On Epiphanies

Fire Emblem, crack is thy name. …At least to me it is…

So many happy endings abound, I was a little nonplussed upon seeing some of the epilogues for the characters. Which is why I've decided to go ahead and concoct a fic concerning the details of what happened to some of the characters. Though the fic will flit from character to character and various points in time (during the game, briefly thereafter, several years thereafter), the (relatively) primary focus will be on Ephraim, Joshua, and the efforts to rebuild Grado, since those nations suffered the most damage. Since when the hell was royal feudalism about happy days and comfort, anyways? Reconstruction is never easy.

Relationships, I don't quite know yet – this story is going to get very convoluted as far as romance goes, as Joshua, Ephraim, and Eirika will have to choose between duty to their country – which could entail being married to foreign royalty, among other things – and their own feelings and desires. Not that what they want will be clear, of course. Expect twists and context to be added to support conversations.

"speech"

thoughts / flashbacks / emphasis / etc.

And here goes…


Prologue: The Bets


"They won't be happy about this…at all…"

"No, they won't."

The slurred tone to her response made him turn his head to the woman currently leaning her weight on him and draping an arm across his shoulder – and he winced as the bleeding scratch on his temple flared in pain. "You need to take it easy – no telling what kind of poison might be in the arrows. You're lucky I'm not just carrying you back – you did have to fight a lot harder, so the poison could have spread further if there was one."

She responded with a noncommittal grunt.

He stared at her for a moment, until she dully turned her lavender eyes to his crimson ones. Sighing in response, he shook his head and said, "You know what? You really need to quit being such a sourpuss. Enjoy life some, ya know? Good thing you and I will do just that once we get home to Jehanna."

Recognition of the deal she'd made with him shined briefly in her eyes, and the ghost of a smile flitted across the mercenary's face before her stoic expression quashed it.

Narrowing his eyes, the brand-new king of the desert nation frowned at the purple-haired woman. "Is that…a smile?"

Marisa glared at him in response. "Do you have a problem with it?"

Joshua responded with his best lady-killing grin. "You look prettier when you smile like that, that's all."

She darkly glared at him again, but that didn't hide her other reaction. Is that…is that a…by the Stones, is she blushing? Or am I just seeing things in the moonlight? The redhead killed the urge to grin – poisoned she might be, an embarrassed Marisa was likely to be entirely unpredictable, and in a bad way. So he simply returned his attention to supporting her as the two of them steadily made it back to Rausten Court and their lodgings.

How the hell did all of this happen again? Still in disbelief, Joshua tried to recall exactly what had culminated in this pretty ice queen hanging off of his shoulder…


"Haaaaaaaaamm…!"

Joshua suddenly paused, tentatively reaching at the sudden pain in his mouth. Did I just pull a muscle in my jaw yawning?

That sounds like something Forde would do…. Shaking his head in disbelief, the red-headed gambling addict continued his leisurely stroll through the halls of Rausten's (quasi) luxurious palace, which was surprisingly intact, considering the massive surprise assault that had been launched against it a week and a half ago. A few surviving soldiers were standing watch, but they were all battle-weary and shaken, making sneaking out easier. Not that it wasn't already child's play for the desert prince to evade their patrols – how else would he have escaped Jehanna's grand halls as a youth?

Finally making his way outside the walls of Rausten Court, he checked the elixirs and Steel Sword he brought with him one final time (the absence of a Killing Edge, not to mention Audhulma, from the supply convoy would be much more noticeable) then looked up and began his routine late-night stroll.

Or would have, if he didn't find one Crimson Flash standing in his way.

Joshua raised an eyebrow at Marisa. "What brings you out here?" There was no need to ask, considering her Shamshir's handle looked a little moist – always a sure sign of her having just fought. Can't clean sweat off the handle, after all.

"A Knight of Rausten asked for a spar. I bested him – three times. His friends tried, but they weren't much either." She narrowed her eyes at the redhead royalty. "What are you doing out?"

"I like to take a stroll in the chilly night air. Jolts me a little, makes me feel more alive." He paused for dramatic effect, then fixed the purple-haired mercenary with his gaze, which she returned coolly. How else? Joshua commented to himself. "Care to join me?"

She did not avert her gaze for several seconds. Then, she replied, "Even after the death of the Demon King, we still have many enemies.

"If only to keep you alive, I will join you."

The redhead sniffed. "I can defend myself very capably, thank you very much. Don't slight the skills of someone who can beat you."

Her reply came without hesitation, and without the haste of a slighted ego. "You yourself said we were still even. Don't change your words."

