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Breathless

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The afternoon was calm and tranquil as always.

And what better way to enjoy it than to take a moment to relax outside…or so, what a certain swordsman proclaimed one day when he happened to drop by and pay a visit to the princess shortly after discussing a few matters with the young Commandant.

Nonetheless, Estelle happily took the offer and exchanging her royal light teal gown for her casual white and pink attire, she grabbed hold of Yuri’s hand and led the way, the pair rushing through the great halls, ignoring the scolding faces and glares of the passing Council members with the exception of the young Emperor who merely stepped to the side to give them some space with a pleasant grin.

Their loud shuffling footsteps and boisterous laughter drowning away the judgmental eyes and the world around them as their excitement grew the more determined they were to get out from the palace, with each profound step greatly heightening their desire.

An hour and a half were gone and wasted as the pair decided to take a break to have lunch together out in the open field.

Until Yuri came up with an idea for them to take a moment's rest on the patching of grass to which the latter was quick to agree. Exchanging smiles and another heartfelt burst of laughter, Estelle was the first to excuse herself as she strolled over to an open clearing and holding tight of her book close to her chest, went on to plop herself on the ground. Seconds later, Yuri joined in, all the while casually settling on resting his head on her lap and heaving a low, satisfied sigh.

While Yuri surrendered in his nap, lowering his guard and basking under the sun (with his hands collected together on his half-opened chest and one of his legs propped up and crossed over the over), Estelle would go on to resume her daily reading with her book.

And for the next few hours, the pair remained like that, quietly reveling one another’s presence and warmth.


 

A gentle breeze passed by, causing the princess to squeak by the sudden interruption. Eventually, the wind gradually waned, and blinking her eyes a few times, Estelle couldn't help but lightly giggle. Shaking her head, she shifted her attention to the environment around her. Despite her concentration being severed, her expression was neutral, though with a spark of a curiosity embedded within her big seafoam eyes. Slowly, the princess craned her head over her shoulder, studying the lush greenery and peaceful ambiance which the castle gardens provided for them.

As Estelle looked on, she took notice of the large bushes of pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas nearby, then proceeded to sneak a peek at the white pavilion where there were two maids preoccupied with cleaning up the mess on the table and shoving the chairs back in.

Estelle smiled, silently nodding to them in acknowledgment when one of them caught her gaze.

A minute later and they dispersed, retreating back to the great halls to give the pair some quality time together. Bringing her book close to her chest, Estelle leaned back a little and as she peered up to glance at the blue, afternoon horizon, releasing a low sigh. Estelle slightly tipped her head to the side, retaining her sweet smile. Finally, she set her gaze on her partner, who seemed to pay no mind to her ogling as he was fast asleep, with his head resting on top of her lap.

Her eyes softened.

Who would've thought that someone as rambunctious and untamed as Yuri could look so peaceful and dare she say, quite adorable when he's asleep like this?

Every singular detail—from his long, sharp nose and with narrow ebony eyes so hypnotizing, to his fair porcelain skin and lustrous long, black hair—was carefully constructed from the hands of God.

Thinking about it made her feel a bit self-conscious about herself, appearance-wise…and knowing that, she couldn’t help but feel rather embarrassed and ashamed for pondering such thoughts.

Estelle’s eyes scanned on his facial features, soaking in his natural beauty.

Her cheeks slightly reddened as she inclined her head a bit closer to him, and when she observed him partly opening his mouth, with a small trail of drool flowing from the crook of his bottom dry lip, her heart skipped a beat.

Quickly, Estelle withdrew back, inhaling a deep breath as realization dawned upon her.

Swallowing thickly, she snuck a peek back to the swordsman…only to sigh heavily when she discovered that he was still sound asleep.

“How long has it been since we were together?” She whispered softly, too quiet for others to hear. Again, she raised her head to take a good look at the sky that was beginning to exhibit streaks of orange-red hues. Planting her hands behind her, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to reflect back to the memories of the past.

Three years ago, she and Yuri met by chance.

Around that time, she was still quite fond of the white knight, Flynn Scifo…who happened to have befriended during her youth, stumbling upon him every now and then whenever he occasionally visited the palace to deliver a report or an update of his troops and their progression.

The rookie knight—whom she and Ioder dubbed as the ‘knight-in-shining-armor’ behind the scenes, and his description coincidentally aligned well with the archetype of what a knight should exactly be—a gentleman, chivalrous and diligent to the bitter end, bore a striking resemblance to one of her fictional crushes in her books, and swore an oath to protect her, the princess, now and forevermore…and of course, was undeniably attractive, gaining popularity among the female and male admirers in the Capital City (to which even now, still upholds to a certain degree).

