One time, Constance suggested an idea of going to the surface. It didn't surprise him at first, since he assumed she meant another peaceful stroll with the night sky above them.

Until she clarified that she meant going to the surface during the day. When he asked her why, she simply responded that she wanted him to accompany her for a visit to this newly-opened confectionery in a nearby town.

He was aware that despite her condition, Constance was the sort of person who would face the sunlight if she really needed to. Her efforts to attend the professor's classes, her intermittent visits to the greenhouse and stables, and her willingness to join the battlefield no matter what hour were enough proof that she really wasn't a full-time "Shady Lady."

On one hand, he knew there was likely some truth to what she said; after all, they knew each other well enough to know about their mutual liking for sweets. On the other hand, he knew there was also something that she wasn't telling him. Did her craving really outweigh her discomforts of going outside, especially when other options to obtain said sweets were available?

With his years of knowing her, Yuri already knew better than to accept whatever she said at face value.

Of course, it took him a while to reach that sort of judgment, because his first impression of her was surely far from pleasant. Because that imposing, grandiose way she made herself appear to others—he found it absolutely irritating.

As he thought about it, he wasn't certain if it was merely his prior circumstances that made him easily pissed off. After all, during that time frame, he had just been pulled into a scandal which, to summarize it, involved killing his knight companions to save his old friends, leading him to be expelled from the academy. It was a decision difficult to swallow, and he imagined he wouldn't be the most patient person that time.

Though to be fair, Aelfric had already debriefed him about her—a former student enrolled a year before him. Said lady was from the nobility apparently, but for whatever reason, chose to stay underground instead of attending her classes.

He first surmised she was likely some noble brat in a rebellious stint, until he learned that she was the sole survivor of the tragedy that caused her house to fall in the war against Dagda. From then on, he actually began to feel guilty for his initial assumptions. . .

. . .Until that high-pitched, haughty laugh of hers reached his ears, along with the lines of how fortunate he was for the chance to be graced with her presence. His thoughts shifted horribly again—that didn't seem to be someone he should feel sorry for. Perhaps it was also that strong, flowery scent from the perfume she used that awfully reminded him of pompous nobles, but starting then, he made it a point to avoid her as much as he could. . .

. . .Which really did not happen, because during those days, Aelfric seemed rather keen about the thought of them getting along for some reason.

He often made jokes about establishing the fourth underground house of the Officers Academy—which to be fair, really did happen the following year when Hapi and Balthus arrived—and how Yuri should be the one to lead it. To his surprise Constance did not have any qualms about it; he expected she'd at least prattle about it being her noble right or something but she resigned herself to the idea. A part of him, though, assumed being a leader was not really a priority since she was bent on restoring her house.

Still, since then, he began to see her in a different light—moreso when Aelfric made them do group tasks together. She continued to prove him wrong when he witnessed her doing her part each time, all in a "splendid" manner, even, as she often described, that sometimes he couldn't even argue about it. Which was totally unexpected because that was unlike the majority of the other nobles he met in his life who pretty much made him do all the work. If anything she was acting like what every "noble" should be (and not in the way that ticked him off), and it made him wonder how someone like her, an overachiever, ended up underground instead of graduating from the academy. Aelfric never really elaborated why she wasn't fond of going back to the surface. . .

It was only until he saw her disposition in a literally different light that he learned why.

Yuri had encountered many people in his life. He took pride in his ability to know how to deal with people of various characters to get what he wanted. Sometimes he likened those people to the vast collection of books in the Shadow Library—just give him moments to study them and he'd know all their contents. It was especially necessary to do in his line of work.

Some books however, still require extensive amounts of rereading to understand.

Like Constance.

She was like a loud yet peculiar open book that one might think they'd easily understand. . . Until they encounter all the plot twists every time a page is turned. Yuri himself was still trying to master the skill of bracing himself for said plot twists.

The following day came. He noticed how gradually her walking slowed down as they neared the stairway going up to the surface. He mirrored her pace until they were only a few steps away from the lines dividing the shadows of the tunnel and the light from the outside.

Constance already had her head stooped low, her hands held together as her thumbs brushed anxiously against each other. He walked ahead of her, letting himself be consumed by the sunlight. He continued to observe her as he began to feel the heat of the sun against his body.

"Well, the pastries are waiting."

She said nothing in reply, gaze still locked on the stone floor. Her hesitance reminded him of the day he discovered the reason why she preferred hanging out in the dark. That time, he couldn't understand why she was so fussy about retrieving a damn book in the monastery when she had no qualms about answering loads of arithmetic questions.

