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Thread: Not at all Seduced (Slayers) (Twoshot)

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    Default Not at all Seduced (Slayers) (Twoshot)

    Rating: PG-13
    Fandom: Slayers
    Genre: Romance/Comedy
    Status: Complete
    Pairing: Xellos/Filia

    Also posted up on my fanfiction.net account.

    Summary: Lina and company would prefer it if Xellos didn't follow them. That's where Filia comes in. What follows is distraction, deceit, and purely academic (ha!) discussions about sex. Xellos/Filia. Oneshot.

    ---

    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.”

    “WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘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.

    Right?

    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 b******. 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 bulls***.

    “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 b****** 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.”

    “Why?”

    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.”

  2. #2
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    And now it’s got a sequel! It actually ended up being longer than the original. The rating’s also moved up to R.

    Not at all Seduced – Part Two

    Theory and Practice


    It was past midnight and Filia couldn’t sleep. She’d love to have blamed this on the poor ventilation of the inn, the discomfort of the bed, or the glaring light of the full moon assaulting her closed eyes through the window. But the simple facts were: the air was a lovely warm temperature with a light, comfortable breeze; the bed was perfectly satisfactory; and there was only a half-moon in a slightly overcast sky, providing enough light so that if she got up she wouldn’t stub her toe, but not so much as to bother her eyes.

    No, as much as she hated to admit it to herself, her current insomnia had nothing to do with her surroundings and everything to do with… Xellos.

    She tried not to think about it. She tried not to think about the things they said and did. She tried not to think about how it felt or what it meant. But… she’d been kissed by the most evil, loathsome creature ever to walk the planet and hadn’t hated it. Compared to that, thinking about vases or even kittens didn’t really cut it distraction-wise.

    ‘Hadn’t hated it’. That was a very tame way of putting it. This wouldn’t be such a gigantic problem if she merely ‘hadn’t hated it’. She’d give her left hand to have just not hated it. But it had felt… good.

    She cringed beneath her sheets and covered her face in her hands. I can’t believe I admitted that, even in the privacy of my own head, she thought in what would have been a whimper if she was speaking aloud.

    It was absolutely unthinkable that even some tiny, voiceless part of her could find anything about Xellos – she paused here, trying not to think the words ‘desirable’ or ‘attractive’ and in the process thinking both of them – well, not repulsive. It was just… no. It was wrong. Something was wrong here. There had to be some kind of mistake.

    She’d held out hope for a little while. She’d thought that maybe, just maybe, kissing in and of itself was just… well, a pleasing experience. That made sense, right? Otherwise, why would people do it? So, she’d thought, it’s probably got nothing to do with Xellos. It was just that that was my first kiss and I had nothing to compare it to so I didn’t know how unremarkable it really was.

    This plan had gone over like a lead balloon when she’d kissed the waiter who’d brought her another cup of tea. She wouldn’t normally have done something like that. But it was all in the name of proving that she had no attraction to Xellos whatsoever! Was there any cause worthier than that?

    Anyway, it hadn’t worked. All she’d felt was slightly awkward. And the only urge she’d experienced was the urge to brush her teeth afterwards.

    So that didn’t support her ‘that’s what kissing is always like’ thesis, but well – she hid her face under the covers, embarrassed even before her own mind – that wasn’t really a fair sample size, was it? The waiter could have just been a really bad kisser. That didn’t prove anything… yet.

    Four random men later and it did; it did prove something. It proved that her theory was complete bunk. Well, technically there might be some slight chance that all five were flukes, but she wasn’t going to push it any further. It wasn’t in her nature and, in any case, was a fantastic way to contract mononucleosis.

    Plus men seem to get entirely the wrong idea when strange women randomly kiss them. She’d had to knock the last one unconscious after he got grabby.

    And anyway, if she kept that whole thing up then she’d probably end up like some kind of kissing-bandit from a dime novel and Xellos would just find that too hilarious for words.

    …Had she always thought of everything she did in terms of how it affected Xellos?

    She lay in her bed and felt herself grow more and more miserable.

    She couldn’t sleep. She shouldn’t sleep. Even if she could get her mind to stop buzzing, even if she had been exhausted she just… couldn’t allow herself to. She didn’t trust her unconscious. It was as though after the events of the day she’d uncovered just a bit of something unknown. It was like now she couldn’t be sure if she really knew herself. Something was hidden there; something that she didn’t approve of one bit.

    It was her first kiss…

    It wasn’t as though she had been saving it up for anything special. It was just that… that’s what was done. That kind of thing is special. And Filia did consider herself a romantic. She believed in love in what Xellos made it clear he considered to be an extremely childish way. But she’d never really considered herself a part of any of that. Heroes rescue princesses, princes marry beautiful strangers at balls, poets serenade maidens on balconies… She believed in all that, and it was lovely, and it was out there somewhere, but it didn’t have anything to do with her.

    …Until now.

    No. Not until now. Because there was absolutely no way that she could attach the word ‘love’ in any way to Xellos. It was just impossible.

    Well then, what is this?

    …Xellos would probably say that it’s another word; a word that also starts with ‘L’ and has four letters.

    No, she thought firmly. I’m not that kind of person, first of all. And how could anyone lust after a twerp like Xellos?

    Which was why something here had to be wrong! She should have been revolted, not… excited.

    It was her first kiss…

    She sat bolt upright in bed, the glimmer of hope suddenly dancing once again in her eyes.

    It was her first kiss!

    She threw the covers off herself, got out of bed, and dressed in the darkness. She tied her cloak around her and threw the door open before stepping out into the quiet hallway of the inn.

    That would explain everything!

    *****

    She walked along the passageway, peering at the numbers on the doors in the flickering light of the candles. It was down here somewhere…

    She’d been such an idiot. Of course, it had been her first kiss. It wasn’t so much the kiss part that had been exciting, but the firstness. She’d been nervous and hadn’t known quite what to expect when it happened. It was an unknown. Adrenaline has a tendency to rush to work in times like that. It didn’t really matter that it was Xellos. What mattered was that it was first.

