Stop, Look & Listen.
Xellos had been trying unsuccessfully for the last several hours to get Filia to look at him.
Ah, but putting it that way made it sound rather unfairly pathetic. The current state of affairs, with his outwardly nonchalant efforts to turn her gaze his way being thwarted by her insistence on looking at such things as tree bark, dirt, and animal dung (elements that she would most likely insist were much more worthy of her attention than he was), was not the way this whole thing had started. No… this campaign had begun not with failure, but with unexpected success.
That morning had run much like any other morning—with a lengthy breakfast served at the inn they'd stayed at. Lina had been complaining about her latest efforts to destroy her sleep cycle by staying up all night looking through as much Outer World literature as she could find concerning magical items, Zelgadis, who had been doing just as much research, complained about how much Lina was complaining, Amelia nearly nodded off into her pancakes, and Gourry, eyes on the prize as always, was taking advantage of the others' distraction to steal the last of the sausages.
Xellos had turned away from the others for a sip of tea, and just as a result of their seat configuration, that meant glancing at Filia… who hastily turned her gaze down to her bowl of oatmeal. She twiddled her spoon around self-consciously in the cereal, but did not seem to have any intention of eating it.
Xellos observed her fixedly staring at her oatmeal for a moment before finally taking his sip of tea. Either, he thought, there is something very, very interesting buried in that oatmeal or Filia was just looking at me and turned away to avoid me seeing her do so.
And that was… well, a pleasing little thought. It was easy to imagine that prickly dragon setting her gaze on him and getting lost in thought—the rumblings of aggression going off in her head and her twisting silently to herself about the probably indignity of having to sit down to a meal with a monster—and not just any monster either. She'd probably been thinking words that a priestess shouldn't know, but that she just couldn't help thinking around him.
Oh yes, ever since he'd rejoined Miss Lina's group, Filia had been such an interesting new addition. Yet, it was hard for him to say at this early stage whether it was for better or for worse. …Actually, it was easy to say, it was only that his opinion changed on the matter very frequently. Filia was an emotional tinderbox, easy to stir up, and, in the right hands, was a loaded weapon. She certainly added to the drama of the group, which was something to be valued, and her hatred of him made her extremely easy to goad and manipulate. Which was all for the good.
…Except that somehow it wasn't. Goading her was fun, but it wasn't a secure endeavor. Her choked-up fury often coalesced into some very nasty retaliation. On the one hand, he knew it shouldn't bother him. So a little golden dragon calls him a few names that are no more creative or terrible than any schoolyard taunt? Why should that matter?
…It mattered because… because she had no respect. It was one thing to hate him, but she was supposed to play nice with the big, bad monster. She didn't. And that, paired with her holier-than-thou hypocrisy, made her particularly obnoxious. After all, it's one thing to be called despicable, but it's quite another thing to be called worthless.
And that was why this little incident of drawing her attention was particularly satisfying. No matter what she said, she visited far too much interest upon him to truly believe all that 'trash' stuff she spouted. Nobody finds trash that fascinating.
Fascinating… hmm… He had to admit that he liked that.
And what was even better than her stare was its furtive nature. As soon as she'd been caught looking at him, she'd turned away. She hadn't continued to glare at him determinedly, as though her look of menace was some kind of punishment—no. She'd looked awkwardly away, a cloud of embarrassment swirling around her.
She was ashamed that she'd been looking at him, which meant that she felt that she'd been doing something wrong. Which made him wonder (and not for the first time) just what sort of thoughts were sleeting across that dragon's brain.
And he hadn't even meant to attract this attention. His mind had been completely on other things before he'd discovered her… ogling? Was that what that was? If so, that was too hilarious for words. More likely it was the result of a hate-fueled diatribe that had driven her to distraction, but nevertheless…
…he wondered if he could do it again—draw her gaze once more. He didn't think it would be that hard. Clearly he had that effect on her without even doing anything—it was just a matter of fact. So he decided, as a little experiment for the day, to try to repeat this feat.
…Unfortunately, he hadn't yet been able to.
