Xellos leaned against the thin wooden fence that surrounded the Wandering Sorceress Inn and watched. It was a bright, sunny day. A warm breeze played across the grassy yard that separated him from the inn, blowing through his hair and into the inn through the large open windows. A handful of horses grazed in the yard. Several patrons sat on the terrace outside, enjoying their meal amidst the beauty of the day. Voices drifted across the expanse of the yard towards him, chatter from both inside and out, but he was too far away and not interested enough to put forth the effort of trying to listen in.

A horse wandered over. He ignored it for the moment. It nudged him insistently with its nose. Xellos sighed and reached over to scratch it on the nose. The horse whinnied happily at him.

The inn was busy. It usually was at all of the traditional mealtimes, though it hardly lacked for patronage outside of that. The good weather seemed to have drawn a particularly large crowd. A line of people lounged on benches near the entrance, waiting for a table to clear up. The inn was supposed to have some of the best food in the region, certainly the best in the town, though Xellos had yet to test that.

Most of the patrons came to the Wandering Sorceress for the food or because it was the best inn in Zephilia in terms of accommodations. Others, like Xellos, knew of the town because of the sorceress sisters that it had spawned, for most that was the younger of the pair, the one that the inn was named after, Lina Inverse.

That was not why Xellos came here, or why he kept coming back, over and over, and spent his time staring at the inn.

Amidst the chaos of the common room, there was one particular face that stood out. Xellos would have been able to pick that face out of a crowd, no matter the distance. He let his hand wander up to scratch behind the horse's ears as he watched the black-haired human move through the common room. He mingled with commoners and the wealthy alike, always polite and slightly hesitant as he spoke to them, taking their orders. He never lingered, never spent more time talking to anyone than was necessary. The human was wary of others, though he hid it well. Every so often, when one of the guests said something that made him nervous, he would reach up and fidget with a mask that was no longer there, forgetting that he no longer needed one.

"I cleared a table for you."

Xellos showed no outward sign that he had even noticed the red-headed woman walk up to him. He waited a moment before speaking. The boy in the inn disappeared into the kitchen.

"That won't be necessary," he said quietly.

She snorted, startling the horse into moving away from them. Xellos let his hand fall back onto the fence.

"Stop skulking and get your ass inside."

Xellos finally turned to meet the woman's gaze. She leaned against the fence with a proprietary air, warranted given that she owned the inn. She was beautiful, even by a demon's standards. Tall, buxom, powerful – all traits he would have looked for in a woman, if he was inclined towards such things. Her stance said that she was prepared to fight him over this, and she already had a decent amount of annoyance built up at having to come out here and take time away from her customers to fetch him. He glanced at the boy inside. He was delivering two plates of pasta to an older couple, merchants, judging by their dress. A fight between the two of them could get messy.

He sighed and stepped away from the fence. "As you wish, Luna."

She grinned widely, reminding Xellos of her sister.

Luna led him to a small table in the back of the common room. It stood in a semi-shadowed corner, where his strange garb and purple eyes would be mostly over-looked by the inn's human patrons. He took a seat, keeping his back to the wall. The young man he'd been watching glanced their way. Luna raised her hand and motioned him over.

"Zelgadis."

The boy smiled. Xellos was slightly disappointed that the smile wasn't for him. Zelgadis walked over to them, navigating his way between tables and patrons with the kind of ease borne of practice. Zelgadis noticed Xellos by the time he was halfway across the room. His smile turned into a brief frown and he squinted, like he was having trouble seeing Xellos.

"Hello," Zelgadis greeted shyly as he joined Luna next to the table. He hovered slightly behind her, using her as a buffer between himself and Xellos.

"This is Xellos," Luna introduced."A friend of my sister's."

"Oh!" Zelgadis's face brightened instantly. He regarded Xellos with interest. "I thought you looked familiar." Zelgadis glanced up at Luna before turning back to Xellos, his face tinged with uncertainty. "Do we know each other?"

Xellos pasted his usual broad smile in place. "Yes. We did."

A brief look of sadness crossed Zelgadis's face. "Oh. I'm sorry."