    Given that, it made sense that her other kisses had been disappointments. She knew exactly what to expect. It wasn’t new and exciting anymore.

    She was very happy with this explanation and felt that it covered all the possible angles. But since her last assumption had failed, she knew that there was only one way that she could prove this to herself and thus ever allow herself to sleep again.

    …She would have to kiss Xellos again.

    It wasn’t a task she relished, she thought to herself. It was disgusting, embarrassing, and he’d probably never let her live it down. But honestly, she was at the point where she was considering running away to a remote forest and shunning civilized society because she just couldn’t deal with things if she was attracted to something like that.

    Once she kissed him again and realized that it was no big deal then she could make some excuse about just testing him and then freely go about her life, content in the knowledge that he had absolutely no power over her.

    She reached the door. His door. She took a deep breath and raised her fist to knock, hesitated, scolded herself for being silly, and knocked.

    Initially there was nothing. There was no sound of movement from within.

    “Open up, you monster! I know you don’t sleep,” Filia whispered loudly into the door.

    And then the door handle began to turn with what Filia considered to be annoyingly melodramatic slowness. The hinges pulled back with a creak as the door opened and Xellos looked out at her with a curious expression.

    “Filia? To what do I owe this—”

    “Shut up,” Filia said automatically. It was too late at night to have to deal with his crap. “Don’t even try to pull that Miss Manners routine on me.”

    Both eyes opened slightly and he peered at her through them peevishly. “I suppose I should expect a person who would summon someone in the middle of the night only to so originally tell them to ‘shut up’ to have absolutely no appreciation for good manners at all. Very well. What do you want?

    The way he emphasized ‘want’ made her automatically want to shout ‘Nothing!’, make an excuse about knocking on the wrong door, and then run like the wind. She mastered this impulse. She had a mission here. But she realized now that she was going to have to be careful about this. Xellos had a habit of twisting things. If she didn’t word this delicately there could be no end to the trouble she’d be in. After all, he could take the most innocent of sentences and make them unseemly.

    “I need you to kiss me again,” she said bluntly.

    See? He’d probably take that completely out of context and make it sound bad.

    The bamboozled look on his face would have been funny and extremely satisfying if it weren’t for the circumstances. But there was a certain flickering in his expression that made it impossible for Filia to take even the slightest joy in his confusion. She could see his mood swinging from surprised to smug.

    I better explain this, Filia thought quickly. She didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. Instincts that she didn’t even know she had told her that things could get out of control very fast if Xellos got the wrong idea. And she didn’t want that.

    …Right?

    She brushed that rebelling thought aside. The problem was, she reflected, that she really couldn’t explain anything without admitting more to him than she wanted to. She knew that he knew that the kiss had affected her. But she wasn’t about to say that.

    “Can’t stop thinking about it?” he asked, now clearly in smug territory.

    “Thinking about what?” she asked with malicious innocence.

    Now that ****** him off, she noted, watching his eyebrow twitch.

    “Oh that,” she said in as casual a voice as she could manage as inspiration struck. “Actually, I’m here to give you another chance.”

    “How generous of you!” Xellos chirped in an ultra-upbeat tone that Filia recognized as both sarcastic and hate-filled. “A chance to what?” he asked, his voice becoming edged with malice. “A chance to leave you breathless for a second time?”

    Filia willed herself not to step backwards or look flustered. “No,” she said deliberately, holding onto her cool as best she could. “You see after that… little incident,” she went on, giving him her best steely look, “I kissed a waiter.”

    There was definitely some slippage in the arena of his expression control. The smile was gone. What was on his face was, without a doubt, a frown. It was annoyed and moving toward aggravated. “Oh really?” was all he said.

    “Well, I couldn’t just let things be,” Filia said. “Without having some basis for comparison.”

    “And how did that turn out?” Xellos asked in a light conversational tone as he strove to reclaim his facial muscles.

    This was the important part. Get this right and you’re home free. Filia shrugged. “It was no contest.”

    Not one piece of what she said was a lie. Yet, somehow, when you put everything together, it wasn’t true. When you looked at it all together it looked like she was saying that some pimple-faced waiter was a better kisser than him and not, in fact, that kissing the waiter had left her clammy and kissing Xellos had been somewhat closer to a transcendent experience. But Xellos wasn’t the only one that could make the truth dance.

    “Well, well,” Xellos said vaguely. “Isn’t that interesting? And here you are giving me a chance to prove myself superior to a service sector worker. How very kind.”

    “It’s only fair,” Filia said. She might have been worried by the fact that Xellos no longer appeared to be angry, but she was just relieved that her plan was working. She could really get out of this without embarrassing herself. She’d even have something to hold over him if everything went as planned.

    “A challenge,” Xellos said. “I suppose I shall have to take it then.”

    As he moved toward her, Filia’s brain spat out a warning. She remembered that hand clasping hers across the table. There wasn’t any table between them now. “And this time I want you to keep your hands where I can see them,” she commanded. “I don’t trust you.”

    Xellos gave her a perplexed look. “Where would that be while I’m kissing you?”

    “Well, it—” Filia began and stopped. He had a point there.

    “I think I have a solution,” Xellos said, noting Filia’s inability to come up with an answer.

    He told her exactly where he thought he should put his hands.

    She scowled at him and blushed furiously.

    “Well, you’d know where they were the whole time,” he explained with faux-innocence.

    She told him that that defeated the entire purpose of her seeing where his hands were.

    “Forget that then,” she said. “Let’s just get this over with,” she added because it was mean and she needed to take some delight in meanness at the moment.

    “Oh yes. Let’s,” Xellos said, moving nearer to her.

    She didn’t see what he did next because she’d closed her eyes. She hadn’t consciously decided to; it just happened. But she felt his lips against hers, and it wasn’t like the last time.

    First of all, it wasn’t… nice. The kiss they’d shared in the dining hall had been… well, they’d been in a public place and had been in absolutely no danger of being thrown out. You couldn’t say the same about this one. She’d had no idea how tame the kiss earlier had been in comparison to the wild moment that was the present. It was rough and almost frantic and she couldn’t keep up. ‘Public display of affection’ was too cute a term to encompass it.

