Not at all Seduced

"So that's about the state of things," Lina concluded, addressing her ragtag group of friends from the room of an inn one summer's morning. Zelgadis, Amelia, Gourry, and Filia had sat around the small table in the room and listened patiently to what she had to say. Well, Zelgadis, Amelia and Filia had listened patiently; Gourry had squinted at the wall until the weird stain on it looked like a bunny. "From what I heard the rumors of the book's existence seem pretty solid, but we can't be sure until we check it out ourselves."

"But you really ought to be wary of the information with a source like that," Filia said doubtfully.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: bandits know their treasure," Lina defended. "Loot locating is basically their entire job. I think it's at least worth looking into, especially since it's so close by."

"A new way to fight monsters," Amelia repeated vaguely. "If the book really contains something like that, how could we not look into it? Especially given the circumstances."

"My thoughts exactly," Lina said, reclining slightly in her chair.

"But you said the thieves said it wasn't a spell book," Zelgadis pointed out. "I don't see how helpful a regular book can be to us."

Lina shrugged. "It's supposed to be magic philosophy. It's important to know all that mystic stuff behind the spells."

"Anyway," Lina said pointedly to the table at large. "It's the best lead I've managed to come up with, so I say we go for it. Unless, of course," she added in the tone of a teacher collecting assignments, "any of you guys were out shaking down bandits for information all last night and found something better."

There was a discontented mumbling from the group. They'd all been asleep in their beds like reasonable people and not out terrorizing miscreants. Apparently this was a barely pardonable offense to Lina Inverse.

"Right then," Lina said, triumphantly thumping her fist on the table and getting to her feet. "To the Cobra Gang hideout it is!"

"Just a minute," Zelgadis said, not having moved an inch from his impassable crossed arms seated position. "We have an obnoxious problem to take care of first."

Lina gave him a puzzled look. "What? You don't think we can take care of a gang of stupid bandits? I don't know about you, but I've got plenty of fire-power to spare."

"Not that," Zelgadis said testily. "The other obnoxious problem. The one that's been following us around again."

"What, you mean, Xellos?" Lina said, dismissively waving her hand. "He's always a problem. If anything goes wrong we'll just deal with it like we always do."

"No, Mister Zelgadis is right," Amelia pointed out. "If the book really does have a new technique to fight monsters then Mister Xellos might not want us to get it."

"And considering Xellos's past history of incinerating information he doesn't want used against him, I think it's a pretty major problem," Zelgadis added.

Lina took a seat again, slightly disheartened. "I hadn't thought of that," she said. She brightened again. "We just have to make sure he doesn't come with us then!"

"Easier said than done," Zelgadis said bitterly.

"Yeah," Amelia agreed. "It's not like we can just say we're going out somewhere and we don't want him to come with us. He'd get suspicious."

"So we have to distract him," Lina said, trying to get her somewhat sleep-deprived brain to hit onto a plan. Too bad Xellos wasn't very distractible.

She gave a little snort. "I guess using feminine wiles wouldn't really work in this case," she joked.

Zelgadis gave a short laugh. Gourry frowned. He wasn't sure which part of the girl the wiles was. He had a pretty good guess though… he'd have to ask Lina about it later.

"Actually," Amelia said. "That might really work."

Lina gave her a surprised and thoroughly weirded out look. "Geez, I was kidding, Amelia," she said.

"It could work," Amelia insisted. "If we use Miss Filia."

Filia dropped her tea cup in horror and let its contents spill, unregarded, to the floor as the rest of the group turned their eyes on her.

"You might be right," Lina said, giving Filia an appraising look. "It could work."

"You must be joking!" Filia exploded. "First of all, I'd never ever ever do that. And even if I did it wouldn't work. It would be a complete disaster!"

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Amelia said cheerfully, completely missing the point.

Filia turned a harried glare on her. "I'm not being hard on myself," she said through gritted teeth. "I'm just the last person you should send for this kind of thing. I thought it was pretty obvious that we hate each other!"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Lina said dismissively. "Don't pretend you're not the best person to do this. Xellos gets distracted by you all the time."

