Songfic by Esther Nairn
(music by Sarah Maclachlan)
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It was a calm, clear, breezy night--a little too breezy, Ameria Wil Tesla Saillune decided when the cool air circulating throughout her room woke her. Shivering, she rose from her bed, pulled her fuzzy, pink robe around her small body, and padded across the carpeted floor toward her twin French-style windows. She quickly pushed her lace curtains out of the way and reached for the window latches, but paused as the view outside caught her attention.
The sight through Ameria's window was breathtaking. Saillune sprawled for miles beyond her bedroom window, which was several stories up from the ground. The brilliant, full moon above cast its silvery light upon the city below, so that it seemed to radiate the holiness for which it was reputed. There were no shadows that Ameria could see; the paved streets and white buildings that lined them reflected the light into every corner and overpass. A peaceful silence, broken only by the gentle rustling of her lacy curtains in the breeze, settled around her, and Ameria decided not to go back to bed right away.
Turning, she conjured a small ball of flame in her hand, and sent it shooting toward the fireplace that faced her four-posted, canopy bed hung with delicate lace. Why wake one of her servants to start a fire when she could simply do it herself? She eyed the small stack of wood that was now smoldering, and decided that it would be enough to keep the fire going for most of the night. Ameria stepped toward the huge wardrobe that lined the wall to her left, and quickly exchanged her light, fuzzy cotton robe for a thicker, woolen one. Then, she returned to her window, pulling a nearby chair over so that she could sit and stare at the magnificent sight beyond the castle walls.
Ameria's eyes traveled over the city rooftops, absently picking out small details about them that were mildly interesting. All the while, she reflected on the events of the past day, when she had finally returned home after her latest adventure with Lina and company. It was all a happy blur in her memory, except for the joyous expression on her father's face just before he scooped her up in a bear hug that knocked the wind out of her--that she recalled quite clearly. She remembered touring the city with him in a horse-drawn carriage, with townspeople crowding the streets and cheering for her, to her delight. After that, he whisked her to an impromptu meeting with his advisors, so that she could explain what happened in the battle against Valgarv. After that, there was another joyful reunion when her Uncle Christopher came to welcome her home personally. Finally, Ameria said goodnight to them, and went up to bed for some much-deserved rest.
Nothing had been able to dampen Ameria's excitement about coming home. She had been terribly homesick while she was away, although she had tried very hard not to show it. She had had to bite her lip until it bled to prevent herself from bursting out into tears of happiness when she saw her father, and again when she saw what a warm welcome her subjects and her uncle gave her. As much as she enjoyed being with her friends, there was no place like home to Ameria, with its familiar shrines and shops, priests and merchants, and her loving family.
So, if she was so happy to be home, why was she suddenly feeling so depressed?
Her friends. That must be it. Ameria hadn't had time to think about her friends, and how much she would miss them, until now. It was finally starting to sink in to her that she probably wouldn't see them again for months, or even years.
Ameria leaned forward in her chair, placed her elbows on the windowsill, and cupped her chin in her hands. "Lina-san...Gourry-san..." she whispered. She squeezed her eyes shut. "Zelgadiss-san..." she said slowly. While she loved Lina and Gourry like the good friends they were, she missed Zelgadiss ten times more--and in a completely different way. Memories of the events of the past few months flooded her, memories of the times she had nearly admitted, intentionally or not, that she felt something beyond mere friendship for him.
Then, there was the time they said goodbye, a week before...
I have a smile
Stretched from ear to ear
To see you walking down the road
We meet at the lights
I stare for a while
The world around us disappears
After Lina-tachi said their farewells to Filia, Jirasu, and Xelloss, it had taken three days to reach the nearest port town. When they arrived, they found that it was the village's annual nighttime festival. After they figured out which ship Ameria should take to go back to Saillune, they ate at an inn, and then hit the town to enjoy the festivities.
Ameria and her friends traversed the main thoroughfare of the village, which ran alongside the docks, mingling with the crowds and stopping at whatever carts or tables interested them. Lina and Gourry were their usual cheerful selves as they ran from cart to cart, buying fresh smoked fish or tiny, delicious-looking cakes prepared in a traditional style. Zelgadiss, however, had been quiet all evening--even more so than he usually was, Ameria thought. She caught him watching her a few times throughout dinner, but every time their eyes met, he looked away quickly, a strange expression on his stony face. Was it apprehension? Sadness? Or even...longing?
