Skin of Stone Part 2
A good, old fashioned slam would have gone a long way towards venting his temper. Zelgadis glared a moment longer at the door he’d just slid shut, then turned away and moved to the center of his room, trying to decide with whom he was more angry, Lina and Amelia for speaking as they had, or himself for heeding their words.
And, of course, it was anger that held him there motionless, arms wrapped tightly about himself in an attempt to quell his shaking.
It was anger, and anger alone, not that the truth of those words had cut just a little too deeply, not that they had so forcefully shredded away the cushioning layer of denial which he needed to make it through each day.
Why hadn’t he left when he’d had the chance? Why didn’t he just escape now?
Zelgadis’ eyes were drawn to his bed, where his pack sat like a solitary storm cloud in the clear blue sky which was the coverlet.
One slow, deliberate step at a time, he went to it, answering its siren call. On the open road, he could be himself, be by himself; he wouldn’t be reminded daily of just exactly what he was. If he left now, he could easily leave Lina and the others behind.
He could continue his search for the Claire Bible unhindered. Slowly closing his eyes and bowing his head, Zelgadis released the pack strap he’d been clenching. No, he wouldn’t leave. He couldn’t… at least not yet. As painfully difficult as it was to admit to himself, he hadn’t been getting very far in his search on his own. He needed help. Even more painfully difficult to admit was that he had… missed companionship.
Those three downstairs were the closest thing he had to friends since the deaths of his retainers Zolf and Rodimus. It was comforting to once more be among people who did not fear him or openly cringe from his appearance. After months of solitude, the fellowship of this last day had been heady, had been like food to a starving man. He couldn’t give it up just yet, distractions or no distractions.
Tiredly lowering himself to sit on the edge of his bed, Zelgadis contemplated the bare, wooden slats of the floor.
Distractions? There was that word again.
He could certainly come up with the euphemisms when he had to, couldn’t he? Smiling grimly, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together.
The last time he had left them, he’d been grateful that his need to discover a way to restore his humanity had driven him down a divergent path from the one Lina, Amelia, and Gourry wished to follow, for the beauty of the lean swordsman had been becoming more of an obsession than a distraction.
Zelgadis couldn’t quite place exactly what it was that attracted him to Gourry.
Perhaps it was the suppleness of his long, slender body as he moved, as he fought. Perhaps it was the play of sunlight and wind in that glorious fall of blond hair. Perhaps it was something as simplistic as the endearing way he cocked his head to one side whenever he was confused, or something as complicated as the protective kindness and consideration with which he treated all those that were important to him… even the freak he’d chosen to befriend.
Whatever it was, Zelgadis had found himself covertly studying the other man whenever an opportunity presented itself. Though at first merely uncomfortable, such activity had grown distressingly painful as it fueled his desire.
He had little faith that his growing hunger for the swordsman would ever be satisfied, for, although his beauty drew both male and female to him like honey draws flies, Gourry never evinced any return sexual interest for his admirers, never even seemed to realize that they admired him at all.
Learning of the single time a person’s advances had been so blatant that even Gourry could not fail to notice had been inevitable, for Lina and Amelia delighted in telling the story.
Rather than amuse him, it had only served to dash what few scraps of hope Zelgadis had possessed for finding acceptance and perhaps even love with the other man, tattered though those scraps had been to begin with.
Disguised as a woman by the two girls to throw off the pursuit which had dogged their steps since being outlawed, the swordsman had been unable to escape the heavy-handed attentions of a certain man.
When the blustering hero-type had professed his love, Gourry had not been pleased. When the man continued to profess his love even after discovering he was also male, the swordsman’s reaction had been a little more… extreme.
Fingers clenching together painfully and lips thinning into a sour line, Zelgadis slowly stood. All his ruminations were meaningless. Even if Gourry regularly pursued other men, he was not just any other man.