    It also went on for much longer than fourteen seconds.

    And it wasn’t like the last time.

    It was significantly better.

    With this thought and a whirlwind of sensations tearing her world down piece by piece, she was in no position to do anything more that catch her breath when Xellos broke away. The respite didn’t last long. He grabbed her and pulled her into the room, closing the door behind them and pressing her against it. She couldn’t help but gasp as his lips left hers once again and took up residence against her neck. One hand was sliding down her back and came to rest in the area he’d suggested he put his hands earlier.

    “What do you think you’re doing?!” she managed to get out as he started nipping around her collarbone. I must hold onto this anger, she thought. Because if I lose it, I’ll never get out of here.

    He ceased his ministrations and lifted his head so that they were eye to eye. And too close. Always too damn close.

    “After everything that’s happened today, you came to my room in the middle of the night and asked me, me to kiss you.” He smiled, his smug grin nearly touching her lips. “I think the real question is: what do you think you’re doing?”

    He was right. With that thought she was pulled under once again, unresisting into his embrace. He was right. Had she even been thinking? Had her feet carried her to his room while her brain cooked up a plausible excuse for doing so? Had she been going to his room all along?

    No! came a resisting voice from within. That’s just what he wants me to believe. I had reasons for coming here that had nothing to do with any of… any of this! All I was trying to do was—

    Was what?
    she asked herself as the fledgling flames of rebellion dwindled in the whirlwind she found herself in. Prove how much I don’t want him by traipsing over to his room in the middle of the night and begging him to kiss me one more time? Even in the biased chambers of her own mind this sounded weak.

    Are you insane?! How can you stand by and let this… this… facsimile of a man do this to you?! screamed the half of her mind that always would reside in the temple, even if there was no temple left to reside in, at the other half of her mind which was rapidly dissolving into a dizzy ooze.

    And that was right too. The appearance of her actions and any possible hidden motivations hardly mattered now. This was… wrong. Terribly wrong. She was not going to allow this to happen. She was going to fight against it. She was going to escape from his clutches. She was…

    She was on the bed, wasn’t she?

    Somehow the journey across the room had completely failed to register. She only realized this with terrible certainty as her head hit the pillow. He was over her, nudging away the bauble on her headdress. She could feel the weight of him, hanging just above her, compressing the space between them in one hot, suffocating column of air. He bit against her ear and she made a sound.

    And there was absolutely nothing she could do about any of this.

    Well, that wasn’t actually true. There were dozens of things she could try. Whether any of them would work was another story, but still… there was no chance that they’d work unless she actually tried. At the very least she could show unwillingness. Yes, there still were things she could do. But she couldn’t do any of them. See?

    …Had she even said ‘no’ yet?

    He pulled away from her and sat beside her on the bed. He was just watching her – focusing on her face intently. She tried desperately to hide any trace of confusion at this sudden stop. She was trying so hard that she failed to notice that she was gazing straight back into his eyes.

    So she hadn’t realized his hand had moved until she felt it on her ankle. It climbed across her skin and played for a few tantalizing moments against her skirt hem before reaching under. His fingers slid up the line of her leg with theatrical slowness.

    And all the while he was watching her with that damn smile, breaking down ever flicker in her expression with those eyes of his. She could feel goose bumps tightening across the skin of her legs and she knew she was trembling.

    He had passed her knee now and was working his way along her inner thigh.

    Now she was breathing too fast. Any hope of maintaining composure was rapidly fading into the night. And still he smiled, watching with delight what the horrible anticipation was doing to her.

    He stopped his ascent for a moment as he reached the garter belt that served as her mace holster. He slid his index finger underneath the silky fabric and thumbed at the lacy edge of it. And then, after a moment, he pulled the garter down and off her leg, mace and all.

    She stared up at him in helpless disorientation as he held the heavy spiked club with the garter belt attached easily in one hand and returned her look with an almost criminal level of smugness. “You know, Filia, I always thought,” he said, “that any woman that went around with a mace in a black, satin garter belt under her dress couldn’t be one hundred percent innocent.”

    Maybe it was hearing that familiar snide tone in his voice, maybe it was what he said, maybe it was the sight of him casually holding her favorite weapon. Whatever the case, something went click in her brain.

    “Give that back!” she shouted at him.

    “Oh?” he said, looking in surprise at the mace as if only just now seeing it. “Did you want this?”

    And then, to her immense surprise, he handed her the mace. She’d been sure he wouldn’t. She held it uncertainly.

    “There,” he said. “You have your weapon. You’re not completely helpless. Does that make you feel better?”

    It didn’t. For some reason at this moment she felt far more nervous armed than unarmed.

    “Now,” he said, sizing her up. “Run.”

    “What?” Filia exclaimed, now completely out of her depth.

    “Run,” Xellos repeated. “If you don’t want to be here, then leave now. No one’s trapping you.”

    All she could do is stare at him, opened mouthed (which was probably a little dangerous in the circumstances). What could he possibly mean by this sudden offer of freedom? No matter what he claims, Xellos doesn’t do charity.

    And then the growing realization came over her that Xellos was wrong. This was a trap. It was just the kind you were supposed to walk into knowingly.

    This wasn’t charity. This wasn’t concern. This wasn’t integrity. This was all about changing the story. If Xellos hadn’t made this offer then this would be the story of the poor girl who got taken advantage of in the dark and hungry night. Now it could be the story of the girl who willingly and knowingly gave in to her desires. He didn’t think she’d really leave.

    He didn’t think she’d leave! He thought he had her exactly where he wanted her. He thought he could get her to actually say she wanted to stay. That’s probably what he wanted to hear; because that would be his ultimate victory over her, wouldn’t it?

    And what really hurt her deep was that there was a chance that he was right. Her heart was wavering and she didn’t feel like she could lift herself. And soon the moment would have passed and then her silence would be as good as a ‘yes’.