Ameria mulled this over as she squeezed through the crowds lining both sides of the street. Noisy townspeople shouted to each other across the road, greeting each other warmly, or announcing bargains at their booths. Some people were drunk--and a group of them had decided to try to knock down the paper lanterns that had been strung along the road to light the festivities better than the pale moon alone could. Others were dancing in the street to the tunes some fiddle-players were sawing out. The hum of activity faded and ran together, so that all that registered in Ameria's mind was the steady, slow rhythm of her footsteps, the faint music of the hustle and bustle of the people around her, and her own thoughts.
"I tell you, I have seen the wonders of the world! Ruins, haunted houses, mystical civilizations!" a man to Ameria's right called out. She noticed that Zelgadiss, who had been walking behind her, was now wandering over to the man, a dubious but all the same curious expression on his face. Ameria turned, and was about to ask Lina and Gourry to stop and wait for him, when she saw them race over to a table selling baked goods. Lina immediately began haggling with the booth owner over some muffins sitting on a rack. Ameria sighed and allowed herself to be carried a few yards ahead a surge in the crowd behind her, until she waded out of the sea of people toward the comparatively empty docks.
Ameria stopped once she reached the edge of the wooden sidewalk that expanded into a long pier. Two small boats bobbed up and down in the peaceful water, their moorings tied securely to the pier. Ameria watched the gentle waves, fascinated. Having grown up in a landlocked city-state, she had never had much of an opportunity to watch the ocean. While it usually seemed warm and picturesque, however, tonight it only seemed cold and lonely in the silvery moonlight. Ameria sighed and tried to push down the feeling of melancholy that was threatening to rise up within her. "No, I can't allow myself to be sad," she whispered to herself. Shaking her head as if to clear it from her depression, she turned and scanned the crowd for Zelgadiss's familiar cloaked form, hoping he had heard enough from the man who had been shouting from the side of the street.
After a few minutes, Ameria's bright, blue eyes caught sight of him making his way through the throngs of people in the street, looking around as if he were searching for someone. She instinctively raised a hand above her head, waved, and called out, "Over here, Zelgadiss-san!" His eyes met hers, and he nodded and started toward her.
"I have to look cheerful," Ameria muttered to herself as she walked a short distance to meet him halfway. She forced a bright smile to her face and stopped under the string of colorful paper lanterns that was hung high above her head. Zelgadiss soon joined her, and the two began walking down the street again, amid the hustling crowd. "Find out anything new?" she asked after they pushed their way through a thick gathering of people waiting for their turn to throw darts at a board for prizes.
The chimera shrugged in reply, but avoided looking at her, Ameria noticed. Instead, his eyes flicked from left to right and back again suspiciously, as if he feared that someone would suddenly notice his appearance and attack him with a pitchfork or something equally ridiculous. "Well, he did say a few interesting things. Apparently, there are ruins everywhere in this part of the world, scattered throughout the countryside." He nearly jumped when someone directly behind him called out to someone else loudly, and glanced backwards for a second to determine the source of the disturbance. Grimacing in annoyance, he continued. "The ruins to the far south haven't been explored, mostly because they're inaccessible to people without some kind of 'supernatural powers', as the man described it. Sounds like any half-baked sorcerer could get there, if you ask me."
Well, if he won't look at me, Ameria thought, then I'll look at him. She used his distraction as an opportunity to examine his face. His well-defined jawline and sharp, chiseled features made him look almost elfin, she thought. Of course, his pointy ears only added to that. His sea-green eyes reminded her of the deep ocean on a clear day after a storm has passed and the bright blue sky is just beginning to show through the clouds. As captivated as she was with the sea, she was equally enchanted with his eyes--eyes in which she would gladly lose herself.
Wait a minute, she thought. Where did THAT come from?
"I'll probably do more research, then decide if it's worth the trip down. Otherwise, I'll find somewhere else to try that's closer, first," Zelgadiss continued, glancing down at Ameria and causing her to look away quickly, fighting the blush that was creeping up her face. "There are also some interesting legends surrounding the Kouma Sensou that I haven't heard before--I'll have to check those out to see if they're at all relevant." He paused and gave Ameria a scrutinizing look. "Ameria? Are you listening?" he asked.
Ameria had lost track of the conversation several sentences ago. She was too busy pondering the feelings she felt bubbling up from within her. Just what was it that she felt for Zelgadiss Greywords? Friendliness, yes, she had felt that for quite some time. Respect? Of course. There was a lot to respect, from his abilities as a sorcerer to his quick mind and his considerable strength. Attraction...yes, there was that, too, she admitted to herself, her blush growing deeper. She had been attracted to him for forever, it seemed, despite the fact that it had only been a year or two. But there was something else that she had only begun to feel recently, ever since they came to this part of the world on a rickety ship. Something that went beyond mere attraction into the depths of her heart. Something that she had buried up until now, because there simply had not been time between battles to examine it. Now that she had time to think, however, that feeling was building up inside her heart and threatening to spill over if she didn't pay attention to it.
