*

My Eternal Friend
A short story by Jessica Levine

-Disclaimer-
Slaphrase and the like, as well as all characters, unless listed below, are copyright by the author. Please do not use them without permission, alter them, or submerge them into liquids. If you have a question about use of one of these characters or ideas, feel free to contact the author via e-mail (QueenElfEmily@aol.com)

Nigami is © Heather Solomon (KamiDscale@aol.com) and used with permission. At least I hope so, since she was here when I wrote it.
****

Nigami Jobarila laughed as she reached the palace doors and stared up at the magnificent building. As a child, she had wished to wander its halls many times, and as an adult, she was now a frequent visitor. The people there were as welcoming as the ones she had in her dreams, the dreams of an eleven-year-old child with muddy feet and high hopes. With an almost playful gleam in her emerald eyes, Nigami opened the door and entered, letting her bare feet slide against the bright tile floors.

She glanced around the Commons room, her eyes scanning through the few people there for the red-haired, wine-eyed boy she had befriended, but saw him nowhere. Closing her eyes, Nigami searched for his presence, sending her soul out to touch his, only to be interrupted by laughter and a nudge on her shoulders.

Nigami jumped and let out a soft 'squeak', then glanced over her shoulder and gave her friend a playful shove. "Jacen!" she cried, her green eyes staring him down. "You startled me!"

Jacen laughed. "I know." Swinging his arm around her shoulder, he slowly lead her out of the Commons and back outdoors, seeming in need of fresh air.

Nigami glanced at her friend, with her green eyes glowing in the afternoon sun. Despite his smile, he seemed tired and worn to the bone. Slowly she pat him on the back and questioned his disposition. "What's wrong, Jacen?"

He sighed and shook his hair away from his face. "Just another day of discussion with the royal council," he explained. "There's been so much going on that everyone has so many different opinions about.. I'm surprised we haven't killed each other yet, the way we've been at one another's throats."

Nigami just nodded, understanding the situation. Slaphrase had gone from a planet promoting war to one trying to withhold peace, at least for a short while. There was rarely a time the "Little Elf Planet" was not fighting with someone or another, but a peaceful time had fallen among the Goddess Five universe. Even Demania, the Planet of War, had laid down its arms after countless generations of fighting. But, for those who had lived to an old age on Slaphrase, especially descendents of the Alarian Crisis as Jacen was, found it hard to find peace within themselves.

Jacen looked at her, catching a worried glance, and once again offered a smile. "Don't worry, kid," he said, shaking her a little. "It'll be okay."

Nigami returned his smile, happy to be in his presence. Ever since her return to the palace, she had felt drawn to Jacen in several ways. He had accepted her when it seemed others would only turn away, he had caused her scowl to turn into a smile.. he had made her laugh again. Nigami couldn't decide if she thought of Jacen as a father - as he thought of her as his own child - as a soul mate, a guardian, or all three. Either way, she found herself inseparable from him - found herself wanting to be in his presence as often as possible. Most Slaphrans had taken little notice to Jacen's affection for the girl. He often took on a new child, raising her in his own way, training her and caring for her until he or she was ready to be on their own.

Others, however.. Stormer and Summer, Jacen's eldest children, had taken a similar liking to Nigami, but noticed the effects she had on Jacen. Summer, being much more open minded than his elder brother, saw her as someone who made Jacen feel his age, instead of the fifteen-year-old boy he had been stored into. Stormer, due to his history, would stare at Nigami and Jacen and wonder if maybe there was something going on beyond the curtains that no one except those two knew about...

But what others thought at that moment didn't matter, as Nigami and Jacen strolled slowly down the dirt walkway, Nigami rattling on about her day and Jacen laughing and smiling, and every now and then, giving her a playful shove. Inseparable friends, the first true inseparable friend Nigami ever had.. For how long it would last, no one would know. But at least they had it now.

*

"Raise up your arm.. good.."

Nigami smiled as Stormer put his hands on hers to help her adjust her position. She wished Jacen could be her teacher, but he was a busy royal, and she knew she couldn't ask for a better trainer than her friend's eldest son. Stormer was extremely calm and gentle with her, unlike he was with her other students, and often praised Nigami's mistakes as much as her victories.

"Don't forget to adjust for the wind, Nigami," he said softly, removing his hands from hers. She nodded, just barely enough to let her hair bounce, then let the arrow fly. Lowering her arms, she watched it with wide eyes and let out a whoop of joy as it hit dead center in its target.

"Nice job, kid," Stormer said, winking at her, using his father's favorite nickname for her, among others.

"Yeah. Not half bad for a stuck up brat."

"Jacen!" she muttered, looking over her shoulder. "You know that's not true--"

"Of course he does," Stormer said, laughing softly. "That's why he says it."

Jacen strolled up to the two, wrapping his arms around both their shoulders. Stormer had come to think of Nigami as an extra sibling, but still watched his father and 'sister' with doubt and a lack of trust. Jacen had noticed this, but said nothing; after all, if he had been in Stormer's situation, he'd have done the same thing.

