Author's Note: Well, more than half a year from when I originally started this, we've finally arrived at the last chapter. Thank you all so much for reading and sharing this with me. I hope you enjoy the last chapter, and keep an eye out for the annotated/commentary of this fic. I'll try to get that done soon and the link will be in my profile. Once again: Thank you.
Chapter 28. I… You.
Stanley was shaking in fear, his eyes unable to leave the body of the rapidly cooling Lieutenant Drash. He sank to his knees as Amelia walked away from him and took up a place at Zelgadis's side.
Lina's eyes widened from her balcony hiding place. "I see," she said. "Zel only drew out the fight so long to buy enough time for the Lafas Seed on Amelia to wear off." She paused and thought for a moment. "…That's awfully codependent when you think about it."
Zelgadis dropped his useless, broken sword, and shared a determined look with Amelia before the two turned their gazes back on the sniveling Stanley. The once proud Lord seemed to have been destroyed by the death of his highest ranking officer. Whether it was because Drash was actually dear to him or because he now feared for his life with his protector dead was hard to say. At this point, it was hard to care too.
"All those who seek power for evil purposes bring about their own undoing!" Amelia declared, having been freed from her spell and ready to Justice-speech to her heart's content. "Abandon this mad scheme now before the full force of Justice rains down upon you!"
Zelgadis could usually get a message across in fewer words than Amelia in full-blown Justice-speech mode. "Drop your sword," he said coldly.
Stanley didn't. Instead he stood up, still quivering at the merciless look in Zelgadis's eyes as he held up his sword defensively. The blade waved back and forth as his Lordship tried to hold it steady.
"If," Stanley began shakily, "if I'm going to die anyway, then I'd rather die fighting."
Zelgadis shrugged. "Have it your way," he said, and in a blur of speed he'd lunged past Stanley's sword, before the man could even think to make a slash, and punched him in the face.
Stanley, for his part, went down like a prize fighter – a second-prize fighter at least. He crumpled and fell to the floor. His mouth was bleeding and a clatter on the floor seemed to suggest a tooth parting company with its host. He let go of his sword, which skittered across the polished floor.
"Amelia! While he's disarmed!" Zelgadis ordered.
"Right!" Amelia said with a nod. "Lafas Seed!"
The same magical ropes that had only so recently bound her, now kept her former captor under wraps. She couldn't really keep the 'how's about a taste of your own medicine?' look off of her face.
Zelgadis walked over to where Stanley's sword had finally laid to rest and picked it up. It was an impressive looking thing. The hilt was so encrusted with rare gemstones that it was hard to appreciate the gold and silver gilt that made up the casing. But it had very little heft. In fact, most of the sparse heft it had seemed to come from the jewelry on it. Perhaps Stanley wasn't strong enough to lift a normal blade.
He'd hold onto it for now, what with his own lying broken.
Stanley ceased his struggling against the spell's grip as the shadow of Zelgadis loomed over him, holding his own sword. Zelgadis didn't even look angry anymore. He simply looked like he had a bit of unpleasant business that needed to be finished. Amelia took a step back, looking worried.
"Are you… are you going to kill me?" Stanley asked, dreading that the answer might be spoken with steel.
Zelgadis twisted the hilt slightly in his grip. "If it were just up to me, I would. In a second," he said. "But this is Seyruun, and you have to do things right here. You've committed a crime, but I am not your executioner. If I decided to be, then I'd just be bringing trouble on myself and repercussions on Phil and Amelia. You see… the Seyruun family might be fans of justice, but not swift justice."
Amelia looked relieved as Zelgadis went on: "So you'll get a trial first and then I have no doubt you'll be executed. But until that day you can look forward to imprisonment in the dankest dungeon that can be found." He paused and a pleasant thought seemed to strike him. "Perhaps in Halrune, if I have anything to say about it."
Phil seemed to find the idea of the man who tried to usurp his throne being imprisoned at the Duchess of Halrune's displeasure to be too good for words… or, actually, too good for a lack of words. "That's the way!" he called out, standing up and looking over the balcony railing.
"Phil!" Lina called out angrily, standing up too. He was wrecking it. After the whole mess with Stanley was sorted out then there ought to have been a 'thank you for saving me' from Amelia, then perhaps some intense eye-contact, soft violin music from nowhere, and boom! Instant romantic moment. But now Phil had ruined it. Ruined it!
"Daddy!" Amelia called out, looking up at the balcony. "I'm so glad you're alright!"
