With his eyes transfixed on his reflection in the mirror, Yuri straightened his posture, and in a slow gesture, brought his right hand close to his chest. He allowed his fingers to lightly graze over the smooth fabric of his pine green-colored tie, and as they drew close, emitted a low grunt as he forcedly tugged on the collar of his vest.
Once more, he averted his attention to the mirror and as he looked on, the dark-haired man rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a bit uneasy with the whole ordeal. Just like his stark white attire, even his long, dark locks were changed in favor of a neatly, tight ponytail.
This was supposed to be a simple quest—one requested by the one and only Mary Kaufman, the renowned President of Fortune’s Market and among the five representatives in the Guild Union, a congregational association located at the very heart of Dahngrest.
Although the great calamity had long been a year ago, with the rising fame of their respective guild, Brave Vesperia—there seems to be no end in sight to a large number of requests that continues to pile up inside poor Karol’s office in their headquarters. Kaufman was among their regular clients and unsurprisingly, she had written an appeal to make a request. Per her instructions, she required two individuals—one man, and one woman specifically, to partake in her promotional photo shootings.
A white wedding.
Of course, to top it off, Kaufman went as far as to choose her preferred models for the shooting, and to his disappointment, he was chosen. On one hand, Yuri could sort of understand the logic behind it. In their group, with the exclusion of Commandant Flynn, there were merely three official male members—him, Raven, and Captain Karol…and with that in mind, there wasn’t much to offer.
At the time, there was no confirmation to whom the identity of the ‘bride’ would be and knowing a certain old man and his philandering nature, there was no telling what he could do to them. Hence, Raven was naturally eliminated.
And then there was Karol.
…It was painfully obvious. He had recently turned fourteen-years-old, and in spite of his growth spurt (he had reached the same height as the short-tempered mage), the general sizes for the groom suits were still too massive on him.
Last but not least, Yuri.
Unlike his friends, he had the standard build, appropriate enough to fit into the suits that would be provided and with the addition of his cool, and charming demeanor, Kaufman was quite confident that he could pull it off.
Without bothering to give him a chance to voice out his opinions or concerns regarding this, both Karol and Kaufman had already forged a compromise, officially sealing the deal…and leaving the dark-haired man, and another poor soul to get dragged into the mess that was Kaufman’s photo shooting.
Yuri sighed deeply, frowning as he retreated a few steps back from the mirror and made his way over to a nearby pillar. Leaning his back against it, he crossed his arms, turning his head to sneak a glance at the window with a slightly peeved expression.
A knock was heard from the door, and quickly, Yuri whirled his head, directing his full attention to where the sound was coming from. He watched as a bespectacled redhead popped her head out from behind the door, which was already halfway open, to begin with. “Everything good here?”
Yuri gave her a half shrug. “I guess,” He replied in a low tone, and pressed his back again on the pillar. He could feel eyes on him and when he dared to peer over his shoulder, was surprised to find the older woman staring intensely at him. “…What?” He sputtered out, shifting his feet on the flooring as he grew uncomfortable under her gaze. “Something on my face?”
Without a word, Kaufman approached him and in response, Yuri recoiled back, pressing his back further against the pillar.
Taking notice of this strange behavior, Kaufman rolled her eyes. “Your tie is crooked,” She points out, and after receiving his consent, stretched her arms outward, already hard at work—undoing his tie to properly secure and fasten it, at the same time keeping in mind to make sure not to exert too much pressure in fear she might accidentally choke him. Checking it over a few times, she shifted her gaze to the artificial purple lily pinned on the left side of his upper chest, taking it upon herself to readjust the small accessory as well. Two minutes passed and finally, she mustered a smile and nodded, withdrawing back from the man and placing the knuckles of her right hand under her chin, tipped her head and took a moment to silently marvel at her recent work with satisfaction. “There we go,” She began, clapping her hands together and giving him an encouraging thumbs-up, “All set and ready for the shoot,”
All Yuri could do was nod his head in reply, forcing a grin and muttering a low, “Thanks,”
Pursing her lips, Kaufman dropped her hand, placing it on her right hip. “I’m impressed. That fancy suit looks remarkable on you,” She commented, and with a proud smile, proceeded to carefully inspect him from head to toe. “Has anyone ever told you how good you look with these types of outfits?”
