He peaked out from the cranny space he was hiding in, watching people pass on errands. One of them had to have a purse worth picking. Zelgadis scowled and inched forward, one with the shadows as he eyed a chubby merchant with a fat little embroidered purse hanging from his belt, right next to a enameled and jeweled dagger. Bingo.

Get the purse and dagger, don't get caught, give the money to Tachi so he could stay at her house for awhile, and then sell the dagger or give it to the Thieves Guild for a good rep. Maybe Tachi will even feed me if he's carrying gold ... Tachi was a bit of a tightwad, but she let him stay at her Whore House on Purple Street if he paid a bit. She always said he made the custom bug out since he was a kid, and customers don't like kids. Zel shrugged, as long as she was willing to sell him a roof over his head he didn't complain.

Zel darted across the street, weaving through the crowd to the merchant. And was knocked flat when something hit him head on. He pushed himself up and looked around. All he saw was a red headed kid staring at him tearfully, face scrunched up in preparation to scream. Zel quickly noticed what the impact had knocked from the girl's hand. A bright blue lollipop. Snatching it up he stuck it in her hands and backed away, stammering apologies. He ducked back into his cranny space as fast as he could, leaning back against the wall and praying the kid's parents wouldn't follow him.

A scrambling noise at the opening of the cranny made him turn, ready to run. A second later the girl tumbled inside, landing in a pile of yellow cloth and red hair. She picked herself up and glared at him, "Why'd you play hidey?"

She couldn't have been more than five to his seven, but she looked rich, which was enough to make him do whatever she said just to forestall her parent's wrath. "I wasn't playing hidey."

"Were too!"

"Was not!"



"Too! You were, you were, you were!" she stomped her foot, her female nature righteously pricked by the male who dared to contradict her.

Zel conceded defeat and shut up. The girl sniffled and held out her lollipop, "It's dirty."

"I can see that." It was, it's visit to the road had coated the usually bright 'pop with a layer of dust.

"Wash it?" she asked hopefully.

"With what?" The girl looked around for some water and sat on the dirty ground in defeat when she realized there wasn't any. She sniffled again, looking at her 'pop, about to burst into tears. Zel swallowed as an idea crossed his mind, "Here, lemme clean it off."

She brightened and handed it to him. Steeling himself, Zel stuck the 'pop in his mouth and licked all the dust off. Handing it back to the girl, he tried not to make a face as he turned and spat the dirt out. She giggled and took the 'pop back, sucking on it happily.

"What's your name?" he asked, still trying to get rid of the sugared dirt taste.

"Li~na," the girl replied around the lollipop, smiling widely at him, "Who're you?"


Lina tried to repeat his name and mangled it horribly. He sighed and sat down as she tried again. Lina smiled and crawled over into his lap, "Zel!"

He blinked, "Huh?"

"Zel! You're Zel," she returned proudly, finding a way to make his name easier as she squirmed in his lap and finally getting comfortable, leaned back and sucked on her lollipop. Zel just kinda stared at her.

"Um ... don't you have parents?" he asked, swallowing hard.

Lina bobbed her head in affirmation, "Luna-neechan. I can't finded her."

"You can't?"

"Noooo. I lost." Zel sighed as Lina sadly looked at her 'pop, about to cry all over again.

"You can stay with me," he said quickly, wanting to forestall another round of tears.

"Then I not lost?" she asked hopefully.

"Then you're not lost."


"C'mon then, get up." Lina crawled out of his lap and stood up. Zel scrambled up and peeked out of the cranny space. Well ... maybe I can find her Luna-neechan ...

Lina sucked on her lollipop as she caught his hand, leaning her cheek against his arm as little children are want to do, secure in the fact that someone else was going to make things better. Zel looked down at her for a moment, annoyed and unnerved by her trusting closeness, Brat doesn't know too much, does she? Willing up his patience Zel stepping into the street, Lina in tow as he set out to find Luna-neechan.


You'd think this would be easier ... I mean, geez, how many people have kids with red hair and red eyes? Just find someone who knows this Luna-neechan and give Lina back. It wasn't as easy in fact as in theory. He had spent the whole afternoon trying to find Lina's neechan by going door to door in some of the better to do neighborhoods, judging by Lina's clothes and cleanliness that her family might be somewhere around there. No luck.

And now I've wasted a whole day ... Tachi's gonna be mad if I can't pay. Zel sighed and sat on the edge of one of the many fountains in Saillune. Lina climbed up to sit beside him, her 'pop long gone.

"The man was bad, wasn't he, Zel?" Zel looked up, blinking, as the girl's voice jolted him out of his thoughts. He glanced over at Lina and nodded solemnly.

