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Albert stumbles through the woods, having to detangle himself from the undergrowth and mess of branches on the forest grounds. He grumbles as he wiggles himself out, shaking and brushing the leaves off his body as soon as he is free. Albert believed that he could at least find more honeysuckle bushes had he gone deeper into the forest it borders, but apparently flowers don’t have a home in the forest. Disappointed with finding nothing, he lets out a sigh as he decides to turn back.

A scream interrupts his thoughts, and Albert immediately pricks up at the ruckus. Priding himself on his speed, he starts running toward where he assumed the source of the sound was. He deftly gets through the forest’s debris, clumsily finding that he still got close to getting his ankle stuck in another mess of branches. Regardless, he continued through before he reached a clearing, eyes widening as he noticed monsters surrounding what he suspects is a young girl. They have long pink hair elegantly pulled together in a loose ponytail tied by a ribbon. They’re dressed like a noble, but things like class do little to interfere with Albert’s desire to save them. The first thing that runs through his head is: cute .

The young blond scampers to crouch behind one of the tree’s trunks, taking the time to examine the scene more clearly. He’s had his few run-ins with monsters, but usually then he’d be armed with something. Maybe it was his fault for not taking at least a dagger with him to protect himself from the monsters in the forest. He hasn’t yet mastered his magic either, being under the care of the orphanage ever since his father died last year. He scans the forest floor, and he swiftly seizes one of the bigger branches that could at least land a mean enough hit to make sure Albert would have the time to grab the other child and flee. 

He sucks in a breath, and finally emerges from behind the tree, yelling as he brings the branch down on the monster like a sword. Of course, the branch does little besides slightly scratch the monster, but his ambush does enough to catch them off guard. He makes eye contact with the girl(?) and grins widely. “Come on! Start running! I’ll be right behind you.”

They nod, and take advantage of the monster’s confusion to start running, but they come toward his direction and grabs him by the arm. Albert barely has enough time to catch his breath, but falls in suit with the other child and sprints out of the forest, with the monsters hot on their trail.

“I have an idea,” the other child says, and Albert notes that their voice is more boyish than he had imagined. “Would you mind helping me move that large branch over here.”

“N-No problem!” Albert stammers, still reeling from hearing their voice so suddenly. He nonetheless complies, hauling the branch over that would essentially act to trip the monsters. Both of them being small children, there isn’t much they can do to completely block them, but it looks like they could at least slow them down. “We’ll have to be as fast as lightning.”

“Swift as a clap of thunder?” The other suggests with a small laugh, referring to the nature of the magic the kingdom specialized in. The power over the storms. Albert had control over electricity himself, but still hadn't learned the essentials of controlling it yet… however, if it came to it, he would use it.

Albert laughs at the suggestion, taking the other by the hand and leading the both of them out of the forest.

★★★

The two finally reach the entrance of the forest that Albert used, the fragrant smell of honeysuckles tickling their noses as they came to. Albert falters and lets himself collapse onto the grass to catch his breath. 

His companion seems hesitant about this, and simply just keeps standing there, although has placed a hand on their knee to keep themselves from toppling. Albert then notes at this point that the other had been holding onto a notebook in their other hand. Uncertain of what to address them by, Albert opens his mouth finally to introduce himself.

“Looks like we got out of there safely! I’m Albert,” He says cheerfully as he sticks a hand out, “you?”

The other smiles softly, and takes Albert’s offered hand and squeezes it, “My name is Yurius. I’m the adopted son of the duke that lives nearby.”

The son? Well, that clears things up. Albert nods his head eagerly, and then, somewhat mischievously, he thinks to tug on their interlocked hands. He causes Yurius to tumble down with him on the grass, but makes sure to cushion his fall with his own body.

Yurius lets out a yelp as he stumbles down near Albert, immediately rolling himself off of Albert’s body as soon as he fell. “Look at that. You made my clothes dirty.”

“Isn’t that more comfy, Yurius?” Albert asks cheekily, averting his gaze slightly from Yurius to look at the blue sky. “Hey, why were you in there anyway? That’s not the kinda place you should wander into without protection.”

“Mm,” Yurius hums, “I wanted to study the plants there. I didn’t anticipate meeting any monsters. Why were you in there?”

“Me?” Albert blinks, “Uhh… I didn’t want to pay for flowers so I was thinking of picking some from the wild. You see those honeysuckles behind us? I was thinking that there’s more flowers in the forest…”

Yurius laughs, “don’t be silly! Flowers don’t usually grow in forests. You can barely see the sun in there, so that’s why flowers won’t be able to grow in that kind of environment.”

