AN: There. Took me a good while longer than I expected. At first I figured, okay, let's do this nice and neat and sappy. Then my fluffbunnies were raped by plotbunnies and turned into an awful lot of smutbunnies. THEN I spend the last couple of months of sparse spare time to kill off most of the little critters, and this is what you get. ;) So if you dislike part of it, skip it. ;) And be grateful: It was a lot worse before. Enjoy.

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A startling slam of the door brutally snapped him out of his thoughts. It'd been opened with such force that he was for a moment wondering if it'd been kicked open. Standing at the entrance to the library was Amelia. Again almost wearing a nightgown. By almost meaning that the parts that weren't transparent were still way too short. She marched into the room, defiantly holding his gaze as she approached.

"I couldn't sleep!" she stated, her teeth clenched, not even trying to make it sound convincing.

Zelgadis knew this would be bad.

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As she marched into the room, he found himself walking backwards, away from her, like he was a receding shadow, fleeing from her light. When she stopped, he regained himself and a little of his dignity, also now standing his ground. He had really hoped to make a clean getaway before something like this happened.

Flashbacks danced before his eyes, and he knew that he invariably would re-live the pain of making some of the same bad calls he had back then. He wasn't good with these kinds of situations, whatever they were, and his newfound insight into his own emotions would not make it any easier for him.

She stepped forward, slowly but determined, snapping him out of his thoughts.

"You're leaving?" she asked, her voice almost formal. It was an echo of Gourry's question, more or less.

He looked at her, trying to find the courage to confirm it, but silence seemed to serve the purpose just as well. It pained him to see her again. He hated that he'd have to say goodbye to her face. He wasn't even sure he could, but he'd have to, wouldn't he? She'd be better off without him, even if that meant that somebody less efficient would have to take his place as her guard.

First then did it strike him and he scanned the room. There were no guards on her tail. She seemed to catch the searching look in his eyes, and replied his unuttered question.

"I put a sleep spell on them." She said, before her mouth quirked in an almost wry smile. "A lot easier to do to them than to you. I doubt I could be able to sleep-spell you now."

It unnerved him somehow. Also the mere fact that they'd fallen victim to this. They'd be no protection to her, just like he'd figured.

"Why would you want to do that anyway?" he asked, genuinely wondering what good it would do either of them to stop him with sleep.

"It would be my best bet at deterring you..." she trailed off.

"And why would you want to delay my departure, princess?" he didn't know why he was really asking, but at the very least he was able to keep some sort of formal distance, which would probably ease the situation a little.

"There's something I have to know before you leave." She said.

Zel wasn't sure he liked where this was going. Without realising, he took a small step back from her. Like this insignificant little "head-start" would make it any more plausible that he'd be able to flee from the situation. But he would have to, if she wouldn't let him go voluntarily. He couldn't stay, so if that was what she was going to ask him, then... Then again, she seemed more determined than naive as she stood there, raised chin and keeping her eyes fixed on his.

"I want to know how you feel about me!" She demanded, her voice and gaze strong.

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"She's being unusually straightforward tonight, isn't she?" Xellos asked his goldhaired companion. They were floating outside the castle in a bubble, that Xellos had guaranteed wouldn't be visible to anyone.

"Are you absolutely sure they can't sense us? We'd never hear the last of it!" Filia asked, a bit concerned. She hated to stoop to this, but it had mainly been her and the Namagomi's fault that these two birds weren't lovebirds. She felt like it was her responsibility to set it right. Why Xellos was agreeing to help her she had no idea. Not that it mattered now.

"If they can detect us, they deserve the right to torturing us with it for the rest of their lives." Xellos assured her. "As far as observations go, this thing is foolproof! Now let's just hope that observation is all we'll have to do tonight."

"You don't really believe that, do you?" she asked.

Xellos opened his eyes to first take a good look at the dragon before him, and then turn them to the scene in the palace.

"That depends a lot on how determined she really is.. And on how much of a selfish coward he really is." He said, his tone musing.

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Zelgadis ran his hand over his face. Why this. Why now of all times. What good could possible come by waddling around in some self-pity-ish reminiscence of what could never be? Well, it couldn't be because she was actually curious. He'd been so obvious that both Lina and Gourry and L-sama only knew who else had seen right through him. Amelia could read him like an open book, and almost always knew what he was thinking. Surely she knew too.

"You know how I feel." He said, dismissingly, and looked at her. He figured that if he held her gaze long enough she'd see the obvious pain behind his eyes, and have mercy on him, not further pursuing the subject. She did look at him, and he was certain she did see the pain. But mercy was nowhere in sight.

"Yes, but I need to hear you say it." She insisted, her voice oddly unfeeling.

When had she turned so cold and bitter, he wondered. Then a nagging feeling told him that he might be the cause. But why would she drag him through this. It wouldn't change anything! It would only make it worse!

"What difference would it make?!" he almost growled, turning not to look at her. He couldn't bear the sight anymore. It wasn't like he didn't want to stay. In fact, after his talk with Gourry, it'd become painfully obvious why he wanted to stay. He decided his tone had been too harsh, and felt like explaining himself. "It's not like it's going to change anything."

"It might not to you." She said, and against his will he turned to look at her, wondering what the heck she meant. "But maybe the reason why I can't get over you is that I've never been properly rejected."

Rejected... Wait! Rejected? It was like his mind had been half asleep and now woke to a word, which seemed entirely out of context, or at least the context it had followed up until the point where it'd fallen asleep. Had he missed something? Where did the rejection come into the picture?

He looked at her, scanning her face for clues. It looked, though, as if she was serious about it, and as if it had direct connection to the question of his feelings. She didn't really think that he… would reject her, did she? Then again, she had said that she knew he didn't love her, to Orin and the rest of the involved parties, just this morning. Unless she'd somehow grown wiser during the chaotic afternoon, he guessed she still suffered from that blatant misconception.

"Please, just tell me." She repeated the request. "I can take it."

He blinked. Well, apart from making the entire scene somehow into one big, ironic joke on him, things had just turned complicated. He'd assumed that her acceptance of his departure was due to some realisation that they really couldn't be together anyways, even if they both wanted it. But if she knew what he really felt... She might not be so responsible about it. Amelia's view of what defined justice had always had this bad tendency to switch with what served her best currently.

But somehow he wanted her to know. At the very least he didn't want to lie to her. His thoughts battled back and forth, his heart insistently butting into the debate, making him want to tell her, but there was a nagging at his conscience that spoke louder.

Come on, it urged. Do the selfless thing for once and lie for her sake! It's not like you haven't told that lie before, to yourself and others. Just say it. It proved to be easier said than done, or more correctly thought than said. She looked at him with such honest but strong eyes. Her chin was slightly tilted upwards, giving her an air of determination. He figured she was steeling herself for the upcoming rejection.

But she waited in vain, because it just wasn't coming.

"Tell me what you feel for me!" She insisted. "I won't let you leave before you do!"

It was no longer a request. It was a demand. An order.

