Coming back from Taforashia, Zel and Amelia run into Miwan, who surprises Amelia with an unexpected connection to Mister Zelgadis. ZA, past Zel x Miwan, Evo-R spoilers.
"Eh?" I took another look. "It is Mister Miwan." Amazing how a haircut, a priest's robes and clothing cut for a male frame could make him actually look... well, male. Funny running into him on the way back from Taforashia. It was a big subcontinent. Despite the times I had run into Mister Zelgadis or Miss Lina and Mister Gourry by accident, it wasn't like I regularly saw every person we met on our adventures. I glanced at the person sitting next to Mister Miwan, a man in a dark grey cloak covering nondescript traveling clothing, with an amulet hanging around his neck and another on a bracer on his wrist, but he didn't look like anyone I knew.
I wasn't really sure how I felt about Mister Miwan now. I'd been jealous of him when we met, but it was only reasonable to be jealous when one was one leg of a love triangle, after all. But, after we had found out Mister Miwan wasn't what he had seemed -- for one, he was a boy -- it hadn't seemed as important. And we had left Femile quickly, because Miss Lina thought the queen might blame the revelation on us, so I hadn't had a chance to say goodbye.
"He's probably not going to leave us alone until we say hello," Mister Zelgadis noted, interrupting my chain of thought.
"What? Oh! Oh, right!" I could at least say hello, and I waved to let him know we were coming over. We sat down across the table from Mister Miwan and the other man. "Hello." I smiled at both of them.
Mister Zelgadis nodded his own greeting. "I didn't think we'd be running into one another again," he said. "Where are you two headed?"
"Taforashia," Mister Miwan answered. "We heard it had re-appeared with everyone still suffering from Duram Disease, and I thought between my own white magic and Jim's help," he motioned to the man with him, "we could help with the recovery."
"Mister Zelgadis and I just came from there," I said. "The relief supplies from Saillune have been coming in, and most everyone's recovered. But they're still going to need help rebuilding, since Dark Lord Shabranigdo destroyed most of the city."
Mister Miwan and the other man, Mister Jim, stared at me. Mister Jim's jaw dropped in shock. "She's kidding, right?" he said.
"I don't think she's kidding," Mister Miwan said. "Miss Amelia and Zelgadis were involved in some dangerous things when I met them. There was even a mazoku attack on Femile because they were with Miss Lina Inverse in our town. They lead far more adventurous lives than I'd want, even back when I was living with my mother."
"Shabranigdo? Lina Inverse?" Mister Jim was turning very pale. Miss Lina would be yelling about her bad reputation around now, if she was here. Suddenly I was glad she and Mister Gourry had decided to head north instead of back south towards Saillune. "Miwan, how do you know these people."
I was about to tell him, but Mister Miwan beat me to it. "Oh, I met both of them in Femile, around when I left. And, actually, Zelgadis is an ex-boyfriend of mine."
"What!?" I couldn't help myself, after he had dropped a metaphorical Dragon Slave like that on the table. I looked to Mister Zelgadis, expecting him to angrily correct Mister Miwan. Instead he had buried his head in his hands. Between his fingers, I could see his cheeks turning red -- not out of anger, but embarrassment. "Mister Zelgadis?" He mumbled something unintelligible.
Mister Miwan frowned. "He didn't mention that? I thought you two were friends... or something." Mister Zelgadis was doing his best to bury himself in his cloak.
"We are. At least I thought we were." I wasn't sure when this had all happened, or how I didn't know about it. I didn't even know Mister Zelgadis was gay, for that matter. And he was just sitting there, though given how he sometimes reacted, I wondered why he wasn't leaving to avoid the whole can of worms. I must have looked like an idiot to Mister Zelgadis, mooning over a love I could never have. "Mister Miwan? I hope you'll excuse me, but I think I better check to see if our baggage got to our rooms safely. It was nice meeting you, Mister Jim." I tried to keep my voice level and cheerful, and walk away gracefully, so that no one could see that I felt like I was going to cry.
It must not have worked as well as I thought it did. As I was turning the corner, I heard the sound of a chair scraping against the floor and Mister Zelgadis's voice clearly say, "Shit!"
Once I was in the room, I barely glanced at my own bag, leaning against the foot of the bed. Instead I slumped onto the bed, clutching the pillow to my chest and started to cry. I wished I had someone to talk to -- that Miss Lina or Miss Sylphiel or Daddy were here.
Had anyone else known about Mister Zelgadis? If they did, why didn't they tell me? Miss Lina had always been a kind of best girl friend, and Mister Gourry seemed to treat me like he was my older brother and tried to protect me.
How stupid I must have looked, being jealous of Mister Miwan or having a crush on Mister Zelgadis! Maybe he had been too uncomfortable to tell me what was going on. Even if it hurt, I would have liked to know that he was happy in a relationship. Or to comfort him as a friend during the break-up.
There was a knock on the door. "Amelia?" It was Mister Zelgadis.
