Disclaimer: Shadow Hearts and all related characters are property of Nautilius/Sacnoth, Aruze. The rest of the fancies are mine. :)


The Gift.


Wales, England.1915.

"The usual, Bob." The man said as he flopped down on the barstool.

"The name is Jack, not Bob." The bartender said, wiping a glass tumbler dry with his apron. He was a medium built man, probably younger than his balding pate lets on, wearing the same leather vest over long sleeved, cream shirt and his gray tweed pants—drab colors he seems to favor.

"Yeah, whatever, Joe Bob." The man replied, grinning like an idiot. Impatiently, he brushed back unruly locks of dark brown hair from his face and sat straighter on the stool. Despite his lopsided grin, his eyes bore telltale smudges of fatigue.

The bartender rolled his eyes and shook his head. He muttered something beneath his breath as he turned to prepare his customer's order. The young man may be too boorish for his taste, but aside from the fact that he's a regular, he had also once saved Jack's bar from troublemakers—a good man beneath the crude exterior and Jack had developed a certain fondness for him.

"So Yuri, what have you been up to lately?" Jack asked as he handed him a mug of beer.

"Uh, nothing interesting. Same thing everyday." Yuri replied, blowing the froth before gulping down his drink. Impatiently he brushed back the stubborn locks that kept falling down on his face. He will have to ask Alice to cut his hair soon.

"Lively night, huh?" Yuri said as he glanced around the pub, packed full of people, both men and women, and only a few seats remain vacant. The air was heavy with smoke and myriad of voices, but not loud enough to make them shout at each other just to get their message across.

That's why he preferred this place than the other local pub. The regulars here are quiet, simple folks like him and Yuri often dropped by to drink and relax a bit, along with his fellow co-workers before heading on for home after work.

At the moment, his fellow workers seemed to be arguing about something, but Yuri was contemplating the dinner Alice would be preparing to pay attention and suddenly he was more eager to finish his drink and go home.

"Wait Yuri!" His colleague caught his arm, as he was about to get up. "Why don't you settle this one for us?"

"What's it all about?" Yuri asked a bit impatiently, he had suddenly developed a ravenous hunger and a longing for a hot soak in the bath.

"George and I here are trying to decide which one the missus would like best." Tim explained. He was a few years older than Yuri, a slim man, with a bobbing Adam's apple and with his thick rimmed eye glasses that made his eyes appear larger, he seemed more to fit in an office than the construction site where the three of them worked.

Yuri looked at the two items in contest. After his year of stay in Wales, he recognized what the gifts were.

Lovespoon. A spoon fashioned from a single piece of wood, and the handles are elaborately carved with designs that symbolize love and good fortune. They are given as a token of affection in Wales, a custom that dated back in the seventeenth century.

Without giving it much thought, he picked the one that seemed more pleasing to the eyes and heard George crow while Tim shrugged nonchalantly.

Yuri picked up his coat and put it on, while his colleagues did the same.

"Why not get one for your missus?" Tim asked Yuri as they paid Jack the bartender. "It's quite a tradition here to give Lovespoon with key and keyhole designs on Valentine's Day."

"Valentine's Day huh?" Yuri murmured as if considering it, while he was familiar with Welsh Lovespoon, he has no clue what Valentine's Day was all about. "Nah, she has no use for such stuff. Besides, I have other ways of keeping her happy." Yuri said meaningfully, making Jack laugh beneath his breath while the men shook their head ruefully.

Yuri just grinned at them in general and with a wave of his hand, he stepped out of the pub.

(O)

Roger's laboratory was slowly evolving in size and shape. Yuri shook his head as he approached the crazy looking structure. Roger kept on adding to the building to accommodate his inventions, as a result the lab grew and grew in size. Just like a living organism. Yuri thought and for a moment he shuddered as he remembered Neameeto, the floating shrine with structures that pulsed as if alive.

He hoped to earn enough to buy that farm he saw and provide Alice a real home. But for now, the wacky looking crazy house will serve as their residence.

