I just want to feel safe in my own skin, I just want to be happy again
I just want to feel deep in my own world
But I'm so lonely I don't even want to be with myself anymore
On a different day, if I was safe in my own skin, then I wouldn't feel lost and so frightened
But this is today and I'm lost in my own skin
And I'm so lonely I don't even want to be with myself anymore
I just want to feel safe in my own skin, I just want to be happy again
-"Honestly Ok" by Dido from the 'No Angel' CD. (used without permission)


Touch
By Icka! M. Chif


It was bitterly cold.

Both internally and externally.

Zelgadiss Greywords was used to the cold, so he ignored it. Instead, he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, breaking a trail through the knee high snow.

The cold did effect his traveling companion however, and he was starting to worry a bit. The Princess of Saillune held on to his sword belt as she walked just behind him, as close as possible with out actually touching.

The storm had blow up alarmingly fast, making it hard to see. She'd originally grasped his belt so that they didn't loose each other, but was now huddling under his cloak for added warmth. White was so easy to loose in the snow.

Fortunately, Zelgadiss had been in these parts before, and remembered an empty cabin nearby, which is where they were headed now. He just hoped it was still there.

He glanced back at Amelia to gauge how well the Princess was holding up. She looked frozen, tired and stiff. He felt a tinge of worry for her. The cold effected her more than him.

"Little farther." He called to her, hoping the wind didn't blow his words completely away. She nodded, taking another step. One thing, he had to admit, was that she had never complained. Not once.

He was half tempted to pick her up and carry her there, but squelched the thought. She'd probably refuse anyway.

Turning back to the task at hand, Zelgadiss took another step, breaking the trail again. If he remembered correctly, the cabin should be-

Ah-ha. Eureka. They were closer than he'd thought. He turned to point it out to Amelia, and noticed that she was starting to turn faintly, well, blue. It was less of an attractive colour on her than it was for his rock skin.

Zelgadiss was really starting to dislike the colour pale blue.

He tugged on the cloak, gaining her attention. She looked up. "There it is!" He gestured, pointing. The look of relief was clear in her eyes. "You want me to-" He made a gesture of picking her up without thinking about it. It just seemed natural.

Amelia shook her head, squaring her shoulders. The message was clear. She'd made it this far on her own power, she'd make it the rest of the way.

He nodded and pressed forward, his steps a bit lighter now that there was a goal in sight. A part of his mind chided himself. He'd been right about offering to carry her.

He shunted that thought way as fruitless and focused on the cabin instead. Their shelter for the night was in much the same condition as he'd remembered it. A bit more snow covered, perhaps, but that was all.

He got the door open and tugged on the cloak, helping Amelia inside. She literally fell inside as he hastened to close the door. It was marginally warmer in here than outside, but still freezing cold.

"Lighting." Amelia gasped through chattering teeth. The spell flew from her hand and rose to the middle of the room, illuminating the area.

"That won't last long." He warned her, slipping off his cloak. She blinked at him, surprised as he went to inspect the fire place.

Whomever was here last was an idiot. The wood left beside the fireplace was all hard green wood, not easy to burn. He sighed, setting it up for a fire anyway, then draping his cloak over the mantle so it hung down in front.

"Fireball."

Amelia gasped as the spell flew from his hand at the fireplace. Normally, a fireball would take out the wall he was facing, if not the entire house.

Instead, this one lazily wobbled it's way over to the fireplace, then disintegrated with a mighty wheeze and a puff of steam as soon as it hit the wood. The Princess blinked, taken back.

"For some strange reason, this local area absorbs magical attacks. Spell won't work here. Or work for very long." He explained, picking up his cloak. "The more powerful they are, the faster they fade." That had been the reason why he'd been here originally, hoping that it might be a cure for his spelled body. It hadn't been.

But least the cloak was dry now. And slightly warm to the touch. He handed it to Amelia, who was shivering again. "Here. Changed out of your wet clothes and wrap this around you. You'll need to warm up as soon as possible."

She nodded, taking it with shaking hands. "T-thanks." The sphere of light above them flickered, then dimmed in intensity but remained lit. She noticed it with wary eyes, then looked down at the cloak.