It was unlikely he would have ever caught the swordsman’s eye in the first place; however, his acceptance of that as an immutable fact did nothing to douse the blaze the alluring man ignited in him by virtue of his simple presence.
The cloth across his groin bindingly uncomfortable, Zelgadis crossed back to the center of his room. Placing his back to the door, he turned to face the large mirror that hung above the low vanity situated next to the bed.
Why did he stay?
Honesty forced Zelgadis to acknowledge that while he craved companionship in general, he craved Gourry in particular. Like an addict, he needed his fix, needed to be with the lean swordsman for a time, though he was well aware that his need was hurting him.
Eyes tracking the movement of his reflection, Zelgadis raised his hands to his chest, hesitated, then loosened the drawstring and flicked open the clasp of the circular brooch which secured his cloak.
He slowly opened his fingers, allowing the string to slide through them as he shrugged the heavy garment off his shoulders. The rustle of cloth as it pooled around his feet was overly loud in the silence of the small room, and drew his eyes away from the mirror where they were captivated by the sight of his hands. Rotating both so their palms were facing away, Zelgadis studied his hands intently, as if they belonged to someone else.
They were small, yet they were powerful, toned along with the rest of his body by the swordplay he had practiced since childhood. He slowly drew his left index finger up the underside of his right hand, from the bare tip of the middle finger to the leather covered palm, a ghost of a smile touching his lips when the smoothness of the path it traveled was not disrupted.
Almost holding his breath in the vain, child-like hope that since he hadn’t felt any of the tiny, rock-like scales they had somehow disappeared, he hooked his thumb beneath the thin beige leather at his wrist, and pulled his half-glove off.
His fingers might have failed him, but sight confirmed their continued existence.
His eyelids drooped in bitter disappointment as he pulled off his other glove and let both bits of leather drop to the floor to join his cloak.
Guided by touch alone, Zelgadis shed the remainder of his clothing, careful not to linger in any one spot so that his fingertips would not brush against the other rocky clusters which dotted his entire body. A whisper of a cool draft caressing his bare skin, his eyes finally opened and were drawn back to the mirror.
The magics his grandfather Rezo, the Red Priest and an incredibly powerful sorcerer, had worked on him to fulfill his foolish wish for power had transformed Zelgadis. They had, indeed, made him powerful, both physically and magically. They had made him strong. They had given him speed which could rival the wind. They had made him as impervious to injury as the rock which Lina had compared him to.
They had made him an abomination.
With a kind of detached loathing, the way a person would gaze at a cockroach just prior to crushing it beneath his heel, Zelgadis contemplated the legacy of the Red Priest.
If he had been permitted to retain a normal body, he supposed he would have been considered attractive. Though not overly tall, his slim frame was well formed and perfectly proportioned. Even as he was now, he wasn’t hideously ugly… well, that was assuming that one could overlook the preternatural texture and color of his skin and hair, but how could anyone possibly overlook something so grotesque?
No one could.
His upper lip curling in distaste, Zelgadis slowly closed his eyes to shut out the hated sight. He sank down amidst his discarded clothing, spreading his knees apart as he sat back on his heels.
Disgust fading back into the old, bitter helplessness, his fingers began to tread a well-worn, familiar path. The needs which flowed like magma through his veins had not died when his body had been made less than human. As he could not ask someone to lie with him when he could hardly bear to touch himself, he had been forced by necessity to discover the keys which freed the pleasure locked beneath his skin of stone.
Dragging his nails with enough force to scratch human skin, Zelgadis repeatedly traced the outlines of the pointed ears which poked from his hair.
With each repetition, his skin sensitized and his touch lightened until, gasping softly, he allowed his head to fall forward so that the circuit his fingers traversed could widen to include his nape.
After many more caresses, Zelgadis lifted his head with a low cry.
Carefully keeping to the flesh below the rocky clusters which lined his jaw, his fingers automatically stroked towards his chin, their next stop. As his head dropped back, they slid down over the large tendons of his neck until they met at his collarbones, then moved back up to his ears to begin what wouldn’t be the first repetition of this new journey.