    It took every trace of pride and willpower she had to lift herself off the bed and stand a bit unsteadily on the carpet. She gripped her mace close to her as though hoping it would impart some hidden strength. She walked to the door with as much dignity as she could find in the shaken depths of her soul. She grasped the doorknob with a shaking hand.

    Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough pride and willpower to stop herself from looking back at him.

    His expression changed as soon as her eyes fell on him, but she’d seen the look just for a moment.

    He doesn’t want me to leave.

    The look he was giving her now was a sort of half-smile, with one eyebrow raised as if to say: ‘Well?’

    She opened the door, stepped out into the hall and quickly closed it behind her.

    She wanted to collapse against the doorframe and just breath for a few minutes in great gulping breaths and maybe cry a little in case that would help. But she couldn’t. If she did then Xellos would hear her and he would know. Maybe he’d even open the door to her again knowing that she had nothing left with which to resist him. This spurred her away in an emergency boost of energy. She scurried down the hall with the thought of hiding under the covers in her room forever hanging like a distant oasis in her mind to a man dying of thirst.

    *****

    She didn’t end up hiding under the covers. Doing so had failed to make her disappear completely from the world and thus wasn’t worth it. Anyway, it was too hot and stuffy under there and Filia was feeling overheated for reasons she’d purposefully decided not to examine.

    She also decided not to cry on the basis that it probably wouldn’t help her situation, just moisten it.

    So she’d taken up a chair by the window and let the cool breezes of the night wash over her. She breathed deeply into the night sky like it was a giant humidifier. She was calming down by fractions, but there was still a long way to fall.

    She wasn’t really getting anywhere by consoling herself with logic because she wouldn’t allow herself to think in complete sentences. It was possible that finishing her thoughts might have caused her more panic than cutting them off; but still, thoughts like ‘Why do I—’, ‘And then he—’, and ‘It felt so—’ weren’t very productive.

    One thought managed to come out whole without the editing board in her brain freaking out. It was: What am I going to do?

    She cradled her mace in her arms like it was an especially spiky child. She didn’t have an answer to that.

    You don’t have to do anything, she thought, trying to make the large mental adjustments necessary to make the world okay again. This is just like all the little fights you’ve had with Xellos except that it’s… uh… different. But you left when he didn’t think you could. You won. Not with flying colors I’ll admit, but you did win. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. Just forget it.

    She sighed. Could it really be that simple? It didn’t feel like this was over. Would he try to finish it? Would he come for her at the moment when she was most vulnerable?

    …Well apparently being alone with Xellos made her very vulnerable, so he could pick his time.

    But no, that wouldn’t be like Xellos. He’d offered her freedom because he didn’t think she would choose it. So he wouldn’t go to her. He would wait for her to go back to him and trap herself once more.

    That seemed to fit, but one pang of doubt resonated through her mind. She’d seen his face before she’d left. It hadn’t been the look of evil enjoyment he’d been sporting before. He wasn’t watching her struggle to fly free from him like a moth with half a wing burned away. He looked… regretful.

    But he wouldn’t come for her. He couldn’t. Doing that would be admitting that he wanted her and not the other way around. He wouldn’t do that after trying to prove that she needed him but he didn’t need her.

    She bit her lip reflectively. This needs to stop. She knew she wouldn’t sleep, but nevertheless she was exhausted. She knew that if she sat up all night thinking about the things she was thinking about that she’d go mad. She needed to think normally again. The chances that this was all just an insomnia-tinged hallucination were remote, but the chances that the world would be a saner place in the morning were better. She just had to wait.

    And don’t think about it, whatever you do.

    She looked down at her mace, and was aware that cuddling it made her look more than slightly crazy. She could probably put it back now.

    She reached down the side of her leg and stopped, her expression frozen. She patted up and down her leg in a panic. But no. That’s right…

    That son of a b****! He stole my garter belt!

    *****

    Filia had been wrong about not being able to fall asleep. Apparently she hadn’t been traumatized enough to stop exhaustion from exacting its inevitable toll on her. She woke up the next morning with her face partially fused to the carpet in a mass of drool and hair, having halfway fallen out of her chair. She’d had… strange, probably entirely meaningless dreams that she really couldn’t remember much of anyway.

    Well, actually—

    That she couldn’t remember much about anyway!

    The next unpleasant surprise the morning gave her was when she realized that the person in the mirror was her.

    She’d been too embarrassed to even think straight. She had seriously considered the notion of barricading herself in the room and never coming out again. She’d dragged the armoire halfway in front of the door before finding the will to go on.

    That was then. This is now.

    She’d barely spoken to her traveling companions at breakfast and when they hit the road. The forced normalcy of it all was helping, but some things you just can’t fix by ignoring them.

    She had her cloak drawn close to her, and tightened high up by her chin like a scarf. It looked stupid, but there was no way she was wearing it any lower what with the... Well, best not to even think of it.

    As it was she cursed Xellos at every gust of wind that threatened to tear it away from her. You never knew; it might actually be his fault.

    “Hey Filia, why’ve you got your cloak like that?” Gourry asked, all concern.

    “I’m cold,” she answered shortly.

    “Really?” he said, looking around at the clear, sunny day. “Seems pretty nice out to me.”

    “It seems as though Filia’s got her own weather pattern going on,” Xellos observed in his cheerful please-smack-me-in-the-face-Filia tone of voice.

    She took a few deep breaths and tried to stay calm. She didn’t even want to be angry at Xellos right now. Thinking of Xellos at all was bad bad bad. Sure, it starts out with ‘Damn you, you horrible, villainous creep!’ but somehow it always morphed from there to the bed… and from the bed to the dreams…

    She was doing her best to just block it out, to drown it away with background noise. She just needed to concentrate on something else. Not anything mentally taxing, just something she had to focus all her attention on.

    …Ah, she had just the thing! Recitations. She’d learned a few of those at the temple classes when she’d been little. Now… how did that one go…

    Seven are the virtues cherished by the righteous of heart,
    To keep the purest, most innocent from sin far apart.