Zelgadiss quickly turned his back to her so she could change, fighting a slight blush. He wasn't quite sure what it was, but every time he was around her he always ended up blushing at some point or another. Or she ended up blushing. It was rather confusing sometimes.

Lina was his best friend, or as close as he could call someone a best friend anyway. She was the first person who had ever really treated him... well, like a normal person since the change. He'd -never- been punched in the arm before. It was an ...interesting experience.

Gourry got along with everyone, so long as they weren't trying to kill Lina. But just saying that was selling the fellow swordsman short. Gourry was about the only person he could fall back on when Lina and Amelia were being crazy again.

And Gourry could handle Lina, as much as anyone could handle the fire tempered sorceress. That deserved major notes in anyone's book.

Xelloss... he'd rather not think about. The same with Martina. He tolerated them because he had to. Nothing more, nothing less. Just like when he'd been dressed in drag.

Amelia had been the one 'assigned' to him to make sure he was a properly looking female. She had seemed to enjoy the task, putting up with his muttering and complaints with good cheer as she'd brushed his hair and applied the make up.

The hair brushing had taken the longest, he remembered. She'd insisted in doing it for him, taking great delight in the texture and feel of it.

He couldn't really remember the last time anyone had brushed his hair, much less voluntarily touched him for that length of time. It was puzzling.

One of the many puzzling things about the Princess of Saillune.

"You can turn around now." Amelia whispered, breaking him out of his thoughts.

"Thanks." Amelia had wrapped herself up in the cloak so that the only thing visible was her head. He blinked. It made her look younger, more vulnerable.

He shook his head slightly to clear it. She was a White Mage, just like he was. And more than capable of taking care of herself. She proven time after time that she didn't need anyone's help.

But that didn't mean that it wasn't occasionally welcome. "Let me see if I can't get your clothes to dry out some." He picked up her clothes and hung them over the fire place like he had his cloak.

Amelia frowned slightly. "B-but what about you? Won't you get-t cold too?"

"I don't get cold." He informed her with a slight smile. One of the few advantages of being partly stone.

"F-fireball!" She tossed one at him anyway, knowing that it couldn't hurt him. The small ball of fire dwindled as it hit him in the stomach, creating a large cloud of steam as the water evaporated from his clothes.

She smiled at him when he raised an inquiring eyebrow. "n-No reason to take the chance."

"Ah." He turned back to her clothes and launched another fireball at the green wood. "Fireball!"

This one faded faster than the first one had. Their magic probably wouldn't work until they got out of the area again. But it had the required effect, the clothes were at least warm to the touch and a bit drier than before.

"They're still a bit damp." He apologised, setting them out to dry on the floor next to Amelia.

"That's okay. I'll just borrow your cloak a little longer." She smiled, wrapping it a bit closer around her. He fought the urge to blush again. So he turned and sat down against the wall, careful to avoid looking at her in the hopes she wouldn't see.

As if to help him out, the lighting spell dimmed again. Amelia blinked at it, trying to hide a shiver. The Lighting spell didn't actually add any heat, but it helped psychologically. Light usually equaled heat. Except when it didn't.

Looking uncertain, she sat down on the rug, tucking his cloak under her. "Thank you for escorting me home." She said pleasantly. It was only because of his heightened sense of hearing that he was able to detect a slight tremor in it. "I know you don't like crowds and all."

Crowds were another problem. Sometimes just hiding the way he looked out of sight wasn't enough. People got jostled in crowds, bumping into each other and off of each other. He'd scared people before when they had bumped into him expecting flesh and hitting stone instead. He imagined it was quite like running into a statue.

Crowds could also quickly turn into mobs.

"Think nothing of it." He murmured back, folding his legs up to rest his forearms on his knees. He rested the back of his head on the wall, making an effort to relax. The last time he'd been to Saillune was still stuck heavily in his mind; Amelia arriving home to be told her father was dead. He hadn't been, it had all been a power ploy by her late cousin Alfred and 2 mazoku. But it had still been a very dark time.

That alone was enough to make him volunteer to escort her home when Lina and Gourry had suggested going the opposite direction. A part of him hadn't liked the idea of her going home alone. He'd lost 2 close friends when Zolf and Rodimus died. He wasn't going to loose the few he had left.

"You always seem to be happy to go home." He commented, eager to switch trains of thought.

