“You know, Yuri,” says Kauffman offhandedly. “You’d do well in my guild. I’d love to have a guy like you around considering your particular, uh. Assets.”
Flynn’s hammer stops in the middle of its arc. They’re halfway through building a stockade around Dahngrest. It’s only a temporary solution for the monster attacks until they can get the post-blastia situation sorted out; technically Guild jurisdiction, but Flynn had seen the broken barrier and had to do something. Somewhere ahead, Yuri picks up a stack of planks. “Thanks, but I’m already part of Brave Vesperia.”
Kauffman smiles. She’s set up a little desk under a tree, sorting through paperwork with terrifying speed and efficiency. Flynn half-wonders if she’s actually reading anything before signing it. “You seem like the type who could play for both teams.”
Yuri tilts his head. “I thought being in more than one Guild was against the rules.”
“I’m sure I can speak for all leaders when I say we’d make an exception for you.”
Flynn puts down his hammer and stares at the wall. There are other ways to help Dahngrest, he thinks distantly. He could just go slaughter some monsters. Go straight to the source, wedge his sword through some vertebrae and watch heads roll across the grass. Gather the skulls, maybe. Bring them back for a rousing game of golf.
“Huh. Someone’s laying it on thick.”
Flynn turns. Judith’s leaning against the barricade with the poise of a statue, inspecting her nails and pointedly not doing any manual labour. “They still need lumber,” he says somewhat stiffly. “Why don’t you go help out?”
She ignores him. “I suppose it is true, though. Yuri’s always been in high demand.”
“I don’t see why,” says Rita somewhere behind him. Flynn jumps half out of his skin. “I mean, sure, sure, he’s nice and all, but that’s no reason to slobber over him like that.”
“You might be biased,” says Judith. “Being a lesbian, I mean.”
Rita snorts. “And you’re okay with this, Flynn?”
Flynn tries and fails to get his heart rate under control. They’d warned him about this in training. Letting someone sneak up behind you is how you get stabbed. “With you being a lesbian? Of course.”
“With other people flirting with your man,” Rita says like he’s stupid. Which most people are, he supposes, compared to her. “Aren’t you gonna tell Kauffman he’s taken?”
Flynn opens his mouth, and then shuts it. “He’s not, though. My man. Or taken, as far as I’m aware, but that’s none of my business.”
Judith looks at him properly. Her ears twitch like Repede’s do when he’s interested, eyes wide and unblinking. “I was under the impression you two had something going on.”
“We’re just friends,” Flynn says, subtly angling his toolbox in front of him because she’s looking at him like she can see through his armour. “He’s an adult. He can do what he likes. In fact I’m happy for him. He seems to be popular.”
Rita crosses her arms. “I’ll say. He gets a marriage proposal wherever he goes.”
“It is nice,” says Judith beatifically. Her smile is slow and doesn’t reach her eyes. Flynn fights back the urge to reach for his sword as she steps away from the wall. “Well. How silly of me to make such assumptions.”
Flynn swallows. “Well. I, uh. We are close, I suppose. We’re just, not, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” she says and squeezes his hand. Her grip is stronger than it should logically be for someone her size. “You’re perfectly fine with this. I hear you loud and clear.”
“I,” Flynn says stupidly. She’s already gone. Her skirt swishes around her knees as she sashays off. Flynn, for reasons he cannot yet discern, is filled with a sense of foreboding. “I think I’m in trouble.”
Rita pats his shoulder. “Not my problem,” she says and leaves him to despair by himself.
He watches Judith.
Judith watches him back. She doesn’t seem to be doing anything, which is maddening because she’s as easy to read as a brick wall. Part of him wishes she’d just put him out of his misery. The other part feels like he’s a rodent trapped in a maze and she’s going to make him do tricks for small cubes of cheese. She smiles at him, perched next to Yuri as they go over building plans, tucked into a quiet corner of the inn while Flynn orders breakfast.
“Hi,” says a voice near his elbow.
Flynn chokes on his coffee. He should really stop leaving himself open like that, he thinks as Karol slaps him on the back. Hard enough to bruise, somehow. He could pick Flynn up and throw him if he wanted. “Good – hack – good morning.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Flynn says around the caffeine lodged in his windpipe. “Did you need something?”
Karol’s anxious face hovers around his periphery. “No. You were kind of spacing out so I thought I’d see how you were doing. Are you sure you’re not dying?”
