Title: With a Vengeance

Author: tsutsuji

Fandom: Slayers

Pairing: Lina/Xelloss

Rating: PG13

Warnings: violence, and um, character death? Couple little spoilers for Rev/Evo-R

word count: around 6267

Disclaimer: I don't own Slayers and I'm not paid for this.

Summary: Lina follows a trail of major destruction straight to Xelloss. Can she do what has to be done to stop him? And how much is she going to regret it if she does?

Notes: well, neocloud9 wanted a fic where Lina has to kill Xelloss, but can't do it. This is what I came up with. ^_~ I'm pretty sure it will continue and get a higher rating, I'm just not sure when.

Edited: 10/31/2010, fixed the wording in a few places.


Lina finally found Xelloss about two days away from Seyruun. It wasn't as easy as she'd thought it would be; the path of destruction she had to follow was somewhat random, although its eventual goal was obvious.

The scale of destruction rivaled that of Duclis-Zanaffar, although it was different in style. It was cleaner, for one thing; there were places where everything that once lived was simply gone, the earth scoured bare of all signs of life; in others, there would be a rough circle the size of a village, fused to a glassy bowl, or a flattened swirl in the earth with everything that had once stood there flung out and piled in a wall around the edges. She also saw a few places that were different, where burned and charred marks formed a zig-zag pattern in the ground, as if someone had been dodging a pursuer's blasts. And in some places, like this one, there was merely a pile of cinders and ash where there used to be a town. Except this town was still burning when she got to it, and Xelloss was still there.

She could only think of one reason for Xelloss to be doing this, but she didn't know the reason for the reason. Knowing him, he wasn't likely to offer up a nice, simple explanation - especially not if his goal was what she suspected it was. So, she figured, she was just going to have to beat it out of him, which was probably going to get painful for both of them.

When she finally found Xelloss, he turned slowly to face her, back-lit dramatically by the burning frame of a large wooden building. It was much like the first time she'd met him, in fact, except that this time, his eyes were wide open as she'd seldom seen them. It didn't help to know she was probably one of the few people who had seen Xelloss' eyes so clearly and survived the next few minutes. She knew exactly why he was revealing them to her like this, and it wasn't because they were beautiful - although they were, she couldn't stop herself from thinking. Damn creepy, but beautiful. Just like the rest of him.

She quickly quelled that thought and sighed melodramatically, throwing a weary arm across her brow.

"Geeze, Xelloss, I thought you were way more original than this. Everyone picks on Seyruun! It's getting old, you know? Couldn't you come up with something different from all the other bad guys, now that you've finally decided to act like one?"

He didn't crack a smile, not even the cold, evil smile that she was actually hoping to see, for once. She waited, just to see what he would do, and as she half expected, he did nothing. Waiting for her to move first, apparently. She sighed.

"Look, you want to talk about it?"

"No," Xelloss said.

Before the word was out of his mouth, his hand was moving. She barely had time to dodge the silent, invisible blast that he released. She felt the wind sucked out of her lungs even though it barely brushed her in passing, and she had to scramble to keep to her feet.

The attack had caught her off guard, but it wasn't really a surprise.

"Okay, fine, be that way," she said, grinning as if this was a battle she couldn't wait to engage. "Just remember, it was your call!"

She threw a few astral attack spells his way, watching his face as he dodged them all easily. His expression remained unchanged - eyes open, not smiling, not showing any anger. He wasn't particularly enjoying himself, as far as she could see, but he obviously wasn't going to give it up any time soon, either.

He threw a few more attack spells at her, too. Fast, direct, and extremely destructive, they were genuine Mazoku offensive magic. Any one of them would be deadly if she managed to get in its way, but so far, he was letting her get away with dodging them. She wondered how long that would last.

They weren't getting anywhere, so she decided it was time to pull out her first surprise attack on him.

"RA TILT!"

Okay, it certainly wasn't the most impressive Ra Tilt the world had ever seen, but she was hoping it would at least make him twitch an eyebrow or something. At the very least, it should have had the element of surprise; astral attack spells just weren't her style, but she'd cram-schooled herself in this one over the last two weeks, and even if it still wasn't one of her best, she did have a little muscle behind it, magically speaking. She was a little annoyed that he didn't even bother to dodge it.

