Zelgadis looked up from the old text, a treatise on magic as it had been practiced in an old and remote desert kingdom long since swallowed by sand, open in front of him to glare at the Mazoku who had suddenly appeared in the remote library. He didn't bother to ask how Xellos had found him or how he had worked his way past the very stern monks that guarded the library. He probably didn't want to know. Instead he answered the Mazoku's question, experience having taught him that the easiest way to get rid of their unwanted traveling companion was just to play along until the demon got bored.
"What would happen when?" There were a thousand different ways Xellos could be going with the conversation, but Zelgadis was sure the Mazoku would chose the most uncomfortable one. He had a feeling he knew exactly where Xellos was going to push the conversation, and he knew he wouldn't like it. It wasn't a hard thing to guess, considering their location.
Xellos nodded towards the thick tome. "After that."
That was exactly where he knew Xellos would try to lead the conversation, and he was prepared. "Yes, I have."
"And?" Xellos' smile quirked upwards at an impossible angle.
Zelgadis returned the smile with one of his own. He wasn't going to play along with the Mazoku's taunting. "And what?"
One of Xellos' eyes opened, a tiny sliver of purple peeking out. "Why do you want to change?"
"Do I need to go into it? I would think that it's obvious." It was clear, at least to him, but he didn't feel particularly inclined to bare his reasoning to the Mazoku. The freak probably got pleasure out of the emotions thinking about it brought up for Zelgadis.
"Not to me."
Zelgadis stood suddenly, slamming the book shut. He didn't want to get into it, not now, not ever, but he knew Xellos wouldn't leave it alone until Zelgadis gave him something. That didn't mean he had to come out and say it directly though. "Have you looked at me recently?"
Both of Xellos' eyes opened at that moment and Zelgadis suddenly grew very uncomfortable under their gaze. "I have." The tone of Xellos' voice made Zelgadis shiver, and he wasn't entirely sure why. "More than you know."
Zelgadis turned away, re-shelving the book in an effort to exert some control over the situation. Xellos' stare was more unsettling than it should have been. He marked it an effect of the conversation, the subject made him testy under normal circumstances. With Xellos around he was bound to react more extremely.
He fell back on his usual caustic responses, removing his emotions from the subject. "Then you should know that I look like a freak."
"Not to me."
The answer was said so flatly, so simply, that Zelgadis turned mid-stalk to stare open-mouthed at Xellos. His mouth flapped silently for a long moment before he forced himself to turn away, shock shifting to disgust. Xellos was mocking him, he was sure of it. "You're Mazoku," Zelgadis snarled back.
"So glad you finally noticed."
Zelgadis refused to rise to Xellos' bait. "Your tastes are different," he continued. "You're all freaks."
"Just because we have a different standard of beauty doesn't mean we're wrong."
Again Zelgadis found himself stopped in his tracks. There was an honesty in the demon's words but he refused to believe it. He wasn't wrong, not after all these years. "You don't understand," he finished petulantly. Turning away, he strode out of the library. Silence followed him down the halls of the abbey. If the Mazoku followed him, he remained quiet until Zelgadis stepped outside.
Xellos was waiting for him at the bottom of the steps, his eyes half-open as if he were squinting against the sun. "I understand many things that you do not."
Anger rose in Zelgadis at the implication. He knew what he was talking about, especially where it concerned his curse. "If you understand so much," he spat out angrily, storming past the Mazoku in rage, "then you should understand why I need to change."
"I don't." Xellos was bobbing in the air behind him, floating like a wind-tossed kite. "So why don't you tell me. Make me understand."
Zelgadis stopped, planting his feet firmly as he turned to glare at Xellos, giving the Mazoku one last chance before he lost his temper fully. "I don't want to have to hide anymore."
"Then don't," Xellos answered evenly, as if it was the most simple thing in the world.
