- Tale Number Eight: Fig Leaves -

Pad and Melody sat on opposite sides of the bookshelf, saying nothing, their backs propped against navigation guides, arcane texts, and adventuring journals. They occasionally shivered from the chill, as the clothes which ought to have been keeping them warm were strewn across the room.

It was Melody who broke the awkward silence. "How the #$%& did this happen?!"

"Um," Pad muttered. "I dunno."

Of course, he remembered the events leading up to their disrobement, but it was true that he didn't really understand the cause behind them. He'd been heading to the storeroom to clean his gun and spotted Melody sitting on the floor, doodling on a pad. When he'd peeked at what she was drawing and made some snide remark at her efforts, she got angry and accused him of never doing anything to relax, an accusation only helped by his current gun-cleaning errand. They started arguing, and the next thing he knew, they were kissing.

It shouldn't have gone any further than that. Melody really turned him on, but not because of her looks. Pad sometimes saw her as pretty, but if he thought about it, he knew that she wasn't really. It was the way she acted which made her so sexy. That, and of the admittedly few girls he'd kissed, she was by far the best kisser. He really shouldn't have felt the need to do anything more than kissing. But for some reason, in the midst of their embrace, he found that he hated Melody's clothes, and started pulling them off. It was hard to explain, but somehow he felt like they were keeping him away from her, like he couldn't reach her, couldn't really get to know her, because they were there. It wasn't lust... Passion, maybe, the sheer heat of the moment, at least in part, but there wasn't anything of lust in it. After all, if it was lust, he wouldn't have stopped short the moment he'd managed to get her naked. He hadn't even tried to touch her - well, except for her arms, her waist, and her hair. But those didn't count.

"Is that all you can say?" Melody snapped.

"Look, ya don't need to freak out. I didn't even see nothin'."

"What do you mean, you didn't see anything?!"

"Well, nothin' below the stomach. I wasn't really thinkin' when I... ya know... but I didn't look you up, honest."

There was a silence. Then Melody said, with sudden realization, "'Nothing below the stomach'? You mean you saw my boobs!?"

Not really. Of course it was impossible for him to have kept her torso area from falling into his peripheral vision, but there'd only been split-second images before they both fled to opposite sides of the bookshelf, all of them blurred by the frenzy with which he'd disrobed her, and none that would stay distinct in his mind. If anyone had asked him to describe Melody's bosom, he would have been at a loss.

But he didn't tell her that. Instead he just snorted, "What boobs?" Melody growled in response, and he went on, "Anyway, I'm the one who should be complainin', after ya got a look at my Johnny."

"Your what?"

"...You know."

Another silence. "I did not get a look at it. I'm not some shameless sneak-peeker, and I would never -"

"So we got nothin' ta be upset about, right?"

"We just stripped each other naked for no damn reason!" she almost shrieked, making Pad flinch for fear that Eddie or Fiona might hear. "And I'll have you know that I do have nice, developed, womanly breasts!"

"Sure ya do."

"You're just jealous because you don't get to touch them," she humphed.

"I could dart around this bookshelf and touch 'em right now if I wanted. Or if ya had 'em," he added hastily.

"If you do, I'll burn all the skin off your body with one spell!"

"I was just sayin'. Jeez, you're such a spaz."

There was another short silence. It occurred to Pad that they probably should start getting dressed. It was unlikely that Eddie or Fiona would happen to come down this way anytime soon, but all the same, there was no sense in remaining in their current questionable state. And his underwear and pants were just a little more than an arm's reach away. Yet he felt no desire to retrieve them, and even less to suggest that Melody put on her own clothes.

Once again, Melody was the one to break the silence. This time she sounded not angry or frustrated, but nervous. "What if... this happens again?"

"Whaddaya mean?"

"We have no control over ourselves, Pad! What if the next time we're arguing, we just strip each other again and then... and then start doing the nasty right there?"

"Jeez louise, why do ya keep on saying this crazy stuff?" he snapped. "That ain't never gonna happen in a million years! I'd never do that with ya unless ya said ya had feelings for me. And I'd make sure ya wanted ta do it, too."

"But how do you know?"

"Look, I know myself, all right? I know that I respect you, and yeah, maybe I did kiss ya and take yer clothes off without thinkin' about how you'd feel afterwards, but I'd never do somethin' like that if I wasn't sure ya'd be good with it! Okay?"

"...Oh." She sounded shocked into silence, and Pad didn't blame her. He could scarcely believe he'd just said all that himself. It wasn't like he'd told her how he felt about her, but it was in his voice; it said just how much the very idea of hurting her repulsed him. And he definitely shouldn't have told her that he respected her.

Still, so long as she was off-guard, this was a good time to ask her... "Hey," he said. "Why'd ya get so upset when you found out how your mum died, anyway?"

"Are you mental?" she spat.

"I mean," he said, scratching the back of his head, "...it's not like ya didn't know she was dead. She died years ago... about as long ago as my dad died, and I hardly even remember him. So what's got ya so upset abou-"

"Because she died protecting me, butthead!" Melody screamed, and Pad thought he could hear the beginnings of tears in the exclamation. He became sure of it as she continued, "If it weren't for me, she'd still be alive! And what've I done with the life she died for, huh? Spent half my time with my books and machines and the other half acting like a selfish brat! The elder taught me how to be a good girl, but all I've done is the opposite! I always thought, so what?, it's my life and I'll do whatever I want with it! But now..." A sob burst out of her, so big that Pad knew she had to have been holding it in for a while. "She shouldn't have protected me! Everyone would be better off if I were dead and she were alive!"

