And now, for my eighth Fire Emblem fic...I finally start writing about the eighth game in the Fire Emblem series, Sacred Stones. 'Bout time, don't you think :P

Joshua and Natasha make such an intriguing pair, and after reading their A support, I was hit with a huge amount of inspiration for this short story. This story is based off their supports, particularly the A one, and it's told from Natasha's point of view. Oh, and after writing Sunrise, I think I've become addicted to writing in the present tense, so I hope it doesn't confuse you guys too much. Now, on with the story!

She's not sure exactly where the feeling came from, but it ensnared her instantly.

She's tried to determine when the feeling sprouted within her, but she's found that difficult as well. Was it when they first met, when he resolved to defend her with his life because of the flip of a coin? Was it when he told her she had a nice smile, when he told her that it put her above and beyond all other healers? Or was it when he came to her aid because, in his words, he was "in the neighborhood," when she realized that he was putting all his efforts solely into protecting her?

She tried to fight it at first, of course; the feeling and her duty as a cleric have been locked in a battle for her mind since the moment she admitted the feeling's presence. In the deepest part of her heart, she's known what the feeling was ever since it sprouted within her, but it took her a long time to admit to herself exactly what she feels for him. And since then, she's found herself attempting to resist the feeling, attempting to forget it and simply fulfill her duties, but the more she struggles, the stronger the feeling seems to get.

She serves the people, but her training has to keep reminding her that she serves all people and not just him. She's supposed to stay behind the rest of Lady Eirika's army during battle, but she finds herself following him, just close enough to see everything he's doing but just far away enough that he doesn't notice her presence. She's supposed to worry about everyone in the battalion, supposed to watch the battle for any sign that someone might be injured, but when she watches him, the other soldiers simply don't seem to matter as much. She finds herself watching him and only him, worrying about him so intensely that her grip on her healing staff becomes like a vice, turning her knuckles white.

She knows it's the feeling that makes her act in such a manner, and it scares her. Not because it makes her forget her duties, but because sometimes, when the feeling surges particularly strongly, she finds herself wishing she could forget her duties, wishing she could embrace the feeling and let go of everything else. But she has taken a vow to serve the people, and it is only that that keeps the feeling from consuming her completely. No matter how strong the feeling becomes, her duty is always there, fighting back, telling her that she can't accept the feeling; it's not proper, it's not right. And the duel in the back her mind continues ceaselessly, endlessly.

She's watching him now, from a distance as always, watching him do battle with one of the last remaining bonewalkers that surrounded Caer Pelyn. She shouldn't be watching him. She knows Lady Eirika and the rest already have finished off most of the monsters in the area, but an attack can spring from anywhere, an injury that requires her attention might occur at any time. She needs to be alert for any soldier that needs healing. She knows that. It's been burned into her mind by hours of training.

He's in battle, however, and the feeling always seems to strengthen itself then. She can't look away, despite her mind screaming that someone else might need her attention. Her heart clenches painfully as he just barely dodges a strike from the bonewalker's lance, blood-red hair flying behind him as he moves; she holds her breath as he parries another thrust with his sword. The bonewalker attempts a third strike, and he parries it again, but this time he does not deflect the blow enough; the tip of the lance flies toward him and tears his clothing, cutting a red gash in his side.

She gasps.

He's hurt.

She's not even aware of deciding to move her feet; all she knows is that the next moment, she's sprinting towards him, running as fast as her legs will carry her. The air rushing past her ears blows her white hood off her head, but she doesn't notice it at all. Her duty is entirely forgotten; the feeling has taken over her mind and body completely.

He grunts in pain. As far as she can tell, the injury isn't too serious, but worry and adrenaline are flooding her body nonetheless. The bonewalker is still standing; it might try to attack him again—

A moment later, however, he becomes a blur. Raising his sword, he suddenly seems to fly forward, right through the monster. He reappears behind the skeleton just as it loses stability and abruptly collapses in on itself. She reaches him a few moments later. Ordinarily, she would be amazed by his display, but now all she can think about is his well-being.

He grunts in pain again, putting his hand to his side. He doesn't seem to notice that she's there.