His skin beginning to sing with sensation, Zelgadis widened the course over which his fingers ranged yet again. Instinctively tracing a path which avoided contact with any of the clusters marring the hairless expanse of his chest, he sought his nipples.
Over and over he teased them, brushing his nails firmly over them, pinching and twisting, yet never did he forget to tend to his ears and neck.
Hands straying upwards occasionally, he backtracked to maintain the sensitivity he had already created. The impersonal starkness of the inn’s room, the hardness of the bare floor he knelt on, every detail of his surroundings slowly faded until Zelgadis was aware of nothing besides the hands which played his body like a harp.
They no longer belonged to him.
They were larger than his, longer, more slender. The developed arms of a man well acquainted with swinging a sword held him securely as the hands strayed lower to caress the flat plane of his abdomen. He lifted his own hands and reached behind himself to twine his fingers in the thick gold at the back of his lover’s head, pressing gently to encourage him to lower his lips to his neck.
Zelgadis could hear and feel the sharp, staccato pounding of his lover’s heart in the hard chest pressed against his back. His eyes fluttered shut as the other man’s elegant hands roamed lower, and cried out when warm, callused palms wrapped around the center of his arousal. He rocked his pelvis, pushing himself into the wonderful, teasing hands which were quickly stroking his cock to the same level of sensitivity with which the rest of his body trembled.
“G’night, Gourry, Amelia. See you in the morning!”
“Bright and early, Miss Lina!”
“Goodnight, guys,” Gourry murmured as his two companions slid their doors shut, “Sleep tight.”
Heaving a sigh, he turned away and continued down the hall towards his own room. His feet began to drag as he approached Zelgadis’ door, and he finally slowed to a stop before it. Should he check on the other man? Gourry hesitated, indecision churning what food he’d eaten into an uncomfortable mess in his belly. He’d decided downstairs that he wouldn’t bother Zelgadis. Although enough time had passed for the other man to regain his composure, he would still be risking an attack if he were to change his mind. Perhaps not a magical one, for he didn’t believe that his friend would choose to hurt either him or the innocent occupants of the inn, but certainly a verbal one.
Dare he risk the blue-haired shaman’s sword-sharp tongue?
Maybe it was rash, but he needed to know that his friend was all right. Gourry raised his fist and rapped sharply on the door. He lay his hand flat on the wood, frowning when his first series of knocks produced nothing but an answering silence.
“Zelgadis?” Gourry called, frown deepening as he struck the door again.
After so many nights spent together camping beneath the stars, or occasionally sharing a room at an inn, he knew that the shaman was a restless sleeper. He could not be sure, for Zelgadis had never admitted to having any problems, but he suspected it was nightmares which too often woke his friend in the dead of night. Whatever the case, he could not believe that the other man would be sleeping so deeply that he would not be awakened by someone hammering at his door.
So… why didn’t Zelgadis answer?
Gourry swallowed hard, sudden fear making his heart pound in his chest harder than he’d pounded on the door. It was obvious. Even he wasn’t so dense that he couldn’t figure it out.
Zelgadis didn’t answer because he had left the inn.
Oh gods, no.
He swallowed again, desperately trying to keep his dinner down. No! He’d just found him again. He couldn’t lose him already!
Without thinking, Gourry lowered his hand to the door latch and pulled, then glared accusingly at the wooden slab as it slid a bare inch away from its frame. He’s gone. He has to be. If the door had been locked, then it would have meant that Zelgadis hadn’t deserted them… deserted him.
Dismay beginning to ache in his chest, Gourry slowly let his forehead fall against the door. What was he going to do now? How would he ever find Zelgadis again? He wasn’t sure that he could. He had no doubt that if the shaman didn’t want to be found, he wouldn’t be.
