two of us, and what kinds of feelings we shared. I didn't know how you felt about me then, but most of the time you don't show feelings like love, anyway.
"I don't know what you're supposed to feel when you decide to marry someone. I should have asked Amelia. Anyway, all I know is that I want to spend the rest of my life with you, making sure you're safe and happy. Whether or not we're married doesn't really make that much of a difference to me."
"It does to me." Lina's quiet voice had a husky quality to it that could have been from emotion-or was it her cold?
Gourry held still, trying to judge whether or not he was about to get pounded, in case she had forgotten why she was sitting in his lap, or if she had been awake when he'd tried to massage her. Then her words sank in. "Lina? You mean-?"
In an uncharacteristically thoughtful tone she continued, "For a long time I believed you were just a traveling companion. Then Hellmaster Phibrizzo kidnapped you...and I couldn't believe how big a hole you left in my heart."
Gourry felt one of her palms cover the hand he had placed over her lower ribs. She squeezed his hand gently. "I still couldn't admit how important you were to me, but after that I guess I just accepted that you and I would always be together. Even then, I didn't realize how much I cared about you...loved you, I guess, until this whole thing with Amelia and Zelgadis and the wedding."
Her fingers moved over his hand, caressing it gently. Impulsively he moved his hand to catch hers in his, and she let him. He smiled in contentment in the near-darkness, reminded of times in the past when she would have fireballed him for even thinking of doing such a thing. That set his mind to wandering. "But would you really want to marry me, Lina?" he murmured aloud.
He heard her gasp, and realized too late how his unthinking comment might be interpreted.
"Do you mean that?" Her voice definitely sounded choked up, and he felt a flicker of alarm begin. If he didn't answer her right, then magic or no magic he would find himself in agony within moments.
"Ahh...it's not important what I want. I want whatever you want-whatever will make you happy."
He could tell by how Lina's narrow shoulders sagged back against his chest that he was probably safe, at least for now. Her voice held a trace of disappointment, but a stronger note of amusement. "That honesty of yours. As infuriating as it can be sometimes, it's also what got us into the Oracle's chamber. I should have known." She sighed. "Fine, then."
The young girl turned her head to the side, her damp braid rubbing against his bare neck and shoulder. Then he felt her hand touch the side of his face, and slide up through his thick hair to the back of his head. She pulled his head lower, and then he stiffened in surprise as he felt her warm lips press against his own.
His entire body began tingling as he concentrated every fiber of his being on the soft lips touching his, but even as he began instinctively to deepen the kiss, she pulled away. Both of them were breathing heavily. It felt strange to be able to feel her breathing against him, but in a good way.
After a few moments Lina spoke in a voice that somehow managed to contain hope, exasperation and even a hint of laughter, "Gourry, will you marry me?"
He was still reeling from the unexpected kiss. "Uh, yeah, sure. Of course I will."
Somehow he could sense her joy; he could almost imagine that her ecstatic grin had brightened the room for a moment, and he knew that his own happiness was nearly equal to hers. How often did a guy get proposed to by a Sorcery Genius?
Her hands covered his own, pressed firmly against her chest and stomach. "Oh, Gourry." Her voice had grown even huskier. He liked how it sounded-he had never heard her voice sound like that in all the years he had known her, but somehow he knew it wasn't just a cold.
She added, "I'd kiss you again, but I don't want to you catch whatever it is I've got."
Hopefully, he replied, "Oh, I doubt I would. They didn't throw me in ice water."
"Maybe not, but trust me, it's not fun." Some of her usual cranky attitude returned. "My head hurts, my throat's sore, and I ache in muscles I never knew I had. And I'm really tired."
Regretfully, Gourry gave up on his unpure thoughts for now. "Why don't you go back to sleep, then? They're not gonna let us out until tomorrow, anyway."
"All right." She shifted a little, making the soft moans of someone who is extremely tired and sore and hates having to move. After she finished settling herself, there was a short silence, but then she said quietly, "Gourry?"
"For doing this. Being a living armchair for hours can't be the most comfortable thing in the world."
"It's not so bad." He chuckled a little. "It's a good thing you're small."
She was silent for a few seconds, then asked, "Are you cold? I'm still wearing your shirt."
He had to think for a moment. "Not really. My hair helps, and you're giving off heat now."
He felt her chest expand and contract as she sighed. "Yeah, don't I know it. I must have a fever, because now I'm too hot. I almost wish we had some ice."
"Ice?" That didn't seem like a good idea to him. I just got her warmed up!
Time passed. Gourry found himself dozing, not really sleeping but not really awake, either. He found Lina's steady breathing against him soothing.
Lina tried to sleep, but time after time she found herself wide-eyed, staring at the rectangle of light the corridor-torches made on the stone wall across from the door. I feel so drained...we can't do anything about escaping tonight and I need to try to sleep off this cold, so why can't I fall asleep?
