Touch III
By Icka! M. Chif


Gourry wasn't the smartest person around. He knew this and accepted it with the easy grace that was his trademark. He left being the smartest one up to others. It was no skin off his back, and between Lina and Zelgadiss, they seemed to have that job well in hand.

Besides, while he wasn't the best at understanding spell books or remembering who Lina had blown up, he was adept at reading people. It was one of those things that made him a good swordsman. It helped to know if someone was going to parry or feint, or when someone was about to attempt to ambush them from the trees.

And he liked to think he was good at it.

But right now, he was having a bit of trouble reading Zelgadiss.

Granted, it was because Gourry was in the middle fighting over dinner with Lina and Amelia, but that didn't stop him from pondering while defending his fair share of the food.

Usually Zel was a pretty easy read. Easier to read than Lina, anyway. Most people were. With Lina, he was never quite sure if he was about to get hit or, well, hit depending on what he said. It didn't seem to matter. Saying the right thing meant a pat on the back, which was about the same as getting hit.

But it was the thought that counted.

But with Zel, it was usually a great deal easier. He either commented, or he didn't. He fought, or he didn't. But if he did, all of his energy was behind it. There was no real half way point with the other swordsman.

Which brought him back to why Zel was being hard to read tonight.

Somehow, Zel was both more relaxed than usual while at the same time being more on guard. It was an odd mix, especially for the chimera.

But Gourry was pretty sure it had something to do with the way Zel had been keeping an eye on Amelia since they had first greeted each other in the Tavern. It was almost as if Zel was being... territorial.

He should recognise the signs. After all, he did the same with Lina, whether the red-head realised it or not. You didn't have to physically shout or hang signs that someone was under your protection when a few well placed glares would do the same.

And unless he was reading Amelia the wrong way, she was being just as territorial about Zel as Zel was about her. And she was also going after the same meatball Lina was. Bad idea.

All in all, the whole thing was rather interesting.

But not quite as interesting as that last bite of fried chicken-

"Got it!" Amelia cheered, snatching the crunchy morsel out of Lina's grasp and popping it in her mouth.

"Ame-li-a..." Lina growled, her temper visibly flaring. Gourry scooted his chair back a bit. Just in case.

"Time for bed! Good night everyone!" Amelia quickly chirped, quickly backing up and aiming for the stairs that lead up to their rooms for the night.

Gourry sighed, mentally shaking his head. That wasn't going to stop Lina from exacting her revenge. He'd learned -that- from experience.

"Good night, Amelia." He chorused anyway, silently wishing her good luck. She'd need it. Lina was starting to pull up her sleeves, which meant she meant business.

Amelia noticed and gulped, glancing between the irate sorceress and Zelgadiss, who was next to her, quietly sipping his drink with an amused air. Gourry shook his head again. Zel made a great wall, but he wasn't Lina-proof.

But then, not much was. One of the things he admired about her.

Amelia made one last glance at Lina before making her move. "Good night, Zelgadiss-san!" She cheered, wrapping her arms Zel's shoulders.

Lina paused in mid-step. Gourry gave Amelia points for a good distractionary tactic and waited for Zel's blush to follow.

It didn't. "Pleasant dreams, Imouto." He said calmly, using his non-coffee holding hand to reach up and awkwardly pat her on the head.

Both his and Lina's jaw dropped. Amelia beamed, releasing the chimera to bounce up the stairs, un-harmed.

Zelgadiss calmly took another sip, ignoring their slack-jawed reaction. "It's impolite to stare." He finally commented.

"But... but..." Lina sputtered, before regaining her composure. She coughed, gaining a sly look. "So... How long has -this- been going on?"

Zel glared at her, looking indignant. Lina laughed, patting him on the back. "I'm teasing! I'm teasing!" She assured him, plopping down in the chair next to him.

Gourry didn't trust it. "Amelia's your sister?" He questioned. Their hair may have had a similar flip to it, but he'd never heard that they were related before.

"Adopted." Zelgadiss said grudgingly.

Lina turned her large kawaii eyes toward Zel and Gourry had to fight to prevent himself from either rolling his eyes or grinning. Lina was -good- at getting what she wanted, either thru manipulation or muscle.

Zel sighed, as if sensing a futile battle and set his coffee cup down. "She decided I didn't get enough hugs." He said, as if the words were stones being pulled out of his skin.

