Constance shut the book in front of her, then dusting off the dirt that came in contact with her palms. She allowed her eyes to rest, leaning her arms on the table to let her mind recharge from hours of working.

Her thoughts wandered to images of what was once the beautiful territory of Nuvelle. She fondly remembered the port town situated at the western edge of the Adrestian region, the calming sounds of the waves from the shoreline, all the pleasant memories she had with her family. . .

Perhaps, it would have already pulled her to sleep, had it not been for her instincts waking her up with the presence of someone beside her.

She opened her eyes, completely expecting a set of lavender ones staring back at her. She guessed correctly.

"Hmm, I made sure to enter the room as quietly as I can."

She sighed, pulling her head upright. "Can't find anyone else to bother at this time, Yuri?"

"Ouch, you wound me," he remarked with a mock hurt tone, "Is that any way to speak with your future spouse?"

Warmth traveled to her cheeks. Their conversation, despite it happening months ago, was still fresh in her head. It was the first time he brought the topic out to light since then.

"C-cease your mocking. I will not have any of that, especially at this trying hour."

She almost regretted her words as she witnessed his gaze lowering, a drop from his usual facade. As if he felt really hurt, this time.

"I told you, I was not mocking. I was absolutely serious about my proposal." And in just a second, his face shifted, eyes looking at her more confidently, devoid of any vulnerability. "Anyway, if you're tired, you should just retire for the night and go to bed."

"You are aware this is rather early for me."

With their years of living in the Abyss together, they were familiar with one another's sleeping schedules. Balthus didn't really have a set time for sleeping and would do so whenever he pleased; meanwhile Hapi would retire to her bed as soon as the sun fell. She and Yuri were the same in a sense that they were basically night owls.

"Besides, I cannot afford to have plentiful rest and idle time if I wish to restore my house the soonest." She meant it seriously. It had been weeks since their victory over the Immaculate One. With the emperor's brilliance and leadership, the lands of Fodlan were starting to be reunited. That of course meant there was no room for her to be slacking off too.

He merely shrugged. "I'm not saying you shouldn't work hard on your little research. That's admirable, really, even after so many years you haven't changed at all! I'm just saying maybe it's time to deal with your sleeping habits."

"You're the one to talk," she snapped back, earning her a grin.

"But it isn't me who'll be dealing with those nobles during daylight. I'm sure they'd appreciate having official appointments during the day."

She frowned, his words sinking in. He was right.

She stood, stacking the pieces of parchment she had been memorizing for the past hours. From the corner of her eyes, she knew he was smirking in triumph. The insufferable bird.



"You are absolutely serious?"

His features softened, the corners of his lips lowering.

"I may have been known to use deceit or whatever means to get what I want, but you have my word that I have only been expressing what my heart speaks of."

"My, such flowery words from you." She chuckled, before looking away. "But what would you do? If somehow, I actually end up unsuccessful in my endeavors? Especially now that simply restoring my house doesn't provide any assurances of reaching greater heights in this new age?"

From the corners of her eyes she saw Yuri surveying the surroundings, making her look at him again, much to her confusion. He quickly noticed her reaction.

"I'm just checking if somehow, it's actually morning and some sun rays have miraculously hit you all the way down here."

She gave him an unamused look. He showed a sheepish smile.

"Sorry. What I meant to say is that I didn't expect to hear that from you. Why are you suddenly doubting yourself? Where's that over-the-top, confident lady that I know too well?"

She shook her head. "It's not that I doubt. I am merely considering possibilities. Tying yourself up with me means you will immerse yourself in my affairs . . . and all that is me. It's not something as simple as accepting an invitation for tea."

"I know. It's a commitment. Like a commitment of sharing tea or sewer water with you and only you for the rest of our lives."


"I am aware. I have given my answer, haven't I?"

It was true. Even without any expected returns, Yuri had already taken the dive for her, anyway. Sinking deep into the ocean to attain one of the keys that she wanted even when she hadn't given assurances that she'd prioritize pulling him out rather than said key.

"Don't feel too pressured. I wouldn't blame you if you somehow doubt my intentions."

Despite the seemingly heavy words, he was pacing behind her nonchalantly, hands behind his back. She eyed him closely. Yuri had often been hard to read. He tended to mask his real emotions, a skill she knew he learned—or rather, he needed to learn—to reach the heights he was currently standing on. It was an impressive ability, she had to admit, though could also be highly irritating especially when she often could not tell the difference between mockery and sincerity.

