ow observe... a row of sun-shiny houses and green topped trees, of singing birds and pleasant days.  And floating out of a nearby window, the sounds of a family finishing up breakfast...
    "Mom, I'm gonna go out with oniichan and play some stickball!"
    A young, healthy mother glanced over from her station washing dishes in the kitchen.  A little strained, she smiled over at the boy.  "Make sure you're back in time for lunch, dear!" she said through a clenched jaw.
    "Ano, is this my toast?" the father asked, examining his browned bread cautiously.  Some crumbs had fallen on his tie.  "I thought mine had jam on it..."
    The older brother, wearing trendy teen clothing, sets down his slice of half eaten toast in distaste.  "I grabbed yours by accident," he admitted.  "Ugh.  That's it.  I'm going out.  Later."
    "Are you gonna show me how to hit home runs, oniichan?" Timmy asked.
    "I don't wanna," his older brother frowned.  "I'm gonna be busy."
    "Awww, pleeeeeeeease?"
    "Why not ask your 'sister'?" the brother suggested, heavy on the sarcasm.
    The young lady in a proper dress lowered the book she was reading, distracted.  "Yes?  Did someone call?  I'm the sister, right?"
    "She just sits in her room and reads," Timmy complained.
    "Reading is good for your mind," the sister recited, and resumed her perusal.
    Timmy grabbed his bat and mitt, and bounded over to the door.  "I'll see you outside, oniichan!  Ka-san!  I'll be back for lunch!"
    "And don't get any grass stains on your shirt!  Your poor mother has such trouble washing those out," Lina noted.
    Timmy flashed her a happy little smile, and skipped out into the grassy dreamscape.
    The whole group waited until he was out of earshot.
    "'What could go wrong?'" Lina mocked, lobbing the dish she was washing at Gourry.  "Gee, I don't know.  What COULD go wrong, Gourry?  Maybe that he'd want us to play HOUSE?  And that since we're not waking up, he's not going to let us STOP?!"
    "Yee!" Gourry yelped, ducking the flying flatware.  "Ne, Lina, ease up!  I'm sure he'll give us that key sooner or later..."
    "Don't make me call the local guard and report a domestic dispute," Zelgadis warned.  "I'm the one who has to hang out with the brat all day.  If anybody has a right to complain, it'd be me."
    "He seems like a nice boy," Chi'Nai said, turning a page.
    "You don't have to play game after game with him," Zel said.  "You just get to read in that nice room he gave you."
    "I don't understand why everybody sees reading as something negative," Chi'Nai pondered.  "It expands your mind and--"
    "--keeps you away from the terror from a thousand nightmares, too," Zel finished.
    "Kids, kids!  No arguing at the table," Gourry said.
    Zel flinched.  "Don't make me hurt you, Gourry."
    "I mean it," Gourry warned.  "Look, arguing and stuff isn't gonna help either, right?  Chi'Nai-san, maybe you should go out with Zel and see if you two can get that key from him.  Talk him out of it and stuff."
    "What I wouldn't give to know how he has such tight control over the world of dreams," Lina sighed, having a seat, in her dejectedly soapy and soaked housedress.  "I've tried to grab the key away three times, and walked away with a pretty nasty headache each time..."
    "I'm sure he'll give it over when he feels it'd be safe with us," Gourry said.  "Just give it time, ne?"
    "Time.  Okay, fine.  Time I can do.  Now if you'll EXCUSE me, I have laundry and shopping and a thousand and one chores to do," Lina grumbled.  "I swear, domestic housewifey life is not my scene..."
    "Oh, that's okay," Gourry smiled.  "I'm not real domestic either.  I kept breaking stuff when I helped mom clean the house.  I'm sure when we get married, we'll just keep adventuring and stuff!"
    A lead pause hung over the room like a coffin slab.
    "Time to go," Zelgadis quickly said, finishing whatever toast he was holding, grabbing Chi'Nai's wrist and getting the hell out of there before the scene got ugly.