"I'm sorry I worried you, Amelia!" Phil said with a grin. "But as you can see I'm just fine!"
Zelgadis frowned at them. "How long have you two been up there? We could've used some help you know."
Lina froze and then went for a mock-indignant pose. "I'll have you know we just got here!" she proclaimed. "I've been busy all this time trying to save Phil. How's that for help?"
"Where's Gourry?" Zelgadis asked.
"He's guarding the King," Lina said, crossing her arms. "Anyway, are we done here?"
A small explosion seemed to indicate that they weren't. It had been lobbed by one of the sorcerers under Seyruun's employ. Stanley's soldiers were still holding swords but they looked a bit confused as to what to do now that their commanding officer was dead and their Lord had been captured.
"Hate to break it to you, Miss Lina, but we're still in mid-crisis," Phil said. "You soldiers!" he called out to Stanley's men. "Your vile leader has been dispatched with! You have no hope of victory now! See reason and surrender yourselves to face your punishment with dignity! Do not continue to let yourselves be tools of war!"
The soldiers seemed to think this over, at least… the ones that were still upright and conscious thought it over. That band of sorcerers was stronger than they'd thought and some of the old guys still looked like they had plenty of fight left in them. Without Drash's magic they didn't feel very confident facing up against wizards. Not to mention the fact that another sorcerer had appeared. And if they didn't give in then they're master might be killed. And… well, they could say that they'd rather die than betray their Lord… but someone might take that literally.
As if they needed more encouragement, Lina rolled up her sleeves and announced to the room at large: "I think I've got a Dragon Slave left in me."
After some panicked whispering, a white flag shot up from Stanley's camp. Well… it was mostly white. It looked like there was a little blood on it too.
Phil clasped his hands together. "See what happens when men behave responsibly?"
Or decide getting blown to smithereens isn't in their plans, Lina thought sourly.
"Now!" Phil said. "We must make sure to disable all the forces that are still milling around the palace. Amelia, Mister Zelgadis, Miss Lina: I'm sure I can count on you for that."
They nodded. "Right!" Amelia said, actually pulling a salute. Lina was just happy that she might have a chance to actually fry someone.
"But before that, the Magical Defense Division must escort the Lord of Daellon and his men down to the dungeons," Phil said as the old sorcerers stopped dancing around and waving the swords of fallen warriors and generally acting ridiculous to try to pull off a professional look.
"Oh!" Phil said, looking as though he'd forgotten something important. He turned to the captured troops. "Unfortunately the expert dungeon guards are no more. But not to worry! If I can't find someone, I'll go down there myself to explain about the torture devices."
The men turned green.
It was a few days later and things were returning to normal… or at least normal compared to dealing with a castle-wide invasion. The soldiers they'd captured had been sent shamefacedly back to Daellon. Stanley himself, however, was, as per Zelgadis's suggestion, sent to the dungeons of Lady Myrtle of Halrune. There had been some fear that Seyruun would face retribution from the Duke of Daellon for imprisoning his son, even though they'd been the ones wronged. But they needn't have worried. The Duke of Daellon, sick as he was, was horrified when he discovered what his son had done. He'd disowned him, disinherited him, and left him to rot in jail, facing execution. Phil had been right: the Duke of Daellon found the idea that his own son could've tried to commit regicide to be indescribably repugnant. Now Stanley didn't have a friend left in the world.
Seyruun castle was left very understaffed after this security breach, but the cities of the country had banded together to lend soldiers and sorcerers to their capital in its time of need. And Lady Myrtle's men, specifically, were a big help because they could not only kill, but cook, do needlepoint, speak five different languages, and clean brick 'til you could see your face in it. Lady Myrtle believed in perfection.
Seyruun castle would have to make strides to rebuild their armed forces and magical division, but for the time being, they were safe.
Yes. Pretty much everything was settled except…
"I hoped I'd find you here, Mister Zelgadis."
Zelgadis straightened up as Amelia stepped past the shrubbery and into the garden they'd met in so many times over the last month. "I guess I just… had to get out of the castle for awhile," he said.
Amelia nodded understandingly. "It is kinda noisy in there with all the new guards. And what's left of the Magical Defense Division is really… gung-ho now." She smiled. "I guess that battle gave them a real boost to their confidence."
Zelgadis shrugged. "That wasn't exactly what I was going for," he said.
"But you really did it," Amelia pressed on. "You showed them what they could accomplish if they worked together as a team."