    Yes, it had been a poem to remember the seven virtues. It was a behavioral aid guide that all the young dragons got taught. Xellos would probably have called it propaganda. But anyway, he was all for propaganda. He didn’t like other people’s propaganda but he expected everyone else to swallow his.



    SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!! Filia screamed at her own brain. Why would you even think something so— UGH!

    She would’ve clawed her own eyes out if she hadn’t been well aware that this wouldn’t black out the image in her head. She set her face in a grimace. She never would’ve thought of anything that… that vulgar even the day before.

    She closed her eyes. The poem. The poem. If ever I needed that poem it’s now.

    First from the chains of arrogance we must free,
    Reverence and modesty through kind Humility.


    “What’s the matter, Filia? Your face is red,” came his voice.

    Speaking of arrogance…

    “Shut up,” Filia automatically replied. And, when she’d decided to make at least some pretense of explanation, she added: “It’s just a little hot out is all.”

    Then before the bounds of restraint far advance,
    We curtail our weaknesses with bold Temperance.


    “And I thought you said you were cold.”

    Not quick to anger, or prone to give back offense,
    Serenity and forgiveness make up dear Patience.

    “Leave me alone you despicable, filthy-minded monster!”

    Oh well. She’d never been very fond of Patience anyway.

    “Filthy-minded?” he repeated with a mockingly bemused expression. “Are you sure you aren’t thinking of yourself?”

    Don’t listen to him!

    “Yes!”

    And let it be said that we observe with clarity,
    Kindness to the poor through acts of Charity.


    “If you say so, Filia.”

    And may our efforts be more than just the pretense,
    Of hard work, devotion, and good-natured Diligence.


    “You okay, Filia?” Gourry asked. “You seem kinda edgy today.”

    “At least moreso than usual,” Zelgadis commented from behind them where he and Amelia and Lina were walking at a slightly slower pace.

    “I’m fine,” she said through gritted teeth.

    Creatures great and small through our deeds we bless,
    Through tenderness, compassion, and lasting Kindness.


    “Filia’s just a little wound up today,” she heard Xellos explain with the pride of someone who’d done the winding.

    “Oooh,” Gourry said, as though finally reaching an understanding. “I get it. She’s just a little cranky. Don’t worry about it. I learned from traveling with Lina all about how to be sensitive to girls’ feelings during that time of the m—”

    A rock flew out of nowhere and inexplicably hit him in the back of the head. It was a red letter day for bizarre phenomenon.

    Filia gulped. Block it out. Block it out. Block it out. One more couplet…

    And lastly, if pure and innocent we claim to be,
    Then it must be said that we practiced Chastit—


    Filia bit down on her fist to keep herself from shrieking.

    It wasn’t fair. She’d been practicing chastity all her life. You’d think she’d have gotten really good at it by now!

    “What do you think, Filia?” Xellos asked so quietly that only she heard. “Am I not being sensitive enough to girls’ feelings?”

    Stop… standing… so… close.

    *****

    It didn't all fit in one post... so read on for the next part.

  3. #3
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    The problem with denial, Filia thought later that evening as she sat in her nightgown in a different chair, in a different room, in a different inn, looking at the same moon, is that after a certain point it just stops working.

    The point it stops working at is generally the moment it is recognized as denial. You can’t think: ‘la-di-da, time for some denial’ and expect it to work. The whole point of denial is not to know you’re in denial ‘cause you’re in denial about it.

    Of course, abandoning denial would leave her with only one option…

    She shuddered. Acceptance. The word tasted bitter on her tongue.

    But perhaps it was the only thing left she had to turn to. Denial wasn’t cutting the mustard anymore and neither was ignoring the whole thing. This afternoon had shown her that. I mean, for goodness sakes, she thought to herself, there’s… there’s… sexual tension between us now!

    Oh how she longed for the regular, non-sexual tension they’d shared only a few days ago. It hadn’t seemed like much fun at the time. But it was a distant paradise compared to the stress she was under now.

    …Wait. That had been regular tension, right?

    Oh gods…, she thought, her eyes widening, what if it’s been sexual tension this whole time?

    It’s after thoughts like that that a girl misses denial most of all. But that was done, at least in her own head. It had been decided. The way forward was acceptance, for whatever peace it might bring her.

    She was… experiencing temptation. Oh how she was experiencing temptation. But that was okay. Being tempted isn’t a sin. It’s the succumbing that’s the problem.

    And, alright, she admitted that there was nothing at all pure about her desires, but… really, it was normal wasn’t it? She’d been such a good girl for hundreds of years. Okay, so she’d been cloistered in a temple and that probably helped, but it was only to be expected that her sex drive would wake up at some point, right? It was perfectly natural to be a little bit curious.

    …Okay, so the ‘natural’ bit fell apart when you remembered the fact that she was a dragon and he was a monster. In fact, given that it was Xellos it probably fell under the category of an abomination unto nature. But still…

    …This acceptance thing was harder than she’d thought it would be. It went against years of learned coping mechanisms.

    And yes, it was Xellos, she thought, going on to the bitter end even in the face of adversity. That was the important bit and the worst to accept. She didn’t… feel this way about anyone else. It was all Xellos. Which was infuriating.

    I mean, she thought furiously, let’s forget the fact that he’s a monster. Let’s forget the fact that he feeds on negativity. Let’s forget the fact that he murdered thousands of my people. He is a slimy, cruel, manipulative, self-absorbed JERK. That’s enough to make this whole thing a nightmare!

    If he’s that bad it’s a wonder that you like him so much.
    The thought rose like smoke from an unseen flame to the top of her mind. It was snide. It was the kind of thought you get when you’re arguing with yourself. It was a devil’s advocate type thought.

    Which meant that it was a Xellos’s advocate thought and shouldn’t be trusted at all. But it did bring up an interesting point.

    Do I actually like him, or do I just…?

    Alright, he had a few likeable qualities. Actually, more than a few if you wanted to be fair. He pretty much whitewashed likeable qualities all over his black and pitiless soul. How much of that was sincere and how much was a put-on was a matter for the courts to decide, but there it was. Likeability was more than half his business. It was how he tricked people. In fact, even when you were on to the con he was strangely likeable. It was one of the attributes Filia had always disliked most about him.

