~*By Your Side*~

The full light of the moon was never without its dark side.

~*X*~

Springtime in Zaphias was a sight to behold, since royals up in the Nobility Quarter just loved to decorate the wide boulevards and gray-stoned streets with flowers of all kinds. There was a yearly contest, held at the start of the season, promising a prize to the royal who could come up with the most lavishly adorned mansion possible. Not counting the Castle itself of course, since the ruler at the time obviously always had the best and nothing but the best.

Emperor Ioder, Estelle's younger cousin, wasn't into it much. However, since it was tradition, he passed the task to his willing relative and went back to work on other matters. The current issue dealt with the ever-needed replacement for the former energy source of the world, the blastia. Since Rita was the current authority on all things magical in origin, she was off to assist the new Emperor.

Estelle stood in the main hallway, hands clasped in front of her as she surveyed her friend. The mage had moved in recently after Aspio was destroyed, and she would miss her best friend while she was gone—even if that time was going to be just for two nights.

"This is stupid," Rita grumbled, flipping through a book as she waited for Ioder to show up. "Why do we need to go to Halure for anyway?"

"It was the meeting point Ioder agreed on," the princess informed her friend patiently, but then she frowned and added, "Aw, Rita, I'm going to miss you!"

Her face reddened. "I…um…" She looked away. "I'm going to miss you too, but I'll be back soon."

Not fooled by her friend's attempt at indifference, Estelle hugged her tightly as Ioder came in.

"Are you ready, Miss Mordio?" Ioder asked politely, his blue eyes were as kind as his smile. He was similar to Estelle in that regard.

"It's Rita, and yeah." She walked towards the grand doors, following Ioder as he fell into step beside Flynn, who was leading the brigade that would be guarding the Emperor and the newly-appointed Head Mage.

"Travel safely!" Estelle called after her friends.

Rita glanced back at her, green gaze bright, and waved. Ioder nodded, still smiling, and Flynn shouted back, "Enjoy the celebrations, Lady Estellise!"

Estelle waited until they had vanished from sight before sighing, running a hand through her short pink hair. It was a lot less interesting around the Castle without Rita and Flynn, and who knew where the others were…

Well, she did know where Raven was. Maybe he'd help her come up with a good decorating scheme for the party if she asked nicely…and wasn't Flynn's second-in-command, Sodia, still here?

Humming thoughtfully to herself, she walked off down the corridors.

~*X*~

Sure, in the spring the royals up in the Nobility Quarter always had some fancy shindig and threw a massive party with plenty of food and wine that flowed like water. In true royal fashion, they never once thought about the poor folk down in the Lower Quarter who could barely scavenge enough to throw any sort of party.

Yuri, in his infinite wisdom, requested that Captain Karol bring Brave Vesperia to Zaphias to help the less fortunate have a decent celebration. This wasn't too big of a deal, since they were currently not on any missions and Karol thought a party sounded like a good idea.

Yuri had even offered to pay for the "job", but after a few pensive moments, Karol simply waved it off. With Rita, Estelle, and Flynn supporting their guild financially when they couldn't be on jobs with them (besides their regular income from missions) they were doing great on money at the moment.

"Wasn't it a condition of Estelle's to use a percentage of her funds for charity?" Judith wondered aloud.

"It sure was," Karol acknowledged. He started pacing, rubbing his small chin. "Okay, here's what we're going to do!"

Brave Vesperia wasn't accepting just any members—so far they were a guild of ten, eleven if you counted the Entelexia Ba'ul. The newest member they had was a friend of Karol's from his former guild, the Hunting Blades. Yes, Nan had joined them a month or so ago, to the Captain's eternal delight.

"You want to fill two treasure chests with flowers?" Patty's eyebrows shot up into her blonde hair.

"Yeah! We'll make chains out of them and hang them everywhere! Then…"

Yuri stopped listening at this point, chuckling at his friend's enthusiasm. They were headed for Zaphias and were due to arrive before the afternoon even hit. It was still rather early in the morning. Ba'ul made a low keening sound deep in his scaly throat.