    The ball went far and fast out of sight, catching on fire and burning a brilliant white as it exited the atmosphere.
    Zelgadis had to admit, he was impressed.
    "...but that's cheating," Timmy said, as the ball arced around, mysteriously reformed itself and flew right back into his outstretched hand.  "I mean, I can imagine it going as fast as I want, but that doesn't mean I can hit it that fast, right?  Every time I try playing stickball and making stuff as normal as I can, I can't hit real far."
    "Funny..." Zelgadis said, ponderous.  "You'd think a kid would have as much fun as he could ever want in the world of dreams."
    "Naw, it's boring," Timmy said.  "It was exciting for the first few years, but now it's just boring.  Nobody's here unless they go to sleep.  How are you guys staying asleep this long, by the way?"
    "At any rate," Zel said, quickly getting off that subject, "You really should give us that key so we can, ah, wake up and get on with things."
    Timmy looked curiously at him.  "You mean you aren't having fun here?"
    "You said it yourself, didn't you?" Zelgadis asked.  "It's boring.  I mean, you KNOW I'm not really your big brother.  It's like hitting one of those escape velocity fastballs..."
    "I know, but...." Timmy said, disheartened a notch.  "I mean... I can't imagine having a brother.  I can imagine having my house and my town, but those are just things; if I imagined having a person, it'd just be like a puppet.  But you aren't a puppet!  People aren't, they're people.  And that's what makes it fun, even if it's not real... it was really lonely here before I realized dreaming people could see me."
    Zelgadis glanced around the 'neighborhood', particularly at the stately Tim Manor.  Very empty, very desolate... sure, it was full of colorful flowers and brightly colored green grass, with a few butterflies and birds, but no real life.  Presumably Lina and Gourry were in that house, mind you, and...
    He squinted.  He could swear there was a light in the house attic, too, but there wasn't really; just an optical illusion.
    "How long have you been here?" Chi'Nai asked, eyes not raising from her book.
    "I don't know," Timmy said.  "A long time... I mean, years.  I think it's been years.  I can't tell.  You guys aren't gonna leave right away, are you?  I like having people here more than a night, and even if it's just a game, I mean..."
    "Look, kid, I'll be straight with you..." Zelgadis said, dropping any mental pretense of talking to a small child.  "That key's really, really important."
    "I know," Timmy said.
    "If we don't get it, then a lot of people could get hurt.  No more dreamers, ever, you see?  And we need it SOON, because we don't know how long it'll take to get the rest of these things... it's a quest, right?  Like in storybooks?"
    "I know storybooks," Timmy smiled.  "My auntie reads me them a lot."
    "I've got a few dreamers who know how to come by.  I mean, they remember it instead of forgetting," Timmy explained.  "And they like to come by.  My auntie's really nice to me.  I mean, she isn't my auntie, but... you know, you know?  And she reads me stories.  My uncle doesn't like doing that, he just says everything's a secret."
    "Uncles and aunts and grandparents and so on, eh?" Zelgadis asked.
    "...most of them, yeah," Timmy agreed.
    "Interesting.  Anyway, about this key--"
    Chi'Nai closed her book.  "Did one of those people tell you about that key?"
    "...uhhh..." Timmy mumbled.
    "It'd make logical sense," Chi'Nai said, getting to her feet.  "Someone had to tell you to keep it safe, like you said when we first showed up.  You picked up on that too, right, Zelgadis?"
    "Ah..." Zel said, thinking back.  "Yes," he lied.
    "I'll make you a deal, Timmy-san," Chi'Nai said.  "If you tell who told you about the key, I'll show you how to hit that ball very far with your stick.  Is that fair?"
    "Since when can you play stickball?" Zelgadis asked.
    "Since when could you?" Chi'Nai returned.
    "Didn't you see me smacking that thing around not five minutes ago?"
