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Chapter Ten

     Canal worked furiously at her workstation mumbling to herself, "If we wait for Rail no, she'll be here, even with an early discharge and put in the med section, no she'd still be here. Okay, just enough time to finish our resupply and leave."

     "Kain, get over here, we leave in 15 minutes, as soon as the missiles are loaded, we'll have to make do with redi-meals but we've got to get going!" Canal shouted completely forgetting that Lina on the other side of the control room.

     "Redi-meals!" Lina shouted angrily, pushing up her sleeves.  "That crap you were feeding us before Milly came on board?  I don't think so."

     Kain rushed over and placed himself between Lina and Canal, giving Lina a wary look; he had figured out early on, in common with many of her previous traveling companions, that getting between Lina and her food was NOT A GOOD IDEA.  "Listen, Canal, we need to wait for Rail. He has access to a lot of information that we need and with him being hunted by the Universal Guardians, it won't be available if he gets locked up."

     "But Kain, Rail isn't the problem.  Neena is going to be here in a day; she was already on her way when I talked to her.  There's no way we can take Rail and not get stuck with her.  I don't want her on Swordbreaker.  She'll destroy all of my electronics," Canal ended with another wail.

     "I'm sorry, Canal, but we wait for Rail," Kain responded.

     Canal shot Kain a dirty look then pointedly looked back to her workstation with a disgruntled humph. Kain sighed and shook his head; the next few days would not be pleasant.
     "Well, well, what is going on here?" Xellos chirped happily as he phased into the room.

     "Canal had some stupid idea about leaving with no food resupply," Lina growled. "Just so she didn't have to deal with that Neena girl."

     Xellos looked at Canal closely, moving beside her.  "Listen, Canal, I know from bitter experience that no matter how bad Neena is, you do not want to see Lina after an extended period with bad food.  She grows fangs, gets moody and attacks poor innocent bystanders like myself. While I kinda like it when she beats on me, most other people don't and a dragon slave or two would really wreak havoc in here."

     "I haven't figured out how to do my black magic here yet," Lina informed the rest haughtily.  "Be assured though, Xel, when I do, you will be the first to know."

     "Umm, thank you, Lina.  I think." Xellos laughed nervously, putting his hand behind his neck.  "I was just going to let you know that I just came back from the astral plane; it's all clear in this area.  I can still see signs of that Dark Seeder guy in the distance though.  I was thinking of going over there to play, what do you think, Lina dear, should I go have some fun?"

     Lina thought for a second. "As much as I'd enjoy seeing you beat up Xellos, I think you'd better wait until we get more information from Rail.  Besides, I don't have time to take care of an injured fruitcake right now."This day was just getting longer and longer, Lina thought as she grabbed a chair for support.

     "Lina dear, you do care."  Xellos rematerialised behind Lina and swept her up in his arms.

     "Xellos! You, you fruitcake!"  Lina shouted as she untangled herself and pounded Xellos on the head.  "Don't you surprise me like that."

     "You mean it's okay as long as I warn you first?" asked the unrepentant monster.

     As steam started shooting from Lina's ears, Milly entered the control room, announcing that supper was now served, which instantly calmed Lina down much to everyone's relief

     "Food."  Eyes sparkling, Lina asked, "What have you cooked up for us today?"

     "Now that is a... secret," Milly answered cheerily.

     "That is my cue to depart." Xellos disappeared from sight.

     "Xellos.  You get back here right now!" Lina screamed.

     While the others were eating, Xellos sat quietly in Lina's room, thinking about all the changes that had occurred to him since he had met Melee.  He sighed deeply; all the times he had mocked the humans were coming back to haunt him.  This emotion thing was not getting easier.  At first, he had been flushed with joy over his feeling for Lina; now they were stronger and more painful.  How could she not understand that he did care for her, that she had become his world? When she joked with the others and spent time with Kain, teaching him magic, it burned within him.  His mind knew that she saw Kain as a replacement for Gourry, but he found himself sampling her emotions every time she talked to him just to reassure himself.  Now they would be bringing another male with them, more competition.  Sure Rail had that Neena person, but how could any male, or well, pseudo male, see his Lina and not want her.  She was so vibrant, so alive.  

     Xellos sighed, the original rush of emotions and guilt he had felt was nothing compared to what the day to day agony he felt now.  The worst part was she did care for him, he could feel it, but as long as she didn't admit it to herself, he was afraid that she would convince herself that a human male was her best choice.  He had seen humans do stupider things.

     Xellos pasted a smile on his face, as he heard a noise outside the room.  Lina certainly finished eating quickly.

     "Hi, Xel, what are you doing here?" Lina asked.