Albert groans, “really? I was just looking in the wrong place then. You don’t need to go back yet, right?”

Yurius pauses, seeming to think for a bit before finally shaking his head. “No. They don’t care when I get back.”

“Really?” Albert asks, “I’d think that since you’re the son of a duke and all you’d have people nagging you constantly.”

“Not really,” Yurius returns, “It feels like I don’t… um… Oh, Albert, I know a place with flowers. Let’s go there.”

Albert briefly wonders why Yurius glided over talking about his problems, but nods regardless. He perks up at the idea of finding a place with actual flowers, and he rolls over slightly so he faces Yurius directly. He beams, “An actual flower field? Let’s go!” 

“All right,” Yurius giggles, his gaze lingering on Albert longer than necessary as Albert rose from his position. Albert doesn’t notice, but grabs Yurius by the hand and pulls him up.

“Lead the way, Yurius!”

★★★

Albert prances about the field of flowers at first, his nose filled with the fresh smell of the plants. Yurius gives off a tiny smile as he points out each flower, informing Albert of which flower was which. Albert listens intently, of course, trying his best to commit the common names to memory as Albert explains them.

Finally, when Yurius stops to catch his breath, Albert opens his mouth to speak. “Yurius, you must really like flowers.”

Yurius hesitates again, between nodding and shaking his head. Ultimately, he shrugs, “Do I? I just happened to find nature interesting.”

Albert squints, pausing to crouch down and pluck one of the flowers from the stem. The flower was what Yurius dubbed an aster, but either way, it suited Yurius perfectly. “Hold still.” The blond warns. He then steps closer to Yurius and clumsily slides the aster flower between strands of pink hair. His fingers brush against the pink lightly, and Albert finds that the other boy’s hair was quite silky. As expected of a noble, though. 

The noble huffs at the gesture, but his smile doesn’t fade-- rather, it grows wider. “You’re silly. Didn’t you want to get some flowers?”

Albert blushes, and meekly nods as he pulls away from Yurius. “R-Right,” He squeaks sheepishly, and averts his head so he could go pick some other flowers. He doesn’t quite know the meaning of any of the flowers, but he picks whatever he recognizes as what his father left on his mother’s grave back when he was alive. Additionally, some ones that reminded him of his father.

Despite it only being a year, Albert has already become accustomed to the loneliness. His father was one of the esteemed Knights of Levin, and had worked his way up the ranks. Yet such a great soldier died in an accident on a mission, of all things. Despite this, Albert holds no resentment toward the king-- he was convinced that his father died for the kingdom’s good. It began to feel like his father wasn’t even a part of his life all along. 

“Albert?” Yurius calls, snapping Albert out of his thoughts. 

Albert freezes slightly from the shock, but realizes that he’d been squeezing the flowers’ stems tightly. He lets out a sigh, relaxing his grip on them. “Sorry… I think I got enough, so let’s go.”

Yurius doesn’t say anything in return, but approaches him with his own flower creation. It looks less than a hat and more of a childish crown, which Yurius seems to giggle at as he puts it on top of Albert’s head. “Just like I thought.”

Albert flushes, “What? It doesn’t fit me like it does you, Yurius!”

“I think it suits you,” Yurius reassures him with a smile, “It’s getting a little late, so we should go.”

“Already?” Albert gasps, already dropping the subject of the flower crown, “I have to go to my parent’s grave. Do you want to come too?”

Yurius pauses, “We just met today. You’d invite a stranger?”

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Albert says matter of factly, eyes sparkling as he looks directly into Yurius’s. 

The other blinks owlishly at his declaration, but dips his head. “I’d like that. But, I think you should go by yourself. Maybe another time since I should go home.” 

Better than nothing. Albert grins and nods, “That’s okay. Can we hang out again tomorrow?”

Yurius hums, seeming to think for a few minutes before nodding. “Okay. I’ll be at the forest entrance tomorrow.”

“Really? I’ll see you tomorrow then!” Albert exclaims, waving his hand vigorously as he watches Yurius smile at him once more and wave back as they part ways. A warm feeling grows in his chest after the fact. He’s not really sure what it is, but he’s glad that he’s made such a nice and smart friend today.

Since it made Yurius laugh so sweetly, Albert decides to just keep the flower crown on for the rest of the day.