Without warning, he dragged a chair and sat too closely beside her that his face pretty much invaded her line of vision. By reflex she moved her head away, though it really didn't do much since he moved the same, studying her face.

"So you really are doubtful, huh?"

Before she could react, he pushed the seat noisily behind him, giving them ample personal space again. He stood.

"Anyway, I guess I really can't prove to you anything with just words. But let me just repeat that I did what I wanted to, just like what I've been always doing for most of my life. I mean, I understand if you don't want any of me, who has nothing—"

"I did not say that—!"

She no longer saw his face as he began to walk towards the door. Quick to react despite her fatigue, she followed after him.

"Guess I'll just wait for your answer then—"

"First of all, I think you are more than what you claim to be. And second, do not make it seem like I have not been thinking of this for I am giving you my answer right this moment!"

Her voice echoed in the enclosed space of her provisional magical facility—to be precise, it had been the spacious area behind the blackboard of their Ashen Wolves classroom. Since no one really used it much after the war, Yuri allowed her to modify it as she pleased.

She cleared her throat, suddenly feeling conscious about the whole situation, but a small part of her rejoiced since Yuri completely stopped in his tracks.

"I, I say it would not hurt to agree with the plans of someone I trust such as yourself."

He turned to face her, mouth gaping open briefly before he recovered. For that moment she was certain he was genuinely surprised.

"So you're saying you want to give this a shot?"

Her cheeks grew warm again.

"However, I regret to say that I am inexperienced with matters about love, so I may have to rely on you for that."

He chuckled. It annoyed her how her cheeks felt warmer by the second.

"Alright." He winked, smiling, though his eyes lacked the teasing quality they usually had. "You can count on me then."

The next time they saw each other, it was Constance who made the first approach.

The exchange began with a knock on the door. Upon hearing his response, she entered the men's quarters. Her eyes briefly scanned the unkempt desk filled with empty bottles and various assorted chips undoubtedly used in gambling.

"It seems our dearest friend Balthus did not bother vacating his belongings the moment he departed from Abyss."

"Did you honestly expect him to?" Yuri remarked, who was already plopped onto the bed. "To be fair they aren't exactly belongings—more like trash."

"Haha! It makes me think I am fortunate to have Hapi as a roommate." She settled herself on the chair in front of a much cleaner desk—obviously it belonged to Yuri. "Anyhow, have you not thought of cleaning them up?"

"Not really. Ever since the war ended we're the only Wolves that stayed here. Kinda makes the room less lonely seeing them."

She nodded. "I suppose that makes sense."

"Well, milady," he said, sitting up from where he had been lying on, "I'm sure your visit serves another purpose apart from commenting on the status of my living quarters. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

She looked at him closely, and he seemed to be actually waiting for her response. She sighed. It was as if their conversation the previous night had not happened. . .

"Drop the formalities," she decided to say, trying to keep things less awkward, "Or are you simply teasing me again?"

"Ah, very good. You caught me."

He laughed, a seemingly hearty sound escaping his lips, but she didn't miss how tired his eyes looked as he did.

"Had a long day?" she asked.


Silence. It seemed he no longer wished to elaborate. She decided on the next approach.

"I was thinking of brewing some tea." Albinean berries to be precise. They were both fond of that, she knew. "Or if you are not too tired, would you perhaps wish to accompany me for a walk at the surface?"

It took time for Yuri to respond back that she prepared herself for the possibilities of both her offers being rejected. Perhaps some other day—?

"Hmm, tea sounds nice. But maybe a walk would do me better."

And with that he sat up, straightening the creases from his clothes. She tried to hide her smile as she followed after him.

They walked alongside each other in silence, their steps echoing as they passed through the tunnels up until they reached the stairway. She couldn't tell if he thought it was strange of her to suddenly extend invitations out of the blue, but she figured she should just enjoy the rare moments of tranquility between them. She had a long day too.

Soon enough, she felt the midnight winds brushing past her face as they neared the surface, as if welcoming her to the broader landscape and skies.

"You surprised me."

She raised an eyebrow. Yuri was quick to clarify.

"I recall milady saying that she was inexperienced with love matters, yet here she is taking the first step."

She flicked her hair away as she tried to hide her embarrassment.