     Losing his nerve, Xellos answered quickly.  "Just wanted to get your thoughts about our newest traveling companion."

     "Rail, let's see.  I think he knows a lot more than he's let on so far," Lina answered, sitting in a chair beside Xellos.  "Apart from that, nothing special.  No magic aura like Kain. There is something about him that bugs me, though; did he give himself willingly to that dark ship and if he did, why?  A ploy to get close enough to destroy it or a desire for power before he realised what it would cost?"

     Xellos nodded in understanding. "Even on our world, some who took a contract with a monster, changed their minds when they saw what it really meant and they would have been better informed than the people in this world."

     "They are surprisingly ignorant about what goes on around them, aren't they," Lina observed, not really asking a question.  "I wonder how they managed to survive in ignorance until now."

     Xellos shrugged. "Humans are very good at surviving, their main talent I believe."

     Gathering his courage, Xellos reached for Lina's hand, bringing his face closer to hers. "Lina, there is something I've wanted to talk to you about..."

     Just as her eyes met his, an alarm went off. Swearing under his breath, he looked towards the computer monitor. Canal.  "Kain just came under a psychic attack.  I need help here; he's not responding."

     "I'm off to the astral plane, Lina dear.  We can talk later."  Xellos pressed his lips to Lina's in a hard kiss and dematerialised, leaving a stunned Lina behind, a hand pressed to her lips.  

     Entering the Astral plane, the first thing Xellos spotted was Kain facing off with the blond man from before; both were wielding swords of light.

     "Now, now, having a party and not inviting me.  That's no fun," Xellos announced with an edge to his voice.  He was not happy with the interruption.

     "Kain, why don't you go back to the ship? I'll take care of this piece of rubbish."

     "But, this is my fight," Kain growled.

     "Not yet, besides I have some frustrations to work off.  I'll try to leave a piece for you."  As Kain started to argue, Xellos added, "Listen, your emotions are all over the place, you need some lessons in control from Lina first.  Oops, did I say that? Don't tell Lina okay." Xellos smiled saucily.  "You'd be doing me a favour, this is my battle ground.  Yours is the ship."

     As Kain wavered, Xellos pushed him back in his body.  "Humans never know when to quit."

     "Now for you." Xellos let go of his human seeming and took his astral form with relief.  He grinned as Dark Seeder's eyes widened in recognition.  "Ready to play, young man," Xellos shouted as he deployed his battle cones and attacked, keeping away from the sword that his enemy wielded.

     The match would have been over in a minute if it hadn't been for the sword.  Xellos could feel himself weakening as his cones were destroyed by the sword.  However, he was getting just as many hits in and Dark Seeder slowed as the energy beams started taking their toll. Remembering his gem, Xellos began to draw energy from it.  Dark Seeder's eyes widened as he felt the energy build up.

     "Time to leave, if you want to be part of the winning team let me know," Dark Seeder taunted as he disappeared.

     "Damn," Xellos swore. "Another minute and I would have had him."

     Returning to the ship, Xellos found the others in the control room.   "Okay, what happened on this end?" he asked as he slumped into a chair.

     "You're hurt." Lina rushed over to Xellos, looking for signs of injury.

     "Don't worry, Lina, I'm just tired.  Besides, you know how fast I recuperate."

     "Not from injuries from the sword of light you don't."  Lina continued to check for injuries, patting Xellos on his back and chest.

     "As much as I enjoy what you're doing, I think we should go back to your room before we embarrass the others."  Xellos pointed to their companions who were all looking away whistling.

     "Xellos, you fruitcake," Lina screeched punching him in the head.

     "Hey, who was feeling who up?" Xellos asked in a plaintive voice.  "Here I am fighting to protect my Lina-chan and do I get gratitude, no."

     Lina looked at him guiltily. "I'm sorry, Xellos.  Were you hurt?"

     "No, but you can check some more if you want to," Xellos answered in a teasing tone wanting to see her eyes light up again and drinking in the fear that she felt for him.  So different from fear directed at him, such a little difference, in a way, but then in another way, when added to the concern and caring Lina felt, it made all the difference in the world.  He almost wished for a real injury so that she could take care of him.  In a flash of insight, he realised the reason that men over the millennium had fought to protect the women they loved.

     "Did you spot the lost ship, Canal?"  he asked, quickly trying to get back to reality.

     "It phased in and took Kain, then phased out again just before you got back," Canal answered.

     "That answers one question I had, he's limited to a certain range." Xellos smiled smugly.  "That's good, because I'm not."

     "What do you mean?" Kain asked.

     "Simple, wherever he is, I can find him eventually; I have no limitations on my range in the astral plane because I'm not bound to a body."

     "But when he isn't in the astral plane, you can't touch him, right?" Lina asked.