"Because he hates me!" Filia pointed out, feeling that this was an unfair assertion that was being taken entirely out of context.

"Only because you hated him first," Zelgadis said unconcernedly.

"Look," Filia said, seeming to calm down a little but still retaining her iron core of barely suppressed rage. "Just because he might occasionally get a little off-task because he wants to insult me doesn't mean that I could," she paused, took on a hunted expression, "seduce," she whispered this word as though the mere sound of it could blast through walls, "him."

There was an uncomfortable silence in which Filia felt the need to add: "Even if I was willing to." And a few seconds later: "Which I'm not."

Lina scratched at her hair moodily and said: "I don't care what you do, just as long as you distract him. Can't you see this is important?"

"Then why don't you do it?" Filia asked defiantly, eyebrows knitting together in anger.

Lina closed her eyes and a 'give me the patience to deal with this' expression crossed her face. "Because," she said slowly. "It wouldn't work if I did it. Xellos is going to see through anything we do, so our only chance is if he sees through it and doesn't care. That's where you come in."

"Yeah," Amelia said with a satisfied nod. "We all know there's some chemistry going on there," she said with the air of a relationship expert.

"There is no chemistry!" Filia squawked indignantly. But it was undeniable. Xellos and Filia had the kind of chemistry found only in the labs of top-secret government bases. The sort with nuclear warning signs on the doors that you needed to wear special suits just to get in. In short: explosions were pretty much guaranteed.

"We're talking about an entirely new way to kill high level monsters," Lina said, ignoring Filia's shrieking denial. "If the information we get is legitimate then it's monumentally important. It could even be worth dying for."

"Right! I get that!" Filia shouted in tones close to hysteria. "And I would die for it. But I won't do that!"

"That's stupid," Zelgadis said tactlessly.

"You're taking this whole thing too seriously," Lina said in a placatory tone. "I'd say there's a 75% chance that he'll just laugh at you and that'll be that, and you won't have to do anything at all."

"What about the other 25%?!" Filia asked in tones now having reached hysteria and still gaining speed.

The hallways of the inn were filled with assorted merchants, tourists, and cut-throat rouges who had just woken up and were heading out of their rented rooms to start up their day. The general peace was interrupted by the angry shouting of a woman being dragged through the hall by four other people who were having a lot of difficulty restraining her.

"I refuse!" Filia shouted, struggling to get out of Lina's grip. "I WON'T HAVE SEX WITH HIM! I WON'T!"

"Will you keep your voice down?" Lina hissed, as several inn patrons turned to them with curious expressions. "And stop jumping to conclusions! No one asked you to do that. We just said to keep him busy."

"But you're being intentionally vague as to what that entails!" Filia exclaimed, this time remembering to keep her voice down.

"That's because we don't care," Zelgadis said in a voice that communicated that he couldn't wait until this ridiculousness was over.

"You'll figure something out," Lina said, as they turned down a side hallway. "It's really not as big a deal as you're making it. All you have to do is keep him from following us." Then she added in a mutter: "By any means necessary."


"Shut up. We're here," Zelgadis said as they reached the door.

Amelia reached up and knocked as Filia took the opportunity to try to twist away from her and make a run for it, only to be stopped by Gourry who wasn't entirely sure what was going on but was following Lina's lead.

There was a hesitation and then the door opened. Xellos had his general smiley expression on, but it was slightly tinged with puzzlement. Lina and company never bothered to actually get him. If he didn't show up at breakfast then they'd just leave without him knowing that he'd catch them up if he wanted to. Given that, plus the struggling Filia they were trying to hold onto and the gritted-teeth fixed smile Lina had suddenly put on, he was highly suspicious.

"What's… going on here?" he inquired.

"Hey there, Xellos!" Lina said in a falsely cheerful way she had copied from the monster himself. "We just came by to tell you that we're heading off to a mysterious and undisclosed location that you really wouldn't be interested in at all, so you should probably just stay here."