Say you don't love her. Give her a chance to start over! His thoughts churned, and he opened his mouth to say just that. But no words came. He felt like an idiot, and closed it again. Tell this lie the one time it matters! They shouted at him. Come on!

It didn't help.

She slammed her foot down, her fists forming at her side, and she made a perfect image of your classic marvellously angry beauty right there in front of him. He couldn't tear his eyes from hers, and he figured if he lied, she'd see as easily through him as he had seen through her three years ago.. And every other attempt on lying she'd made in front of him.

"Just tell me you don't love me, Zelgadis!" she shrieked. "Say it with your own words, and be over with it! Don't try to spare my feelings or leave me with any doubt, because then I'll only start wondering if things could have been different!"

She had a point, and he was selfish for not granting her request.

But he couldn't even form the words in front of Gourry before he'd himself realised they were untrue, so how was he supposed to tell them to her, now that he knew it was nothing but a sad and unconvincing lie.

"I can't tell you that." He said, in full consistency with the truth. However, the expression on her face told him that she'd yet to pick up what he meant by that.

Thankfully Amelia had a long way to go before she was even figuring on the Lina-scale of tantrums, but her eyes were filled with wrath and were beginning to glow with the fire of Justice! To be fair, he felt like he deserved to be called a villain, and deserved anything she could throw at him in general.

She had asked for so little. Just to be refused properly. And he couldn't even grant her that.

"Why not?" She stepped forward, but her strides were no longer confident and determined, but betrayed and upset. Like she would break down any minute now. He could almost read her thoughts right off her eyes: "Does he think so little of me that I don't even deserve to have a proper refusal?" they said to him. For the shortest of seconds he genuinely considered if he should have just left it there. If he couldn't lie to her, he could at least have the decency to allow her to assume the worst.

However, he was feeling as selfish as ever, and he couldn't stand the thought of being misunderstood again. Not by her. As she moved closer to him, he found his eyes drifting to fixate themselves on the strap of her nightgown, that had slipped down her shoulder.. again.

"Why not?!" she repeated, her voice cracking.

He took a deep breath. This wouldn't make it easier for any of them. He'd better just be saying it and leaving.

"Because it would be entirely untrue."

He'd hoped that she'd be so stunned that he'd had a fair chance to dash for the door, but apparently, she had caught on fast enough to that idea, that she'd also managed to catch on to his sleeve. Dammit. He looked at her eyes, and found a whole cocktail of mixed emotions shining through them.

"I told you not to spare my emotions!" she said, almost insulted, but her voice gave away her doubt in the statement and the hope that he'd deny it. A single tear started to spill down her cheek. It was silently followed by another one. He had to give her credit that she'd held up pretty good so far.

"Believe me, I'm not. If I were to spare your emotions, then I would've lied." He said, honestly. This wouldn't make it any easier for either of them. "I'm sorry it took me so long to realise, Amelia, but I do love you." He would have thought it would be harder to say. It'd been so hard thinking it, but now the words just fell from his tongue without any problem at all, like they'd been there, all along, wanting to be said for the longest of times. It just seemed so unreal to hear himself say it.

He turned to face the window, hoping that he'd be able to at least make a run for that, if she wouldn't let him past her for the door. Then again, he could always force her to let him pass. The flashback came inevitably. He'd thought the same back then. All in all, their situation hadn't changed.

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"Alright Zel!" Filia cheered, although she felt slightly bad for spying on their private moment. However, they were there to intervene if things went the wrong way. And you couldn't very well do that if you didn't know what the heck was going on.

She snuck a glance at Xellos, who was looking pale and strained. She looked at him quizzically. If she looked really closely, she could see his upper lip twitch with what seemed like pain.

"You alright, Xellos?" she said, and hated herself for both sounding and being worried.

"I'll be fine in a minute!" he managed to force out. He took a deep breath. "Just a little overwhelmed by the positive emotions.. It'll go away soon."

Filia decided against pursuing the subject any further. He obviously had some kind of pride, warped as it was. She'd let him keep it.

"Let's just hope that it isn't because the mood shifts." She said, and made a mental aim at Zel as he stood, facing the window. If he made as much as one more step towards it...

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Again, a myriad of questions swirled through Amelia's mind and danced over her glassy eyes. She was wondering if he meant what she thought he meant, like he loved her as more than just a friend. She was wondering for how long he'd meant it. She was wondering why the heck he hadn't said. She was wondering how to handle it. But the only question that surfaced as words was the one really important to the current situation. If she didn't know the answer to that one, the rest would never be asked.

"Then why are you leaving?" she asked, her voice betraying her, almost shrill with the last words. "If you really did love me, you wouldn't be able to leave me this easily! Just admit that you don't really care!"

Zel felt the guilt kick him in the sides with each word she said. It didn't make him feel downright guilty, though, only misunderstood.. and angry. He could feel his fist starting to shake with that anger, and he was pretty sure she noticed too. But when a pair of rather unmotivated fists slapped against his turned back, he realised that she genuinely thought she was the one being wronged here. This realisation fed his feeling of being misunderstood, which in turn fed his anger. Having had enough of it, he spun around, catching both her wrists and stopping her almost hysterical attacks. The combined action of lifting her slightly by her wrists, and lowering himself a little made their faces align, hers red with tears, his with anger.

"Who says this is easy?!!" he all but shouted in her face. "It sure wasn't easy the first time around, I'll doubt it'll hurt less this time! But it's because I love you that I am able to leave you. It's because I love you that I must!"

She looked at him, not scared, but disbelieving and slightly angry.

"You're leaving me because you love me?!" she hissed. "What kind of warped logic is that!?"

"The logic that'll keep you safe!" he cut her off, his voice slightly raised, but nowhere near the level before.

"Safe from what!?" she hissed back.

Had she forgotten, or had she just chose to ignore it, he wondered.

"The Mazoku scheme!" he returned. "We wouldn't be in this mess at all if it wasn't for their little scheme! I wouldn't have returned, you wouldn't have fallen for me again and-"

"Then for once I'm thankful of them!" she rebuked, her tone uncharacteristically stubborn. As she hung there, by her wrists, the action of arguing had brought her face even closer to his, and he found himself both calmed an excited at the feel and smell of her breath against his lips. Without realising it, he leaned in, their noses almost touching.

"You don' mean that." he insisted, softly now, but when he saw her look, he figured that she did. He retracted himself a little from her, putting some distance between them, but still holding on to her wrists. He needed her closeness, but he couldn't be mad at her if she was this close. However, at half an arm's length, he could find his indignation again, and continued. "You're falling right into their trap! You were even warned in advance that this was nothing but an evil plot to throw you and Sailrune into ruin. You could've avoided all of this if you'd just heeded the warning and told me to get away from you sooner!" He didn't mean to sound blaming, but did so anyways. It reflected how he truly felt. If she'd just thrown him out when she'd gotten Filia's letter, there'd been a chance that he wouldn't have realised that he loved her, or that her feelings wouldn't have evolved to the point where she'd give up on Orin. "Why didn't you listen to Filia's letter?"

