Hiya! So I enjoyed writing for this series so much, here I am again! This is dedicated to all my reviewers and fans because you're awesome! :3 Hope you read and enjoyed Gathering Herbs, so please enjoy this fic as well and prepare for some fluff!
Disclaimer: I do not own Akagami no Shirayukihime (nor can I pronounce it sometimes XD).
"Is there any place in particular that we're headed to, Zen?"
A curious, apple-red haired girl asked as she followed close behind the second prince of Clarines. She followed him through the hallways of the palace as they headed for the doors to freedom.
"You'll have to wait and see." The light-haired boy responded with a grin. So I guess there is then. The girl reasoned.
The two friends halted briefly at the exit to greet Mitsuhide and Kiki, who shared a knowing glance with one another before they let the prince and the pharmacist go on their way.
Zen led the way out of the Gate of Poets and Shirayuki eagerly followed. Though she was still a bit dizzy from the effects of the thorn that had pricked her prior that same day, she felt elated to be back outside again since it was such a nice day. She felt like a criminal whenever she had to stay inside for whatever reason and waste such a wonderful day that she would never get back. She loved the fresh air in her lungs and the sunlight on her face, and after knowing how Zen often escaped from the palace without permission to wander the forests, she knew he felt the same way.
This time, she felt even more content now that she did not have duties to perform and herbs to collect, and the fact that she was alone with Zen sent her heart into a small frenzy. She gazed up at the blue sky, happy to see that the day was still far from over.
"Hey, Shirayuki!" Zen called back over his shoulder. "Don't fall asleep on me!"
"Ah! Sorry, I'm coming!" she called back and quickly dashed after him. "So where are you deciding to take me?" She asked inquiringly.
"It's a secret." He replied, ever the tough nut to crack. Shirayuki frown at her failed attempt to get him to talk, but followed him lively, nonetheless.
She followed him over a grassy field as they headed in the opposite direction of the town. She felt the pressure in her legs as they began ascending upwards on a large hill, yet Zen seemed to be gliding over the ground as though his feet had wings, and she assumed he must have been wherever it was they were going, hundreds of times before. Zen continued at his own swift pace and Shirayuki struggled to try and keep up, not wanting to slow him down or rain on his parade since he looked so excited. He glanced back over his shoulder occasionally and she always sent a beaming smile his way to assure him that she was keeping up.
Finally, the ground evened out a bit and Shirayuki was spared a bit from her treacherous trek and she rapidly tried to catch her breath. Zen was already a good ten paces ahead of her and she dashed to catch up, her boots slowing her down a bit even on fair ground. "You alright?" the prince asked her, not glancing back.
"Yeah, I'm still here." She let out a small, laugh. "This is just making me realize that I need to take more walks. How much farther is it?" she queried, still excited herself.
"Just one more hill. Come on." He sounded like a little kid and Shirayuki felt almost flattered that he was showing this secret side of himself to her.
Zen set off again with his red-haired companion close at his heels, determined not to fall behind. They soon reached another hill and the prince took off right away. But this time, Shirayuki was too exhausted to keep up.
"Z…Zen!" she called breathlessly. "Wait a moment please."
"Hm?" Zen looked back to see the girl hunched over, her hands on her knees as she gasped for air. "Why didn't you say something earlier?" He asked worriedly once he had returned to her side. "I'm sorry; I've been going too fast without thinking about your health." He apologized. "Do you still feel ill from earlier?"
"No, not really. Just a little dizzy. I just can't handle so many hills all at once like you can!" she said, a little enviously.
"You need to rest." He observed when he observed her harsh panting.
"No, I can rest when we get there." She decided, perseverance shining in her emerald eyes.
Zen knew there was no changing her mind once it was made up, so he used a different method instead.
"Alright then. But take my hand." He told her, offering his own, palm-up towards her. The determined girl slowly straightened up and accepted his hand and he continued onward, more slowly this time as to not overwork her tired body. He kept pace with her and she tried to quicken her speed as to not hold him back. She was surprised at how patient he was being with her, considering he was so eager to get to their destination. Whenever he felt even the slightest tug on his arm, he would halt immediately and wait for her to regain her composure.
At last, the two stepped over a small ridge to find themselves upon the top of an enormous hill, overlooking a colorfully green valley. Beyond the treetops, a range of tinted mountains was visible against an azure sky. Shirayuki forgot her weariness for a brief time and ceased her frantic panting for a good long moment to stand breathlessly beside Zen, gazing out across the gorgeous landscape. She then remembered her burning lungs and gulped in oxygen like a fish out of water. Zen placed a gentle arm across her heaving shoulders, until she finally got her breath back.