★★★

The two started to hang out everyday, usually in the afternoon whenever Yurius was done with his lessons and Albert was done with helping around in town. He told Yurius about the small quests he carries out through the day, and Yurius would make heads and tails out of it and the two would enjoy the spoils of the menial tasks-- usually in the obtainment of sweets from the general store or occasionally a toy if Albert bothered saving up the rupies. Yurius also talked about his studies, which Albert wasn’t able to completely understand, but listened and admired Yurius’s passion nonetheless.

The sweets varied by the day, but the two would go back to the honey candies at least once a week. It was one of the simpler candies the store had to offer, but both Albert and Yurius saw it as a nostalgic taste. It’s something they associated with their halcyon days.

Again, the two purchase a bag of honey candies fastened by a yellow bow. Yurius unravels the ribbon and opens the bag, tilting it toward Albert first. Albert graciously grabs a piece and pops it in his mouth, and Yurius does the same.

Albert savors the hard candy in his mouth, but immediately takes his mind off the taste as he opens his mouth to recount his day. “I’m a pretty fast runner, so I helped chase down some purse thief so the knights could arrest him.”

“Quite the hero you are, Albert,” Yurius remarks thoughtfully, “Lessons were… not as interesting as your pursuit for justice.”

Albert laughs, “It’s not like that! I bet you did some fun research after, right?”

Yurius shrugs, “Just looking at the same samples we got last week.” He grabs the notebook he had tucked under his arm, opening it to the page where he pressed a purple flower into. Albert scoots closer to view the journal entry better, and he bobs his head as his eyes scan the entry.

“So this can cure a cold?” Albert asks, a hand hovering over where the flower was.

His friend nods, and smiles, “they help with the stuffy nose, I think. You can actually eat these.”

“Maybe another time,” Albert mutters dumbly, tearing his gaze away from the book and looking at Yurius with a renewed passion in his eyes. “Wanna hear something the knights told me?”

Yurius perks up, and shuts the book. “Did they tell you to join?” He questions, something of a dark tone underlying in his tone. “It’d make it easy for us to use our powers… but your father was part of the knights, right?”

“That’s why I’m hesitant,” Albert sighs, “Dad never really was around because of it. I feel like I’d understand him more… and if I can help Levin by joining the knights, then what am I waiting for?”

“For us to be old enough to join,” Yurius teases with a small smile, “If that’s the case, Albert, I’ll join with you when we’re both old enough.”

“Really?” Albert reaches for another piece and pops it in his mouth. The sweetness melts on his tongue, and his heart starts to pound at the offer.

“Of course. We’re friends, aren’t we?” Yurius echoes his words from months before back to him, and also takes another hard candy out from the bag. He tosses it in his mouth, humming slightly as he continues to stare at Albert fondly. 

“Thanks, Yurius. It really means a lot to me.” Albert nods, kicking his feet off the bench and jumping right back up on the ground. “Say, is it easy to join?”

“Easier with a Duke’s word, I bet,” Yurius replies smoothly, a glint in his eyes as the two start to hatch up a plan that would guarantee their acceptance into the fold of the knights.

With a few years before Albert’s 16th birthday, the two decided to find a way to improve themselves as worthy knights-- so much that they’d have to accept Albert, even if he was a commoner.

★★★

“Yurius, what are you reading?” Albert asks as he plops in the seat next to his friend, peering over his shoulder to get a closer look of the book’s contents. It seems pretty long, although he notes that the other page was a full color illustration. It portrays a picturesque scene of two young men, one with a gallant and noble appearance, and the other with the brightest smile he’s ever seen. The both of them held swords, and their blades crossed as they looked at each other with immense intensity. Utter trust in one another. 

Albert observes that this picture is the perfect depiction of a bond of loyalty-- a truth that Albert has come to value in his friendship with Yurius. These years led to the two forming an incredible bond with each other, and it became a scarce occasion to see the two apart from each other in the capital. The bond that the two men in this storybook had… surely is the same as the one he shares with Yurius.

“I would’ve thought Mr. Hero himself would’ve read these already,” Yurius jokes, lifting the book and tilting it so Albert can get a better look. “These are the famed Saint Lethan tales. I can’t help but keep reading them more recently because of our training. It’s quite short, so you can read it right now.” He closes the book, and offers it to Albert.

Albert blinks, and takes it from Yurius. “I’m a fast reader too, you know,” Albert quips, “If it’s as good as you say, then I’m sure I’ll be done in a jiffy.”

“Jiffy?” Yurius bursts out into a fit of laughter, “you sound like the shopkeeper now. Already an old man?”

