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, 'cause I like to know people are interested. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing really descriptive.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
PG-13 for minor swearing and lime-i-ness..
Note: Kembri-kemm-bree- the 'e' in the first syllable as in 'pen'
Chapter Fifty-Four: Soft Words, Gentle Touches, Tender Sighs /
As the princess and the chimera approached the lamb kiosk, Rilloban reported that the healer had not yet arrived, but that he was happy to be able to introduce them to his sweetheart, Kembri.
At first glance the young girl reminded Zelgadis of Sylphiel. She had the same very long straight black hair with two long narrow sections in front of her ears, although her highlights were an unusual purple color, and her eyes violet. She was slightly shorter than Amelia, perhaps a year or so younger, and had a slender, almost fragile look about her.
"Thank you so much, Miss Amelia," the girl said softly, bowing deeply so that her shining dark knee-length hair touched the grass. She wore a very conservative dress of palest pink with lavender and pale blue flowers over one shoulder. "Ril-sama has told me how much you helped him to save Shiran's life, and also of your fiance's terrible curse. I truly hope Healer Dahri will be able to help you."
Fiance? Zelgadis threw Amelia a glance of mingled shock and anger. She winced and put a hand behind her head, laughing in an embarrassed manner and looking sheepish.
Kembri rose gracefully from her bow and looked back and forth between the two companions with wide, solemn eyes. Her face did not change expression, but her violet eyes seemed to quiver slightly in her small face, as if she was listening to something in the air. After a few moments she said in her soft voice, "Miss Amelia, would you like to come with me and wash up? The sun has been very warm today-you must be very hot and thirsty."
Zelgadis watched her hurry away with the long-haired girl, scowling like a thundercloud. How many other people did she tell that I was her fiance? Since when don't I get a vote?
"I asked you to do WHAT?"
Gourry reeled backward from the force of Lina's shout, his hair flying out behind him like a flag. "Uh, marry me?" he answered nervously, rubbing the back of his neck, his expression disconcerted. "Did you forget, Lina? When we were in that cold, dark cell that Ponmar's men threw us into? Where you got so sick and I held you in my lap and took care of you and you asked me to marry you? Remember?"
The swordsman was suddenly worried, afraid that he'd gotten it wrong, that they really weren't going to be married, that she was going to say it had never happened or that he had heard her wrong or something. "Lina, you do remember, don't you?" He waved a hand in front of her eyes. "Lina? You okay?"
She didn't move, didn't speak. Gourry took a closer look and noticed that her face was completely empty of expression except for her eyes, which were huge and unfocused, as if she was in a trance. He felt a pang of concern for her, but she was still breathing, so he figured that she was probably thinking. I guess she did forget. I did too, off and on, since we never really talked about it after it happened. His forehead wrinkled with worry lines. Suppose she's decided she doesn't want to marry me? Lina's an impulsive girl-maybe she didn't mean it.
He waited anxiously for nearly a minute before the young sorceress said softly, "I thought... I thought it was a dream. I was feverish and half-asleep a lot of the time... but I remember you-singing to me."
Her words came slowly, as though pulled from the hidden depths of her mind. "A happy song, about animals, I think... and... I do remember proposing to you. But out of everything that happened back then, that was the weirdest, so I thought it must've been just another dream," she murmured, her face turned up to the azure sky, though her eyes remained unfocused.
Gourry shook his head gently. "It wasn't a dream, Lina," he said softly.
Slowly her gaze turned to meet his, her expression still uncharacteristically solemn. "Then... why didn't you say anything about it sooner?"
He felt his mouth drop open in surprise. "Why didn't I... Well, for starters, you've been telling me not to talk about romance since the beginning-" He caught the beginnings of a scowl on her face and hurriedly continued, "And besides, I thought you should be the one to decide where we go from here."
He breathed an unconscious sigh as he watched her anger fade, to be replaced by curiosity. "What do you mean by that?" she asked.
The tall swordsman hesitated, trying for once in his life to choose his words with care. "You've... had a hard life," he said kindly, trying to put into words something that he had only understood by intuition in the past. "You try to hide it-and you do a good job most of the time. But even though you try to act carefree, even though you fight like a warrior, even though you have enough power inside you to blow this whole world to pieces... you're still just a young girl who's never been with a man."
He gazed down at her solemnly, watching the breeze play with shining strands of her red hair. Her expression was unreadable, but at least she didn't look angry, so he continued, "I didn't think you'd appreciate it if I, uh, tried anything without asking. And I sort of couldn't ask, either, since we haven't exactly been alone together since the cell, and you were too sick then." One hand went behind his head as he assumed a sheepish look. "Actually, I sort of forgot all about you proposing to me, what with you being sick, and then us getting sprung and all of us traveling and all... "
As the swordsman spoke, he watched her face, trying to gauge by her reactions whether or not it was safe to continue. He saw that she was really listening to him. She had looked startled and uncomfortable when he'd talked about 'trying something', but surprisingly, not angry.
In fact, the look she turned upon him now was unexpectedly tender. "So... that's why you haven't said anything about us? You were waiting for me?" she asked softly, a note of wonder in her voice. He nodded, watching her vivid ruby eyes shimmer with emotion in her small face.
