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Only Stone on the Outside

by Dreamsinger

Only Stone on the Outside

a Slayers fanfic

by Dreamsinger

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 I like to know people are interested. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing descriptive. PG for minor swearing.

Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!

Chapter Forty-Seven: Soothing the Nightmares

The null magic zone known as Varxin's Realm prevented any use of magic, so Amelia let Lina ride her horse Sunshine, until they could heal Lina's sprained ankle, as well as the dozens of cuts and bruises she had gotten in Ponmar's cavern. White bandages decorated every area of the diminutive sorceress' exposed skin, giving her the appearance of a war victim. Which in truth, she was-someone else's war.

By common consent they didn't speak of Amelia's confession of love, Zelgadis' cure or their future plans, only of the things necessary for them to make it out of the bleak, inhospitable realm as quickly as possible. Each of them was secretly dreading the inevitably painful scene that would then take place.

Zelgadis had changed back into his normal clothing. As they trekked, the chimera gradually discovered that he had somehow acquired the odd habit of watching Amelia closely for no apparent reason. She would be doing something ordinary, something he'd seen her do a thousand times before, and yet he would find himself following her every movement, studying her with disconcerting fascination as if it were all new to him.

When Amelia chose to drink from a nearby stream, his gaze would be drawn to her legs as she knelt. Then he would be mesmerized by the sight of her slim, feminine arms reaching into the rippling azure water, her small, delicate hands raising the sparkling liquid up to her face, and her full, rosy lips pursing sweetly as she sipped the water. He would contemplate how her deep blue eyes closed as she tipped her hands upward to get the last drops, some of which teased him by escaping from those pink lips to roll intriguingly down over her slender pale throat to her collar. She would repeat this process until her thirst was assuaged, and each time he was as captivated as the first.

He first started to notice this new foible when, in the midst of watching Amelia, he would suddenly notice Lina watching him, and then realize his attention had wandered and that he'd been watching the raven-haired princess for some time without being aware of it. He tried to stop himself when he noticed he was doing it, but it was apparently a habit he'd been unconsciously engaging in for quite some time.

Even more strange was the fact that no one ever commented on it. There were times when Amelia herself would suddenly return his gaze; he would freeze in guilty surprise, yet she would only smile, as if she found it perfectly normal behavior. That made him wonder if his apparent preoccupation with her was in fact all in his mind.

Yet on several occasions he'd awakened from his reverie to see Lina staring at him with an odd look on her face, an unusually somber expression-for her-which said she understood what he was doing, and why he could go no further. Then, when the petite sorceress realized that he had seen her, sometimes she would wink or stick her tongue out at him with her old mischievousness, but she did not, as he expected, tease him with embarrassing comments in front of the others.

Zelgadis wasn't sure if Gourry noticed-sometimes the man could be incredibly observant, and other times incredibly dense, but you could never predict when he would choose to notice something. If he did notice, he didn't say anything about it, for which the chimera was grateful.

Lina hadn't lost her inclination to tease him about other things, though. As the group passed through a grassy field, Lina looked down at the stone man from Sunshine's back and asked with a smirk, "So, Zel-where'd you get that cute dress you wore back there?"

Both Zelgadis and Amelia blushed. The princess could see that he was too embarrassed to say anything, so she spoke up. "It's mine. The clothes were in one of my packs-I thought there might be an occasion to use them." She turned to look at the chimera, and Lina gave her a look which went from surprise to understanding. Amelia didn't have to add, I was hoping to dress up to look nice for Zelgadis.

The stone man didn't notice the brief nonverbal exchange between the two girls. Instead he turned a brief, skeptical look on Amelia as if to say, You expected there might be a party to go to out here in the middle of nowhere? But he only said, "I'm...sorry they got ruined." His quiet tone was apologetic, and his teal eyes held genuine regret.

Suddenly her dress didn't matter. "Oh, no," Amelia gave him a bright smile. "I'm-I'm glad it came in useful. It was only a dress-it can be replaced."