“I’m only thirteen!” Albert protests, grumbling as he opens the book. He notes the amount of pages in the book, and squints. “What do you mean this is short? This has to be at least 200 pages.”

“The most popular one is the first one… that one takes up almost 80 pages. The rest are just bonus stories.” Yurius shrugs, “you’re a fast reader, aren’t you?”

Albert huffs, “Well, of course! Challenge accepted!”

So Albert begins to read the tales of chivalry, and Yurius has resigned himself to watching him with a fond smile. The blond, true to his word, flips through the page pretty quickly, and gives his all into concentrating on the story inside, oblivious to his surroundings. Sitting in the garden of Yurius’s adoptive father’s manor, there’s nothing but the bustling of servants to serve as distraction. Nonetheless, Yurius makes sure to stay vigilant so Albert isn’t interrupted-- Yurius isn’t bored, of course. He finds that he’s having plenty of fun watching the expressions Albert makes on his face. It’s plainly obvious when he has reached an action-packed scene as Albert’s eyebrows furrow in concern, and the elated smile drawing on his lips tell Yurius that he has reached a scene of triumph. 

“Hehehe…” Yurius lets out without noticing, but flushes once he realizes. Thankfully, Albert is too sucked into the story to notice. Yurius peers over Albert’s shoulder this time to see which page he’s on, and he blinks. “Oh? You’re almost done with the first story already.”

“I told you I was fast,” Albert mutters as he bats Yurius’s head away so he can focus. Yurius stifles his laughter and simply looks on as Albert continues to go through the book. Once he reaches the last page of that chapter, he nods and closes it. “Done now?”

“Yep,” Albert nods, “I like it a whole lot! Now that’s the kind of knight I want to be. I don’t know about being a hero like Foudre, but… well, I think with the two of us we can do anything. Maybe one day we’ll become the saviors of Levin just like these two. What do you say?”

Yurius pauses, but he beams in return. “Like Foudre and Astros? Hm… we can try. Well, Albert. You’re free to have the book.”

“Are you sure?” Albert blinks, “this is a pretty special edition of it…”

“Well, I’m not a kid anymore,” Yurius teases, “I have no need for it.”

“Come on, you’re only like a few months older than me!” Albert retorts, but the two friends’ argument dissipates and turns into a harmonious laughter instead.

Albert then stayed up all night reading the rest of the Saint Lethan Tales. 

★★★

Years passed, and the two successfully enlisted themselves into serving their beloved kingdom. The Knights of Levin welcomed both of them with open arms, and while Albert has his struggles with being underestimated for both his age and status, his speed and ability to keep calm in even the worst of situations earned him the respect of his fellow knights. It's been a number of years since, and the two worked up their way up the ranks quite splendidly. 

However, these days, it’s been impossible for him to be by Yurius’s side constantly like he has before. The two always went on the same missions, but there are times where he wanders and locks onto his research. No matter what, Albert always made sure to protect Yurius from whatever comes their way.

In their meetings with the king, Albert noticed that Yurius always has a distant look in his eyes. He looks hesitant. Scared, even. One night after he and Yurius gave their report, the king specifically requested for Yurius to stay behind by himself.

“I’ll be waiting for you outside then,” Albert announces, clapping his hand on his friend’s shoulder reassuringly as he hurries out of the throne room, leaving swiftly before Yurius could even confirm.

He’s curious-- insanely so about what the king has to say to his friend. Perhaps he’s getting a personal congratulations for all of his achievements? He sighs, slouching against the wall next to the door, and wonders if it’d be dishonorable if he eavesdropped… but he’s so curious! He trains an ear to the door, but realizes his attempts are futile. The walls of the castle are relatively soundproof, however, so Albert couldn’t discern a peep of what the two were discussing. 

Albert sighs, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. Suddenly, exhaustion crashes down on him all at once, and Albert closes his eyes to catch some sleep while Yurius is occupied.

Albert doesn’t know how long it’s been when he finally feels the faint tapping on his shoulder. Immediately, Albert rises from his transient moment of rest, and flashes a small smile at Yurius. “Oh, you’re done. What was that about?”

Yurius opens his mouth, only to close it again. It seems he has to spend time selecting his words, and before Albert could consider it suspicious, Yurius smiles at him. “Just follow me.” He finally says, raising his hand to reveal a ring of keys. He shakes it for good measure, something resembling triumph present on his face. 