The only sign that it impressed him at all was that his next attack was serious enough that he actually had to speak a Word of Power to use it. That one singed the end of her mantle as she flew straight up in the air to escape it. A second later, somewhere far behind her, another part of the burning village exploded in a shower of sparks and a very loud boom.

She'd been expecting the explosion, more or less, but it still caught her attention just a second longer than it should have. Xelloss was suddenly standing right in front of her, hand raised. Before she could draw a breath, one of those silent, concussive blasts he'd been loping at her like invisible volleyballs hit her square in the chest. The ground slammed into her back a second later; she felt like she'd been literally flattened between the two impacts. She gasped breath back into aching lungs just in time to look up and see him diving down through the air toward her, his hand still raised. If he slammed her into the ground with that attack, she really would be flat-chested.

She rolled to the side a heartbeat before the dust exploded in the spot where she'd been, and scrambled back to her feet as he streaked past her and back up into the air. As he arced upward, he half turned, spoke aloud, and tossed another of those fireball-like blasts over his shoulder at her.

She scrambled out of the way of that one, too, and ended up facing him again across the two Lina-Inverse-sized craters his attacks had left in the ground.

They were well into the smoldering ruins of the town now, with tumbled stone walls and smoking timbers all around them. Xelloss stood as still as if he'd never moved, with his staff in his hand, slightly tipped toward her. His eyes were still wide open and glittering, but there were no other signs of impending attack.

"You're just gonna make me do all the hard work, aren't you," she grumbled under her breath.

She started the gesture for her next attack spell, and saw his eyes narrow a little, getting ready to counter it. But before she actually started the chant, she paused and glanced around at the ruins, pointedly. She saw his eyes shift, following her gaze, then lock back on her.

No, I didn't bring any backup, she thought, knowing he could sense this perfectly well. The message had seemed perfectly clear to her, "meet me on the road to Seyruun, Lina Inverse, and come alone!" was how she'd read the signs. Everything she'd found along the way, even this mess of a destroyed village, had reinforced the unspoken instructions.

She'd left Gourry with Sylphiel in Seyruun, convincing them that it was their very important job to guard the capital along with Amelia and Zel and Pokota, while she went out to investigate the cause of all the destruction that had begun mysteriously a few weeks ago. She'd promised she would come right back and get them when she found out what was behind the attacks, and that she wouldn't risk her life fighting it alone.

She didn't like lying to her friends, but she didn't like seeing them killed as pawns so some mazoku could get what it wanted from her, either. She was certain Xelloss knew that perfectly well, too, even if said friends didn't get it. Clearly, he was not the least bit surprised that none of the others had popped up from behind a rock yet to join in the fun.

But this half-assed dance they'd been doing so far was already getting a bit old. It was time to get things moving, she decided. So, with a very loud sigh and a heave of her shoulders, in an obvious "you leave me no choice" kind of way, she started to chant the words to cast Dragon Slave at Xelloss.

She was really hoping he'd at least find this a little amusing. Apparently not. All he did was raise his staff and start tossing scattershot attacks at her, which just kept her moving and dodging around while she kept right on powering up her signature spell.

She dodged, feinted, grumbled in mid-chant, and dodged again. He followed her movements from where he stood, casually firing off more of those buckshot spells; a few of them even grazed her and the damn things hurt, but not quite enough to make her break her concentration.

She was up in the air, juggling Levitation with the attack spell for a few precarious seconds, and looked down on him from above. Hell, he wasn't even looking up at her, apparently just firing off his spells in her general direction by following the sound of her voice and the feel of her aura. It was pretty insultingly casual of him. She really hated not being taken seriously. Even by Xelloss. Maybe especially by Xelloss.

She let out a yell and started dive-bombing straight towards him. That, at least, got him to look up, and she was gratified to see that he even looked a little bit startled. His hands moved, faster than she could see the signs they made, and his deep, spell-casting voice seemed to ripple the air.

All right! she thought as she flew straight towards him. As fast as he was, his spell was going to be just a little late.

She flew right into him, bowled him over so they both went sprawling back against the crumbled stone wall behind him, with her landing practically in his lap. She grabbed a fistful of his collar in one hand, pulled his head forward, and kissed him.

Which, by the way, effectively derailed whatever attack or shield he'd been about to throw up against her, at least for the couple of seconds it took. She pulled back, still holding his shirt bunched in her fist - grateful that he hadn't yet seen fit to give up his human form and start attacking her from the astral side, so she could still get hold of him.

