Alright, I'm doing this one because I really enjoyed doing You Can be Sure. Same storyline, different point of view. In other words, it's happening at the same time as Ephraim/L'Arachel are getting their romance on, but from Joshua's point of view. I would highly suggest reading it before you read this.
It is written in first person. All thoughts are in italics. Short prologue from his point of view. Enjoy.
WARNING: Ending will sound very similar to the previous one...okay, not ending. The Demon King part. Different point of view though.
You know, some say that gambling is wrong. Some get addicted. Some lose everything. That's why I say you need to know when to bet. Where to bet. If you play your cards right, lady luck will be on your side.
Gambling is a brother to Fate. It's wild. Unpredictable. The flip of a coin can change your life. That's why I pride myself on knowing just when to play my cards. Because the flip of a coin laid the path for the rest of my days. Looking back now, it's a fun tale to tell. I might be persuaded to relate it to you. Shall I? Well, that depends. I'll take heads. We can let the flip of a coin decide...
Bad luck. Horrible luck. That's what it must be. I left home because I knew I had other things to do in life. The way of a prince is too sophisticated for me. Still...maybe I should've flipped a coin on it before I left...I do wonder how mother is doing. Besides...getting involved in this war just to make some extra gold wasn't the smartest thing. But I suppose that's just the way luck would have it. There's no going back on it now.
Such were my thoughts as I exited the arena, pocketing the winnings I had after sweeping by a clumsy axewielder who thought he could handle me. Sitting there toying with my both-sides-heads coin, what would come next for me was a debate that nearly consumed me. My musings were interrupted by my new "commander." He said something about getting back to work, but I wasn't paying much attention.
"Let's see what lady luck has in store for me today." Quickly getting bored, I prepared to enter the arena again. That's pretty much where it all started. A beautiful lady with blonde hair dressed in a white robe and carrying a staff approached.
"Say, is that a cleric? It is! And a gorgeous one at that.," I said to myself. She nearly bumped into me. " Something amiss, Sister? You look flustered."
Nearly jumping three feet, she turned around and shakily answered, "Ahhh! P-pardon me."
"No, pardon me! I never meant to startle you. May I offer my apologies..."
"No, it's not neccessary...it was my fault," She shook her head, "Excuse me, I must be going...good day to you." And with that, she walked away.
"...And there she goes. What a beauty, too. Ah, such is life. I think I still have time to visit the arena..."
Bah, of all the luck. Didn't even stop to have a proper conversation with me.
Little did I know I'd be seeing her soon enough...nor that I would want to be seeing her soon enough.
Ah, there she is again. Maybe some shred of luck is with me today.
"Are you here to capture me? You've been hired to silence me, haven't you..." she said fearfully. I, the most cynical person I knew, was touched by the look of fear on her smoothe, pretty face.
"Yeah, Grado's paying the bill. They want you dead, you know? But don't feel bad. It's not personal," I tried to add, fighting the urge to just take her and run away.
"Wait, please...it doesn't matter what happens to me, but you must hear my words. The emperor is changed. He is not the man he once was."
"Hey, no offense, but I'm just a mercenary. I don't care about Grado or its emperor. Everything you say may be true, or it may be lies. I don't care either way."
"Even so...killing a beautiful lady like you would leave a bad taste in my mouth," I said truthfully...and then an idea came to me. "Tell me, do you like to gamble?" The look on her face was not surprising.
"Gambling's what I live for. Even when I lose, I never want to stop. If you win, I'll believe you. Heads or tails, you call it," was my reply as I cooly pulled began to pull out one of my coins.
"You can't...this is no time for games..."
"Would you rather I get on with the job I was hired for?"
"...um, heads...no! Tails!"
I quickly let go of the coin I had in my hand, instead grabbing the one I knew to be a two-sided tails one. "All right. So I'm heads, and you're tails. Here we go..."
"Which...which is it?" I grinned widely.
"What do you know! It's tails. You win. Figures. I haven't won anything all day. Well, lady luck has spoken. Guess I'm on your side now."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah. Sure, I might cheat, but I never worm out of a bet. It's a rule of mine."
Watching her walk off, I grinned slyly. I haven't won anything all day...until now. Hah.
Natasha later asked me if I really would've killed her, had the coin landed on heads. Without so much as batting an eyelid, I calmly told her to remember that gambling was what I lived for, that I never wormed out of a bet. Soon, I came to realize how completely wrong that was. It was the first lie I had ever told that I regretted. Luckily, I'd get a chance at redemption.