He gave her a look of surprise, as if he'd been sure she would make a fuss, but then his expression softened into one of the many gentle smiles he had begun using more in the days when it was only the two of them traveling together. Amelia basked in his approval, beaming happily up at him.

It took several moments for the chimera to remember that they had an audience, but then he looked up at the interested faces of his companions and blushed again, turning his face away from everyone. He expected Lina to make some kind of teasing comment about Amelia's obvious infatuation, or his own lapse from his usually cool countenance, but again she remained silent.

On the first night away from the cave Zelgadis was roused from his sleep with muted feelings of helplessness, grief, and loss filling his mind. Something's wrong. He sat up, tilting his head to the side as he listened carefully for any danger. In the low firelight he could make out the pale bulk of the dragonwolf on her side at Amelia's feet, her ribs rising and falling gently. Shiran's not reacting-and I don't hear anything either. So why do I feel as if someone was calling my name?

A tiny sound from the princess next to him drew his attention. "Amelia?" He moved over to kneel at her side, bending over her with his hand hesitantly poised to touch her shoulder. The faint orange flickers of the fire illuminated her face; she was smiling gently in her sleep. A small smile touched his own lips as he watched her. She's fine. Those strange feelings I had earlier are gone now, too...maybe I just had a nightmare or something. I-

"Zelgadis...darling," the young princess murmured in her sleep, her smile growing even warmer. The chimera froze, his mouth dropping open a little at this sudden endearment. "...happy for you..." she continued softly, "...found your cure at last..."

Oh. She's the one having the dream. Thoughtfully he glanced at the ward bracelet on her wrist. Was there just the tiniest hint of a glimmer, deep inside it?

He sighed and prepared to move away to go back to sleep. "No..." Amelia's voice had changed to a pleading tone that made him hesitate. The stone man looked closer and saw the sparkle of tears on the corners of her closed eyes. "Zelgadis, don't you know me? It's me, Amelia...don't you remember?" Zelgadis jumped as her voice rose to a near-shout. "No-please, don't! We're not your enemies!" She let out an inarticulate cry of agony.

Almost of its own volition his hand reached out and shook her shoulder, gently but firmly. "Amelia, wake up. You're having a nightmare."

Her eyes opened and she bolted upright. The young girl looked around wildly, then scrambled to her knees in front of him and threw her arms around the alarmed chimera's ribs as he reflexively yanked his arms out to the sides. Amelia buried her face in his chest and burst into tears. "It was so horrible, Zelgadis! You found your cure, but it changed you back into the man you were before Rezo transformed you-you didn't remember me, or any of us. You thought we were your enemies-and tried to kill us!"

Lina was awakened by the sounds of Amelia's weeping. Her eyes snapped open and she tensed to spring to her feet, only to freeze at the astonishing sight of the young princess clinging to the flustered stone man, who couldn't seem to decide what to do with his arms. She couldn't see the girl's face, as Amelia's back was to her, but it was obvious that something was terribly wrong.

Then Shiran blocked her view as she nudged Amelia's back and whined, her large graceful bulk dancing worriedly around her young mistress.

Again Lina began to get up, but was stopped by a hand on her shoulder. She looked over her shoulder at Gourry, who shook his head at her, a serious look in his blue eyes. She hesitated, biting her lip, but lay back down before Zelgadis noticed her movements. She kept one eye open a crack, hoping Shiran would move so that she could see what was going on.

Zelgadis was shocked at the violence of Amelia's sobbing. This was only the third time he had ever seen her cry like this-and the first two times had been because of the deaths (real or false) of her parents. He glanced nervously at the others to see if they had been awakened, but neither of them moved, so he relaxed a little, letting his arms sink to a more natural position, though he still held them above her shoulders. I hope the others don't wake up-I've got to calm her down. Can it really be that upsetting to her? I've faced her in battle as her enemy before-and she's a more formidable fighter than she used to be. She could easily defeat the human I used to be.