Filia gaped. They weren't even trying! They were asking her to do this and they weren't even trying!

"Oh really?" Xellos said, eyebrows raised.

"Yep!" Lina said. She held up Filia's arm that she was holding by the wrist. "Filia's staying too."

"I am not," Filia growled.

"Yes she is," Lina said firmly and nodded to the others.

In one quick movement they pushed Filia forward, propelling her straight into Xellos, congratulated themselves mentally on their excellent aim, closed the door and ran, leaving only the extremely ominous parting words:

"Have fun you two!"

Filia looked up at Xellos and he, in turn, looked down at her. For a quarter of a second Filia tried to think if there was any way that she could accomplish the mission foisted on her without dying inside. Then she gagged and pushed him off of her.

"What's going on here?" Xellos said, looking suspiciously at the door, apparently somewhat discomfited by Lina's parting words.

Filia sought around her brain for a lie, and then decided she wasn't going to play this game anyway and gave up. "They're looking for some book about a new way to kill monsters and they don't want you to follow them," she said frankly.

"Surely they didn't think I'd do something inconsiderate like burning it, did they?" Xellos asked innocently, as if this was the very last thing on his mind.

"Something like that," Filia replied nastily.

That would probably be Zelgadis, Xellos thought. He'd never forgiven him for burning the Claire Bible manuscripts. Some people can really hold onto a grudge. And as for Filia, she'd be…

He smiled a profoundly unpleasant smile. "So you'd be the virgin sacrifice then?" he said casually.

Filia froze. "Shut up," she said.

"Let me get this straight," he said, striding forward a bit. "You," he said, gesturing at her as though the word deserved an incredulous question mark after it, "are supposed to distract me from following your little friends, by… what did I hear someone shouting in the hall? Oh yes. 'By any means necessary'."

Filia cursed her lack of volume control.

"So," Xellos went on, evidently enjoying this. "Just out of idle curiosity: what did you have planned?"

"Nothing!" Filia shrieked. Then she regained some composure and added in a low, angry voice, "I'd rather die."

Deep within the sea of Filia's rage and embarrassment, the small notion that telling a monster that you'd rather die was a bad idea bobbed its head. There was always the danger that he'd respond with: 'I can help you with that'.

Well, Xellos didn't seem entirely pleased with the level of respect he was receiving. There was a certain twitching of the eyes and previously relaxed hands turning into fists at his side that was the tip off. But he didn't seem intent on smiting her for her insolence; at least not just yet.

He gave a forced little laugh and said, "If this is really your best effort, Filia, then may I just say that I am not at all seduced."

Filia glowered at him. She almost said that it wasn't, but self-preservation had woken up after her last comment and the fact that this was a stupid thing to say registered in her mind before she said it.

"I just don't see why they'd send you," Xellos mused aloud, apparently taking her expression as a sign that she wanted more verbal abuse. "I mean, how are you supposed to distract me with your feminine wiles when it's obvious that you don't have any of those?"

"I told them it was a bad idea!" Filia shot back, furious but keen to establish herself as being in total opposition to the plan from the start.

"I'm sure you did," Xellos said in a patient tone that signaled to Filia that she wasn't going to like what came next, but that one was a good bet with Xellos in any case. "I mean, you of all people must be aware of how ineffective someone with your lack of experience would be to someone like me."

Filia's first impulse was to feel insulted in a sort of shrinking, humiliated sort of way. So what if she was… inexperienced? Dragons were supposed to be chaste. There were clearly set rules that were followed unless you were the kind of girl that Filia was sure she was not. It was just the way he'd said it that made her feel inferior. She'd never given it a second thought when she'd lived at the temple.

She shouldn't let him make her feel bad about herself though. She had other things in her life. Fulfilling things! Like… pottery.

Alright, put it that way it seemed kind of lame. But there's more to life than… well, carnality.