Zelgadis said nothing. It was strange to be back in the garden with Amelia after all that had happened. And stranger still knowing how he'd treated her the last time they'd been there. The weight of the letter still in his pocket was enough to remind him of that guilt. And he knew he had to do something.
"Mr. Zelgadis?" Amelia began, cutting into the silence.
Amelia took a deep breath. "Thank you," she said, "for coming back. I don't know what would've happened if you hadn't."
Needless to say, being thanked when you're trying to muster up the strength to apologize to someone only increases the quantity of guilt.
Zelgadis sat down on the bench. "I never actually left," he said. "I thought about it, but when I came here and read your letter… I couldn't." He conjured up the letter in his mind, what words were written and what were only left as faint imprints, and let its contents hurt him like it should. Because he couldn't go without saying: "I'm sorry. Nothing I said back then was true. I was just…" he trailed off.
"Angry?" Amelia tried.
Zelgadis nodded. "But not because of you."
Amelia nodded. "I forgive you."
Silence fell between them again. She hadn't said 'it's okay' because it wasn't, because what he'd done was wrong and it had hurt her. But she forgave him and it could start again; it just needed a little push.
"So… umm…" Amelia began awkwardly, looking around until she spotted the charred wood of the fire they'd used to boil their potion. "It's uh… it's too bad that the potion didn't work out."
Zelgadis shrugged slightly as though this was the least of the worries he had to sift through.
"You're… you're not going to try it again are you?" Amelia asked nervously. Having found out that the potion was just a ploy by Lina to get her and Zelgadis together, she didn't want him to waste any more of his time on it. On the other hand, she really didn't want to see his reaction if he found out about the trick.
"Nah," Zelgadis said, not noticing Amelia's sigh of relief. "Looking back on it… it just didn't seem that likely to work. And did you know the other day I was in the Kitchens and I found a recipe for goulash that was almost just like the one for the potion?"
Amelia kept her face carefully blank. "Really?"
"So," Amelia went on, after shifting nervously, "if you're not going to do that… then what are you going to do now?"
Zelgadis leaned forward and folded his hands together in thought. "That's a good question," he said. It was one he'd expected, but nevertheless wasn't prepared for. Since it was Amelia he was talking to, he could admit: "I don't know. I just don't know what I want to do next."
Amelia looked thoughtful and took a seat next to him on the bench. "Sometimes," she said, "it's easier to start out with what you don't want to figure out what it is you actually want."
Zelgadis leaned his chin against his hands. Well… perhaps that did make sense. He was so much surer of what he didn't want. "I guess…" he said, "I don't want to do this… search-for-a-cure thing for the rest of my life. If it really is hopeless then I should just accept it and move on. But at the same time…" He shook his head. "I don't want to give up yet."
"I think it's always going to be 'one more try', 'one more try', " he said despairingly. "I need to be accountable to more than just myself on this."
Amelia looked solemn. "I don't want you to leave," she said, "…but I don't want you to stay if you don't want to."
The silence was oppressive at this statement, until Amelia looked up at Zelgadis to remind him that it was his turn. He searched around in his brain for all the things he'd been dreading. They weren't hard to find. "I don't want you to have to marry someone you don't want to," he said. He'd come to realize that that one was really… his fault. He could weasel out of it and apply blame anywhere from the political system, to Phil, to Amelia herself, but he knew he was the one that could solve that one.
Amelia flashed a small smile. "I don't want that either."
"But…" Zelgadis began, because even though he knew he could solve it, he knew that nothing would be the same if he made that decision. He'd be thrust into a world that he didn't understand, appreciate, or belong in. "…But I don't want to be a prince."
Zelgadis had one of those 'Oh please, Ceifeed just give me the last five seconds of my life back. I'll do anything. ANYTHING!' moments. It had just… slipped out. It had been drawn out. But that was… the next thought! If he made sure that Amelia married someone that she actually loved then he would have to… well, the statement said too much. It assumed too much. It should not have been said at all.
But Amelia seemed oblivious to the mind-numbing panic that Zelgadis was going through after hearing the words that came out of his own mouth. Instead she just nodded sympathetically. "Sometimes I don't want to be a princess either."
Zelgadis just sat there, slack-jawed that he hadn't received a: 'Well, I didn't hear anyone offering you the job' or a 'is that the only reason you wouldn't marry me?'
"It's a lot of responsibility," Amelia went on, "and a lot of paperwork, and being in line for the throne is… well, scary sometimes. I don't always get to go where I want to go and do what I want to do, because I have duties here. But," her lashes lifted as she looked at him, "I love Seyruun, and I've got to do my best for it."