"H-hey! Ya can't just say stuff like that!" Pad burst out. "We need you!"

"Aw, are you afraid the big bad monsters will eat you without my magic to protect you?" she mocked.

"That ain't what I meant! We need yer passion and yer craziness. We need ya ta be there for us, and keep our spirits up, and..." Jeezus, I sound like the world's biggest lame-o. "...Um... Damn it, yer just special, all right? Yer the only one Fiona can talk girl-to-girl with..." Man, that is just weak. There are what, only ten thousand or so other girls in the world? "Look, I can't put it into words, but we need ya! ...I don't want ya to die!"

A fresh silence fell. "What... What did you say?"

Aw, damn. Still, he pressed on, "I said I don't want ya to die. I want ya ta always be here with us."

"Even when insane stuff like this happens?"

"Hey, I'm glad this happened! If we hadn't 'a done this, you'd never 'ave told me how ya felt about yer mom, and I'd never 'ave told ya that I care about you! Sometimes it's only when crazy things happen that we find out what our feelin's are."

"You... care about me?"

"Well, yeah." Why had he always thought it would be so hard to say that? It was easy. "So stop that talk about being dead, okay? Yer mom thought ya were worth giving her life for, and I think she was right, so ya should just be happy that yer alive."

"Y-yeah! Yeah, you're right for once! My mom gave me life, and I'm not gonna be ungrateful for it! Thanks, Pad! Oh, and, um..." Her voice dropped a notch. "Thanks for caring about me, too. That... makes me glad." She let out a breath. "Now, where are my panties?"

"Oh. Ya... ya wanna get dressed?"

"Duh! I'm not gonna lounge around naked all day! That's not what my mom died for! Now, if I can just find where we tossed them..."

Pad fidgeted. "Um... they're... they're over here. On my side of the bookshelf."

"Well, toss them over here!"

"Uh... sure," he said, wincing. Is she serious? Still, it wasn't as though he had much choice, so he reached over and gingerly grasped the waistband of Melody's underwear between his thumb and forefinger. Oh crap, this was just wrapped around her... no no no can't think about that! He closed his eyes, swallowed, and flung them over to Melody's side.

"Hey! You could've handed it to me! Now I have to get up and -"

"Okay, I'm sorry! I just didn't want ta be holding your underwear, okay? Do ya always have ta yell at me like I've ruined your whole life?" After he'd said this, he felt it sounded too harsh, so he added more quietly, "I'm really sorry."

"...Um..." This brief vocalization sounded oddly penitent. "Well, thanks for passing them over." There was the sound of her moving around; Pad guessed she was retrieving her panties, and/or putting them on. It was funny to think that she did this every time she took a bath... though that wasn't often, now that he thought about it. Melody's cheeks were often rosied up with faint dirt smudges. In his mind, this just made her look even more adorable than usual.

His thoughts ran back to what she'd said about it being better if she were dead. Just the memory of the words hurt him, made him feel angry and sad. More than anything, he wanted to take Melody in his arms and hold her until all her pain and self-hatred were gone.

Maybe... maybe it wasn't impossible for that to happen. He'd told her that he cared... Maybe she would be able to open up to him now, like she just had. And maybe then, he could talk to her and make her feel better. He wasn't much good at that sort of thing, but he could at least try.

It suddenly occurred to him that Melody was probably getting close to fully dressed by this point, while he was still buck naked and thus in an obviously vulnerable position. He snatched up his underwear and began yanking it up his legs. Within a few seconds he was cursing at his pants as he struggled to pull them on.

He was so sure that Melody was going to finish dressing before him that as soon as he got his last article of clothing on, he got up and headed back to where he was going before he'd bumped into her.

"Hey!" Melody shrieked, jerking her skirt down. "What the heck do you think you're doing?"

Looking her over, Pad realized that while she had gotten most of her clothes back on, she was still pulling her stockings on. As misfortune would have it, he'd come around to her side of the bookshelf right as she got the first one up to her thigh. He really hadn't meant to catch her like that, but despite himself, Pad snickered. "Hey, it ain't like I haven't seen yer panties before. Ya can't even say that I din't see that particular pair before."

She flushed deep red. "That doesn't mean you can peek at my underthings whenever you want! Besides, that's not the same thing at all!"

"Yeah? How's it different?"

"Looking at a piece of underwear and looking at me in that underwear aren't even remotely the same thing!"

That was true. And though he hadn't really gotten a look at her before she pulled her skirt down, he didn't have the ammunition to argue that point. "Okay, okay. Sorry," he muttered, and headed off once more.

But Melody was having none of that. "You should be sorry, you insensitive creep! I should have never told someone like you that stuff about my mother!"

"What?! All I did was accidentally get a look up yer skirt - and I apologized! How does that make me insensitive, huh?"

"Hel-lo? You were just making cracks about my underwear, remember? And if you weren't so insensitive, you'd have been careful not to look at me while I'm getting dressed! I'll bet if I had nice legs, big boobs, and a tiny brain like all your girlfriends, you'd treat me with more respect!"

Pad gaped at her for a moment. "You -" But he turned away from her and walked off, steaming with rage. "Forget it. I don't need to listen to yer nuttiness."

Part of him still felt a bit bad about some of the things he'd just said. More than that, though, he was angry; she'd insulted not just him, but the girls he'd dated, and they definitely didn't deserve that. And strangely, a part of him felt relieved, too. Relieved that at the least, Melody hadn't said anything about him saying that he cared about her. Right now, he felt there could be nothing worse than having to talk about that.

"At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves." - Genesis 3:7, New Living Translation