Author's Note: Jaffar/Nino seems to be the pairing of choice, but I found Erk and Nino's supports much more endearing. It could be because Jaffar seems borderline obsessive stalker in regards to Nino, and Erk's other pairings seem sort of bland in comparison. Anyways, enjoy, and comments are always welcome.


Erk ran.

It wouldn't work out anyways, he reflected. He had been a fool, a fool to think that he would have a chance, that she'd forgive all his blunders. And she was childish. Endearingly childish, to be sure, and possibly the most powerful mage since Archsage Athos, but... and he didn't have time for a relationship right now! He was studying under the Mage General himself, he had to keep up with his studies... and the Angel of Death! He'd kill him. He'd kill him if he knew.

He caught his breath, leaning his hand against the reassuring steadiness of a tree trunk. It would pass. It was just a flying fancy, a chance infatuation. Then, why did his heart sink so, and the pit of his stomach lie heavy with the fear that she would never speak to him again?

"Erk!"

He dared not turn.

"Erk, please! Look at me..."

He turned slowly, bracing himself as he did. What would he see in those luminous blue eyes? Anger? Contempt? Worse yet, tears?

No tears yet, but sorrow and confusion enough. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice quavering slightly. She brought a hand to his shoulder, but tentatively, as if she were afraid to touch him. "I... I won't say anything about how I'm not like your teacher... so... please don't be mad at me anymore!" She stepped back, throwing her arms protectively above her head. A reflex? Just what had that woman done to her?

He reached out, gently pushing down her arms. As if the strings of a marionette had snapped they dropped limply at her sides. She still wouldn't look up at him.

"Nino," he said, in a softer tone than he was accustomed to using. He knelt to get a look at her face. Her eyes were shut tight now, tears running down her nose and cheeks, awaiting the blow. He took the edge of his cloak and dabbed her face, trying to ebb the steady stream.

"I could never be mad at you, Nino. But it's not enough just to agree with me." His voice grew harder. He had never been one to anger easily, yet just thinking of the mistreatment she must have suffered made his blood boil.

"You mustn't believe a word that woman said to you. Your stepmother... Sonia... she was a terrible person. But she's dead now, Nino. You don't need to listen to her anymore."

"Oh..." The sniffling quieted.

Erk tensed. Had he said something terrible again? Would it start afresh?

But when her eyes reopened, they held no sadness. "...okay. I won't!" A smile. How he had missed that smile.

"That's a promise, Erk. Thank you!" She leaned in and kissed his cheek, skipping away before the mage could react.

He spent the rest of that afternoon in a daze, which lasted even through dinner. It was terrible form, the way he'd answered Lady Priscilla's inquiries in monosyllables and forgotten to meet Lord Pent in his quarters, but suddenly, it didn't matter. For it was just a dream, a long, extensive dream. The prodigy mage girl who'd kissed him was just a product of his deprived subconscious. He'd wake in his bed any moment, and Lady Louise would scold him for oversleeping so.

As he was about to retire to his room, still waiting to wake up, he felt a strong hand grab his shoulder, and a cold, crisp pressure on his neck. If he'd dared move his own hand he would have slapped himself on the forehead. He hadn't been watching his back, and now he was going to die.

But his death was not so swift as he might have expected.

A low growl emitted from behind his ear. "Will you make her happy?"

"What?"

Silence. The knife pressed closer into his skin.

"Yes," he managed to reply. "Yes, I will make Nino happy."

"How?"

Erk's heart threatened to jump out of his chest. He had not been expecting this.

"I'll... I'll take her for walks," he began, keeping his tone as level as possible. "I'll show her fields of flowers and rolling hills and wide blue skies, and give her beautiful things to make her smile."

His voice gained strength. "I'll teach her letters, so she can read all the books she's wanted to borrow. And," he paused, wondering at his own boldness, "I'll make sure no one hurts her ever again."

The pressure relented. His knees wobbled, and he fell to the ground. Though he had been nigh-fatally injured several times throughout his journey, he had never felt his own mortality as pressingly as he had then.

"So it's all right then." Jaffar spoke slowly, his expression unreadable as ever. "Nino will be in danger, if she stays with me... but with you, she will be safe."

"Yes," Erk replied. "I am just Lord Pent's student. No one will find cause to harm Nino because of me."

The assassin seemed satisfied with this answer. He turned to leave. "Stay with her, mage. Keep her safe and happy."

For a moment Erk saw the glint of his blade. "For if you do not... I will know. And I will come for you." He vanished into the shadows, as swiftly as he had arrived.

"Saint Elimine," Erk murmured, rubbing his neck. This was certainly more than he'd bargained for. And yet... somehow, he was looking forward to it. "I must be going mad," Erk told himself, with a bemused smile.

He opened the door to his room for the night, checking for traps. Finding none, he searched again. Today was the first day of the rest of his life.