“Huh?” Albert blinks, eyes shifting between Yurius and the keys he obtained. Perhaps his mind is too muddled to follow, or maybe Yurius has just been too vague and secretive about everything. Regardless, he still wants to have faith in his friend. He lets out a sigh, scratching the back of his head as he responds, “A-All right, lead the way.”

Yurius lets out a chuckle at his final response, and leads him through the castle’s corridors. Albert tries to memorize the general location and means of getting to wherever Yurius is taking him, trying to pinpoint where in the castle they will be. Yurius did little to explain the circumstances besides showing a key, and Albert doesn’t really know what that’s supposed to mean. Access to some secret archives? Then why would he take Albert with him? He silently follows his friend nonetheless, and the two end up exiting the main palace. Albert at this point begins to recognize the same route to the guardhouse, and his confusion only grows. 

It’s the part of the building that the other knights rarely frequented, so usually Albert never found the need to check up on this part of the building. Yurius stops before the entrance of this side, indicating to Albert that this is most likely some place he’ll be needing to come to more often.

He watches as Yurius picks out the proper key and unlocks the room, his eyes glinting at the furnishings of the room. Albert follows suit, stepping inside and first surveying their surroundings. 

“What is this place?” Albert asks, his eyes landing on the rather plush looking couch against the wall opposing the bookshelves. His feet take him over there, and without any warning, he allows himself to plop onto the comfortable seat. “Oh, these cushions are nice... comfy… is this a breakroom or something?”

Yurius snorts, shaking his head as he steps toward the neatly ordered desk, and then glancing at the bookshelves near it before deciding to settle in the seat next to the desk. “His Majesty oh-so generously provided me with the means to let my research prosper. It took some persuasion, but I managed to get this unused part of the guardhouse renovated into a research lab for myself.”

Albert’s eyes widen at his friend’s explanation. Already he’s been entrusted with a research lab at the age of twenty? Yurius must’ve impressed the King to get something like this. “That’s amazing, Yurius! Of course, you were always a researcher at heart… yet you joined the knights with me.”

“Haha, don’t sound so sad, my friend,” Yurius smiles sweetly, “It’s because of you I was able to procure the perfect environment to do my research.”

“Is that really the case?” Albert questions from his couch, shifting his whole body so he simply just lied on his sideways. “Either way, I know your strengths lie in the pen… ah, is this similar to a strategy room?”

“Oh? Well, certainly. My first order is to focus on improving the Knights of Levin’s tactics. We are Levin’s pride, after all.” Yurius nods thoughtfully, scratching his chin curiously as he seems to think of more. His expression softens, and he gets off of his own seat and walks closer to Albert’s. 

Albert blinks, laughs, and then drags his feet off the couch. He pats the seat next to him for Yurius to sit. Yurius obliges, and the two sit on the couch in silence for a minute, with both pairs of eyes wandering the research lab. 

“This is the place,” Albert finally breaks the silence, “the base of operations for Levin’s future from here on out. Right?”

Yurius nods in agreement, “Indeed. Think of all the possibilities of what I, no, we could do to help Levin.”

The two start to have a glimmer of hope that their dreams will come to realization in this very room. Albert resolves to do his best as a knight, and hopefully his achievements could put him on the same level as Yurius as a researcher. 

★★★

This time, the king asked him to stay behind. Albert tells Yurius to wait for him outside, but Yurius declines and says that he’ll be in the lab. Albert understands. Of course, his friend had far more important research to do as opposed to waiting for him outside of the throne room. 

Albert shifts slightly as he dips his head to his king until he’s told to raise his head… and raise it high. “Your Majesty,” He begins, “what is this matter you asked to discuss?”

The king watches for the door to close completely, and once it does, he trains his eyes on the young knight. “Albert. I’ve seen your achievements for the Knights of Levin. You are the reason our knights have raised to even further glory! You are the pride of our kingdom!”

Albert flushes, a bit embarrassed and unsure how to feel about the praise. Somehow, it feels undeserved despite all the work Albert has put into receiving such recognition. It’s not the same as the smiles he receives from the townspeople when he successfully carried out a monster extermination or the grateful smile Yurius gave him when he comes to his rescue. He stammers his thanks, and swiftly the king moves on to the main point of their meeting.

“You will become the new captain of the Knights of Levin. I’ve already discussed this with the previous captain, who had plans to retire.” The king announces with a flourish, a pleased smile on his face as he does so. “I know you’ll continue to lead us to further glory and prestige.” 