He'd walked next to her all along the road they were traveling, but she either kept her nose in the air or focused on the aforementioned components of the woodland scenery. His features creased as he tried to think of how one might go about getting a girl's attention. It was not something he usually had to think about.
Of course, he could've tapped her on the shoulder or made a comment about the weather—perhaps even jump in front of her line of sight. But he felt in a purist sense that this would constitute cheating. What he was after was to pull her toward him without action, without words, but with nothing more than himself and his thoughts.
…None of that, however, was working very well, and it was frustrating not to know why. It should've. She had to hear her name, loudly and repeatedly, in his thoughts as clear as a voice calling out to her. Filia, Filia, Filia… why don't you turn at the mere thought of your name?
And even if she couldn't sense his thoughts focused on her, she should've certainly been able to feel his eyes skittering across her. She had to know! She must've been trying to ignore it, just to spite him. Yes, that was the only explanation.
Turn around, Filia. Turn and look like you did before—fury mixed with horrified magnetism, the desire to dwell on that same feeling over and over and over again, all etched in those too-dark blue eyes and radiating outward in lines across your young forehead and in the tightness of your jaw. Run me over in your mind once more with that same old inner monologue—unfocused ramblings that decry, denounce, demonize, dissect, deprecate, and… admire. Make snap judgments, obsess over the unimportant, and teeter on the edge, as you tend to do, of profound discovery without ever realizing it.
…you know, just for the sake of this little experiment of mine if nothing else.
But she didn't turn. She stretched out her hands in front of her and chose to look at them instead.
It was dinnertime and Xellos had to admit that the ultimate fate of operation Get-Filia-to-Look-at-Me was looking grim. He blamed Filia's obstinacy—perhaps her embarrassment at being caught in the act kept her from making the same slip-up again, no matter how much he ramped up the mental warfare to get her attention. How very like her to be so annoyingly stubborn just when things were getting interesting.
After all, she was across from him now and still managing to avoid looking at him. He'd been willing to accept her fiery glare, but the cold shoulder was a tactic from her that really chafed. He didn't think it was one that she had any right to.
But it was at the point that he was about to cast his experiment as a failure (though not without heavy blame on his subject) when things changed. Both she and he reached for the last of the biscotti in the basket on the table at the exact same moment. Their gazes met and so did their fingers as they each grabbed the oblong cookie.
They both froze in the gesture—eyes locked on each other and in the gesture of clasping the little tea cookie. After a few moments, Filia withdrew her purchase on the biscotto and crossed her arms, making a mildly annoyed sound as she turned away.
Xellos, encouraged by this re-establishment of contact, held up the cookie to her. "Did you want this?" he asked, not so much as an offer, but a taunt.
And that's when she turned back to look at him purposefully. "I don't eat food that's been in garbage," she informed him.
His lips pursed. He knew they did because he felt them do so, even though he'd given no direction to his facial features to show such displeasure. "Is that a fact?" he said, as lightly as he could.
But even in the face of her comment there was cause to rejoice. The endeavor hadn't failed. She had finally acquiesced and looked at him again, with… yes, he could see it all over her face. That raging inner-monologue barely bitten back, that dripping acidity in her heart, and, yes, even that awkward, not fully understood sense of guilt and confusion behind it all. Mission accomplished.
He sat back confidently and dipped his cookie into his tea before taking a bite. Yes, it had taken longer than he'd initially thought it would, but he'd proven today that he could draw Filia's gaze. Sometimes it had to be catalyzed, but oftentimes it didn't and happened entirely without his intervention. Getting her to look at him was something he was more than qualified to do.
A choking hazard of a thought occurred to him as he took a swig from his burning hot tea; that if he was looking for someone with a talent for getting someone else to look at them, then he had only to look at the dragon girl across from him, drinking her tea haughtily like the Queen of the Goddamn Biscotti-less, who had proven herself infinitely more qualified than him.
…And it wasn't as thought it would be any trouble to look at her again, anyway, he realized sourly. After all, he'd been staring at her all day.