"Heh-heh," she gloated, grinning into his face. "I've been wanting to do that ever since you pulled that stunt on me with that bandit gang, way back when we first met!"

Xelloss didn't crack a smile even then. If anything, his expression just got darker.

"This is no joke, Lina-san. I'm quite serious."

She sensed him building up power, a flood of bloodlust and anguish suddenly coming off of him, almost strong enough to make her gasp.

"Uh-oh" she muttered nervously, pulling back from him just a little more - but only enough to put her other fist together with the fist over his chest while she quickly muttered the last words of her spell, and then...

"RAGNA BLADE!"

The jagged black energy swelled between her fists and jutted out, right into his body. He'd been so distracted by powering up his own attack and by her surprising flight straight into his face that he hadn't even noticed the Demon Blood Talismans glowing, nor heard that her chant had changed in mid-flight.

Either that, or he didn't care.

She winced as he gasped and went stiff, and black demon blood, astral energy, leaked out of him around the black blade. She held onto the shortened blade as long as she could - just long enough to feel him shudder and see his eyes finally close - and then let it vanish. Xelloss crumpled to his knees, gasping, clutching at the wound that pierced right through the physical illusion into his astral body.

But, for the first time, he smiled, confirming exactly what she'd hoped she was wrong about.

It was too bad he wasn't in a state of mind to appreciate her improvement on the spell; a deliberately incomplete version, easier to use at close range and less of a drain on her power. Ultimately, against any higher-ranking Mazoku, probably not good for much more than a distraction, but that would be all she needed in a case like this. Even her wimpy Ra Tilt or a good, solid Elmekia Flash at point-blank range, aimed directly into the wound made by the Ragna Blade, would be enough to finish this right now.

Except that she couldn't do it. Not to Xelloss. Not, at the very least, without knowing why.

She chanted quietly, trying to watch his expression, but his head was bowed so that his bangs covered his face in shadows. All she could see was how his mouth tightened when she spoke the final words:

Zelas Brid!

And nothing happened. Nothing at all, except that Xelloss lifted his head to face her, purple eyes wide open and blazing with fury.

"That was very foolish of you, Lina Inverse!" he hissed.

"Ya think? C'mon, Xelloss; I've seen what happens when a Mazoku looses his master. Valgaav only wanted to destroy a couple of universes; I suppose I should be thankful that you're taking things a little more slowly, but somehow, I'm not."

His eyes narrowed at the mention of the Ancient Dragon, even more furious that she would equate the death of Zelas with that of Gaav the traitor. She sensed his power start to build up again, even though it made him wince with the effort, but he had more juice left than she'd expected, by the feel of it. Time to start talking fast.

"You're out to get me because Beastmaster is dead? Newsflash: I had nothing to do with it, Xelloss."

That was enough to make him pause. This time, his smile was deathly cold, enough to make her shiver.

"I know that, Lina-san. If you were the one who had destroyed my master, I would have killed you already."

"Of course," she said, smiling back at him, humorlessly. "So who did?"

He cocked his head, regarding her silently. No reply to that one, not even an "I don't know" or the "it's a secret" she expected.

"Dynast?" she guessed. Not such a wild guess as it seemed, assuming the admittedly dicey lore about the Mazoku lords had any truth to it. Beastmaster had outranked Deep Sea Dolphin, some sources said by a fairly wide margin of power, and Lina herself had already pretty much taken care of all other competitors for the position. That left only one other suspect: herself.

"I can only assume so," Xelloss answered evenly, "since the only other person who could have destroyed Lord Beastmaster-sama would be you, and as I said, if that were the case, you would be dead already."

"Any guesses you care to share as to why?"

"There could be many reasons. She may have tried to kill him first, for all I know."

She must have let her surprise show at that, because he almost looked amused for a second.

"Mazoku are united by a common purpose, Lina-san, but we do not all think alike even so. Surely you've had a chance to observe this by now."

"Charming," she said dryly. "And I always thought you were just one big, happy, monster family!"

He didn't bother to reply to that, and not just because he didn't appreciate the sarcasm; his attention was already somewhere else. Unfortunately - for him - the blow from her Ragna Blade had weakened him enough that the effort to unleash an attack showed on his face. She had a split second to counter it with the quickest attack spell she could think of, and she still went flying backward from the force of his blast as the words left her lips. She couldn't even tell if she hit him or not.