    Of course…, she thought slowly, if I’m really going to go on with this confessatory thought process and not be in denial any more, I might want to examine the idea that I didn’t dislike him for being likable, but actually disliked myself for liking him.

    …That might be going too far.

    Oh fine, she thought angrily. Have it your way. The stupid *******’s got style and maybe I’m as big a fool as he says I am, and somewhere along the line I managed to start liking him even amongst all the dislike.

    So there it is, all accepted and out in the open, at least for the most part. Where does that leave me?


    The thing was, it didn’t matter how tempted she was; or how she felt about him (which was being revised back and forth on a minute by minute basis); or even that look in his eyes that had said for just one second: don’t leave. She would not go to him again. She still had her self-respect after all. She also had fear, pride, and shame, but she preferred to focus on self-respect. It made her sound like a mature woman totally in control of her destiny and not a cowering child.

    And he wouldn’t go to her either, she knew that. That was the whole idea. He thought he could trap her. He thought he could wait her out. And even once he realized that he couldn’t, well, Xellos had self-respect too. He had enough self-respect for the entire world. He should, she thought sourly. It’s not as though he respects anyone else much.

    So, it appeared as though they were at an impasse.

    It was past two in the morning. Was he… waiting for her? Was he staring at the door, arms crossed with a look of absolute confidence on his face that she would knock on his door again? Perhaps he would wait until he heard a floorboard creak and open the door before she could even knock. Then, in the knowledge that he knew he could count on her weaknesses bringing her back, she’d cast her eyes downwards in contrition (and not, uh, for any other reason). Maybe then he’d say something. Some barbed little comment to make her fully understand the decision she’d made and what it meant about her. Maybe he wouldn’t say anything, knowing that he wouldn’t have to. Maybe he’d just…

    Never mind why I’m imagining this, Filia thought glumly, and tried to stop it there.

    Or maybe he’s not doing any of that. Maybe he barely cares. Maybe this is just an amusing sideshow to him. Maybe this is just ‘Drive Filia up the Wall 2.0’.

    She sighed and absentmindedly ran her hand down the side of her neck.

    There was not a knock at the door. There couldn’t have possibly been a knock at the door. She’d been over why there shouldn’t be a knock at the door. Her stress-roasted brain was just making things up.

    There wasn’t a knock at the door again. It wasn’t louder this time.

    There wasn’t a sigh. It wasn’t a very put-upon sound, as though it belonged to the only reasonable person left in the world.

    “Open up, you stupid dragon. I don’t care if you have to sleep.”

    The word of the day was acceptance, and Filia was beginning to accept that what she was hearing was real.

    She crossed over to the door, hesitantly reached for the knob, and opened the door one and a half inches. “What?” she asked flatly through the opening in a tone that she hoped made it quite clear that she wasn’t thrilled in any way by his presence.

    “I believe this is yours?” Xellos asked archly, holding her garter belt up in one hand.

    And Filia thought strangely to herself for a moment, that this wasn’t like him.

    Don’t get her wrong, she knew this wasn’t an innocent return of property that she might be missing. This was just another opportunity to humiliate her with what had happened the night before. This was: ‘Whoops. It seems an article of lingerie of yours somehow ended up in my possession. Now how could that have happened? Oh yes, I remember…’ Which was appropriately b******ly and very like him.

    But it wasn’t as like him as it could be. After all, if he wanted to be as evil as he could possibly be then he wouldn’t have waited until that moment to return it. He would’ve done so earlier in the day with Lina and the others around. A “It seems you left this in my room last night” and a perfunctory waggle of eyebrows and she would be utterly, utterly humiliated.

    But he wasn’t doing that. Which meant that the garter belt’s intrinsic value for embarrassing her was less than its value as an excuse to go to her room.

    Which was… interesting.

    …But, of course, irrelevant.

    “Give that back!” she said, opening the door further and reaching out her hand to snatch it away.

    Of course, he moved his hand backwards, keeping it just out of her reach. He twirled the garter idly around his finger and looked her up and down, but mostly down. “I haven’t checked yet, but I assume it matches—”

    “Oh, shut up!” she cut across him, see-sawing out into the hall and snatching the black, lacy thing away from him. She really didn’t want Xellos speculating about her underwear at this point.

    …Or at any point, in case you were wondering.

    “And anyway, what do you mean ‘yet’?” she asked sharply. “There’s not going to be a ‘yet’!”

    “Why, what do you mean, Filia?” Xellos asked with an almost sickening amount of innocence.

    “I mean,” she said in a low voice because she knew he was trying to trick her into shouting something embarrassing and waking up the whole inn, “that I’m not going to have sex with you. Ever. I don’t care what you say.”

    Xellos shrugged. “It’s all leading up to that point,” he said. “Everything we’ve said and done up to now… it’s all part and parcel. So, from a certain perspective,” he smiled malevolently at her, “we’ve been having sex all along.”

    “Alright,” Filia countered harshly, “but from a different perspective – a perspective that’s actually in touch with reality – we’ve been doing nothing of the sort because I’d never do that with you.”

    “Is that so?” he said with apparent interest. “Why don’t you let me in and tell me more about it?”

    “No!” Filia said, and this time she probably did wake some people up by shouting. If the shout didn’t do it, then the slamming door probably did.

    She collapsed soundlessly against the door and tried to catch her breath as quietly as she could. That was nearly very bad, she thought, staring into the wood-grain. It’s a good thing he’s always so annoying or I might have—

    “Feeling alright, Filia?”

    Filia turned around very quickly and thought a word that shouldn’t be in a priestess’s vocabulary. But the Xellos she had just slammed the door on was now sitting on the edge of her bed, just as at home as you please, and idly tossing one of the small decorative pillows on the floor.

    Oh, that’s right. He is very good with the teleporting isn’t he, Filia thought numbly for a moment. Doors are more an issue of etiquette for him. He can be wherever he wants.