Yuri thought it over, and as the image of a certain pink-haired princess resurfaced from the back of his mind, a genuine smile materialized on his lips. “Yeah,” He answered, his gaze softening and before he knew it, found himself recalling a memory.
It was almost two weeks since their victory against Duke and the Adephagos, and upon arriving in such short late notice in the newly-built settlement of Aurnion, while wandering around with Estelle, they were greeted with the sudden appearance of Flynn, who came over to bestow him with a gift.
A brand-new attire, painted in ebony black and yellow gold, accentuated with crimson red—a prestigious reward personally commissioned by the young Emperor Ioder, and tailored by the finest royal couturiers. In the words of Flynn, it was granted to the swordsman in acknowledgment to the heroic exploits and endeavors he had committed thus far, a symbol of Ioder and Flynn’s thanks to him—the impressive True Knight costume.
Despite the kingly gesture, Yuri remembered how in the end, he chose to reject the offer, claiming how wrong it was, especially for someone like him, to be gaining a title like that from the Empire. Reflecting it, Yuri grinned. Now that he thought about it, each time he became reminded with the memory, the initial feeling of disgust he had over the setup was replaced with that of acceptance…all because of her. Estelle.
After learning how she had to shove it in his bags and later offering it to him when they returned to the Capital, as much as Yuri wanted to protest back to her, he knew he couldn’t. Not when she was looking at him with those large, puppy eyes and silently begging him to at least try it on. Before he knew it, he was pulled into her chambers and after getting pushed into her large closet to get changed…and once he had stepped out into the light, he was met with the incredible sight of her smiling radiantly at him.
The clothes on him didn’t seem to matter anymore. Inside, his stomach was bursting with a flood of warmth, and for a few seconds, he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from her.
There she was—her seafoam eyes sparkling with joy, her lips crinkling to produce a large, toothy smile, and then there was infectious giggling escaping from her throat…even with her standard attire, a simple white and rose-pink gown, she was still beautiful to him. Even now, Yuri could still remember the butterflies fluttering inside his stomach, and how easily embarrassed he was, turning beet red, and looking the other way to avoid eye contact.
The True Knight costume had an effect on her, and deep down, he knew that if wearing something as atrocious as this could at least put a smile on her face, or possibly allow him to witness the same breathtaking sight of her bouncing up and down and showering him with so many compliments he could barely count…then what’s wrong with him keeping it for a little longer?
He would do anything—possibly try the costume again if he had to, just to see that dumb smile on her face.
While Yuri was occupied with his thoughts, he failed to notice Kaufman returning to his side to collectively remove the tiny, loose strings littering the surface of his stark white blazer. As she stepped back again, often checking his clothes to ensure that he was all set and ready to leave for the shooting, Yuri remained still and returning to reality, was starting to grow a bit aggravated, often clearing his throat as he nervously fiddled with his pine green tie.
“Don’t do that!” Kaufman suddenly cried, swatting his hand away from the tie and giving him a stern glare.
“Alright, sorry,” Yuri apologized, chuckling away. “So, uh…where is she?”
Kaufman blinked. “Who?”
Yuri rolled his eyes, followed by a lop-sided grin. “You know,” He drawled out, and raising his hands above his head, proceeded to form quotation marks with his hands, adding in, “This mysterious ‘bride-to-be’ or whatever else you may call it,”
He took a step forward and then paused when he noticed that they were already standing at an appropriate distance. Placing his hands on his hips, he tilted his head to the side, frowning. “Is she running late or something?”
The older female chuckled, looking back at him with a teasing smile. “Excited now, are we?”