"What did he say?" Nan asked from her position on a barrel.

As the Entelexia flew onward, the friends sprawled on the deck of the ship hanging from his enormous stomach did their best to be heard over the wind. Ba'ul was hightailing it towards the Imperial Capital as fast as he could, so they'd get there with plenty of time to set up for the fireworks that night.

"Hm…" Judith tipped her head. "He said that there is a lovely flower field just to the west that he knows about, not that far from Zaphias at all."

"That's perfect!" Karol exclaimed.

"Hang on one second Captain," Yuri interrupted. "How many flowers are we talking here?"

"We'll just fill the chests up! As much as we can!"

Repede, at Yuri's feet, groaned and buried his head in his paws.

~*X*~

"Now you see darlin'," Raven told the princess, gesturing at the grand ballroom before them. "Ya said ya had trouble pickin' a color? We'll just do a rainbow effect, lines of color, get what I'm sayin'?"

Estelle nodded, already liking the way the decorators were busily setting up for the party that night. She clasped her hands in front of her happily. "Raven, thank you! You're a lifesaver!"

He grinned. "Don't thank me; it's what friends are for, right? But there's a price for askin' this old man for help."

Uh oh. She looked at him curiously. "What is it?"

"Ya gotta dance with me at least once tonight, no matter how many other schmucks ask ya to."

Was that all? Estelle smiled in relief. "Of course Raven."

Appearing satisfied, Raven nodded, turning back to the preparations. "If ya want, go take a stroll around town, see the sights. You're judgin' the houses 'round here, aren't ya?" He reminded her.

"That's right. I'll go see how everything is so far. Thank you again, Raven." The princess bowed low from the waist before departing the ballroom, her heels clicking sharply against the polished tiles. She passed by the kitchens, smelling the various foods that were being made in preparation for the party.

The scents reminded her of the many types of meals she had prepared with her friends around the campfires during their journey, a few months ago now.

Suddenly missing Yuri—and the rest of course—very much, Estelle frowned and walked out of the Castle, entering the Nobility Quarter. The royals were out and about in the golden sunshine beneath the clear blue skies, imperiously commanding their designers to work faster and why wasn't that flower where it should be?

Estelle stopped to gaze curiously at the nearest mansion, which was practically drowning beneath a mantle of red blossoms. Too much, she decided. Far too much.

An unexpected urge took her out of the upper areas of Zaphias and down to the middle-class neighborhoods. Here, the homes were also decorated (albeit more modestly) and street vendors were selling beautiful spring-themed trinkets. There was no lively, kind, smiling faces like this in the Nobility Quarter.

Enthusiastically returning every greeting she was given, Estellise continued to descend.

The buildings became shabbier, but the buzz of the crowd here was louder. As she turned the final corner into the Lower Quarter, she couldn't believe what she saw.

Hanks, the elderly gentleman in charge of the Lower Quarter (he was an elected figure) was busy trying to get Patty down from a ridiculously high building. The pirate girl was laughing, stringing a beautiful white flower chain around the uppermost spire whilst balancing precariously on one foot, which in turn was placed upon a thin rail that looked ready to snap at any moment.

Next to the fountain—now running without a blastia thanks to Rita's and Yuri's efforts—was Karol and Nan. The two former Hunting Blades had a big wooden chest open, and they were stringing more of the white flowers together. They had flowers in their hair, and petals on their clothes, but the younger children along with a few of the older kids seemed to be enjoying themselves as they assisted the duo.

Judith was surrounded by a crowd of assorted men, ambling along casually as she draped flower necklaces around any neck that wanted them. She was talking in her usual pleasant tone, and the men trailed after her like dogs following their master.

Speaking of dogs, Repede had a basket of multicolored flowers around his neck, and he was padding after Judith, patiently letting anyone that wanted to reach in and take one of the blossoms. Toddlers patted his ears and stroked his head nearly constantly. The one-eyed canine looked pleased.

Everywhere she looked, Estelle saw that the Lower Quarter was being decked out in amazing flowers. Though a majority of them were white, there was just the right balance of other colors for the effect to be breathtaking. The air smelled like spring more than it ever had in the Nobility Quarter.