    …Now there’s an absolutely horrifying thought.

    “Get out of here right now!” she shouted, regaining her former status as a towering inferno of rage.

    “N-ooo,” Xellos said hesitantly as if he’d been asked politely if he’d like to leave. “I think I’ll stay.”

    “Well, I’m not staying here with you!” Filia yelled back. Don’t go near him. Don’t let him go near you, she thought frantically. She needed to remind herself of these rather obvious bits of advice because she’d been feeling just stupid enough lately to disobey.

    “Really? Then where will you go?” Xellos asked in a genuinely curious way.

    Filia didn’t really have an answer to that. The basic idea was to get Xellos to leave. If he didn’t, she wasn’t sure where that left her. “Maybe I should go to your room!” she answered in frustration. “If you’re so desperate to switch,” she spat.

    Xellos nodded sagely. “That might be a good idea. You seemed to like it in my room last night.”

    “I did not!

    “Really?” Xellos said, with put-on surprise. “Well then, I guess you’d better stay.” He patted the space on the bed next to him meaningfully.

    Part of Filia’s psyche completely left the building at that gesture. She buckled slightly and leaned against the door for support. This didn’t really help much as it just brought on flashbacks from the night before.

    “N-no,” she got out once she had control over her mouth again. “You’ve got to leave. Now.”

    Xellos was giving her a look that plainly said: ‘You’re being irrational, over-emotional, and acting really silly’. What he actually said was: “Calm down, Filia. No one’s doing anything to you. I just want to talk.”

    “Talk?” she repeated. She found that highly suspect. “What about?” she demanded.

    “Well, we never did finish our conversation from before,” he said.

    “What conversation?” Filia asked. He’d spent the day sniping at her and she’d spent it telling him to shut up and trying to exorcise any thoughts of him from her brain. She didn’t really consider that a conversation.

    “The one about sex, romance… love,” Xellos listed off. “I don’t think we ever reached a satisfactory conclusion.”

    Oh, that conversation. The one that had started this epic catastrophe. “That’s because you ran away,” Filia pointed out, taking a few steps further into the room. This went against her ‘stay as far away from him as you can’ strategy, but she couldn’t very well call him out while cowering against the door.

    “True,” Xellos admitted. “But you did the same thing.”

    Filia thought for a minute and then scowled at him. “That wasn’t a conversation!”

    “It was a continuance of the conversation by more practical means,” he maintained.

    “Well, what if I don’t want to continue the conversation?” Filia crossed her arms. “By any means?” she added sourly.

    He frowned for a minute and appeared to be gripping the covers underneath him tighter than necessary. But then he smiled as though his grin had just been the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “Then I guess you forfeit!” he said.

    “Forfeit? What?” Filia repeated, totally nonplussed. “This isn’t a game! What am I supposed to be forfeiting?”

    “The argument,” Xellos said simply. “You don’t want to continue, so you’re basically admitting that… let’s see,” he paused to recollect for a moment, “Ah,” he said happily. “That there’s no such thing as love, there’s only lust with a pretty face painted on it, and that even now your desire for me is only barely being held back by cowardice and a thin veneer of pride,” he summed up with a smile.

    “I do not,” she said slowly as she drew out angry breaths, “have any desire for you.”

    Acceptance might be the word of the day, but there’s nothing wrong with lying to monsters.

    “Ah, so you want to continue the argument!” he said brightly. He patted the space beside him again. “Then sit down.”

    She looked doubtfully from him to the bed. “…Somewhere else,” she said. “If we’re really just talking then it doesn’t have to be here.”

    “Oh? So you don’t trust yourself?” Xellos asked.

    And this was obviously just a barb to get her to do what he wanted. He might as well have clucked like a chicken at her. It would’ve been sending the same message. Nevertheless she found herself sitting beside him, arms and legs crossed defiantly like turnpikes barring access to her erogenous zones.

    “Well?” she said impatiently.

    “Well?” he echoed.

    “What do you want me to say?” she demanded. “It’s not like I even have to offer evidence against your claims. They’re so ridiculous that everyone can see that they’re untrue.”

    “I don’t think everyone can, Filia,” Xellos said. “In fact, your traveling companions are starting to get worried about all the doe-eyed looks you’re throwing my way.”

    “That’s a weird way to describe my look of pure loathing and hatred,” Filia retorted.

    “And anyway,” Filia went on. “Even if I did have,” – she made a face to make her point clear – “desires for you, why should that matter at all to you? Why should you even be here? Aren’t I just the ‘stupid dragon’ who’s beneath even your standards?”

    “I already told you, I’m—” Xellos began.

    “‘Astonishingly charitable’, I know,” Filia cut him off. “And you let me go last night!” Filia pointed out emphatically. “You let me go because you didn’t think I could leave! Well, I did! So, so much for your little theory there.”

    “Are you actually complaining because I reminded you that the decision was yours?” Xellos asked disbelievingly.

    “I wasn’t supposed to leave, was I?” she continued as if this interruption hadn’t occurred. “I was supposed to want you so badly that I couldn’t. Well, ha! No matter what you try to say, I left.”

    “You wouldn’t have if I hadn’t practically handed the opportunity to you on a silver platter,” Xellos responded sourly.

    “That doesn’t matter,” Filia said. It did, but she wasn’t going to admit that now. She was on a roll. “I left and I didn’t go back, that night or this night. I didn’t go running back to you. You’re the one who came running to me.”

    “Running? Please,” Xellos said dismissively. “I knew you’d be up pining pointlessly because you’re too much of a coward to take responsibility for your own decisions. I just thought I’d offer you some closure.”

    But Filia was staring at him with a kind of triumphant fascination. “Were you waiting for me all night? Did you really think I’d come knocking at your door like I did last night? And then when I didn’t, did you wrestle with yourself as to whether you should stay where you were or go to me?”

    “Trust me, I don’t spend that much time dwelling on you,” Xellos answered sharply.

    “Well then why are you here?!” Filia demanded, her voice breaking slightly.

    “We’ve been over this,” he said wearily.

