Disclaimer: I DO NOT OWN SLAYERS. I merely borrowed these characters because I love them so much. ^_^


Chapter 24: The Longest Morning Of Your Life

Xellos Metallium sat at the head of the conference table. Wolfpack's top executives and a couple of lawyer consultants were situated around him, all sporting expensive, uniformly sober dark suits, leather briefcases, and sleek laptops. The silky black marble finish of the conference table reflected their faces, all of which were as bland and gaunt as their demeanor. One of them was speaking right now, presenting a progress report on his branch -- the one in Lauca -- and dwelling on how he had managed to successfully implement an *extremely* cost effective way for sanitizing their water closets.

Not that the poor bastard had piqued the purple-haired Mazoku's interest, of course. Nodding sagely, eternal grin in place, Xellos stopped himself just in time from folding another batch of paper airplanes from the handout set the staff provided him with.

Traitor. The word rang out inside his head even as he tried to drown it out with the background noise of the falling rain outside, and the monotonous, hopelessly boring meeting he was predisposed to preside over.

Neither he nor Zelas-sama had any particular love of such things as quarterly reports, where young, bright and ambitious executives sought to gain accolades and any sort of recognition to advance as fast as possible up the hierarchy by presenting their achievements to the top brass of the management. He'd even forgotten they were having this particular rendezvous, brunchtime, until his dear old secretary belatedly briefed his sched to him hours before. Zelas had declared a sudden recurrence of jet lag, announced her intention to remain on vacation, and promptly left the event for Xel-kun to attend.


Not that he was complaining.

It was important to know how the corporation was faring, after all.

Traitor. He might have lied, but it surely was no big deal, he reasoned. It's not as if his feelings -- hers, too -- would matter, in the end...

Water Closet Wonderkid closed his report, asked for questions, thankfully received none from his colleagues, and sat down. The next presenter stood up, a lady with Hispanic features and whose report apparently centered on an appeal to increase employees in their department.

Around them the food service staff discreetly served brunch consisting of omelette, truffles, and something which looked like chopped-up lasagna smattered with bacon bits, parsley and onions. Orange juice and mineral water filled the crystal-clear tall glasses. The food reminded Xellos of the time he'd cooked breakfast for her. Or attempted to, anyway.


Xellos quietly put down his handout. He wanted to stand up, leave, sink to the floor, if need be. It wasn't enough that this meeting was boring as hell, but it had to remind him of her, as well. Why did Zelas-sama have to ask about her?

He was afraid to answer. So very afraid.

Fear. The emotion that drives one to lie.

Did he lie?

Did it matter?

What it all boiled down to, of course, was that he had been too afraid of his answers, whatever they would be. So he'd sidestepped the question deftly enough, or so he believed; reverting back to his same old cocky, genki self to mask his own confusion.

Which still did not explain why in L-sama's name his thoughts were as scrambled right now as the lasagna-thing on his plate.

This, when just a few hours ago, he considered himself one of the happiest men this side of the staff of existence.

"Mr. Metallium?"

The low, slightly nervous voice pulled the Mazoku away from his musings. Xellos blinked himself back into awareness. "Yes, what is it?" he managed to ask, composing himself.

The presenter visibly relaxed at the question, dropping manicured hands that had fumbled unconsciously when she thought her boss -- what a weirdo! -- was scowling at her. She was not given to act as awkwardly around people as she had been right now, even though she'd been only managing a small extension of the company for a year and a half, but this particular fruitcake with the purple hair and outlandish demeanor could definitely be creepy without trying to. She smiled wanly. "I-I uh, I just thought you had a question for me, sir," she amended. I just thought you were going to fire me, sir. She mentally gave a sigh of relief.

Xellos shook his head dismissively. "I have none at the moment, Miss--" he racked his brain, and to his credit, recalled the name. "Espina, is it?"

The presenter nodded, eyes brightening up.

"Well, go on with your report," he coaxed, flashing a benign smile to everyone in the room. Inwardly he thought: I have to get out of here. Two or three more hours of this would drive him into extremes nuttier than he was now.

Give or take.

Presiding over the remainder of the meeting, Xellos idly wondered if Filia could be persuaded to put out later this evening.


Xellos gave up, and closed his eyes. This was going to be a very taxing day.


"Mom, I'm home," Val called out as he entered the house he'd lived in for almost a decade now. Whistling, he dropped his suitcase and umbrella on the floor, worn out from hauling both around from bus station to bus station in such rainy weather. The door at the front porch was unlocked, so he knew she must still be at home, however uncharacteristic it was of her to stick around so late in the morning.