Her second impulse was to be concerned. What did he mean by 'someone like me'…?

Well, of course, her brain kicked in in a self-assured way, he just meant that, being a monster, he's not susceptible to things like that. After all, monsters are wholly focused on their mission of setting fire to the world to see what color it burns. They don't worry themselves over matters of love and… eh… related issues. It would be downright unlike them.


Only… sometimes you hear some weird stories.

Of course, they had to be completely untrue. Just… occasionally things like that were used as fodder for human romance writers. Probably pairing up human women with awful human men was considered too light and fluffy and there had to be a horrifying supernatural alternative. Then there was that group of nuns up in… what was it? The Nolacus Mountains, was it? She knew she'd read about it. Anyway, they'd apparently written something about demons appearing to human girls in their sleep and… and… there'd been something about dark unreachable pleasures that mortals were not meant to know…

She wiped some sweat from her upper lip. Anyway, she'd read about it so long ago; how could she be expected to remember trivial little details like that? It had to be totally false. A bunch of celibate nuns living in an isolated mountaintop complex are bound to get a little restless and over imaginative after awhile.

No, that was all fiction. Monsters didn't really… do things like that. She couldn't possibly look at Xellos and think that he…

Oh blasphemies unnumbered! she swore oddly to herself as she winced visibly. Now I'm never going to get that picture out of my head!

She closed her eyes but it was still there. Just think of something else! she thought wildly. Anything else! Think of… think of kittens!

Xellos had been watching with great curiosity as Filia's expressions had shifted from angry and hurt to confused and thoughtful and now had shifted to panic-stricken and somewhat tortured. Tasting emotions was one thing, but what was going on in that little dragon head of Filia's was a little bit beyond him.

"What are you thinking about?" he queried, after it became clear that she wasn't going to come out of the mentally damaging reverie she'd immersed herself in to respond to his last comment.

"Kittens," Filia responded in such an absolute tone that Xellos was forced to believe her.

"O…kay," Xellos said slowly. "So are you just going to stand here in my room thinking about kittens all day?"

Filia snapped herself back into some line closer along to reality and said: "It doesn't really make a difference if I do, does it? Aren't you just going follow Miss Lina and the others anyway?"

"Oh, I don't really think I need to do that," Xellos said offhandedly.

"What?" Filia said, eyes wide.

"No," Xellos went on. "It doesn't need my attention. I really doubt that there's any secret tome about monsters that I haven't already heard of. So there's no harm in it. And anyway," he took a step forward again, "what's happening here is much more entertaining."

Filia gulped and took a step backwards. Stepping backwards in a confrontation meant losing power stock, but at the moment that didn't seem as important as... other things. Xellos didn't appear to have much respect for her personal space. Add that to the long list of things he didn't respect about her.

The little things that she didn't want to notice all came blaring into focus: the smallness of the room, the untouched bed, the closed door behind her back, and the space between them. Filia was painfully aware that if she thought of kittens any harder her eyes would bleed.

A cold bead of sweat dropped down the back of her neck as she reflected on the fact that her imagination really did hate her. Intensely.

"What are you going to do then?" she forced her mouth to ask.

The question hung in the air for a moment, as though Xellos was savoring her discomfort; which he probably was, the bastard. Then, just like that, the atmosphere was gone and he brightened, saying: "Actually, I was thinking of going downstairs to get a cup of tea! Would you like to join me?"

Filia nearly fell backwards into the closed door. She finally let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She was sure that Xellos delighted in confusing her. It had just been such a shock to have something as harmless as tea brought up after she'd been sure he was going to…

…kill her. Yes. That's what she'd been worried about.

Normally she would've told him to have his own damn tea as she wasn't about to subject herself to any more of his company than she had to, but she was a little off-balance at the moment. And somewhere in the depths of her mind she convinced herself that he owed her a cup of tea after the crap she'd been through because of him. After all, she'd only had a few sips of her tea earlier before she'd spilled it. And she'd spilled her tea because of him! He definitely owed her.