Flynn pulls out a barstool for him. Karol still has to do a little undignified clamber to reach the seat. Barely five feet tall and already a slayer of monsters and saviour of worlds. “Sorry. I suppose I was just lost in thought.”
“Grown-ups get like that sometimes,” Karol says sagely. Flynn orders him a chocolate milk. Karol follows his gaze as the innkeeper bustles off, brightening up when he sees Yuri in the room. “Oh! How long has he been here? I didn’t think he’d be up so early.”
“He was out last night. Raven said there was gonna be a boys’ night. Or men’s night,” he adds sourly. “On account of I’m not old enough to drink. I asked Raven where they were going but he wouldn’t tell me. I heard them come back real late. They made a lot of noise.”
”Really.” Yuri does seem dishevelled. His hair, usually sleek and shiny, is tangled at the back. “Was it just the two of them?”
“Nope! There was a lady. I ran into her and Raven when I was coming downstairs. They had a sleepover. She was pretty. I dunno about Yuri, though.”
“Well. That’s perfectly fine. He can do who he likes,” says Flynn snippily. “What he likes, I mean.”
“Uh-huh.” The innkeeper slides a wooden mug across the table. Karol takes a sip and immediately gives himself a milk moustache. “Hey, you seem kind of mad.”
Flynn slams his coffee down so hard the mug cracks. “I’m perfectly fine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere to be.”
He finds Raven just outside his room. His hair’s still damp from the shower and his clothes look like they’ve been haphazardly thrown on. There’s a bruise disappearing into his collar. Flynn wrinkles his nose at it without meaning to, coming to a stop two paces behind him. He didn’t plan what to say before coming here, he realises abruptly. Maybe he should go back and regroup.
“Morning, Flynn,” Raven says without turning around. “Did you need something or did you just come to visit little old me?”
Whoops. “I just… your brigade’s looking for you.”
“Yes. They needed your opinion on, uhm. Something.” Lies upon lies. Captain Fedrock would be ashamed. “But I see you had a late night. Did you and Yuri have something to attend to by any chance?”
Raven turns. It’s not one big bruise, Flynn realises. It’s a trail of them under his jaw leading to god knows where. “Nope. We just went out to have a little fun. Why d’you ask?”
“No reason. I just wondered if it was something I could have helped with.”
His teeth are large and very straight. Flynn’s briefly reminded of that horrible deep-sea creature that’s just a floating light and a smile. “My, my. Were you feeling left out?”
“No.” Maybe. “You’re allowed to have recreational time.”
“Sorry. I just didn’t think it’d be your speed. You don’t seem like the party type. Yuri, on the other hand,” he sighs, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. He stands like his spine’s made of jelly. Flynn reminds himself this is a former captain, not a hobo. “The kid’s a walking good luck charm. I just bring him to a bar and women are swarming us. Didn’t have to lift a finger.”
The hickeys are very hard not to look at. Flynn resolutely keeps his eyes on Raven’s face. “I see you were successful in your endeavours.”
The smile widens. Flynn does not blush through his iron willpower alone. “You gonna congratulate him?”
“I know you’re not checking up in him,” Raven says, doing a vague wiggly hand gesture. “Since Judy told me the two of you aren’t hooking up. Could’ve fooled me, by the way. I thought for sure you were a thing but she said you were just friends. And friends congratulate each other on conquests, don’t they?”
“Conquests,” says Flynn slowly. “So he came home with someone.”
“Oh, that’s not for me to say. Maybe you should ask him yourself. He’ll tell you, since you’re besties.”
“Yes,” says Flynn somewhat thickly. “Best friends. Like brothers, really.”
“Ain’t that nice,” Raven says and pats him kindly on the shoulder. “See you around. I should go see what LeBlanc wants this time.”
His sandals make almost no noise against the stone floor. Flynn stares at the doorframe as he goes, stomach rolling unpleasantly. He’s not going to ask Yuri. He’d sooner throw himself off a bridge into Ba’ul’s gaping maw than ask Yuri if he’d had se– relations with someone when it’s obviously none of his business. Because they’re friends. Just friends. Just close, childhood friends who used to sleep in the same bed until they were fifteen.