I sat up, trying to wipe my face, which felt hot and splotchy from crying. I didn't want Mister Zelgadis to think I was upset at him. He might think that it changed something about our friendship. Even if maybe something had changed since he hadn't even told me. He would know something was wrong if I didn't invite him in. "Come in," I said, again trying to sound normal and cheerful.
He opened the door and looked at me, frowning. I don't know where he had put his traveling cloak, but I could see his face clearly. He walked over to where I was seated on the bed, and looked down at me. "Do you mind if I sit next to you?" He didn't look angry or anything, and there wasn't any irritation in his tone, unlike the profanity that I had caught as I left.
I shook my head. "Of course not," I told him. I tried to speak clearly, and give him a smile, but I could tell that it wasn't reaching my eyes.
Mister Zelgadis sat down, and I felt the mattress shift under his weight. He folded his hands into his lap and fixed his gaze on them, rather than looking at me. "I wanted to clear things up before this turns into some kind of romantic melodrama from Hell. I hate comedic misunderstanding plots."
"It's not particularly funny when they happen to you," I said, then nearly bit my tongue in shock that I had spoken my thoughts aloud. I hadn't meant to speak so frankly, and it did get Mister Zelgadis looking at me in surprise.
"No, it isn't," he said, a ghost of a smile on his lips. He looked away. "I'm sorry you had to find out like this."
I was sorry too. I noticed he didn't say that he was sorry he hadn't told me, only that I had found out from Mister Miwan, rather than from him. Stupid Mister Zelgadis. I crossed my arms, and scowled at him, wanting to throw the pillow at his head. "You could have told me! When did it even happen?"
"Between when I left after Hellmaster Phibrizzo, and before our trip to the Outer World," Mister Zelgadis answered. "I ran into some mercenaries harassing Miwan for looking like a woman, and stepped in. Mostly because they were doing it in the hallway outside my inn room when I was trying to sleep. The next day, Miwan asked if he could tag along after me. He wanted to be a normal guy, but really he didn't have the faintest clue about not looking like a woman without leaving his shirt half-open. It was embarassing to watch."
I nodded, hoping he'd continue. I pictured the story as he talked, as if it was a play, and had to keep fighting back the jealousy of something that was starting to sound a bit like an odd sort of romantic ballad. I drew my knees closer to my chest and hugged the pillow, which made Mister Zelgadis stop talking. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Please continue." I answered.
"Well, we got to talking one night, after I'd had a bit more than I normally drink, and Miwan told me he was romantically interested in me, and asked if how I'd been acting in Femile was just because I thought he was a girl."
I sat up straighter, and swung my legs over to hang down the bed. I leaned toward Mister Zelgadis, inspecting his face for any sign of duplicity. "You mean you're not gay?"
Mister Zelgadis's eyes widened. "What? No, I'm not gay! I like girls too, damn it!" He was starting to blush again.
"Oh," I sat back, considering this, feeling a bit of relief. So I hadn't been stupid for crushing on Mister Zelgadis. Unless he just didn't like me in that way. Maybe he just thought of me as a little sister or a friend. I'd have to live with that.
"Anyway," Mister Zelgadis didn't even appear to notice I was in thought as he continued talking, "Miwan and I carried on for a while, but when I heard about the ships leaving for the Outer World, I decided I wanted to make that trip to look for my cure. Miwan wanted to stay on the subcontinent, so we agreed to break up. Now he's with this Jim guy, I guess."
"That's it?" The end of the story wasn't like a ballad at all, just something that kind of petered out. "No tearful goodbyes or broken hearts or jealousy?" It was easy to be distracted by the fact that Mister Zelgadis's life was not very much like a romantic melodrama, unlike what I was feeling now.
Mister Zelgadis shrugged. "Nope. I'm happy he found someone and I'm glad he's doing fine. And you saw how he reacted when we mentioned Taforashia. Even if it wasn't for my cure, it wouldn't have worked out with the life I lead."
"That's sad, Mister Zelgadis," I told him. "You sound so fatalistic about these things. But that still doesn't explain why you didn't tell anyone."
"I didn't want anyone to make a big deal," he said. "I'm not used to people giving a damn about me. Plus, you might have tried to stop me from going to the Outer World so you could play matchmater, and finding my cure was more important than that."
"More important than love?" I asked. It shouldn't surprise me at all. It was Mister Zelgadis, after all. But I remembered when Mister Zelgadis had stolen Rezo's Jar and had demanded that his grandfather tell him how to change his body back. And I remembered the face he had made when Mister Rezo had said that he knew of no known cure, and that it couldn't be undone. "What about now?"
"Like I said, Miwan's with Jim, now. Plus, I don't think he'd want to be with a guy who left him to go chasing a dream. Futilely." Mister Zelgadis looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry I upset you."
"Were you just with Mister Miwan because he asked you?" I asked.
"I was attracted to him, Amelia," Mister Zelgadis corrected, a bit of irritation creeping into his voice. "I'm not so desperate for affection that I'll take up with anyone who shows interest."