Raising both hands in surrender, Joshua replied, "All right, all right. Let's go already."


"You still remember that deal you made with me?"

The clear night and the full moon lit their path brilliantly, thankfully sparing them of the need for torches; that would have attracted undue attention, and would result in their walk being aborted. The trees and their leaves whistled to the tune of the breeze, and the soft chill of the wind created a pleasant feeling. Not too harsh, not too cold – just right, as Joshua might have said.

"Well?"

Marisa looked to her left, where Joshua was walking alongside her, his slouched gait contrastingly sharply with her alert marching. Marisa knew that her fellow swordsman's easy-going demeanor belied his tremendous skills with the blade, but it still puzzled her as to why the prince (or was it king?) of her homeland didn't show more discipline. I suppose that Fate destined Joshua to be the foil of a more rigid leader, like Innes.

That sister of the Frelian prince's, Tana, also came to Marisa's thoughts. If Joshua and Innes were yin and yang, then Tana was her exact opposite. Always smiling and talkative, she was one of the few in the group who routinely tried to spark conversation with the stoic and silent blade master. Not that the princess annoyed Marisa (at least not anymore) – she was quite used to Ewan's cheeky hyperactivity, and the blue-haired woman was a considerably less boisterous person than the junior mage. The lavender-haired woman found Tana's outgoing nature somewhere between half-amusing and half-endearing. It just puzzled her as to why royalty such as her would go out of her way to associate with mercenaries. It was surprising indeed, when contrasted with the innocent remark the now wyvern knight (thanks to watching Cormag's battlefield handiwork) had made concerning mercenaries the first time she'd approached Marisa.

"It's not like you to space out. Hey! Ya there?"

Shaken from her thoughts, Marisa frowned. Yes…it is unseemly for me to be lost in thought. "Hm?"

"You were staring at me." He paused, then chuckled. "You got lost in my eyes, didn't you? Go ahead and admit it – you love me." Joshua's cheeky grin looked like it could induce screaming and fainting from most females.

Marisa, however, was most decidedly not like most females. "The deal?"

"Yeah. Just wondering if you were still up to it. After all, I imagine a lot of lucrative work will be available in dealing with bandits over in Grado. I know you like to swing your sword around, so…"

The swordswoman wrinkled her nose. "A warrior keeps her promises. I'll help you with your royal duties however I can." She paused briefly, remembering the smart remark he'd made a moment ago, then added, "Just remember, though – I'm not of much use outside of combat."

The redhead chuckled. "I beg to differ. I've known quite a few women who said things like that, but they turned out to…" He trailed off, then fixed the forest they had been strolling around the outskirts of with a Look.

Marisa replied with a nod. "How many batches of cake did L'Arachel order to be made for us last night?" How many?

Joshua shrugged nonchalantly. "I forgot." Wait a moment…. Then, he touched his hand with his chin pensively, (hopefully) using the gesture to hide his roving eyes. "Hm…probably six, since most of us are grown up. Guess she anticipated Ewan's sweet tooth and Ross's appetite. Always wondered why kids loved sweets – any ideas?" About six. Suggestions?

"He did say it was, and I quote, 'to die for'." She shook her head in disdain. "Children…" Kill them.

"Yeah…kids…" The redhead flashed her another grin. Then, he pulled out his blade, Marisa following suit. Both of them sprinted at the forest, weaving zig-zag patterns to avoid being hit by archers. Joshua held his sword in a low, one-handed grip, while Marisa hefted her curved Shamshir to head level with both hands.

The puzzlement as to the words of the two gave way to the realization that it was code talk. Four soldiers emerged to meet them, two being swordmasters (if the flowing robes and Killing Edges were any sign of that), and the other pair being composed of a shield-carrying Hero (Joshua would rather call them Villains) and a helmeted axe-wielder. The glint of armor suspended several feet in the air amongst the trees meant a Warrior was among their ranks as well. If this really was a basic Grado footsoldier platoon, then that meant an archer (or Sniper – the foes' ranks didn't matter as much as their weapons) was also hiding somewhere.

"Berserker first!" called out Joshua. "The axemen will be easier to get rid of! I'll occupy the blades!"

"Understood." Marisa's calm reply was almost lost amid the war cries of the larger men and their footfalls.

