The wind blew silent and chilly, yet not cold; it swayed the thin branches of the tall trees, and cluttered grass and shrubbery, and stray pebbles and stones scattered about the massive floor. Save for its occasional whizz, there was temporary silence that had triumphed over the world, as two pairs of eyes settled onto one another.
Lino stared at Hannah’s expression with a faint smile of amusement, his hand still gently caressing her cheek. Meanwhile, Hannah’s expression seemed to have frozen halfway between shock, joy and embarrassment, unable to settle on any one particular feeling.
“... you alright?” though very much content with seeing that expression of hers, Lino decided to check in with her after solid five minutes of silence.
“A-a-alright, of-of course I’m alright,” she mumbled with an awkward chuckle. “I, I mean, I just accidentally misheard something there--”
“I’m fairly certain you didn’t.”
“... you gotta give me a warning dude!” she cried out. “Like, you know, drop a hint or two prior to just outright saying it! I could have died!”
“Because my heart literally stopped beating for like three minutes there!”
“... yeah, there’s something really wrong with you.” Lino said.
“No, no, don’t pin this on me! How can you just, you know, so casually drop it into the conversation like it’s not a big deal?!”
“... because it’s not a big deal?” Lino said. “It’s not like you didn’t know.”
“... delicacy, Lino. Delicacy! You know? You build up the moment! Maybe, maybe fix me a fine dinner, pop open the best bottle of wine you have--”
“I did that, though. Well, the wine thing at least.”
“And you lead into it!” Hannah sighed, doing her best to steer forth despite knowing she had gone too far already.
“Oh, like your first time telling me that you love me was so romantic.” Lino rolled his eyes at her.
“What? I never said that!” she exclaimed hurriedly.
“Oh, come on! Do you know how much you talk in your sleep?!”
“That doesn’t count! I wasn’t of sound mind!”
“... you wanna drop it?” Lino asked, smiling faintly.
“Yes... please...” she sighed, nudging her head into his chest. “Oh. Your heart is beating really quickly.”
“... of course it is,” he said, gently kissing her head. “I’ve just said something really important, and the girl I’ve said it to had the most major freak-out of her life. Kinda hurt, actually.”
“... I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “You... you just caught me by surprise, you know? I mean, I already sort of, kind of, maybe, probably knew that it was perhaps, most-likely, generally implied... but those are two completely different things, you know?”
“Oh, I know plenty things,” Lino said. “Just happen not to know one more.”
“Do you plan on saying it back or just stuffing that whole moment into the awkward drawer?”
“... you really have no delicacy, you know?” Hannah said, sighing and looking up.
“Delicacy? Are you sure you’re the one to talk about ‘delicacy’?” Lino scoffed. “I don’t even dare imagine the unspeakable things you’ve done to my chump, let alone share them with anyone. And then there’s you who goes into the battle; you’re like this cold, calculating sociopath that’s always thinking of the most evil ways to either humiliate or kill someone. You’re as delicate as a mountain of iron is.”
“Ugh, fine! You want to hear it, huh?!” she shot up on her feet.
“Are you sure?! ‘Cause you can’t un-hear stuff like this!”
“I’m sure!” Lino shot up with her. “Give me the worst!”
“I love you too!” she cried out with a faint blush. “I love you so much I want to punch you in the face for saying I’m not delicate! Do you know how much that actually hurt?!”
“Uh--I--I’m sorry, but, you know--”
“I know I’m not delicate, goddammit!”
“... whoops, who called out the crazy one, ha ha -- ha?”
“Oh, you think I’m crazy now?!”
“... no.” Hell-to-the-yes-woman!
“... I know I’m not delicate,” she said, shimmering down. “I... I don’t know how to dance. I don’t know how to properly drink tea, or stack sixteen layers of shit on top of myself just so my dress would look puffy and pretty. I don’t have smooth, snow-white skin without any scars. I know I curse a lot... I know my laughter probably scares you from time to time... I know I snore when I sleep which is why I always desperately try to get you to sleep first...”
