Saving Grace

by Talya Firedancer

"...and then when I was twelve, Mom actually let me go see a Nikki concert with my friend Lisa, which is why I was so glad when I actually got to meet Nikki in person, with you!  And it was really cool, and seeing that awesome display of Elements inspired me to start using them myself, and then Grandma gave me the idea, why *not* use your cookware for a weapon?"

Leena was gushing.  Again.  Nikki cast a despairing glance at Serge as they marched through the undergrowth past Fossil Valley.  He could tell from the look on the boy's face that this was something he'd heard before, but he was too polite to tell her so.  Especially since this was the Leena from Another World, who would insist she'd never told him this story before.

Even though she'd inserted it in her running dialogue yesterday.

"Because when Grandma was my age, she went out fighting too, and all she had were the spoons and ladles and frying pans from her kitchen..."

He couldn't take much more of this.

"Oh, look!  There's Termina!" Nikki pointed, hoping she would take the lead.  He had been staring at Serge's tight little rear all day, and it wasn't helping matters.

Serge flashed him a little smile as with a hop and a skip, Leena passed them both.

"Termina!  This is only the fourth time I've been to such a big city..."

Nikki grabbed Serge's hand and squeezed, just for an instant, trying to convey sympathy and shared irritation all at once.  And a teeny bit of frustration.  He read Serge's lips as the boy turned his head.

*I can't take much more of this.*

Nikki nodded.  Serge moved forward again, letting Leena keep her lead as she increased her pace for the city gate.

"Thank goodness, my feet are so worn out!  Serge, we should go to the bar!  I want a plate of that famous squid-gut pasta, and a Bellflower soda, and I think we should take a walk by the harbor..."

Nikki tuned her out again.  That actually sounded like a good scenario, if he replaced Leena with himself, and added a nice long stop under the bridge.  There would be nothing but mermaids to witness them kissing, and the lovely sirens would only giggle and turn their heads, the way Kid had.

Damn, he was actually starting to miss the ponytailed little thief.  At least she didn't talk nearly as much as Leena!  If she was anything like the one from Serge's Home World, no wonder he had never told her he wasn't interested!  And not even because he was shy - he wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise.

"Phew."  Leena huffed to a stop on the stairs, planting hands on her hips and turning to cast expectant blue eyes on them.  "Well?"

"If I might make a suggestion," Nikki began smoothly, turning the full force of his charm on the girl, "we really should stop at the inn first, to...for a break."  He caught himself before he said 'regroup.'  He knew that his charm could have a devastating effect, judging from the way Miki and the backup singers acted sometimes.

"Oh," Leena faltered, bringing her hand up to cover a giggle.  "I...okay, I guess!"  She smiled winsomely.

Nikki caught himself before he rolled his eyes.  He was too polite to outright scorn a lady, which was why Miki remained clueless to this day.

Serge nodded agreement, heading for the inn just inside Termina's gates.  Nikki resumed his position behind the boy, hearing Leena fall into step behind him.

"Oh, and I want to stop for some Viper Churros, too!  I've heard people talk about them, but never had the chance to try one!"  Leena started up behind them again.  "We should visit Lisa's Element shop, too!  Even if she won't give me a discount...  Well, she's got a lot to deal with, her father is such a bum.  And..."

Serge palmed the door of the inn open with a bit more force than was necessary.

The minute they were inside the door, Nikki seized the Teleporter from Serge as the boy was turning to face the innkeeper.  He stepped up to the Record of Fate and flicked the button.

With a ripple, Leena disappeared open-mouthed, voice stuck in the middle of another "...and, Serge!"

Serge blinked in astonishment at him.  Nikki grinned back, feeling wicked and unashamed.  If Serge thought he couldn't take much more, well, *he'd* been at that point for a day and a half.  That boy had more patience than...than...well, a Shrine Maiden!

"So, who are you going to replace her with?" Serge asked calmly.  There was that little smile again, the one quirking at the corner of his mouth that meant he was trying not to chuckle.

"NeoFio, I think.  She barely talks at all, and she'll be perfectly happy to put down roots for a night while we take a room."  Nikki had it all planned out.  He flicked another button, and the little blossom girl appeared.

"Blossom!" NeoFio greeted them, waving one little tentacle.  "Hisashiburi."

"It has been awhile," Nikki agreed, kneeling down to reach eye-level with the odd but cute experimental plant-girl.  "We're about to turn in for the night.  What would you say to a nice tub of warm nutrient water, out back?"  Sure, they would have to shell out some extra gil, but it was worth the privacy.

"Sounds sparkle!" NeoFio said enthusiastically, waving both arms.  The tips of a mass of green tentacles peeked out.

Whatever 'sparkle' meant, it was apparently agreement.  Nikki grinned and patted her colorful head.

After a brief conversation with the innkeeper, the man led NeoFio through the kitchen as she toddled after him, big-eyed face solemn and intent.

"What was that all about?" Serge looked at Nikki with folded arms and a quizzical grin.  "We're not going to bed yet, it's only three o'clock."

"Oh, yes we are," Nikki returned with a seductive expression, letting his hair fall over one eye.  "I paid him enough money to rent the room and Fio's tub until tomorrow.  We can grab food later; right now, you're all mine."

"Oh."  Serge grinned and followed Nikki up the stairs as he beckoned.  "So what would you say to a stop at the bar later for Termina's famous squid gut pasta, and a Bellflower soda, then a walk by the harbor?"

"I'd say Leena has good date plans, but bad judgment for your date partner."

Serge nodded, brushed his bangs back from lovely cerulean eyes, and shut the door behind them.

Moments later:

"SHIMATTA!!  You mean I could've used the Teleporter outside any town!?!?"