Zelgadis looked away. "Anyway," Amelia went on, only slightly deterred by this. "It's not all bad. I mean: look at Daddy. He's a prince, but as Miss Lina is always ready to remind me, he's not a typical prince."
Zelgadis couldn't quite suppress a snort. Yes, Lina had a great deal of trouble with the word prince being attached in any way to Phil.
"And," Amelia said laughingly, encouraged by this, "if Daddy keeps reading pamphlets written by revolutionaries, then by the time it matters the monarchy might end up being replaced with a democracy. Then it won't be a problem."
"You won't get out of it that easily," Zelgadis said with a small smile. "The people like you too much. You'd probably just get elected."
They sat there for a moment, smiling slightly. It was good to have a laugh after all that they'd been through. But the gravity of their discussion wore them down and brought them back.
"So…" Zelgadis said. "I guess we're back to: what should we do?"
"I think," Amelia said, biting her lip slightly, "that we need to talk."
So they talked. At first there was much lack of eye-contact and nervousness and dancing around the issues, but they managed to push forward eventually. Awkward questions were asked; awkward answers were given. And it seemed to work best to talk about action and solutions instead of feelings. So they spoke on assumptions unspoken. And even as they made their often painful way through every topic that encompassed 'What comes next?' neither of them said it.
It was hard to say. Considering what they had to work out between them it almost felt like it should go without saying… except that it couldn't. It being left unsaid was wrong. It was just a little thing after all… just three words, none of them hard to say except for that pesky four-letter one.
Zelgadis had been hoping Amelia would say it. After all, it had to be one of her favorite words next to Justice, Truth, and Friendship. But she didn't.
And it remained unsaid as they finally came to decisions and compromises. Maybe they hadn't worked everything out perfectly, but they'd done their very best. There was a future to work out, and unfortunately it involved serious discussion and not soft violin music and sweeping camera angles.
Zelgadis stood up and made to leave the garden after a course of action had been talked through. He was hoping she'd say it then, but she didn't. She just waited. And he knew he couldn't leave this meeting without it being said.
So he said it. And she kissed him.
It just… wasn't right, Lina reflected as she and Gourry walked down the road, with a gloomy chimera lagging behind them. He kept falling further behind because he'd occasionally stop to look at Seyruun castle, disappearing over their shoulders.
"This sucks," Lina announced to Gourry. "After all that hard work."
"It kinda seemed like it was actually gonna work for a minute there," Gourry said, looking at Zelgadis out of the corner of his eye.
"I know!" Lina exploded. "They go through Phil's 'stay away from my daughter!' routine, Myrtle's… Myrtliness, and finally he gets around to saving her from an evil, regicidal kidnapper. And what does he do? He says 'I'm leaving' like it's nothing!" She frowned. "Poor Amelia."
"She looked like she was taking it well when we left," Gourry commented.
"You're right," Lina said. "I expected her to be crying after all he's put her through. She's got the patience of a saint."
"What's Phil gonna do about the marriage thing?" Gourry asked.
"I don't know, but there's really nothing else we can do, right? And we can't keep Zel in the castle against his will." Lina shrugged. "Maybe Phil will be able to put off the suitors a little longer. After all, the last one tried to take over Seyruun. That seems like reason enough to wait awhile."
"Yeah," Gourry said a little glumly.
Lina sighed. "I guess we should just thank God for small favors," she said.
"Like what?" Gourry asked.
"Like the potion," Lina said. "Zel never got to finish it, which is good because he'd be righteously pissed off if he found out we were behind that." She let out a relieved breath. "I can't believe we went that whole time without him finding out."
"Without me finding out what?" Zelgadis asked, catching up with them.
Lina froze and tried to will herself to breathe again. Nonchalant. Gotta act nonchalant!
"Nothing!" she shrieked louder than she intended to. "Nothing at all! We weren't even talking about you!"
Zelgadis raised an eyebrow and then comprehension seemed to dawn. "…Is this about you two… you know… sharing your feelings?"
If that last shock had been bad, this one nearly made her brain shut down. "WHAT? What the hell are you talking about?"
Zelgadis looked off to the side and shrugged. "Amelia seemed to think you did. She said she found you two in a closet together during the siege."
Lina cursed mentally. That girl! She may believe in justice, but apparently she believes in revenge too. "Look, that was completely out of context! She's wrong!"
"…Then what were you talking about just now?" Zelgadis asked, tone edging toward suspicious.