Yuri stood for a moment at the doorway and watched Alice as she stood near the sink washing dishes. Roger was conspicuously absent, probably down at the basement working on his airship.

As if sensing his presence, Alice turned her head and saw him there. "Oh, welcome back!" She greeted as she walked towards him. Yuri met her halfway and lowered his head to receive her wifely peck on the cheek.

"Bath or dinner?" She asked, while assisting him with his trench coat as Yuri pulled it out.

"How about Alice au chocolat?" He countered, chuckling as she went pink in the face.

"You must be hungry. The stew is almost ready." Alice gracefully stepped out of his reach before he could catch her, making Yuri smile.

"Coward." He said softly as he followed her.

"Roger is home." Alice murmured innocently, as if that explained her reluctance. She stepped behind the other side of the table, making it a physical barrier between them.

"He is, huh?" Yuri sighed wistfully, making her smile. "Well then, perhaps we can discuss this some other time."

Alice only laughed softly as she turned to prepare his meal.

(O)

The room they shared was actually a loft in the lab. Much to Roger's chagrin, Yuri bore a hole in the roof to construct a window for Alice.

"You've just made the lab vulnerable to spying eyes!" Roger had protested.

"Aw c'mon Roger, why would anyone want to spy on you? Why you're at least 500 years old!" Yuri said.

"I'm not talking about myself you idiot! I meant my inventions!"

Of course, his protests were ignored despite Alice insisting to restore the old roof, which according to Roger was impenetrable to any scanning devices known to man.

Now as Alice gazed out in the night sky as she sat on the bed, she was thankful for having the window installed for it allowed her to see the countless, glittering stars in the sky.

Just then, the door to their room opened and Yuri stepped in. Fresh from his bath, his wet hair plastered to his head, Yuri smiled at her as he approached their bed.

He pulled her down with him on the bed amidst her gasps of protests. He rolled over her and pinned her down, clasping both of her wrists at the side of her head.

"Yuri…you…you've been working too much, you must be tired." Alice said, making him chuckle.

"Never too tired to love you…" He said, dropping a kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Now what did I tell you about wearing these nightgowns to bed?" He muttered, mimicking a menacing tone as he eyed the flimsy garment.

"But Yuri—!" She could only gasp, tugging at his hands he grasped the neck of her chemise, but she was helpless to stop him from ripping the garment in two at the middle.

"Much better." He said huskily, gazing down at her nakedness, while he carelessly threw the offensive, flimsy garment elsewhere in the room, his voice lost all signs of playfulness, while his eyes took on an intense, smoldering look, making her catch her breath at the barely leashed passion she read in their depths.

The way he looked at her never failed to send her pulse racing. He still looked at her the same way he did that night they became lovers-possessive, passionate, mingled with the smile he only reserves for her.

"I suppose you expect me to be naked, ever ready for you in bed!" She fully intended to scold him, but the words came out breathless, not when he started stroking her tummy.

"The thought appeals very much to me, my lady." Yuri said, smiling down at her.

"Hush woman." He whispered as he bent his head to stop her from speaking, gathering her close in his arms, reveling in her smooth, silky skin, the softness of her body entwined with his.

"My God, you feel so good!" He said hoarsely, nuzzling her throat, taking in her sweet, subtle scent.

Alice gasped at the reverence of his touch. Whether playful, urgent or gentle, he always seems to touch her with that element.

"Yuri…" She sighed as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

She loves him. Alice reaffirmed it again to herself before he stole away all coherent thoughts, leaving only need and pleasure and the satisfying intimacy that she craves.

Later, as Yuri slept, snoring lightly, Alice gently disentangled herself from his arms and the leg that imprisoned her to him. He murmured a protest, but was too weary to sustain his consciousness. Alice smiled indulgently as she brushed back the locks of hair from his face. He looked so winsome even in repose and she felt a deep sense of pride that this man belonged to her.