Hearing this, Yuri groaned, raking his hair in frustration. “I’m here to finish a quest and report back as soon as possible. Getting all buddy-buddy with others is not part of the job description,” He went on, clearly having no desire to stay here any longer. “If the other person isn’t coming, I’ll notify Karol and we’ll just schedule this whole thing next time—"
“Oh, there’s no need for that,” Kaufman quickly assured him, and with a strange glint in her eyes, revealed him with new information, “In fact, I came here to let you know that she’s already here,”
Yuri gave her a weird look. “Are you serious?” He exclaimed, getting annoyed by the sudden turn of events. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
Kaufman shrugged. “You didn’t ask,” She simply replied, her grin lengthening. Ignoring his obvious eye roll, the older woman motioned her head toward the halls outside the door, and reverting her gaze on him, she said in a slow, gentle, voice, “Let’s go. The bride is waiting for you,”
The walk from the fitting room to the open patio was short-lived.
And yet, for Yuri, who usually walked in a steadfast pace, time went still the moment he opened the doors to the outside world…slowly, his eyes widened, holding his breath in as he drank in the sight of the familiar figure before him.
Striding past him, without even looking back, Kaufman wore a proud, confident smile on her face as she too, paused midway in her tracks to look on ahead. “There she is,” She said to him, bringing her hand to pat him on the shoulder. “Go on now,”
Swallowing his saliva thickly, Yuri meekly nodded, doing what he was told.
The bright, blue horizon and the bountiful greenery—large shrouds of colorful, full-bloomed flowers, varying in shapes and sizes, surrounding her beautiful presence and not too far away from where she stood, was a large pavilion, decorated with the same arrangement of flowers, arranged with the blissful hues of pink and purple, with three bells hanging underneath, and a long, white string to allow those to chime the bells–known publicly as the Lover’s Bell.
Aside from the people within the large area, most notably the employees who were currently setting up the camera, lighting, and other equipment, and the bystanders who lingered to silently watch from afar—only one person mattered to Yuri.
And it was the bride.
Everything about her was perfect. The wedding dress, creamy white and full of layers, hugged her petite physique, and as he lowered his eyes a bit, noticed how perfect it seemed to show off her curves. She stood there, with her face completely hidden away from the public, and the bouquet of white lilies she gripped with both hands was held close to her chest.
It didn’t take long for Yuri to finally close the distance with her, and as soon as he found himself standing before her, he dared to take a hem of the wedding veil and upon raising it above her head, slipped his head in, using the veil to block the world around them.
Everywhere he looked, there was pink.
Her pink hair.
The small, pink flowers on the front of her veil.
The pink heart-shaped necklace resting along her exposed neck.
The pink ribbons wrapped around her gloved, white hands.
And her pink, rosy cheeks and kissable lips.
“…Hey,” was all Yuri could say, still awestruck.
“Hello, Yuri,” Estelle replied with a sweet smile, followed by the light giggle he grew to love.
“This whole time…” Yuri trailed off, collecting his breathing as he stared lovingly at her. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
And when she heard his words, all she could do was smile at him. Blushing furiously, she veered her eyes to the ground, nibbling her bottom lip nervously. “So, what do you think? Too much?”
“It suits you perfectly,” Yuri answered without hesitation, surprising Estelle and even himself. He watched as the princess covered her mouth with one of her hands, her face completely red as she tried to process what he just said.
“O-Oh…” She mumbled, taken aback. Recovering quickly, she peered up to look at him and offered him another one of her bright smiles. “Thank you,” She said graciously, “You look…quite handsome yourself,”
Listening to this, Yuri produced a lop-sided grin. “Oh, is that right?” And nudged her on the shoulder, wiggling his eyebrows. He threw his head back in laughter as Estelle puffed her cheeks, playfully smacking him on the chest, though eventually went on to join him in.
Once the laughter had ceased and she cracked another one of her bright smiles, Yuri stood frozen, shaping his hands into whitened fists as he fought the urge to give in to his desire to just kiss her senseless.
He didn’t even care if people were looking at them.
Her smiles and laughter, her gentle and kind soul—everything about Estelle were utterly stunning.
A moment of silence prolonged and for the longest time, the two turned silent as they simply stared at each other, one whose expression was of longing while the other was filled with overwhelming happiness, they had seemed to forget the additional props such as the pink and purple balloons, and a few employees going behind them with cages of white doves, ready in waiting to release them for the shooting.
“Alright, let’s get this show on the road!”