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Said dragon didn't even need to look at Xellos to know the smug and half-blaming smile his face was plastered with. Yes, alright, so it had ultimately been her that'd managed to screw the situation up. But how was she supposed to know that it wasn't just all evil plots and malicious intentions?! Nobody ever told her what was really going on!

The least thing she could do now was to help cleaning up the mess she'd created.

"As delicious as this little meal of self-blame and self-pity is, especially coming from you, Filia-san, I must remind you that we're fixing the problem, so don't let it get to you now." He said, and she looked at him in disbelief. He was.. comforting her? "Who knows? We might need your brutal strength and violent temper to trash the entire city if this really hits the fan!"

He smiled the smug and annoying smile, but she couldn't find it in herself to shout at him, even though it was probably the reaction he was angling for. No he was right. They were fixing it. She'd see to that this was fixed properly.

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"Why didn't I heed Filia's warning?" Amelia asked, almost rhetorically. "I chose to ignore it," she started out slowly, and softly, with a heavy breath that tickled his chin. "..because it wasn't what I wanted. It's got nothing to do with being tricked into taking another course of action." Her voice carried that distinct waiver that indicated the depths of the emotion behind it. "Lina endangered the entire universe by choosing to run along with Phebrizzo's plan, just to save Gourry. I'd do the same for you. We both agree that Lina did the right thing. I'm not even endangering nearly as much. We don't even know for sure that their plan is evil!"

Zel gave her a measuring but sarcastic look.

"No, listen. If Orin and I had become the rulers of Sailrune, everything would have been swallowed by the light. Maybe, just maybe, all the Mazoku wanted was to keep the balance."

He listened, and weighted her words. They made sense, but then so did a lot of things that had later turned out to be wrong. Horribly wrong. She could see him waver, and decided to back up her point:

"Because if they wanted to throw Sailrune into darkness, it would've been easier to just kill me, which some of them have tried to!"

"And then they'd been promptly exterminated, the lot of them, by me, Lina and Gourry. Not to mention Filia. Besides, I don't think they seriously wanted you dead. The attacks on you were probably staged to mask their real interest, or to... push things along.." He didn't look at her when he said the last.

Amelia looked at him, her cheeks taking on a slightly rosy colour out of their own volition. But at the very least she had the guts to look at him. Invariably she thought of all the situations where a little disturbance had set things in motion. Then again, they'd been moving fine on their own, and at least Xellos had been known to be responsible for at least one or two very important situations that'd been interrupted.

"I think they wanted you to chase Orin away. But I don't think they wanted us to end up together. Otherwise, why would Xellos, who was probably the only person that knew we were in your room, changing, lead Orin there to interrupt us?" she had said it so effortlessly that she hadn't really thought about what the statements unspoken message was.

"You're implying something would've happened.." he said, picking up on it, and now looking at her, although not directly. He was internally debating whether it would be wise to just let her go. She'd probably not begin to attack him again, it would probably be a lot easier to talk about this kind of thing without her this close, so..

Yes, it would be wiser. No, he wasn't going to. He didn't feel very wise tonight.

"Well..." she started, slightly blushing. It was a bit presumptuous of her, she had to admit. Just because she'd wanted something to happen didn't naturally entail that he would or would have allowed it to. "Don't you think that some of the situations would've.. you know..."

"Escalated?" he finished for her, but his face wasn't the mask if indifference he wanted it to be. Maybe he should have let her go. He found he couldn't. "I would like to think that we would've been sensible enough not to pursue anything so foolish."

She looked at him. She could see the conflict in his eyes, and almost felt sorry for him. No, she did feel sorry for him. It was so much harder on him, because he hadn't made his mind up on the matter. She, on the other hand, had.

"Love is not foolish!" She objected. This at least had to be made clear. "I wouldn't have regretted a thing."

Naïve as the statement was, he could still feel the sweetness of the remark seep into his being. But she had to understand! Perhaps love wasn't foolish, but he was! He'd start making moves on her sooner or later if she kept announcing her love for him like that. He'd scare her away, he just knew it. If he wouldn't seriously injure her before then.

"It's easy for you to say, Princess, but I seriously doubt you'd feel the same if it ever went beyond platonic love or feelings of deep friendship!" he insisted, his voice a bit strained. "And if those situations' had escalated, it would have."

He wished it had come out a bit more menacing and a lot less sultry. Because really it was. If things had progressed between them, she'd not only have to endure the mental consequences of him being a monster, but the physical ones as well. And while he would be happy to admit that Amelia might be strong, he just wasn't about to let her have to live through that. He was pretty certain she hadn't thought of it.

She probably only thought as far as the platonic stage, which would've been fine if she hadn't been so damn attractive and he hadn't deep down still been a man. Which he yet again was reminded of when he fought his eyes to remain on hers, or to prevent his body from leaning in on her. But she was attracting him still, even in this situation where there really were no decision to be had, where he thought he'd already made up his mind. She attracted him still.

"What if I wanted it to?" she asked, almost more daring than flirting. Then again, she'd never been much of a flirt, but Amelia was stubborn and hard-headed when it came to certain things.

Zel growled deep in the back of his throat. A growing part of him was more than willing to believe her, but he just couldn't bring his mind to do so. She was talking about something else, again. She'd misunderstood him, again. That had to be it.

"You don't realise what it entails!" he insisted, but to his huge regret, she only countered that one with a defiant look, a raised chin and her ensuing "Try me!" statement that echoed ever so wrongly in his head. He could feel his body rise to that particular challenge, and fought to keep it under control. The feeling was very much akin to trying to hold on to a thousand small pearls. The moment your attention was slipping from one area, the more pearls were falling out of your grasp another. He tried to keep his crotch from going anywhere near her lower regions, much to his growing erections dismay, only to find that he'd unconsciously moved his head closer to her, probably in order to keep his centre of balance, without shifting his feet. He hadn't noticed, at least not really, until her breath mingled with his, and he could feel her nose slightly shifting against his, so that her lips could brush his lower lip ever so slightly. For the life of him he couldn't get himself to break the moment, nor even to close his mouth.

"I love you, I accept you and I want you, in every possible meanings of those words!" she whispered, almost no voice at all involved, as her lips and breath tickled his.

All the pearls shattered to the floor and he forgot why he'd even tried to hold on to them. He immediately let go of her hands and grabbed her, one hand around her upper back, another around the back of her head. Their lips crashed together in an almost feverish kiss, and he was throughoutly pleased when she responded by parting her lips, and fisting her hands in his wire-hair, carefully but forcefully.

On its own volition, the hand on her upper back dove south and came to rest on the small of her back. As the kiss deepened he pulled her flush against him, and she responded with pressing her every curve against every plane of his body. His mouth sought her chin and neck, to leave some heated kisses there as well. Amelia's pleasured mewls increased as he went, and she twisted herself to give him further access to her throat, not at all disturbed by the fact that last time he'd had her up against a wall in this room, in a similar situation, he'd bitten down on her shoulder instead of kissing her senseless.