“Are you certain about this, Your Majesty?” Albert asks, his chest tightening weakly. A lot about this is difficult for Albert to digest, and it doesn’t seem right in any manner. “I’m honored, but…”

“You doubt your king’s judgement?” The king snaps, with the same disappointment he’s seen on Yurius’s face countless times when Yurius thought he wasn’t looking. He lets out a sigh, but eventually claps his hand on Albert’s shoulder. “This position belongs to you, Albert. You are to be Levin’s hero.”

“Well, if possible… may I choose my Vice Captain?” Albert requests with a slightly fearful expression wearing down on his face. “I’d love for Yurius--”

“Yurius?” The king scoffs incredulously, “that child has become a blight on my knights. His insolence--”

Albert freezes, muscles tensing as he opens his mouth to protest in defense of his friend. He curses his weakness in being unable to speak up for his precious friend, since this was his king. Is he such a mindless dog that he’d be unable to defy his king for his friend’s honor? “My apologies, Your Majesty. I--”

“No more. We’ll hold the ceremony for your promotion tomorrow. Prepare a speech and after the ceremony we’ll discuss your duties in further detail.” The king shoots a glare at Albert, “You are dismissed.”

“Y-Yes, Your Majesty.” Albert quickly dips his head and kneels to the king before scrambling out of the throne room. Against his better judgement, he sprints through Saint Lethan Castle’s corridors, taking himself to the research lab as fast as possible. He narrowly evades the castle’s staff who looked at him with a mix of confusion and reverence. Albert tries to think about the eyes the servants and his fellow knights showed to Yurius. Everyone has looked at Yurius with contempt. They always seemed to have bright smiles when Albert and Yurius were together, but the truth of it lies that all of them had only contempt for Yurius. Why? His friend did nothing wrong.

Aside from him, Yurius had no other companion. No one else to rely on. Not even the king will trust him, but rather than completely cast him away out of his services, he let Yurius continue to work. It’s not right, Albert knows it isn’t. However, he’s still powerless. His title is hollow when he can’t even save the one most dear to him. 

He pants, his clothes soaked with sweat by the time he’s at his friend’s research lab. Without warning, he barges inside rather than knocking first, and is met with a mildly surprised Yurius. His friend is at his desk as always, working diligently on his studies as he does. He peers up at Albert when he unceremoniously enters, something of a mocking laugh leaving his lips. It’s nothing of the innocent laughter Yurius had when he teased Albert when they were teenagers. It’s bitter. Has Yurius already known about his promotion? 

“Yurius,” He finally breathes out, “starting tomorrow I’ll be the captain of the knights.”

“Oh?” Yurius returns coldly, “Albert, Captain of the Knights of Levin and soon the hero of Levin… ah, what were they calling you recently? The Thunderswift Lord?”

“Yurius,” Albert warns, “it’s nothing like that, really. It doesn’t change who I am.”

Yurius rolls his eyes, returning to scribbling down his observations on a notebook. He doesn’t spare Albert another glance, electing not to answer him. After another minute of silence, Yurius finally answers. “I know.” His voice is exasperated, worn by disappointment. The same as the king.

“Well… it’s a lot, I know. But that means we can change things together since I’m going to be the captain,” Albert offers, finding that he’s too exhausted to continue standing, so he flops over on his usual couch. It’s not as luxurious as it was two years ago when Yurius first found the lab. More like it adjusted itself perfectly to Albert’s body that the cushion had a perfect impression of Albert’s butt, to his annoyance and Yurius’s amusement. He decides to keep the fact that he tried to appeal to the king to let him name Yurius vice captain a secret. 

Yurius nods half-heartedly, still seeming to fixate on his current paperwork. Finally, he stops, placing his pen on his desk and looking up at Albert. “Then, my friend. Do you think you can handle it?”

“To be honest,” Albert confesses with a sigh, “I’m not too sure. I don’t think I really deserve the position in the first place… and… what if it gets too much?”

Yurius’s expression softens for the first time today, and he chuckles, “Well, in that case, my friend. I’ll be here for you.”

“Yurius!” Albert brightens up at the reassurance, perking up in his seat as if the weariness has magically faded. “That is most reassuring. I’ll be counting on you.”

“Mhm,” He hums, “You can’t solve everything by yourself after all… and besides. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” Albert agrees immediately, “We are. And always will be.”