The Warrior joined their ranks of his melee comrades with his own axe, but that only registered in the back of Joshua's mind. Hollering something concerning their mothers and sodomy (if only to anger them and therein shake their concentration), he parried the initial stab of the first sword-wielding foe by snatching the hilt of his own blade with his left hand and bringing the weapon up in a powerful yet precise horizontal swing. The strong parry knocked the blade of his foe aside, but the redhead had already spun into a reverse pivot, allowing the momentum from running at his foes to carry him into a spinning follow-up slash almost identical to his first one. His enemy had already recovered from the parry, and blocked the second strike with one hand on the flat of his curved sword. Rotating his forearms to point the tip of his broadsword toward his foe, Joshua thrust diagonally, looking to craft a blade-sized hole in the other man.

Then the gut instinct that had saved him millions of times in the rush of combat flared, and he raked the edge of his sword down his foe's blade, spinning to his left as he shoved aside the blade he was locked with to block the decapitating slash of the other swordmaster. Damnit! How do you forget that you're fighting two people here? Focus! He mentally screamed at himself, even as he followed the momentum of his slash and spun away from being pinned between his two foes. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Marisa aptly defending herself from the two burly axemen and the shield-carrying soldier, parrying each of their heavy-set strikes and dealing quick, shallow slices to limbs and anything else that exposed itself as the brief half-seconds between assaults allowed. Well, at least the archer won't get a clear shot in on her.

Joshua, however, was a different story. Facing considerably quicker swordsmen, he couldn't afford to simply leap into the fray like Marisa. Yet, if he wasn't locked up in combat with both of them simultaneously, the archer would have a clear shot. It left two options – either dance in and out from between the two in order to avoid becoming a pincushion (which would burn him out and kill him quickly), or find the damned archer and kill him (not yet valid, seeing as he didn't know where the archer was).

Speaking of which, another arrow rocketed towards him. He leapt into a tuck-roll, and continued the dance of death with his two partners. Blades flashed, and only minor hits could be scored by both sides. Joshua eventually maneuvered both of them to stand in his field of vision, and got enough breathing room to back away from the pair of assailants, but his brief respite was interrupted a soft whoosh. Instinctively turning his head and swinging his blade, he missed, and instead wound up with an arrow in his right gut. Grimacing in pain and biting back a scream, he turned his head in that direction while backpedaling away from the swordsmen who were trying to press their advantage. Another arrow rushed out, this time a little too far behind Joshua.

That second arrow was the sniper's mistake, as it was that exact point in time that Joshua felt a featherweight in his pants pocket. Instinctively reaching to pull the object out, he hurriedly swatted away another sword slash as he realized what it was…


"Huh?" Joshua was reasonably confused by the tiny dagger the green-haired lady offered him. It wasn't as if she knew how to use such things, after all (not to mention she would refuse to wield such 'ruffian' weapons, probably deeming them beneath her).

"It seems as if Rennac dropped it while we marched to Darkling Woods. I found it, and have kept it on my person ever since. We were busy at the time, slaying the Demon King and his minions of evil, so I really couldn't have given it to anyone. Dozla has no use for such a minute weapon, and Rennac dismissed it, saying something about having spares as he hurried away. Am I really that grating on his nerves?" Princess L'Arachel of Rausten pondered aloud.

No, your justice shtick and holier-than-thou attitude are worse, Joshua thought to himself. Not that he would say it aloud – the magician might decide to smite him into dust, and it wasn't as if he could strike her. That would be horrible for international relations – something he'd need to fix Jehanna.

"Such a knave weapon is beneath me, as I have a great source of holy strength to draw upon. Prince Innes has his bow, and King Ephraim his spear. The soldiers accompanying us do not make use of such tiny blades either. Thus, I offer it to the king of Jehanna, if for nothing more than a gesture of good relations."

Joshua narrowed his gaze at the self-important princess. "So, you're too arrogant to use throwing knives, and you're just gonna foist it off on me even though I'm royalty, too?"

L'Arachel bristled at being called arrogant. And here I was, thinking some holy princess would brush off insults as the 'words of an ignorant knave', or something like that, Joshua idly noted. She hesitated briefly, then said, "Perhaps a boorish way of putting it, but it is similar to as you say it is. So, will you accept my gift or decline it?"

The redheaded swordsman grinned. "Why would I ever decline a gift from a pretty lady?"

Rather than blush (as most of the other women might have), L'Arachel seemed nonplussed. "Of course! I am the most beautiful woman in all of Rausten, not to mention Magvel!"