The young sorceress had tried relaxation methods like deep breathing, and visualizing peaceful scenery in her mind, but every time she started to doze off the scene became a nightmare. Amelia, dressed in a white wedding gown, glared at her with tearful, accusing eyes. "You promised me that you'd return in time! You promised to bring him home to me for my wedding. You promised. You promised!"
I'm doing all I can, Amelia. Lina tried to reply. I know Zelgadis hasn't told me everything yet. I'll make him tell me what the Oracle said if I have to pry it out of him with my sword! I haven't given up yet-this is just a little setback.
"It's too late, already, Miss Lina. Too late..."
The diminutive sorceress always woke abruptly at his point. I know perfectly well that my subconscious is worried that we won't make it, but does it have to keep ruining my sleep? This is ridiculous!
For the ninth time Lina closed her eyes and focused on a pleasant memory. I wish I could think about food, but I'm afraid to start my stomach growling. Instead the image of the beautiful flowery field that she and Gourry had rested in while they waited for Zelgadis to apologize to Amelia entered her mind. She frowned. Wait a minute. Right after that is where we got captured. Maybe that's why I keep having bad dreams.
She sighed, a sigh which turned into a long yawn. I know, I'll think about the view from the Oracle's domain. She pictured climbing up the grassy hill, and tried to remember the smells of the flowers, the feel of the breeze, the warmth of the sun on her back. Then the incongruous image of a metal door set into a hill full of pink and white flowers formed behind her eyelids. She smiled a little.
Gourry to the rescue, she thought in amusement. It's a good thing he didn't mind singing in front of us. Zel and I were both too embarrassed to experiment out loud. We could've been there for days. She yawned again.
"Oh, did I wake you?"
"Not really." He paused. "Is something wrong?"
No...I'm just having a hard time falling asleep." Hearing his voice made her remember something. "Hey, Gourry..."
He was silent for a few moments. "What is it? Come on, you can tell me."
"Well...it's just that I...I was wondering if you could sing to me."
"Sing." She could feel a blush appear over her nose. "You know, like a lullaby or something. To help me sleep."
"Ohhh. I see. Hmm." He didn't speak for a while. "I haven't heard a real lullaby since I was a little kid, but I think I sort of remember my favorite one. My mom used to sing it to me."
Now Lina was curious. What kind of lullaby would he have liked when he was little? One about a brave warrior rescuing a damsel in distress? No, that sounds more like something Amelia would like. "I'd like to hear it, Gourry. If you don't mind."
"Okay." The blonde swordsman took a deep breath and began to sing in a soft voice. At first he faltered a bit, humming whenever he could not remember the words, but as it is with most songs, once he remembered the melody it all came back to him.
The young girl listened to her companion's simple, happy tune as he sang of the wonders of nature. He told of the marvelous animals of the world, from the tiniest fish to the largest dragon. His warm baritone spoke of rainbows and trees, of the skies and the seas and the plains that grew food for the people. It was easy for Lina to see where her friend's desire to travel had come from.
He has a nice voice, she mused, as her eyelids became heavy. I'll have to remember to tell him that in the morning...
As Gourry finished his song, he could tell by the feel of her that Lina was deeply asleep. That's good. It was not long before he followed her into the land of dreams.
The heavy thud of the wooden door as it closed awaken him. For a moment Gourry was bleary-eyed, but his nose caught the smell of hot food and he realized that someone had opened the door while they slept. He clenched his fists. I could have jumped him. We could have gotten away! Or at least, I could have asked for something to make Lina better.
Well, at least they brought us food. Should I wake her up? For a moment his instincts battled with his chivalry. I should have some first. She'll probably eat all of it if I don't. But...she's sick. She probably needs it more than me. He sighed. Oh, well. At least they're not planning to starve us into confessing. Hey, I wonder what time it is? Is this supper, or breakfast?
He turned his attention to his friend. "Hey, Lina, wake up."
She didn't move.
Author's Note: Gomen-another cliffhanger! I always run out of space right in the middle of a chapter...or maybe I just write such long chapters that I end up breaking them down into manageable chunks, take your pick. I've noticed a lot of my chapters are gradually growing-in the final edits before I put 'em on I generally add things, and answer stuff from reviews in my author's notes, so they end up longer than I'd planned originally anyway. I was going for 7 pages (per Microsoft Word) but these days I've been putting up a lot of 9-10 page chapters.
By the way, an idle question-approximately how long does it take you to read a chapter? Feel free to reread some or all of my fic-what I'm trying to get at is how long it will take to read once it's complete, in case I want to show it to someone and want to prepare them for how long it'll take. I'm not a good base to go by since I'm always reading with an eye to make changes/fix grammar, that sort of thing, which slows me down. I think it takes me about 7-8 minutes to read each chapter, if I don't make changes, but reading with an eye on the clock makes me try to read faster than normal, which skews the results. Oops-now I've made you all self-conscious.
I once worked it out that it would probably take me about 10 hours to read the full, complete version (once I finish it) of my fic, which is equivalent to a trilogy of books that are around the length of Piers Anthony's earlier Xanth books. (My favorite is Ogre, Ogre.) Not bad for two years' worth of work, ne?
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