Just you and me
On this island of hope
A breath between us could be miles
Let me surround you
My sea to your shore
Let me be the calm you seek
Zelgadiss lifted an eyebrow at Ameria's apparent distraction, and gently nudged her with his elbow. "Oh!" Ameria jumped and almost knocked a passers-by over. She mumbled an apology, and turned to Zel. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?" she asked.
Zel threw her a puzzled look--she wasn't usually inattentive, and she knew it. "That man back there--I was repeating what he said," he answered. "He was talking about ruins..."
As Zelgadiss ran through his travel plans, Ameria's mind wandered back to her tumultuous emotions and the questions that swirled within her. She cared about him--that much was obvious. But she had cared about him before now, hadn't she? So what was the difference? Maybe it had something to do with that icy feeling she got in the pit of her stomach, the sensation that struck against her insides like a gong and resonated within her every time she had thought about him throughout their most recent adventure. Maybe it was that hope welling up within her that perhaps he felt the same thing when he thought of her.
Ameria's mood suddenly turned uncharacteristically darker as she glanced up at Zel, who was still running through his plans, oblivious to her emotional torment. Of course he doesn't feel that way, her inner voice sneered. This is Zelgadiss, after all! All he cares about is finding that cure of his! She shook her head and tore her gaze away. If he thought about her half as much as he thought about his plans to track down every ancient ruins or library in the known and even unknown world, she was sure he would harbor feelings for her. But that was a big if.
"...of course, traveling through the desert won't be easy, but I'll do what I must..." Ameria heard Zelgadiss say. She sighed in resignation, and kept walking.
Oh and every time I'm close to you
There's too much I can't say
And you just walk away
"I think I see Lina-san and Gourry-san up ahead," Ameria said once Zelgadiss had finished, pointing half a block down the street, eager to change the subject away from his cure.
"They sure got ahead of us fast," Zel commented. He craned his neck to see above the heads of the people around him, and rolled his eyes. They were at yet another food stand, this time wrangling with the booth's owner over some cakes topped with pale purple icing. "No wonder--food is involved." He turned to Ameria and gestured ahead. "Do you want to rejoin them, or stay out of the...negotiations?" he said dryly.
Ameria paused, conflict registering on her face as she struggled to decide. If she told Zelgadiss she wanted to continue on with him alone, what would stop her from pouring out her feelings right then and there? What if he didn't care for her the way she cared for him and it ruined their friendship? Then again, what if this opportunity was her last chance to tell him?
Lina and Gourry ended up answering Zel's question, however. Lina turned on her heel and walked away from the booth in a huff, Gourry trailing along right behind her, after throwing one last menacing look at the booth's owner, who decided it was wiser to bite back some of his nastier opinions of the flame-headed sorceress than voice them aloud. "Zel! Ameria!" Lina called over the din of the crowd. "Let's keep going--it's obvious we're not going to get any good deals around here," she announced loudly. Gourry nodded his agreement, and followed her down the street in the opposite direction of Zel and Ameria.
Now! Ameria's heart commanded her. Tell him now--it may be your last chance! "Zelgadiss-san," Ameria said quickly, just as Zel was about to push his way through the crowd to join their friends.
"Hmmm?" he replied, and looked down at her questioningly.
DO it!! Ameria's mind screeched. "Zelgadiss-san...I..." Her mouth worked soundlessly--she couldn't push the words out!
"Hang on, Ameria--let's get through this mob, all right?" Zel said. He gestured ahead and turned away to face the pressing crowd ahead.
"Wait, Zelgadiss-san," she said quickly, catching his cloak. He turned and looked at her with surprise. Ameria flushed and fumbled for words, "I...I..." She glanced down at the hand that still clutched the tan fabric, and suddenly got an idea. She let go, slipped her bracelet off her wrist, and held it out to him. "H-here," she stammered. "I...I want you to...to have this." She took a deep breath, and brought her eyes up to meet his puzzled, sea green gaze. "So you remember you're always welcome in Saillune," she explained quickly.
Zelgadiss blinked, then nodded, and accepted the bracelet. Ameria felt her heart leap when his fingers brushed hers, and she looked away quickly, then back up at him again. "Thanks," he replied as he put the bracelet in his pocket, an unreadable expression that Ameria had never seen before on his face. "Now, let's go and keep Lina and Gourry away from that stand before they blow the place up, OK?" He smiled slightly, then turned and plunged into the sea of people, motioning for her to follow.