Gourry shrugged. Made sense, he supposed. In a strange way.

Lina leaned forward, her eyes sparkling. "Would you like a hug, Zeeeellll?" She grinned.

Zelgadiss glared at her. "Do it and I'll tell Prince Phil you don't know how to hug correctly." He threatened.

She laughed. "He didn't!"

"He did." Zel sulked.

"Do I get a hug?" Gourry asked, completely confused as to what they were talking about. But if Lina was offering hugs, he wouldn't mind one from her.

A pair and a half of bright eyes blinked at him.

"-and on that note, I'm going to head up to bed." Lina said, rising. Her cheeks were a little pink, Gourry noted with some concern. "Good night."

"Sleep well." Zelgadiss smirked, picking his cup back up and taking a sip. Lina waved and headed up stairs as well.

"You both look happier." Gourry noted, picking up his sword as he rose as well. "I'm glad you and Amelia adopted each other."

"Thanks." Zelgadiss sighed, looking some what relieved at the words.

"But I think I'll leave the making sure you get enough hugs to Amelia." He added as an after thought.

Zelgadiss sputtered, nearly choking on his coffee. "Thanks..." He muttered dryly.

Gourry grinned. "You're welcome. G'night Zel!"

"Good night."

The swordsman smiled as he headed up the stairs to his room for the night, next to Lina's. Her door was open a crack and he knocked on it. "Lina?" He called in.

"Yeah, Gourry?" There was the soft patter of footsteps, then the door opened. He grinned at her. She'd already taken her cloak off, getting ready for bed. Her cheeks weren't as pink anymore either, he was pleased to note.

"Just wishing you a good night." He said cheerfully.

She smiled back. "Thanks. Same to you, Gourry."

Lina walked over and carefully poked her head out the door, glancing both ways down the corridor, as if checking for something. Gourry blinked. He was the only one out in the hall, everyone else was downstairs or in their rooms.

Quick as a blink, she leaned out, wrapping her arms around him for a quick squeeze before ducking back in her room. "Good night!" She called, shutting the door behind her.

Gourry stared at the closed door for a minute, a grin slowly working across his face. He then turned and continued to his room, his smile not faltering for a moment.

Hugs were great things.

***

Amelia bolted straight up, a scream stuck in her throat as she suddenly returned to consciousness.

A dream, she told herself as she ran a hand through sweat-drenched locks. It had all been a dream.

She shivered, scenes from the nightmare flashing through her head, unbidden. Everyone had been laying around her, dead. Tousan, Oneesan, Okasan. She'd tried to fly away, flee to safety, but their empty gaze had held her trapped. Lina-san, Gourry-san and Zelgadiss-san had been there too, their vacant eyes staring at her. Accusing her for living while they were dead.

Amelia shivered again curling up and wrapping her arms around her knees. Why did everyone around her have to die?

No, she reminded herself. Not everyone was dead. Lina-san, Gourry-san, Zelgadiss-san and she had survived the worst both the Gods and the Mazoku could throw at them. And emerged victorious.

And Tousan was safe in Saillune. He was okay too. She just had to believe that. She'd see him soon. Oneesan was alive and happy somewhere too.

She shivered again, sliding out of her bed. She couldn't check up on Tousan or Oneesan, but it couldn't hurt to check on the others. If nothing else, it would put her nightmare to rest.

Amelia crept down the hall, toward her companion's rooms. She paused outside of Lina's room, opening the door a crack to peer in. Lina-san was visible in the dim light, sprawled out on the bed, snoring away. As she watched, Lina-san turned over, muttering something in her sleep.

She smiled, backing out of the doorway and carefully shutting the door behind her. Lina-san was fine.

Tip-toeing down the hall, she paused outside of Gourry's door. She didn't have to open it, she could hear the swordsman's snoring through the door. As she listened, she could have sworn she heard him mutter about Lina and food.

Yup. Gourry was fine as well. Biting her lip to hide a smile, she continued on to the last room on the hall, Zelgadiss-san's.

Pausing outside the door, she pressed her ear against the door. There was no sound from within. Suddenly nervous, she opened the door a crack, peeking in.

Zelgadiss-san was stretched out on the bed, one arm flung over his head to hide his eyes. He appeared to be asleep, but she couldn't tell. She blinked, straining her ears and eyes for any sign of breathing.