Xellos waved off the boy's concern. The stab of guilt that shot through his stomach was an entirely new experience for him. "Don't worry. Lina explained." His smile never faltered at the lie. He had a feeling Luna knew. "I'm glad you found the cure you spent so long looking for."

A strange, almost guilty expression crossed Zelgadis's face. Luna squeezed the boy on the shoulder and started to move away. "Don't worry about it," she said. "You two will have plenty of time to catch up. Xellos is staying here for the night. Isn't that right, Xellos?"

The smile she shot him reminded him of a toothy shark. He shivered and pretended it wasn't from fear.

He nodded quickly. "Ah. Yes, that's right."

Luna smiled smugly back at him. "Zelgadis can help you settle in after the lunch rush is over."

Xellos played along, partly because it gave him an excuse to watch Zelgadis from close up, and partially because he was afraid Luna would try to kill him if he said no. He wasn't entirely sure what Luna's game was, but if she wanted him to stay, he would.

Belatedly, he realized Zelgadis had asked him a question. "What?"

Zelgadis smiled at him. He had a notepad in hand. His normal shyness that he carried around him with the other patrons was absent with Xellos. "Would you like something to drink?"

He wondered how much it would have rankled the old Zelgadis to wait on him. The new, human, amnesiatic version seemed quite content.

"Wine, if you have it. Preferably something old and red."

Zelgadis grinned. "Sure. I'll be right back."

Xellos watched him go. He had to admit, the view was much better from inside.

*****

They walked through the woods, shifting between shadow and light every few minutes. Xellos smiled, finding the environment a perfect match for his nature. Zelgadis walked at his side, chatting happily with him. Compared to the Zelgadis he used to know, the current version was positively gregarious.

"Did you ever fight any dragons?" Zelgadis asked, his voice full of wonder. Ever since Luna had introduced them, Zelgadis had latched on to Xellos as his source for information about their shared past, though recently his questions had focused more on tales of Xellos's adventures than any of his own. He'd been tempted to lie a few times, but had strangely refrained. For the most part. He may have downplayed his own involvement in a few matters. He also may have avoided all reference to his non-human nature.

Xellos was slightly surprised to find that none of Zelgadis's other friends visited very often. It worked out well for him. If Lina, Filia, or Amelia knew he was keeping an eye on Zelgadis, they would have driven him away long ago. Well, they would have tried. Instead, they were foolishly searching for a cure for Zelgadis's amnesia.

Xellos chuckled inwardly. He knew what would help Zelgadis and they were never going to find it.

"Yes," Xellos answered after a long pause. "So have you. You're also friends with one."

Zelgadis glanced askance at him. "Are you making things up again?"

Xellos chuckled. Zelgadis found it hard to believe the number of strange things he'd been a part of over the years. He accepted all of Xellos's great feats with something akin to awe, but any tales of his own success were immediately met with skepticism. It heartened Xellos to know that a small part of Zelgadis's personality remained the same, though for all he knew, this is what Zelgadis was like when he wasn't around someone he hated.

"No, it's true. You've heard mention of a woman named Filia?"

Zelgadis nodded. "She came to visit me once, with Lina and the others." There was a wistful note to his voice that made Xellos want to whisk Lina and her group back to the inn. Almost. He wasn't that suicidal. Yet.

"She's a gold dragon. One of the few left of her kind."

Zelgadis remained skeptical. "She doesn't look like a dragon."

"Sometimes, people aren't what they appear to be. There are a number of races that can alter their appearance. Most chose to appear human to blend in."

"Like you?"

Xellos stopped. Zelgadis paused a pace in front of him and turned, waiting. There was no accusation in his expression, merely curiosity. He smiled warily. He was fairly certain that he'd never mentioned his own foreign nature.

"Yes. Like me."

Zelgadis grinned at him. "I thought so. I wasn't completely human for a while either, right?" That strange expression was back on his face. If Xellos didn't know better, he would have thought Zelgadis looked... wistful.

The expression stirred up the guilt that seemed to be a constant companion whenever he was with Zelgadis, so he took the only logical course of action. He changed the subject. "Did I ever tell you about the time we had to go into the country that only allowed women?"