"Yes. That man was bad." The hulking brute of a man who had answered the last door must have seen an opportunity, because he immediately tried to claim Lina, lust glimmering in his beady, black eyes. Zel might have been a kid, but he wasn't stupid. He'd seen that look in other's eyes and there was no way he was going to let Lina stay there, family or not.

Lina nodded, thoughtful, " ... are we gonna go home now?"

"Home?!?! WHAT HOME?!?!"

Big ruby eyes shimmered with tears at his outburst as she sniffled. He quickly waved his arms, sweatdropping, "No, no, Lina, don't cry! Please don't cry. You can go, " he almost choked as he forced the word out, "home with me okay?"

She smiled brightly, eyes sunny again, "Okay!" Zel was beginning to wonder who was really in charge, she was winning a awful lot of arguments ...

"If yer gonna stay with me, then c'mon!" He grabbed her hand and started tugging her into traffic with him. Gnawing on his lip as he pulled the reluctant girl behind him, he worried. Was he going to be able to make any money today? He didn't dare sleep outside, especially not with this kid with him ... She's such a burden!

Lina tugged on his arm, whimpering. "What?!"

"You're hurting me!" she whined, trying to pull away. He glared and loosened his grip on her arm. She sniffled at him reproachfully, eyes tearing. Zel bit his lip and picked her up, feeling bad again.

"Sorry," he mumbled, navigating through traffic, searching for a target. Lina sniffled once more, wrapped her little arms around his neck, and laid her head on his shoulder. Within seconds she was happily playing with his bangs, thankfully quiet. Zel sighed.

One moment they were pushing against traffic, the next they were sprawled on the ground, knocked flat by some guy. Lina, finding herself in the mud again, started to howl. Zel looked up at a harried merchant, wringing his hands nervously as he stared at Lina. Seizing the opportunity, he burst into tears himself.

The merchant shuffled uneasily, not sure how to handle two crying kids who he had made cry. Unable to stay, though, because of pressing business, he dug into his purse and flung whatever came to hand at the boy. Zel stopped crying as soon as the money was thrown at him. Catching it, he looked up at the man in shock. The man nodded nervously and quickly disappeared.

Zelgadis smiled. That worked well. Pushing himself up, he went over to Lina and picked her up out of the mud, wiping her face with his already dirty shirt. "C'mon, Lina, don't cry. It's just a little dirt. And look, " he held the coins out like a prize, "we have some money. Real money. I can buy you a lollipop."

Lina snuffled and nodded, brightening at the mention of a 'pop, "We did good?"

Zel nodded and tugged her in the direction of a candy shop.


With Lina happily sucking on her new red 'pop - a painfully expensive 'pop in his opinion - as Zel led them through the more sleazy and rundown parts of Saillune. Guiding the girl through back alleys, cubby holes, and broken down buildings, Zel headed straight to Bonk Street. Or, that's what it was called by those who lived there.

Bonk Street was the official place for the less prosperous division of the Whore's Guild, named for the "bonk shops" or houses of prostitution. Zel went around the back of a disreputable looking chunk of wood that passed for a shop ad knocked on the red painted door.

A low scratchy voice shouted from the house, "Brat?"

"Yeah, Tachi, it's me," he yelled back.

"Fine, fine, hold on, "grumbling, Tachi came to the door and threw it open, "Whatcha got today?"

A average woman by anyone's standards, Tachi was brown haired, brown eyed, and getting toward middle age. Supposedly desirable drapes of cloth covered her form, every color of a very dirty rainbow. Her face was painted up to the point of tackiness, but somehow managed to make her look a little younger.

Zel dug into his pocket and retrieved a solid gold coin, one of the ones the distraught merchant had tossed at him, "Gold, Tachi."

Tachi nabbed the coin and bit into it. Nodding in satisfaction, she pocketed the piece and looked back down at the boy. "What's with the cute little thing?"

Lina poked her head out from behind Zel, small arms latched around his stomach as she peered suspiciously at the woman from the relative safety behind him. "I'm not cute! I'm a burden!"

"Burden, huh?" Tachi snickered, "I bet you are."

"Of course I am!" she looked up at Zel and tightened her grip, "But not to Zelga-Zelzi- um ... Zel!" she gazed up at him doubtfully, "Right?"

"Um, right."

"See!" Lina stuck her tongue out at Tachi and pushed her face into Zel's shirt.

The woman snickered again, clearly amused, "Whatever. So, brat, you want spots for you and your ... ahem friend?"

Zelgadis nodded.

"Well ... " she drawled, eyeing Lina.

"Please, Tachi ... it is gold!"

"Ok, brat, you and her can stay for tonight. But don't disturb my custom!"