Estelle remembered how innocent and naïve she was of the world, merely fifteen-years-old at the time when she and Flynn first met…and how at first glance, how instantly smitten she was by him (to the point of how Ioder would often tease her whenever they had free time and even made an offering that in the future, the two of them should be wed). But like any other childhood crushes, her feelings for him eventually subsided—with most of her reasons to be with him mostly deriving from her personal intakes of the abundance of fantasy and romance novels she’d consumed since she was a child.

Over time, with the great distance between them the more she ventured out into the world, gained personal experience, and was able to stand on her own two feet, ultimately perceived Flynn to be nothing more than a close friend (yet still upholds the award as her first friend outside the royal family, a title he wears proudly to this day), and that no matter what, he took the honor of being her very, first love.

Looking back at her sleeping partner, Estelle lengthened her smile.

…Enter Yuri.

The first time she met him was abrupt and accidental—after discovering that someone was out to pursue Flynn out of cold blood, she ended up getting chased by the knights and as she entered one of the great halls, stumbled upon Yuri who at the time, was focused on trying to escape from prison.

Unlike her first meeting with Flynn—which she illustrated in her mind to be a fairy-tale moment, the encounter she had with Yuri was a complete opposite.

Instead of the usual floral patterns, pink-rose hue, and sparkles showering around them, there were tiny fragments of shards from the glass vase she threw at him, the intense glares they darted on one another, and the lack of distrust and wariness between them.

And thanks to Flynn, who shared stories of his childhood best friend to her—of how much of a troublemaker he was and implore her not to lower her guard if she ever met him one day, Estelle would constantly remind herself time and time again, never to trust him and to keep a low profile of her status as a princess, worried that he had discovered her true identity, he would take advantage of her—such marks the standards of a criminal, no less.

When they dashed past the entrance of the Capital City of Zaphias and into the unknown, fabricating a journey together without ever knowing the other, little by little…the great distance between them grew smaller and smaller. And slowly and surely, Estelle got to know more about him, finding herself become somewhat drawn to him.

Her initial first impression of him as a cunning criminal who wreaks havoc and deplores chaos wherever he goes…were dissipated quickly to reinforce with one of positivity—and truth be told. In the end, turns out that her outlook on him was shrewd, heavily influenced by the countless stories of Flynn, the Schwann Brigade and others who knew him in some way.

Yuri Lowell—aside from exhibiting a haughty, and bold demeanor, underneath the mask, was a young man who was misunderstood, one who secretly wishes to assist his childhood best friend as he aspires to become a knight, preferring to stay in the shadows while performing questionable heroic endeavors that he chose to do for the sake and benefits of the people. And what made him so incredibly fascinating was how, regardless of people's judgments and criticisms on him, never once did he ever surrender or beg on his knees for forgiveness…accepting himself for who he was and what he needed to do, deciding his fate for himself and not allowing others to choose it for him.

He was everything Estelle wanted to be—valiant, and not afraid to speak of one’s thoughts.

As months went on and the more they bonded, Estelle became more accustomed and comfortable toward him and without realizing it, would proceed to banter and tease him at the drop of a hat, to which the latter was more than happy to participate in.

What finally hit the nail in the coffin was the night of Mantaic, when the swordsman insisted that she should leave together with Flynn, and she knew, in-between those lines and the obscure choice of words he used, that he was hurting and ashamed of himself, and that in order to protect her, he needed to end their journey there…

That night alone changed her perspective of him completely.

A bond was struck between them, one forged of mutual trust and admiration for each other, and for the first time in her life, since she stepped out from her dull life in the confinements of her prison-like home, Estelle felt absolutely certain that she wanted to be with him, and see their journey out to the very end.

And though their grandeur quest escalated to a full-out battle to save the world of Terca Lumireis and defeat the Adephagos, even now…despite how painfully obvious it was that their journey had reached its end and how it was time for the two of them to separate and go on with their lives, having found the respective places where they wanted to be…neither of them bothered to point this out.

This went on for almost three more years, and with Estelle recently turning twenty-one-years-old and having evolved into a princess worth saving herself from trouble (though retaining her tomboyish attributes), she and Yuri continued to embark on various journeys together, with or without their group and quite often, with Repede who was usually there to keep them company.

Then there was the geographical distance splitting them apart—with Yuri temporarily stationed at Dahngrest to partake on his duties as a member and co-founder of the auspicious Brave Vesperia with Karol, Judith, and Repede, while there was Estelle who settled quietly in the small town of Halure with Rita, Patty (and even Raven) dropping by to have their weekly get-togethers and catching up on what they’ve been doing since.