Zelgadis's eyes went round with surprise. "N-no."

"You made a very fetching woman. A number of the natives were quite taken with your beauty."

Predictably, Zelgadis flushed scarlet. It was strange seeing Zelgadis's cheeks color when it wasn't in anger. He liked it much better this way, though he couldn't help but feel of pang of nostalgia for the delightful purple Zelgadis's face would turn when Xellos got him wound up. Xellos grinned widely and made it his new mission to see how red he could get Zelgadis's face to turn before they got back to the inn.

*****

Temptation was not something Xellos was used to ignoring. Zelgadis lay next to him on the grass, his eyes drifting closed every few minutes. It was late. The sunset they'd been watching had long ago faded, leaving them with a wonderful view of the night sky and the still waters of the lake. Zelgadis had introduced him to this particular spot a few months ago. It really did offer a spectacular view, though Xellos preferred it because it was too remote to be popular with any of the young, amorous couples of the village. He liked to think of it as their private spot, though usually those thoughts were followed with self-admonishment of being too sentimental.

"Xellos?"

"Hmm?" He asked softly. If Zelgadis minded that Xellos's hand had found its way into his hair, he had yet to mention it or shift away. Xellos carded his fingers through the silken tendrils, marveling at the feel. The repetitive motion was relaxing and slightly hypnotic.

"Why do you keep coming back to visit me? You said we weren't that close, but you keep finding excuses to come back here a couple times each month."

Xellos's hand stilled, resting lightly against the top of Zelgadis's head. "That wasn't what I said."

Zelgadis's eyes opened and looked up at him. Blue eyes caught the moonlight, sparkling much like the lake. "I can't honestly believe that we hated each other. You wouldn't be here if you hated me, and I certainly don't hate you."

"Things were different back then." A hint of wistfulness crept into his voice. Xellos carefully schooled his emotions. He wasn't a teenager anymore, hadn't been for centuries.

Zelgadis reached up and wrapped his hand around Xellos's own. "I don't think they were. Why are you here, Xellos?"

If Xellos had a conscience, it would be yelling at him to stop. He couldn't, not when Zelgadis said his name with such pure affection.

Slowly, Xellos shifted on the grass until he was lying on his side next to Zelgadis. He braced himself with his free hand and leaned over. Zelgadis's eyes closed in anticipation. Xellos bridged the gap between them. His lips touched softly against flesh, so delicate, so human. It felt wrong, different. He deepened the kiss, slipping his tongue inside Zelgadis's mouth.

Zelgadis made a muffled noise of against Xellos's lips. His hands moved. Xellos was on the other side of the lake in a second.

The boy bolted upright. Surprise shifted into disappointment and then panic. He looked around, but his weak, human vision couldn't pierce the darkness on the other side of the lake.

"X-xellos?" Zelgadis sounded almost scared. He wasn't aware the former chimera could sound like that.

The attack Xellos had been expecting never came. He felt a bit like an idiot and very much like a jerk. He teleported back to Zelgadis's side, startling a gasp out of the young man.

Zelgadis looked up at him with wide eyes. They glinted with moisture. "Did... did I do something wrong?"

Xellos felt like someone had set off a Dragon Slave inside his gut. "Sorry." The word felt strange on his lips. He sank down next to Zelgadis on the grass and ran his hand through the boy's hair. The gesture had the desired effect of calming him. "I'm used to... well, you never used to like it when I kissed you." He remembered quite a few fireballs thrown his way, and the occasional Ra Tilt. Kissing Zelgadis wasn't quite the same without the threat of violence, but he had a feeling he could grow accustomed to this version too.

"Oh." Zelgadis still sounded confused. "I can't imagine why. You're..." The blush that spread across Zelgadis's face made Xellos want to kiss him again. "You're quite good at it."

Xellos grinned smugly. "Ah. Well. Perhaps we should try again."

Zelgadis blushed shyly and shifted closer on the grass. This time, when Xellos kissed him, he didn't run away. Zelgadis's hand moved, like before, but instead of preparing a spell, it and its fellow wound around Xellos's neck to draw him closer.