Quietly she walked to the closet, feeling ridiculously self-conscious in her nakedness and pulled out another nightgown. Despite knowing that her husband is asleep, she couldn't shake the thought how he'd crow if he caught her walking in the room in her birthday suit. She sighed as she picked up her torn chemise, noting that she could still repair it though it would look unsightly.

Then with Yuri slumbering like a child, Alice stepped out of their room.

The bathroom is a mess as usual after Yuri has taken his bath. Alice sighed as she picked up his used clothes on the floor and the towel he had haphazardly thrown somewhere else. She'll have to remind Yuri to fold his clothes and place them in the laundry basket. Again.

As she was folding his pants, Alice felt a hard object beneath the swaddle of cloth. Her eyebrows knitted together as she curiously fished for the suspicious object in her husband's pocket. Her fingers met an odd, textured item, whose shape she couldn't recognize by touch alone.

With a bit of apprehension, Alice pulled the object out.

She gasped in surprise while heat burned her cheeks as she recognized what Yuri left in his pants.

It was about 5 inches in length and seeing that design was still unfinished, it left her to believe that he had made it himself. It was a wooden double spoon with a single handle carved and decorated with keys and keyhole and two hearts that were a bit out of proportion. In the middle, the word ALICE was carved. It also appeared as though Yuri was attempting to carve a knot, but it was clear that he wasn't skilled enough, ruining the whole design.

Alice brought the wooden spoon to her lips as she closed her eyes. The gift is crude, and Yuri probably intended to throw it away, but for her it was precious as the gift symbolizes all that he wished to give to her.

(O)

She wasn't too surprised when Yuri handed her a new gift the next evening. This time, it was impeccably carved and smooth as silver to the touch. It was still a double spoon with a much ornately carved single handle and she also knew he bought it from someone.

"Uh, do you…do you like it?" He asked, scratching the back of his head self-consciously. He looked flustered and embarrassed and so unsure of himself that she just had to kiss him.

"I do." She replied, her eyes dancing in merriment. "But I much preferred this one." She pulled out from her pocket the crude, unfinished gift.

Yuri flushed harder. Seeing his handiwork beside the commercial one made it even more ugly in his eyes. He attempted to snatch it away but she was faster. "Where did you get that?" he gasped.

"I found it." Alice replied. Smiling up at him, she can see from his horrified expression that he remembered leaving it in his pants the other evening.

"Ah, well you can throw it away. It's ugly." He mumbled, pushing his fists into his pockets in embarrassment.

Alice shook her head. "No, no, I want this one. And it's more beautiful than the one you bought."

"You like it?" Yuri asked perplexed. He looked at her as if he couldn't believe what she had said.

"Of course, silly!" She chided gently. "You made this yourself didn't you? That makes it even more especial."

"Oh." Yuri said, scratching his head again, longing to kick himself for being tongue-tied at a moment like this.

"Yes. Oh." Alice mimicked, smiling as she placed her arms around him. "Do you know what these symbols mean?" she asked as she traced the embossed key and keyhole designs of the lovespoon.

"Um, nope." Yuri said, lying through his teeth, making her laugh softly. Then she pulled his hand and tugged him towards the dining table.

"Roger won't be back in an hour. Why don't we discuss this over dinner?" She invited, and felt her pulse accelerate at the answering gleam in his eyes.

END


A/N: Yeah, for the curious, according to a site I saw, it is a custom to exchange Lovespoon decorated with key and keyhole on Valentine's Day in Wales. It's not confined to Valentine's Day though, Lovespoon can be given on any occasion like Wedding, House Warming, even Birthdays, a custom started somewhere in the 17th century.

And though key and keyhole may have a different interpretation, esp. for a pervy mind like mine, they symbolize home and security. Another site interpreted it as "You unlock my heart." Hehehe, cheesy isn't it?

Oh, about that Alice au chocolat, I just took it from mousse au chocolat, (chocolate mousse) a French dessert. :)