It didn't seem to be against his will, the way he kept looking over at her. She noticed it from time to time as she ran around the tavern to take and deliver orders. His eyes would be on her near constantly. When their gazes met, he would abruptly look away, a pinkish hue to his face. But then his eyes would be drawn right back to her. Had he felt this way all along? Or was it his one weakness that was making him like this? Those damn cat ears of hers…

"Thank you so much for your help again."

"Whatever…waitressing isn't that bad."

A bag of Gald exchanged hands, and Rita Mordio put on a happy smile. She had been running low on her Mana research funds. And for once, she wouldn't have to give her money to her patient companion at an empty table. She walked over to him with a victorious grin on her face.

"Alright, Yuri, I'm ready to go." She said happily.

"Aren't you…going to change first?" Yuri asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I left my clothes at the HQ. Besides, I like these."

Why was he expecting any kind of a different answer? He sighed and got up from the table. The two exited the tavern and walked through Dahnghrest to Brave Vesperia's HQ. The once small guild of four members had grown exponentially since the defeat of the Adephagos. When the troupe descended from the ancient tower and little Karol had announced it was Brave Vesperia that saved the world, recruitments flooded in. Yuri had dubbed it "too much effort to deal with" and left the sorting of all the possible new members to Karol. He held back his laughter as he opened the wooden door for himself and Rita. The little boy had passed out on top of a mountain of paperwork.

"Poor little guy…but he insisted on doing it all himself." A sultry voice said from a corner. Judith waved a quick hello to the duo before walking over to them. "Oh, more guild funds? What a help, Rita." She smiled.

"I'm not a part of this." The mage growled, holding her earnings close to her body.

The two had been through a lot together. In fact, they even developed a sisterly bond. But the mage still harbored a small grudge towards the Krityan. Even though the blastia had been all wiped out—and for good reason too—there was some small part of Rita that couldn't forgive her for destroying all those Hermes models. Judith raised her hands, taking a step back.

"Alright, alright. I don't want to get you mad, kitty." She smirked.

Rita's cheeks pinked and she stared at her feet. "Stop calling me that." She said quietly before making her leave to the back of the building.

There was the sound of a door slamming followed by small girlish laughter. "Oh, it's so much fun to tease her." Judith smiled, turning her focus on Yuri, "Wouldn't you agree?"

"Yeah, it is." He smiled.

Judith was silent for a moment, watching him. She smirked and walked over to his side. "It looks to me like you've grown very fond of our little mage." she mused.

"What are you talking about, Judy?" Yuri asked, keeping his usual poker face on.

"I'm Krityan. I can sense these things." She smiled, placing a hand on his chest, "And I can sense that the great, strong, fearless Yuri Lowell has developed a crush of sorts on the violent little girl we let stay here."

"Your sense is off." He frowned, "It's just the ears…anyone can wear those and I'd think the same things." He brushed her hand off and headed for his own room in the small HQ. Judith watched him leave with curious eyes.

"I'm sure that's why you've become so defensive of her. Seems to be moreso when she's working." She said playfully.

Yuri stopped in his tracks. He turned his head slightly in her direction. Judith folded her arms knowingly. She simply gave him a smile. "I suppose you'd want to ravish me as well if I was wearing them?" She held her hands up in front of her body to mimic cats paws. "Meow meow~"

"There's nothing on your head so I can't say for sure." He rested his weight on one leg, smiling playfully back at her.

"Ah, well that can be fixed." She smiled, putting her arms behind her, The Krityan sauntered over to Rita's room and entered quickly. Yuri had no time to react or say anything. A short time later, Judith exited the room, the cat ears Rita wore clenched in her hand. She carefully shut the door behind her before turning to grin at Yuri.

"How's this?" she smiled, placing the ears on her head. She did her cat impression again, lightly batting at his hair with her fists.

To say he didn't like them on her would have been a lie. It would have been the biggest lie he'd ever told in his life. But looking at her with those ears on didn't give the exact same spark as when he saw them on Rita. Then realization struck, forcing his body to freeze up. If he liked those ears on Rita more than on the half-naked woman in front of him…no. No no no. It couldn't be…could it?

"…Guess I'll just find the food myself. Sorry to interrupt."

Both Human and Krityan turned to see Rita giving the two of them a curious look. She had her arms folded and her weight on one leg. She had changed back to her regular hodgepodge of a tunic.

"Rita, it's not what it looks like." Yuri said quickly, moving away from Judith and closer to the mage.

Rita had already started making her way across the large room to the food cupboard. "Whatever. It's not like I care what you two end up doing." she said calmly, starting to make herself a sandwich. Her snack was quickly made. She started back to her room, jumping quickly to snatch her ears off Judith's head. "Don't take these again." She warned before slamming the door.

"Rude as always." Judith commented, adjusting her bangs.

Yuri sighed. "I'll give her a reminder we're letting her stay here and we could kick her out any moment."

"But you wouldn't, would you?"