     "Lina dear, you know better than that, I just can't find him as easily; however, that ship he's on is like a black cloud in the astral plane.  I'm just going to have to figure out how to pull him in and how to do it in such a way that he leaves his sword behind. Who wants to be the guinea pig? Lina or Kain?"

     "Why not me?" Milly asked, contributing to the conversation for the first time.

     "Sorry, my dear, but you have no... actually, yes, you do have a magical presence. It is pretty weak, too weak for spells but you could do this."

     "What do you mean weak? I'll have you know that I'm the greatest in the universe no matter what I decide to do," Milly answered in an upset tone of voice.

     "Of course but right now, Milly, you'll have to be the `Greatest Guinea Pig in the Universe.'" Xellos patted her on the shoulder.

     "That just doesn't have the proper sound," Milly grumbled. "When do we start?"

     "Let me rest up for a while first," Xellos answered.  "We'll start in the morning. After you do the grocery shopping, I don't want Lina mad at me again."

     "When has that ever stopped you?" Lina asked.

     Canal shook her head, she really missed the days when it was just Kain and she and life was relatively peaceful.

     "Rail sure heals fast," observed Milly.  

     "Yes, we have a day until Neena arrives so let me get departure clearance and we'll get going." Canal nodded happily.

     "What do you mean I can't leave now!!" Canal screamed into the monitor.  "Security concerns my ... I want to leave now and I'm going to."

     "Canal, what are you going to do?" Milly asked in a timid tone.

     "I'm leaving, that is what I'm doing," Canal growled.

     "But we're still hooked up to the docking ring." Milly protested.

     "So I'll tear them out."

     "Kain just went on station."

     Canal stopped what she was doing. "What?"

     "He said he was going to meet up with another travel consultant, an old friend of his.  He said he'd be back in the morning."

     Canal smashed her head against her keyboard repeatedly.  "He's doing it on purpose, I know it."

     "Actually, Lina said something about how we could use Neena against the other lost ships.  Kain thought it was a good idea." Milly informed Canal in voice which had lowered to barely a whisper.

     "Kain, You TRAITOR!"  Canal's scream vibrated down the corridors to where Lina and Xellos were drinking tea with Rail.

     "I see Canal has found out about Kain's absence," Rail observed calmly.

     Lina snickered, "For a Golem, she sure is emotional."

     "That's not quite correct, Lina dear," Xellos observed.  "She is more than that, as you well know."

     "True, but still she is emotional."

     Rail looked at the pair curiously, he still hadn't received a satisfactory explanation for the pair and the hacking he had done at the hospital before leaving hadn't given him any answers apart from a police record for Lina at the last port.  A fiery lady for sure, looking at Xellos, who had managed to keep between him and Lina whenever they had met, Rail felt a mischievous impulse come over him.

     "Well, Lina, I heard that you were a girl who could enjoy a good meal. There's a really good restaurant on station here that serves some really exotic food.  Would you be interested in accompanying me, since Xellos is going to be busy with Milly, of course."

     "Of course." Lina's eyes shone at the thought of new and exotic foods to eat.  "I'm hungry anyway, let's eat."

     Xellos made a motion to try to stop Lina as she rushed out of the room, a sharp pain shooting through where his heart would be if he were human. Turning to Rail, he stared hard at the man.

     A chill went down Rail's back when, for the first time, he saw through Xellos' mask to the dangerous core of the monster.

     "She's mine, don't forget that," Xellos said in dangerous tones.

     "Surely it's up to the lady," Rail tried to bluff.

     "You'll be dust while she and I are still young.  Do not challenge what you don't understand.  Your friends and I have the same goal, but you are intruding on the one area in which I will not back down."  Violet eyes flashed. "Remember what I've said," Xellos finished before disappearing.

     "I've got to find out how he does that trick," Rail tried to joke to himself.  "I have definitely touched a sore spot and I don't think I really should have."

     Later, over dinner, Rail decided to pump Lina for information.  "Your friend Xellos is quite fond of you, isn't he?"

     Lina sighed, "Its part of what we've gone through together; in our world, before he was chosen, Xellos was unable to feel positive emotions.  He's still learning about feelings, but he's still very new to them.  He's also dealing with the guilt of what he did when he was under Zelas' control."

     "Zelas?" Rail asked.

     "Our world's counterpart to the lost ships are monster lords. There were five of them, including Zelas.  Xellos was Beast Master Zelas' priest and general, bound to her much the same way that you were bound to that lost ship, unable to feel love or joy and feeding on negative emotions.  I really don't know if what he feels for me is love or gratitude for helping him through the period after he was able to feel.  It was pretty intense."   

     Rail snorted, "What he shows is far from gratitude.  It is much too basic for that."