Lina realized she was up against the wall. Technically she had a viable excuse for her little verbal snafu… handed to her by Amelia, but… but… but she didn't like it one bit!
"Mind your own business," she snapped weakly. "Anyway," she said, expression turning sly as she ignored her own advice, "what about you and Amelia? For a minute there we were starting to think you were gonna stay in the palace permanently."
Zelgadis brushed past them to take the lead. "Did you," was all he said. It wasn't even a question.
"So eh, what are you heading out to do, Zel?" Gourry asked in a would-be cheerful voice. "Still looking for your cure?"
"Partly," Zelgadis said.
"Well… what's the other part?" Lina asked curiously.
"After what happened, Seyruun needs new soldiers and sorcerers. Since I'll be traveling around, I can help with recruiting. I can keep my eyes open for leads for my cure along the way."
"Seriously?" Lina asked, blinking. Taking part in the royal family's effort to repair their castle army… that seemed to imply some invested interest on his part.
"They'll need more than soldiers and sorcerers though," Zelgadis went on. "Otherwise they'll just end up with the same set-up they had before. They need someone to unite and organize the two groups. Someone who understands both mindsets."
"Gee, I wonder who that could be," Lina said pointedly.
Zelgadis's shoulders shrugged. "Who knows?"
"So, I guess you'll be in and out of Seyruun City a lot," Lina said. "What with you helping with recruitment and all."
"I'll be back in a year," Zelgadis said.
Lina was surprised. Sure, a year was a long time, but it was also awfully… specific. "What happens in a year?"
"My time is up," Zelgadis said simply.
"Up for what?" Lina asked quizzically.
"To find a cure," Zelgadis said. "I can't spend my whole life doing this, so I put a limit on it."
Hmm. That was new. "So what happens after that?" Lina asked.
Zelgadis hesitated, and even though Lina couldn't see his face, she knew he was embarrassed. "Amelia and I have…" he began uncertainly, "an understanding."
"An understanding?" Lina repeated.
"Yes, Lina, an understanding," Zelgadis said testily. "Now why don't you follow your own advice and mind your own business." And with that he put some more distance between him and them, probably on account of them being annoying and nosy.
Lina thought back to the moment they'd left. Amelia had been there to see them off… "Good-bye, Miss Lina! Good-bye, Mister Gourry! Good-bye, Zelgadis!" …His honorific dropped. And she hadn't even noticed. Well, well…
"Maybe it wasn't all wasted effort after all," Lina said.
"Lina, what's an understanding?" Gourry asked.
"I guess you could say it's like… like being engaged to be engaged," she finally decided.
"So you mean we put in all that work," Gourry began, "just so they could start going steady?"
"Baby-steps, Gourry," Lina said calmly. "It's way better than where we started."
"Yeah, but do you think Phil's political friends will accept an understanding?" Gourry asked.
Lina sighed. "Hopefully."
So, Lina thought, watching as Zelgadis continued his stride ahead. It hadn't ended in a fairy-tale romance but… well, maybe this was good enough. One year… Will he actually stick to that and come back to Amelia for a courtly life, marriage, and the future of an entire country? Or will he just continue to wander and run away until he runs out of places to run to?
Personally, Lina was thinking he'd come back, and possibly sooner than a year. Because she just didn't think that robbing temples and searching for ancient artifacts would be as fun for him as it used to be. Not with a whole new life just waiting for him to take the reins.
…And probably even if he didn't come back then Amelia would go out and find him. She wasn't an average fairy-tale princess either.
"Well," Lina said, slinging her arms behind her head as they walked on for parts unknown, "it's not perfect, but I guess it's what makes sense for them. Loose ends tied up. And I'm sure they'll remember to make me a Countess once they actually get around to tying the knot. It's the only decent thing to do."
"Hey, Lina, there's just one more thing," Gourry began. "Did we really… 'share our feelings'?" he asked in his 'did I just zonk out and totally forget something?' voice.
Lina resisted the urge to smack him upside the head. "No!" she shouted. "Amelia just planted that stupid idea in Zel's head to get back at us for this whole scheme!"
"Oh," Gourry said simply. After a few steps he added: "…Could we?"
The most eloquent response Lina could think of was to gulp and stare at the ground with a face so red that it seemed as though blood would start trickling out of her ears any minute.
There's a long road ahead for… well, for all of us. There's still ignoring and arguing and running and chasing and dancing, but one day we'll run out of reasons to protect ourselves from our blessings. And all that fighting, all that running away, all that opposition, just brings us closer and closer to that day.
The day I can say that word in between.