He nodded emphatically and herded Lina inside quickly, pulling her into his hiding spot under the stairwell. She whined, "But, Ze~el - "

"Shh! Lina, it's okay. We're sleeping here tonight, okay?"

"But - " She squirmed as he shoved her down under the covers and covered her mouth.

"Look, tomorrow we'll go out and play. But tonight we have to be quiet like mice."

"Mice?" she asked him, curious. Zel motioned for her to lower her voice, so she repeated her question, but quieter, "Mice?"

Burrowing under the ratty blanket, he nodded, "Yeah. Little animals with tails and fur and big long teeth and whiskers and round ears."

"Luna-neechan hits them with her broom," Lina informed him solemnly, "Will you catched me one?"

"They're fast. I couldn't catch one."

"Oh ... ok."

Voices suddenly sounded by the doorway, followed by tromping feet as two people went upstairs. Lina cuddled up next to Zel, "What are they doing?"

"Adult stuff."

"Are we adults?"


Shouts came from upstairs. Lina whimpered, "What's happening?"

"Bad stuff, " Zel pulled her closer and covered her ears as the shouts became understandable, "Just don't listen and stay quiet and everything will be okay."

"Promise?" she whispered, hiding her face in his shirt as she covered her ears with her hands.

"Yeah, I promise, Lina," he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, "I promise I won't let it happen to you."


A annoyingly high pitched voice woke Zel up, "Awww, ain't they cute?"

He blinked and opened his eyes. A gangly, grimy man with buck teeth and a weasely face grinned lewdly at them before shouting over his shoulder at Tachi, "These yer brats, slut?"

Tachi looked up from her cooking of breakfast, "No. They're just streetrats. Must've come in for a place with a roof."

Zel gritted his teeth and tensed, carefully making his face a vacant, stupid mask. Lina murmured in her sleep and cuddled closer to him, her grip tightening.

The man smirked widely, showing his yellowed teeth, "Ya want ta sell her, brat?"


"Ya sure?" The man - whom Zel was beginning to think of as the Weasel - prodded Lina with a booted toe. She whimpered and woke up.

Zel narrowed his eyes, pulling Lina even closer as she watched the two a little fearfully, "Yes."

"Well, too bad. I want her." Reaching down, Weasel jerked Lina up by her arm, tearing her from Zelgadis's grasp.

Zel snarled and jumped the man, "SHE'S MINE!" Biting and clawing he tore into him. The man yelped and let go of Lina, startled. Grabbing Tachi's broom, he slammed it into the Weasel's knees and then jammed the end into his groin. Weasel let out a muffled scream of pain and fell over, holding himself. Zelgadis grabbed Lina's hand and ran out.


"Zel?" Lina poked his worriedly.

He glanced up from his rock kicking, "Yeah?"

"Where're we going?"

"I ... don't ... know."


Lina giggled to herself as she snatched the bread. Zel would be so happy. Smiling, she whistled and skipped down the alley. It had been a long time since she lost Luna-neechan, almost a year now. They had never found her either. And they had looked. But that was okay, Zel took care of her.

There's the board. Squirming under the board into the darkness of their hiding place, Lina paused to let her eyes adjust to the lack of light. Lina was about to hide the bread when a scraping noise alerted her to Zel's entrance.

"Zel! Look!" she held out the bread proudly for his inspection, "I got all by myself and I didn't get caught either."

He smiled at her, but not before Lina saw the worry in his eyes or they way he was biting his lip - a sure sign they were in trouble again, "That's great, Lina."

Well, only one way to bear the beast in her mind and that was directly, "Are we in trouble again?"

He blinked, startled, before sighing, "Maybe, I dunno."

"Dunno?" She puzzled, breaking the bread to give some to Zel. She was hungry! Besides, she always thought she did better on a full stomach, rare as that was now.

"There are some guys around, officials y'know? They're asking a lot of questions about little girls," he said, rapidly eating his own food, as if someone was going to come around and take it from him. Of course, Lina had also learned that trick of scarfing down food, it was the most effective when she might have to fight for it.

She swallowed, feeling the sharp sting of fear. Men who looked for little girls were bad news. Zel noticed the look on her face and hastened to reassure her, "It's okay, I said I wouldn't let 'em hurt you and I won't. We'll leave right now and not come back."

"Where will we go?"

"Other side of town, hide out near the tanners for awhile."

She wrinkled her nose, "Ewwwww."

Zelgadis just gave her a look, before he started digging into their hiding spots and pulling out the small catch of copper coins, the last gold piece from that long time ago, and a sort of squashed apple. "Let's go."

Stuffing the apple in a pocket she'd ripped into her old dress - now way too small - she grabbed his hand and let him lead her out.


