This takes place after the end of Next, but before the beginning of Try. It's a bit AU, but hopefully not OOC. This is also not beta-read, so there may be errors. I apologize in advance (and if anyone wants to beta this, or any of my fics, just drop me a line at sesshou_maru@yahoo.com)

"I love you, jellyfish brains." Lina admitted softly, taking advantage of her companion's apparent confusion to run her hands through his long blonde hair. His blue eyes were fixed on her, puzzled but apparently pleased. Lina's lips curled up on a Cheshire cat grin as she twined a strand of golden hair around her finger, reeling him down for a kiss.

She loved the way he lit up every time she said those three little words. If she had known this before, she would have said something a lot sooner. Her fingers ran through the cascade of shimmering blonde hair, playing lightly along the nape of his neck. She giggled as her caress elicited a sound halfway between a purr and a growl.

His hands slid around her, hooking together just behind her waist to draw her close. She wasn't protesting either, her crimson eyes fluttering shut as she waited for his warm lips to find hers.

And waited, and waited...

Finally she opened her eyes, an expression of annoyance crossing her fine features. Her lover was glancing back over his shoulder, his eyes wide, head cocked slightly to the left as if he was listening to something. A slight frown crossed his face before he turned back to her.

"Sorry about that, Lina." He had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Where were we?"

"Right here." With a small sound of disgust, Lina extricated herself from his lap and began brushing her clothes off. Leave it to Gourry to completely ruin the mood. Even so, she wasn't annoyed enough that his hurt look didn't affect her. She offered up a little half smile. "We should be getting back before the others miss us."

"Ok, Lina." The swordsman agreed, following after her as she headed back in the direction of their camp. Briefly he turned to look behind him, a puzzled expression on his face. His eyes narrowed, one hand straying to the hilt of his sword. A moment later it fell away and he shook his head slightly, raising one hand to his forehead as he trailed along behind the sorceress.

Lina was starting to get a bit worried. It was affecting her appetite too, which would have annoyed her thoroughly if it hadn't been Gourry she was worried about. She shot another glance at him over the nearly full plate of food sitting in front of her. His own plate hadn't been touched, which was nearly enough to make Lina send for a cleric right on the spot.

You're just being paranoid... that's all. She reassured herself. But still, she felt the urge to scream every time she saw him cast that distracted gaze over his shoulder, in the general direction of the door. She barely noticed that Zel and Amelia were beginning to regard both of them with puzzled expressions on their faces, occasionally glancing at each other questioningly.

Briefly she considered trying to speak to Gourry, maybe ask just what was going on. But she had never been known for her diplomatic skill -- destruction was more in her league than a polite conversation when she was in this kind of mood. Besides, the last two times she'd said anything to him, he'd acted like he hadn't even heard her. Or maybe it wasn't an act -- she had the hardest time telling with that jellyfish brain sometimes. It only crossed her mind now that maybe he didn't hear her.

Was he hearing something else instead? After traveling with Gourry for so long, Lina had learned that -- while he might have been lacking in straight smarts, he had a lot of what Zel sometimes referred to as "animal instinct". It was part of what made him such a good swordsman. Lina listened as carefully as she could and growled with frustration as she still didn't get any clues. If he had been hearing something beyond her range a few hours ago, would it not have been in her range now?

She swiftly turned around and stomped off, nearly running over Amelia who scrambled to get out of the path of the angry sorceress. Zelgadis backed up to give her room to pass, being too smart to voluntarily put himself in a position where he might have to face Lina's wrath.

As the famed sorceress, Lina Inverse, went off to sulk in the forest like a sullen child, Amelia and Zelgadis both asked each other without words, just if the other knew what the heck was going on. Unfortunately neither of them had any answers.

That night was warm, the last lingering traces of the day's sweltering heat making it quite comfortable for Lina to walk about in her normal outfit. Soon, very soon, the evenings would be too chilly for sitting out, but for now -- it was perfect. If only Lina's mood was so pleasant.

She stood at the entrance to the tent she and Amelia were sharing -- the Seyruun princess had convinced Zelgadis to stake it up for them after she and Lina had already attempted it more times than they could count, or even remember. Talented sorceresses they might have been, but putting up tents was obviously not their forte. Nor that Lina's skills -- or lack thereof -- at tent staking had any affect on the turmoil in her mind.

The source of her confusion sat by the campfire, his face shadowed by the darkness and occasionally lit red by the firelight. She could not see his expression, and she wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or relieved by this fact. Annoyed because he was usually such an open book, easily read, relieved because...well because she didn't think she could stand seeing that frightening non-expression on his face again.

The fiery young sorceress wasn't sure what to make of these abrupt changes in her protector's behavior. And at such a time too! After all their travels together, they had finally gotten to a point there they had finally admitted their feelings for each other, and what should happen? This! Lina's hands clenched into white-knuckled fists, her crimson eyes filled with a mixture of anger and disappointment.

That jellyfish brained idiot! Fighting down her first impulse -- to fireball the source of her frustration (namely, one swordsman: Gourry Gabriev) -- Lina stomped out to the fire, raising her fist as if to strike him across the back of the head. She froze in mid-blow as he jumped to his feet, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. For a few heartbeats, Lina froze, feeling something like real terror licking at her insides. But she wasn't his target.

The blade of light whistled over her head and hit...something. A high shriek filled the air, and a thick inky liquid rained down on the two of them, running down Gourry's armor and leaving black stains on Lina's cloak. Whirling around she caught a glimpse of something with claws, spikes and dark green scales. A mazoku!