★★★

Thanks to the assistance of the skyfaring crew Albert affiliated himself with while searching for Yurius, the two have been reunited and have saved Levin from its fate. Without the king and no (legitimate) heir, the ruling lords have taken control over Levin’s government. Albert, as captain of the Sky Knights and Levin’s hero, has also been part of the initiative to restore Levin to its former glory along with his vice-captain Mina and of course, Yurius.

The effects of the primal beast’s control of Yurius left him as a shady character in the lords’ eyes, and many still hold contempt for the calamity he brought to Levin-- of course, it’s unrealistic for Albert to believe it’ll come easily. Regardless, the townspeople have come to respect them with their efforts to promote Levin to greater heights as a tourist attraction. They’ve been doing better for the country, and Yurius in his claim that this too, is part of his atonement. Especially the silly title that Albert gave him, although Albert doesn’t really understand still why Yurius finds it embarrassing. Nothing wrong with being the Disaster Operations Planning Executive (D.O.P.E. for short), right? 

 At the same time, however, the two have been frequently named Foudre and Astros of the Tales of Saint Lethan they read so much as kids.

In light of it, Albert retrieves the copy Yurius gave him all those years ago, and returns to his friend’s research lab just as in the old days, and plops the book in front of Yurius. “I think it’s time you had this back.”

Yurius snorts, “Oh, that old story again? My, Albert, I’d say you’re already becoming more like Foudre by the day.”

Albert laughs, shaking his head. “And that makes you Astros, wouldn’t it?”

Yurius rolls his eyes, opening the book and flipping through the worn pages. It’s clear that Albert wasn’t paying attention when he was reading, and glances at how the books were stained with debris of food or drink. “Albert, don’t eat or drink when you’re reading.”

“Don’t scold me for that now,” Albert grumbles, sighing as he takes control and opens up the spread of the one picture that the two of them looked at when Albert first saw Yurius reading the tales. It fills him with the same exhilarating feeling from before, but soon doubt invades his mind. Is their bond so strong like these two’s? Are they truly heroes of Levin? 

“What you can’t do alone, you can do together,” Yurius murmurs, his gaze fixated on the illustration. He stares at it with a hint of sadness in his eyes. Albert steps closer, kneeling on the ground as he watches Yurius with glassy eyes. The knight captain positions himself under Yurius’s gaze, hands clutching onto the edge of the desk as his chin rests over the opened book. “What’s this, Albert?”

“I…” Albert begins weakly, cheeks aflame with his embarrassment. His thoughts and feelings jumble with each other in his head, especially since Yurius looks at him with tenderness as opposed to bitterness. Mostly, it’s evident that he’s exhausted. He’s also hesitant. Afraid. “Yurius. I know I’ve betrayed you in the past due to my own weakness, but, in my heart, you will always be my most cherished friend.”

Yurius chuckles, “What’s this about?” He meets Albert in the middle, crossing his arms on the table and reclines his head on top. He leans forward, touching his forehead with Albert’s.

Albert’s breath grows heavy, the sound of his heart beat hammering in his ears as their foreheads touch. It simultaneously calms and stresses him, but above all, Albert’s heart seems to emerge from its turmoil.

He always acted on impulse-- whether it meant recklessly involving himself when someone needed help or if it meant saying the first thoughtless and inconsiderate thing that appeared in his head. All of his flaws he knew Yurius embraced, and so Albert finds that he never changes these small quirks about himself. His eyes begin to focus on Yurius’s lips. They’re plump and tantalizing as Yurius always is, and the familiar scent of the honey candy allure him even more. 

He presses his lips against Yurius’s, although clumsily. Their teeth clash and clink against each other, and he swears he hears Yurius’s laugh. It’s genuine.

Mortified, Albert pulls away. Yurius seems amused when Albert can bear looking at him again. It seems like he didn’t quite ruin things between them. Although, he wants to try again. “Yurius, I--”

“Come here, Albert.” Yurius says softly, placing his hands over Albert’s, and playfully starts to pry each finger off the desk. Albert complies obediently, standing up from the floor and similarly drags Yurius up from his seat. 

Without warning, Yurius leans in again to Albert’s face, and initiates another, deeper kiss. It’s done proper, Albert thinks, his mind thrown in slight disarray. Yurius tasted like the nostalgic sweetness of the honey, but also the flowers they painstakingly reviewed the day they met. There’s also the deepest regret and guilt Yurius felt.

No, he still doesn’t understand Yurius. He doesn’t think he will ever be able to completely do so either.