"Joshua," she says breathlessly. She's panting slightly from running towards him so quickly, but she doesn't care. All that she's aware of within her body is the feeling rushing through her and the worry that's making her heart beat so fast that she can feel it pounding against her chest.

He turns abruptly at the sound of her voice, his crimson eyes widening slightly. "Natasha?" he asks softly, almost incredulously.

"Are you hurt?" she asks worriedly, even though she knows he is. She's already raising her staff, ready to heal his injuries. "Do you need me to—"

"Natasha, how did you get here so quickly?" he asks, stopping her in her tracks. His voice is laced with astonishment, an emotion she rarely sees from him. "I didn't see you around here..."

She almost drops her staff. She can feel the heat rising to her face, knowing that that was her intent exactly—she doesn't want him to realize she's been watching him. But what is she supposed to say; she can't just tell him that she's been following him!

She's rather relieved, then, when a memory pops into her head, something he said to her when he suddenly, inexplicably appeared to save her from an enemy trap. She's still blushing a bit, but the feeling is so strong now that she knows there isn't much she can do to stop it. Instead, smiling slightly, nervously, she looks up into his crimson eyes and explains, "Well...I just happened to be in the neighborhood is all."

He stares at her silently for a moment, and then his face breaks into a grin, that roguish smile of his that always makes her knees go weak. She can sense his smile intensifying the feeling within her, filling her mind with a sudden desire to let go of everything and fling her arms around him. She restrains herself, however, her sense of duty fighting back as always—this is hardly the time or place, and she doesn't even know how he feels about her!

She can still feel her heart pounding in her chest worriedly, but she can't help but smile a little wider as he asks playfully, "Was that a joke? I didn't know you had a sense of humor, Natasha." He chuckles, his pain seemingly forgotten. The worry within her lessens slightly, and the rapidly strengthening feeling takes its place.

She smiles up at him silently. Her sapphire eyes are twinkling amusedly, but slowly they travel down his body to where his hand still lies, over his injury. She knows his injury can't be too severe, but worry nevertheless floods her insides once again. Gesturing towards him, she asks for the second time, "Are you hurt?"

His smile fades a little as he looks down at his side, raising his hand to reveal the bloody gash there. It doesn't seem to be deep. "Yeah," he responds dismissively, "but I'm okay. It's just a scratch."

"Oh..." she replies softly, her eyes falling almost shyly to the ground. Her smile vanishes quickly. She's not worried anymore, but now the feeling, which has been so strong for the past moments, is flickering slightly. She came—ran—all this way just to heal him, and now he's saying he'll be fine without her aid? Joshua, she mentally asks, don't you need my help at all?

That's not what he meant, the feeling protests. He just doesn't want to worry me... She knows that that's the truth, but she still wants to be able to help him...

Her sense of duty is kicking back into gear, elated at the feeling's momentary weakness. Slowly, shyly, she begins to turn away from him. "Well," she says softly, "if you're okay—"

"Hey," he calls suddenly, and she quickly turns back to him. "Where're you going?" He's cocking his head slightly, apparently confused at her behavior. She's too embarrassed, however; she can't seem to look directly at his face. Instead, she glances at the valley toward which the rest of Lady Eirika's army is advancing. The battalion, she notices, is already a ways ahead of them.

The part of her mind that wishes to fulfill her duties as a cleric immediately panics, yelling at her to hurry and catch up with the rest of the soldiers that might need healing at any time. But as she glances at him again, that voice in her mind seems to soften as the feeling intensifies. She's alone with him, she realizes, and she doesn't know when that will occur again... And L'Arachel and Moulder are with the army, anyway, so maybe, just this one time...

Her sense of duty suddenly comes roaring back, mortified. How can she possibly be so selfish! She's a healer, not a love-starved woman who would forsake her duties just for a few minutes alone with a man—

"Natasha?" His voice suddenly interrupts her mental argument. He looks a bit concerned now.

"Ah...I'm sorry," she stammers out, feeling herself flush. "It's just said it was just a scratch, so..."

"What, so you don't want to waste your healing magic on me?" he asks, smiling that roguish smile. "I'm hurt, Natasha." And he definitely looks that way, but whether his expression is of mock hurt or the real thing, she finds it strangely hard to tell, and she feels even worse. "I thought you liked me more than that."