Nevertheless, the pair’s bond remained strong and resilient as they would often pay a visit to surprise each other (with Estelle surprising Yuri inside his room and later joining him on one of his guild duties and as for Yuri’s case, randomly barging in during the middle of a political meeting, taking the princess’s hand, and proceeding to leap off a window from the third-story building with the members of the Council screaming at them to come back and a rush of knights chasing after them throughout the Capital City shortly after)—come what may, regardless of the weather (be it rain or storm), the pair always made certain to spare a moment, or even a few minutes to spend quality time together.

And it just so happens that such moments were one of such cases.

Slowly, the pink-haired woman reached out her gloved hand to brush away the strand of hair from his temple. As she did so, she failed to take notice of his stiffened shoulders nor did her ears picked up the sharp inhalation of breath coming from his general direction. Even so, that didn’t seem to matter to her.

Though the princess drastically changed—mentally, physically, and emotionally, for the better, on the other side of the spectrum, it goes without saying that Yuri hadn’t changed his matter of perspective of the world either.

Sure, he grew physically stronger as he was growing quite used to clashing against monsters and bandits with or without his blastia, and though there doesn’t seem to be a wink of hints if his feelings toward his friends and the world had evolved, his mentality did so.

Whether this was true or not, Estelle could never bring herself to find a partner as suitable as him.

A man with a heart of gold, with an unquenchable thirst for adventure, wild and free to which she aspires and hopes to be, someone who was always there to encourage her, give her a chance to decide on what to do, to always be ready whenever she needed someone to lean on or take comfort from, always looking out for people like the natural-born leader he is, and just simply being himself.

Even the littlest things about him, be it his quirks:

Starting with how he would instantly volunteer to take the first watch every time they decide to spend the night sleeping under the stars, sneak a taste of her ice cream or other desserts she had on her plate and quickly averting his gaze the other way to avoid being scolded or seen, or keeping many letters she would write to him and hiding them from sight in his bedroom, or becoming prone to collect some hairpins and experimenting with his long hair (and at times, attempting to look at least presentable whenever he has to attend galas with her and their friends), becoming a regular in charge of purchasing the groceries only to waste them all the following week to provide them to the nearby orphanages and the homeless people living in the streets, sometimes participating in a drinking contest against Raven and winning victoriously thanks to his high tolerance with alcohol, to being the first to wake up among their group to make breakfast, and to her surprise, sing songs whenever he was alone and nobody was there to listen (during these times, Estelle would pretend to sleep in just to listen to his soothing, low baritone voice).

The list didn’t stop there.

As Yuri became more comfortable in expressing himself around others, he didn’t seem to hesitate surprising her and their friends with hugs nor twirl them around (for Karol and Patty, it would be hoisting them up on his shoulders), joke around and freely smile to his heart’s content, and so much more than that.

Even when they were together, especially when it was just the two of them and nobody else, Yuri would gently take her small hand with his large one, rub his thumb over her knuckles and kiss them, or snake his arms around her petite waist and bringing her closer to his chest, nuzzle his face along the crook of her neck, comforting her or remaining by her side whenever she felt depressed or simply needed company, help pick out books for her when she couldn’t grab the one on the highest shelf, or being the one to escort her out from the palace parties and lead her to the castle gardens, where there were times when they would idly sit next to each other and talk about nonsense (with her head perched on his shoulder and the side of his head pressing against hers), or how little by little…how intimate they were involving themselves.

Estelle inhaled a deep breath, smiling faintly as she couldn’t seem to recall the number of times they would tangle their hands together or hide in some corners inside the palace to sneak kisses, or started having heated make-outs inside the depths of the grand library or escape through hidden passages to get away from everything just to return to the base of the Lower Quarter, where after greeting Hanks, Ted, and some of the members of the community, they would head over to Yuri’s old room, continue discussing about something and before they knew it, someone would take the brave step to close the gap and take the leap, intertwine their hands while the other fondly stroke the other’s hair, and in the heat of the moment, discarded their clothes and go under the sheets where they'll carry on to physically demonstrate how much they truly value and cherish the other’s presence.

More exchanges of lip locks, holding each other close, as they braced themselves for the strange foreign feeling inside them, with whisperings of encouragement and support as they went all the way, until finally, after climaxing and seeing stars, once settled in under the comforts of the blankets, Yuri and Estelle motioned their heads to gaze at each other, reflecting on their actions, with no words exchanged for the next consecutive minutes.

