"Hm?" Blue eyes slowly fluttered open. "Lina?" The swordsman glanced around, confused by his surroundings for a moment. Then he managed to dredge up a tidbit of a memory. They were all camping out and he was sharing a tent with Zel.

The chimera was sleeping at the far side of the little tent, beside the door. He had probably just come in from guard duty, most likely that had been what had awakened Gourry.

The swordsman sat up, brushing strands of his golden hair out of his eyes. If Zel wasn't on guard then who was? The first and most obvious answer that came to mind was him, of course. But somehow that just didn't fit. If I'm on guard, why was I sleeping? It took only a bit of puzzling to figure it out. I was tired.

No, something still wasn't right. I was guarding... the tent? No. I was guarding the blanket. Didn't work... Finally he came to the conclusion that he was NOT on guard duty. Which left the question, who was on guard?

Getting to his feet, Gourry headed for the opening of the tent, stepping carefully over Zelgadis. The cool breeze assaulted him as he stepped out, rustling his pale hair. It was still dark out, but it would not be for much longer. There was a hint of lightening sky in the east, speaking of the dawn to come. A short distance away he could see a small, familiar form framed against the firelight. Had she been the one calling his name earlier?

"Lina?" He approached her, his voice as soft as his footsteps. She jerked with alarm, dropping the stick she had been holding into the flames. The swordsman hastened to reassure her. "Lina! It's ok, it's just me."

For a moment he thought she might fireball him anyway, but her hand remained poised, and no sound came from her lips. He could not see her face very well, but he could make out the gleam of her crimson eyes. They seemed somehow very bright as if... But no, that couldn't be it. Lina never cried.

Slowly her hand dropped to her side. "Gourry... what are you doing up?" Her voice sounded drawn and forced.

"I thought I was on guard duty..." He moved to sit beside her, his leg bumping her knee. "Sorry." A scent caught his attention. "Are you cooking fish?" A delighted grin settled on his face as he saw the neat line of staked fish. "Can I have one?"

As soon as he caught her slight nod, he snatched up one of the fish and laid into it with a gusto. He was reaching for another before he knew it and his hand brushed Lina's as she made a grab for the same fish. This led to the expected tussle.

"Don't be so greedy!"

"I saw it before you did, jellyfish brains! Haven't you ever heard of ladies first?!"

"Who's a lady!?" Gourry grimaced as Lina's elbow dug into his ribs. One hand was tugging at the corner of his mouth, the other had a death grip on the stick. For his part, he had a solid grip on her red mane of hair and was barely managing to keep her from stuffing the fish into her mouth, tail and all. This was their usual behavior in the given situation, and Gourry found this return to normalcy quite comforting.

In the end, Lina got two bites of the fish before Gourry managed to twist it out of her grasp. Unfortunately for the both of them, neither Gourry nor Lina managed to catch it before it fell into the fire. For a moment they just stat there, staring. Then the shock passed, as did the ease between them.

Gourry sensed more than saw Lina's gaze slide to him again. She seemed like she might say something, but she just shook her head slightly -- almost dismissively.

"Are you feeling ok, Lina?" After a moment's pause he added something that was sure to arouse her ire, "Is it that time of the month?" He waited for the fireball -- or slap, or elbow to his gut, or even just an angry scream -- but she didn't say anything. Now he started to worry. "Um...Lina..." He was more hesitant now, having the sudden feeling that he was about to walk blindfolded over a cliff. "Did I... do something to make you upset?"

If he had, he couldn't remember for the life of him. It bothered him too, because Lina had to be one of the most important things (If not THE most important) in his life -- as evidenced by the ease with which he could call her name or features to mind, despite his normally appalling memory problems. He was her protector, which meant that he was supposed to make sure she was safe physically, but of course, Gourry also took this to mean that he was at least partially responsible for making sure she was also happy, or at least content.

From the looks of it, he wasn't doing a very good job at the moment. Sliding a bit closer, he draped his arm around her -- a move he would never have dared if she hadn't told him she loved him earlier. The memory rose in his mind, unbidden. That was right... she had said so, hadn't she? A feeling of warm contentment spread throughout his body, and despite the fact that Lina was surely going to hurt him for his impropriety, he let his cheek rest lightly against her hair.

For a moment, Lina stiffened against him. Then instead of smacking him, she simply sighed, leaning into his embrace. Gourry smiled into her fiery mane as he felt her arms slip around him. The comforting warmth suffused him, accompanied by a strong sense of belonging. It was something strange and wonderful, and it took him a while to place the sensation. Home. That was what it felt like. And if it was unfamiliar, that was just because he hadn't had a home in... well, he could never remember the amount of time, but he knew it had been a long time.