Yuri stopped again. Judith was right. He wouldn't—no, couldn't—kick out the fiery brunette he had grown to care about so much. The Krityan gave a smug smirk before walking to the exit. "I'm going for a walk. Maybe talk with Ba'ul. Don't do anything nasty to our little mage now." She teased before giving a wink and taking her leave.

It was too late for Yuri to make a witty comeback. He rolled his eyes at the door before making his way to the room Rita stayed in. The building itself was small, making her room more like an oversized closet. She insisted on taking that room, however, claiming she was used to dark, cramped spaces. No one wanted to argue so they let her have her way. Rita sat on a pile of sheets she called her bed, a couple candles illuminating the dark room. One would have trouble telling it was noon in there. A thick book was propped open in her lap, her eyes darting over the words as she idly munched on the food she made earlier. She would mumble something to herself occasionally before digging around her to jot down a note or two.

"Hey, Rita." He called, stepping over a pile of books.

He was ignored. Rita kept reading. Yuri frowned and squatted next to her. He stared at her for a moment. "…Rita. Are you there?" he called again.

No response. Her lips moved in time with the words on the page as she memorized the contents of whatever scientific drabble was written. Yuri was partly mesmerized by it. Her lips looked really soft…

He shook his head to clear it. There was no possible way he liked her. Right?

"Rita…Hey, Rita!" He yelled this time, tapping her on the shoulder.

"What?" she snapped, quickly turning her head to face him, "I'm reading, Yuri. Leave me alone."

Yuri grabbed the book out of her lap and slammed it shut with a loud bang. When she tried to protest, he quickly covered her mouth with his hand. "This is kind of important, I suggest you listen." He said calmly, "I'd prefer it if you acted a little differently around here. We're letting you stay here because we care. If you keep it up, we can kick you out at any time, you know."

He removed his hand from her face, keeping an unblinking serious stare fixated onto her eyes. Rita frowned.

"…You wouldn't kick me out." She said in a low voice.

Yuri kept his straight face. He quickly reached out and grabbed around her middle before standing up, slinging her over his shoulder.

"What the-? H-hey! Put me down!" she yelled.

Rita kicked her legs and beat on his back furiously. Yuri seemed unfazed by it. He calmly left the small room and the HQ before setting her down in the street.

"Looks like I just kicked you out." He grinned, folding his arms across his chest.

Rita puffed out her body to make herself appear bigger. "You're a real jerk, did you know that?" she growled, getting on her tiptoes.

Yuri simply shrugged and turned his back to her. "Bye." He said before reentering the HQ. Before he could shut the door, he felt himself being pulled back. He turned to see Rita gripping the back of his vest, tears welling in her angered eyes.

"Fine, I'm sorry. Is that what you wanted to hear?" she huffed.

A soft smile graced his lips as he looked at her. He couldn't deny it. Her angry yet pleading face was far too adorable. But he couldn't pass up any sort of teasing opportunity.

"Mmm…maybe." he shrugged. He began to circle her slowly, like an animal that had just trapped its prey.

"J-just what the hell are you doing?" Rita snapped. Her voice shook with nervousness.

He stayed silent as he finished his second lap around her. "Waiting for another apology. The one you gave me was quite half-assed."

Rita growled and clenched her hands into fists. "…I'm sorry for being crabby." She mumbled, looking away.

"Hm…didn't quite catch that." He grinned, leaning in closer to her.

"I said I'm sorry for being crabby!" Rita yelled.

"That's better." He smiled, clapping a hand on the top of her head.

He ruffled up her hair with a large grin. Rita brushed his hand away, giving him a death glare. Yuri simply countered it with a bigger grin. She just rolled her eyes at him before trying to reenter Brave Vesperia's HQ. He stood in her path, resting his elbow in the doorframe. He held his head in the arm he propped up, smiling at her.

"What now?" she groaned when it became apparent he wasn't going to let her through.

"You need to pay the entrance fee." he grinned.

"Come on, Yuri!" she yelled, trying to force her way through. He didn't budge. He simply smiled at her with his playful grin. Eventually, Rita sighed and massaged her temples, trying to calm the headache that came whenever she dealt with him. "…Ok, fine. I'll play along. What's the entrance fee?" she asked through clenched teeth.

Yuri pointed to his lips. "A kiss. Right here."

It was a joke, or so he wanted to believe. His mind wouldn't let him. Yuri really did want a kiss from her. A kiss, hug, touch…something to prove his feelings to himself. If something happened, and he still felt the same, he would know how he felt about her. If nothing happened, it would mean the opposite, and he could go about his life without having to worry about stupid things like love.

Rita, however, didn't think it was that funny.

With an amazoness-like yell, she took aim and punched him squarely in the stomach, her face bright red. She was strong. Strong enough to cripple Yuri. The adult male doubled over and sunk to his knees, gasping for breath. The only other person to hurt him this badly was Flynn when they would get into little tussles as children. Rita dusted off her hands and stepped over him with a satisfied "Hmph!" before returning to the HQ and her little closet of a room.