He felt his insides melting. Oh, Lina. He felt himself responding to the open adoration in her eyes, and gazed lovingly back at her, wanting her to see just how much he cared for her without having to use clumsy words.
Slowly, hesitantly, she smiled up at him, a shy young girl's smile, not the wicked grin of the dynamic sorceress. "Gourry," she murmured, her voice a mere sigh.
He smiled back at her warmly, liking the sound of his name being spoken like that. The word itself was almost a caress. "Lina," he responded ardently in a low voice, putting all of his love for her into that one word.
One of her hands began to move, tentatively lifting toward his face. He held still, his eyes never leaving hers, giving her a tender smile to show her that he welcomed her touch. As her fingertips grazed his cheek, he leaned into her hand a little, letting out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding in a sigh of contentment. With a smile of pure pleasure he slid his cheek down into her palm, closing his eyes halfway, feeling his breath start to come faster. "Lina," he said again. "My Lina."
Oddly enough, the petite sorceress felt no ire at being referred to in such a proprietory way. Instead a delicious feeling of warmth began to spread through her body and she whispered back, "My Gourry," in a slightly husky voice, not caring how sappy she must sound. The only audience they had was the dragonwolf Shiran, who was resting nearby in the grass, not paying them much attention other than an occasional glance.
Gourry's skin felt warm and smooth under her hand except for a slight roughness in places where his beard grew. Not that he had much of a beard, being so fair-haired-Lina knew he didn't have to shave very often. Unconsciously wanting to feel the differences in texture, Lina slid her fingers down over his chin and across his other cheek, which changed from smooth to apricot-fuzzy depending on where her fingers touched. She let her fingertips brush over his upper lip, liking the feel of the fine-almost nonexistent-blond hairs bending under the sweep of her fingers.
Idly, she let her fingers slide down over his lips. He startled her by inhaling quickly, his eyes wide. Instinctively she pulled her hand back, her fingers curled as if to hide something shameful. Gourry's hand shot out and caught hers gently but firmly in the air just in front of his chest as his eyes bored into hers with a look she had never seen in them before, but nonetheless recognized instantly.
He wants me. The realization caused her already rapid heartbeat to race, sending a spurt of adrenalin burning through her nerves. Her breathing sped up, and a kind of excitement she had never felt before grew within her, fighting for dominance with an equally powerful spike of alarm. She tried to look away, but was held by the magnetism of his blue eyes. She wanted to pull back, and yet she yearned to move closer, to feel him put his arms around her. She was very conscious of the warmth of the large hand that held hers, even through her glove, making her realize that her own hands were cold and a little sweaty.
Somehow Gourry seemed to understand her inner conflict. She could see how much he wanted her, but instead of reaching for her he relaxed his grip on her hand, holding it loosely as if to show her she could reclaim it if she wanted to. Reassured, though her heart was still pounding, the young sorceress waited, wanting to know what he would do next. His eyes still held hers as he began to move his thumb against her palm in slow, even strokes. Her sense of touch was muted somewhat by the fabric of her glove, but still she was almost immobile, focusing every fiber of her being on the gentle caress of the man she loved.
As the tense moment passed, the heat in Gourry's eyes dimmed slightly and he smiled at her reassuringly. She smiled back, feeling foolish but relieved to see that her Gourry was still in there, and had not been replaced or taken over by the incredibly alluring man who had looked at her in a way the old Gourry never had. What am I getting scared of? It's just Gourry, she told herself. Even if he's never acted this way before, he's still Gourry, my Gourry.
Fascinated, she watched as he slowly brought her gloved hand up to his lips and kissed her palm. She pulled in a breath and held it as a shiver of excitement rose again within her. His eyes never left hers, as if he wasn't sure how she would react, and she smiled at him tenderly, touched that he was obviously doing everything he could to keep from frightening her. She curled her fingers around his to show him she wasn't offended, and he responded with the most tender smile she had ever seen, so beautiful that it made her heart lurch in her chest. "Gourry," she whispered huskily, "I love you so much!"
She was caught up in a surge of emotion, wanting to throw herself into his arms and kiss him and...
He was looking at her with a strange, serious expression, almost one of pain. "What's wrong?" she asked worriedly.
"Nothing," he answered after a long pause, his face relaxing into a more natural smile. "I just really like it when you say you love me. There were times when I doubted I'd ever get to hear you say that to me... "
"Oh, Gourry," she murmured affectionately, touched by his confession. They looked at each other in silence for several moments, with her small hand still held within his much larger one, before Lina noticed the lingering sadness in his eyes and decided to do something about it. Twisting her hand out of his grasp, she reached up to slide both of her hands over his cheeks and pull his face down to hers.
She caught a glimpse of the surprise in his eyes just before their lips met. Automatically she closed her eyes, focusing on the sensation of his lips against hers. They were warm and soft and firm all at once. After a moment, they took on a life of their own as he began to kiss back.