Home... He would have purred like a cat if he could find his voice. Lina is... home. No wonder she felt so right. As he felt her hand reach up to brush lightly at his cheek he DID purr softly, like the deep rumble of a big cat. He felt more than heard her pleased giggle. The whole situation had a strangely familiar feel to it.

He pulled back briefly to look down at her. She was smiling up at him, as he'd known she would be. His eyes slipped shut as he felt her hands cup the sides of his face and pull him down for a kiss.

"...Gourry..." There it was again... that voice. But no... it wasn't Lina. If he strained to hear, he could also tell that it was not his name that was being called. But at the same time, the person was calling HIM. How was that possible? His lips brushed Lina's, and he tried to banish the questing voice, as if he could drive it from his mind through his will alone. But it would not be silenced, he could hear it again, louder, insistent. He growled slightly with frustration, his grip on the sorceress tightening. But somehow she didn't help the sudden chill he felt run through his body, like ice flooding his veins.

With a soft, almost plaintive sound, he pulled away from her slightly. He saw her eyes suddenly wide with surprise, wide with something else. Fear? A shiver ran through his body as he wondered just what she was seeing to account for that look of terror in her crimson eyes. He clung to her desperately, despite the soft protests she was beginning to make. A sudden irrational sense that he was being pulled in two different directions brought a grimace to his face, even as he felt her fist come down on his head.

For the first time he could remember in his history with Lina, the blow made him angry. Not like the usual sort of anger he had in his dealings with the contrary sorceress. That had always had the same undertone of affection, of jest. This swell of anger was unreasoning. He could not have explained it, tried to quell it briefly, only to have it crash down on him like a tidal wave. It pulled him under, until he drowned beneath it, reason and sense fleeing before the onslaught.

If there was any thought at all in this strange berserker state, he did not recall it afterwards, although he could remember with incredible vividness the red-haired sorceress's weakening struggles and the way her slim little body went limp in his grasp. The taste of her lips was different as well, sweet mixed with the salt tang of blood and the delicious waves of fear that greeted him. Distantly, Gourry wondered if this was some kind of madness, but the thoughts could not fight the undertow.

Strong hands slid lightly up Lina's body, eliciting some struggle from the nearly limp form. Fingers fumbled with lacings and ties as his lips dropped to her neck. Muffled cries gave him a moment's pause, a shadow crossing his face briefly, to be swiftly replaced by a strange, blank look. His tongue flicked out to brush her neck.

The aimless struggles paused for a moment, replaced by an eerie silence. Then there were the soft mutterings which the swordsman recognized as a spell.

That won't do...

His free hand rose to grasp the back of her neck, jerking her head back. A gasping, half-scream was begun, then abruptly cut off. Red on red spilled down over her slender shoulders, and he pulled back, eyes gone suddenly wide. "Lina?" This in a voice as soft and uncertain as a lost child's.

A question that went unanswered as he looked down into her still beautiful face, crimson eyes wide and staring. A tremor ran through his body as he felt sticky warmth running down his hand.

"...No..." His voice was a half croak as he opened his eyes. He was shaking badly, his face still inches away from Lina's. But not the wide-eyed, staring Lina whose face was a pale shadow of her former lively self. No... it was a Lina who was beginning to open her own eyes with an expression of frustration on her face.

A dream? No, he hadn't fallen asleep... or had he? Maybe that was why Lina was glaring up at him hotly. He was supposed to be kissing her right now, wasn't he? But he was quivering so much as to make the action a near impossibility. Her angry expression was swiftly changing into one of concerned confusion, and he pulled away, hoping to forestall the questions he knew she would ask.

"Gourry? What's wrong?" The fact that she sounded merely concerned instead of angry at being spurned yet again was an obvious indicator of how alarmed she was for him. He would have offered her an assurance if he could have managed to do so in any honesty.

"S...sorry Lina..." His voice was a hoarse croak. "I..." But he couldn't tell her that he'd just had a terrible dream that wasn't a dream, couldn't tell her that she was dead now, with the blood running into her hair. No, she wasn't... she was standing right here before him. The dichotomy was confusing him, threatening to pull him apart, and he felt a nearly overwhelming urge to scream in frustration.

Then she was the one yelling, her crimson eyes suddenly brimming with threatening tears. "What's wrong with you!? Why the hell are you acting like this!? TELL ME!" The expression on her face was frustration, anger and grief all in one.

The swordsman drew a shaky breath, feeling something wet on his own cheeks. Lina... The look she was giving him... he couldn't bear it. He had not become the great warrior he was now by running from things that threatened, but now... he ran. Raising one hand to shield his eyes, he turned and fled her questioning gaze, leaving the sorceress standing there, gaping.

03   |   Fanfiction