He instinctually started rocking slightly against her, in time with the pulsation of their heated kisses and the blood pumping in his ears. She raised herself to her toes and lifted one leg, wrapping it around his, for leverage. It brought her face more at the same level as his, which were a plus, but more importantly, it made her crotch align nicely with his. The hand on her back slid down, cupping her rear, giving it an experimental squeeze, and hoisting her further up against him. Her moans drowned in his mouth, as she almost broke off the kiss, gasping for air. As he experimentally rolled his hips against her, her back snapped, arching, and she tilted her head back. This was possibly the most erotic sight he'd ever seen, or even imagined. And after waking in on her pleasing herself, his mind had been imagining quite a lot, lately. He gave another roll, grinding his erection against her core, and was rewarded with another deep moan.

He couldn't recall the last time he'd been this aroused. Possibly never. Zel had never been one to touch himself much. When you lived in a body that you absolutely hated, there was little point in it. First of all, it would seem like you lost to it, and Zel couldn't allow himself that. Even when he'd been human it'd been something he'd been ashamed of. He'd always tried to keep his body-reactions in check. Eventually, though, like every other male, the frustration would gather to such a degree, that no amount of cold showers could do the trick. It was on such off-occasions where sexual frustrations clouded his mind and judgement, and he couldn't just ignore it away, he'd succumbed to self-pleasure. Even then, the feeling of disgust clearly overwrote the feeling of pleasure.

But this oddly enough didn't feel anything like that. The pleasure was pure, raw and overwhelming. This felt so oddly right. With each grind against her he felt himself loose himself more and more to the feeling. He hadn't noticed he'd increased the pace, nor the strength at which he thrust up against her; the only thing he had noticed was how good it felt and how much her increasingly loud moans excited him.

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"Alright, show's over, Namagomi!" Filia said, determined, her cheeks radiating heat in the cold night air. They shouldn't be watching any further. It'd been wrong enough up until this point. Now it was just downright perverted.

Xellos grabbed her elbow as she turned in the air to leave.

"Not quite yet, Filia-san." He said, his voice carrying an edge to it she couldn't decipher.

"You're seriously too low, Namagomi!" she hissed, and shot him a glare, that was a bit disarmed by the fact that her cheeks were beet read. "You won't drag me into your perverted little voyeuristic games!"

"You're wrong again, little, selfish, prudish dragon. This battle has not yet been won." His voice seemed odd, somehow.

Her first thought was that he was teasing her, testing her. After all, she was a prude, she had to admit that even to herself. But then she wondered if he sounded a bit embarrassed himself. After all, both parties involved had declared their love for each other and were now wholeheartedly engaged in some mating-rituals; who wouldn't be embarrassed a bit by watching that? She took a good look at him, as his eyes stayed fixed on the situation at hand. He didn't look embarrassed, nor did he look like their feelings pained him any longer; he just looked concentrated. Almost as if he was expecting something to happen. Like he knew there was a chink in the armour, and now he was just waiting to see if it actually made the damn thing split.

"What can possibly go wrong from here on out?" she insisted on knowing, not really sure where she felt less embarrassed keeping her eyes; on them or on him. The question was embarrassing too. She'd no firsthand experience with situations like that, and she hated to admit that, even indirectly, and especially to him! Honestly she'd no idea where it usually went from there. For all she could tell, potential wedding bells were chiming! But Xellos didn't seem as certain.

"Plenty." He stated, and looked at the couple in front of them with narrowed eyes. "First of all, it's going too fast."

Filia dared a glance at the couple. They didn't waste time, that was for sure, but still.

"I doubt he'll be able to scare her away. She might be inexperienced, but she's far from being as naïve as he thinks. She's a healthy young woman, with healthy.. needs." Filia said, positively flustered, somehow hoping it would convince the damn Mazoku that their job here was done.

To her surprise, Xellos looked almost sheepishly at her and scratched his chin, both of his eyes closed in his usual expression.

"Well, I was thinking more of Zel bolting out of there any second now." He said, and already sounded like he was trying to avoid a subject.

Her eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Why would he do that?" She sneaked another peek at them out of the corner of her eyes. He didn't exactly look like anybody who was going anywhere at the moment. In fact she'd never seen the chimera allowing himself to be so out of control, so raw, so human.

"Well, perhaps because his mind sooner or later might remind him that this might resemble a certain nightmare he might have had a little too much. Then he might just feel disgusted with himself because he might fear that he'll eventually end up fulfilling the rest of the nightmare, and then he might just run away..."

Filia glared at him.

"And how would you know that this resembles a nightmare that he had?" she hissed, her hand gripping for Mace-sama, but as she grabbed thin air she reminded herself that she'd left him at home, to make her levitation spell easier to keep in the long run. Bad call, apparently.

"Because I might just happen to be the one who planted it there!" he admitted, almost smilingly.

She could swear she saw red. If the nightmare was anything like the current situation, like he said it'd been, then she could imagine how it might turn from dream to nightmare, and ultimately what Zel was afraid he'd do to Amelia.

"Why would you do such a thing, Namagomi!!" she all but roared, and was thankful that the bubble probably contained some of the sound. She grabbed him by the collar, but he looked infuriatingly uncaring, and simply smiled.

"Technically I didn't plant the nightmare, as such. I simply fed him a little fear while he was sleeping, and his mind conjured it up on its own... more or less!" he didn't even look like it was anything she needed to get upset about. "It's a lot like farming, really. You sow a little of what you want to reap on a fertile field, and voila!"

"You bastard!!" she shrieked.

Her fists were ready to pound him into another dimension, but then she caught a glimpse of the situation in the library. Just like Xellos had predicted everything had gone awry.

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A moment of sheer fear had granted him the window of clarity he needed to stop and push himself away from her. Amelia looked as stunned as she looked violated. His kisses might have been welcomed, but they'd left her lips bruised and swollen never the less. Her hair was a total mess, and he could see blue marks forming where he'd left a trail of kisses down her throat. He couldn't even begin to imagine how ravaged her abdomen, hips and mound might be, where he'd held her hips tightly, and.. ground against her. The blissful feeling of letting oneself go, the pleasure of consuming her and letting himself be consumed by her, was all fading. He knew where this would end. And it wouldn't end well.

She might think that she wanted this, her body might even agree, but afterwards... He'd go berserk, just like in the dream, not caring the least bit about her, ravish her, rape her, and who in their right mind would ever forgive him for that? Let alone allow him near her again.

"Why did you push me away, Zelgadis?" she asked, and he knew that she'd not only meant the slight but abrupt physical push he'd used to put some distance between them. She took a step towards him, the movement of her hips invariably caught his eyes and he'd happily blame her for being an evil seductress, but her eyes shone with wonder and concern, not malicious or self-confident seductiveness.

Her hand reached out to gently caress his waist, and he felt his arousal strain against the cloth of his pants. Her hand curiously ventured a bit further down, cautiously dipping to flutter over the tip of it, and he felt himself involuntarily twitch. This was too much, too good. He couldn't think if she was this near, and most certainly not if she was touching him like that.