She landed on her back a few feet away, only winded, but when she pushed herself up onto her elbows, she discovered that her Astral Break had connected after all. Xelloss had been thrown backward too; he was sprawled against one of the ruined buildings on his knees, literally back up against the wall. But he wasn't done yet, not this time. In fact, he was obviously through answering questions, and so ready to put an end to the conversation once and for all that he was literally tearing himself apart to draw up enough power to cast another attack at her.

She dodged it. Easily. Scowling like a nightmare, Xelloss clutched at the widened wound with one hand, and glared up at her. She could tell he was already powering up another attack. She got up and walked over to him. He watched her approach, growing more furious with every step she took, until she knelt down in front of him at, right at point-blank range of his next attack.

"I know what you want from me, Xelloss," she said, almost growling at him. "But I'm not inclined to give it to you."

He glared. "Then I will just have to keep on as I've been..."

"Nuh-uh, can't let you do that either. Idiot!" She wanted to shake him, but at this point that might have done just what she was trying very hard not to do. "I'm a little tired of you Mazoku thinking you can manipulate me into destroying you! That's another routine that's getting a little old, you know!"

He went quiet for a moment. Finally, he looked up at her with something like his old, familiar grin, for a second, but then it went cold again.

"That's a shame, Lina-san, because I would rather it was you than Dynast. I guess it doesn't really matter; at least he'll be easier to convince, I'm sure."

"Maybe, but I'm not letting that happen either," she said.

He actually looked startled at this, then scowled darkly. Kids, she thought, when they don't get their way.

"Look, Xelloss, I don't know why Dynast would decide to get rid of Zelas, but I'm guessing there's a reason, and I'm pretty sure it's one I'm not going to like. And that means I'm going to need all the help I can get to put a stop to it, right?"

That really surprised him, which was a good thing, Lina thought - it was a good enough excuse for keeping him alive, and if he was confused by it at the moment, he might not notice that it wasn't the real reason. He might not appreciate that if he did know.

After all, she'd never quite believed all that stuff about Mazoku being hurt by positive feelings like friendship and love, but this wasn't exactly the time to do an experiment on the matter.

At any rate, she was not letting him die. Not today, certainly not by her own hand, and not by anyone else's either, if she had anything to say about it. And being Lina Inverse, she did have - quite a lot to say about it. Some of which she was probably going to regret saying, but she would regret losing Xelloss a lot more, especially when she knew there was a chance to save him. A crazy, insane chance, but when did she ever let that stop her?

Yeah, there was a bay with a glassy beach over on the coast that pretty much answered that question.

"I cannot go against Dynast," Xelloss said flatly. "It's impossible..."

"Yeah, yeah, I know!" She waved her hand in his face to ward off the impending lesson on Mazoku Psychology 101. "I've seen what happens when you go up against a higher-ranking Mazoku! You even let Gaav kick your butt into the ground, and he wasn't even on the same team anymore. On the other hand, I also know that you managed to let Hellmaster get himself killed when you were supposed to be serving him. Give yourself and me both some credit, Xelloss! There are ways around these things, you know."

He tipped his head and gave her a skeptical look.

"If you're suggesting that I transfer my allegiance to Deep Sea Dolphin, she would not accept me; she has no desire to antagonize Dynast. Or are you proposing that I act independently of any master? For one of my stature, that is also not possible, Lina-san," he continued, giving her the tail end of the lecture anyway. "Or simply align myself with Lord Ruby Eye Himself, to serve him directly? If he was an active presence in the world at the moment, that might be possible, but as it is, Dynast remains the next highest in rank to me, and therefore, I am obligated to serve him..."

"Or die? That's your only other option?" she said, not sparing the sarcasm.

He glared at her. "It would be preferable," he said, and winced. Even a declaration like that put a strain on his Mazoku soul.

Mentally, Lina took a deep breath, trying not to let it show that she was probably about to publicly declare herself certifiably insane.