And then, someone leans over, carefully intertwines their hands together and when the latter responded back with a tight squeeze and a blissful smile, was followed and concluded with the sealing of a passionate kiss.

This moment in time, right here and now, this was where they wanted to be…in each other’s arms, and listening to the beats of their hearts as they surrendered to their sleep.

What was supposed to be innocent gestures and light teasing had opened another door, another world for them both…and this would continue for another two years, as the two made an agreement not to exhibit any intimacy whenever they were around others, and yet managed to sneak in a few subtle hints, (exchanges of teasing grins, tackling hugs, and excusing themselves to privately chat). Soon, it became apparent for their friends as they were starting to grow suspicious of them, growing aggravated by how they should just confess and start dating…with the exception of a few, the rest of the world remained oblivious to the swordsman and princess’s secret affections.

Though Yuri and Estelle never publicly announced their relationship, it was already well-received and accepted among their found family and friends (with some admitting how they’ve been betting on when exactly they were going to do so, though it became quite the surprise when the pair discovered a certain young Commandant and Emperor was involved in the gambling).

Overall, everything was serene and still as it should be.

In a few more months, with Ioder’s assistance, Yuri and Estelle would be holding a small gathering of friends and family, comprised of some members from guilds and a majority of the people from the Lower Quarter—a secret wedding behind closed doors, befitting of the eccentric pair who were determined to keep their private lives away from prying eyes and ears who were dare to disturb their moment.

Too consumed with her thoughts, Estelle failed to notice how the lingering warmth on her lap had gone away and it was when she finally started to realize that it was gone from her reach, that she had opened her eyes…and to her surprise, yet relief, she found herself gazing to the dark pools of ebony eyes.

And just like that, the princess was in a trance, the corners of her lips quirking upwards as her long, dark-haired partner moved in to plant a kiss on her nose, then to her forehead, and finally, to her glossy lips.

Breaking away for a few seconds, Estelle was quick to snake her arms around his exposed neck and pulled him forward, startling him with a passionate kiss. She heard Yuri lightly chuckle, with one of his arms gently pushing her a bit closer to him before reciprocating it, tipping his head to the side as he smiled through their kiss. When the heat was over and withdrawing back, the princess and swordsman stared at one another, collecting their breaths until one of them erupted into a fit of laughter, with the latter eventually following suit.

Loosening his grip around her torso, Yuri rose from the ground, dusting off the small string of grass on his pants and bottom before averting his sights back to his lover and with a lopsided grin, reached out his hand to her.

Without hesitation, Estelle accepted it, with her other hand gripping tight of her book.

As she felt her feet being lifted off the ground, she emitted a light squeak when she felt a pair of strong arms reattach themselves around her and hoisting her upwards. It wasn’t long until she discovered that she was nestled in the dark-haired man’s arms and as much as she wanted to scold him for not warning her sooner, it took one look of his impish smirk and twinkling eyes for her to reconsider.

Estelle pouted, struggling hard to send him a glare.

Watching this, Yuri laughed loudly.

The princess rolled her eyes, ignoring the intense gaze of her lover as she looked the other way.

Yuri softened his eyes as he noted how rosy her cheeks were, how beautifully shaped were her lips, and how mesmerizing she looked like the golden glow of the setting sun bathed his lover in its magic.

He smiled when she smiled and released a low chuckle, keenly observing her as she witnessed the orange-reddish painted sky magically transitioned into one of bright salmon and periwinkle. His grin widened when he caught her eyes shimmer with excitement, her mouth opening wide as she marveled at the majesty of nature…not quite understanding how her beauty was far beyond what she was witnessing.


 

Estelle…she was pure, innocent, and naïve.

—something that he wasn’t; entirely contrary of who he was.

And yet, maybe that’s why he wanted to protect her from the dangers of the outside world, why he was willing to take on the role as her protector, with her being the one he swore to protect at all cost.

During the course of their journey together, Estelle surprised him with her resiliency, how open and welcoming and warm she was to the people around her, including him—someone whose hands were blood-stained and had a number of skeletons hiding in his locker, and maybe that’s why…he was captivated by her.

Despite not being an official member of their guild, the princess was truly the heart and soul of Brave Vesperia, the one who took the honorable role of naming them after the legendary brightest star in the night sky, and the glue which tied him and their found family together.

There were so many things she had done—healing and saving hundreds of lives, facing death in the brink of despair, refusing to give up her life when she knew that she was the one to blame for the calamity…and never once, did she ever take credit for them.