"I know you might not understand it, but..." she hesitated, as if picking her words carefully. "..I'm a grown woman.. And I.. I want this, too.." Her other hand came to rest on his chest, and the hand already stroking his lower stomach grew bold and came to outright rest on his erection, cupping him with the palm of her hand through his pants.

The air left his lungs. Amelia wasn't doing this. She couldn't be. Not out of her own volition. He was somehow manipulating her, although for the life of him, he couldn't figure out how he did it. But this was not the mental picture he had of her, and the more this picture merged with the existing one, the more he felt himself loose his determination to push her away for her own sake. She obviously wanted him, like he wanted her.

He mentally shook the thought out of his brain. He had to stop her. His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. And for a torturous long moment he battled whether he should remove her hand from him, or guide her movement.

She took his indecision as her chance to tip the scales, and gave him an experimental squeeze through the pants. He shuddered visibly, his knees slightly buckling, and he hated himself for not being able to strangle the sound before it escaped his mouth. His hand clamped down on her wrist and he shook slightly as he forcibly removed her hand. It'd felt too nice. Much too nice.

"You don't understand, Amelia!" he managed, although his breathing was heavy. He had to make her understand. If she didn't she'd keep on working against his self-control, and there was very little left of it. "This body.. My skin-"

Her free hand gently moved up and put a finger over his lips. To silence him. He looked at her, confused.

"I don't think it'll be a problem." She said, convinced, and grabbed the hand that was holding her wrist with her free one. She gently pried his fingers off her wrist, and took the hand into hers.

"But I'll hurt you.." he insisted, his voice almost inaudible.

"It always hurts the first time." She said, but even with all her confidence, she still blushed at the statement.

Now it was his turn to blush. Did he really have to carve it into stone before she understood it?.. no pun intended.

"No, Amelia..." he started, and gathered a deep breath. "I have stone-skin... Everywhere! What do you think that'll... do to you?"

She simply smiled calmly.

"I don't know, and you don't know either." She stated. She then smiled that flirtatious smile she'd become good at lately, although a bit less confident. "But we could try to find out."

He started to protest, but she was already gently moving his hand to her stomach, where she gently laid it so that his palm was on her abdomen. She then guided his hand with hers further down, almost torturously slow. Making it past the band of her panties, and down through the soft curls. He was almost deaf from the blood rushing through his body and roaring in his ears. When the hand met the folds of her womanhood, he stopped breathing and twitched.

Amelia on her part was nowhere near as confident as she seemed. What the heck was she doing? What was she proving? Was she even certain that he wasn't right? Then again she had to remind herself that his skin was smooth to the touch, and so the skin alone wouldn't be a problem. And as far as she'd heard Martina babble, there existed certain... toys for women, which were obviously all carved or crafted from rather solid materials, so...

She guided him past the outer lips and to the inner, which were, in lack of better words, soaking. She watched his reaction intently, and wondered what he thought. She was a bit nervous he'd think less of her, but had to remind herself that this was probably the only way to convince him. He was staring at her face, or perhaps at the wall behind her, pupils very small and with an almost panicked expression. Like he knew what she was going to do, feared it, but was unable to stop it. That, perhaps, wasn't so far from the truth.

She gently shifted her hands so that hers was lying on top of his. She then pressed his index-finger with hers as it came right over her opening. She forced herself to relax, and the finger slid in, the flesh yielding without any problems. She unwillingly rolled her hips on it, savouring the feeling and moaned a bit. She'd broken off the eyecontact because her eyes had fluttered shut, but when she opened them again, he was now looking at her, really looking at her, with a puzzled gaze. Not terrified, but puzzled.

"Doesn't hurt." She breathed out with a blush and a valiant attempt at a sly smile.

As if disbelieving that this could be true, he retracted the finger and gently pushed it into her again. She felt her knees giving out as the pleasure spread like ripples in the water. Funny. She'd never expected that this part would be so.. pleasurable. She'd never gotten the same results from using her own fingers like that.

"See?... No harm done." She said, her voice shaky and low. She had to tell him, although it might seem obvious. He was good at making the wrong assumptions.

"But this isn-" Zel stopped the sentence, trying very hard to find a non-awkward way of wording it. His body wasn't lending much blood to his brain, which made it decidedly more difficult. "My finger is not at all as- Amelia, there's a difference between the siz-"

"I know!" she cut him off before he could make the impeding embarrassing statement. "Try... Try adding another.." she couldn't believe she was saying it. She wanted to try it badly, but it still felt so wrong asking for that kind of thing.

Slowly he pushed in another, first just the tip. She started to clamp down on him, but eventually relaxed enough for him to ease it in. She had to admit this was a little much. But then again, it wasn't the skin that was the problem. It was the fact that she wasn't used to the feeling. Being stretched like that..

"Amelia, don't-" he started, but she managed to silence him again with a finger over his lips. She then started rocking her hips slightly. It felt strange, but good somehow. If she angled her hips a little, the fingers didn't feel so intruding. Rather, they sometimes brushed something.. something good. She was making damn sure he noticed it too. He started to catch on, eventually beginning to meet her movements with his own, pushing his fingers into her, with more force and speed.

"Your stoneskin-" she gasped, between thrust. "-is not - an issue!"

Zel was almost loosing himself. The feeling of having his fingers massaging Amelia's tight walls was overwhelming him. Consuming him. Knowing that he could please her like this almost made him lose it completely. If his stoneskin wasn't a direct issue then what the heck was keeping him from denying himself this anyways? Nothing! She wanted him, her want was seeping through his fingers, so that much was obvious, and if this didn't hurt her, well then there was no point in not letting go, was there? No point in holding back. No point in not bending her over and burring himself in her, to the hilt. No point in not ravishing her, and if she complained, well then it was her own fault for playing with the fire. He was a monster after all, and little princesses shouldn't play with monsters.

He stopped the train of thought along with his movements abruptly. That's right. His stoneskin wasn't the issue. The fact that he was an undeserving, evil and selfish monster was! Who the heck was he kidding?! What was he about to do? Did he really think he'd get away with that? So what if she wanted him now. It didn't matter. Eventually he'd hurt her, one way or another, and that was even assuming that they'd be allowed to be together in the first place! And they shouldn't be. He was a monster, and he was right now potentially serving as a Mazoku tool for Sailrune's destruction. Heavy eyelids fluttered open and Amelia looked at him through clouded eyes. He quickly withdrew his hand and stared at it in shaken disbelief. She reached out to grab his hand, but in a panic reaction he managed to push her, harshly, to the floor.

"Amelia.. Stop this! We can't be together! No matter how much you might think that others will understand and approve, they never really will. I'm sure your father wouldn't be so blind that he'd willingly let you hurt yourself like this. You deserve better. Sailrune deserves better." His voice was edging towards desperate. "I'm sorry. I made you even more confused by this... Goodbye."

She was lying on the floor, several feet from him. She'd never be able to reach him or stop him, and this was the ideal chance to flee. He was just about to, too, when his ears caught a sound. A sound of danger. And he reacted to it before he could think.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Oh no he doesn't!!" Filia exclaimed. Her cheeks were almost lighting up the night, and it wasn't all with anger, either.