He had decided to come back to town early, for a couple of reasons. One, that his duties for the interschool conference was done with, at least as far as he was concerned; and two, that he received assurance from Gaav to arrange a 'meeting' with the possible key person persuadable to help Filia and the company: Moreau. Also, he missed Saillune, and his home, in particular.

He was answered with a cry of surprise coming from the open kitchen doorway. The boy frowned. It was not his mother's voice. A burglar? Thoughts racing, he rushed to the kitchen.

A figure clad in black, a sock concealing his face. The intruder was tall -- more than six feet, and powerfully built. Val's mind noted this, even as he stared in shock at the inert form of Filia lying on the floor amongst broken fragments of porcelain.

The man charged at Val like an angry bull. The teenager had no time to shout as he was knocked clear out of the doorway and onto the living room floor. The stranger gave him one final, hasty glance, then proceeded to frantically scramble his way to the front door. He would have made it through, if not for the suitcase still sitting on the floor where Val left it tripping him mid-step. As it was, the man went down like just as solidly as a felled tree.

Val managed to blink as he got up, nimbly closing in on the intruder. The man was struggling back up, if a bit dazed. Val wasted no time and grabbed the man's foot. The intruder kicked at him wildly, trying to make him let go. The other foot connected with his stomach, and Val finally did release his hold, coughing.

It was all the leeway the stranger needed. Val watched helplessly as the man scrambled up, swung the front door wide open and half-hobbled, half-ran out of the house, into the rain-soaked street.


"Well, at least we get to share a room, eh, Lina?" Gourry commented brightly from where he lay on a cot, right next to the redhead's. No longer in the dusty red trenchcoat he'd swiped from the dressing room of the set he had abandoned unceremoniously earlier this morning (the manic fan girls had literally ripped it to pieces) but in a comfortable cotton t-shirt provided by the hospital staff, he dearly hoped there would be no more misled female multitudes storming through the door.

Sighing softly, he rubbed his left shoulder. It hurt. He tried to shift in bed, nearer to the table piled with food. It hurt. He tried to curl his right leg. Needless to say, it hurt.

Gourry made it a matter of top priority to remember (REALLY remember, he thought with a wince) not to wear red trenchcoats and tinted glasses again. Or spike his hair. EVER. He'd discovered that fan girls behaved quite destructively towards people who wore those. That newly found fact of life would be right up there with his remembering to let Lina always have the last riceball. He closed this line of recall with a resolute nod, and popped a corn muffin into his mouth. Well, at least his jaws didn't hurt. Much.

Lina mumbled something unintelligible in reply, pressing the cold compress to her forehead and grabbing a handful of potato chips. After the riot -- incident, she corrected tiredly, had been dispersed by the staff and the police people still in the building, the hospital interns had refrained to comment on the availability of obviously not-so-nutritious foodstuffs in their room, with good reason.

Apart from Lina's not-so-subtly-put threat (accompanied by a glare that would have frozen Sadako in her tracks) of suing for damage of property and bodily harm, her friend -- Philionel El Di, the senator, had requested the hospital to bend the rules a bit just this once. In exchange, Zelgadis and Amelia had to endure more than an hour of photo ops with the statesman outside. Right after a couple of speeches, of course.

Talk about bad timing, Lina thought, straining her arm to reach the top of the junkfood mountain where a bag of chocolate-covered raisins lay. First the car accident, then that... well, that.

Just when she'd struck something.

Weeks of pestering Martina (and being treated to noises and pieces of bedroom conversations she didn't exactly want) had paid off. What the girl had struck was not exactly pay dirt, but it was better than the initial findings.

Now if only she could get discharged, Lina mused. She'd left a couple of hard copies at the office she shared with Zel. That could be returned to. But she had a diskette she had intended to give to Filia. But Filia had not yet arrived when she called, and even now had not yet arrived. Where was she?

As if to answer her question, a phone rang. It took her a moment to realize it was her mobile phone ringing. It took her another moment to put down a half-eaten hamburger near the edge of the table, and grab it.

Please let it not be Danny demanding to know where I hid his star, she silently prayed, exchanging helpless glances with Gourry. The talent manager would raise hell if he found out the state his 'talent' was in, and would, consequently, press charges. Or have a heart attack. Now that, she thought, pressing the call receive, would have been the icing to the cake.

As it turned out, it wasn't Danny boy.

"Hello, who is th-- Jiras? ......... Hey-hey-hey, slow down! What--? ........... WHAT??!?"


Author's Ramblings: Again, sorry for taking more than a month to deliver this chapter. Expect the next one to take about as long. Really busy. Oh, and NO TO US WAR ON IRAQ!!! ........ Just had to get that out.