Flinching in their spots, Yuri and Estelle turned to where Kaufman was and upon sighting her next to the cameraman, they exchanged glances, emitting smiles of their own.
Under the instructions of Kaufman, the swordsman and princess were tasked to do various posing, and for the most part, the majority of the photos seemed to be solely on their individual takes—of Yuri standing alone under the pavilion, pretending to look as if he was waiting for something or idly staring off into the far distance, and then there was Estelle, who sat on a chair, doing her best to exude an air of beauty and grace, with one of her prominent ones being that of her looking straight into the camera and bringing her fingers close to her lips.
About an hour and a half later, along with a few short breaks here and there, at long last, it was time for the highly-anticipated wedding couple compilation.
“Pretend you are dancing together,” Kaufman advised the two of them, attempting to get them to get to the mood, a command given to her by the cameraman for the next shooting. At the same time, she was busy fixing a few minor details of their attires—for the umpteenth time, readjusted Yuri’s pine green tie and as she turned to focus on Estelle, gently tossed the wedding veil to the side, welcoming the beautiful sight of her heart-shaped visage. “Imagine you are in the royal ballroom. And most importantly, be sure to keep your eyes on each other at all times. You hear me?”
“We hear you,” Yuri replied, and as he snuck a glance at the pink-haired woman standing to him, gave her a playful wink. “Piece of cake, right Estelle?”
Stifling a giggle, Estelle bobbed her head in agreement.
Right away, the pair was already getting into their positions, with Yuri gently wrapping one of his arms around his partner’s petite waist and pulling her close, and in response, Estelle widened her grin, already taking the initiative to slightly swaying her hips to the music she already prepared inside her head.
Yuri smiled at this, leaning closer to press his forehead against hers and inhaling her strawberry scent.
In that brief moment, there was nobody else but them.
Hearing his name being called, the old man slowly turned around. Pushing his glasses to the bridge of his nose, he blinked and looked up. Recognizing the familiar face, he released a low chuckle. “Yes, that’s me,” He confirmed, nodding his head. “And you must be Mary Kaufman.” Gaining a smile from the latter, he went straight to the point. “What brings you here to the Lower Quarter?”
“I’m here to give Yuri a gift,” Kaufman explained, and on cue, pulled out the small envelope from the side pocket of her brown sweater. “I meant to give this to him and Estelle during their wedding reception but forgot to take it with me,” With her arm outstretched, she proceeded to bestow the latter with the small envelope. “Would you care to give this to them if they ever dropped by?”
Shifting his eyes to the small envelope, Hanks looked up to face her. “Sure,” He agreed, followed by a light chuckle. “I don’t mind,”
“Thank you for this. You’re a lifesaver,” Kaufman expressed, and as she presented him with the item, was quick to add in, “Oh, and if you like, feel free to take a look at it. I’m quite proud of the results,”
Hanks blinked. “Results?” He echoed, not comprehending the meaning of her words. “What do you mean—”
It was already too late. Kaufman had already left, leaving him in the dust, along with the envelope in his possession. Letting out an exasperated sigh, Hanks walked over to the nearest staircase, and as he carefully set himself down on the first step, switches his attention on the envelope.
Carefully, he tore the left-side corner of the envelope, and inserting his hand in, managed to seize the thin paper from inside and pulled it out.
His eyes widened. Slowly, the corners of his lips curved upwards. A light chuckle erupted from his throat, and as he shook his head, couldn’t seem to remove the smile off his face.
Resting in his hands was a picture of a certain pair, groomed in a white suit and a gorgeous wedding dress. Balloons and white doves were scattered in the background, but what caught his eye were the loving smiles and gazes which his foster son and now daughter-in-law had etched on their faces—one brimming with endless promises, and a future waiting to be written.
Across the glossy, thin image was a message, written in a signature, red ink:
TO MR. AND MRS. LOWELL.
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR WEDDING AND BUNDLE OF JOY.
I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR BRIGHT FUTURE.
P.S. CALL ME IF YOU NEED A BABYSITTER. I’LL BE SURE TO OFFER YOU A DISCOUNT.