Something light landed on her head, and Estelle reached up, gently poking a yellow and pink ringlet. Flowers?

"There you are," a familiar voice said behind her. "I was wondering if I'd have to go get you."

Her face brightened. "Yuri!" She practically jumped on the poor man, hugging him tightly, her smile so wide it should have hurt.

He chuckled a little, his hands warm on her back as he returned the embrace. "Estelle, I've only been gone for about two weeks."

"It felt longer," she pouted, earning another bout of laughter.

Yuri pulled away, grinning widely. His dark eyes gleamed like river stones. "So are you interested in helping us decorate? Or are you here with a message from the nobles saying we cockroaches in the Lower Quarter should stop making so much noise?"

Estelle frowned. "I'm here to help decorate," she declared.

"Good. Where's Rita, Flynn and the old man?"

"Rita and Flynn left with Ioder this morning."

"It'd not be a proper celebration without them. Hey, Judith!" Yuri pivoted and shouted at the Krityan now. She glanced up curiously. "Rita and Flynn are on their way to—"

"Halure," Estelle supplied.

"Halure. Do you think you could hop on Ba'ul and catch them?"

Judith smiled. "Easily. We'll be back in less than an hour, don't miss us too much." With that she handed a now-safely-on-the-ground Patty her basket and sprang lithely away, vanishing down the worn streets.

Yuri faced Estelle again. "What about Raven?"

"Raven is in the Castle, directing the decorators. He offered to take over for me."

Yuri thought about whether or not it was worth dragging the old man down from the Nobility Quarter. "We'll get him later," he decided. "Come with me to the inn, we're just starting to cook and we need all the help we can get. Lots of mouths to feed down here."

"Okay!"

They walked off side by side, a little closer than usual, a little quieter, as a strange awkwardness developed between them from virtually nowhere. Estelle felt it as electricity in the air, making her hyper aware of every one of Yuri's movements, and when she peeked at him out of the corner of her eyes, she saw that her electricity was fire in his black gaze.

She broke the silence. "Yuri, what you and the rest are doing for the Lower Quarter is wonderful!" Guiltily, she realized that she hadn't thought much of the Lower Quarter today, so distracted by the events going on she had been.

"Thanks. I just want to give this place a proper celebration." Yuri smiled down at her, and they both paused to let three cheerfully shrieking kids tear by, ropes of rosy pink cherry blossoms trailing in their wakes.

Estelle entered the inn first as Yuri chivalrously held the door open for her. She had to duck to avoid a balled-up flying cake wrapper from hitting her in the face. When it passed Yuri, he merely swatted it to the ground without even looking.

"Oh, I'm so sorry princess!" The girl who had tossed the wrapper to begin with exclaimed from behind the counter. She had tangled blonde hair and blue-green eyes. Estelle recognized her as one of the girls that tidied the rooms here, her name was Martha. "I thought you were that no-good rogue, Sebastian!"

"Throwing a wrapper at her Royal Highness Estellise Sidos Heurassin is treason and assault," Yuri remarked solemnly. "The penalty for that is death by—"Fast as lightning, he knelt down, grabbed the wrapper from the floor, and lobbed it back at her.

Martha stood there for a second, blinking in shock as it rebounded off her head, before laughing. She tossed the garbage into the trash and put her floury hands on her hips. "I'm sorry again princess; may I help you?"

"Actually," Estelle said, taking a step forward. "I'd like to help you. May I?"

"We'd be honored. What about you, Yuri?"

He shrugged one shoulder. "I'll be doing whatever Estelle is."

"Sure, this way, then."

The small kitchen of the inn was crowded as the residents of the Lower Quarter that knew how to cook put together their meager supplies and tried to craft a meal. Flour stained every surface, and there wasn't a moment of rest, or quiet. Everything was chaotic, like a hurricane.

"Be careful not to use too much, you'll still need to eat after this," Yuri commented as he took a kitchen knife up and started chopping a carrot.