"I can honestly say I agree on that." Said Xellos, his voice uncharacteristically serious, and a bit angry. They'd both worked hard to set Lina's scheme back on track. It would be wasted if Zelgadis just got away like he had intended all along. Xellos readied a spell, and took a good aim. If this was to get back on track, they'd need to nudge it a tad. He took one glance at Filia, for confirmation, and as she nodded, he hurled the spell towards the princess.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

There was little doubt in Zelgadis' mind about who was behind this. The spell was easily repelled, not anything you'd expect anybody to throw as a one-shot-chance to kill the princess. This was a diversion. Or even worse, a warning-shot. It might only have been Xellos, and he might only have wanted Zel to rethink, but the statement was tearing him apart regardless. Mainly because of the two opposite statements it carried.

On the one hand, it settled once and for all that the Mazoku DID want them to end up together. They wanted his cursed blood in the Sailrune heirs. And the second message was that she'd be attacked, and most likely killed, if he left her alone. In some way they were keeping her as a hostage. He despised the thought of being manipulated, like a puppet, to stay. But then he had to remind himself that there were plenty capable people to protect Amelia, Lina being one of them. So the real problem was that he wasn't sure he'd be able to hand over the responsibility just like that.

Funny how this sudden burst of protectiveness was overwriting the lust that had clouded his mind up until this point. Normally, when his protectiveness had set in it hadn't normally directly conflicted with his more physical longing for his princess. But this time it did, and it made it stunningly clear to him that if she could just choose a proper role for him, and stick with it, then he could keep himself within the boundaries of that role. If it was a choice between her life and happiness on the one hand and his life and happiness on the other, then it wasn't really a choice at all. So, the choice had to be hers.

"You either let me go now, and the off chance still remains that I'll find a cure, and can return to you. If you choose to do so, we will have to agree to a time-limit, so that you don't waste your life chasing a false light of hope.. like me." She was about to say something comforting in answer to his last comment, but thought better of it. This was important for him to say, so she'd better let him say it, with as little interference as possible. "Or, you ask me to stay as your bodyguard, and I'll remain my chimeric self for as long as you might need me. I am little use to you as a bodyguard if I'm just human, and I'm no use to you as a consort if I'm not."

He sounded so serious and determined that she was sure the battle was lost. At least for today. But it all made it so obviously clear to her: He really did love her. He loved her enough to sacrifice that love for her happiness, which was a sweet gesture, but ultimately useless. He loved her, and that made it all the more important to keep him. So that he would realise, that it didn't matter to her if it was all just a part of a great and evil plan to throw over the kingdom. No matter what evil they were plotting, she was sure that a love this great would be able to repel it, and Justice would conquer!

Or.. at least something like that. Bottom-line was that she wasn't afraid. But he was. He was afraid that he'd hurt her. He obviously feared that his body would hurt hers, that his scarred mind would leave hers a wreck, and now also that his mere presence would throw her and her kingdom into ruin. But he was wrong. She could feel it.

"Stay with me, Zelgadis." Was her soft reply. She looked at him as he took her decision in. She couldn't decipher if he was relieved or disappointed. Most possibly he couldn't either. She was pretty certain that he'd taken her choice as a sign of lack of enduring interest in him. That, if she was confronted with waiting for him or just giving up, she'd choose the latter out of convenience. But he somehow looked pleased all the same. Maybe because he appreciated being useful to her, maybe because he silently appreciated being accepted for the body he hated so. She couldn't really tell. But she could tell that he took the statement any other way than the way in which it was meant: She loved him for who he was, and he didn't have to change. Ever. If there was a problem, they'd conquer it!

He probably wouldn't believe her if she said it, or even worse, tell her that she was just being childishly naïve. Well, they'd have to work on that, in time. Right now she was just Cephied forever thankful for the fact that she was given that time. Come tomorrow she'd have a word with her father.. and perhaps also Martina, if she hadn't left already. Tonight had started something, stirred something in her, that she definitely wanted to finish!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The following morning (or rather midday, as Amelia woke very late), Amelia and Zel went to Lina, Gourry and their daughter, more or less to drop Amelia off there, while Zel went to face the music. Amelia had said that she'd go and have a talk with her father, but Zel was through with letting other people solve his problems, so he simply ordered her to stay put with the Inverse-Gabrievs. As he stood in front of the heavy double doors, he knew that this might turn ugly. Never the less he had to talk to Phil. Thankfully, he wouldn't have to explain yesterday night in details. He still couldn't forgive himself for that, so how would he expect Phil to.

"Ah, Zelgadis." Said Phil as the chimera entered his office. "I was under the impression that you were leaving, my boy." Phil said, giving Zel an almost suspicious stare.

"No. I'm sorry, but I've changed my decision." The chimera said, his voice as solemn as he could muster.

"No doubt my daughter missing out on breakfast had something to do with that." Phil said, clearing his throat.

"Yes. She was up late... Stopping me from leaving." Zel said, deciding to be honest.

"That'll no doubt make for good gossip-material." Phil said, offhandedly. "We need to have a chat, my boy."

"I love your daughter, Phil." Zel said, his tone of voice very matter-of-factly. He needed the bear to know that for sure, so that his feelings weren't once again misunderstood. Amelia had thought he'd reject her. He needed Phil to know that he really did care. "And I would like to restate my request of being her protector for as long as she might need one."

"I take it that you love her in more than just a friendly way, my boy." Phil said, leaning in over his desk with his hands folded. Zel couldn't decipher his expression.

The chimera nodded his confirmation.

"And you have absolutely no intentions of leaving?" the Prince of Sailrune spoke his words with great care, eying the chimera's reactions out of the corner of his eyes.

"Nothing you can say will make me leave as long as Amelia confirms she needs me." Zelgadis spoke without hesitation.

"You might want to reconsider that statement after you've heard what I have to say." Phil said, and Zel felt his throat tie itself tightly.

Would Phil really be against him staying? Had Filia managed to convince him that this was just a Mazoku scheme too?

"Due to the cancelling of the wedding and the certain.. incidents involving you and my daughter, an odd rumour has been born." Phil started, looking straight at the young man in front of him. "I suspect Orin might have a hand in it, but it would seem that Amelia's purity is being called into question. "

Zel could feel his heart knot up. Yes, this might have something to do with Orin. A rumour like that would just be the thing to throw the odds back in Orin's favour. If the council felt the slightest bit unsure of its validity, they might force her to accept if Orin should restate his proposal.

"You know that it's not true, Prince!" Zel objected, not liking where this was headed at all.

"I believe your word, my boy." The prince countered, but held the chimera's eyes fixed. "However, knowing how my daughter feels about you, and knowing now how you feel about her... The fact that you're not leaving after all.. All the little incidents.. They fuel the rumour mill, my lad."

Zel was just about to object, when he found that anything further denying what had happened would be dishonest. Yes, nothing irrevocable had happened, but that had been a matter of luck more than lack of actual intent.