"Fine, but you're buying," she said brusquely.

Later, Filia had a cup of hot tea in her hand and a cookie with cranberries baked into it on her plate. Neither of these two things canceled out the unhappy fact that she was sitting with Xellos, but they certainly did something to mitigate it. Not only that, but she felt about ten times better just for being in an open public space like the dining hall. She just hadn't felt comfortable alone with Xellos in that small room. She put this down to claustrophobia.

"So there's something I've never been able to figure out and since it's come up I might as well ask," Xellos said from the other side of the table. "Why are dragons so repressed when it comes to sex?"

Filia glared at him. This wasn't worth all the cranberry cookies in the world.

"I'm not making fun of you," Xellos said which Filia found highly suspect. "It just doesn't make sense. When you get right down to it, it's an act of creation isn't it? Aren't you dragons in favor of creation?" He sipped his tea all innocently studious-like.

"There is such a thing," Filia said coldly, "as virtue."

"I certainly haven't seen any evidence of that," Xellos countered.

"Well, there is," Filia shot back in what she knew was not destined to become the world's greatest comeback.

"What about your parents?" Xellos pressed on.

"What about them?"

"Well, how is that okay?"

"That's different," Filia said with conviction. Like most people everywhere she had eventually accepted – with some difficulty – that her parents had, at one point or another, had sex. "They were married."

"Ah, marriage," Xellos said, gesturing openly with his hands and sitting back in his chair. "So an exchange of vows and a legal document suddenly makes everything all holy and right? What was once a vice is suddenly transformed into a virtue?"

"I don't see any problem with that," Filia said primly. She did, but she wasn't about to let him know that.

"Don't you?" he said slyly. "So I guess then if we had some sort of legal document, it would suddenly be okay for us to—"

"No," Filia said firmly, not even letting him finish the sentence.

"I was speaking hypothetically," Xellos explained.

"Not even hypothetically!" Filia said, not willing to give an inch on this issue.

"Why?" Xellos asked simply.

"Because," Filia sputtered. "Because we don't love each other!" Filia groaned inwardly. If talking with Xellos about sex was bad, then love would have to be even worse.

"So it's love that makes it different, then?" Xellos challenged.

"Yes!" Filia barked back.

"And what's sex without love?" Xellos asked.

"Shallow and worthless," Filia annunciated in tones that could carve faces in rock.

Xellos tilted his head to the side as though questioning how he'd come to be in the company of such a foolish creature. He leaned across the table and said in a low voice, "Do you honestly have that high an opinion of yourself? Do you think you're so pure that you wouldn't still enjoy it if there was no love?"

Filia honestly didn't know how to respond. She was so at a loss she couldn't even manage to cover for it by taking a sip of her tea or a bite out of her cookie.

"The fact is that it doesn't make a difference," Xellos said, reclining once more. "And that spirituality bit is nothing but a load of garbage."

By a poor choice of words on Xellos's part and pure instinct for this kind of thing on Filia's part, she responded, "It takes garbage to know garbage." Suddenly she felt empowered again.

A violent tic in Xellos's forehead told her that her aim had been true. She took a triumphant bite out of her cookie, enjoying the chewy, fruity vitamin-c it contained. It tasted like victory.

"So don't tell me you're going to wait until you're 'in love' and married," Xellos said, deciding to strike the word 'garbage' from his vocabulary permanently.

"Of course I am," Filia said irritably, insulted by the finger-quotes.

"Well, you know what a poet would say, don't you?" Xellos asked.

"What would 'a poet' say?" Filia said, retaliating with finger-quotes of her own.

"That you're being selfish," Xellos said mildly.

Filia choked on a cranberry and had to cough violently to dislodge it. "How am I selfish?"

Xellos grinned his grim little grin. "You're selfish for a lot of reasons, but in this case you're like one of those women poets moon over. You have very few good points, but you are reasonably attractive. Yet, your cold refusals ensure that the world is left without a copy of your beauty after you're gone. You selfishly horde yourself until your inevitable death."