"What's wrong?" He gave her a worried look. It wasn't really the first time he would see her that way, right?

She lifted her head up slightly, eyes still not meeting his.

"You said you intend to accept me and all that is me, correct?"

He noted how reserved she sounded, though with her choice of words, he knew that the sun had not fully "consumed" her yet.

"Yes. As I would expect you to accept all that is Yuri."

His words finally had gotten her to look at him. Her eyes squinted, gaze faltering. He grew even more conscious of the stark warmth against his back.

She breathed hard, taking a step forward. Looking down, her footwear was already at the edge of the shadows, not entirely stepping out of them yet. He wondered if in her shoes, the experience was really something like entering into another world.

"Then," she said with a nod, "Let us begin."

He took her words as the cue to reveal what he had been trying to keep hidden from her sights—a parasol. Opening it caused the shadows underneath their feet to widen. Briefly, he inwardly rejoiced witnessing how surprised she looked, though her gaze lowered again soon enough.

"I am afraid this is not some simple parlor trick that would just vanquish with such devices."

He gave her a weak smile before reaching out his hand. She only looked at it.

"I figured as much," he admitted. He knew about her futile efforts in treating her own condition. One of them, he heard from Hapi, was how she attempted to create a charm capable of summoning the clouds in the sky, only to end up misplacing it at some point. He imagined it was likely a failure too—she would've searched hard for it, or heck, attempted to duplicate it if it really did work. "But this can still help, right? Not sure if you'd believe me but I'm not a big fan of the sun myself. I prefer being shrouded in a little shadow than facing it head on."

To his relief, she finally gave in, accepting his hand. He pulled her to his side, guiding her hands so they were locked onto his arm. They ascended the stairway together with the parasol above them, and with a few familiar turns they reached the monastery grounds. He thought everything was going well until he sensed her hands gradually releasing themselves from him. He looked at her curiously.

"I, I am afraid this is much more suitable," she remarked, her tone exceedingly meek. He leaned the parasol more to her side despite feeling the warmth creeping on his skin. Perhaps it really was too small against the power of the sunlight?

"What do you mean?" he asked, stopping under the shade of a tree near the dormitories. Still, he noted no changes in her disposition whatsoever.

"If you allow myself to hold on to you any longer, it shall be difficult to cleanse the filth that my unworthy hands would carry over to your garments."

He looked at her with disbelief. It sounded . . . ridiculous, but despite that, he couldn't really find himself laughing.

Especially when he knew how Constance was letting him see this more vulnerable side of her. He knew it wasn't easy for her, and yet she still did.

Then it started to make sense. He noticed something off about her ever since the time he saw her crying in her sleep. Neither of them really brought up what had been bothering her. . . or at least, he felt like he shouldn't, not until he knew she herself was comfortable with it.

Was this her answer then? Was it a test? Was that the whole point why she invited him out in the first place?

Because if it was, then he'd just have to prove to her how he had no intentions of letting her go.

He gently took her hand, and he sensed her feeble attempts to pull away. He let his fingers entwine with hers, securing his hand to her.

"If you must insist that your hands are filthy, who else would be a more appropriate partner but a dirty street rat?"

She opened her mouth as if she was going to retort something back, but he started leading her back to the pathways again, hoping she'd no longer argue. It was somehow effective, though her hand felt stiff against his. He began to wonder if he was handling the situation correctly. . . especially more when he became conscious of how firmly he was actually grasping onto her.

Immediately he loosened his grip, cursing at himself for such a careless action; his clients from years ago often made remarks about how charmingly 'rough' and 'aggressive' he could be. But of course he was rough; he'd rather do something else if he had a better choice. Oftentimes they were intentionally done out of spite, and it's probably the only thing that made the acts 'fun' for him.

As his thoughts returned to the present, he reminded himself that he was no longer partaking in those shams. Not with her.

"Sorry," he remarked, and he sensed her turning her head in his direction. Surely, the usual Constance would have already berated him for such boorishness. "Did I hurt you?"

"Apologies are unnecessary. Perhaps it was deserved for the crime of inconveniencing you."

If said in a completely different tone, he knew he would've gotten annoyed. But hearing it from such a desolated voice, he just felt bad. And even more guilty.

Thinking about it, it was usually Hapi or Balthus who took turns in cheering her up when they were outdoors. He was at a loss.

"Constance. . ."

Doubt began clouding his mind that his grip began slipping away from hers, and it would have detached completely had he not felt her fingers curling hesitantly at the back of his hand. He turned to her this time, whose gaze was fixated on the ground ahead of them.