The old woman he had been speaking to scoffed. "Don't you start this again Lowell!"

Estelle giggled and started rolling out some dough. Something occurred to her then, and she reached into her pocket for her wallet. "Yuri?"

He went right on slicing up the carrot. "Yeah?"

She opened the pouch and pulled out a handful of Gald. She pressed it into his surprised palms. "I'm donating to the Lower Quarter."

At her tone, he blinked. He counted the pieces and whistled. "This is about two thousand Gald!"

"I know it's not a lot, but I only started carrying around—"She began.

He roared with laughter. "Estelle, this is more than enough for the feast we're planning," he assured her. Yuri walked to a window and opened it. "Hey, Karol!"

The boy came running over. "Yeah?"

Yuri gave the Captain the money. "Estelle's donated to the Lower Quarter, go with Hanks and buy the rest of the materials we need."

"I'm on it! C'mon, Nan!" He raced off once more, this time followed by his girlfriend as she concluded putting the finishing touches on the floral display floating in the fountain.

Yuri turned to Estelle with a wink. "It's going to really suck, taking all of these decorations down later."

She smiled despite herself. "You're mean."

"Hey, back to work you two!" Martha shouted, but her eyes twinkled with mirth.

Yuri smirked. "Yes, ma'am. C'mon Estelle let's get started on something for the kids."

She thought about that. "Cupcakes?"

"With white frosting," Yuri replied wryly.

The twosome went at their newest task with gusto, and Estelle felt something warm inside her heart for her contribution to the Lower Quarter. The rest of the men and women in the kitchen treated her like an old friend, one of them—and of course they knew Yuri already. It was refreshing to get away from the nobles at court in her Castle.

At one point, as she was dusting powdered sugar over a small cake and turning to get more, she slipped on something. Estelle squeaked in fright as she plummeted, but Yuri was faster than gravity and caught her, albeit at an awkward angle.

His hands were under her arms, and unfortunately, she was ticklish. She yelped, trying and failing to hide her laughter. Yuri's eyes acquired a devilish gleam.

"Estelle? You're not ticklish are you?'

He descended upon her quickly, and she screamed with laughter as he tickled her. She kept trying to get a word out but it never worked, all she could do was gasp, her face flushed, and she found herself thinking that Yuri looked so silly with flour all over his dark hair and clothes.

"As much as I hate to interrupt this," Martha put in. "Hanks is back with those kids."

Yuri pulled back, and Estelle doubled over, trying to catch her breath. He was still smirking. "He is? I'll go meet them." Casual as you please, he strode out.

The girls in the kitchen instantly pounced on Estelle with questions.

"Are you and Yuri together?"

"He's so handsome, isn't he?"

"If I were a few years younger…"

"You look so cute with him!"

"If Yuri marries you, does he become a prince?"

Estelle opened her mouth and closed it again, blushing, unsure how to reply. "I…that is…"

"Hey shut up and leave her the hell alone, will you?" An unexpected lifesaver arrived in the form of Rita Mordio. She walked in, green eyes glinting like gems. "Judith came to pick me up. Come outside will you? We found something interesting on the way."

The girls stared indignantly after the mage as she turned on her heel and departed. Estelle bowed hurriedly before following.

The Lower Quarter was completely transformed. Every house was now adorned with flowers, and a cluster of tables were being pushed together to craft a makeshift buffet area. Cloths were being spread out over them, and Patty was sprinkling some more petals onto them for good measure. Spotting the pair, she skipped over and announced, "Judith's got a good eye for quality pork, don't you think?"

"Quality…pork?" At Estelle's blank look, Rita sighed and pointed.

"There."

The princess's jaw very nearly dropped as she saw Judith standing beside one of the gigantic pig-like monsters that stampeded near Halure often. The same kind of creatures that had given her and Yuri so much trouble when they first left Zaphias together. This one was a magnificent specimen, and she was talking to Hanks at the moment about it.

Even through the noise of the Lower Quarter, Estelle heard their conversation. It became louder as she, Rita, and Patty approached.

"You're giving this to us?" Hanks repeated incredulously.