Filia thought about this very carefully. "This poet," she began. "Is his main concern really my descendents?"

Xellos smiled a genuine smile this time. "I didn't say it was a particularly sincere argument."

"So what is the sincere argument?" Filia asked.

Xellos's smile dropped instantly. "What?"

"What is your sincere argument as to why I should sleep with you?" Filia asked sharply. "I'm not going to, whatever you say," she added. "But it would be better if we could continue this conversation without you hiding behind a feigned interest in the ideals of my people and imaginary poets in order to make your point."

For just a moment Filia derived the rare pleasure of seeing Xellos struck speechless. He opened his mouth to make a comment but no sound came out. That's right, Filia thought. He likes to think he knows about people. He likes to pick apart and analyze them. But as soon as the magnifying glass gets turned on him he wants nothing to do with it. He doesn't like to be read.

He regained his composure and the nasty little smile returned, but this time there was an edge to it. "My, my, you do flatter yourself, don't you? I certainly wasn't talking about myself. I would've expected you to realize that even monsters have higher standards than that. But not everyone does. I was just speaking generally."

"So… you weren't talking about you sleeping with me. You were just talking about someone sleeping with me?" Filia said slowly, trying to make sense of this hastily spun bullshit.

"I don't know what you were talking about," Xellos said, idly picking at a tear in the tablecloth. "I was talking about how dishonest you are."

"I'm dishonest?" she repeated disbelievingly. Oh sure. She was the dishonest one. It wasn't the guy who was all like: 'You should have sex with me. And when I said me, understand I was just speaking metaphorically'. Nope. It was all her.

"You are," Xellos affirmed. "You claim to keep your chastity because you are virtuous; because you have higher ideals; because you are good. But virtue has nothing to do with it. You have too much pride to submit to another person. There is no one out there that you think is good enough for you. And in case you've forgotten, Filia: pride is a sin."

Filia opened her mouth to protest. That wasn't true! She didn't think she was better than everyone else! He couldn't say that just because she hadn't met someone she trusted enough to be with yet. Having standards doesn't mean you think you're better than everyone else, just… some people! Well even monsters have standards, don't they? That's what he said himself. He had no right to go around calling her—

"And," Xellos went on, cutting across her thoughts, "you're terrified that you'll like it. That you'll realize that your pretty ideas of love are just lies for children. And then you'll have nothing to believe in but emptiness."

In the bleakness of this statement his smile seemed to twist. "You know, I think it might almost be worth it to show you that."

The dreadful feeling that she'd already been pinned like a butterfly and would now have to endure him labeling her with taxonomic information ebbed as the familiar seas of rage flowed in for high tide.

"I thought I was below your standards," she said acidicly.

"You are," he said with a shrug.

"Then again," he began after a pause. Filia considered that these words should be refiled as the most horrifying phrase in existence. "I am almost astonishingly charitable."

Filia snorted.

"I think we can compromise," he said in a voice confident and assured that it was being quite fair. "A kiss could easily teach you that lesson."

Filia rolled her eyes. "We're not haggling, Xellos. You're not getting so much as a handshake out of me no matter what you say."

Xellos smiled smugly and reached for his drink. "You know you're only proving my point, Filia."

Filia scowled at him. The thing was… she was tempted; she was sorely tempted to take him up on his offer. Though not for the reasons that conceited jerk would think. She knew he was just playing with her. He'd never expect her to say yes. But if she did then the ball would be in his court. He couldn't not kiss her without looking like the weak one. And then afterwards she could be all unimpressed and say 'Ho hum. Is that all there is to it?' and that would really get him.

But… she couldn't really do that could she? I mean, first off it was Xellos and that was disgusting enough as it is. And… it would be her first kiss. It would always be her first kiss. She couldn't in all good conscience give away her first kiss purely in the name of spite.

…She could say, 'If that's your best effort than I'm not at all seduced either'.