Some two weeks later we found ourself on a boat headed towards the inner heart of Grado. I could tell Natasha was having mixed feelings about returning to the homeland she was forced to abandon. Without trying to blow my cover, I waited for the right moment to talk to her. And I found it.
She quietly exited a cabin on the boat and walked up to the railing, leaning on it and sighing. Her long, silky blonde hair fluttered and waved in the wind. It was the first time I had ever seen her not wearing her hat. Casually strolling over and pretending to be interested in something in the water, I leaned my back against the railing next to her. She didn't seem to notice me, so I didn't say anything. Instead, I let myself slip away from reality just looking at her. Her slim, curvy frame. The way she walked as though she was floating on air. Her troubled but still beautiful face, set by those deep blue pools she had for eyes...it all drew me in, and I had no intention of resisting. It was the first time in my life I cared about something more than gambling and fighting. I opened my mouth to speak as an arrow came sailing out of the fog.
What the heck...an arrow? Where did that...Natasha!
"Watch out!" I yelled, extending my arm in front of her. I caught it too...just above the elbow. "Nngh! An arrow? Did someone set up a trap for us? Or is there someone here? An archer? Where is he?"
"Joshua! You saved me. Thank goodness you were near."
"Yeah, well... I just happened to be in the neighborhood is all," I sniffed, trying not to reveal anything. Her face fell a bit.
"You make light of it, but I truly appreciate that you were nearby."
"Well, uh... Are you all right?"
That's it, play casual...
"I'm fine, thank you. But it's only thanks to you, Joshua. You saved me. I'll try to be more attentive to my surroundings."
"Yeah, well... It's not always easy, you know? Especially when you're working. You concentrate pretty hard when you're doing your healing thing. Just focus on your work, and I'll keep an eye on you. Sound fair?"
"Oh, no... I couldn't ask you to spend all your time protecting me."
"What, you don't want me to?"
I certainly want me to...
I started messing with a coin with my free hand, plainly out of nervousness.
"It's not that at all! I rather like-- ... Um, never mind."
Bah, like what? Come on, you get my hopes up for nothing!
"... Say, you want me to make a bet?"
"Another...bet? Right here? In the middle of this battlefield? What did you intend to bet on this time?"
"That you're gonna fall for me, sooner or later," I smiled.
"I'm betting yes, personally."
"Oh... This isn't the time for jokes... I-I just don't know." And just like that, she was gone.
I faintly tried to call out anyway, "Hey, don't go running off! I wasn't even joking..." Sighing, I drew my killing edge and prepared for battle.
In all honesty, I would've went to comfort Eirika. I almost did. But something gave me the feeling that she didn't want to be messed with right now. I felt really bad for her...but not as bad as for Prince Lyon.
Poor guy...unable to confess your love until your dying breath. I guess luck just wasn't on your side.
My thoughts were halted as the very corpse I was thinking of rose and floated silently into the darkness. The silence didn't last long, however. A faint glow was followed by an ominous roar and an intense earthquake. Falling to one knee and using Audhulma to support myself, I waited for the tremor to pass. But it didn't. The cavern we were in kept shaking and shaking until everything began to crumble. Amazingly, nothing fell. It finally stopped, and I stood up.
"Hey! Natasha! Are you okay?"
"Joshua! Oh, yes...I'm fine."
It's now or never. I need to play my cards now or just quit.
She stood up and dusted herself off. Before she began to walk towards anybody who might need help, I pulled her back.
"Natasha...I need to talk to you."
She wrestled free though, and went to check up on everyone. Always serving the people...I guess she couldn't tell I wanted her with me.
Another tremor. This time I could not draw my sword in time, and my hands seemingly turned to rubber. I fell and landed with nothing to break the fall, scraping my face and arms.
"Joshua, are you all right? Do you need medical atten--"
"Natasha, how did you get here so quickly?"
"... I just...happened to be in the neighborhood. Are you hurt?"
"Ugh. Yeah... But it's only a scratch. Still, if you could...take care of it. Please?"
"... ...All done."
"Thanks. ... Say, Natasha. Want to make a bet?"
"On what? If this is another of your little jokes, I--"
I could tell she didn't think it was the time. I did. "Will I make you happy? That's what we'll bet on. Are you in, or what?"
"That's everything I've got. I can't up the ante any more. So how about it? Are you in?"
"Look into my eyes, and decide for yourself."