There was none, it was looking at a statue. Or a corpse.

Amelia swallowed, the butterflies in her stomach returning with a vengeance. She wanted to check on him, know for certain that he was fine, but at the same time, she was afraid to. Even with him calling her 'Little Sister' and the light teasing as of late, Zelgadiss-san was still a very private person. If he was fine, he might take objection to her sneaking into his room late at night.

When he didn't move for many heartbeats, Amelia slipped in anyway. She was just going to do a quick check, make sure he was breathing to lay her fears to rest, then go back to bed.

She had only gotten about half way into the room when she saw his eyes open from where they were hidden under his arm "Amelia?" He asked, a slightly puzzled tone in his voice.

Amelia froze. Uh-oh. "Sorry." She stammered. "I-I was just checking on you."

He sat up swinging his legs off the bed as he did so. Amelia suddenly felt bad for intruding. He obviously hadn't been expecting any visitors in the night, he'd gone to bed without his shirt. She didn't mind the view, but she knew that he usually didn't like people looking at him. "Is everything alright?" He asked, tilting his head to the side.

She shook her head, backing up a small step. "Y-yeah. I just had a bad dream, and wanted to make sure-" She trailed off, swallowing. Cepheid, did that sound really lame...

Zelgadiss-san tilted his head to the side a bit, looking like he was giving serious thought to something. "Do you... Would you like a hug?" He hesitantly asked after several furious beats of her heart.

Amelia melted, a non-existent pressure melting off her back. "Yes." She nodded, feeling very much like a little child. She took a step forward as he tentatively opened his arms, looking like he wasn't quite sure about the mechanics of offering a hug.

It was enough. Throwing dignity to the winds, she launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his waist. He let out 'oof!', keeping himself upright while wrapping his arms around her.

"Thank you." She murmured into his chest. His heartbeat was calm and soothing sound under her head. His skin had a bumpy texture under her cheek, but not unpleasant. And he smelled good. Sort of like the spicy scent the earth smelled of after a rain. She liked it.

"Just being a good big brother." He replied, running a gentle hand through her hair. There was a hint of awe in his voice, as if he couldn't believe that he was doing this.

She yawned, the previous terror fading away with the contact, to be replaced with slumber. "You're taking that seriously, aren't you?" She mumbled.

"Seemed only fair." Was his muffled reply. "You're the one running around hugging me."

Amelia giggled, somehow finding it funny as her mind drifted off. He was her anchor, she decided with the hazy logic of sleep. Keeping it safe for her to fly without fear of becoming trapped...

***

"Zel?" Lina called, opening the door to Zelgadiss' room. She'd woken up about half an hour ago when someone had opened the door and gotten worried when she hadn't heard any return footsteps. "Do you know where Amelia is? She's not in her room."

"She's fine." He answered back as Lina walked in. And promptly did a double take.

Amelia was curled up in a little ball Zelgadiss' lap. What was even stranger was that he had his arms wrapped around her to keep her from falling off.

He also wasn't wearing a shirt.

"She had a nightmare." He deadpanned.

Lina grinned, walking over to turn the chair next to the bed around so she could straddle it. They looked cute, she decided. Zel could be so protective without realising it.

"I'll put her to bed once her grip on me relaxes." He continued, looking uncomfortable under her scrutiny.

"Then you'll probably wake up with her here in the in the morning." She smirked. He shot her a dirty look. She ignored it.

"She'll occasionally have bad dreams when we're rooming together too." Lina commented off handedly. If anything woke her up, you automatically knew it was either bad, loud or obnoxious. In this case, it was usually the first two. "Usually a couple of nights after someone's been hurt."

He nodded. "I'm not surprised, with her family. Her mother murdered, her older sister vanished. The trouble with Randy and Alfred-"

"-And the fact that we've died a couple of times too." Lina added with a scowl, scratching the back of her head. That plus all the monsters and deamons they had faced was enough to give anyone a lifetime of nightmares. Even she had them occasionally. Not very often, but enough to give her some sympathy with the younger girl. Which is why she never mentioned being woken up by Amelia's nightmares.

Zel nodded, agreeing with her. He'd probably had a few as well. Heck, she knew that even Gourry had a had a few nightmares of his own. Though he never seemed to be able to remember what they were about in the morning.