"I didn't mean that at all, I'm sorry. Um, Mister Zelgadis, if I-?" What was I thinking? He had just gotten to tell me about his first love and break up, and here I was wondering if he was interested in /me/? Stupid Amelia. Stop being so awkward. You are a Champion of Justice, so show some confidence, even if it feels like you are lost in a dark cave and can't see where you are going. "Never mind."
Mister Zelgadis sighed. "Just say it, Amelia. You'll regret it otherwise."
"If I asked you if you were attracted to me, and maybe, if you were, would you consider- um, consider maybe going out sometime?" It was the worst timing, and wasn't romantic at all. Not what I had imagined. I was suddenly aware that I was asking him this in my inn room of all places, seated on my bed, and I couldn't look at him any more without blushing.
"'If' you asked me?" Mister Zelgadis said.
"Fine. Would you go out with me? Like a date?" I'd read a lot of books, but that was a lot harder than it had sounded. I wanted to be confident, but it was hard to keep my jealousy and fear of rejection out of my voice. This was the moment of truth.
Mister Zelgadis didn't answer right away, drawing in a slow breath instead. "I don't know. I don't have to look for my cure any more, if it really doesn't exist. But I don't know what I'll be doing instead. You're my friend, and I don't want to hurt your feelings because I don't know what I want. If I learned anything from Miwan, it was that I'm horribly selfish about these things."
"Oh." So he just wanted to be my friend. He didn't say he wasn't attracted to me, though. I have to live with that. But I wanted to say that he shouldn't be afraid, that we could make it work. Somehow. That I'd rather at least try for love, even if it was a risk of a broken heart.
"But," he looked at me as he spoke, and put his hand on mine. I could feel the texture of his stony skin and the rough fabric of his gloves. "But, once I figure things out, I'd like that." He smiled, something genuine, if fragile. "A date, I mean. But I won't ask you to wait for me to figure things out."
I smiled back, squeezing his hand even if I wasn't sure he could feel it. "If you need a place to figure things out, you're always welcome in Saillune."
"Thank you, Amelia. I'll take you up on it, for now, but I can't promise I'll stay. I might need to do some walking to figure things out."
I nodded. "I'm not asking you to stay, I'm giving you an open invitation. I want you to be happy with yourself, Mister Zelgadis." It was a true thing, and a powerful thing to say that. I focused on that, and tried to will him to figure things out. Not just for the promise of my first date, but for Mister Zelgadis's sake.
"I'd say the same about you, but you've always been very good at being yourself as hard as you can," he replied. "It's a trait I admire. Don't lose it." I found my face heating up at the unexpected compliment. He stood up, brushing his clothing off and shifting uncomfortably as if he was suddenly conscious that he had shown more emotion than he had since I had known him. From Mister Zelgadis, something like that had to be treasured for its rarity -- I knew he never wore his heart on his sleeve. "You might want to get something to eat before the kitchen closes for the night. I want to make an early start back tomorrow, so I'll be in my room if you need me."
"Oh, right." I nodded. "Mister Zelgadis?" I paused, unsure of what to say to let him know I would be fine. I settled for "Thank you."
It was early the next morning. Mister Zelgadis had said he wanted to make an early start, but I didn't see him awake when I came down to the inn's common room for breakfast. Mister Miwan was there, without his partner. After running off yesterday, I felt really uncomfortable around him. But, after yesterday, I figured I owed him an apology for running off without an explanation. And sometimes even Champions of Justice have to do difficult things they don't want to do.
"Do you mind if I sit down?" I asked him.
He looked up from his eggs. "Not at all, Miss Amelia. I'm sure someone will be along with more tea soon."
"Thank you." I took a seat, smoothing my tunic. "I'm sorry about yesterday. I didn't mean to upset you."
Mister Miwan shook his head. "I didn't mean to upset you either. Did you straighten it out with Zelgadis?"
I nodded. "He came and talked to me, and we worked things out."
Mister Miwan smiled at me. "Good. He's a good guy, even if he's not that good with people. I'm glad he's got you and Miss Lina and Mister Gourry."
I nodded. And decided to say what it was that I felt, rather than being polite. "To be honest, I'm a bit jealous of you, Mister Miwan. You got to see a side of Mister Zelgadis that he doesn't show much to people. Even his friends. And you got a lot of firsts, unless he has had another boyfriend or girlfriend before you."
Mister Miwan shook his head. "I don't think he did. But, being with Jim, taught me that a lot of things are just as fun when you have your first time with that person. Are you and Zelgadis-?
I shook her head, my face reddening. "Ah... I... Mister Zelgadis said he needed some time, but, um... maybe soon?"
Mister Miwan laughed. "Take care of him."
"Of course I will."
It was then I noticed Mister Zelgadis walking towards us. He gave us both a concerned face. "You're talking about me?"
"Afraid it'll be trouble?" Mister Miwan asked.
Mister Zelgadis shook his head. "I just wanted to make sure it wasn't a conspiracy against me." Mister Miwan rolled his eyes. "If you are still going to Taforashia," Mister Zelgadis continued, "feel free to tell Prince Posel that you're a friend of mine."
I nodded. "Of ours. And, Mister Miwan? You and Mister Jim are welcome to visit Saillune any time."