    "Yes.  You don't seem to be able to play it either," Chi'Nai stated.
    With a hint of a smile.
    "That was a joke, wasn't it?" Zelgadis asked, surprised.  "How'd you manage to crack a joke?"
    Chi'Nai looked at Zelgadis oddly for a moment, but returned to the more important part of the discussion, turning back to Timmy.  "How about it, sir?  Is it a deal?"
    "I like being called 'sir'," Timmy said, brightening.  "Weeeelll.... I guess it can't hurt to say.  Ne, ne, hit the ball for me!  I wanna see how far you can!"
    "Okay," Chi'Nai said, taking hold of the stick.  She picked up the ball, and lobbed it at Zelgadis, who almost didn't catch it.  "Pitch it over here," she requested.
    Zelgadis sized up Chi'Nai's odd stance.  The girl had clearly never played this stupid game before and was just expecting to swing and hit.  Best get it over with showing her hard reality, he figured..... he wound up, really winding like a watch, and threw the hardest pitch he could right past--
    The ball zipped neatly out of sight.
    "See, it not only involves your concentration and reflexes, but also in how you prepare to use them physically," Chi'Nai immediately went into explaining.  "Physically, you need to keep a grip on the stick that'll let you move it in an instant to wherever the ball comes in.  Without that grip, even the fastest mental processes won't get you anywhere..."
    "Wow!" Timmy chirped.  "Tell me more, oneechan!"
    Zelgadis just... stared.
    Meanwhile, back at home sweet home, the kitchen was a mess.
    "Baka baka baka!!" Lina shouted, tossing another cup.  "Whoever said we were gonna get married?!  Don't assume things like that!"
    "But.. I mean, I just figured..."
    "You think I WANT to prance around in an apron and a dress like this for a living?!"
    "Ano na!  I thought I said I wasn't expecting--"
    "I'm young!  I have all my life ahead of me!  I'm not going to have that sort of decision made for me!"
    "And if YOU--"
    In an instant, Gourry was in front of Lina, using some of his newly found skills at manipulating the world of dreams to get around that constant flow of cutlery and china.
    "Can I say something?  Please?" he almost begged.
    Lina blinked a few times in surprise, but lowered her intensity a degree.  "Fine, speak."
    "Okay.  I thought we had an understanding or something," Gourry said.  "That's how you said it, at least."
    "We do!  We just--"
    "I don't understand the understanding, then," Gourry continued.  "I know I'm not a bright guy, but it's an important thing to get right, yeah?  I mean, I don't want to make you upset, Lina.  Not just because you throw stuff at me.  So what's the understanding?  In small words."
    Lina chewed her teeth at the idea of explaining this to Gourry.  "It's... okay, look, Gourry... here's how it is.  You see......."
    Gourry waited patiently.
    "I'm thinking!" Lina stated quickly.
    "You don't know either, do you?" Gourry asked, and was rewarded with a bonk on the head.
    "Of COURSE I do!"
    "Okay, then in big words, just say it out loud," Gourry said, coming back up with a small bump on his head.  "Not even trying to get me to understand it, just say whatever it is."
    "It's simple!  We..... I.... OKAY!  Fine!  I don't know either!  You happy now?!"
    And Gourry was grinning big and dumb.
    "Yeah!" he said.  "Boy, that's a load off my mind.  See?  It means it's not just me being dumb.  We're both idiots!"
    Three minutes later, Gourry continued, this time with an ice pack held against his cheek.
    "See," he muffled through the swelling, "If NEITHER of us know, that means there isn't an understanding.  Which means we can figure it out for real this time and get it right.  Right?"
    Lina sulked a little.  She was angry at him, sure, but a part that wouldn't admit it was also angry at herself for her behavior, glancing at that ice pack now and then... "Figure what out, Gourry?"
    "Well.. figure out how things are, I mean!" Gourry said.  "I've already said I think I love you."
    She had to resist very hard to not blush even a little.  "You THINK you do?"