"I was headin' off to the city. Would you two like to join me?"

Stormer shook his head. "Can't. Now that I'm finished with Nigami here, I need to run off and find Rhapsody instead.."

"Ever the busy trainer, son?" Jacen asked with a small smile, knowing Stormer had taken after him in that aspect.

Stormer smiled, then slipping out from Jacen's arm, gave Nigami a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Nice job today, Nigami," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yep!" she called after him as he took off in another direction. She then turned to look at Jacen. "Well? I'm free! Lets go!"

Jacen smiled and turned to walk her away from the training grounds. She smiled, satisfied to be under his arm and hear his voice, but as he slowly began to slip his arm away from her shoulders and back into his robe pockets, she reached up and grabbed his hand, a move that surprised them both.

"Nigami.." Jacen said, both surprised and embarrassed, his cheeks turning a slight shade similar to his hair. Nigami's were doing the same.

"I.. I'm sorry," she stammered. "I just.. like it there."

Jacen stared at her for a minute, then returned his arm with a non-chalant shrug of his shoulders, almost as if he barely took note of it anymore. Nigami sighed with relief as they continued the walk to the city, glad her action had slipped through Jacen's mind so quickly.

"What do you need to go into Malboi for, Master Jacen?" she asked gently. Ever since Nigami's obsession with the palace had emerged, she rarely found herself interested in the shops and streets of Slaphrase's biggest city. It would be a nice change of scenery, if only for a little while.

"Just to look around," he said, his voice fading from its normal cheer to a rough dryness. "I need to get out of the palace for a while."

Nigami looked at him with a sense of pity, remembering how her only dream was to escape her home and go to the palace. But, Jacen, who had been born, raised, and lived his life in its walls, felt much like Nigami had in her small house beyond the forest. Despite the five stories, the wide hallways and hundreds of rooms, he was suffocating. And Nigami knew how it felt.

"It'll be okay, Jacen," she said gently. It was the least she could say. It seemed it was what he needed to hear most.

Suddenly, Jacen stopped and pulled Nigami close in a tight embrace. She blinked, now her time to be startled. Jacen had hugged her before - scooped her up and twirled her around as if she was a little girl again. But never so close.. She rested against him and breathed slowly.

My heart's beating like a rabbit's, she thought, daring not to move except to slowly pat his back. To think.. someone like me.. in love. And not with just anyone - with our Queen's lifemate! A ruler of Slaphrase... Those thoughts slowly drifted away. No. Right now he wasn't a member of the Royal council, he wasn't even a part of the royal family. His son wasn't the next heir to the planet, he wasn't the most well-respected citizen on Slaphrase Proper. He's just Jacen La'Magdalin, her thoughts told her. Just Jacen.. and me.

Before she knew what she had done, Nigami stood on her toes until she was eye-level with Jacen. She stared at him for a minute, his wine-red eyes looking at her with an emotion she had never seen.. resting her hands on the back of Jacen's head, she closed her own eyes and pulled him forward until their lips met and locked.

For a moment, their bodies, the wind, all of time stood still. Nigami dared not move, closing her eyes to enjoy the moment, since she knew it would be this once and this only, and Jacen dared not push her away, afraid of hurting her.. afraid of hurting himself. When Nigami finally did pull away, Jacen could still taste her on his lips. He bit the bottom one slowly, almost to keep himself from speaking, if anything else.

"Nigami.." he said again, though this time, his voice was shaking. "Why..?"

Nigami did not answer, but felt a stab within herself. Why had she? She would activate a trigger inside Jacen, the trigger of a fifteen-year-old, still young by elfin standards, who was afraid and scared and didn't know what to do besides run.

"You can't.. we can't.." He shook his head wildly, and Nigami was shocked to find tears there, tears dripping down his cheeks. "Not again.. I can't.."

Just as she thought, he turned and fled from her, his ponytail twisting behind him in a gentle breeze. Nigami slowly wrapped her arms around her chest and let out a soft sigh, bursting into her own tears. Even if she loved him, he was her father, her brother, her best friend.. She had a feeling she had lost that forever.

**

How many days have passed? I can't even remember..

Nigami strolled down the palace hallways slowly, her hands behind her back, her flashy orange and yellow colours showing a clear negative of her mood. She wished Jacen could at least say something other than "hi".. Even if it was to scold her, to tell her how wrong she'd been.. it would feel better than the silence did.

He still laughed with the other Slaphrans, swinging his young son, Jakah, onto his shoulders and cracking a joke with Ranka and Wendel, his close friends, but when Nigami came into view, his face would go cold and rigid, and he'd mutter a greeting.. and then walk away. Only Jakah's look of loss at Nigami would tell her what Jacen felt. Jakah had run up to her the day of the incident, demanding to know why his father seemed angry with his 'future lifemate', but Nigami didn't answer. She had only stared at the little boy, looked at him and his crystal eyes, and asked him to leave.

I could have talked to him, she thought. Even if he's only eleven.. he'd listen. He'd try to understand. She laughed to herself. And hate me in the process.

