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Clear the Air

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Yuri and Estelle sneaking out of the castle together has become something of a tradition.

It began with their very first meeting several years ago, the jailbreaker helping the princess flee through secret passages and underground sewers, but their escapes are not nearly so dramatic anymore. Really, Yuri has enough security clearance now that they don’t actually have to sneak out at all; they could just walk right out the front door and it’s not like anyone would stop them. But Yuri gets bored if he and Estelle don’t make a daring getaway via a fourth-story window at least sometimes, and while Estelle used to chide him for such behavior, these days, she just rolls her eyes and goes along with it.

Tonight, though, Estelle is the one to instigate their departure from the castle—specifically, from the ongoing royal gala. She’s the one who approaches Yuri where he’s standing in one corner of the ballroom and then takes his hand in hers; she’s the one who pulls him along as they slip away from the party, past several knight-guards, through several vaguely familiar hallways, until they reach the outside gardens. Once here, amidst the flowers and beneath the light of the moon and with nobody else around to witness, Estelle bats her eyes and tugs Yuri close and leans up on her tiptoes as if to kiss him.

And normally, Yuri would be more than happy to receive Estelle’s kisses, especially when she’s crafted such a perfect mood. But this time, her lips are an inch away from his when Yuri is suddenly overcome by an absolutely horrid odor, causing him to instinctively flinch away. He brings his hand up to cover his nose and mouth, then immediately regrets doing so, since his reaction causes Estelle to blink back at him with confusion and perhaps a little bit of hurt in her eyes.

“Estelle,” Yuri quickly coughs out, in an attempt to explain himself, “what exactly did you eat?”

“…Oh!” It takes her a second, but realization does soon flash over Estelle’s face, and with it comes a distinct pinkening of her cheeks as she sheepishly tilts her gaze to the ground. “S-sorry, I forgot. I helped myself to quite a bit of the blue cheese at the buffet back there.”

Now, Yuri Lowell is not a picky eater. He grew up in the slums, and sometimes he had to scrounge moldy food out of other people’s garbage—or worse, force down Flynn’s horrific attempts at cooking—just to keep from starving. So he’s willing to try almost any food at least once, and even when he was first introduced to blue cheese, even when Estelle told him that mold was put in it on purpose, even when he got a whiff of the stuff and nearly gagged on the spot, Yuri still gave it a chance.

To be fair, it did turn out to taste better than it smelled. But only slightly.

“…Why?” Yuri asks now, bewildered, because Estelle also told him her own opinion back then. “I thought you said you didn’t like blue cheese.”

“I don’t. But, well, I don’t particularly dislike it either.” Estelle shrugs. “Plus, when I had some, Sir Tristan of the House of Roward suddenly seemed very uncomfortable, so I figured that eating more would encourage him to stop talking to me sooner.” The embarrassed blush fades from her face as her expression shifts into something sly, almost cheeky. “It worked, by the way.”

Yuri can’t help it. He snickers in approval.

“Okay, fair enough,” he concedes. “But seriously, Estelle. I can’t kiss you like this.”

“Awww, really?” Estelle’s voice is almost a whine as she bends in again, mercilessly pressing forward. “Not even a little one?”

Honestly, that adorable pleading pout on her face almost makes Yuri give in right then and there—but once he catches a whiff of her breath again, he finds it in him to pull back in denial. He makes sure to toss on a smirk, though, to assure Estelle that he’s more teasing than he is genuinely rejecting her.

“Tell you what,” Yuri drawls, low and playful. “You can kiss me if you can catch me.”

He doesn’t give Estelle time to fully process that statement before he whirls and makes a run for it. Estelle gasps in surprise and shouts after him, yelling his name as if in reprimand, but failing to fully disguise the hint of laughter in her voice. Yuri glances back just in time to catch a smile creeping over her face as she gives chase, and he himself is grinning ear-to-ear by the time he looks forward again.

Yuri has always been faster than Estelle, and since she’s wearing a poofy ballgown right now, she must be slower than normal. Still, he’s not actually trying all that hard to evade her, and the gardens don’t have that much space to run around in, so Estelle catches up to him soon enough. Her gloved hand snatches up his wrist, yanking him back by the arm, and Yuri doesn’t have the chance to even try fighting her off before she practically leaps upon him.

Her arms lock around his neck, her weight shifts so that he’s forced to dip his head down, and her lips curl up in vicious satisfaction right before they collide into Yuri’s own.

Estelle has long since mastered the art of rendering Yuri breathless with a single kiss, and right now, that’s actually a mercy, because if he’s not breathing, he’s not smelling. But the unpleasant flavor is still there, seeping into his mouth and washing over his tongue, and no matter how he winces in distaste, Estelle remains determined, unrelenting. Actually, he’s pretty sure Estelle purposefully makes the kiss last even longer than normal just to spite him—a punishment for making her work for it.

When she finally lets him go, Yuri hacks and spits and gasps greedily for air, all while shooting her a glare of admittedly over-exaggerated disgust. Estelle just laughs and leans into his chest, and though Yuri tries to keep up the annoyed act, it’s not long before he caves and starts laughing too. As long as she’s not all up in his face, the blue cheese smell is relatively inoffensive, so Yuri obligingly tucks his arms around her waist and holds her tight, perfectly content to just have a hug.

But he doesn’t let her kiss him again until hours later, after she brushes her teeth.

(This all comes back to haunt Yuri about a month later, when after he spends the night in Estelle’s room at the castle, he awakens the next morning to find that Estelle hogged all the blankets. He promptly decides to shove his cold hands up her pajama shirt, causing her to startle awake with a shriek; he laughs at her, she briefly pouts at him, and they both move on with their day.

But at breakfast, Estelle grabs a block of blue cheese from the royal kitchens, then periodically nibbles on it throughout the whole morning. And Yuri knows she’s not actually mad at him, she’s just being a brat to get back at him for his little prank, but come on.

“Estelle, please,” Yuri moans, when lunchtime comes around and she’s still pointedly chowing down on blue cheese. “This is just mean. Bullying. Straight-up tyranny.”

Estelle stares him straight in the eye as she takes another bite, and Yuri sighs, resigning himself to his fate.

He’s seriously not gonna be able to kiss her for the rest of the day.)