His gaze slides to Yuri’s door before he can stop himself. Yuri’s outside in the tavern. He doesn’t usually lock his door. Flynn could be in and out before anyone noticed, take a look around to see if… anything’s missing. Because it’s dangerous, obviously, to leave things unattended like that. He’ll lock up after Yuri. It isn’t snooping. It’s just being a good friend.
Nobody’s around. Flynn’s hand inches towards the knob with the trepidation of a man about to face death.
The door swings open. Flynn takes a hasty step back and tries to pretend he hadn’t been about to break in. Repede stares at him, tail swishing and one eyebrow raised in a gesture Flynn’s sure he learnt from Yuri. “Repede!” says Flynn, straightening his uniform. “What are you – good morning! I came to see if, uhm, you felt like going on a walk!”
Repede’s eyebrow climbs. For someone who can’t talk, his expression says a lot. “I’m telling the truth,” says Flynn. “I didn’t – it’s not like I make it a habit to go barging into rooms that aren’t mine. Yuri’s looking for you, anyway. To also go on a walk. With you. Outside. Together.”
The room looks like an explosion went off. That’s hardly surprising, because Yuri enjoys living in squalor, but it doesn’t look like anyone else has been in here recently. There’s no forgotten underwear or lingering perfume. Or cologne. He’s not sure which would upset him more, honestly, because he’s never asked Yuri about preferences and women are all well and good but the idea of Yuri being with a man is somewhat alarming. Not because Flynn’s, say, a homophobe, but because Yuri’s, well, very attractive and some men are untrustworthy even if Yuri can take care of himself, so course Flynn’s worried, they’re friends and maybe friends are allowed to go through each other’s bedrooms to look for used condo-
Repede bites his shin. Flynn swears, jumping back and clutching his poor leg. “Ow, why? You can’t attack me. I raised you. I can’t believe I need to start wearing full armour around my own dog.”
Repede head-butts Flynn away from the door and wraps his tail around the knob behind him. “Wait,” says Flynn. “Did he bring anyone here? He didn’t, right? Did you go out with him?”
The door snaps shut with wooden finality. Flynn considers reaching for it but Repede makes a noise like a rumbling chainsaw.
“I know, I know, I’m being ridiculous,” says Flynn sullenly. “Can you just – will you at least tell me if he was safe last night?”
Repede nods. Flynn sighs, stepping away from the door, and allows himself to be herded down the corridor. They end up outside the inn’s tavern. Yuri’s still there, half-asleep over his floor plans, letting Judith massage the back of his neck. Flynn stares through the wide window. “Maybe I should ask him. See if he ran into any trouble. And he should rest. I should get him to rest. He looks dehydrated, right? I could run and buy him some juice.”
Repede bites the hem of his tunic and drags him away from the glass. Flynn grumbles under his breath, watching Yuri’s figure get smaller and less defined. “Fine. He’s a grown man and I’m not his mother. But you’re sure he didn’t –”
Repede nips his hand. Flynn rubs it, scowling fiercely, and stomps away from the inn. “Alright, alright, you awful creature. I’ll leave him alone. Come on, then. I promised you a walk.”
“Flynn!” cries Patty for no reason.
Flynn catches her as she leaps off the top of the stairs. They’re outside the city hall, where Don Whitehorse used to spend most of his time. Flynn doesn’t have business here, not really, but the city’s abuzz with people rebuilding so he’d come to see if there was more he could do. Patty weighs almost nothing in his arms. “Hello there. How can I help you?”
“Look what I found,” she says. Something hard and smooth is thrust into his face. It’s a purple crystal. It’s so bright it’s almost glowing. Pretty, in an ethereal sort of way.
He puts her down gently. “That’s lovely. What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Patty says cheerfully. “But it reminds me a lot of where we found Gnome. You remember? The pretty purple place near with the aer krene?”
He kneels so they’re at eye level. “I remember. Are you giving it to me?”
“Nope! It’s for Yuri.”
Flynn glances up. The whole of Dahngrest is used to Patty popping up in odd places so nobody pays them attention. That’s the only reason he lets himself pout like a child. “What, really? You like him better than me?”
Patty laughs like he knew she would. Flynn smiles back. “Sorry. I’m going to marry him, you know.”
“Are you, now?”
“All men are scoundrels but Yuri’s an exception. It’s a bonus that he’s pretty.”
Flynn manages to turn his snort into a cough. “Well, you aren’t wrong.”
