A/N: Played through this game a couple times and the scene where Nero's ranting about what's-his-face stuck with me, particularly the "What am I, chopped dragon liver!" which was a quote that eventually floated next to the memory of the scene where Elise is wondering what a dragon steak would be like and... this. Which was reworked three or four times to post in a section hardly visited at all. Because I felt like it.
(EDIT: 9-28-11, spelling errors fixed)
Chopped Dragon Liver
The only reason that came to mind to explain why he was sitting across from the princess in an inn for lunch was that he was careless. Utterly careless. He had stopped stalking her when her save-the-world ordeal had ended and she became a respected hero. Had mostly stopped keeping tabs on her adventures (for she determined that she had to keep traveling in order to preserve the peace that she had wrought). Now, he one time he opted not to track her in a month she had ended up in the same town as him. And she had recognized him immediately by his mane of red hair. The princess was a flighty girl, but she didn't easily forget important things (he pointedly ignored that she forgot the reason she started her career as an adventurer in the first place because he never considered that snooty pretty boy important anyway).
She would have probably easily forgotten about his brief compliments to her at the ball, but she didn't because she had asked about him and someone gave her a biography or something.
And apparently the famed Nero the Warrior was important by her finicky standards.
So that was why she was sitting across from him, kicking her legs impatiently under the table as she read the menu, looking as petulant as ever in her barely practical armor (not that he could say anything, really) with her two companions nearby. Paro was on her shoulder, as usual, and Pinky was... where did that slime go? Nero looked down to find it wiggling onto his foot with a happy look on its face. It recognized him, dammit. Why was this happening to him?
He stole a glance at the princess to find her looking at him with what passed for a speculative frown for her. It was as petulant as anything else about her. Cute, in a way, he supposed. But what could he say to break this silence? Or should he wait for her to talk and see what she wanted? It couldn't be good. Her eyes were gleaming and it had nothing to do with the afternoon sunlight filtering through the windows.
Then, rather suddenly, she announced happily, "Daddy told me about you!"
Oh. Damn. So it was the king who told her. Wait. How much did he tell her? He felt a twitch in his right eyebrow and hoped that it went unnoticed.
She continued. "And I met this weird girl and a boy with a talking shovel."
Damn. Damn. Damn.
"They said 'Oh, you're Nero's apprentice' and thanked me for saving the world. But of course I saved the world. It's my world. But I still wondered why they called me your apprentice and Kate looked surprised and told me that you were making dungeons and everything to train me."
He was going to strangle Kate and Owen next time he saw them. They did that on purpose, he knew. As if oh you're Nero's apprentice would be the first thing anyone said naturally when faced with what was clearly the world-saving princess. And why was the princess looking so completely calm about this? Cheerful even. She was usually cheerful, but usually oblivious. When did she gain this clarity? Her demeanor was slightly different, slightly more mature than when he had last seen her up close, and she had grown up a little by that celebration ball last year. He had thought that was the best she was going to get. Obviously he was wrong. Why did he stop keeping tabs on her? Careless, careless. He wouldn't be in this situation if it weren't for that.
"And it all came together when I was thinking one day."
She had moments set aside to reflect deeply on things? Who knew...
"And I thought about everything that Mr. Owl said."
Mr. Owl? What?
"And then I wondered why the person who was supposed to be my teacher never showed up in person."
Because she was spoiled and would demand he teach her everything at once if he did and she'd never really learn anything?
"But then I remembered that guardian angels are supposed to be invisible, duh, Elise. Anyway, since I am no longer an amateur I decided that I was allowed to meet you and looked everywhere until the fortune teller said that you'd be here in this town at the weapons shop at exactly eleven twenty-two looking at the armor rack."
That was awfully specific. Did he tell anyone that he was looking for a new gauntlet? He didn't think so. He didn't even tell the blacksmith while there... though that was more from Elise grabbing him by the arm and dragging him to the inn insisting that they have lunch. Too stunned by the sudden turn of events, he hadn't even touched the menu. However, with the princess talking, it would be rude to pick it up now.
"So... why did you want to meet with me?" He spoke, finally.
She gave him a look that made him feel like he had asked something stupid. "Because, because!" she stressed.
It made no sense to him, and she seemed to realize that, as her face became pouty, and suddenly he understood, but didn't, because he didn't believe it. She was under the impression that she liked him and was making her move. That thought was nothing but a fleeting wish born of months of tailing her and subtly helping her try to win the affections of a flamboyant nobody who got his kicks from mocking rich little girls while the effort he put into his quest garnered little to no attention or appreciation from the one he was assisting. It was not a thought magically put into his head by the princess's absurd power to get what she wanted.
She pouted harder.
He still wasn't believing it. Really.
The princess looked mildly put-out and picked up her menu. "I've been wanting to try dragon steak for awhile." She said out of the blue. "It's kind of big though and I can't eat it all by myself."
"Oh, is that what you needed me for?" He asked, smirking slightly, before he could help it. "An extra stomach?"
She looked slightly startled, and then slightly peeved. Well, no turning back from that. Before she could protest he called the innkeeper over and ordered a dragon steak to split. He didn't fail to notice the grin that blossomed on her face, and he marveled at how the whole room seemed to light up. Was that the sunlight? Or was it really her? He brushed it off and took a sip of water from his sweating glass.
"It's a date!" She insisted.
He choked a little. She noticed and frowned.
"I'll win you over." She told him seriously.
She won that boy over too. Only, she lost interest in him when she became what he was telling her to be. A fully fledged adventurer who enjoyed her lifestyle.
"That won't be necessary." He murmured. "You don't need to do anything for me, princess."
She was fine like this, anyway.
His words apparently cheered her, as the frown vanished into nothing and was replaced with a broad smile in a blink.
"Elise." She said.
There was a heavy clink as a large platter was set before them and the scent of well cooked meat wafted through the air between them.
"It's Elise." She repeated.
And he felt less like chopped dragon liver, then.