It was Joshua's turn to look nonplussed at her statement. Trust her to be narcissistic about it

"Just give me it already…"


Now, mind you, Joshua wasn't one to have flashbacks and epiphanies in the middle of a battlefield (especially not when a pair of swordsmen were harrying him like they were), but he did remember whom he got it from. Guess I'll have to tolerate her gloating when I tell her she saved my skin. Shifting his steel blade into one hand, he switched into a fencing style and held the throwing knife tightly, waiting for an opportunity to try and take out the sniper. "I do love gambling so, after all," he muttered under his breath. He parried one particularly heavy-set slash, managed a quick slice at that foe's arm, and leaped backwards to get space to work with against the second swordsman.

That was when another arrow flew out, from the same spot as before.

Joshua spared just enough attention to heave the knife with pinpoint accuracy. The hell if I'll ever let Innes know his marksmanship skills are rubbing off on me. I'd never hear the end of it. Turning his attention back to the fighters in front of him, he heard a distant grunt, and a dull thud marked by rustling leaves.

Well that tears it. I'm on a roll – today really is my lucky day. He'd weaseled a duel in the future out of Gerik (and a promise from the mercenary to work with him if Joshua won), promises from Ephraim and Innes to exchange visits to their respective kingdoms (also in the near future, and a nice first step to setting up formal alliances), a walk with Marisa (and with minimal effort to convince her!), and he'd gotten heads on his customary first flip of the day! The only way the day could get any luckier was if his mother was revived (preferably not by a sinister power) and he found a bride! Of course, assuming he and Marisa could cut down the five remaining fighters.

His attention now wholly freed from caution against arrows, Joshua finally had the time and space to deal killing blows. He informed one of the swordsmen of that fact by sweeping a blow while simultaneously flanking him, to get away from the other swordsman. Slashing downward to lodge the other man's blade in the ground, he rapidly circled his foe, dealing lethal slashes into his side and neck. Not pausing to hear the pained grunt or death rattle of his foe, he moved onto his second foe and cut him down even faster. Facing the remaining fighters, the first thing he noticed were the arrow wounds in Marisa's gut and arm. At least she had the time to pull it out, the redhead inwardly complained. Joshua pulled out the arrow lodged in him quickly and sprinted to help, screaming at the top of his lungs to catch their attention.

Berserkers were infamous for zoning in on one foe in combat (despite everyone continually warning Dozla not to do so), so he ignored the redhead's loud war cry. Joshua supposed Warriors with lesser discipline did the same (after all, how many equals did Garcia have outside of their group?), as the spike-armored axe-wielder did not respond. The Hero (or Villain, in Joshua's mind), however, turned to face him and readied his own blade in response. The swings of Joshua's foe were far less controlled than his own (though they certainly weren't as wild as his compatriots'), and that made it easy for the redheaded swordmaster to expertly dance about, parry his blows, and sting the other man with cuts to his arms and legs when his slashes weren't blocked by that infuriating shield. Eventually, his foe tried for a powerful leaping overhead slash, but Joshua simply sidestepped the blow and parried the other's blade into the ground in one motion. Caught off guard and sword lodged into the ground by his momentum, he was left wide open.

"Sucker," Joshua muttered. Then, he spun away, and settled into the Phantom Slash stance – the technique myrmidons, assassins and swordmasters all were proficient in.

The mirror images contributed their blades handily, and the scream of the Hero (Villain) was muffled by the whirling sounds of powerful swings creating echoes of wind. The sprays of blood went unnoticed – this was a battlefield, after all, and none of the fighters present could possibly be that green.

The loud slashing sounds, however, drew the attention of the Warrior, who saw his comrade-in-arms being brutally cut down by the rain of deathblows. He moved to try to catch the redheaded swordsman off-guard, but a sensation of cold steel running through his back stopped that train of thought. Scratch that – it stopped all his trains of thought. He slumped forward, and Marisa yanked out her blade to ward away another strike from the berserker. Sweat and blood streaked her pretty features (more the former than the latter, which was a good sign), and the effort she'd expended in constantly dancing to evade the axe men and Hero was taking its toll on her. The exhaustion burning in her bones made every swing and parry harder to aim, and she was slowing, giving openings a more nimble fighter could take advantage. Joshua, you better help me soon….

Then she made a mistake. The berserker brought a heavy, one-handed stroke down, and she moved to the side, a half-step slower than normal.

That was when the huge, burly man brought his left hand to choke up the axe and stop the motion. He then twisted it and swung sideways, looking to detach Marisa's head. Though she moved to dodge, she knew she was too late to evade it in her exhausted state.

Then she was abruptly hauled off her feet by a force that wrapped itself around her waist, and she fell onto her left side. The axe now simply swung at thin air. Turning to incredulously glare at her savior, she watched in exhaustion as Joshua scrambled back onto his feet after tackling her out of the axe swipe to stop a pursuing, heavy, downward stroke. Joshua lacked the space to parry or dodge, so he simply brought his sword up to block the axe.