Her shame is immediately forgotten, and if she wasn't blushing before, she certainly is now. It's mortifying for her to abruptly remember that no matter how she tries to keep it hidden or fight against it, he can sense the feeling within her easily. He even decided to make a bet out of it...I'm betting you're gonna fall for me sooner or later...though she wants to believe that it was a joke. The bottom line is that he knows how she feels about him, without her ever having said a word. Which, to say the least, is absolutely humiliating for her.

Her feet are suddenly very interesting. "W-well, I..." she mutters, but she's finding it rather hard to complete a sentence. "I just thought that—"

"Hey, it's okay," he says consolingly, though his roguish smile is widening. She looks back up at him slowly, very slowly. His expression turns a little more serious. "I was just hoping you could...take care of it. Please?"

A small, feathery smile reaches her lips despite her embarrassment. She can sense the feeling surge within her—he does want her help! It's a very small gesture, and healing him is something she's done for him many times before, but it's filling her with happiness nonetheless.

"Of course," she replies softly, raising her staff.

She closes her eyes as she lets the feeling flow through her, into her staff, lets it strengthen her magic. The feeling intensifies the staff's power far beyond what she normally needs to heal such a simple injury, but she doesn't care; she wants to be absolutely sure that nothing hurts him at all. The magic's light shines through her closed eyelids for a few seconds, and then it's finished.

She opens her eyes to find him smiling at her, but it's not his usual roguish grin, but one that's much warmer, kinder. She's never seen him smile like that before.

It makes her want to melt.

"Thanks," he says softly.

I love you, Joshua... her mind replies.

It's rarely, very rarely that she'll admit that to herself so freely. But that smile, that wonderful smile has strengthened the feeling within her to an intensity she didn't think possible. Her sense of duty is just barely hanging on.

She can feel her face burning, but she's smiling broadly. "A-anytime, Joshua," she mumbles, finding it strangely hard to speak any louder. Some distant part of her mind is yelling something at her, but she can't hear it; the feeling is blocking it out. She merely stares at him silently, blushing fiercely but smiling warmly.

But slowly, after a few moments, his smile changes, reverting to that roguish grin she knows so well. Normally she would be pleased to see it, but now she can't help but feel a cold sensation of loss. "You know," he remarks, "I've never seen you without your hood on before."

She blinks, her hand slowly straying to her blonde hair. That's odd, she wonders; she doesn't remember taking it off... She's about to replace it on her head when his voice stops her in mid-movement.

"No, no, you should keep it that way," he says, grinning even more widely. "It makes you look even more beautiful than you already are, I think."

This time she does drop her staff.

She's never understood how he can utter such flattering comments so easily, but that certainly doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate his compliments. It seems, though, that at his words, her brain has suddenly stopped working. She should smile at him, say something, but all she can do for a few moments is stare at him in wide-eyed surprise. He just keeps grinning at her, as though he expected her reaction.

"Th-...thank you...Joshua..." she finally responds after what seems like far too long. Her brain finally seems to clunk into place, and she smiles at him broadly, though she knows her face must now be redder than a tomato. It's strange, though; for some reason she completely doesn't mind how fiercely she's blushing.

The feeling spreads through her veins, slowly consuming her. This time, however, she doesn't want to resist.

As she bends slightly to pick up her staff, however, her sense of duty finally gets through to her, and she remembers what she should be doing. The feeling recedes and her broad smile fades as she remembers that this is hardly the time or place for such closeness, even if part of her wants it.

She glances again at the now-distant battalion, but before she can move, before she can say anything to him, he speaks again.

"Hey, Natasha," he says. She turns to him again, still smiling faintly and definitely still blushing madly. He's still grinning, but his face is a bit more serious now, which causes his next words to catch her rather off guard: "Want to make a bet?"

His obsession with gambling is the one thing she knows she will never understand about him. He will make bets with anyone in the battalion on anything. When he asks to make a bet with her, however, his wagers seem to become rather unconventional. Her heart starts beating faster as she again recalls the last proposal for a bet he gave her...I'm betting you're going to fall for me sooner or later. From anyone else, she would have dismissed the bet as a joke, but from him...she couldn't be sure whether he was serious or not. And now...who knows what he might suggest betting on now?