Amelia blushed faintly, digging deeper into the recesses of material. "I'm always happy to see Tousan." She said, a slightly silly but fond smile on her face.

She straighten, suddenly gaining her 'Justice Will Prevail!' look while somehow staying modestly in the confines of the cloak. "But one must make sacrifices in the noble pursuit of Justice!"

She abruptly melted back into the cloak, sleepily blinking her eyes at him. "-Of course."

"Of course." Zelgadiss agreed, wondering just how she did that. Her Father always seemed to be constantly on a Justice high. He was often grateful that she was a bit... calmer. Must be a hereditary thing, he mused. Her mother must have been an amazing person.

"Does this mean that you're not as happy to be taking your duties back up as Princess?" He queried. Talking was good. Talking kept one from thinking.

Thinking was bad. Thinking lead to the black abyss of despair.

She considered his question thoughtfully. "I love my city, and the people in it too." She finally said. "But it doesn't seem like home without Tousan there. Tousan is my home, my ... family. He's all I have left, really."

Sometimes, he envied her. She and her father were so close, it sometimes made his memories of his family seem dry, brittle.

The strong will survive, that seemed to be the motto of his family. L-sama, it had been his own Great-grandfather that had cursed him with this form in the first place!

No, her past and his were nothing alike.

Her family was so... tactile. Phil and Amelia would frequently hug each other for what appeared to be no particular reason. Or Phil would just put a hand on her shoulder and she'd beam at him. Or they'd just stand closer together than most people did, so that their cloaks mingled together.

It was confusing. Growing up, his family didn't touch. It wasn't that they disliked each other, but they just weren't physically affectionate. The idea that people would want to constantly be close to someone seemed strange.

And yet, somehow he found that he didn't mind her company.

"Tousan..." Amelia trailed off, looking up at the ceiling, shivering a bit.

"Have you ever wanted to be touched... or hugged, just so you -know- other people are there so bad that your body aches?" She whispered.

Zelgadiss froze, a butterfly suddenly caught in his chest. As if something he'd kept secret, so secret that he had managed to keep hidden from himself, was suddenly named and given form by the lips of the Princess of Saillune.

"That's what it's like sometimes on the road. I guess you could call it 'Homesick'." She said softly, oblivious to his reaction as she curled into a ball so she could rest her chin on her arms. She muffled a yawn before continuing.

"-But when I get back to Saillune, Tousan's there, and he just wraps me up in a huge bear hug, and it's like everything's okay again. All the monsters we faced, all the worries, all the troubles go away because I know he's there, I can feel him and life is wonderful again. I'm safe. I'm Home." She smiled at him, that silly fond smile she'd had on before creating a rather dreamy, if not sleepy, expression on her face.

Zelgadiss stared at her.

Then he caught himself staring at her, blinked and looked away to try to organize his thoughts. Hopefully before she noticed.

Maybe... maybe they weren't so different after all.

Amelia, in addition to being the youngest member of their group, was also the most tactile. She'd often cling to others if frightened if holding on to someone would make everything a little less real, a little less scary. Safety in numbers.

He didn't like being touched. He wasn't used to it. She had always respected this, and would instead hold on to his sleeve or cloak as a support instead. Much the way the tactile sensation of holding his sword made him feel more confident. Or at least more confident in the eyes of his opponents.

But when one broke cannonballs with their head, defected bullets with their eyelids and could snap a sword in two by touching it, it wasn't so much the matter of being touched, but touching others that was frightening.

Humans were so much more breakable than stone or metal.

He couldn't, wouldn't risk hurting anyone like that. So he kept his distance. He kept control. And no one got hurt. At least not physically.

But maybe... just maybe this once touching someone could help someone, instead of hurt.

To touch something, or someone was to make it real. It was one thing to see him, and think he was a freak. It was another to touch him and on a baser level -know- that he wasn't human.

Amelia already knew he wasn't human. And didn't seem to care.

His body and heart made the decision before his mind did. As if of it's own violation his arm reached out, a hand bridging the space between them.

If he was offering or asking, he couldn't tell. But it was there and he could not take it back.

Amelia blinked, staring at the hand for a moment, as if she wasn't sure if it was real. He was almost afraid that he had made a mistake, when an arm slid out of the material she was wrapped up in. Fingers brushed his as she slid her hand to rest her palm against his.

