Part 1

"You're going to eat more?" Zelgadis Greywords asked, his tone irritated. "We've been here for hours already! You two have eaten enough in one sitting to feed this entire town for a day!"

"I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration, Zel," retorted Lina Inverse. "I mean, this is a pretty big town." She looked to their companion, Gourry Gabriev, but the tall blond swordsman was unable to voice any support as he'd just stuffed most of a chicken leg into his mouth. He blinked at Lina, pale blue eyes faintly questioning. Sighing softly, the diminutive red-haired sorceress returned her attention to Zelgadis.

Narrowing her red eyes, she gazed critically at her friend. "What's your problem today, Zel? Wanting to find your cure as soon as possible is one thing, but not letting us have time to eat is something else, wouldn't you say?" Fully prepared to brush off Zelgadis' complaint, as usual, she was completely taken aback by his unusually vehement response.

The stone-skinned chimera had been sitting calmly enough at their table, sipping periodically from the mug he held in his hands. Instead of grumpily returning to his beverage, he clenched his hands around the mug. So tightly did he grasp the cup that it shattered in his grip, wetting his hands with warm, brown liquid and leaving shards and sharp edges scratching at his rocky skin. He flung the pottery fragments onto the table with an inarticulate cry and leapt to his feet.

"I have not got time for this!" he shouted at her, "I've got things to do. I can't just sit here watching you two stuff your faces! I need to go, get out of here ... " He gestured impatiently towards the door of the inn they'd been eating in and turned away from his two companions, only to stop in mid-step. As a startled Lina watched, Zelgadis's head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. His attention had obviously been caught by something, though the petite sorceress couldn't tell what. She hoped she might find out when he turned to face her, still simmering with irritation. He opened his mouth to say something ... and froze in place.

To Lina's surprise, the expression on his face changed, losing the hard, angry edge. The lines of his face softened and his sharply focused concentration blurred into an uncharacteristic abstraction. Lina looked on, her surprise becoming concern as Zelgadis' anger drained away, replaced by an eerie blankness. Her concern solidified, becoming a faint chill along her spine as her companion's face suddenly twisted into an expression of ... distress? She watched as Zelgadis returned to himself, startlement showing on his face momentarily before he regained enough composure to smooth his expression into the calmly neutral one he normally wore.

Zelgadis stood before Lina, his body taut, fairly vibrating with tension. He held his arms straight at his sides and the sorceress could see that his hands were clenched into tight fists. He tossed his head, shifting his silvery-lavender hair away from his face before locking his gaze with Lina's. Dark blue-violet eyes met brilliant red for a moment, and she noted with rising worry that his eyes were wide and not nearly as controlled as his expression. Emotions swirled madly in the depths of his eyes, their darkness standing out against the pale blue of his face and emphasized by the pebbles rimming his eyes and spotting his skin. Shocked past words, thoughts of her interrupted dinner now inconsequential in the face of this latest problem, Lina watched Zelgadis watch her for a few moments more before he broke eye contact with a heavy sigh.

Lina was still trying process having seen Zelgadis act quite so unexpectedly.

What the heck's going on here? Zel can be tempermental but this is a bit much even for him!

She and Gourry had only been traveling with Zelgadis for a few days now, after having run across the chimera on one of the main trading routes. The sorceress and swordsman had been making their way towards a city supposedly plagued by a vicious bandit gang. Upon hearing this rumor, Lina had decided to visit this place. It had been, in her opinion, far too long since she'd broken up a group of bandits. Her supply of treasure was getting somewhat low and she'd been feeling the need to cut loose with some real fireworks. It had been something of a surprise to see a familiar, ivory-cloaked figure trotting along the road ahead of them. She'd had no idea that Zel was planning to travel in that area to begin with and moreover she found it odd that he was walking so freely along the relatively crowded road in the daytime. Zel hated crowds and worried that his appearance might cause him trouble so he tended not to travel like that if he was alone.

Zelgadis had seemed happy enough to see them, or at least not displeased to see them, which amounted to the same thing for him. Right away, Lina had remarked to herself that his temper was fouler than usual. Never a cheerful person, Zel had been snappish, irritable and withdrawn. This was not unknown and not unexpected if he'd just come from a disappointing failure to reverse his condition and lost a chance to become human again. She'd simply shrugged and disregarded his more venomous comments. Zelgadis tended to be a relatively even-tempered individual, more prone to calmness than Lina herself would ever be. Surely, given enough time, his temper would pass. Upon reflection of the events that just taken place, Lina admitted that her appraisal of the situation might have been a tad optimistic.

So, now I know there's something going on, mused Lina. Now I just have to find out what! Why's Zel this upset? I mean, I've seen him angry, but this -

Her contemplation was broken by a sudden movement. Zelgadis abruptly took a step away from her, dragging her thoughts back to the here and now. Taking a deep breath, he appeared to be imposing calm on himself before facing her again.