A moment later he learned that he was on the wrong track. "Why do I always lose the people I care about? My mother...my sister...my cousin...others. I-it's not fair!" she wailed, her body shaking with sobs.

"Oh, Amelia," he said softly. As comprehension came to him, Zelgadis relaxed completely, carefully putting his arms around her as he had once done to comfort her about her mother. I should have known that a simple fight wouldn't scare her like this.

Again he glanced at the others, then looked down at the top of her head, partly in wonder, partly in bemusement. Even though she had turned to him for comfort before, Zelgadis had assumed it was because he'd been the only one there. Gourry was a more likely choice in his mind, or even Lina, sometimes. But as before, it felt unexpectedly...good to feel needed. It also felt nice to hear her call him by his name, without any of the honorifics...

Shiran joined in the comforting, rubbing her furry head against the girl's back, pushing the two of them even more closely together. Not that Zelgadis minded, but he hoped Amelia wasn't being bruised against his stone chest.

It occurred to him that Amelia had never broken down so severely in front of anyone besides him, to his knowledge. She had always been something of a crybaby but always because of momentarily hurt feelings or injuries, not because she was grieving over the still-painful memories from her past. Those kinds of wounds take the longest to heal-and sometimes they never do. An image of Rezo flickered in his mind's eye, and he heard the silvery jangle of the priest's staff, a sound that would forever mean pain and betrayal to Zelgadis. Maybe Amelia realizes I understand how she feels. Perhaps it comforts her...

Comfort... What else can I do to make her feel better? I don't know what I'm doing... A feeling of helplessness passed briefly over him, but an odd new sentiment took its place almost immediately. It had been a long time since anyone had turned to him for comfort, but in the years since he had known his friends his long-suppressed sensitive side had been emerging, slowly, cautiously, tentatively, from behind the wall around his heart. Recently Amelia had shown him more of her own inner self; the side she never displayed to the rest of the world. She had welcomed his earlier inept attempts at comforting her-something that gave the stone man just enough courage to follow his instincts in a situation like this.

Gently Zelgadis moved one hand, lightly stroking her back, hoping it might soothe her. "It's all right..." he murmured softly. She always seems to worry about other people, about their feelings, but what about hers? Who comforts her when she's unhappy? Phil? "It's all right..." he repeated, suddenly aware of his lack of vocabulary when it came to comforting crying young girls. I've never been one of Prince Philionel's greatest admirers, but I am grateful that she's had him to turn to...

As awkward as he felt, his actions seemed to help her. Her sobbing eased, and then a few moments later the young girl suddenly heaved a great sigh and relaxed against him, pulling both of them down from the upright kneeling position they had been in to a more natural one of sitting on their folded legs.

Amelia had leaned forward to keep her fierce grip on him, so Zelgadis suddenly found himself supporting most of her weight-no problem for him, of course, but he was momentarily stunned by the feeling of her body pressed against him. He tightened his grip to keep her from slipping, hoping that he wasn't holding her too firmly, but he was distracted by the muted sensations-mostly pressure and movement-that he could feel through his stone skin. It was still so novel, despite his having held Amelia in the past, that he could only sit and marvel at the living, breathing feeling of the girl in his arms.

Shiran lay down on the ground as close to them as possible, her coat-looking pale mauve in the weak firelight-brushing against their legs. After Amelia's tears had subsided to occasional shaky breaths, Zelgadis reluctantly released her, leaning back and sitting upright on legs that, had they not been stone, would surely have gone to sleep from the pressure on them.

She looked up at him with eyes as deep and reflective as pools, shimmering with feeling. Her cheeks were wet-he didn't even have to look down to know that the front of his shirt surely sported a few damp patches as well. Impulsively he took a corner of his much-torn cloak and gently dried her tears, smiling at her reassuringly. There was something he had to tell her. "Amelia...about your family..." he said quietly, "I never realized it affected you so much. You never show it."

