Absolute Beginners

Gourry stared at himself in the mirror, standing in the room he shared with Zel.

"That's quite a shiner." Zelgadis's voice startled Gourry and he glanced over his shoulder to see the other man lounging against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.

Gourry grunted, a non-committal sound, and returned to inspect the damage. He prodded at the tender flesh around his left eye, hissing in pain. If he was lucky, the eye wouldn't swell completely shut. He picked up the pitcher that sat on the small table beneath the mirror and poured water into the ceramic basin. After soaking a small hand towel in the cool water, he folded it up, holding it over his eye as he sat down in the nearby chair.

"Why do you stay with her?"

Gourry squinted at Zelgadis with his good eye, surprised to see that he hadn't moved at all. Zelgadis came and went as he pleased, traveling with them while it was convenient, and then going his separate way. Gourry just shrugged.

"Leaving aside the fact that you both eat like there's no tomorrow, you have nothing in common. And that violent temper . . ." Zel snorted.

"Does it matter?" Gourry's gaze was very direct, and he wondered if Zel's line of questioning was more than just idle curiosity.

Zel had the grace to blush, but he did not look away. "Doesn't it?" Zelgadis was suddenly very intense, and he dropped his indolent pose. "Doesn't it matter why you stay, even though it's a less than ideal situation? You could be free, not trapped . . . " He trailed off, but his tone and expression were bitter and full of self-recriminations.

Gourry, with a sudden flash of insight, realized that Zel's perception of his own situation, being trapped in a chimera's body, affected the way he looked at the world around him. He wondered if he could explain something he barely understood himself. "Do you think I don't have a choice," he asked, drawing the Sword of Light.

Zelgadis dropped into an alert semi-crouch at the steely hiss of a sword coming free of its scabbard, his own hand going automatically to the sword belted at his hip. He relaxed imperceptibly when Gourry placed the one weapon that could actually kill the chimera across his lap.

"Do you know how I got the Sword?"

Zel seemed confused, but he rallied quickly. "I thought it was your family's. Aren't you descended from the Swordsman of Light who slew the Demon-beast Zannafar?"

Gourry shrugged. "The Sword has been in my family forever. But they were all fighting over who got to keep it. Mostly just arguments, but a couple of fist-fights too." Gourry stared down at the Sword, his hair obscuring his face. Then he looked up. "So I stole it and ran away from home."

Zel's eyes widened, and he made a gesture with his hand, urging Gourry to continue.

Gourry sighed. "I took it so they'd stop fighting over it, and made myself an exile in the process. But after I left, other than stopping the fighting, I didn't know what to do. The only thing I do well is swing a sword, but using this sword felt wrong. I didn't earn it. It wasn't even supposed to be mine. As I got farther away from home, I felt as though I walked across an empty dream. It was unreal . . ."

"You were trapped by your decision." Zel's voice was quiet, but coolly analytical.

"Yeah . . . kinda." Gourry gave a half-smile. "It certainly didn't turn out the way I had imagined as a child. Leaving home, I mean."

Zel snorted. "What's this have to do with Lina?"

Typical of Zel to be so single-minded. "I'm getting there." He wondered why he was telling him this story. He'd never even told it to Lina, but then again, Lina had never asked. "Well, I don't know exactly how I got there, but eventually I was standing by the ocean. I remember thinking that as long as the Sword was here, things would never change. People would always fight over it. I was gonna throw it into the water."

"But you didn't," Zel pointed out.

"No, I didn't." Gourry stared up at the ceiling. "I don't know how long I stood there thinking about it. Then a fisherman asked me why I was going to throw away such a fine sword." Gourry laughed, "he sure was weird for a fisherman. He scolded me for not taking care of my weapon properly . . ." He hesitated then, not sure exactly how to continue.

"And . . ." Zel prompted after a while.

"Well, we ended up having dinner in this small village that was under the control of a monster. The old man realized it right away. D'ya know he fought that monster with just his fishing pole?" Gourry waited for Zel's reaction.

"You're kidding, right?" Zel was incredulous.

"Nope. He was a strange old man, kept talking about his family and stuff, but never told me his name. After we defeated the monster, the villagers tried to thank him, but he was really mad at them. He had no respect for them because they had acted helpless, too scared to break the hold the monster held over them, too small to take the risk and save someone else." Gourry paused. "But seeing them, so unwilling to change their fate made me realize that I'd been doing the same thing when I tried to throw the Sword away."

"Um, Gourry?" Zel was starting to look annoyed. "It's a nice story and all, but what's it got to do with why you stay with Lina?"

"Does it matter?" Obviously it mattered a great deal to Zelgadis, but Gourry wasn't sure why. He wasn't even sure Zelgadis knew the reason.

Zel let out his breath in an explosive huff. "Of course it matters!"

"Why?" Gourry put on his most vacuous expression.

Zel's eyes narrowed and he looked at Gourry suspiciously. "You do that on purpose, don't you." Zel made it an accusation, rather than a question.

"Do what?"

"That. Play dumb."

Gourry held the clueless expression a moment longer before grinning. "Lina's absolutely adorable to watch when she's explaining things." Then he winced. "It does have its draw-backs, though." He pointed to his black eye. Playing dumb often brought out the worst in Lina's temper.

"You could ask Amelia to heal that, you know."