He really could get used to this.

*****

From that day onwards, their time together consisted mostly on trying to find places where they could be alone. They ended up in the hayloft above the stables, late one fall evening, nearly two months after their first fateful kiss. The human Zelgadis was delightfully naïve when it came to romance and Xellos had delighted in teaching him all he knew of kissing and touching.

He spread his cloak out across the hay and maneuvered Zelgadis onto his back on top of it. The boy was eager, willing to learn and almost desperate for Xellos's touch. It had been hard restraining himself so far. Really, he had no idea why he had, but he found that the anticipation they'd built up made things sweeter, now that he was finally determined to have his wicked way with the boy.

He'd gotten Zelgadis's shirt off after the first few minutes of kissing. It'd didn't take Zelgadis long to return the favor. Zelgadis's fingers were surprisingly nimble. If he remembered correctly, Zelgadis had once mentioned his grandfather teaching him how to pick locks and pockets, though that had seemed like a rather strange skill set for a priest to impart on his grandson. Xellos smiled to himself. Not all priests were pure. He was living proof of that.

As Zelgadis lifted Xellos's shirt over his head, a small red pendant swung out to dangle between them. Zelgadis caught it before it could smack him in the nose. He regarded it curiously, oblivious to the tension suddenly building in Xellos's body.

"What's this?" There was no sign of recognition in his voice, just pure curiosity.

"A good luck charm," Xellos answered. He slipped the pendant off his neck and tucked it safely in his pack.

Xellos grinned widely and he slipped his hand down the loosened front of Zelgadis's trousers, expertly distracting Zelgadis from his brief curiosity. The boy gasped softly and arched up into his touch. His eyes followed Xellos's movements, giving him an unintentionally sultry, half-lidded look that went straight to Xellos's groin. He rocked forward into Zelgadis's hips, rubbing the proof of his desire against Zelgadis's burgeoning erection.

"Xellos!" Zelgadis moaned his name. Never had Xellos heard sweeter music. He let his lips wander over Zelgadis's exposed skin, remapping territory that had grown increasingly familiar to him over the last few months. He bit down lightly against Zelgadis's shoulder, startling a gasp out of the young man.

"Please," Zelgadis whispered. His hands toyed with the clasp of Xellos's pants, silently asking permission.

Xellos drew his hand out, amused at the pout that brought onto his boy's face. The pout quickly disappeared as Xellos hooked his fingers in Zelgadis's pants and drew them down. Zelgadis helpfully lifted his hips so that Xellos could pull the fabric away.

He sat back on his heels and stared down at his prize. Zelgadis was laid out before him, legs slightly parted, blushing as he watched Xellos watch him. He wanted to memorize this moment, so that he never forgot the look or feel of Zelgadis wanting him so desperately.

Like all good things, Xellos knew this would eventually come to an end.

Zelgadis's hand caught his fingers, drawing Xellos back to him. He smiled as deft hands unfastened his pants and pushed the fabric down. The look Zelgadis gave him as Xellos's erection sprang free of the fabric could only be described as hungry. He licked his lips, derailing any and all thoughts in Xellos's head. He wanted to teach Zelgadis what he could do with that lovely mouth. He wanted to have Zelgadis open up for him, take Xellos into his mouth and taste him. He wanted Zelgadis to fall to his knees in front of him.

Those kind of thoughts would have to wait until later. He had other plans for tonight.

Xellos pulled a thin vial of clear liquid out of his pack. Zelgadis watched him curiously as he poured a thin line of liquid across his palm before capping the vial and returning it to his pack. He rubbed his hands together, coating them both in lubricant. Zelgadis parted his legs instinctively as Xellos slid between them.

He placed a chaste kiss on Zelgadis's forehead. "Relax for me."

One hand closed around Zelgadis's erection, wringing a startled gasp out of the boy. He stroked him slowly, enough to keep him excited but not using nearly enough pressure that he had to worry about things ending early. His other hand slipped down between the boys legs. A single finger pressed against Zelgadis's entrance. The boy tensed as it slowly breached him. Xellos distracted him with kisses.