"Yeah, well...you could try aligning yourself with an even higher power than old Lord Ruby Eye, right?" Before the shock at such effrontery completely registered on his face, she plunged onward, as reckless as her young teenage self casting her first Giga Slave... almost exactly, as a matter of fact, except this time she actually knew what she was doing. "The Higher Power who's got a representative presence in this world, at least? I even saw you bow to that presence once, if I remember right, although I've got to admit the details are a little hazy. But still! That has to count for something, right?"

She let that sink in. Xelloss' jaw dropped and he went a little pale, clutching at himself as if she'd hit him with another astral attack. For a second, she thought the shock was going to kill him.

"Lina-san!" he gasped. "You mean... you...?"

He was clearly more scandalized than awestruck by her brilliant solution, but she grinned at him anyway.

"Hee-hee!" She winked at him, far more jauntily than she really felt. "Helps to have friends with connections in high places, doesn't it?"

He frowned, but with a little less of the gloom and fury he'd been radiating earlier. He had to be pondering the implications, wondering if it was even possible. That had to mean he hoped it was possible.

She hoped he didn't notice the flood of relief she felt to find out she'd guessed right about that, too. She spared a second to glance around at the smokey ruins of the latest town he'd destroyed; like most of the others, there were no dead bodies. They'd all heard about the attacks on other towns and had plenty of time to clear out before he got here. Xelloss had certainly left a very impressive path of destruction for her to follow to find him, but in spite of that, there hadn't really been much loss of human life along the way.

He would probably say it wasn't worth the bother or some other slippery Mazoku excuse, if she'd asked about it. But if he'd really, truly wanted her to kill him on sight - well, he knew her better than that. He had to be about as ambivalent about dying as Rezo's spirit had been about getting resurrected; either that, or he just didn't want her to hate him in the end. Either way, he was not likely to admit it to himself, say nothing of admitting it to her.

"You planned this, even before you found me?" he asked her, one eyebrow raised.

He wasn't surprised that she'd figured out the reason for his rampage; he might even have been counting on it. He'd known she wouldn't bring the others along; just as she had no doubt that he was desperate enough to use them to force her hand. They'd predicted each other's reactions right from the start. Except for this. He just hadn't been expecting her to try to save him.

"If you attempt to do this by invoking Chaos, you know what could happen, don't you?" he said, with more of his old mysterious smile than she'd seen on him yet.

Oh, she knew perfectly well what could happen. Chaos Herself could break free and go out of control, and take everything back to nothing. She didn't think it would go that way. She really wasn't asking for so much, this time, after all, and she knew Who she was talking to. But she grinned back at him and waved off the question, way more casually than she really felt about it.

"What, you mean accidentally destroying the whole world and turning everything back to chaos? Well, I know how you feel about all you Mazoku having to be the ones to destroy the world, but hey, better me than Dynast doing it, right?"

Xelloss' jaw dropped again, but he recovered quickly this time. "I ... might be inclined to agree," he said, which she figured was probably as close as a Mazoku could get to saying "hell yeah!" about a mere human destroying the world.

But not any mere human! No less than Lina Inverse herself was going to save his sorry Mazoku butt this time, through the power invested in her by the Lord of Nightmares. If, that is, said Lord of Nightmares was willing to go along with the idea, or even paying the least bit of attention. Lina's biggest concern was not so much the world being accidentally destroyed as that the whole thing would simply flop, and they'd be right back where they were.

He closed his eyes briefly, and his brow furrowed under his bangs before he opened them again. Any hint of a smile had disappeared from his face.

"I'm also being hunted," he said, darkly, not looking at her. "I assume it's because I have not gone willingly into the fold. So far, the attacks have been by groups of lower-ranking demons who might, in fact, be controlled by any Mazoku more powerful than they are. But if they were sent as a warning by the one who destroyed my Master, it is only a matter of time before he shows his hand and sends his stronger minions against me."

"So you're saying we're on a tight schedule?" Lina said with a shrug. She guessed the stronger minions in question were Xelloss' back up plan if he didn't get her to kill him. She sure as hell wasn't about to give them the satisfaction!

"I'm ready any time you are," she told him.

She'd been ready since before she left the others behind in Seyruun; the spell she'd come up with had seared a path in her brain. It would be a relief to finally get it out of her head and actually try it.

She tried not to think too much about the motivation that had given her the idea, and what the results might actually be if it worked and she ended up bonded for life to Xelloss. Not just the thought of saving Xelloss (and thereby preventing a lot more of this random destruction), but the idea that he would be, essentially, hers...