Kissing Gourry was exciting, as exciting as fighting in battle, but different. Then she felt his hands press against her back, and she sighed contentedly against his lips, enjoying the flooding feelings of warmth and closeness and security. This is what I wanted, she thought vaguely, remembering her earlier frustration about not knowing where she stood with the blonde swordsman. I just want to get used to touching him and having him touch me without the pressure of... that. It's good Gourry understands how I feel. I'm really lucky I met someone like him...
Shiran opened one eye to watch the kissing couple, then closed it and sighed, relaxing into a dozing state. She had seen many human couples similarly occupied and knew that they would not be going anywhere for a while.
Amelia splashed her face several times with cool water from a basin Kembri provided as they stood in the kitchen of a nearby house. The smaller girl had assured Amelia that the owner was a friend of hers and would not mind if they used the sink-pump to get some water. When she was through washing, Kembri handed her a towel and she dried her face, sighing deeply.
"Is something wrong, Miss Amelia?"
Her lower lip trembled, and the dark-haired princess pressed the rough cotton towel to her face for several seconds. I will not cry. I have to stop crying so much-it embarrasses Mister Zelgadis-oh, Mister Zelgadis, I'm sorry! That time Ril and I talked about who we liked-I didn't mean to imply that you and I were...
"Miss Amelia?" She felt Kembri's hands gently touch her shoulders, and realized that she was standing hunched over as if to protect herself from a blow.
"I'm all right." Her voice was muffled by the towel. Slowly she lifted it away from her face and looked up at the younger girl, who was staring back with concerned curiosity in her violet eyes. "It's just... " she sighed again, "The last time I was here, I had a conversation with Ril about the people we were in love with. He assumed Mister Zelgadis and I were engaged, and he said something like, 'if Zelgadis had the courage to propose to you, even while cursed, then I should be able to talk to Kembri'. I didn't tell him he was wrong because I didn't see any harm in it-and I was hoping he really would tell you how he felt about you. He's such a sweet, charming boy-he deserves to be happy."
Slowly a gentle smile grew on Kembri's delicate face and she put one hand to her cheek as her eyes unfocused. "Oh, he is sweet. And gentle, and handsome... "
Suddenly she blinked at Amelia and her expression turned grateful. She reached out and took Amelia's hands into her own small ones. "I am glad you did not tell, even though your friend is angry at you now. If not for you, Ril-sama would probably still be just one of my neighbors, nothing more. But now-I have never been so happy. You see, my father, Gerrik, has always been very protective of me, ever since my mother died. Never would he allow any boys to court me... and I was not even allowed to leave our farm unless he was with me. And he is... not very good with people... "
Amelia smiled and gently squeezed her new friend's hands. "I know. I met him-he's not exactly what you would call 'friendly'. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that a lot of people are scared of him-including all the boys." She let go and gave Kembri a mischievous look.
A pale pink blush appeared over the younger girl's nose. "Yes, well, after the hunt-that is, when you and Ril-sama and my father went out to catch Shiran... well, I believe your spell helped my father understand some things about himself. He had missed my mother so terribly, though I myself barely remember her, and he tried to close off that pain for so long... but your spell eased the pain and let him remember what it was like to love freely, without fear. I think he finally realized that he was as lonely as I, even though neither of us really knew it until then."
"Mm?" Amelia gave her a puzzled look.
"I did not know any other way of life until Ril-sama began to visit me. I was surprised when my father did not order him to leave. I think he had been impressed by Ril-sama during the hunt, and so he did not object-well, not as much as he used to-when Ril-sama began courting me." She gave Amelia a smile of pure joy, her violet eyes shining. "Now I think about Ril-sama all the time. I love to cook him his favorite foods, and ride our horses together in the forest, and watch the way his face lights up when he smiles... "
"That's just how I feel about Mister Zelgadis." Amelia gave her new friend a dreamy look. "Not that he smiles very much, but that just makes the times he does even more precious. I want to do everything I can to make him happy."
Kembri nodded in agreement. "My father seems happier than he used to. He goes to town more often now just to visit people, instead of only when we need supplies. I am hoping-" She stopped and put her hands to her cheeks, blushing cutely.
Amelia remembered Kembri's earlier comment about her father being 'lonely'. "You hope he might meet a nice woman and fall in love?"
Kembri nodded, smiling shyly. Amelia laughed in delight and impulsively reached out to hug the younger girl. She's so cute! Like a little sister... She let go and beamed at the long-haired girl, who had a look of almost-worship on her delicate features.
Kembri clasped her hands in front of her and said earnestly, "Miss Amelia... I am so glad I met you. I have never known anyone who understands me so well. I am sorry for your misunderstanding with Mister Zelgadis, but I am also very glad. I wish... you could stay here."
Amelia felt a twinge of regret. "Me, too. I always hate to leave when I've made new friends, but I'm needed at home." Both girls looked sad for a moment, then Amelia shrugged her shoulders and added positively, "Anyway, if Seyrune begins trading with Tollik, I'll have an excuse to come back here and visit." She gave Kembri an encouraging grin, and the younger girl smiled back.
Author's Note: Just an idle comment; I used the word 'apricot' instead of 'peach' when I mentioned Gourry's beard because in my experience apricots have slightly longer and more noticeable fuzz. Try one sometime-they taste very much like peaches. Even the canned ones are good.
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