The larger weapon crashed into the blade, and forced it into the redhead's shoulder. After holding itself for just over a second, the sword snapped underneath the weight of the considerably larger weapon. Joshua screamed in pain as the axe, though most of its momentum was lost to his block, lodged itself into his collarbone. That didn't stop him, however, from snatching the handle of the axe with both hands to hold it where it was. His pained demand jolted Marisa back to reality.

"Any time now!" Marisa shot to her feet, fueled by a small second wind. The berserker immediately tried to remove his axe and keep her away, but Joshua's grip held firm long enough for his lavender-haired companion's blade to ring true. She slashed the axeman's side open, then followed with a riposte through the heart. He replied with a pained scream, then a quiet death rattle as his own grip on the axe loosed and he slumped backwards to the ground, blood pooling beneath him.

Joshua yanked the axe out of his shoulder and hurled it down, screaming curses the whole while.

"AGGHH! SON OF A MOTHERFUCKING GWYLLGI, I SO DID NOT ENJOY THAT!"

"Do you need to be so loud?" Marisa idly wondered aloud.

"YEAH, WELL I DON'T SEE YOUR DAMNED COLLARBONE SEVERED! SHUT UP!" he snapped in response. Falling to his knees, he grit his teeth in pain and hissed curses upon the dead berserker and the "motherfucking cheap, disease-ridden whore" that was the man's mother.

The Crimson Flash narrowed her eyes. Joshua never got this angry, not even when fighting. She hadn't seen him injured this badly beforehand. I should not blame him, I suppose…. Fishing through her supplies, she found out (much to her dismay and chagrin) that her healing supplies had somehow been destroyed. Things like that will happen when you're outnumbered in a fight three-to-one.

Apparently, it's also frequent in two-on-one encounters as well, as Joshua reached for his own potions and cursed again. "Damnit, my elixir bottles…fell out? Shit…we're gonna have to go back and get this healed…" He spent a few moments trying to ignore the pain until he realized that Marisa had fixed him with a look. "What?"

The lavender-haired woman sounded a little hesitant. "…I made a mistake. You were injured because of it."

"Yeah, yeah," Joshua muttered, grimacing as he tried to reflexively wave it off with his right hand. Repeating the gesture with his other arm, he continued, "We're not always perfect, Marisa. Sometimes, you have a bad day."

She continued to glare at him, until he sighed, both in exhaustion and pain.

"Let's get the hell out of here, then. We've probably attracted all sorts of attention…"


Looking down to the nasty gash in his right shoulder, Joshua frowned and hissed his teeth in pain. Damnit…maybe I should save these walks until I get back home….

"I'm sorry."

"Hm?" The desert king spun his head to look at Marisa, who seemed to grow more tired by the second. Either the fight took more out of her than I thought, or there's poison in that guy's arrows…I hope it's the former, even though she'd never accept that possibility…

"I faltered in a critical moment. I made a rookie mistake. It's my fault you are injured like that." Her voice was puzzlingly soft – sure, she didn't speak loud, but there was always a rigid edge to her words, no matter how slight. Oh geez, don't tell me she's turning all angsty on me. I get enough of that talking to Knoll, and I almost never do that.

"Sheesh. It's not your fault. You killed the guy who was to blame, so it's all even, hm?"

"I am apologizing here. Are you going to accept it or not?" The Edge came back.

"Ok, ok, I accept your apology. Still, quit blaming yourself. Past is past."

"And if it becomes a permanent injury?" The Edge vanished.

"Hey, Gerik has his share of scars. You think he cares about whether they hinder his performance or not? I'm sure everybody else has some nasty battle trophies. Even Seth has a nasty wound from a while ago – or so Natasha tells me. They don't let it hinder them, and the hell if I will."

Marisa grew quiet, and the two continued to stumble on back. Eventually, she spoke up again. In that disturbingly soft voice that resembled Natasha's far too much.

"Our deal…"

"What about it?"

"I will keep our deal. I shall swear service to your crown, and become the very best swordfighter I can be."

Joshua chuckled despite the cold fire in his shoulder, and grinned. "Nice to hear…" I know you already would have, but I guess it's nice to just hear it…

"And perhaps, I'll…compensate for it otherwise…"

"Huh?"

Marisa responded by slumping forward off of his shoulder, falling to the earth face first. Joshua, ignoring the pain in his injured shoulder, reached out and caught her around the stomach and chest, thankfully not touching…those. She'd brutally dismember me if I ever did that…Joshua shuddered at the thought.