She gave that thought an ice-cold shower and sealed it away in the back of her mind, before the feelings it inspired could get out where he could sense them. Thankfully, he didn't seem to have noticed; he looked up at her, studying her face for a moment, then smiled.

"I suppose I might have guessed..." he said quietly. "However, I cannot actually assume that this will work, you know!"

She glared at him for a second for doubting her, than caught on to what he was implying. If he put too much stock in the idea of a human being powerful enough to be his Master, it could tear him apart before she had a chance to make it true.

Once it actually worked, there was no problem.

She set all doubts and longings aside, and started to cast the spell.

It wasn't too complicated, really. She had a knack for bringing compatible elements of widely different spells together; this one used several, including some of the invocation from the Giga Slave and the Pledge with a Mazoku to grant immortality. It wasn't quite the same as any of them, but the words hardly seemed to matter once the spell started to take hold, anyway. Xelloss watched her, listening carefully, his eyes slowly widening as he grew more and more impressed.

Don't get too impressed until I'm done, idiot! she chided mentally. He'd better not go killing himself with self-doubt now; other considerations aside, if she got to the end of this and there was no handy Mazoku for her to seal the deal with, she had no idea what would happen to her.

She felt the connection opening up, a familiar path, like a scar left by lightning inside her soul. She felt her way along it with the words of power she'd memorized, and more importantly, with the single-minded focus of her desire, with everything that she was and everything that Xelloss was to her.

She put everything she knew of the Lord of Nightmares and of Mazoku and of Xelloss into the thought behind the spell, and, recklessly, infused her own feelings for him into it as well, to bind his existence to hers:

Blacker than blackest night, shining like gold... velvet purple darkness... a blazing will that would not let go of life... The Golden Lord, a one-of-a-kind Mazoku priest, and herself. And some kind of love that made no sense at all. It seemed like the perfect recipe - for chaos, if nothing else.

Power whirled up around them, raising the dust in spirals, igniting sparks in the swirling air. Shining black energy, like shards of the Ragna Blade, flashed all around them. She saw Xelloss - just as she'd always seen him and then, suddenly, as he really was, the great pulsing cone of power. She reached out with her mind and touched the Chaos, and drew it around both of them like a cloak.

Suddenly she found herself looking down at herself as a little red-haired girl, who stood in front of a tall woman with long, golden hair, a woman whose face she couldn't see. Little Lina held up a small, black, bedraggled cat with purple eyes for the woman to look at. "Mama, can't I keep him, please?" she pleaded.

The golden-haired woman smiled. The sight of that smile, like a crack opening on reality, sent a chill down Lina's spine that brought her abruptly back to herself. She was back in the physical plane, the dust whirling around her and the smell of charred wood and lightning in the air - but she knew that brief vision had been her answer.

The golden power flooded out of her, leaving her suddenly drained. She started to drop. Xelloss was there to catch her and keep her on her feet.

The power of the Mother of All had left her body, but it still crackled in the air around her and Xelloss, sparks ignited by the intersection of Everything and Nothing. She heard Xelloss gasp and moan, and looked down...

He was on his knees, with his arms around her waist and his face pressed against her body just below her breasts. She touched his hair, lightly at first - marveling at the fact that she'd never touched it before - then she was burying her hands in the black silk of it, clutching at him, holding him against her. She could feel him, so physical and real, at the same time that she felt his spirit offering its power and loyalty to hers.

He was whole again, healed from her attack with the Ragna Blade. She didn't think she'd done that herself, but she couldn't be sure. She could sense the difference in his aura, though; it still hummed with a lust for chaos, but the furious rage that had driven him to randomly destroy dozens of towns and nearly destroy himself was gone.

"Lina-sama," he said. She felt the echo of it inside her mind. He must have felt it too, because he gasped, and said it again, this time in whispered awe. "Lina... sama..."

She shuddered a little at the sound of his voice, a little shocked at the reverence and relief in it. That wasn't what she wanted from him, she thought before she could stop herself. She just wanted him alive, his presence in her mind so she would know he was there, and to feel him touching her like this...oh, she wanted that so much...

"Lina-sama...?" he murmured.

Lina suddenly realized that her true feelings must be visible to him - as plain as day, in fact, and at that moment, with all her senses heightened and focused on him, about as hot as a burning brand.