"'I serve the people,' is that it? Listen, does it make any difference if you serve them in Grado or Renais? You can come with me. It'll work out, you'll see. I'll make it work."
She didn't have time to reply. The ferocious excuse for a living thing we were trying so desperately to stop charged some dark energy and released it. Realizing it was headed for us, I nearly panicked.
"NATASHA! MOVE!" Shoving her roughly aside, I jumped back as the beam passed right in between us...and hit Ephraim in the shoulder. L'Arachel was tending to him, so I got ready. I watched, although I knew he'd be alright. But then he did more than assure he was alright. He stood up and kissed her. Not a quick peck. He kissed her in a way that I had never seen, that only deep, true love could allude to. Shocked, I pondered for a moment. Looking to the one thing that I now realized I loved more than gambling, I mumbled.
"Give me your answer later. I have work to do."
I began to walk around slowly, looking for an angle I could exploit. I found a side route I could take to surprise him, but he was watching me. Sighing, I began to jog. His eyes followed. Then something happened I did not expect. Ephraim had mounted his horse. He was carrying his sacred lance and galloping at full speed, ready to take down this evil. Apparently he could not see what I could, though.
He's going to get you, you fool...
I did not say it, though. I needed my presence to be forgotten. The lord raised his lance and prepared to strike.
Turning his attention from me, the Demon King reacted quickly. He swiped at the horse, knocking Ephraim off of it. He once again charged his blast. All Ephraim could do was raise his lance and close his eyes. The powerful energy hit him head on.
Now's my chance.
I did not hear L'Arachel scream his name louder than any roar and begin sobbing. The rest of the world was closed off to me. I think Natasha shouted after me. But it's fuzzy. I do know that I closed my eyes and began running. Running as fast as I thought I could. I raised my sword in both hands, and it began glowing. I turned into a flash, darting back and forth as a blur. Leaping, I landed on the beast's back and continued running. This was it. If this didn't work, I would be toast. But that was a gamble I had to make. Too many people were counting on me, including Natasha.
Switching hands and turning the sword downwards, I grasped the hilt with both hands and came down, plunging it in a slashing motion with all my might. It sank to the hilt into his forehead. Jumping back, I covered myself and Natasha as a fierce, blinding light shone into the cavern and was followed by a large explosion. The dust cleared, and I collapsed in relief. The Demon King was gone.
I was sick.
Sick of being congratulated, sick of being patted on the back and sick of being stared at in wonder by the younger members of the company. I was also just plain sick. I hadn't slept in a long time. I quickly shook it off, though, as I saw her approaching me.
"Joshua...how are you today."
"A little tired, but I'm just as fine as ever," I tried to smile.
"Well...I came to give you my answer."
All forms, symptoms, thoughts and complaints of tiredness disappeared from my mind instantly.
"... ... I will..."
"... accept you wager," she finally blurted out. If my body didn't ache horribly I would've jumped.
"What I'm betting is my future. My happiness."
I smiled. "Natasha... ... I can't afford to lose this one."
"You're right... And I hope from the bottom of my heart that you win."
Looking down and silently rearranging my words and making sure I had it all right, I prepared to speak. I hadn't opened my mouth, though, when she calmly put her arms around my waist. Leaning in to rest her head against me, she sighed happily.
"Joshua...what would've happened if you had won our first bet?"
"I thought I told you."
"Tell me again."
I had no intention of lying to her this time.
"All the same. No part of me wished to harm you from the beginning."
"I know. I just wanted you to tell me."
"Why? If you-"
"Because I love you."
Finally returning the embrace, I smiled down at her.
"I love you too, Natasha. You already knew that."
"I know I did. But," she grinned, "I needed the right moment to do this."
Holding my face in both hands, she slowly kissed me and held it. I moved my lips along hers, savoring the fact that she was finally mine. I hadn't needed to bet her about love, but...that's just who I was, I suppose. I say was because that was the former me. She had changed me.
I lay back on my bed the night before I was to return and begin ruling Jehanna, and Natasha lay with me. Snuggled up to me, she had fallen asleep an hour ago. Closing my eyes, I smiled.
She HAS changed me. I can wait to ask her to be my queen. It will come to me in due time. She will accept. And this time, I don't need the flip of a coin to know it.
Sorry if the ending is not all that. My brain's mush right now, but I needed to write about something. R&R please. Keep in mind I'm in a temporary stupor before you be too brutal. :P
Yes, I altered some places and inserted things in others. Live with it. :)