"And because she's led such a physically active life, the healers inform me that it'd be hard to.. Well, to confirm her innocence, if you understand." Phil went on. "So, seeing how I might soon stand with a daughter on my hand that nobody would want to marry, if this rumour is to circulate any longer, I've decided to choose a husband for her. I'll have them marry before this rumour takes any lasting root, and inflict irreversible damage on our noble house!"

So this was the world's great revenge? This would be the punishment for not having the balls to actually leave the castle yesterday? Once again he was prone to think "why does my mistake keep hurting only Amelia", only to realise that he again only was hiding behind the fact that this perhaps would hurt him most.

Zel's hands fisted at his sides, and he gritted his teeth in order not to say or do anything that might harm his already unsteady position in all of this. But he just couldn't believe it. It didn't sound like something Phil would do. Or even say for that matter. He was treating Amelia as if she was an object. How could he do that to her? Treat her like she was some sort of "damaged goods". Then again, if the council had been on his back for this... but still. It didn't justify this course of action!

"Don't tell me you'll let Orin trick you into-" he started, but the calm shake of Phil's head told him it was a wrong line of thought. Not Orin then. He didn't know if he should feel relieved or not. It would mean that it was somebody else, perhaps somebody she didn't even know.

"And before you ask, I've decided on this myself." Phil said. "The council has urged me to find her a husband, but the decision as to who has been mine entirely."

Zel knew he was probably trying to relieve him, but it didn't serve the purpose. Also he wondered why he was being told all of this before Amelia was. Why he was being told any of this, at all? It had nothing to do with him, unless Phil thought he'd just give up and leave like that after realising she would be permanently off limits.

He knew that. He'd always known that! Heck, it'd been one of his many reasons for keeping himself from falling for her in the first place. He would not fool anybody if he claimed that it would be easy to keep his eyes and hands off her, but if she needed him as a guard or friend, he'd stay. Even if it would hurt. He was through with choosing the easy way out.

"Might I be so bold as to ask who?" he asked.

"I doubt it'd stop you if I said no." Phil said, his voice awfully friendly for a guy who'd just declared that his daughter was to be wed to somebody due to a sodding rumour. "Do not worry yourself, my boy. It is a dependable lad, a bit young, but then weren't we all at a time? Got quite a lot of experience for his age, though. And from a well-known family of strong magicians and sages. Strong allies, too of course, they say that's very important these days. And I've heard he's excellent with administrative tasks. We could use a man like that, I think, if my dear Amelia takes after me. Heaven knows I never cared much for the paperwork."

"The council must be elated, then." The chimera ground out, not at all able to mask his sullen and annoyed tone of voice. Yes, this was exactly what he'd imagine Phil would choose. A right choice, from a political vantage point.

"They'll get over their initial disagreement with the choice, eventually, I'm sure." Phil said, a dismissive wave of his hand successfully conveying his disregard for their concerns.

"And this boy, has he conceded yet?" Perhaps he'd be so lucky. If the boy wasn't willing to throw himself into the mess, Phil would have no choice but to drop the idea of a fast marriage, which in turn might leave Amelia with a little more freedom of choice. The little, petty spark of hope was just as poorly masked as his sullen tone had been just before. Zel figured he'd lost his right to stay anyways, so there was little point in pretending he'd approve of Phil's choice.

"Ehm... No. Not directly." Was the hesitant answer, but Phil quickly regained himself. "He will probably have little say in the matter. However, I'm sure he'll agree eventually. After all, who wouldn't?"

The way Phil looked at him almost made him say "not me" just out of sheer spite, but he found that he couldn't. As much as he hated this situation with his entire blue being, there was just no way in hell he'd be able to say that, not even as a smart-ass-remark, with a straight face. If he were a noble, no matter how spiteful he might have been, he'd still be a fool not to accept Amelia's hand in marriage, and political reasons would play an ever so insignificant part of it.

Phil apparently read that correctly.

"I didn't realise you cared for her this much, my boy." He said, slowly. "this must be quite hard on you then."

"You don't understand..." the chimera began. "I'd sacrifice anything just to see her happy, yet now you rob her of that possibility, and nothing I'd sacrifice would be able to change that."

Phil gave him a measuring look, and fixed his eyes on the chimera's, narrowing them, and looking at him intently over the rim of his folded hands.

"Would you sacrifice even your freedom, boy?" he asked, his voice awfully businesslike.

Zel looked bewildered at him. What had that got to do with anything? He'd sacrifice his life, and everybody knew that. Phil shouldn't have to ask.

"Yes, of course!" he replied without hesitation.

"Would you actually sacrifice your freedom, the freedom you seem to enjoy so much, searching for your cure and all that?" Phils eyes narrowed further. If they narrowed any further than this, Zel doubted Phil would even be able to see at all.

"I'd give my life for her. Freedom without a life is not worth much! Of course I would!"

"Right! Well then, I think we have a deal." Phil said, getting up from his chair, and reaching out his big hand for a handshake over the desk.

The poor chimera just stared, and absentmindedly offered his hand, which was taken in a firm handshake. He hadn't the slightest idea as to what the heck was going on just then.

"A deal?" he heard himself parrot the words in a question, unable to find his own.

"Yes, my boy. It seems only just!" the bear insisted, obviously amused by the confused look in the chimera's wide eyes. "I have a daughter I need to marry off, and seeing how you're the only one that knows with absolute certainty that she's still pure, plus being jointly responsible for the rumours of her lost innocence, I think it's only fitting that I marry her off to you! Besides you're here, which saves some time, and you're intending on staying by her side regardless. Might as well put you to some use, then!" His tone was amused, and it was obvious that this entire "reason" was only a big, dramatic overstatement to excuse the choice.

He'd said it with such ease, like it'd been his plan all along, and like there was no problem with it. What about the other boy, then? The boy who allegedly was handpicked by Phil himself due to his qualities as a ruler, his lineage of mages and his powerful connections...

Wait a minute. Maybe he HAD been planning this from the start of this meeting.

Zel could feel himself tingle with the happy joy that was threatening to run through him. Of course, this unaccustomed feeling was instantly stomped out of his system, and his brain kicked in. This couldn't possibly be happening to him. He did not deserve that things turned out this hilariously well.

"She deserves better than me." He insisted.

Phil's huge fist came down on the wooden desk, which in turn creaked unhappily at the mighty, undeserved blow.

"My daughter is the most precious creature in the entire world." he said, his voice on the verge of justice speeches. And just as the chimera feared, the bear slipped into Justice-mode. "She is the living proof that Justice and Love are the two main forces in this universe, and she is the guiding light to many. She deserves to get anything in this world that she might want, and my boy.." he tuned out of Justice-mode and faced the startled chimera. "..she wants you." He smiled.

"But I'm nothing but a cursed and selfish monster!" Zel tried to regain himself to battle the madness.

"Nonsense, my boy!"

"I'm not kidding, Phil! I've got demon bloods in these veins!"