Anyway, he wasn’t free to just go off and begin to search. He was Lina’s protector. She needed him, and he couldn’t leave her. What could he do? Nothing.
There was no alternative but to swallow the ache and go to bed. For now, anyway. Gourry had to believe that he and Zelgadis would cross paths again one day, and when they did, maybe he’d have another chance.
Until then, he’d just have to remember how to live with his longing and loneliness. He’d done it before; he could do it again.
Grimacing slightly, Gourry slung the armor he’d been carrying over his left shoulder again and turned away. He started off down the hall, but stumbled to an abrupt halt as a whisper of sound, no more intelligible than the wind whistling through the winter stripped branches of trees, drifted through the crack he’d left between his friend’s door and its frame.
Very slowly, Gourry looked over his shoulder.
What the hell was that? It had almost sounded like a…
As he heard the muffled noise a second time, Gourry dropped his armor and whirled.
A moan! It had sounded like a moan! Zelgadis hadn’t left. He hadn’t answered because he was in trouble!
Visions of his friend helpless in the hands of hostile sorcerers, bandits, and/or Mazoku swirling through his head, he drew his sword, thrust open the shaman’s door, took two steps into the room… and froze.
Only a child or someone brain-injured would believe that the naked man kneeling in the center of the room was in trouble.
Gourry wasn’t either.
A pang of sheerest want tightening his groin, Gourry fought to draw a breath through his suddenly closed throat. He’d never thought to be granted this sight, well, not so soon at any rate.
He was at a loss to describe how it made him feel, for Zelgadis’ beauty while touching himself transcended that which he possessed under ordinary circumstances.
The sound of the Sword of Light clattering to the floor freed Gourry from his paralysis, and he cringed, expecting Zelgadis to at least spin around, if not outright toast him with a fireball for what had to be an unforgivable intrusion.
He slowly straightened, disbelief stealing over him as it became apparent that the shaman remained unaware of his presence.
Gourry’s arousal strengthened as his gaze traveled from the smoothly flexing muscles of Zelgadis’ shoulders to the sweet curve of his buttocks where they rocked on his heels.
It was all too enticing… so enticing that he abruptly made what he knew had to be the most foolhardy, brainless decision of his life.
Pivoting, Gourry stepped over his sword and carefully bolted the door. Rational thought had no hope of competing with the embodiment of the dreams which nightly haunted him.
Zelgadis was a lure so potent that he had been effortlessly hooked. He was as helpless as a trout under the influence of one of Lina’s special fish catching spells, and was unable to resist being reeled in.
After creeping forward on silent feet, Gourry stripped off his half-gloves and dropped them to join the clothing which already littered the floor.
Very carefully, he lowered himself behind Zelgadis and mirrored his position.
His common sense screamed at him in one last ditch effort to make him see reason as he moved as close to the shaman as he could, and he hesitated, but then, with a resolute shake of his head, he silenced the voice and pulled Zelgadis into his arms.
Nothing mattered except finding out whether or not Zelgadis would permit his touch and perhaps reciprocate.
Gourry knew he might never have another opportunity so perfect. To be able to touch and be touched in return… it would be enough. It would have to be, for there was no reason for Gourry to believe he could expect anything more.
His thoughts moved with all the finesse of a broken blade in the hands of a novice while Zelgadis’ flew with the swift, deadly keenness of blade lovingly handled by a master.
His tongue stumbled around his mouth like a drunkard while the shaman’s danced with the grace of an accomplished performer. His soul was dark and empty of power while Zelgadis’ was overflowing with sorcery and so bright that it dazzled the eye.
Gourry was nothing; he possessed nothing with which to entice Zelgadis into a committed relationship.
All he had was his body, and, at the moment, finding out if that was enough to at least temporarily captivate Zelgadis was more important to Gourry than his own life.
On to Part Three or Back to Skin of Stone or Back to the Thorned Roses or Back to the Secret Garden?