“... is this why you try to get me drunk every time we want to sleep?” Lino mumbled more so to himself than her.
“And, and I know I’m very greedy when it comes to rare materials even though they’ve been literally sitting in my ring for like ten years! Ten years Lino! For ten fucking years I’ve been saying I’m gonna take them to a smith and have him craft me something! For ten whole goddamn years! You know what really happened?”
“... you didn’t go to a smith?”
“Never went to a smith! We have one of the best blacksmiths literally two minutes away from my house in my Sect, but I never went! I, I don’t know why, you know? I just always imagine there’s someone better, you know? But there’s no one better. I have to accept the truth... I’m... I’m a hoarder. I’m a not-so-delicate, loud, snoring, plain-dress-wearing, cursing, greedy hoarder Lino.”
“... wow.” Lino took a deep breath, unable to look away from the blushed, puffed cheeks and somewhat moisty, emerald-green eyes. “I thought I had issues, but goddamn woman.”
“... when you said it,” Hannah said, smiling. “Do you know how happy it made me? I... I just froze.”
“Yup, been there, witnessed that.”
“And then, I started thinking... which parts of me does he actually love? What about all of my ugly sides? What if he stops loving me once he discovers them?”
“... you sound very needy now,” Lino said, his eyes turning into slits. “And very whiny. This doesn’t sound like you at all.”
“... well, it was either this or me repeatedly asking you ‘hey, would you say you still love me even if I do this and that’, so, you know, I went with this one.” Hannah shrugged.
“... why does it even matter though?” Lino said. “I mean, not to, you know, piss on your whole self-deprecation parade because I love it, but I’m the royal emperor of fucked up Hannah, and, against all your better judgment, you still fell in love with me.” he chuckled faintly, walking over toward her. “Do you really think I care whether you’re delicate or not? If I wanted someone delicate, I wouldn’t be going around with a fucking Bearer, but some farmer chick who’d never picked up a weapon in her life. These past few months that I’ve spent with you... it was like I was twelve all over again,” he stopped right in front of her, wrapping his arms around her lower back and pulling her in. “Watching the girl I was crushing on hard make us a dinner while occasionally giving me a stink eye for refusing to help her. Back then, though... despite how much I wanted you to stay with me, I knew I had nothing to offer. I knew that, if I would ever have any right to stand by your side, I had to make something of myself. And, truth be told, I’m still not that confident.”
“... ha ha, you really are... insane.” Hannah laughed, pressing her head into his chest gently.
“... fancy dresses, sipping tea, wearing puffy dresses that make you look fat...” Lino said. “I’m sure that a lot of guys and gals out there dream of those things. But, to me, those literally sound like the most boring activities possible aside from like dying or something. Standing by your side while we whoop some major ass and flip the world off? Now... that sounds like one hell of a party if you ask me.”
“... ah, yeah, you’re right.” Hannah said, clawing her head out of his chest and looking up, meeting his gaze. “If I can love you with your huge pile of issues farting in my direction repeatedly, I’m sure you can handle a few of my kinks, right?”
“... that was on purpose, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“... and that’s one of the reasons I love you.” he smiled.
“... we’re gonna be fine, aren’t we?” she mumbled.
“Fine?” he leaned in closer. “We’ll be great, Hannah. Best there ever was. A prime example--”
“You should have stopped after the first one.”
“Yeah, it felt like the right thing to do but then I wanted to make it more special and it just sort of spiraled, you know?”
“Ah, I know sweetie... I know... now give me that kiss before you keep spouting shit and ruin the whole thing.”
“Good idea!” Lino quickly pressed his lips against her, clutching her closer to him. The warmth of her body seeped into his, filling him tenderly. Among many defining moments he’d experience in life, he’d always recall this one as the centerpiece; it was the moment when his will, heart and soul molded briefly into a singularity, and he became whole. It wasn’t a life-altering moment, or a world-changing one, but it was the moment he would remember whenever he needed hope.