She bites her lip nervously, silently wondering whether this bet will be like the last one and involve the feeling within her. She certainly hopes not.

"What do you...intend to bet on?" she asks softly, carefully. Then, as an afterthought, she adds, "If this is a joke like last time—"

"I wasn't joking last time," he interrupts, and her heart gives a little jolt; that's what she feared. He really does know how she feels about him. "But that's not the point," he continues, no longer grinning, deadly serious now. He takes a step forward, and only then does she realize how close he is to her. "Natasha..." he says, gazing directly into her eyes. "Will I make you happy?"

She blinks. She suddenly realizes how quickly she's breathing. "Joshua..." she mumbles, "what—" And then she stops abruptly, and her eyes widen considerably, because she's just realized what he means.

"Natasha," he says again. He looks almost nervous, another emotion she rarely sees from him, but he grins faintly. As though he's read her mind, he asks, "That's what you want, isn't it?"

Is it? He's asking her to make an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that she knows will determine her entire either come with him after the war is over, or to leave him and go on living as a simple cleric in Grado. But this is too sudden; she can't simply make a decision about something as important as this right now, in the middle of a battlefield! What is she supposed to do? What is she supposed to say?

She loves him. She knows the feeling within her wants nothing more than for her to scream out "Yes!" and jump into his arms. But is she willing to give up her duty, her future, and the life that she knows so well...just to satisfy the feeling? Just to be with him?

This has to be a joke. He can't possibly be serious about this bet.

But when she looks at him, his expression is still the same; there's not even a hint of a grin on his face. "So that's what we'll bet on, Natasha," he says softly. "Whether or not I can make you happy. And on this bet...I'm willing to risk my life."

She has to stifle a horrified gasp. The redness in her face is completely gone now; her face is pale.

The roguish grin reappears on his face, as though trying to ease her fears. "So..." he says, almost whispering now, "are you in?"

She stares up at him, paralyzed with shock, her sapphire eyes pleading with him. "You're not...serious," she chokes out. It's a statement, not a question. He has to be joking. He can't be asking her to make this decision now.

But he's moved closer, his grin fading. "You know my rule, Natasha," he mutters. It's clear he dearly wants her to accept his wager. "I never back out of a bet, no matter what. But if you don't believe me..." Taking her completely by surprise, his hands suddenly rest on her shoulders, and she gasps; he's barely even touched her before. His crimson eyes seem to bore right through her sapphire ones. "Look into my eyes, and tell me I'm joking."

Her sense of duty wants her to look away. Her sense of duty wants her to wrench herself from his grasp and run as fast as she can towards Lady Eirika's army. But the feeling won't let her; it forces her to look directly into his eyes. And what she sees there, in those scarlet depths, is something she could never have expected.

She sees the feeling.

Her sapphire eyes are reflected in his crimson ones, and for a moment she wonders if perhaps what she's seeing is her own feeling reflected back at her. A moment later, however, there can be no doubt: the feeling she sees is not hers, but his.

She's not sure how she realizes it, but at the same time, she knows without a doubt that it's the truth.

He loves her.

It's a sudden realization, but it also feels like more than that. It's like the way she felt when she first learned how to heal, as though the knowledge was buried inside her for ages but she's only now remembering it. In an instant, all of his antics make sense. His flattering compliments, his desire to protect her, his strange bets with her. How could she have never seen the feeling within him before? It's been staring her in the face all this time.

He loves her. And he's definitely serious about this bet.

But she's not sure how to react. She loves him, and she now sees he loves her. It seems only natural that she would want to come with him after the war is over, that she should live together with him. But some part of her mind is still screaming at her, telling her that this cannot possibly be right. It takes her a few moments for her to remember that it's her sense of duty.

She's a cleric. She has duties to fulfill, people to heal and save. And accepting his wager, deciding to come with him, would mean giving all that up. She can't do that. She can't turn her back on people who need her just to fulfill her own desires. She wants to, dearly wants to, but she knows she can't.