Amelia rose, her hand resting in his and he was suddenly terrified. Of her. For her. Fear bubbled up inside that he was going to somehow hurt her.

She smiled at him somehow reading his fears and assuaging them, making them insignificant. It was okay.

Touch was okay.

She turned, lowering herself so that she was curled up sideways in his lap, the cloak still wrapped around her. Amelia almost seemed to purr as she reclined against him.

"I'm sorry." He whispered, carefully wrapping his arms around her. "I know I'm not much of a substitute for a real human."

"No." She shook her head, startling him as she wrapped a cloak covered arm around him. "You're not a substitute for anyone."

He couldn't think of a response to that. So he pulled the hood of the cloak over her head so that his hair didn't scratch her as they rested.

Amelia sighed, burrowing closer against him as if she was taking pleasure in the contact. For a brief second, Zelgadiss almost thought she was a cat from the contented look on her face.

The Lighting spell finally decided to faded away, leaving them in the dark. Amelia relaxed in his arms, drifting off to sleep. The realisation that she trusted him not to accidentally hurt her while she slept bolstered Zelgadiss' spirits.

And he realised that for once, he was warm.


Epilogue:


"Ready to go?" Zelgadiss asked, tying his cloak back around his neck. The storm had blown out and it was morning once more.

"Almost!" Amelia chirped back from behind him. They had finished drying her clothes with another weak fireball and she was in the process of putting them on. There was a muffled grunt, and the sound of a boot heel striking the wood floor. "Ready!"

"Then lets go before the weather changes it's mind again." He said calmly, reaching for the door.

"Hold on a moment, Zelgadiss-san." Amelia said, dashing in front of him. He paused, tilting his head as he waited.

"Yes?"

The next thing he knew, he had a armful of princess again.

He stiffened and froze in place as Amelia hugged him around the torso, her head buried against his cloak. "Amelia? What are you doing? Let me go!"

"No."

"What?!"

She giggled, giving him a squeeze, but did not let go. "You don't get enough hugs, Zelgadiss-san." She explained cheerfully. "So every time I see you, I'm going to hug you."

"-Everytime we part, I'm going to hug you. And any time it's appropriate, I'm going to hug you. Until you're comfortable enough with people hugging you that you hug me back."

Zelgadiss' mind decided to take a brief sojourner as he attempted to decipher just what the Princess had said.

It was not logical. It didn't compute.

Last night he had held her because she needed the warmth. But it didn't make sense that she would want more of that from a cold, heartless -chimeric- swordsman.

A part of his brain finally kicked in. This was Amelia. She didn't think with her head, she thought with her heart.

Just look at her father.

He felt part of his walls crumble. How did she do this to him? How could Amelia get past his barriers like this, he wondered as he slumped. "Fine." He sighed, putting his hands on her shoulders to signal defeat.

She looked up at him, a stubborn gleam in her eye. "Your not just saying that just to get out of here, are you?" She asked.

He slouched a bit further. She really knew him too well. "No." He promised. "No, I'm not. But I have a request in exchange."

"Deal." She agreed. "What is it?" She loosed her grip on him, allowing her to take a small step back to get a better look at his face.

"I get to call you 'Imouto'." He affectionately ruffled her hair before taking a step back and opening the door.

He couldn't give her what she wanted, he knew. Not right now. Maybe some day in the future. When he was human again. But for the moment, he could at least give her this.

"Little sister'?!" Amelia demanded as he walked out the door in to the fresh snow. "Zelgadiss-san!"

In response he laughed as he broke the trail ahead of her. Amelia made a disgusted sound behind him, then trotted forward to catch up. "Imouto. Feh."

Zelgadiss smiled at her and messed up her air again, feeling a weight lift off his soul. She pouted at him before breaking out into giggles and straightening her hair.

He teased her by reaching a arm out to mess up her hair again and she dodged, sticking her tongue out at him. He laughed.

And somehow, it felt right.

Fin.

'Tousan' means 'Father'.
'Imouto' means 'Little sister'.
'Chikyoudai' would fit better, it means 'Foster sister', but we liked 'Imouto' better.

The Epilogue is dedicated to Anneke.