Ameria squeezed her eyes shut and exhaled heavily while people filed past her as if she were a buoy bobbing on the surface of the ocean. She bit her lip and realized that her heart had been pounding in her chest. Disappointment mingled with hope as her pulse began to slow to a more normal pace. She couldn't tell him her feelings, but the bracelet... Ameria sighed. "It's a start," she whispered aloud. She remained standing in the middle of the crowds like this, staring at her now bare wrist, until someone yelled at her to get moving. Her heart still heavy with emotion, Ameria sighed again, and continued on to rejoin her friends.
And I forgot
To tell you
I love you
And the night's
And cold here
I grieve in my condition
For I cannot find the words to say I need you so
Ameria set her jaw and folded her arms at this memory. She felt her stomach twist in a combination of the feeling she got whenever she thought of Zelgadiss and a sickening feeling of dread that she had missed her only chance to tell him how she felt about him. After a few minutes, she unfolded her arms and flopped against the back of her chair, frowning. She shouldn't lose all hope just yet--she did ask him to come back to Saillune with her. She pondered this while absently rubbing the spot on her wrist where her bracelet had once occupied.
It bothered Ameria that she hadn't been able to confess her feelings for Zelgadiss to him that night. What had held her back? Why couldn't she just have spelled out clearly that she was attracted to him, and that in some surprising and unexpected way she had come to need him in her life? Was that really so hard to communicate? But, of course, she knew the answers, even as she berated herself with questions; she feared that he wouldn't reciprocate her feelings. He tried to be so coldly rational that he probably never thought of her as someone to feel affection for, not just fight alongside. And she didn't know if she'd be able to handle it if Zelgadiss told her he didn't care about her as much as she had come to care about him.
After a few more minutes of pondering, Ameria leaned forward and rested her forearms on the stone windowsill, which felt cold even through the thick wool of her robe. Her depression rose up within her and she felt her large, blue eyes mist up, until the rooftops of the houses of Saillune below blurred into one big white blob. She put her head down against her forearms, and finally let a few tears fall.
Oh and every time I'm close to you
There's too much I can't say
And you just walk away
A few minutes later, Zelgadiss and Ameria finally reached Lina and Gourry, who had meanwhile stopped by the side of the road and bought pieces of apple pie served on wax paper. Gourry gulped down the last bite of pie and peered at Ameria curiously. "Whashrong?" he asked with his mouth still full.
Zel glanced down at Ameria, puzzled, while the little sorceress quickly wiped the disappointed look off her face and replaced it with the widest smile she could manage. "N-nothing!" she said loudly, waving a hand as if to brush away his inquiry. "It's just...it's just really crowded around here!" she stammered quickly.
"Yeah, but the food is great!" Lina chirped. "Except for that jerk back there--I'll bet his cakes were moldy," she added darkly, standing on her tiptoes to glower over the crowd in the direction of the cart with the purple-frosted cakes. "Thought he was too good to negotiate with the famous and beautiful Lina Inverse!" she harrumphed, flicking her fiery hair over her shoulder, her face forming a perfect pout.
Zelgadiss rolled his eyes and regarded her with mild amusement. "I think it's just because he didn't want to be belittled into giving away his wares for practically nothing," he said.
Lina shrugged nonchalantly and put on her loftiest expression. "I can't help it if I drive a hard bargain," she declared.
Gourry snorted, but decided not to state just what he thought of Lina's hard bargaining techniques. Instead, he crumpled up his used wax paper, took a quick look around, and asked, "Where to now?"
Lina glanced down the sidewalk and spied something sparkly on the table of one of the booths a little ways down the block. She clasped her hands together near her face and gasped with delight, her eyes sparkling as much as the jewelry laid out on the table. "Jewelry! Rubies and emeralds!" Without warning, she ran out into the street, shoving startled passers-by aside. "C'mon, Ameria! Let's go see!" she yelled over her shoulder.
"Lina-san!" Ameria ran after her, but stopped halfway and turned back to Zelgadiss and Gourry. Zel didn't notice, however; he was too busy pointing at a weapons stand across the way, where swords of every kind were spread out across the table.
As they made their way toward it, Ameria saw Gourry give Zelgadiss a knowing look and say, "She's going to miss you, you know."
Zel shook his head and shrugged. "It can't be helped," he replied. "I've taken enough time off looking for my cure, and..."