    "Even auntie couldn't really explain what love was, Lina.  I mean, I know now that she IS Love, I mean, in a weird kinda way, but even then she just sort of knows without being able to explain it in words.  So I figure, if I THINK I'm in it, then I have to at least be on the right track.  That works, right?"
    "Uh... now I'm having trouble understanding YOU," Lina admitted.  "What're you yammering about?"
    "I don't understand me either sometimes, but that's okay," Gourry said, not the least bit disheartened.  "How about this... how do you feel about me?"
    "Ah.. about you?"
    "Well, you're...." Lina started.  "You're.. a nice guy."
    "Thanks!... but how do you feel about me?"
    "You're good in a fight..." Lina fished around.  "And, um... you make me laugh.  Sometimes without actually meaning to.  Usually, in fact.  And sometimes you get me really mad.  And... jeez, Gourry, help me out here.  What're you asking?"
    "It seems simple to me," Gourry shrugged.  "Direct and stuff.  I love you.  Do you love me?"
    This time Lina's face couldn't hold back a blast of red hue.
    "Do you?" Gourry asked.  "I mean, I could swear that way back when, after our last big adventure, you whispered to me that--"
    "But I-- I mean-- Gourry!  I--"
    "Although it's almost like once you got that out of your system, you just didn't wanna bring it up again," Gourry said, musing to himself.  "I mean, we never talked about it again..."
    Lina controlled her breathing, with difficulty.  "Gourry... look.  It's not that I don't like you.  I mean, yeah, I like you a lot, sure.  And we've had some good times, and... and I've tried to be nicer to you lately, ne?  Aside from, um, throwing things at you and... well, jeez!  Let's be straight here, I mean, how can I tell if I really love you?  I've got el zippo experience with that stuff, much less with you!  We haven't even kissed or gone on a date or anything, right?  Our lifestyle doesn't exactly hand out vacation days for that sort of thing, and mauling bad guys doesn't count as dating, either!  How can I tell?  For real?"
    Gourry nodded slowly.  "Yeah, I guess that's a good point... we've always been kinda busy..."
    Lina nodded in agreement.
    The clock ticked quietly on the kitchen wall.
    "Good that we've realized that, right?" Lina asked.
    "Oh, yes, very good," Gourry agreed.
    The faucet dripped over unfinished dirty dishes.
    Crumbs hardened.
    Lina looked Gourry up and down.
    "So.. I guess this means we're not really going to have much of an understanding until we get a chance to explore that sort of thing," Lina added.  "Then we can figure out exactly what's going on.  I think."
    "Looks like it," Gourry agreed.
    Lina grabbed Gourry.
    Timmy skipped down the baseline, and hopped onto the white square.
    "Woohoo!  I got to first base!" he cheered.
    "See?  It's easy," Chi'Nai said.  "You just need to have a good control and understanding of how it all works.  Enough studying and practice and you'll do well in a real game."
    Zelgadis grumped from the sidelines.  "I could've taught him that."
    "Except that you don't have good control either, Zelgadis," Chi'Nai said, tossing the ball up and down a few times.  "It takes rigorous mental discipline to achieve at physical activity.  That's how I learned martial arts and archery and bowling and bonkers and football, for instance..."
    "I suppose it would be the only thing you're good at controlling," Zelgadis realized.
    "What's that supposed to mean?"
    "Nothing," Zel said.  "'kay, Timmy.  I'll pitch a few to you, and--"
    "Can I talk to you for a minute, Zelgadis?" Chi'Nai asked, putting a hand on his shoulder before he could get away.  "Timmy-san, why not dream up a pitcher and practice?  Remember what I taught you about clearing your mind before swinging and try to focus on the angle of the stick."
    "Right, oneechan!!" Timmy cheered, imagining up a large, cartoony pitcher.
    Zelgadis wasn't alarmed.  He gave Chi'Nai a questioning look, as she led him off to the side, out of earshot.