He could feel Zelgadis's muscles tightening around him as he slid his finger in, all the way to the knuckle. Zelgadis's hands shook slightly against the fabric of his cloak but that was the only sign he made that suggested he was in pain. Xellos waited a moment and then started to move his finger. A soft gasp escaped Zelgadis's lips, but he shifted his hips with it, moving with Xellos's hand.

Xellos worked a second finger inside, marveling at the easy way Zelgadis surrendered to him. His legs came up around Xellos's waist, ankles crossed behind his back. Each push of Xellos's fingers dragged another new sound out of Zelgadis's lips until Xellos had him panting, half-gone with pleasure. That was enough, he decided.

Zelgadis protested as Xellos withdrew his hands. The one that had been stroking Zelgadis went to coat Xellos's own member. Bright blue eyes watched him, that hungry expression returning as he took himself into hand. Once he determined he was slick enough, he inched forward, lining his erection up with Zelgadis's hole.

"Please," Zelgadis gasped.

That was all the invitation Xellos needed. He pushed forward, reveling at the happy groan Zelgadis made as Xellos entered him. His hands were twisted tight in Xellos's cape. He had a feeling he wouldn't be able to look at the fabric again without thinking about the blissful heat that currently surrounded him. Zelgadis's tight flesh squeezed him. It felt like the closest thing to Heaven he'd ever get.

"Please," Zelgadis repeated. "Please, Xellos, I need you to- Ah!"

Zelgadis's words were cut off as Xellos rocked his hips forward. He was quite pleased at the open-mouthed look of surprise that spread across Zelgadis's face and tried that again, hoping he could repeat it. His experiment was quite successful. Xellos controlled their rhythm, starting with gentle, barely-there pushes into the young man and building, increasing in tempo until he was slamming his hips forward and making Zelgadis arch against Xellos's cape. He was careful to keep his strength in check. In the back of his mind, he worried that he might be hurting the boy, but the sounds coming out of Zelgadis's mouth were entirely of pleasure.

He wasn't surprised to find that Zelgadis was relatively quiet in bed. He had a wide range of noises that Xellos was slowly learning how to wring out of him, but they were all muted, cast low enough that Xellos was the only one likely to hear. He liked it that way. It was like this Zelgadis, the one caught up in the throes of passion was his alone.

Also, it meant that he didn't have to worry about Luna catching them and trying to cut Xellos in half.

"Ah! Xellos. I'm... Ah!"

One of Zelgadis's hands caught him by the back of his head, drawing Xellos down to kiss him. He let his tongue push its way into Zelgadis's mouth and he thrust his tongue against the roof of Zelgadis's mouth in time to the push of his hips. That turned out to be Zelgadis's undoing. Xellos's mouth muffled his cry as he clenched around Xellos, wringing a pleased groan out of the demon. Hot liquid shot against Xellos's chest and he smiled. He wrapped a hand around Zelgadis's erection and stroked him through his release, not letting go until he was arching wantonly up against Xellos, his own release long faded but Xellos's just now hitting him.

He came inside of Zelgadis with one last thrust and stilled. Xellos braced himself on his elbows and looked down at his new lover. Zelgadis grinned back up at him. He looked exhausted and incredibly well-fucked. It was one of the sexiest sights Xellos had ever seen, and one he hoped they could repeat a number of times.

Xellos's breathing evened out after a moment. He started to pull away.

"Wait."

Xellos stopped. He looked down at Zelgadis, slightly surprised to find a blush spreading across the boy's face. He'd thought they were past the blushing stage.

"Can we... Can we stay like this? Just... just for a few minutes."

If he had a heart, it likely would have melted into a warm, sappy puddle of goo. He slid back inside of Zelgadis, grinning at the shiver that wracked Zelgadis's body as he did so.

"Yeah. We can."

Zelgadis smiled. He wrapped his arms around Xellos and just hugged him, eyes closed, seemingly content just to be in Xellos's presence. It was flattering and rather ego-boosting, to say the least. Xellos closed his eyes and rested his weight more fully on top of the boy, pressing him down into the cloak-covered hay.