     "What do you mean?" Lina looked confused.

     "You two are just as bas as Milly and Kain, watching each other when you think no one is looking.  How do you feel about your partner?"

     Lina looked down at her fingers and played with them as her cheeks flushed. "Well.. umm.." Deciding to change the subject out of simple self-preservation, she shot back, "How about you and that Neena girl we've been hearing so much about?"

     Rail just smiled.  "Neena is there for me, she'll always be there for me.  She fills a need deep in my soul.  Someday we'll be married, but that'll only be a confirmation of something that, for us, doesn't need words.  Your friend on the other hand needs the words, or, at the very least, he needs for you to trust in what the both of you feel.  It really isn't a good idea for someone that dangerous to feel insecure."

     Lina shot Rail a sharp glance, surprised that he had seen the dangerous core of Xellos, something that Kain and the others had failed to do, the comment about Xellos being insecure though was ridiculous.

     "Don't worry, as you long as you do not threaten the two of us you're safe," Lina assured Rail.

     Rail nodded and smiled. "I'd already figured out that much, but deal with your relationship before it blows up in your face.  I really wouldn't like for the rest of us to have to submit to the fallout.  Ahh, I can hardly wait until Neena joins us, she can be restful as long as she isn't serving tea."

     "Tea?" Lina's eyebrows furrowed.

     Rail laughed heartily. "You'll see, oh, here comes the food."

     Back at the ship, Xellos and Milly, had lost patience with each other.  Canal was unobtrusively trying to watch the proceedings.

     "All I want you to do is sit there.  Why can't you understand?  I don't want you to walk around, I don't want you to ask stupid questions when I'm trying to concentrate, I especially don't want you to fix me a meal," Xellos snarled at Milly.

     "Listen Mister, I don't have to stay here and listen to this.  You can just find another guinea pig if you don't stop treating me like an inanimate object!" Milly shot back.

     "If I could find an inanimate object with magic potential, I'd use that before a mouthy human like you."

     "If you could figure out what the hell you were doing maybe things would go better.  Stop trying to blame your failures on me."

     Xellos snarled, "I can see that trying to do anything with you is going to be impossible," and stomped out of the door.

     "What is his problem?" Milly asked Canal as she threw her hands up in the air.

     Canal looked at the door that Xellos had left through and turned to Milly. "Lina went out to supper with Rail tonight.

     Milly's jaw dropped. "Now I understand.  I should have been more patient with the poor guy."

     Canal nodded. "Yes, men can get so emotional at times."

     "True," Milly agreed thinking about what she could cook to heal a broken heart.

     Xellos stomped into Lina's room, the feel of his feet hitting the ground relieving some of his frustrations.  `Why did Lina go out with that guy? Was it only for the free meal, did she want to pump him for information, or was she attracted to him? Rail was human; he could do so much more for her than he could.  Children. He could really touch her.'

     Xellos was not used to feeling inadequate, but he had to admit to himself that was exactly the way he felt right now.  Pacing back and forth he could feel the impressions of Lina in the room, her scent, a faint magical aura and her energy. Xellos suddenly flopped down on the bed, how had he reached this point, not that long ago he would have enjoyed being around someone who felt like he did, meals for days.  Being on this side of the suffering was not fun, he almost wished he could shut down these new emotions.

     "Where are you, Lina?" he cried out loud.  "I need you to help me make sense out of all of this."

     Wishing for the relief of tears, he huddled in a corner, looking at the clock in the corner of the room.  She wouldn't be long, Lina ate really fast. She'd be back soon.  Unless... no, she'd be back soon.  She had to be back soon. Any minute now, she'd walk through the door and punch him for being there....  any minute now.

     Lina entered the airlock joking with Rail, he was really easy to talk to once you got to know him and remembered to count all your fingers and check your wallet before he left.  As she turned down the passage to her room she was confronted by Milly.

     "Don't you have a heart?" Milly asked angrily.

     "Excuse me," Lina responded in a bewildered voice.

     "Poor Xellos has been in a state since you left on you dinner date with Rail. How do you expect him to feel, dumping him to one side like that?"  Milly continued, "I mean, here he is away from his home, when the woman he's been sharing a room with takes off with another man.  I mean you had to realise that he would be heartbroken."

     "Xellos, upset?" Lina thought back to her conversation with Rail.  "I have to go to him."

     "At the very least, you should be apologising for being so insensitive," Milly added hotly.

     "Yes, yes," Lina agreed as she broke into a run as a feeling of foreboding swept over her.

     Bursting into her room, she saw Xellos still huddled in the corner.

     "Oh, Xellos," she whispered. "No."

     "Lina, you're back," she was answered in a broken voice.

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