Gently flipping her over and holding her up, he said aloud, "Jeez, you're out of it…are you sure you can walk the rest of the way?"

"No…" Her reply induced a sigh from Joshua. It's gonna hurt, and she definitely won't like it, but-

"But…you could carry me there…"

If anyone knew when a woman was flirting, it was the lady-killing redhead. Marisa did a very coy voice disturbingly well, so it turned out. She also seemed to be a natural at a seductive gaze. Oh, by the Sacred Stones, that arrow's poison just had to cause delirium! I should have been suspicious when she apologized – guess that was when the poison's effects started to kick in. Hopefully, she wouldn't remember any of this delirious flirting – it might mean his head if she did.

Now officially weirded out, Joshua grimaced, then sighed once more. "Guess I don't have any choice. If you're that far gone, I'll just have to carry you back…" With a grunt, he collected the purple-haired woman in his arms, noting that she seemed to be completely out of strength – and that she was pretty light. Great. It'll be torturously painful on my right arm instead of hellishly so.

The look on the inebriated swordswoman's face would have had Tethys green with envy. "My hero," she murmured, apparently ignorant of the fact that he was biting back a scream as he began to jog to Rausten Court.

"Yeah, yeah, let's just get back in a hurry. You're not in much-mmf!"

It was rather understandable that Joshua couldn't talk any more. It happens when someone else's mouth clamps over yours. Distracted by Marisa kissing him, Joshua froze in place, almost as if petrified by a Gorgon (which had not been a pleasant experience – thankfully, that old priest Moulder had ended it swiftly). Feeling something else prodding his lips, the redhead's blood ran cold. Oh, gods, is that – is that her TONGUE

Once Marisa pulled away, he shuddered, bit back a scream, then redoubled his pace. Maybe I should just shut up and enjoy it before she realizes what she's doing and castrates me for not stopping her…


Natasha, Grado cleric, usually retired early so that she could also rise early and help prepare breakfast for the group. Unfortunately, on this particular night, sleep somehow eluded her. And it hadn't taken her long to figure out why.

Joshua.

That charming redhead, the prince (or was it king?) of Jehanna, had made something in her break when he'd made that joking (or was it?) bet.

"That you're gonna fall for me, sooner or later."

Eirika would have been at least somewhat indignant. Lute, Marisa and Vanessa would ignore his words (Marisa being more likely to violently respond if she did, indeed, respond). Syrene would have taken it in stride, like she did so many things. L'Arachel would have called him a perverted knave (or something like that), and would have brushed him off. Tana would have bristled at such a cavalier (not to mention arrogant) approach to love.

In fact, that was exactly what the Frelian princess had done, when she'd found out about it. It'd been shortly after Joshua had made that "bet" with her.


Finally slowing down after running away from Joshua, the heat in Natasha's cheeks was still near unbearable, and certainly visible. "Oh, by the saints, why do I feel this way? How could he say something like that?"

"Like what?"

Nearly jumping out of her skin, the nun relaxed visibly upon seeing Tana's curious and concerned expression from atop her winged mount. "Who said what?" the blue-haired young woman repeated, quickly dismounting. "Don't worry – there's only a few stragglers in this swamp," Tana noted, swiveling her head to take in the muddy sights of the Narube River. "I'm not needed, or so Sir Seth said."

"Uh…um…"

"Well? I'm dying of curiosity here! Spill it already!" Now leaning forward in order to look Natasha in the eyes, Tana's eyes shone with anticipation.

"…You see…" Natasha's blush seemed to multiply even further. Slowly, hesitantly, and mostly certainly with absolute embarrassment, she confessed. "Joshua…he made a bet…" Encouraged by the princess' eager nodding, she went on. "…He tried to…he tried to make a bet…that…that I'd…that I'd fall for him…" Finally having said it, the temperature in her face seemed to rise once more. This can't possibly be healthy, some analytical portion of her mind idly noted.

Meanwhile, Tana's jaw looked as if it was thrashing to unhinge itself from her face. "He said WHAT!"

"He…he said that I'd fall for him…"

The azure-topped princess half sighed, half grunted in exasperation. "Can you believe the nerve? How can he say something like that? I mean – how can he be that arrogant?"

Natasha lamely offered, "Um…he is the prince of Jehanna…"

"Please! Royalty aren't all like that, Natasha! Like Ephraim! He is far from arrogant! Sure, he might be a little stiff sometimes, reckless other times, and plain dumb still other times, but he doesn't think that highly of himself!"