Minutes passed before Zelgadis spoke. "Did we... did we ever do this... before I became human?"

Xellos kept his eyes closed, not quite sure he wanted to see the expression on Zelgadis's face. He tightened his arms around the boy's chest, hugging him close. "No. We didn't."

Silence stretched between them. He took it as a good sign that Zelgadis hadn't moved away.

"Did you want to?"

He swallowed. Carefully, Xellos disentangled himself enough that he could pull back and look Zelgadis in the eye. The boy stared back at him with a depth of love that Xellos had never expected to see directed at him.

"Yeah. I did."

He'd never felt more like a demon than at that moment.

"I think I did too."

Xellos just smiled that and held Zelgadis close. It wouldn't hurt, just this once, to let Zelgadis believe that lie.

*****

Xellos appeared outside of the kitchen and moved through the inn easily. The kitchen staff smiled at him, some waved greetings. He politely waved back, never slowing as he crossed the floor. Luna was inside the common room, polishing tables before the doors opened to let the breakfast crowd in.

She shot him a knowing smile. "He's not back yet. Alma needed more flour so he volunteered to run to the mill."

He tried to remember were that was. "Western woods?"

"Aye."

Xellos disappeared. He moved invisibly through the trees, speeding closer to his target. Now that he was in proximity, he could sense Zelgadis's presence, just ahead of him. The sound of metal on metal echoed through the forest. Anger filled Xellos. He teleported blindly.

As the clearing solidified around him, he noticed two things. First, there was a group of raggedly dressed, armed men surrounding his lover. Second, Zelgadis was bleeding from a wound across his chest. He had his own sword out, feebly attempting to hold the men off but without the extra strength his demon and golem half had granted him, he was sorely outnumbered. Another sword thrust opened a gash on Zelgadis's arm.

He fell.

Xellos stepped forward with murder in his eyes. The brigands turned slowly to regard the newcomer with surprise. Xellos muttered darkly under his breath, speaking fast. The first of the men had hardly begun to step forward to attack Xellos when he completed his spell. As one, the men exploded in a burst of brimstone, leaving behind nothing more than eight charred circles on the ground.

He was across the clearing in a flash. Zelgadis stared up at him, obviously surprised though the horror he expected at the way Xellos had just murdered eight men in the blink of an eye was notably absent.

"I'm sorry," Zelgadis croaked out. A trickle of blood ran from his mouth, making Xellos reconsider his earlier evaluation of Zelgadis's wounds.

"Shh," Xellos crooned. "It'll be alright."

Zelgadis whimpered as Xellos pulled him into his arms. Even after all this time, he found the boy's light weight strange. He lifted Zelgadis to his chest and prepared to teleport back to the inn.

"Sorry..." Zelgadis whispered. "...weak..."

Xellos was momentary glad when Zelgadis's eyes slid shut. He didn't want the boy to see his pity.

Holding the boy close, he teleported to Luna.

*****

His reception the next time he appeared at the inn was warmer than he expected. Luna smiled at him, and he thought he caught a hint of pity in the expression. "He's upstairs."

Xellos chose to take the stairs by foot rather than teleporting. It gave him time to think about what he would say to the boy. He felt like he should be apologizing, for not getting there sooner and keeping the boy safe from harm.

Zelgadis looked up as soon as the door opened. He smiled at Xellos, but the look was muted. The door shut behind him. His footsteps echoed in the silent room, sounding heavy and far too loud. There were bandages wrapped around Zelgadis's chest and forearm. Xellos couldn't help the bit of anger that flared up as he thought about how they'd gotten there.

"I'm sorry," they both said at once.

Zelgadis blushed. Xellos arched an eyebrow.

"Go ahead," Zelgadis said, his gaze fixated on the covers of his bed.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there sooner. I should have protected you," Xellos admitted softly.

Zelgadis's head shot up to stare at him. He shook his head. "No. It wasn't your fault. I... I'm the one who should apologize." His gaze dropped down to the covers again as a blush spread across his face. "I'm sorry that I'm not strong enough to protect myself."