"Oh, sure. I have no use for it." Judith's smile was demure.

The old man scratched at what remained of his white hair. "Well thank you kindly, we'll turn it into something fit for the Emperor himself to eat."

"Oh! Rita, how did Ioder take—"Estelle started, but the mage just shook her head.

"His Royal Highness," her tone was slightly sarcastic. "Actually let Flynn and I go. He continued onto Halure without us."

"Where is Flynn?" She inquired, looking all around.

Karol and Nan, who had been playing Tag with some of the younger kids, skidded to a stop as they overheard the question. Nan spoke first. "Yuri was actually helping us take some of the supplies inside the inn."

"Yeah, then he saw Flynn and the both of them started whispering and then they took off for the Castle!" Karol finished.

"This can't be good," Rita grouched.

"It'll be great," Patty decided with a nod of her head.

"I'll go see what they're up to…" Estelle was about to walk off, but just then a little girl ran up to her.

"You're the princess! You wrote that new book, Chronicles of Fate! Mommy reads that to me every night! Will you read me a few pages, please?"

It wasn't long before a lot of children were crowded around the princess, begging her to read for them. And even with her friends watching with smiling faces…

How could she say no?

~*X*~

"You do realize this is stealing?" Flynn remarked dryly as he assisted Yuri in picking up a crate regardless.

"Hey," Yuri objected, waving the piece of paper in his old friend's face. "Estelle made Raven the official party planner, and he gave us the right to take these fireworks."

"Why are we firing them in the Lower Quarter? You can see them from anywhere in Zaphias," Flynn responded doubtfully.

"We're not firing them from the Lower Quarter." The vigilante stood up, two crates balancing on each other in his arms. "Well, not all of them. One box from the Nobility Quarter, one box from the Middle Quarter, and one from the Lower Quarter. Equality and all that." He quirked an eyebrow at his blonde friend. "You are all for equality aren't you?"

"Yuri…" Flynn grumbled.

"One box per Quarter." Yuri, pleased with himself, proceeded to walk down the hallways. Flynn sighed and relieved him of one box, muttering about difficult long-haired pretty boys.

They found Raven waiting for them at the Castle's exit. "Figured I'd escort ya out," he explained.

"Suit yourself, old man." Yuri shrugged.

The trio continued on, and Repede stood up from his sentry position just within the Nobility Quarter, joining their party as they passed.

"I gotta admit Flynn," Yuri said as they unloaded one fireworks crate and passed it on to an associate who would light the fuses at the proper hour. Raven already had one of his men clued in back at the Castle to do the same. "I'm surprised you left Ioder unguarded."

"I didn't want to go. Master Ioder had informed me earlier that I should take a break, but I refused. When Judith showed up with Ba'ul, he practically ordered me on with Rita."

"Maybe Master Ioder isn't as delicate as ya like ta think," Raven remarked, stroking the stubble on his chin. "Isn't smotherin' the Emperor a crime or somethin'?"

Flynn shook his head, shrugging.

"If so, your fate is sealed," Yuri told the Commandant. "Enjoy prison. You have to have a crime record as stained as mine by now."

As they returned to the Lower Quarter, Repede plodding along ahead of them, Yuri stopped as he beheld the sight at the fountain.

Estelle was sitting there on the battered stone, reading from a book, sunlight sparkling off of her eyes and making her pink hair blaze. Kids, and adults even, of all ages were sitting around her in a spiral pattern. The chefs had even come in from the kitchen. Everyone had daisy chains around their necks or on their heads, oftentimes in both places, and all eyes were riveted on the princess as she read.

Unbeknownst to Yuri, Flynn and Raven saw the way he was watching her, and they exchanged knowing grins.

She kept reading, unaware of their presence. "She knew he had always been the impulsive type, or at least with her, and she couldn't help but ask him—'Why? Why didn't you leave me to die?' And he smiled, one of those rare ones without a touch of his usual sarcasm, and he said, 'Because I knew you could still come back to me.' After that, they—"Estelle looked up and beamed as she noticed Yuri. "Oh, you're back! And Flynn!"