"Even though I feel as if I am greatly undeserving of it, such a gesture received from you warms me to my core. As long as you are not bothered by it, then I am not."

He observed her for a few seconds before readjusting his hand with a smile, all while digesting how selfless her words were. That's how she was, wasn't she? Especially out in the sun. Too selfless, too self-sacrificing to a fault. He couldn't count the times when he had to scold her for carelessly charging with her pegasus in an attempt to provide back-up in the war.

His brows furrowed, realizing that Constance had a knack for doing that regardless of the conditions of the sky. The only difference was the way she presented herself—one might think that her usual self was arrogant with the way she declared her name as she decimated enemies, but the fact remained that she would willingly fly herself all the way to the frontlines despite knowing how vulnerable she was for surprise attacks.

At the very core, her actions were selfless. Constance, who regularly expressed concern for the common folk despite no longer having any properties herself, was selfless. It was a trait that perfectly described her, and yet it's something so masterfully masked with the way she presented herself. Whether it was done intentionally or subconsciously, he couldn't say for certain, but because of that, anyone with a shallow understanding could easily overlook and dismiss it.

Constance always made comments about feeling frustrated whenever she said words that sound 'nothing like herself.' It was obvious that she had 'two' personalities, and one could easily conclude that her disposition in the sun was what she was talking about. But was it also possible that her domineering self was actually a mask she used to protect herself? To hide her true thoughts and feelings?

"Please forgive me."

Her voice snapped him out of his musings.


"If you may allow me to raise my observations, I feel it is unlike yourself to be immersed in such extended bouts of silence. You need not to hide your vexation if you feel I am being an unsuitable conversational partner."

Heat rushed to his face; he didn't realize he was too deep in his thoughts. She likely mistook that for discomfort in their situation.

"I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me for even suggesting this exercise. Perhaps this was an unwise decision. Should we head back to Abyss—"

"No," he quickly remarked as he squeezed her hand briefly. The gesture made her look at their linked hands. "No one's really coming back unless we got our hands on those pastries."

"Are you certain? Because if you feel like you are simply being forced to, I will not take offense and we can simply pretend none of this ever happened—"

"Yes I am," he replied even more determined. "Because I want to know you more, Constance."

The smallest of smiles made its way to her lips, and it was something he hoped to see for the rest of the day.

"As you wish," she said.

They reached the confectionery soon enough. Constance still stood rather timidly despite being indoors; the sun was just too relentless that day that it leaked through the glass windows. The crowds were a little more than he expected, and he wouldn't really be bothered by it if he didn't notice how discomfited she looked. After a quick self-deliberation, he placed an arm over her shoulder, leaning closer to her ear.

"I hope you aren't thinking that you're spreading filth with your presence again."

Her eyes lit up in surprise, a reaction he found to be . . . cute.

"It seems you know the confines of my mind all too well already," she whispered back. He grinned.

"Just remember, I'm right here with you. The king of the rats."

"Then if you must insist you are a rat, surely, I am something even beneath it. A squalid insect? Excrement?"

He fought the urge to shake his head. It was bizarre, heck, amazing how easily she could flip a statement against herself.

"You know excrement can still be pretty useful. For instance, the greenhouse. High-grade stuff from pegasi makes the crops flourish."

She seemed to want to say something back, but closed her mouth again. He followed her gaze, just to discover that they were already next in line and that the storekeeper was giving them weird looks, likely overhearing their odd conversation.

Eventually, they ended up buying half a dozen of the store's best selling pastries. He was happy to note how delighted she seemed when he handed her one; he could relate since he excited himself—heck, he already had a bite or two!

While hers remained untouched.

"Um, Constance? Aren't you going to eat that?"

"Seeing you filled with glee already satiates my hunger. My mind has already decided to offer my part of the pastries to you."

Her suggestion was paired with such a sweet, genuine (distracting) smile that it almost made him forget how absurd her words actually were.

"And I am having none of that. Come on, eat up."

"But it is merely appropriate to provide you the luxury of sweets instead. Especially after having proclaimed yourself as the king of rodents."

He stifled a laugh—how dare she use his own words on him! At the same time, he realized how the current Constance was just as stubborn as her other personality. He mentally noted how it was another trait of hers that remained the same no matter what circumstance.

"And the king says he wants his queen to eat her treats."

She knit her brows, looking at the frosted bun between her fingers. "But such beautifully crafted pastry should only be tasted by—"

Yuri grinned as she inadvertently bit on the other side of his pastry which he shoved towards her mouth. She glared at him with disbelief (cute) before it shifted to shock as he nonchalantly ate the rest of the bun.