"Look, Lina," he began, his soft voice now calm, "I apologize for being so hard to deal with. I'm, well, involved in something right now. It appears to be affecting me more than I thought it would. I think it would be best for all of us if I keep my distance until I've sorted this out." With this vague explanation, Zelgadis turned away, waved a quick farewell and began to stride away.

"Wha - ?" Lina was caught off guard by more than his abrupt departure. Zel apologized?? Spinning around to face Gourry, she found him just looking up from the food.

"What happened? Where'd Zelgadis go?" the blond asked her.

Shaking her head at the man's sheer density she ordered him to stay where he was before hurrying towards the door and Zelgadis's retreating figure. Behind her, she heard Gourry order most of the menu - again.

Weaving her way through the crowded dining room, she caught up with Zelgadis as he passed the threshold of the inn's doorway and took hold of his arm. Before he could protest, she gave a sharp tug at his arm and started to lead him away from the front of the inn towards the alley at its side. Startled by her sudden appearance and trying not to be towed after her, Zel hung back. She turned to pin him with an annoyed glare and ordered, "Zel, stop it." Surprised by the steel in her voice, he relented and allowed her to pull him into the alley beside her.

This is not a good thing.

Regarding Lina warily, Zelgadis sorted through his options, quickly coming to a dismal conclusion. In the end he was going to have to explain what had just happened - that or get fireballed by a very irritated Lina. Possibly both.

"So, Zel. Care to explain that little display inside?" Lina had let go of his arm to cross hers over her chest as she leaned nonchalantly against the alley wall. Zelgadis noticed that for all her seeming casualness, her eyes were very intent as she gazed at him. He raised an eyebrow at the question and made certain that his mask of cool indifference was firmly in place before he risked answering.

"Explain what little display? Since when does the loss of one's temper require explanation? Even if it did, I hardly think you'd be in any position to demand said explanation." Zelgadis was careful to inject a distinct note of superiority into that last comment. He could see the verbal barb hit home as Lina's cheeks flushed and she opened her mouth for an angry retort.

"Are you saying I'm - ?!" She stopped mid-sentence and Zelgadis watched as she visibly struggled to repress the remainder of her rejoinder. Her attempt was evidently successful and she smiled ruefully before replying to his comment. "And I just proved your point. Isn't it lucky for us then, that I wasn't asking you about your outburst?"

Zelgadis cursed silently as he felt himself stiffening in response to Lina's continued inquiry. He knew that she'd see it, perceptive as she was. Tiredly, he rubbed a hand over his face, feeling far too off-balance from the confused tangle of emotion that had resulted in this little chat and vulnerable because of it.

Damn! Distraction didn't work and somehow I doubt Lina will let me just brush this off.

After a moment of charged silence, Lina spoke again. "What I'm asking about is what happened after your little temper tantrum. You went from furious to distracted to completely blank in less time than it takes to tell it. Not to mention how you came to looking as disturbed as I felt watching you." She shook her head. "That isn't normal behaviour for anyone, Zel, much less someone who's as focused as you are."

"It's a personal problem." Zelgadis refused to say more, turning away from her and knowing she still caught a glimpse of the obstinate frown he wore. He could feel a flare of resentment start to burn within him. What right had Lina to demand such answers of him? He had no need of her or any of the others with her and he certainly didn't have to endure being interrogated about personal matters! Defensive resentment transmuted to righteous anger and Zelgadis turned confidently to face Lina once more, determined to point out the truth of the situation to her, only to find himself presented with a sight he couldn't bluster his way past.

Outwardly, Lina hadn't changed. She still leaned casually against the wall, arms crossed, regarding him intently. Something about her was different, though. Perhaps it was in the barely perceptible hunch of her shoulders...?

"So you gonna tell me anything? Or keep all your secrets to yourself?"

The voice! The difference was in her voice. The brashness was ever-so-slightly brittle, the brightness of her tone was ... forced. More than that, there was a strange undercurrent to her words; something that spoke of both hope and resignation. Startled by the change and by the emotions colouring the air around him, Zelgadis caught Lina's gaze - and found his answer.

Lina's eyes spoke what she herself - proud Lina Inverse, Enemy of All Who Live - could not. Genuine concern welled from deep within, clouding her crimson orbs. A very obvious wish to do something was balanced by fearful resignation that she would not be allowed to do so. Louder than words could, Lina's eyes conveyed her plea.

Please let me help.

Taken aback by her sincerity, Zelgadis was momentarily unsure of how to react. Then he sighed softly and shook his head.

So that's what gives her the right to ask.

"Look, I don't think it's anything you can help with." But if it means that much to you ... "But I suppose it won't hurt to tell you what I know."

Part 2   |   Fanfiction