"You take me for some ordinary maiden who would wait idly to be courted? I firmly believe it is equally our duty to get to know each other better if we're keen on this engagement, and whoever initiates it should matter not."

"Heh. You really are one-of-a-kind. Absolutely unlike most noble women I've dealt with."

"I hope you mean that in a positive way."

"But of course. I wouldn't choose to tie myself up with someone I didn't like."

With his words, she recalled exactly what she had been meaning to discuss with him.

"Yuri. . ."


She pursed her lips together before taking a deep breath.

"I like you, I really do."

"Whoa, you are full of surprises! Having confessions now, are we? Because what do you know? I like you too, Constance."

He remarked his words with such animated outlandishness which she might have admonished on other occasions. And yet she remained unfazed, continuing to speak what's on her mind.

"Tell me, then. Is "liking" enough?"

Five long seconds passed before he spoke again, as he simply eyed her curiously.

"Isn't it? I mean, I wouldn't want to spend my life with someone I hate."

His response was far calmer, said so casually that at least she was certain he was being genuine. It somehow lessened the tension she was feeling about their situation.

"You know that's not what I mean. Despite how often we may squabble, you are my friend."

"As you are to me," he responded without any second thoughts, "Your point being?"

"This is marriage, Yuri. Will you really be fine with such arrangements?"

It gave her mixed feelings watching how seemingly calm he was with the whole situation. A tinge of anxiety, she recognized, was present; she had a bad habit of overthinking things, after all. Another feeling was a strange sense of relief . . . It was Yuri, after all, who, despite getting on her nerves most of the time, was someone she knew she could trust, someone she could rely on.

"Do recall that I'm the one who suggested it. If anything I should be the one asking you that question."

"But I already agreed! So right now my question is not about my uncertainties about being with you. . . It's you being with me. Assuming everything falls exactly as we planned, what about you?"

"What about me? I will be known as Yuri von Nuvelle. Has a nice ring to it, actually."

"Yuri!" she remarked, cheeks flushing warmly. How she wished he would take her more seriously!

He laughed. "Well, wouldn't I? Anyway I'm afraid I can't really follow your point. Care to spell it out for me?"

She hesitated, looking at the surroundings first. They were almost at the greenhouse. Apart from an imperial guard that passed by, no other souls were in sight.

"Your. . . Moniker. Underground. I am aware how much the citizens of Abyss mean to you, so I am certain you wouldn't leave them hanging once we get married. Doesn't becoming a noble go against your goals?"

"Not exactly. Whatever name I hold shouldn't really matter with my dealings underground. I mean, sure, it'll probably be more challenging to hide stuff since "Yuri" would become part of the society, but that's the price I have to pay for the comforts I seek. In the end that's my problem, so better leave that to me."

He turned to her, just as they settled themselves on the bench facing the fishing pond.

"Unless you'd hate for your house to be associated with the likes of someone such as myself?"

Her eyes widened at his insinuation. "You'd think I'm that shallow—!"

With a cheeky grin he silenced her by pressing a finger to her lips.

"So now, allow me to return the question to you, dear Constance. Are you certain about me? Getting married to a no name?"

Ignoring the heavy emphasis of his last words, she brushed off his hand away from her face.

"As I was saying, it offends me that you think I possess that level of shallowness. You are aware that I am aware of what you are truly capable of." Refusing to meet his gaze, she shifted her eyes to the pond, the moonlight reflecting on its surface. "And just this once, I am willing to shower you with sincere compliments if that is what you are seeking for."

"Hmm, a tempting offer, but you don't need to. I'm already flattered to confirm that someone of your calibre thinks so highly of someone so insignificant such as myself."

"I plead to you to stop these silly acts of deprecation."

He chuckled.

"Fine, fine. But my point is . . . the rest of the world, they don't exactly know the secrets that you know about me. I'm sure there will be whispers. Unpleasant ones, I bet."

"And what of it?" The breeze swept over her skin, making her shiver. She brushed her palms against her arms. ". . .Not like that's anything new."

From her periphery she observed how Yuri stretched his arms, finally resting them on the bench's support just behind her. "It would be a lot easier for you if, say, you get tied up with another noble. Not to disregard all your efforts, of course, but I'm sure you know there are advantages of already holding onto an existing name. Adjoin territories with an existing noble, and coupled with your efforts in magical advancements, boom, House Nuvelle has its comeback the soonest, just like you've dreamed of."