Out of tact, the blonde cleric refrained from mentioning Tana's egotistical brother, as well as L'Arachel and her self-important attitude (to hear Rennac say it). As it was, Tana conveniently ignored the two in question.

"Eirika is the nicest girl I've ever known! She'd never talk down to anyone, and she'd never even dream of saying anything half as bad as that!"

Natasha grew even quieter, trying to concentrate on forcing down the heat in her cheeks. It was to no avail, as Tana finally noticed it.

"Why are you so red? Are you…?" Then it dawned on her. "Don't tell me…don't tell me that there's any truth to what he said. Please don't."

Natasha simply turned her gaze to the floor in response, still futilely trying to hide her embarrassment.

The princess sighed in response. "By the Stones, I think I've read this in a book somewhere. He's a bad boy; you're a good girl. It sounds exactly like some stupid romance novel!"

"Um…what would that entail?" Natasha inwardly frowned. Perhaps my lack of exposure to fiction is a bad thing…maybe I should catch up after the war?

Tana grimaced and sighed. "When you meet him, you see an opposite to everything you've been taught and raised by. It's all in him – in this case, Joshua. He's reckless, he does things you've been taught are taboo – gambling, in his case – and, to top it all off, he's a smooth talker. You get drawn to him out of curiosity, and you somehow become attracted to him. Honestly, I don't understand how that could happen. That kind of person wouldn't be enticing – he'd be repulsive."

Realizing something big, the blue-eyed cleric offered a suggestion. "Before he made that bet, he stepped in between me and an arrow while I was trying to heal Ross. He got injured. He suggested that he should keep an eye out for me while I heal others, but when I protested, I…I think I accidentally…I…how do I say it? …"

"You led him on? You gave him some sign? Of your…um…attraction, I guess?"

Blushing once more, Natasha softly agreed.

"Hm," Tana pensively offered. "He does have his moments, I guess. But still, that's so arrogant."

"So, then, does that mean…"

"…" The Frelian princess sighed in resignation, and replied, "Yeah…I guess it means he's right."

Natasha continued to set new records for blushing in one day.


"Oh," she softly murmured. Perched on the edge of her bed, she finally realized it. "I…I suppose…I suppose I'm in love with him…

"…So, is this what love feels like?" I feel so…I feel as if I need him, as if I need to be near him, to be with him. I feel some desire to help him however I can, and I think…I think I want him to protect me, to help me as well…these desires seem so selfish, and yet the texts in the Temple often spoke of love as selfless. …Is it love?

Deciding that sleep would continue to elude her for some time, Natasha got up and walked out to the balcony of her room, having enough presence of mind to put her cloak and dress over her nightgown.

The midnight air was only lightly chilled, and a light breeze billowed Natasha's garments as she sauntered out to watch the stars and the nocturne sky. Drawing in a deep breath, she let it out slowly as she attempted to trace patterns in the many twinkling lights hanging leagues above the buildings.

Some time passed, and she eventually cast her gaze towards the ground. Some movement caught her eye, and she narrowed her gaze, trying to figure out who it was. It moved swiftly, in the direction of the castle gates, and carried someone in his or her arms. Soon enough, Natasha realized who it was.

The red hair. The cap.

"Joshua!" she whispered loudly. Bursting back into her room, she flew out the entrance into the hall, and quickly made her way to the castle gates to meet the desert prince.


"What happened?" she nearly shrieked, Mend staff now in hand, as she finally met up with Joshua. He had a deep gash in his right shoulder, and had as many minor cuts as his cargo. Marisa's purple hair was streaked with sweat and blood (like his was), and she had a pair of what looked like wounds from direct arrow hits to add to her lesser injuries. She seemed very unaware of her surroundings – not a good sign, compared to how rigidly alert she usually was.

"I went out for a walk, and Marisa happened to be on the way back. She joined me. We got ambushed by a standard Grado footsoldier platoon." Gesturing to the arrow wounds, he continued. "I think those arrows were poisoned. Her delirium from it is really freaking me out, so please hurry and fetch a Restore staff!" the redhead advised her.

"Your wound! It looks horrible! Let me-!"

"The Restore staff first," Joshua suggested. "I didn't have any tools to remove it, and it could be all over inside her. Hurry!"

"Um…all right!" Taking off as fast as she could manage in her turqoise-skyblue robes of a Bishop, she hurried for the massive stock of weapons and staves a few floors up.