"If you want to keep it there, I'd think it would be unwise to keep on excusing yourself with that. Your friends and my daughter might grow tired of hearing you say that." Phil joked.

"Not even remotely funny!"

"I've been told she's dealt with demons worse than you." Phil said, dismissively.

Zel almost flushed red, thinking along an entirely different line, apparently.

"NOT as consorts!!" he insisted.

"She's got the light of Love and Justice burning passionately in her! No matter what may come, she'll overcome it!"

"You can't do this to her!"

"You tell me that I can't just marry her off to someone else, now you tell me I can't marry her off to you? Have I read you wrong, boy? Could it be that you do not wish to marry my daughter?" he ashed, sounding honestly worried, but Zel had a feeling he was just pulling his leg.

"No! I mean, yes! Of course I'd like to marry her bu-"

Checkmate.

"Excellent!" Phil exclaimed.

Nothing really seemed to change after that. As Zel left the room he was fighting very hard to feel depressed. This had to go wrong. Something like this didn't come without a price. He just couldn't figure out what it was, and right now he was battling really hard to care.

His feet carried him down the hallways, towards the rooms where Lina and Gourry had been reallocated. He had promised to tell them what Phil would say to him. Now he was trying to find a reasonable way to explain that Phil didn't want him out of the castle. He wanted him as a son-in-law.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Why Lina was looking like a beaming red beacon he didn't know. If he had to venture a guess, it'd be that Amelia had shared details about last night. Great. Just what he needed!

He pulled Amelia aside, wanting to tell her this in private. Lina and Gourry would know soon enough. And once they knew, there'd be no way to prevent or reverse it. Amelia looked at him, a puzzled stare marring her features. He figured he looked panicked or nervous, and she was most probably afraid that Phil had told him to say his goodbyes and leave for good.

"Amelia.." he started, not having the slightest inkling as to where to start.

"What did daddy say?" Amelia asked.

"He.. He.." Zel wrung his mind. No brilliant ways to put it popped up. "He made me an offer for your hand."

Amelia, to his surprise, only nodded, as if she'd been expecting that. She was obviously fighting not to smile, probably out of fear that he'd said no. He felt he should have. It was the only right thing to do. But he just couldn't. And Phil hadn't even been threatening. Had he only been able to excuse himself with that..

"And what did you tell him then?" she asked, since he didn't follow up on it on his own. She didn't directly sound nervous, but she was biting the inside of her cheek, he could see that much. And her hands were shaking while she held her breath.

"I wasn't strong enough to say no to that offer, Amelia. I'm sorry." He said and hung his head. He felt slightly disappointed in himself that he had to lay the final decision on her. She had to be the one calling this nonsense off. But she would, right? They'd agreed that she could keep him as a bodyguard if she gave up on him as a consort.

The loudest "SQUEE"-sound ever heard penetrated his ears. He just managed t look up before he was tackled by the princess in a fierce embrace.

"Oh, Zelgadis, I'm so happy!" she managed between cries of joy.

"What?!" He looked at her, unbelieving. "You can't be serious, Amelia! This is.." what was he going to say? This is forever? Well, he knew she was willing to try that one on for size, as much as he was. This is wrong, perhaps? But he'd tried that argument before, and failed.

"This is exactly what I wanted." She finished for him.

"But, Amelia, I'll.." I'll what? He thought. I'll be a terrible ruler? Phil had already argued that he'd be just the kind of prince-consort the kingdom and Amelia needed. I'll be a terrible husband? Didn't really fly either. He knew he'd try his damn hardest trying to make her happy. I'll be a terrible father? A thought struck him. "Amelia, we don't even know if I can… You know, if it's possible for me to have..kids. Nor what the pregnancy might do to you!"

"We have plenty time to figure that out!" she said, dismissively but determined all the same. "We're not in any hurry, you know."

"But I'm a monster.." he tried, although he had to grant her that it did sound a little flat and untrue now. How had that changed? "I shouldn't have returned. I've only brought more confusion and pain.." It was like he had to say it out loud to believe it. And even then he wasn't quite convinced.

She looked at him, and shook her head as slowly as was necessary to accentuate her point.

"When I saw you again, I was so happy." She said. "I'd missed you terribly, and you came back to me. You've done all sorts of things to make me happy. Like keeping my bracelet, or standing by my side. Or even helping me with the paper-work. And those roses you'd bought for me when you came back... I know it was only a symbolic statement, but it meant the world to me!"

"I remember. You stung yourself on them. It was pretty accurate, yes." Said Zel. "I'll hurt you. No matter how much you like me, I'll hurt you as soon as you get too close."

She gently shook her head.

"No, Zel. That's not all. Those were the first real roses I'd gotten. The first roses with thorns. The first roses that dared to show me that they had thorns. Where they hadn't been bred out or peeled off for my convenience." She took his hands in hers, and looked at his eyes, hers deep with emotion and a little glassy. "Without the thorns a rose has no natural beauty. It looks fake to the eye, and is fake in essence, because it's been robbed of a vital part of what defines a rose. The fact that a rose sting doesn't make it any less appealing for those who love roses." She said, beaming at him. "Remember when we talked about some people being too consumed by light so that they had no shadows. I may be a little too swallowed by light, so I really do need your shadows, Zelgadis. I want you for your good sides as well as the bad. Is that really so hard to comprehend?"

"But you don't really know me. You don't know what I'm capable of doing!" he insisted. She didn't really love him, she loved what she thought was him. But that wasn't all.

"Tell me what you're afraid I might not have seen?" she dared him.

"I know that I'll hurt you." He simply stated, not able to pin it further down, and not even sure that this was actually the case anymore. All this happiness seemed to cloud his mind.

She laughed. She laughed, loud, clear and relieved.

"You only think that you'll hurt me. Just because you think it, doesn't necessarily make it come true! What you think are your most monstrous sides are actually your most human sides, Zelgadis." she then turned to smile at him, a little daringly. "I'm not afraid of you. You shouldn't be either!" she smiled. She tiptoed to kiss him, and to his surprise he answered her kiss with no hesitation or fear for once.

"Hey! HEY!! I heard the happy-squee!! Now come back in here and GIMME DETAILS!!" shouted a certain redhaired sorceress. The two lovebirds let go of each other, sharing a knowing, warm glance, before grinning and walking back to face their friends. She'd probably be quite ecstatic that her plan turned out the way she wanted it to. It didn't matter to them. It didn't matter whose plan it really was. It was their reality, and that was all that really mattered.

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AN: Well, for a "short story" this turned out to grow rather big on me. I think that one of the reasons why it did so was because that I really tried to mingle a bit of realism into it. And you don't do that with a show like Slayers. Not unpunished. Next time I have a go at the universe I'll either try to retain the gritty realism, or drop keeping the characters and universe in character. But then again.. This was an awful lot of fun. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I for one had a real blast writing it, and that's what matters the most, I think. ;)

Thanks for reading.

Oh, and to Lil'Dinky and everybody else who want me to take a go at the X/F fics.. Alright, I'll try. But this will probably be a LOT shorter. ;)