"Wow…" the girl was at a complete loss for words at the sight she beheld before her. She felt as though, no matter how long she might stare that her eyes would never be able to drink in all the sights she saw at this moment.
"It's even more amazing at sunrise." Zen informed her cheerfully. It was as though he was sharing one of his biggest secrets with her and she felt honored. "The ground is a bit unsteady at some parts so try to avoid the edge." He warned.
"Right." She nodded.
The two friends took a rest at the base of one of the few skinny trees that had sprouted atop the hill. Shoulders touching, the two stared out across at the distant blue skyline.
"I don't think there's anyone else in the country who knows about this place." Zen murmured beside her, making her feel even more flattered. "It feels nice to finally be able to share it with someone else though." He said, casting her a caring smile that caused her pulse to kick into overtime. Afraid and self-conscious that he would be able to feel her heart thundering in her chest, Shirayuki rose to her feet and walked slowly forward. "Not too far." Zen called after her, standing as well and deciding to follow her.
She stared out over the landscape from where she stood on the lush grass but was still curious to see more. Cautiously, she crept forward and grasped the trunk of a tree growing on the edge with one hand. She gripped it tightly as she peered out over the ledge, leaning forward to gaze below her. The cliff was sheer and dropped off straight down into a forest a good two hundred feet or more below.
Shirayuki suddenly began to feel dizzy again from the effects of the herbs and her vision blurred. But a firm hand on her shoulder snapped her into wakefulness once more.
"Careful." He said, uncomfortable at seeing her in such a position.
"It's so amazing…" she breathed. Zen smiled proudly at her bewildered face.
She grasped the tree with both hands now and leaned over even farther before stepping back. Zen took her hand and led her away from the edge, relieved to get her back onto safer ground.
Shirayuki lay down on her back in the grass and Zen sat cross-legged beside her for a while. She gazed up at the white clouds scudding across the sky and eventually her eyelids grew too heavy. She closed her eyes and did not care if she fell asleep here and never awoke again.
Suddenly, her eyes blinked open again as she felt gentle fingers combing through her hair. Zen stared out before him as he caressed her soft, apple-red tresses. Shirayuki slowly relaxed to his soothing touch and closed her eyes once more, shivering inwardly whenever his warm touch graced her shoulder or collarbones. She was only barely conscious when she felt a warmth next to her and sleepily opened her eyes to find Zen laying down beside her now.
A cool breeze passed by and the girl trembled a bit, and Zen noticed right away. So he laid a gentle hand on her stomach and turned her onto her side to face him. He then inched closer to her and wrapped an arm around her back, pulling her in to share his warmth. She was faintly aware of what was going on and could feel her heart racing, but was too comfortable to care.
She nestled closer to him, burying her face in his shirt and he rested his chin on top of her head, listening to her soft breathing.
It was in this position that the two close friends fell into slumber, with smiles on their faces for a good long rest.
About an hour later, Zen awoke first to find the still sleeping Shirayuki in his arms.
He glanced up at the sky to see that sunset was not far off. He wanted to share the sight of the brilliant sunset with her, for he knew very well that he may never get this chance alone with her ever again. Yet he also did not have the heart to wake her, since he knew she must have been extremely exhausted from the long day she had had.
Yet his debating thoughts were unnecessary, for a few moments later, the girl stirred and raised her head.
"Did you sleep well?" the prince asked.
"Yes, thank you. And you?"
"I'm glad to hear it." She smiled. Reluctantly, Zen let go of her and the two sat up together to stare up at the horizon once more.
"You made it just in time for the sunset." He informed her happily.
"Great!" She beamed.
At that moment, the sun sunk just behind the mountain range, casting rays as red as the girl's hair all over the landscape. The two did not move and hardly breathed all the while until the sun was finally almost out of sight.
Zen then stood and helped Shirayuki up afterward. The enthralled girl eagerly made her way back to her prior spot on the edge, clutching the skinny tree trunk for support to get a better view. She felt adrenaline rush through her veins, exhilaration she never knew before. Zen stepped up behind her again, gripping the tree with one hand as well.
But this time, the unsteady ground could not support them both.
Suddenly, the world fell away before her as Shirayuki felt herself falling as the earth beneath her feet disappeared.
She hardly had the time to gasp before she realized her grasped helplessly at the tree but lost her grip altogether in her utter shock.
With inhuman reflexes, Zen drew his sword and stabbed the blade into the ground below him. He grasped the hilt with one hand and reached out with the other.
He knew he only had one shot at this, or else, she was as good as dead.