She envied him sometimes.

"How does Phil take you playing 'Big Brother' to his daughter?" she asked, deciding to change the topic to less melancholy subjects.

"He seems to find it amusing." He sighed. Zel had obviously not taken the Crown Prince of Saillune, nor his reaction in to account when 'adopting' Amelia. She grinned, a cat like look in her eyes.

"At least he trusts you with her." She commented. "Imagine if he didn't."

The stricken look on Zelgadiss' face was humorous, to say the least. Lina snickered. Zel wasn't the most imaginative person she knew, but he could come up with a few doozys now and then. She was half curious to find out what he was picturing, but it was late and she didn't want to wake the sleeping princess.

"How's Amelia taking it?" She asked, resting her arms on the back of the chair and resting her chin on them.

"It's not quite what she would like." Zel said cautiously. "But it's a bit more than I'm completely comfortable with."

With the possible exception of Gourry, with whom it was hard to tell with sometimes, they had all been aware that the Princess of Saillune liked Zelgadiss as more than a friend for quite a while now. It was just one of those things that everyone knew, and no one talked about.

"She seems pretty comfortable with it." Lina commented, with a pointed look at the sleeping girl. Zel blushed, causing her to grin again. He was so much fun to tease sometimes! She waved a hand at him, letting him know she was joking.

"You've matured." Lina commented, turning slightly serious again. "The Zel I first met wouldn't let anyone close enough to voluntarily call them family. It's nice."

"We've all changed." He commented softly. "You and Gourry have grown a lot too."

"I don't think Gourry will ever quite grow up." She grinned. It was one of the things she liked about him. Gourry was one few stable things in her life. Along with eating, sleeping, treasure gathering and blowing up bandits.

Zel's face turned solemn as he looked at the wall, toward the room next door. "He loves you, you know. He'd follow you anywhere."

She swallowed, nodding. "I know." She knew it a bit too well. He'd died for her, then chased her into the Sea of Chaos after her. And she'd do the same for him, if need be. The few times that she had traveled without him since their first meeting were not ones she cared to remember too much.

Of course, the first 2 times they had split up, they had also ended up meeting Zel, and then Amelia and her father. That had to count for something too. She just wasn't sure what.

"Ne, Zel?" She asked. He looked up at her, a questioning look in his eyes. "I'll take care of Gourry, if you'll keep an eye on Amelia. They need us, you know." She grinned.

He gave her a slight smile back. "Of course. Isn't that what big brothers do?" He asked innocently.

She gave him a friendly punch in the arm, careful not to disturb the sleeping girl in his lap. "And what happens when you grow out of that?" She asked pointedly.

He sighed. "Then... we'll see. Hopefully I'll have my cure by then. If not-" He shrugged.

"Hard to be pessimistic with a cute girl on your lap?" She grinned, rising from her seat.

He glared at her. "I'm hard on general principles, if you hadn't noticed."

She gave him a calculating look, leering. "I'll have to ask Amelia in the morning."

Zel blushed, suddenly catching the double meaning. "Lina!" He hissed.

She laughed, wiggling her fingers as she danced out the door to head back to her own bed. "Don't keep her up too late!" She sang, closing the door behind her.

Zelgadiss was one of her best friends, Lina mused, wandering back down the hall. And he was the best one for her to talk to about serious issues. It was nice to see him opening up a bit, becoming more human. It was amazing the change that the occasional hug brought on someone.

Those two were good for each other, Lina thought with a grin. Amelia opened Zel up, making him more human and in exchange, he provided her with the stabilizing presence she needed when in danger of flying too far or too fast in the pursuit of justice.

Maybe opposites really did attract. In their case anyway. What ever the reason was, she was glad they had found each other. Even if this 'Big Brother/Little Sister' thing didn't last.

As close as Amelia and Zelgadiss were to her, they just didn't seem to appreciate the finer things in life like she and Gourry did. The scent of adventure in the air, the blue sky over your head, the green grass under your feet, a full coin purse and an 'All-You-Can-Eat-For-A-Silver' Buffet in the next town.

As she passed by Gourry's room, she paused and stuck her head in to check on the slumbering swordsman. He was sleeping much the way he always slept, all over the bed and snoring faintly. She smiled fondly and shut the door.

Amelia wasn't the only one that took comfort in the closeness of her friends.

Fin.