"I. . . I already bit on that and yet you. . . "

"Yeah, I did," he dismissed, taking another pastry from the box, "Tastes good, right? Come on, eat it up."


"No more arguments. Or I'll get angry."

He noticed her obvious distress at his remark which made him a little guilty, considering how the conditions made her extra sensitive. Okay, maybe he should have phrased that a lot better.

"Wait, look. Not really angry. Maybe just a little? But only because I don't want you deprived of something that I think you deserve."

His response seemed to make her ponder, and soon enough, she slowly began to move the pastry towards her mouth, only to change her mind when he saw her moving it towards his mouth instead. He stopped her with his free hand.

"Constance," he mentioned after heaving a sigh, his patience being tested, "What did I just say—"

"If you phrase it that way," she interrupted, not really making any effort to set her wrist free, "you made me consume a part of your pastries; therefore you were not able to fully receive your deserved portion. That said, I feel I have deprived you of your fill. This shall only make it fair, shall it not?"

He blinked once. Twice.

Alright, she caught him there.

Chuckling, he gave in and allowed her to guide the pastry towards his mouth. As the icing briefly smooshed against his lips, he witnessed the satisfaction in her eyes and the growing smile on her face. He recognized his cheeks flaring up, and he knew it wasn't just because of the warm weather.

It didn't stop there, because after she finally took a bite out of her own free will (thank the goddess), she raised her other hand, and without warning, let her thumb brush against his bottom lip.

He did not expect that. At all. And while he took pride in donning different masks to conceal his true emotions, he knew he was still prone to certain situations that would catch him off-guard. The lips, as he recalled reading during one of his self-studies, were one of the most sensitive parts of the body, so of course such breaches in personal space would warrant some sort of reaction in him. He'd know too, basing from all the different reactions he garnered from doing said breaching all those years. It wasn't very often that he was on the receiving end of it, however.

Whatever reaction he did likely made her assume something wrong again, as she hurriedly apologized for her actions, raising that she simply wished to rid of the sugary stain besmirching his face. Before she could sputter any more of her outlandishness, he pulled her hand back and proceeded to lick the sweet frosting from her finger. The action caused her eyes to widen, before she lowered her head to a point where he could no longer see her face; at the same time, she was also mumbling something incoherent.

Why exactly he did that, he was not certain. Sure, he loved teasing Constance if only to witness the way she reacted every time, but he also knew it was a challenge to fluster her with his usual methods when they were out on the surface.

(He anticipated, though, that she'd admonish him for such scandalous acts in public the moment they'd return to the shade.)

He looked at her again. Perhaps she was flustered, though seemed to be handling it in a much reserved way. Which was no fun, especially when admittedly, he was still a little flustered with the whole brushing-his-lip stunt.

Okay, maybe it really was his way of getting back at her (even when she technically didn't have any malicious intent.)

Goddess, she really caught him there.

The rest of the day was spent walking around the town, going through different stores and enjoying the sights. From time-to-time, he still attempted to hold her hand, which was no longer about teasing her or gaining reactions or whatnot. He discovered she really did seem to think she was unworthy of any physical affection, so of course he'd try to prove otherwise. She most often responded with such a resigned look on her face, however, which made him wonder if it was okay to seemingly force her in such circumstances. Sometimes he wished he could really see the confines of her mind.

Eventually he also made another discovery.

If physical gestures did not fluster her as much as it did when she was underground, he learned something else did.

He swore he saw her blushing when he complimented the progress of her ongoing research.

In other circumstances (i.e. underground), her usual reaction was to laugh it off, adding that such advancements in spellcraft were merely expected from someone of her character—the typical, proud Constance in other words. So it definitely came as a surprise to see her looking away with such redness spreading on her cheeks. . . He made another mental note to ponder more about those observations later on.

Soon, the sun started to set. They both took that as the cue to return to the underground.

It had been a long day, but he could say it was a good sort of tired. No pressures about time being spent, no pretenses. Which was unusual, he knew, because those were likely reasons why he didn't like the daylight so much. Less shadows meant more effort to conceal emotions that were better off hidden within. It occurred to him there had been no need to don any masks throughout his day with Constance. Especially when she was unveiling the side of her that he knew she'd rather conceal to others.

"Yuri, thank you."

He looked to her, and then by reflex, up to the sky. Splashes of orange and blue were converging in the horizons. The sun's warmth still lingered, and shadows began growing all over the monastery grounds. He realized he wasn't sure which of her two personalities he was speaking to.

He shook his head, smiling.

"No, Constance. Thank you."

In the end, he knew it shouldn't even matter, because she was still Constance, either way.