The other elves had taken note of the changes in her personality. Stormer, during a training session, had been literally appalled by her lack of concentration. She wondered for a moment if he noted changes in Jacen's personality, too. Stormer was a trustworthy friend, but not about this matter.. he would never speak to Nigami again.

For the first time in a long time, Nigami felt lonely and completely alone. It was like she was back as a twelve year old, staring at the palace outside her window and longing to go there, if only once. Except now, the palace was Jacen, and she just longed for a word of friendship.

Cloudy, polluted thoughts had taken over her mind until she could no longer walk straight, let alone think. She stumbled down the hallway, mouthing a "hi" to Summer as he walked by, dragging his weapon behind him with exhaustion.. she smiled at Kala as she asked if Nigami'd like a cup of tea and kindly told her "No thank you".. Things were moving as normal, but in and out of focus for the young elf girl.

Entering the Commons area, she instantly noticed how empty it was. "Another royal council gathering?" she asked aloud, as only two other elves remained in the room. One turned to her and answered her "yes", and Nigami just nodded. It was an every-day ordeal now. She wished to pull Jacen aside and make sure he was handling it, but she had grown into a mold that would wait for him to come to her. A mold crafted from fear.

I've never felt fear like this before.. she realized as she walked through the Commons and into the abandoned kitchen. Kala, after her offer, had taken off on an errand for the Queen.. and with all the royals gathered, and the rest of the elves were off for their daily tasks of training, teaching, or simply working - or stealing in the case of some - the palace had near emptied. I've been lonely.. I've been scared.. but I've never lost someone I cared about.

Suddenly, she ran across the kitchen to a set of drawers and began to open them, open them wildly. Searching.. her eyes scanning as fast as they could, like scavenger birds watching their tiny prey through the thick grass..

A knife. A plain knife. It would have to do. Before logic could tell her "No!", before her heart could tell her to talk to Jacen, it was much more logical, she plunged the knife deep within herself. It slashed through her orange robes, through her fair skin, an she let out a howl of pain, not realizing how much it would hurt.

A howl.. loud enough to echo through the kitchen, to carry through the palace. One of the few elves in the Commons ran to the kitchen to see what was wrong and sent the other as quick as they could to the royal meeting. "I don't care if you do interrupt the royals speaking!" she cried, pointing a finger towards the stairs. "Go! We need a healer! Quick!"

Nigami coughed and drew the blade from herself slowly, shaking her head at the pain, then the sudden numbness. Its not so bad, she thought, trying to hide her shaking. I can barely feel it..

Resting her head against the wall, Nigami sighed, thankful for the cold air it gave off. She knew it wouldn't be too long.. by the time a healer had gotten down to her, it would be too late.

**I'm sorry Jacen,** she thought to his mind, hoping he'd at least hear her final voice. **I'm sorry for what I did. For what I've done. I'm sorry.**

"You fool!"

Nigami's eyes snapped open as a voice sweeter than anything she had heard, despite its words, filled her ears. Jacen stood in the doorway, his eyes wide, frantic and fearful. Nigami suddenly recalled a story so similar, one of Jacen's, from a time he was a frustrated child.. had she repeated his mistakes yet again?

"Jacen," she coughed out, but the words hurt too much. She raised a hand, reaching for him across the room, and he ran to her, dropping beside her and taking a hold of her hand.

"You fool!" he repeated, the tears forming again. But not tears of anger or frustration. Fear? Is that what she saw burning in his face? Behind his eyes? "Nigami, why?"

"I.. I'm sorry.." she muttered again, resting her head on him. "I never.. meant to hurt you.."

Jacen sobbed out of frustration and held up a hand to heal her, or at least try. She whined, not sure if she wanted a healing, especially by him, but the thought of being in his arms was enough to keep her from pushing him away.

As quickly as he had raised his hand to her, he pulled it away. "This can't be.." he muttered softly. Nigami stared at him, wondering what he was talking about, then placed a hand on her wound..

No blood. No longer a drop, except what had already fallen. No wound with which to truly place her hand on. She stared at Jacen and his story recalled in her mind - him stabbing himself with a dagger, hoping he would die, and the wound healing instantly..

She expected Jacen to let out another sob, to be angry with her for making him repeat the past. But he suddenly picked her up and pulled her into his lap and held her tight, as tightly to him as he could without hurting her. She rested in his arms, as he held her close, his body shaking, but still holding on.. Protecting her.

"My eternal friend," he said softly between gentle sobs of both fear and joy. "We're made that way. To live forever. To protect each other forever."

Nigami realized the meaning behind his words and slowly inhaled, letting her breathing return to near-normal. His words echoed in her mind.. Eternal. Like him. She could not get hurt, she could not die.. she would watch over Jacen forever. And he would, her.

"My eternal friend," she repeated softly as he stroked her hair. The surroundings, the elves watching from the doorway, the spilled blood on the floor disappeared. Only his arms and his words remained.

My eternal friend.