Xelloss didn't seem to mind. He straightened up on his knees and raised his head to look up at her, and reached up toward her face, but as if he didn't quite dare touch. Her hands were still tangled in his hair, so it seemed natural enough to lean down a little more until she felt his fingertip on her cheek. And then, after that - after having done the most insane thing she'd probably ever done, anyway - it didn't seem strange at all to lean down a little further and kiss him.

This time, for the first time, neither of them was trying to fool the other, and the kiss lasted quite a bit longer than that earlier one.

As if this particular connection was a ground wire, the swirl of wind and sparks around them quickly settled. When they finally pulled apart a little, by unspoken mutual consent, only ordinary ash and dust motes hung in the air, sparkling faintly in the light of the sun that had dropped below ashen clouds.

She laid her hand over his fingers where they touched her cheek. Xelloss' violet, demon-shaped eyes were even more beautiful up close, and his hair was soft, and his spirit fairly throbbed with power at the other side of her awareness.

Too bad she was almost too exhausted to stand up any longer, she thought, even with someone else holding onto her; otherwise, this ... could get interesting. Maybe later, it would. For now...

"I need to sit down," she said, and did so, heavily; only his arms kept her from sprawling flat out in the dirt. She landed in his lap, which, quite frankly, seemed like the perfect place to be at the moment.

Xelloss' smile spread across his face - oh, so familiar with mischief that she almost choked with relief to see it again.

"Lina-sama," he said, gently chiding. "I never knew you felt that way!"

"Yeah, well," she muttered, feeling her face turn red. "You're not the only one who can keep a secret, you know!"

"Apparently not!"

He sounded absolutely delighted. So, Lina thought, all those times that he'd cringed when Amelia battered him with happy feelings were a big fat act, because Lina felt more happy and relieved than she could remember feeling in a very long time. Didn't seem to hurt him a bit - maybe because it was about him.

That was a relief, because shielding him from those feelings from now on was obviously going to be impossible.

"I just need to sit for a minute, Xelloss," she said, weariness coming out in her voice. "Then we can figure out what to do next, and how to deal with your old buddy Dynast." And all the rest, she added to herself.

"Of course, Lina-sama," Xelloss said. He sounded just a little bit amused as he put his arms around her and coaxed her to rest her head on his shoulder. "Sit right here as long as you like!"

She looked up at him sidelong, catching his eye. "You like saying my name like that now, don't you?"

"Ah. It does sound rather... natural, now that you mention it," he said, grinning at her.

She gave up and let herself rest. Her strength was coming back fast, though, especially considering all the power she'd just expended. Or maybe she just felt too good to care at the moment.

Xelloss closed his eyes. Lina jumped a little when she sensed his spirit nudging up against hers on the astral side. For one thing, she wasn't used to being aware of her own spirit-self like this, for all that she called on it every time she cast a spell. For another...

"I never figured you for a cuddler, Xelloss," she said with a grin.

His eyes flew open and a guilty look flashed across his face, as if he'd been caught indulging in some secret vice. She snuggled up against him - on the physical side, anyway - and chuckled.

"That's okay! I won't tell anyone! I think I could even get used to it..."

In fact, she thought, she might just be able to get used to all of this, eventually. Short term, she'd probably have a fit of screaming hysterics when she finally stopped and thought about what she'd done. She wouldn't be surprised if Xelloss did, too, at some point. And there were a few little details remaining to consider, like how their friends were going to react when they found out about this, or what she'd have to do if another piece of Shabranigdu ever got resurrected. Well, she'd have to just cross those crocodile-invested moats when she got to them.

For the moment, all that mattered was that Xelloss was still alive and planning to stay that way. And he was hers. And he even seemed happy about it.

"I really could get used to this," she mused as she settled more comfortably against his shoulder.

"I certainly hope so," Xelloss replied happily. "Lina-sama..."

~ the more-or-less end (at least for now) ~


Thanks to everyone who reviewed this story so far! I'm glad so many people liked the LoN scene; I think that's my favorite part too. :D

Especially, thanks to everyone who pointed out that I forgot to mention Dolphin (big d'uh on my part). I fixed that in this edit, and changed the wording in a few places.

I'm pretty sure there's going to be a sequel, even though it's been almost a whole year since the first part, and the rating will go up if that happens. *wink*