As she ran to hug the Commandant, who spluttered nervously as she did so, Raven whined, "What? Not glad to see ol' Raven?" He shrugged when he didn't get an immediate response and switched his target to Judith. "Hey, Judith!"

As the old man charged off, Yuri put a hand on his hip and heaved a deep, dramatic sigh. Repede cocked his head to the side questioningly.

"It's nothing. Come on let's go set these fireworks up."

The sun was beginning to set now, turning the horizon into an artist's depiction of pastel fire. Across Zaphias, or at least as much of it as Yuri and Repede could see from the inn's roof, lights were already being ignited to ward off the incoming darkness.

Firework after special, nearly-impossible-to-set-your-house-on-fire firework was set beside each other. "Do you think Duke is here for the festival?"

At the mention of the albino, Repede whined.

"Yeah I doubt it too." Straightening from his work, Yuri checked to make sure he had some means of lighting a fire—fortunately he did, in the form of a few matches tucked into his pocket. He turned around and blinked in surprise as he noticed Estelle standing there, having had just stealthily climbed up onto the roof.

He grinned, nodding to indicate the fireworks. "Gotta light these things in a few minutes."

"I can't wait." She clasped her hands in front of her and said it with every ounce of her usual honesty. She walked over to stand beside him, and Repede yawned, springing off of the roof with a wave of his tail. He promptly joined Patty, Karol, Nan, and a few other kids as they tried to bob for apples.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Estelle?" Yuri asked, watching Rita stubbornly resist Judith's urgings to dance to the upbeat music a group of people were starting to play. The sound of violins was sweeping and majestic, an instrumental accompaniment to the happy voices of the Lower Quarter.

"Yes. This is the most fun I've ever had for the spring festival." She smiled and closed her eyes.

"Heh, same."

It was back. Unexplainably. The tension, the uncomfortable silence that stretched on and on. Yuri felt like he was hyper-aware of everything, every single tiny movement Estelle made, and it burned his insides like fire. When he met her gaze, he saw those flames reflected as bright tendrils of electricity in hers.

She stepped a bit closer. "You…um…you look so silly," she giggled just a bit. "With flowers in your hair."

He grinned, their eyes connecting. "Really? Well, then." Reaching up, Yuri removed his wildflower chain and placed it on her head. Her pink and yellow ringlet had been given to a little boy earlier who had lost his. "Hm, you're right. They look much better on you."

She blushed. "Y-Yuri…"

He leaned in a bit so that they were on the same level. Fire roared in his ears, muffling his own voice. He wondered if she knew, noticed. "Estelle…"

Slowly, her next motion tentative, she raised one of her gloved hands and rested her palm flat against his chest. Yuri smiled slightly, finding her hesitance to be sweet, endearing. Even now her touch was as gentle as could be.

She deserved the same from him, minus the hesitance of course.

He placed his hand on the side of her face, sweeping some of her pink hair from her green eyes. The rose-colored tresses were soft against his skin.

Here it was then, the moment of truth…

An unexpected bang made them both jump apart. Yuri looked up and noticed that the fireworks in the Nobility Quarter were going off. Quickly, he lit the ones on the roof and grabbed a startled Estelle by the arm as he did so. Some of the fireworks had longer fuses and didn't go off right away, others lifted towards the heavens with a thunderous cry almost instantly.

Safely out of sight from the rest of the party-goers behind the inn, they stood outside Yuri's bedroom and gazed up together at the fireworks exploding across the sky. Neon colors swirled and spun and burst into life like blooming flowers made of embers. The image of a fiery red phoenix claimed everyone's attentions for a few seconds before it, too, disappeared.

"So, Estelle," Yuri said as if nothing had ever happened. "Who won the festival?"

~*X*~

The distribution of fireworks across Zaphias made all of the sky burn different colors, but at the same time. It was as if the roof of their world was catching fire. Estelle was so transfixed by the sight that she almost didn't hear Yuri speak.

She said softly without looking, "I think the Lower Quarter has won. There are so many beautiful houses here; I wouldn't be able to decide!"