    "Why do you keep doing that?" she asked, requesting fact.
    "Doing what?"
    "Saying something about me then covering it up.  It's a clear psychological impulse to want to talk about something while trying to avoid talking about something."
    "Oh, now you're going to say you have a degree in psychology as well?" Zelgadis asked, crossing his arms.
    "And arm crossing is usually a sign of defensiveness," Chi'Nai pointed out.
    Zel promptly uncrossed his arms and glanced aside.
    "So is looking away," she added.
    "You want to know?  Fine," Zelgadis said, sick of it.  "Your father told me the chimeras have been dead for years inside.  All your emotions and personality, all your chaos... it got drained from being resurrected magically every time you die.  Unpleasant but true.  Happy now?  Not that I suppose you can be happy, technically..."
    "Oh, that.  I already knew."
    "And if... what?"
    "I knew," Chi'Nai said, without any smug satisfaction whatsoever.  "Father told me a hundred years ago in one of his feverish rants.  It's a shame he's held onto his emotions that long, they're only causing him pain."
    "You KNEW?"
    "Were you expecting this to be a shock to me?" Chi'Nai said.  "This is simply what the chimera have become.  We've lost our humanity, but we push on regardless.  There is no cure to be found.  The few who had emotions reawakened, such as Chi'Bi, only had problems dealing with them.  So why should I mourn something I can no longer use properly and can't even remember having?  Perhaps you think less of me.  Is that it?"
    "Of course not," Zelgadis scoffed.
    "I don't want mine reawakened," Chi'Nai stated, looking away from Zelgadis.  "I have had.. impulses of them, from time to time.  But those were frightening impulses in that I was totally unfamiliar with them.  Why should I invite trouble?  They're best left buried.  So I control them, keeping discipline.  And thus, feel no loss for something I don't want.  I've noticed you attempting to do the same, but you have no control.  Your temper and frustration shows quite frequently."
    "I'm a rational person," Zelgadis protested.  "Just because I have a run of bad luck from now and then doesn't mean I have no 'control.'"
    "I could aid you in enhancing that control, as I did with Timmy," Chi'Nai suggested.  "Then you would be better able to remove your emotions, like me."
    Zelgadis flinched at the idea.
    True, sometimes he let his feelings get out of hand... he still had a black mark on his record for letting that other Lina trick him into an obvious trap, so long ago.  And when push came to shove, he could do what had to be done without thinking too hard about how dangerous or frightening or stupid it might be.  But... something didn't click here.
    "Like you?" Zelgadis asked.  "Thanks, but no thanks."
    "Why?" Chi'Nai asked.  Neither hurt nor confused, simply asking.
    "At least I've got 'em when I want 'em," Zelgadis shrugged.  "You don't.  You're really... simple.  Boring.  You know that, right?  Given how much you seem to know about all this, at least you should know that."
    Chi'Nai also flinched... but to a much lesser degree.  Something in her was upset about Zelgadis's insult.  "I'd like to think that I posses knowledge and skills which--"
    "Those don't count," Zel said.  "You know, your father gave me the job of trying to awaken you.  All of you.  I've honestly got no clue how I can do that, but I'm gonna try.  Sorry if that conflicts with what's apparently your take on life."
    "Father's quite old, Zelgadis.  He's hanging onto something he'd be better off letting go of--"
    Zel snipped Chi'Nai off with a wave of his hand.
    "You can't convince me you're right," he said simply, brushing past Chi'Nai.  "So let's not waste energy on this.  Issue closed."
    Chi'Nai turned as Zel walked right on by, heading over to play catch with Timmy.  A brief flush went through her, one of those impulses... she shut it down fast.  It was happening more often when she talked to him, this unfamiliar person in a familiar form... but she was right about how she should be.  She had to be right.
Story copyright 1998 Stefan Gagne, characters copyright H. Kanzaka / R. Araizumi.
A Spoof Chase Production.