Spite is clearly a more than adequate reason.

And anyway, who cares about first kisses anyway? It hardly means anything. It's not like you're a different person before and after. Besides, lots of people's first kisses are probably awful and embarrassing memories. At least in this case she could modulate some kind of victory over the forces of evil (Xellos) in doing so. And anyway, they were in a public place. It's not like it was especially risky.

"Fine!" she said, throwing up her hands. "Do it. Impress me."

He choked on his tea. He tried to pretend it was a cough but he choked on his tea and she saw it!

"Well, well, well," he said, covering for his surprise by wiping his mouth with a napkin. "The pure as snow dragon shows her true colors."

"And what are those?" Filia asked, rising on the rush of triumph she felt.

"Less fresh snow I would say," Xellos commented, but he was having difficulty working his customary nastiness into each word.

"So what are the true colors of a coward who tries to weasel out of responsibility when someone calls their bluff?" Filia asked with as much vindictive venom as her heart could pump.

The twitch was back like summer lightning. It was the 'coward' part that really did it. "I wasn't bluffing," he said bluntly.

He reached for her and leaned across the table in what seemed to Filia to be frighteningly slow, but inevitable gestures. For just that moment doubt riddled her mind and the scheme that she'd had so much confidence in when he'd been on his own side of the table seemed somewhat less sound when examined at closer proximity. But it was too late.

He stopped in front of her, with his lips almost but not quite touching hers. Tantalizingly close, allowing her to take in every detail. Waiting until she had no choice but to take a breath. And then he struck.

She didn't see fireworks. She didn't know why people talked about seeing fireworks when they kissed. She'd seen fireworks before and all told it seemed like a rather disappointing comparison. You wait for hours in the wet grass and the muggy, buggy heat just to see a bunch of sparkling lights sizzle briefly in the sky. And they were pleasant enough lights and all, but they never seemed as impressive as you imagined in those hours leading up to them. And they were over before you knew it anyway. Then once they'd gone out there was nothing left to do but fold-up your blanket, scratch your bug-bites, and go home.

She didn't see fireworks. She felt like she was one. She was soaring into the sky – too high and too fast – leaving trails of shimmering sparks behind her as they descended earthwards. She knew that she could only fly so high, and shine so bright, and burn so hot before she too was brought down in gravity's grip: dimmed and cooled. And then nothing would ever be the same again.

Fourteen seconds later they parted.

At first all Filia could do was breath. Then, to her credit, she tried. She tried valiantly. "If… that's…" she began, but she faltered. Stuttering was not part of the plan!

Xellos smiled, and Filia wondered why he hadn't been smiling all along. After all, the smug bastard probably thought he'd proved his point. "You're blushing," he said. "And your heart's beating fast."

In the face of this provocation, Filia marshaled her wandering thoughts into a coherent force. "That's because I'm angry," she said harshly.

Xellos made a show of studying her expression before concluding, "You're that too."

She was angry. She was angry and… and… flustered. And feeling flustered was making her even more angry.

"But you're not really the kind of person who could have liked that, are you Filia?" Xellos asked in mock concern. "Because there's absolutely no love between us. In fact you've made it clear on dozens of occasions that you feel quite the opposite. But yet… your expression hardly looks unaffected."

She gritted her teeth. It's a horrible feeling to have someone turn the tables on you; especially when you're trying to turn the tables on them.

"Oh, shut up," she said in a voice that was going to start sulking very shortly if things didn't turn around.

"And you can let go of my hand already," she added in a fierce voice. "We're not going steady, you know!"

Xellos looked puzzled for a moment, and then looked down at the table. He stared at his left hand in a kind of betrayed horror; as if it had crawled away and clasped her hand of its own accord. He hurriedly disentangled his fingers from hers and pushed back his chair.

"Where are you going?" Filia demanded.

"Away," Xellos said with an annoyed grimace. "Not that this hasn't been a fun little experiment. But I have better things to do with my time."