"I will. Later, after Lina's calmed down some." Gourry folded his arms. "If you want to know why I stay with Lina, you'll have to let me tell it in my own way."

Zelgadis looked at Gourry closely, with a mixture of both annoyance and respect, then he nodded.

Gourry considered. "After spending time with the old fisherman, I decided not to throw away the Sword." Gourry snorted, "although he was practically begging me to give it to him when he found out what it was. I wasn't sure I could do anything, but I didn't want to do nothing. Throwing it away felt like doing nothing. But I didn't know what to do with it, so I just kinda wandered around, doing odd jobs." Gourry paused, lost in thought for a moment. "Fighting other people's battles was better than nothing, but not by too much." Gourry gave Zelgadis a very direct look. "There's not a lot of justice in being a mercenary."

"I thought justice was Amelia's thing." Zelgadis's eyes softened slightly as he mentioned Amelia's name. Gourry wondered if he was even aware of it.

"Justice, honor . . . I was raised to believe in both. But there was no honor in taking my family's sword. There was no justice in fighting for the rich in their little wars." Gourry grimaced in distaste.

"On the contrary," Zelgadis stated calmly. "You said yourself that your family was coming to blows over the Sword. Your motive was honorable."

Gourry snorted. "That's what I kept telling myself. That I didn't take the Sword for myself, I was just holding it for my family. It didn't help much, though."

Zelgadis leaned forward. "What happened then?"

"It wasn't too long after that that I 'rescued' Lina from a group of bandits." Gourry smiled fondly. "She was so small, but so confident. Not like the villagers who just let the monster take them over. Even when she was helpless without her magic, she was still strong. She took you on even though all she could cast was a light spell."

Zelgadis winced. "That was a long time ago . . . How long had you two been together at that point?"

"A couple days or so," Gourry shrugged.

"That's all?" Zel looked highly doubtful. "The way you showed up in that deserted town where we fought the monster . . . it seemed like you two had been together for a lot longer than that . . ."

"Really? What made you think that?" The damp cloth on his eye had gotten warm and noticeably less damp, so Gourry went to dip it in the basin again. "I wonder if a steak would be better," he muttered to himself.

Zel leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. "What would be better is getting it healed."

Gourry squared his shoulders. "I guess you're right. Is Amelia still downstairs?"

"I think she and Lina headed for the baths. Besides," Zel pinned Gourry with his "heartless mystical swordsman" glare, "you haven't finished telling me why you stay with Lina."

Gourry suppressed a grin. Zelgadis took himself so seriously that it was easy to get him annoyed. "There isn't much more to tell."

"Then tell me why you showed up in that deserted town," Zel bit out.

"I told Lina I'd get her safely to Atlas City. Protecting a girl who was traveling alone was better than fighting in some random war, even if she didn't really need me to protect her. But when you captured her, she really did need my protection. Finding you guys in that town was pure luck. When I used the Sword to defeat that monster, it made me remember why I hadn't thrown it away." Gourry paused a moment. "The more time I spend with her, the more the emptiness goes away. There's millions of things to see in this world, and even if I can only do a little good with the Sword, by protecting her, it's a lot more than nothing."

Zelgadis's brow was furrowed as he mulled over Gourry's words. "So, that's why you stay with her," he said slowly.

"No." Gourry's voice was very clear as he looked Zelgadis straight in the eyes. "It's not just because she gives me purpose, although that's how it started . . . I stay with Lina because I love her."

Zelgadis's eyes widened slightly as he stroked his chin. "I wondered when you were going to admit that."

Gourry's jaw dropped. "Y-you knew?"

"Oh, come on." Zel gestured calmly with one hand. "Everyone knows. Amelia knows. I think even Sylphiel knows."

"Do you think Lina knows?" Gourry asked very quietly, while his heart thumped wildly in his chest.

Zel paused to consider. "No, actually," he said slowly. "I don't think she knows, any more than she knows that she loves you."

Gourry almost choked on that one. "Y-you . . . Lina . . . she . . ." Gourry tried to pull his scattered wits back together, and he wondered if he was relieved or disappointed that Lina didn't know about his feelings.

"Why don't you tell her?"

Gourry shot Zel a look of pure annoyance, then sighed. "You know how she is . . . how she acts any time someone gets close to her . . ."

"Does it matter? Either way, she'll still hit you."

"Yeah, but at least this way, she'll still be there tomorrow. If she knew . . ." Gourry shrugged leaving the rest unsaid. If she knew, things could change. Or she might run. He might never see her again.

"Are you sure that's what you want? Isn't leaving things the way they are a lot like doing nothing?"

"For now." Gourry said firmly, unconsciously clenching his hands into fists.. "Things might change later, but for now, it's enough they way things are." If he repeated it often enough, maybe he would truly believe it. Zel was right that leaving things the way they were was a lot like doing nothing, but he was also wrong. In this case, protecting Lina, being with her every day, gave him purpose and it was everything.

Author's Notes: This story was first written as part of a Lyric Wheel, inspired by the song "Absolute Beginners" by The Jam. It was also inspired by a challenge on the Slayers Trad mailing list to write a fic that explained why Gourry stayed with Lina. The official version of Gourry's encounter with the fisherman is translated on QP Diana's pages in the story, "The Thing He Sees Beyond the End of his Sword" (http://homepage3.nifty.com/QPHOUSE/slayers_e.html).