Ameria didn't hang around to hear the rest. Bitter tears filled her eyes, and she turned and stomped through groups of villagers toward Lina, not even bothering to disguise her disappointment anymore.
What Ameria didn't know, however, was what happened once Zelgadiss and Gourry reached the weapons stand.
Zelgadiss sighed as he ran his hand along the blade of one of the swords laying on the table. "I know she's going to miss me--miss all of us. I may usually be blind to that kind of thing, but I'm not stupid." He paused, and looked away as Gourry picked up another sword and idly examined it for flaws, his face turning a twinge pinker. "I...I think I'm going to miss her, too," he admitted softly.
"Well," Gourry said candidly, replacing the sword on the table and nodding at the woman who owned the booth, "you'll figure out how to say it to her, someday." He turned from the booth and began to walk toward the jewelry stand, where he saw Lina holding up a huge ruby necklace up, admiring it. "Come on, let's get Lina away from that booth before she starts spending money she doesn't have to spend," he said with a smirk.
"Wait," Zelgadiss said, catching Gourry's elbow before he walked away. "What do you mean, 'it'?" he asked, confused. "All I said was I think I'm going to miss her."
Gourry turned and leveled him the same knowing look he had used before. "I think you know exactly what I mean," he said with a little smile. "After all, it's the same thing I have to figure out how to say to Lina, someday."
Zel blinked and let Gourry go, taken aback, yet thoughtful at the same time. He watched through the gaps in the crowd of milling people as Gourry reached Lina's side. She immediately started begging him to buy her the ruby necklace she had been admiring, but Gourry did his usual good job of resisting her pleading puppy-eyed look. He saw Ameria standing off to the side, her smile obviously phony--even to his eyes--and realized that even though he couldn't bring himself to say "it" to her now, he had better figure out how soon.
And I forgot
To tell you
I love you
And the night's
And cold here
I grieve in my condition
For I cannot find the words to say I need you so
Ameria stared silently at the blurry stars above her, tears trickling down her cheeks slowly. The image of Zelgadiss walking away from her burned in her memory, until she squeezed her eyes shut and let more tears wash it away. She stayed like this for several minutes, her tears forcing their way out and down her face, until they plopped on to the windowsill with little smacking sounds. At this point, she would give anything for him to appear, for him to suddenly walk through the gates of Saillune and tell her he missed her, he cared about her, he didn't want to leave her, regardless of his cure, regardless of anything. "But that's not going to happen," Ameria whispered to herself, and sighed heavily, her chest heavy with heartache.
Shivering from the nighttime cold, she finally rose from her seat and pulled her window latches shut. The windows snapped closed with finality, and Ameria stood there for a few seconds, trying to resolve the conflict in her mind. Starting tomorrow, instead of grieving for what she would probably never have, she would throw herself into her kingdom and her duties. That would take her mind off Zelgadiss Greywords and any hope of romantic feelings on his part, and maybe, just maybe, she'd start to feel better about it all.
Her decision made, Ameria replaced her chair where she had found it, and shrugged off her robe. She tossed it over the chair and padded back to her bed, and flopped down on the soft mattress. Once she had securely covered herself with her blankets, still shivering slightly despite the fire crackling in the fireplace and the down comforter on top of her, she nestled her head against her pillows and tried to fall back asleep. A single tear worked its way out, however, and just before she fell asleep, Ameria finally whispered what she couldn't say a week before: "Zelgadiss-san...I...I love you."
First, thanks to my beta-readers, who confirmed for me that while this is sappy and angsty and everything you wouldn't usually expect me to write, it's not bad, and it's actually believable. Second, thanks to Astra for her Ameria profile, which gave me some good information about how Ameria takes rejection, or percieved rejection. Lastly, thanks to the Slayers TRAD mailing list for all their support in my creative endeavors. ^_^
I hadn't originally intended to write a Z/A fic based on this song--I thought it would be a bit of a stretch to do so. One day, however, after rereading "Dante's Prayer", I started constructing a plot line that would encompass that fic, as well as one that would come before and two after--and this song became the perfect fit for the songfic that would come before. It was difficult to write because we have so few examples of Ameria being sad to work off of, so I had to be very careful in how I did it. One thing I'd like people to notice if they haven't already is that the words "I love you" are never used in the fic except for the very last line. That was intentional, because I truly believe that Ameria couldn't say for sure that she loves Zel until after the events of Try, based on how she acts throughout the series.
At any rate, "Dante's Prayer" has had some minor revisions to keep it consistent with this fic. Look for the one that will follow it as soon as I get the time to write it, and thanks for reading!
Please do not repost or reproduce without permission.