Clattering to the floor with a grunt, Joshua allowed the cool tile to ease the heat in his legs and seat. Oh, man…if they ever found out about this, I'd never live it down

Unfortunately, he'd forgotten of Marisa's supreme inebriation, and had also forgotten to set her down.

Which meant that she was now in his lap and arms, inches removed from his face. As always, things got worse – the jolt of collapsing onto the floor seemed to shake her awake. He immediately went rigid and stock still, as if a jolt of Fimbulvetr had frozen the blood in his veins. Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit-. His luck failing him once more, her eyes slowly opened, and an inviting smile took shape.

"Hey there, pretty-boy," she softly whispered.

Panicking once more at the normally aloof swordswoman's efforts to seduce him, Joshua's mind began to race in a frantic search for escape. Just running off was out of the question – not only did his arm hurt from the fading of the adrenaline rush (though that discovery was a century or two distant), he was dead tired, and Natasha might not be back for a little while; it would do no good to have her frantically searching for the wounded redhead. Marisa might be too persistent to shrug off, and he really did not want to raise a ruckus if she chose to react otherwise – he would rather die than let anyone in on this freaky side of the purple-haired woman. Pretending to pass out might work, but knowing his luck, it probably wouldn't. Oh, hell, I should try anyways. It's my best shot.

A surprisingly soft hand reached out and touched his cheek, tracing slow lines around his jaw with its fingers. Once again, all of Joshua's thought processes simultaneously froze up and went into warp speed at Marisa stroking his face with her right hand.

Noticing the tension in his jaw, the lavender-haired woman frowned. "Why do you keep acting like this?" she whispered.

"Huh? Like what?" Replying a little quicker than he would have liked, the redhead cringed inwardly. I really hope my nervousness isn't leading her on…

"You keep freezing up whenever I do this…you get so tense." After a thoughtful (well, as thoughtful as one can be while in a state of delirium) pause, she added, "Do you hate me?"

Reflexively, before he knew what he said, Joshua replied, "What? No, just-"

Another coy grin. "Good." Then her hand snared his neck, and pulled his mouth onto hers.

Oh great, I had to be the one her belated hormones targeted! Where the hell is Gerik when you need him! Stupid, purple-headband wearing mercenaries, he mentally cursed. The moment she broke the kiss, Joshua heard a stifled gasp. His head shot up, and he saw Natasha holding two staves, looking at him, a mix of stunned and…horrified? He didn't blame her – Marisa had never been accused of putting her beauty to use at any time in the past.

Oh, if only he knew...

"The delirium?" he shrieked in explanation. The blonde cleric instantly reacted and dashed forward, focusing the energies in the Restore staff. Before the green glow enveloped Marisa, Joshua knocked the swordswoman out with a strike to the neck, then shuffled away on his hands. Natasha frowned at him, but he quickly explained, "I am not going to explain that to her! I don't want to die!"

The nun's face crinkled in a smile at the panic on Joshua's face, until she saw him cringe again. "Oh dear, your wound is horrible!" she fretted. "I'll get to it as soon as I'm done here!" A little color had returned to Marisa's face, and the glow from the magic panacea faded. Her work with Marisa done, Natasha returned her attention to the redhead she'd silently fallen in love with.


His breathing finally became relaxed as the Mend staff easily repaired his wounds. "Oh, man…I'm so tired, I could fall asleep right here on the floor," he groaned.

"Then you'd catch your death of cold," Natasha gently replied. "Let's go. I'll help you carry Marisa to her room."

"Actually, I'll do that."

Both their heads whirled to catch sight of Saleh. The gray-haired sage did not react to their gazes, but simply walked forward, squatted to scoop up the purple-haired woman, and walked off.

"I was up meditating," he explained as he vanished behind the staircase.

Both simply stared after him, until Joshua yawned and shakily rose to his feet. He stumbled, but Natasha was over in a flash, catching him from pitching forward.

She helped him walk, and the trip to his room was uneventful. The redheaded swordsman opened the door and stretched for a while, but did not go in. He paused briefly, then looked at Natasha. The nun returned his gaze, expecting Joshua to say something.

"How did you get there so quickly?"

His question startled Natasha, and she blushed slightly. The desert prince raised an eyebrow, but patiently waited for the response.

"I…happened to be in the neighborhood."

He grunted in acknowledgement, then walked into his room and closed the door. Listening to her somewhat hurried footfalls, he smirked as he realized two things.

"Her room is on the fourth floor. And she almost never has insomnia."


Finally.

You can already see the wheels spinning in the drama machine, don't you? Things will definitely get interesting, and fast.

Review, por favor. Point out what you think what could be done better.

I'm not taking pairing requests.