He didn't notice Lina's eyelashes twitch. His tone deepened, rich with admiration-a rare thing for him. "You're always smiling, happy...making people feel better just because you walk into the room. It's...it's really..." he trailed off, a sudden rush of shyness leaving him tongue-tied, a bright band of pink over his nose.

Amelia stared up at him with wide, shimmering eyes, waiting, but when it became obvious that he could not continue, she smiled lovingly at him and nodded as if to say she understood what he had been trying to say. He smiled a little in return, then his eyes widened as she leaned toward him again, her hands clasped together in front of her chest, an intense look in her sapphire eyes.

"Promise me you'll never forget me," she pleaded. "I couldn't bear it."

He gazed into her eyes, so serious, so beseeching, and instinctively reached out to take both of her hands in his. Unaware that he had an audience, the slender chimera vowed solemnly, "I promise, Amelia. I will carry the memory of you with me no matter where I go." His face was grave, resolute, as if he were promising something much more...

Amelia, looking more than ever like a child, gazed up into his face earnestly for several seconds, then broke into a beautiful bright smile. Her arms went around him for a second time, surprising him yet again. This time she snuggled the side of her face into his shoulder, making a low, contented sound deep in her throat, almost a purr, like a small child hugging a plush toy.

Zelgadis couldn't help darting another look at Lina and Gourry, who thankfully appeared to have slept through the whole incident. He gave in to the temptation to wrap his arms around her again, taking care to hold her in a way that would be more comfortable than his earlier haphazard embrace. Amelia cuddled closer, her movements a delight in his arms, though his skin itself remained muted to her warmth and undoubtedly-soft skin, as usual.

I can't believe this is happening. To comfort her for a nightmare is one thing, but this... I should push her away, he told himself, feeling a faint stab of conscience. It isn't fair to her. She thinks there's something between the two of us, but I can't...I shouldn't...

Yet somehow he was still, allowing the girl to remain where she was, wanting this tender moment between the two of them to last. It would likely be the last time he would ever be able to be so intimate with Amelia-or with anyone, if he couldn't find someone suitable to cast the Oracle's spell, as he'd secretly feared but had never allowed himself to even think of before now.

He listened to the rhythm of her breathing, noting that it was slowing; soon she would be asleep.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, enjoying the special female scent that was Amelia; strawberry-scented shampoo, warm skin and even the faint salty smell of her tears. Gradually he realized that even as Amelia seemed to be able to draw comfort from his hard, unyielding embrace, she herself somehow possessed the ability to calm him, to soothe his battered, scrambled feelings, sometimes with her very presence alone.

Why? he mused, the flickering firelight rippling across his face, displaying his rare, tender smile to anyone who cared to look. He opened his eyes and gazed down at her tousled dark hair. Why is it she who affects me so strongly? I've known Lina longer; I've had other pretty young female traveling companions before...why Amelia? What makes her so...special?

Just then Amelia's hold on him eased and she started to slide down into his lap. She's asleep. Carefully he shifted his grip, sliding one hand up to cradle her head and upper back, and his other arm supported her lower back. He leaned over and laid her down gently on her back, straightening her legs, making her comfortable.

I could never imagine holding another girl like this, that's for sure. His eyes widened as he stared down at her sleeping form. Maybe that's it. No other girl has ever trusted herself to me before. Even Lina is always on her guard around males-which must be really frustrating for Gourry, poor sap-but Amelia...almost since the beginning she's never been the least bit hesitant around me. Lately she's even touching me more often, just as if I didn't have skin that can bruise with a casual bump. I have her trust-and every moment I let her go on thinking that my cure is at hand, and that everything will work out the way she hopes means that I am betraying that trust.

He sighed, watching the princess sleep, looking as peaceful as a child. It isn't right, but what else can I do? I can't tell her about the spell the Oracle gave me or she'll want to try it-and possibly be killed or mentally maimed for life. What I should do is go off on my own, but I promised Amelia I'd travel to Seyrune for her ceremony. I suppose I could travel separately; keep my distance from her...