"So you are saying that I can make use of my hypothetical noble husband's already existing name to heighten my chances of attaining peerage from the emperor?"

"Exactly. Being raised in a noble house, I'm certain you are not a stranger to the idea of political marriages."

"That matters not," she quickly dismissed, already feeling irritated by what he was insinuating. "Especially in this new social order. I'm sure you are aware of that as well."

"I am, but I'm certain you also recognize you would still gain an upper hand by being connected with a noble, especially now that we're still at the dawn of the new age. Time is essential. You need to recognize all the available cards to attain your goals."

She turned to meet his gaze. He was staring back at her, waiting for her answer.

"Allow me clarify that as keen as I am to achieve my goals, I would like to experience a real marriage."

Yuri opened his mouth to say something, but she continued to speak.

"Ideally," she added. "However, if, by some unavoidable circumstances I were to enter a marriage of convenience, regardless of the person's nobility, I'd rather be with someone in the same wavelength as I am. I value someone's morals, character, and competence over their superficial titles."

"Wow," he remarked, and she knew a smirk was growing on his lips. "Was that a compliment, just now?"

She looked away, feeling flustered. "Why do I feel as if you are regretting making this marriage proposal with me? Already trying to sell me off to other nobles so I will change my mind?"

"I'm not!" he said, "You are absolutely mistaken; it's the other way around, actually. I'm merely laying out all the possibilities. Just testing if you'll be able to keep the end of your bargain."

"You know I abhor owing anybody, so of course I would. Besides, it's not like I can do anything now since you've set everything in motion already."

"Well, you actually can. You have every right to refuse."

She crossed her arms. "And then what? You would plunge your blade at me the moment I divert myself to another path?"

She was expecting that usual, irritating smile to appear on his face; however, she was surprised to witness something else. His eyes. . .seemed sad?

"Hey, I wouldn't be that extreme."

He gave off a chuckle that bellowed from his core.

"You'll break my heart, though."

His words had been voiced in his usual casual tone that she wondered if he would follow it up with remarks that he was only saying it in jest. A part of her wished he would, which meant he was feigning hurt. . .

Yet he said nothing else, his gaze stuck on the body of water in front of them. Again, she couldn't tell what was really on his mind. . .

The cool midnight winds surged again. It sent shivers in her spine that she found herself leaning backwards, making her back brush against his arm. In other circumstances, she figured he would have taken the chance to tease her, possibly pull her closer even. . .Yet he didn't. She wasn't certain if she should be happy about that.

"Anyway, those are all hypothetical situations," she said, hoping to shift the mood. "Right now, there is no other path."

"Lovely, then. I have you all for myself."

She found it both admirable and annoying how he could say such things with a straight face.

"Y-yes. For now, we shall proceed to that. . .procedure of yours."

Her remark was met with silence, unusual from someone like him that it made her look to him again. He looked completely confused.

"'Procedure. . .?'" he said slowly. For some reason, she felt more flustered as the seconds passed.

"Y-you are a smart one," she snapped, embarrassed how her speech faltered once more, "Figure it out yourself!"

With a huff, she sat straight, moving herself away from the bench, only for Yuri's arm to pull her back and make her lean on him.

"Ah! I remember now. How I said we should start off as lovers."

As expected, he got it correctly. She made no sound of affirmation nevertheless, as she fully expected him to tease her about it. . .

But to her surprise, the arm around her shoulder uncurled away, and his hand moved towards the side of her arm, the touch of his palm trickling her skin. His fingers began to tap rhythmically against her arm, and the odd, playful gesture sent her heart racing at higher intervals.

"You're really all about procedures, aren't you?"

"It's simply the way I learn best," she said, ignoring the fact how red her cheeks must've been already. It didn't matter; it was dark, and from the angle, she doubted he could see her face anyway. "What, are you taking that against me?"

"Well, no," he said, "Actually, I find that trait of yours rather charming."

She no longer responded, and silence filled the air once more. His fingers continued to brush against her. It was strangely soothing, calming. Perhaps, those were also perfect words to describe that moment.

In the midst of it, she let all their prior conversations sink within her. The feelings were at least mutual, so perhaps they were likely on the right track. . . ? She couldn't say for certain; perhaps they would only really know when they cross that particular bridge. . .

With her mind swimming with thoughts, she did not realize how much her body had already relaxed against his and how he let her, that one breezy midnight.