Before she can even open her mouth, however, before she can protest, he speaks again, seeming as though he's read her mind.

"I know what you're going to say," he remarks, grinning again. His hands are still resting on her shoulders. "You serve the people, right? I know that. And I'm not going to take that away from you. You wouldn't be happy if I did."

She can barely speak; the feeling now seems to be blocking her throat. "Do you...really...mean that?" she whispers.

He merely grins wider, seeming more confident now. "Look, I'm no priest," he explains, "but it's easy for me to see you really love doing your healing thing. But really, think about it: does it really matter if you serve the people in Grado or Renais or...Jehanna?" He pauses slightly before the last name, but she barely notices. "It'll work out, I promise. I'll make it work."

But her sense of duty is not satisfied. She can do whatever she wants after the war, but now, at this very moment, there are people who need her help. This isn't right, she shouldn't be talking with him now...but the feeling is too strong to ignore.

She tries to say something, anything, but all that comes out is a breathless gasp, his name. "Joshua..."

And he responds, simply, "Natasha."

There is a long silence. His hands are still on her shoulders, but she hardly minds; in fact, she likes it. She gazes once more into the scarlet eyes of the man she loves, and sees the feeling, his feeling, there once again. Her own feeling surges.

Her sense of duty is still screaming madly, but a small, light smile touches her lips. Taking a deep breath, and closing her sapphire eyes, she does something she's never done before.

She blocks her sense of duty out.

When she opens her eyes again, he's still grinning at her, that roguish grin she's come to know and cherish. Her smile widens. She can feel her face reddening again, but she's long stopped caring about silly things like that.

"I will...accept your wager," she whispers.

He chuckles, and her heart leaps. "I thought you'd say that," he replies. "And what are you betting...?"

The answer comes to her quickly. "What I'm my future," she whispers. "My happiness."

He blinks, seeming taken aback for a moment, but he quickly grins again. "Natasha..." he whispers. She suddenly realizes just how close his face is to hers. "I'm going to win this bet, I know it. Lady Luck is smiling on me."

Her sapphire eyes are twinkling. She's positively beaming now. "Well," she whispers, "I hope from the bottom of my heart that you win."

One of his hands squeezes her shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry," he responds. "I might've lost our first bet, but I'm not gonna lose this one." His eyes are twinkling now, too. "In a pinch, I never lose."

She smiles back at him. The feeling is slowly spreading through her body; she can sense it. She lets it spread.

A thought enters her head, though, one that she's wanted to share with him for a long time. "Would you our first bet a loss?" she asks softly, glancing at the ground. "After all..." She looks back up at him, grinning. "If you had 'won...'"

He chuckles again. "I guess you're right," he replies. "Maybe Lady Luck was smiling on me that day too."

She nods, still smiling warmly. "And our last bet..." She's no longer embarrassed to admit it; she knows the feeling has ensnared him, too. "You won that as well..."

He grins so widely that she can see his teeth. "You said it was a joke," he remarks playfully.

The glint in her eyes is almost mischievous. "And you said you never back out of a bet," she counters. That makes them both laugh.

Her hands are around his waist. She's not sure how or when they got there, but she doesn't want to pull away. The feeling spreads through her veins; she can sense it tingling beneath her skin. She lets it spread, encouraging it. And before long, the feeling has consumed her completely. It's the most wonderful sensation she's ever felt.

He's grinning at her mischievously now. "Well then, miss Natasha," he whispers. His face is even closer now. "If I won that bet...then what do I win?"

She doesn't respond; she just smiles. Then, slowly, very slowly, without thinking about or realizing why she's doing it, her face is moving towards his.

Her sense of duty makes one last attempt to get through to her, screaming wildly. But the battle is already lost, because the moment her lips touch his, all of her thoughts instantly fly away.

Guess what time it is here? It's 2:10 AM. Man, this fic gave me a lot of sleepless nights. Not that I care, though. I love the way this turned out. :)

So what do you guys think of my first Sacred Stones fic? As always, please don't hesitate to point out any problems you see. Hopefully you guys won't find too many problems with this one though. :)

Please review!