It was missing an arm, but it didn't seemed fazed in the slightest. In fact, it was grinning widely, exposing double rows of razor sharp teeth. Its yellow eyes flicked from Lina to Gourry, forked tongue slipping back and forth between its lips as it hissed softly.

"So this is the famous bandit killer, the dragon spooker... the sorceress, Lina Inverse. You're shorter than I thought you would be." The mazoku's voice was surprising, it sounded young, and female, both out of place qualities on that blank green face. The difference between voice and appearance gave the thing a vague, unreal quality.

"Yeah, that's me." Lina responded, her voice and expression wary. For some reason the thing seemed almost... cordial. She didn't' trust it for a moment.

"No matter. You must be much stronger than you look to have done even half the things credited to you."

"Flattery will get you nowhere." The sorceress's voice was flat. "Especially not after you just attacked me."

"That wasn't an attack." The mazoku laughed, "That was just a test of your reflexes and skill." It flexed its claws. "I was disappointed. You didn't sense me coming at all. I expected better of the one who killed Phibrizzo."

"Shut up, you..." Lina managed through gritted teeth. "If you came here just to insult me..."

"I wouldn't waste my time on something so trivial." The eyes narrowed into yellow slits. "Nor have I come for you, but rather for my lord, the mazoku you now hold captive."

"Mazoku we hold... You mean Xellos?" Lina blinked in surprise. "What do you mean: 'that I hold captive'!?"

The scaled mazoku raised one clawed finger. "Not the purple haired one! I mean my lord, Ghurriven!" The sorceress's gaze followed the path of the mazoku's pointing finger. Her eyes widened as she found herself looking up the tall, blue-clad form of her companion and protector.


His blue eyes traveled to meet hers and she saw confusion in their depths. Denial was foremost in her thoughts. This damn mazoku had to be lying to her. If she had to pick any one of the people she knew or traveled with as a possible mazoku -- aside from Xellos of course -- Gourry would have been at the extreme bottom of her list. He was just too... clueless.

And too nice. Mazoku were supposed to be heartless creatures, incapable of feeling tender emotions. And Gourry loved her, didn't he? So obviously it had to be some kind of ruse to...

To do what?

"Lina.." Gourry's voice was low and serious in her ear. She half turned to gaze up at him, surprised by his tone.


"What's a Ghurri... uh... Garra-thingy? Is it some kind of pickle?"

Lina and the mazoku both did nosedives into the hard-packed earth. Despite her suddenly aching nose, Lina felt a wash of relief. Gourry was Gourry, alright. Jellyfish brain and all.

The mazoku recovered first, pushing itself to its feet and eying Gourry with an expression that was surprise mingled with dismay. Finally it turned to Lina, fury written across its features. "What have you done to my lord, little witch?! Undo it and I promise I will kill you quickly!"

"Why you... I haven't done anything to Gourry, you damn mazoku!" Lina snarled, readying a fireball to fling at the creature.

Her blow missed as the scaled mazoku took to the air, still casting its baleful glare at Lina. "This isn't over yet, Lina Inverse." Turning to Gourry briefly, it lashed its whip like tail. "I will be back for you, my lord. Never fear... your servant Ornanth will return for you."

The sudden, unexpected shift in Gourry's expression did not escape Lina's notice. But it did not really catch her attention either -- not just then. Later on she would recall it much better with her memory's eye and wonder... for now she sent the creature, Ornanth, scurrying with an emekia lance.

Moments later, Amelia came running up to them, breathless and disheveled, with sleep rumpled hair. "Miss Lina! What's going on!? What was all that noise about!?" She paused, taking in their expressions and their bloodstained forms. "M...miss Lina? Is everything ok? Mister Gourry?" Puzzlement became alarm as the swordsman remained oblivious to her concerned questions, still looking out after the escaped mazoku, one hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword.

"We're ok, Amelia..." Lina said uncertainly. She could see Zel approaching now, white cloak flapping in the slight breeze. "A mazoku showed up and..."

"A mazoku!?" Zel's voice was loud and harsh with alarm. "Here?!"

Raising one hand to her forehead, Lina waved at the chimera with the other. "It's gone now, Zel. We beat it up pretty good, I doubt it will be back for a while. But we should probably post a guard." She sounded like she felt, weary and confused. She made a mental note to speak to Zelgadis about the mazoku's cryptic words later -- like sometime when she didn't feel like she might collapse from exhaustion The sorceress didn't even know just why she was so tired.

"I guess that would make sense," Zel was saying. "I'll take first shift, then Gourry, then you, Lina, and Amelia can go la..." He cut himself off as Lina shook her head violently, gesturing to him. "Lina?"

"Not Gourry." Lina warned, not sure herself just why she was suddenly so reluctant to leave their care in the swordsman's hands. Normally she would have trusted him with her life... what had changed?

It's not Gourry I don't trust. Lina rationalized, but that mazoku seemed to be after him in particular. Whatever the reason, she wasn't about to let Zel put him on guard duty.

That she'd spoken pretty loudly was evidenced by the puzzled look Amelia was giving her, and Gourry's blank, questioning stare.

Fighting down a slight twinge of guilt at the hurt she thought she saw in those gorgeous blue eyes, Lina headed in the direction of her tent. Flinging herself down on the bedroll, she buried her face in the pillow, barely fighting down a strange, nearly overwhelming urge to cry.

Oh Gourry... what's going on here?

02   |   Fanfiction