"Hey kid, where ya goin'?" Zel ignored the voice and kept walking, one hand clutching Lina's as she tried to be inconspicuous.

"I said: Where ya goin'?" He looked up at the man who had just placed himself in front of them, carefully making his face a blank, stupid mask.

"Home." Oh, how that word still twisted like a knife.

The man, a solid mass of muscle wearing the uniform he'd seen before, hawked and spit to the side, eyeballing him and trying to eyeball Lina, who was now hiding behind him. Thank goodness he had remembered to rub dust in her hair and made her hold that scarf over her scarlet curls. If she just kept her eyes down, she might be inconspicuous enough to avoid notice. Till now ... "And where's that, rat?"

He waved vaguely to the left, in the direction of the drab but decent housing district, "Over there. Mulberry Street."

"Lying runt."

"Am not."

"Who's yer friend?" The man demanded, changing the subject as he jerked Lina away from him by an arm.

"My sister," he snapped, glaring at the man, while trying to figure a way to make him let go long enough for them to run.

Jerking her scarf off to reveal the tumble of red, the man smirked, "Don't look like yer blood, runt. Unless yer her pimp or something."

"That's enough, Jay." Zel blinked and glanced at the lady who had suddenly appeared behind the man, the mantel and the signal of the Ceifeed God on her robes, eyes hidden by long lavender bangs, her voice as cold as ice.

Lina squeaked and bit the man, making him let her go in surprise, as she scrambled to hide behind Zel again, quivering. Why would she - ?

"Luna-neechan," she whimpered, burying her face in Zel's shirt. She's afraid of her sister??

"Aw, you've gone and scared the the child, Luna-san." Where did he - ? This was rapidly becoming both unnerving and frightening to Zel. People just didn't appear out of no where like these two did, nor did they radiate that aura of cold power, cruel and skin crawling. He swallowed and started backing away.

"Don't interfere, Jou-jinken Priest."

"Wouldn't dream of it." He's got the demon eyes! Zel's mind babbled to him as he kept backing up, pulling Lina with him. Cold violet eyes, slit like a cat's, smiled darkly at him behind dark purple hair. A cruel smirk touched his too-pretty face, chilling him as he stared wide eyed at the man - no, Mazoku. Elegant violet suit, a long pointed cane resting on the ground ... he swallowed again.

"You aren't going anywhere with Lina, boy."

"Neither are you, so go away!" He was glad his voice only quavered a little ... then not so glad as the woman's attention was directed fully on him.

"What gives you any claim?"

"She's mine! I found her."

Luna frowned as Zel hugged Lina to him, glaring at her, even though the boy was almost hysterical with fear. On one point, she was amused. On the other ... this could not continue, the child would corrupt Lina, screw up all the training she'd put into that girl ...

The man beside her gestured, sending a shrieking Lina into his arms. Her frown deepened, How dare he make a claim on her! Predictably, the girl struggled, clawing and thrashing in the Priest's grip, while shrieking for her friend.


It dissipated into nothing on her shielding as she looked back at the boy. Third rate, barely enough power to light a candle ... without his anger and fear.


Luna ignored Zel as she turned, gesturing at the Priest to follow her. Almost too late he jumped for the man holding his Lina, grabbing ahold of his arm and jerking. It was probably the stupidest thing he had ever done. The cold eyes turned to him as an arm picked him up by the scruff of his neck. "Oh, I'll remember you, little one."

He did his level best to kick the Mazoku. Lazily, the demon smiled and tossed him into a wall. And they both vanished, taking a still screaming red head with them. A red head still screaming for him ... a darkness clouded over his eyes as he struggled to bring air back into his lungs as he sunk to the littered ground, Lina ... and all was black.


They should be here soon. Once again, Lina was disrupting his life. Not that he minded all that much ... I swore an oath He'd said he'd keep her safe and he would, even from Xellos, especially from Xellos. That bastard who stalked her even now, waiting to take her as payment for some horrid deal forged with their supposed protector. He had no intention of letting her out of his sight as for long as that demon remained. Lina was the only person he had let himself care about and he would not leave her all alone or let her be taken away again. Not now, not ever. And Xellos, dear hated Xellos, can go shove it. Lina is mine.

"Hey, Zel!" He looked up and smiled a little as the two travelers bounded up to say hi and subsequently drag him to an inn with them. Smiling to himself, he followed along behind them. Lina dropped back for a moment and looked up at him with that look, one he hadn't seen in a long time ... "Zel, are you sticking around this time?"

I don't abandon family. I will never abandon you. He shrugged noncommittally, "Probably. If you're going in the direction I am."

Quietly, she slipped her hand into his and smiled at him with the smile that long ago had won his heart, translating the words for what they really meant. "Of course, Zel-niisan."


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