Yuri lost count of how many times her smile and laughter, her kind and bubbly personality—hell, her very existence saved him from sinking into the dark abyss, not to mention how thanks to her, the swordsman managed to keep himself in check and regaining his composure from the horror shows they've gone through.

And then it got him thinking…what would’ve happened if they had lost her?

Back at the Sword Stair, when the princess challenged him on a solo battle and begged him to set her free? What if he adhered her words and ended her right then and there?

Before long, Yuri started imaging the alternative—of him piercing her body with the sharp tip of his sword, and as he stared back at the dullness of her eyes, the bright twinkling glow slowly waning and as his friends rushed forth to gather around them, pleading for her not to close her eyes as she fought against death, he imagined himself cradling her, pulling her close to his chest and his eyes focused only on her…and as they exchanged one more look at each other, there was no doubt that Estelle would smile at him, thank him, and slowly, reaches out to wipe away the tears flowing from his cheeks without him ever realizing that they were there…

And then silence.

Numbness.

Empty.

Yuri shook his head, biting his bottom lip harshly as he felt his stomach tightening up at the mere thought of his beloved partner going through such suffering and pain…all because of him, who had failed to save her from her insanity. And if that did ever happen, this blissful moment he was currently having with the princess…would’ve never exist.

…Nor would the tiny, flicker of life inside her, the very fruit of their love, would ever see the light of day.

They would never have their regular private conversations behind closed doors, nor would they hold each other close, their bare bodies tangled together under the sheets and before falling asleep, talk about the future they wanted to build together…and imagine of the family they would have, the children they would raise together, and live their days in Halure as they grew older and older, until their hairs turned gray and their fair, young skin turned wrinkly and spotted, and just simply enjoying the last few years of their lives together, idly gazing out through the window and counting the stars…

“Yuri?”

Hearing his name, the swordsman slightly flinched and motioned his head to look at the pink-haired woman who stared back at him with a concerned expression.

“Are you okay?” She asked softly, reaching out to caress her gloved hand over to his cheek. “Something on your mind?”

Her kind and gentle words were enough to dispel the growing negativity in him, and before he knew it, the thought of living in a world without her, and the eternal guilt of knowing that he was the one responsible for her death—had dissipated in the blink of an eye.

Forcing a grin, Yuri leaned into her touch, shifting his focus back to her for the umpteenth time. “Nothing to worry about,” Leaning in, he captured her kiss for the third and final time, before breaking away and resorting to pressing their foreheads together, their gazes on each other unwavering and loving.

Breathless and spellbinding, and as tomboyish and clumsy as she may seem, hidden underneath the frills and lavish gowns was a warrior at heart—she was right here, in plain sight, his future and the promises of a better tomorrow.

…And as scary as the future may sound, Yuri wasn’t afraid.

So long as she was by his side, every step of the way, and so long as he was able to see her smile, and laugh, and continue to make mistakes as her curiosity sends her to a frenzy over her new findings, how talented she was weaving stories and reading them to the children in Halure and the many orphanages in the towns and villages they traveled along the way, how determined she would be to make Repede accept her or whenever she messed up on another recipe, how there seemed to be no end to him going star-struck almost every time he would stumble across her dancing and singing to herself while cleaning the house, how she recites information from the many books she had read like the badass she was.

How adorable Estelle was whenever she was excited over something as trivial as a favorite author of hers would be publishing a new addition to a series she had read recently, or how easily she fit in the Lower Quarter, treating them as equals and gaining the approval from Hanks for the princess as she was unanimously accepted by their community as one of them, or as much as he hated to admit it, how enticing and delicious she looked whenever she would attempt to put on the various attires Judith would offer her to try to be more attractive like the latter (and being completely oblivious that she already was in his eyes), and nonetheless, how simply wonderful she was as a person, despite the flaws, emotional and physical scars she had both on the inside and the outside, she was–he knew that with her, life was bound to be full of surprises.

That thought alone was enough to make him lengthen his smile.

“…Estelle?”

“Hmm?”

“…Thank you,”

And there it was—the smile he loved so much, and the smile he fought hard to protect. As he snuck a glance at her, his eyes slightly widened when he saw her mouth the three words, “I love you,” to his general direction.

That warm feeling blossomed inside him and tightening his hold on her, without hesitation, the swordsman replied back with the same three words, causing his lover to lit up like the star she was named after.

From how slightly disarray her short, bubblegum bob has become, to how big and radiant and full of life her seafoam eyes have evolved since then, and how spirited, humble, and warm she was, both on the inside and outside…she was absolutely breathless, the very image of an enchanting belle, an angel, and the light to equal his darkness.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

So long as she was with him, all would be well.