However, this is the first time he could sense the extent of emotional turmoil Yurius has gone through. All his pain and burdens that he had kept hidden from Albert. Everything-- how he was the king’s illegitimate son, which was part of why the two always butted heads. The betrayal Yurius felt when he realized the king cared more about Albert than him and when Albert seemed in that moment to care more about the kingdom than his friend.

Yurius’s desire to atone for what he’s done, and at the same time, his gratitude toward Albert for saving him time and time again.

Albert reciprocates with just as much gusto, and doesn’t realize the tears that started to stream down his face.

When they finally pull apart to take a breath, Yurius grins again-- in that shitty way. Not exactly indicative, but Albert knows he’s being teased.

“What’s made you taste salty, my friend?” Yurius murmurs, untangling one of his hands from Albert’s to wipe the tears away.

“I think you need to rely on me more,” Albert whispers quietly, cutting himself off with a sob, “And that I missed you.”

★★★

Albert stirs awake from his slumber, thoughts still blurry and drenched in the sentimental goop that was his memories with Yurius. Happier times, of course, like from when they first met to when they first kissed just a matter of last year.

Yurius has since been gone, fleeing after he ultimately sacrificed his own place in Levin to uplift Albert once more. He went back to using those powers again so that the Thunderswift Lord, without any further doubt, was the savior of Levin. 

“Goodbye, Hero of Levin.” The words resound in his head again, causing both his head and heart to ache. Albert was able to see through his scheme, but only when he already left.

With Levin in a slightly better state than before so it came to the point that Mina and her sisters managed fine without him, Mina suggested that Albert take some time to himself. Of course, Albert came to be sentimental in the abandoned research lab instead. He sighs, lifting his head off of the desk, wincing when he notices the puddle of drool that drenched the pages of the book. Actually, it was an old book that Albert thought Yurius must’ve gotten rid of years ago. The first notebook Yurius wrote his notes about the flowers in. Albert managed to dig it out of one of the bookshelves, and must’ve fallen asleep looking through all the entries. Interestingly enough, it was out of place on the shelf, so Albert had half the mind to think that Yurius must’ve left a clue in there.

“Captain,” Mina’s voice grows louder as she walks into the study, her eyes searching the room for anything, but finally settling on Albert sitting miserably in his friend’s chair. “There you are. Found anything?”

“My apologies. I got caught up in something sentimental,” He mutters as he holds the page of the old notebook. “I’ll keep looking to see if he left any clues in there.”

“It’s fine, Captain. Like I said, you don’t need to pretend with me.” She lets out a sigh, stepping toward Albert and the desk. “Things have quieted down here, so if you need to start looking for him again… I wouldn’t be opposed. I know he’s important to you. He’s important to all of us… of course, there’s no telling that the lords will cooperate with us as much if Yurius returns.”

“I know. If only we didn’t have a puppet king.” Albert groans, lamenting the current situation of Levin. It’s no easy way to politically navigate it with the unfair power the lords have over the kingdom right now. While it’s in for what Albert believes to be absolute justice and the good of Levin, they aren’t in the position to expose these traitorous lords. They have more power than him, even now… and if it was forceful, they’d lose the people’s support. “Perhaps the Thunderswift Lord will head out on his next journey.”

“We’ll support you, Captain.” Mina nods, “If you could at least meet him again we can move past the stagnancy of Levin right now.” She glances down at the notebook, making a face as she realized that Albert disgracefully drifted off in the middle of reading, but notices something in the mess he made. “Captain. Look at the notebook.”

Albert blinks, but glances down at it, squinting in the dim light to make sense of it. It’s disgusting, but his drool ended up completely soaking through the adjacent page to the violet entry.

I won’t give up. No matter what happens, I’ll do what’s best for Levin.

My friend, if you are reading this now… I ask that you not give up either. You may have driven off the terrible beast, but he’s not dead.

I n that case, is the great hero’s job truly done? Don’t leave matters unfinished.

Albert beams as soon as he reads the last word, once again filled with a glimmer of hope. That’s right. It’s not over yet.

“I’ll make preparations for your departure immediately, Captain.” Mina says with a salute, “you can count on me to take charge of the reconstruction here.”

“Thank you, Mina.” Albert thanks her giddily, his resolve strengthening with the roar of thunder. “My, what a downpour we have there.”

“It’s a sign, maybe?” Mina giggles, closing her eyes and shaking her head when she feels the rumbles of the thunder. Although, she’s in higher spirits herself at the discovery.

“I’ll find you, Yurius,” Albert declares, glancing up to the ceiling, “and we’ll do this together.”