The second prince of Clarines shot forward and grasped Shirayuki's wrist with all his might. For a terrifyingly long moment afterward, she teetered precariously on the edge of the biggest cliff in the kingdom, only an arm's length away from an untimely death.
The world had stopped spinning for an instant in time and she watched the pebbles falling into the forest below. She felt the painful pressure on her arm and the insanely rapid pulsing of her veins. But then, her weight leaned too far and she lost the little footing she had left. With all his strength, Zen yanked his arm back and pulled the girl back toward him. Her feet scrambled on the loose earth and his sword was pulled from the ground as he leaned back.
Finally, he felt Shirayuki's weight shift and she desperately flung herself forward. He grabbed her other hand with his and jerked her back onto the solid ground. He quickly stepped backward as he pulled the stumbling girl after him. But she only managed a few steps before her legs gave out and she collapsed to the ground and Zen went with her.
Shirayuki tightly grasped his shirt with both hands balled into fists. She was shaking furiously, her breathing ragged and wild and it took Zen a moment to realize that she was crying. He quickly wrapped his arms around her and embraced her tightly, stroking her soft hair and rubbing her back. "Shh. It's okay, just breathe." He soothed. The girl continued sobbing uncontrollably, her small shoulders trembling as her hiccupped breath hitched in her throat.
Eventually, she grew silent and her grip on his shirt loosened. "Shirayuki…" he murmured. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have-"
"No, you saved my life." She gasped, lifting her head to gaze into his eyes. Though her body was still shaking violently and her eyes concealed fear, she was smiling a smile sweeter than honey. All Zen could bring himself to do was hug her once more.
They stayed that way until the prince finally felt her shuddering die down and he pulled back to gaze down at her flustered face. Dried tears streamed down her cheeks yet she was still able to put on a tiny grin. "Well, that was more exhilarating that herb-gathering." She pointed out with a small laugh and he shook his head with a helpless smile. "Thank you, Zen."
"I'll bring you back here again sometime." He promised, hugging her one last time. "Since I know you love it here." He felt her nod against his chest. "But next time, I'm keeping you on an iron leash." He said.
Shirayuki giggled. "Okay."
"I'm half serious."
"I know you are."
The two locked eyes briefly before Zen slowly, stiffly stood to his feet. He picked up his sword and returned it to its sheath before offering Shirayuki his hand courteously.
"Can you stand?" He asked.
"We'll see." Shirayuki grasped his hand and shakily found her balance, yet it did not last more than a few seconds before her weak and trembling knees caved beneath her once more. "I guess not yet." She concluded feebly.
"Hm. Then we'll have to do this." The prince then proceeded to scoop her up in his arms bridal style, as he had done earlier that day.
"B-But, Zen…" She protested with a small blush that put her hair color to shame. "How are you going to get down the mountain like this?" she reasoned, partially just because her heart was thundering like a stampede of horses. The light-haired boy pondered her comment as a thoughtful look graced his features.
"Fine then." He decided. "Do you think you can get on my back and hold on?"
"I…I guess." Shirayuki responded quietly. "I'll try."
Zen gingerly let her down and supported her shaky balance, managing to grip her legs and get her into place on his back. She locked her arms around his neck and rested her chin gently on his shoulder.
"You ready?" He asked.
"Mm." She held on tightly as he began descending the mountains they had recently climbed.
She hated being such a burden to him like this. He had brought her here to show her something he had never shared with anyone else before and she had ruined it by being careless. She thought of apologizing for the whole fiasco, yet she knew very well that he would hear nothing of it and she did not want to make him more she remained silent, watching the rock face shift before her over the shoulder of the second prince of Clarines.
Zen seemed to have no trouble at all getting back down to flat ground though, even with the added weight on his back.
Before they knew it, they were back at the pasture that surrounded the palace, only about a few minutes' walk back to the Gate of Poets.
"Thank you, Zen." He heard her soft voice mumble into his ear.
"No, thank you, Shirayuki. For being here with me today." He replied.
He heard a light laugh escape her lips before she rested her cheek on his shoulder, her emerald eyes sliding shut. Her pulse dropped and her breath deepened, and within moments she was fast asleep. Zen smiled and savored the gentle tickle of her breath on his neck and the beating of her heart in unison with his relished the moment, savoring the beautiful springtime sunset off in the distance.
From now on, he intended to accompany her when she gathered herbs for the pharmacy and she was determined to join him on all his lazy saunters.
They would be spending much more time together in the future, and as far as Zen could tell, neither of them were complaining.
A/N: I hope it was cute enough for you! Seriously, get some friends into this series because it deserves more fans! It's soooo amazing!