"Have you seen the way they look at me?" He knew his voice was rising, and he was thankful that the abbey was remote and the road disserted or he would have been calling even more unwanted attention to himself.
"It's no different from the way they look at me."
"It is!" Zelgadis was shouting now. He couldn't remember the last time he had let his emotions get this out of hand. This wasn't going to end well, he could tell. "You at least look normal," he continued. "They look at you for the first time and they think you're just a weird human wizard or something, at least until you open your eyes or start throwing your powers around. They look at me and all they see is a monster."
Xellos shrugged, unable or unwilling to argue with that point of logic. "They're humans. Why should you care?"
"So am I. Or at least I was." The last statement killed his anger, replacing it with the depression that so normally accompanied him.
"Personally, I think you're better this way."
That was the last straw. Power gathered, two words to summon it to his fingertips, and in a flash of holy white Xellos was gone. He only felt worse in the Mazoku's absence.
Xellos left him alone for the rest of the evening, staying away until Zelgadis returned to his room at the local inn.
"I thought you didn't want to hide."
Zelgadis turned away as he pulled the draping hood and mask away from his face. "I have to."
The Mazoku hung upside down from the ceiling, only half of his body visible through the wood. "And do you think turning back is going to change that?"
"Of course. They're only afraid of me because of how I look."
A twisted smile stretched across Xellos' face, and Zelgadis had the sick feeling that his answers were only playing into whatever argument Xellos had prepared.
"Have you thought about what will happen when your powers are gone?"
"My powers aren't linked to my appearance," Zelgadis protested quickly.
Xellos drifted slowly down through the ceiling, flipping mid-air, and then settling onto a small wooden chair, his entire posture radiating smugness. "But some of them are. Your invulnerability, your speed, your strength, and even a part of your magic. They'll all be gone if you become fully human again."
"That won't affect too much." Even as he spoke Zelgadis knew what Xellos' response would be.
"They will, only then you'll be hiding from us instead of them. Think of it. You'll become a hinderance to Lina and her friends instead of an integral helper. If you can't fight you're just a liability. They'll have to leave you behind somewhere, and then what will you do?"
The words stung, more than any crying child's terrified wails or a woman's disgusted looks. He schooled his face, years of practice keeping the hurt from registering in his expression.
"I'll find something," he promised, more to himself than Xellos. "Become a priest or something."
"That's certainly fitting, after all these years of hiding." Xellos' mocking tone cut through him. "But is that what you really want, honestly? Do you want to exchange one kind of hiding for another?"
Zelgadis found himself answering the question without thinking.
"Good." With a single word, the heavy air in the room disappeared behind one of Xellos' smiles. "I'm glad you understand that."
Zelgadis felt like all the tension he'd been holding inside of himself for so many years had just popped, floating away like the air in a balloon. It shouldn't be this simple. He'd searched so long for a cure that Xellos shouldn't be able to talk him out of it in one night. In a way he hadn't. The hope that he could be normal still remained but the drive that had pushed him to find the cure was gone, replaced instead by a hollow kind of disappointment.
He sat abruptly on the bed, his limbs going limp with the new lack of purpose. Turning his eyes up slowly, he stared at the Mazoku watching him from across the room. "Why do you care?" He had to know why Xellos had pushed so hard to destroy all of Zelgadis' dreams. The Mazoku was probably getting pleasure from Zelgadis' pain, that was how Mazoku lived. He couldn't dredge up the emotions to fault Xellos at the moment.
"That is a good question," Xellos answered with a wide smile. Purple eyes opened to pierce Zelgadis with their gaze. He felt frozen, trapped inside the look. "I would tell you," Xellos' voice was teasing as he stood, "but I think you've had enough revelations for the night. Instead I'll just leave you with a simple answer."
With a pop of air Xellos was suddenly in front of him, lips pressing firmly over Zelgadis' in a chaste kiss. And then he was gone.
Zelgadis stayed frozen, staring at the empty room with eyes that saw things with new clarity.