And with that he vanished, seemingly not paying attention to the fact that a bunch of breakfast diners saw him disappear into thin air and quite reasonably wondered about it.

"Oh yeah, I'm so sure," Filia muttered, hoping her words would travel to the astral plane.

Filia stared at her tea cup. It completely failed to stare back, but somehow she felt… accused. Perhaps not specifically by tea cups, but by the world in general.

Stupid Xellos. It didn't mean anything about… her beliefs and it certainly didn't mean anything about her. It wasn't like she had a frame of reference for this kind of thing or anything. And he knew that. He was using that to get her to think whatever he wanted.

"Excuse me, ma'am. Would you like another cup of tea?" a waiter asked, appearing at the table.

Filia gave him a thoughtful look; perhaps contemplating whether or not another cup of tea would solve her problems; appeared to come to a conclusion; stood up, and, as if in a daze, kissed him.

Porcelain shattered as the waiter dropped the tea pot he'd been holding. He looked at her in shock as Filia broke the contact with an inconsolably glum look on her face.

"Nothing," she said dismally, and walked away with her shoulders hunched.

Ten seconds ago the waiter had thought he'd been having the worst day of his life. Eight seconds ago the waiter had been sure that he'd been having the best day of his life. Two seconds ago his self-esteem was shattered into a million pieces and trampled into the dust and he was back to 'worst day ever'.

Later that day, the people who were responsible for starting this entire confusing and aggravating mess finally returned to the inn. Filia knew that nothing they could possibly have turned up with would make any of this worth it, but they could at least have the decency to look grateful. Heck, she'd even take relatively sheepish. But no, they just looked tired and irritable.

"You didn't find the book," Filia said leadenly.

"Oh, we found it, alright," Lina said, producing a slim volume that did not have 'ancient tome' written all over it and throwing it across the room. "But it's not exactly what you'd call useful."


Lina rubbed her forehead in an exhausted way. "It's just a bunch of new age malarkey about love and the power of names and nature abhorring a vacuum and a lot of other nonsense."

"You're telling me," Filia said slowly, giving her anger ample time to bubble over. "That you left me here with that horrible thing all so you could go chase after some useless book because you couldn't listen to me when I told you not to trust the word of career criminals?!"

"I wouldn't be angling for sympathy if I were you, Filia," Zelgadis said irritably. "We're not exactly in the mood after having half a dozen bombs blow up in our faces."

"And then the cave ceiling collapsed and we had to dig our way out with the book," Amelia said despondently.

"So forgive us if we're not exactly feeling sorry for you after nearly being crushed to death and then stuck in a pitch-black cave for hours," Zelgadis said, "when all you had to do was flirt with disaster for a little while."

"I wasn't flirting with disaster!" Filia said, a panicked strain heightening her voice. "Disaster was flirting with me!"

They all looked at her oddly. For just a moment it looked like they'd forgotten their self-pity-laden 'we almost got buried alive' whining to rain their suspicion down on her.

"I noticed he didn't follow us," Lina said, narrowing her eyes slightly. "What exactly did you do?"

"Nothing!" Filia said, probably a little too quickly.

Lina and Amelia exchanged knowing glances.

"Really?" Lina said, with her eyebrows raised.

"Really!" Filia answered. "Look, I insulted him, he insulted me. We went and got some tea, insulted each other some more, and then he ran off. That's the truth and the whole truth."

Well… certainly the truth. Not necessarily the whole truth. That was the one useful thing she'd learned from Xellos.

…Alright, fair enough, maybe not the only useful thing she'd learned from Xellos.

But really, she'd prefer not to dwell on that at the moment because it brought up far too many questions. Questions want answers, and just at the moment, she was short on answers. And after all, asking questions and giving answers was what had gotten them into this in the first place. Best to just leave things be.

If that was at all possible.

Which it might not be…

Lina frowned. "Are you okay, Filia?"

"I'm fine," Filia said. Then she added in a quiet voice that only Lina could hear and later wondered about: "Just thinking about kittens."