The thought disturbed him. Maybe I'm just worried that she won't make it in time, or that something will happen to her along the way. That relieved some of his guilt. I really should travel with them...just in case. Something might happen-even the Oracle said nothing's ever a hundred percent certain.

He could not admit, even to himself, that he wanted to stay in the warm ambience of her love.

As he knelt at her side, she turned slightly, moving one arm so that her hand lay palm-up near her head, her fingers lightly curled. So cute... "Oh, Amelia...I could never forget you," he said softly, his voice deepening with the affection he never allowed himself to show in public, gently brushing a stray lock of midnight hair away from her eyes. He didn't notice Lina open one ruby eye for a quick peek at him.

The princess' cape was under her. After a moment's hesitation he unfastened his own cloak and covered her with it. Then he lay down near her on his back with his arms under his head, watching the stars until he fell asleep.

Author's Notes: This, by the way, is sometime during week six of their journey. Time left before Amelia's seventeenth birthday/wedding: two weeks! (Give or take a few days.)

It may not seem so, but this particular chapter was one of the hardest to write. I kept changing my mind and adding more scenes because of later story developments until it eventually became so long that I had to move half of it into chapter 48 and revise all the chapters I'd done after that. Took a whole day of work.

If you remember, back on the ship Lina had more or less decided not to tease Zelgadis any more about being attracted to Amelia-just in case some of you were thinking that it might be out of character for her to pass up the opportunity to say something about the way Zel keeps watching the little princess.

Zel can be sort of clueless, huh? Assuming that Amelia was crying because she was afraid to fight, instead of because she might lose him... But at least he did notice that she seems to want to touch him more. Of course he doesn't know about the decision she made back at the palace after she kissed him for the first time...do you remember, my loyal readers? (Gee, sometimes I feel like I'm in The Neverending Story, narrating directly to my audience. ^_^ )

Summercloud mentioned that my fic is 'oddly satisfying'. The phrase stuck in my mind... I think perhaps the reason people like to write fanfic is when there's some facet of the TV show (or whatever they're writing about) that doesn't satisfy them. Slayers is one of my favorite anime because it has most of the elements that I need to be satisfied with a show-comedy, drama, a little action, fantasy and/or science fiction (what I like to call 'a little weirdness'), mystery/intriguing challenge, likeable characters that you actually care about, a good storyline that's believable and has plenty of room for underlying background that deepens everything and makes it complex-in short, somebody with a brain wrote this thing. The one facet that wasn't explored enough to make me rate this show 'five stars out of five' is that the potential romances weren't explored. I do realize that if they had been, it might have changed the nature of the show, but that totally depends on the author(s).

Oh, and the fact that the characters' backgrounds were more or less unexplored. As PsycoCatGirl noted about Only Stone '-you flesh them out a bit more than I think they did in the anime, which is nice. It adds an extra dimension to the characters, but in a very believable way.' Yup-three-dimensionality. With a show like Slayers, we assume that Lina and Gourry had fairly normal village lives, with Amelia, we know pretty much how a princess lives-Zelgadis is the only real mystery character, aside from his admission that Rezo was a relative of his.

As soulstealer yuriko pointed out, 'It really makes me feel like this is what might have happened after TRY had ended.' -And that's exactly what I was trying to do. Think of Only Stone on the Outside as Slayers Season 4 (and maybe Season Five, too-it's so very much longer than I had planned, but every mini-arc needs the same attention to detail-I can't make myself skimp on anything. I'm just not satisfied until it's perfect. I suppose that's why a lot of authors' works are called 'labors of love'.)

The way things are now, I think I've got about another 30 chapters or so left to go. Get ready, Lina and Gourry fans-there are several chapters coming up that explore their blossoming romance. Aren't you all glad I spent two years working on this fic? ^_^

Earth Star said, 'Amelia told Zelgadis she loved him! Why do I get the feeling that things are going to become a lot more complicated?' -Hoo boy, are you right! ^_^

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