    “Do you really expect me to believe that we needed to finish our conversation from before now? At two in the morning?” Filia challenged. “And anyway, why should you care if I’m ‘pining pointlessly’? Doesn’t your kind like it when people suffer?”

    “I wouldn’t speculate about what my kind likes if I were you,” he said, and there was something dangerous in his tone.

    Filia went silent like – and she would’ve hated this comparison – like a dog that’s seen the stick. But she was thinking.

    “You said,” she said quietly after awhile, “that there isn’t really any such thing as love. That there’s just lust, right?”

    “Yes?” he said, wondering where she was going with this.

    “And you think I lust after you?” she asked carefully.

    He smirked. “I think that should be fairly obvious by now.”

    “How can you be sure that I don’t love you?”

    The smirk was instantly gone. “Don’t even—” he hissed threateningly.

    “Well, if you’re going to have these delusions about me being attracted to you, you might as well go all the way,” Filia said with a theatrical shrug. “In a universe so bizarre that I could be attracted to you, there’s no reason why I couldn’t love you too.”

    “Unlike certain temperamental dragons I suffer from no delusions,” Xellos said. “And this universe is, indeed, bizarre enough, as you say, for you to be attracted to me. But not quite bizarre enough for you to love me. You can’t. But you can’t stop those other feelings either. The not-so-genteel ones.”

    And it was that moment that he put his hand on her leg. He didn’t break eye-contact or stop talking. He just went on as though he wasn’t caressing the silky fabric that covered her leg.

    “No matter how hard you try, you can’t change your weaknesses,” he was saying. “You can try to ignore them, you can rationalize them, and you can even project them onto others, but you can’t change them. They’ll always be there.”

    And Filia knew that there was no way out of this. She could win a few battles, but she couldn’t keep winning in the war of words. Not against him. She could slap his hand away and maybe he’d retreat for the moment. But he’d always come back. Or she could… ignore it. Pretend she didn’t notice while knowing that he knew that she noticed. Let herself get swept away again…

    And maybe the universe was bizarre enough that she could love him. As she’d said, if it was crazy enough that she could be attracted to him, then anything must be possible. But that might just be wishful thinking.

    Anyway, that’s what he wanted her to do. He didn’t care if she didn’t say yes, so long as she didn’t say no. It was the bigger victory for him, in fact. He wanted her to hate herself. He wanted her to give in.

    There was really no way for her to win in all this.

    Unless…

    She had an inkling of something. A… theory about him. It was probably even more wishful thinking than the idea that anyone could manage to love a monster. It was the wishfulest of thinking. But it just might be true. And if she was right, then she could turn the tables on him one last time: when it counted most.

    And there was only one way to know.

    She reached down and placed her hand over his, lifting it up and away from her leg. She stared at it for a minute, thinking carefully, and then, locking eyes with Xellos once more, she placed it over her heart.

    There was a long silence in which she knew he could feel every frenzied beat of her heart.

    “Filia…” he began strangely.

    “Yes?” she said anxiously.

    “…This is sexual harassment.”

    “Oh, like you’re one to talk!” she shot back at him.

    She let go of his hand and it stay right where she’d placed it. She reached up to his face, brushing his hair aside slightly as she did so, and while he was still studying her change in behavior in puzzlement, she kissed him.

    He hesitated for a moment, like a fish that’s seen the worm, but wants to make sure there isn’t a hook behind it before taking a bite. Then he kissed her back and pushed her down onto the bed.

    She lay there, breathing heavily, face flushed, with her legs sprawled across the bed, and still looking curiously defiant for someone who’d basically given up. He’d been living long enough to sense a trap. Which was why, when she reached up to him again, he hesitated once more.

    “Why?” he asked; he had to.

    “Am I taking all the fun out of this for you?” she asked.

    His brow furrowed at that comment. “Giving up like this… isn’t like you,” he said.

    It wasn’t. She wasn’t supposed to give up this way. She was supposed to give up the other way, where she’d only give in to him, but continue to fight herself. That’s what he wanted. That’s what fit into his world-view. She was supposed to fall to temptation. She wasn’t supposed to choose him as part of any rational decision. Now that she was, he was worried.

    And because of that, the frantic beat of her heart slowed in tempo. With his hand still in the midst of her cleavage, he felt her calm. Then she laughed.

    “What’s so funny?” he asked suspiciously.

    “Nothing,” she said, still wearing a smile more out of relief than humor. “It’s just that I’m right. I wasn’t sure if I would be.”

    “Right about what?”

    “Right about you.”

    “What do you think you know about me, Filia?” he asked in a tone of voice that implied that she didn’t know anything at all.

    “I know that you’re scared,” she said combatively.

    It was his turn to laugh. “What? Of you? You can’t honestly be that stupid, can you?”

    “You’re scared,” she repeated firmly, “because…. what if you’re wrong?”

    “Wrong about what?”

    “About me,” she said.”About love. What if…. What if this time it’s different? What if that spirituality stuff isn’t such a load of garbage,” she said, gratified to get to throw one of his lines back in his face. “Wouldn’t it be horrible for you if in the moment you realized that you love me?” she asked. It was a terrible, fascinating, insane idea, and she knew it was what was making him hesitate.

    “But I don’t,” he said flatly.

    “But maybe you’re wrong!” she countered.

    They stared at each other for a long time before he finally said, “Maybe. But maybe you just need to tell yourself that.”

    “Maybe,” she agreed. “There’s only one way to find out.”

    “Yes,” he said, leaning over her as she wrapped her arms around him, “I suppose there is.” And kissed her.

    Sometime later, one of Xellos’s assumptions was proven true.

    “You know what they say about a woman who wears black underwear?” he’d asked.

    “What?” she’d said breathlessly.

    “I don’t know. But it’s probably amazing.”

    …But to be fair, one of Filia’s was too.

    The moon was low in the sky. Day was only a couple of hours away and they were still in each other’s arms. Both of their eyes were far away, yet somehow in the same place.

    …And to be even fairer, Filia’s theory meant a lot more to her than the color of her underwear meant to Xellos.

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