Estelle's gasp was quiet. She felt Yuri's hand, still gripping her arm from their jump off the roof; slide down until their fingers were intertwined. She met his gaze questioningly, but the swordsman was focused on the fireworks, his expression thoughtful. She wondered what her dark-haired savior was thinking of, and if she could help.

Her face still tingled from where Yuri had cupped her cheek, but she did her best to focus on the display overhead, sometimes gasping aloud about how spectacular it looked.

It seemed like ages before it was over, but at last the final firework faded from view. They both broke into low laughter as they recognized the trailing tails of orange comets in the sky—Rita's contribution to the show. They exploded into bursts of starlight beside a single Crimson Flare.

The moon was full, and surrounded by its twinkling army of stars, the night had never looked more stunning. The music struck back up with even more energy than ever.

Unable to distract herself anymore—the awkwardness would return now, surely?—Estelle turned to Yuri. He looked back at her and smiled. "Well? Did you like it?"

"I'm…it was amazing."

He chuckled, and then he did something truly shocking. He pulled her into a sudden embrace, and before she could do more than meet his eyes, he kissed her.

She had read…so many romance books in her life, since all she had done in Zaphias before Yuri was read. She had imagined this moment many times. Nothing, no description, no lovingly worded paragraph, could describe the sensations running through her now. Heat scorched her thoughts away, and she gripped his shoulder as if he was the only solid point in her life—and right now, he was. His fingers were brushing her hair behind her ears, and every moment their skin touched she felt electric tingles slide down her spine. It wasn't unpleasant. His long black hair drifted to the right on a breeze.

The kiss was deep, but not so deep that it was uncomfortable. In fact she had the overwhelming feeling that he was being gentle with her, and Estelle ran her fingers through his dark locks absently.

They broke apart for air. Estelle's hand flew to her mouth, and she was so red in the face that she likely rivaled the firework phoenix from before, or even Rita's Meteor Swarm and Crimson Flare.

Yuri didn't look too flushed, but his black eyes were unusually distant. "Probably a little late for this now…" She smiled at his tone. "But were you okay with that?"

Estelle clutched her hands before her, as if in prayer. "That was perfect." Her smile widened to a grin. "Yuri!" Delight, unbidden, rose inside of her and she happily rushed into his arms, burying her face in his chest. He laughed, the sound deep and familiar and wonderful to her ears, holding her to him as if she was his whole world.

The party went on with or without them. Raven was flirting with girls and laughing along with Judith as they tried to guess the Charades game going on. Flynn had actually had Repede go find Sodia, and now he was talking with his second-in-command merrily as he offered the blushing young woman some punch. Repede had moved on to raiding the buffet table with Patty as the pirate girl handed him anything he wanted. She was busy stowing away anything sweet for later. Karol was playing a party game with Nan involving a spinner, and Rita had finally given in to Judith's demand, dancing speedily and elegantly as was her wont. The magic lines she called up awed her spectators. Ba'ul, outside of Zaphias, was still dazzled by the fireworks.

They'd get back to the party soon enough, but the pair were content to stay out of sight for now in the shadows. Yuri leaned back against the wall, Estelle wrapped comfortably in his arms, and now there wasn't a trace of electricity or fire or awkwardness between them. Instead, there was warmth and something like…light.

She could feel his smile against her skin.

"Yuri?"

"Hm?"

"Would you like to dance?"

He was silent for so long she thought she had offended him. However right when she had worked up the nerve to turn around, he took her hand and led her into his room. A light was flicked on, and the music came in clearly through the open window.

Estelle thought quite suddenly of the party she was supposed to be attending back the the Castle, and how the nobles would take her giving the prize to the Lower Quarter, and—

Just then, Yuri gave that smirk that she so loved, twirling her like an expert ballroom dancer, and she smiled back, all worries forgotten.


Author's Note: A gift for R. Vienna because though I still intend to finish that Pokemon story for you, it also likes to defy my efforts. XD Maybe this'll tide you over? Review if you guys want, they're appreciated!