"Dear, it's not your fault." Xellos sat on the edge of Zelgadis's bed and took one of the boy's hands in his own. Zelgadis still wouldn't look at him. "You're only human."

The boy tensed. "But I wasn't once. I was desperate for a cure and this is what it's made me – a weakling, a liability."

Xellos brushed his hands through Zelgadis's hair. The words that he'd been so close to saying for the past few months stuck on his tongue. He couldn't quite bring himself to admit it.

"You're not a liability," he said instead.

Zelgadis looked up at him, his face full of resolve. "I want to find a way to turn back. I want to go back to being a chimera."

Guilt washed through Xellos. He sighed and pulled away. "Do you really mean that?"

The expression on Zelgadis's face was answer enough. "I do. I want to be strong again."

Xellos sighed and pulled the pendant from around his neck. "I'm sorry," he said. Zelgadis looked at him in confusion. "This may hurt a little."

"What-"

Zelgadis's words were cut off as Xellos crushed the pendant in one hand. He stared at Xellos, confusion shifting to horror. The scream that wrenched its way from Zelgadis's throat cut straight through Xellos's chest.

"I'm sorry," he said again, and held Zelgadis's limbs down so that he wouldn't hurt himself while thrashing. Beneath his hands, he could feel Zelgadis's skin changing. Rocks poked against Xellos's palms. Zelgadis's face turned blue.

Feet pounded up the stairs, giving him a momentary warning before the door slammed open. Luna took one look between the pair of them on the bed and the shattered gem, lying forgotten on the floor, before dropping her knife by the door and moving over to Zelgadis's other side. She laid a hand on his brow and whispered softly to him. His thrashing stilled. He quieted and slipped into a forced sleep.

Xellos quickly pulled away. He pulled a small ring out of his pocket, made from the same red material as the gem and tucked it into Zelgadis's lax hand.

"Tell him I'm sorry," he said, and disappeared before she could kill him.

*****

It was months before Xellos returned to the inn. He wandered aimlessly down dirt roads, stared out across the silent lake. Eventually his feet took him to that fence. He glanced once at the inn and then turned, sinking to the ground with his back to the inn. One of the horses came over and nudged at his shoulder. He ignored it.

"You're an idiot, you know."

Xellos didn't argue with her.

Booted feet stepped into his line of vision. "Did it ever occur to you that he might still want to see you?"

Xellos looked up. He didn't even have the heart to pretend to leer. "I turned him into a monster."

"And you gave me a chance to be human."

Xellos jumped to his feet and turned. Zelgadis smiled at him from the other side of the fence. He looked human, which didn't make sense unless.... Xellos looked down in surprise at the red crystal ring on Zelgadis's right hand.

Luna's hand clamped onto his shoulder before he could teleport away. "How about talking things out this time?" She started to walk away, muttering under her breath. "I swear, men are so dumb sometimes."

He wasn't quite sure, but he thought she may have turned and winked at him.

Xellos turned back to Zelgadis, unsure of what to say. "You found the ring," he said, for lack of anything more intelligent to say.

"Yes." Zelgadis smiled at him. Actually smiled at him. "Thank you."

Xellos shifted, certain that there was a Ra Tilt imminently heading his way. "And... you remember?"

"Everything."

Xellos swallowed. There was a distinct quality to the way Zelgadis said the word that made him wonder.

Zelgadis pulled off the ring and tucked it carefully into his pocket. The human visage flickered as the ring lost contact with his skin and faded, leaving behind the blue stone visage that Xellos had been expecting. His mask was still absent. Zelgadis was still smiling at him.

A blue hand reached across the fence to grab Xellos by the shirt front. He didn't resist as Zelgadis dragged him forward. He deserved to be punched. He could take it, just this once, as an act of contrition.

The lips that settled over his were slightly hard, like a firm piece of fabric. That hadn't been the response Xellos expected, but he went with it, daringly pushing his tongue into Zelgadis's mouth. Zelgadis moaned, relaxing against him as Xellos wound his arms around Zelgadis's waist.

For the first time in months, he had a feeling that things were going to be okay.