“And he’s brave and kind and strong.”
“And clever. And a good cook.”
“I can cook too.”
“No,” Patty says kindly. “You cannot. Even if you could I’m still marrying Yuri. He’s special.”
Flynn’s smile softens somewhat. “Yes. He is. I think anyone who married him would be very lucky.”
“You’re a fool, you know.”
Patty eyeballs him. Flynn’s for some reason reminded of mother, of the look she used to give him when she knew he was lying. Which was all the time, now that he thinks of it. She’d told him once his ears turned red when he lied and he’d spent ten years covering them every time he tried to pull a fast one. “To be loved by someone like Yuri is an honour. One would take advantage of that if one were smart.”
Flynn blanches. “Love? I think perhaps you’ve got the wrong impression.”
“Oh, no. A little fishie told me you weren’t much more than friends.” She looks like a doll. A little sailor doll with blue eyes and a gleeful, evil smile. “I’ll swoop in and take him from you if you’re not careful.”
“From – he’s not mine.”
“Your loss,” she says and kisses him on the cheek. He watches her skip away. She should really stop hanging around Judith. And Raven, probably. She’s far too young to be worrying about marriage, especially with someone twice her age.
Well. It’s not surprising, he supposes. Yuri’s always been popular with kids. Yuri’s always been popular in general. He’s not as friendly as Flynn, not explicitly, but he’s managed to gather a surrogate family just by walking through their towns. Of course some of them might have feelings for him. Yuri probably doesn’t reciprocate, though, else he would have told Flynn right away.
He, uh. He thinks so, anyway. They’d spent a long time not seeing each other before this apocalypse business threw Yuri out into the world. They did keep in touch. But weekly letters aren’t the same as living in each other’s pockets for years and Yuri’s always been the type of person to keep secrets unless pointedly asked. And if it wasn’t entirely romantic – if it was just casual, then Yuri likely wouldn’t say anything at all. Flynn’s, well. A prude. Not the kind of person you’d brag to about midnight trysts even if you did grow up together. Even if you used to stay up late talking about the future and sneak out to catch fireflies by the beach.
He chews the inside of his cheek and gets off the ground. Yuri’s entitled to secrets. He’s allowed to have fun sometimes without Flynn. Anyway, they’re adults. If Flynn wants to know that badly then all he has to do is ask.
“Communication is key,” he says under his breath and goes back to the inn to talk to Yuri.
He doesn’t talk to Yuri.
Alright, sue him. He may be head of the Imperial Knights and he may have stared death in the face more times than he cares to think about but there are some things a man simply cannot do. Saying hey have you been sleeping with anyone and if so why didn’t you tell me, what the hell, I thought we were friends, is one of them. Flynn had seen Yuri bargaining with a handsome shopkeeper, immediately lost his nerve and gone upstairs for a nap.
After that he gets twitchy.
He’s still diligent and polite, of course. Danhgrest’s needs rank higher than his internal dilemmas so he keeps working on the barricade because monsters don’t rest. It’s just hard not to be watchful. Cautious, is how he’d put it. Because he’s concerned about Yuri. As a friend, obviously, because Yuri’s the sort of person to give himself fully to someone he doesn’t realise he’s too good for. Flynn hovers in the background and watches the flurry of activity that Yuri always manages to stir up, mentally cataloguing every lingering glance thrown Yuri’s way. Rita and Estelle have a relationship of their own. Karol’s a child. So’s Patty, although she doesn’t seem to think so. Raven and Judith are… worrisome. Raven’s always got an arm slung around Yuri’s shoulder. And Judith hangs around Yuri a lot. Which isn’t a cause for concern, Flynn’s aware, because they’re all friends and they’ve saved each other’s lives more than he cares to remember. It’s not weird that she likes to sit next to him. It’s not weird that they laugh at inside jokes. It’s not weird that Judith looks at Flynn, making full eye contact, and puts her hand on Yuri’s leg.
She’s doing it on purpose. He knows she is. That’s the only reason he doesn’t corner her for a shovel talk. And also because she might stab him and he can’t afford to take medical leave while there’s work to be done. He’s popular, she mouths over the crowd of girls wanting to see Yuri’s sword. Flynn picks up his dinner and goes outside.
He eats his stew and sits in the grass, chasing moths away from his bread roll and barely looking up when Repede plods out a minute later to join him. “I’m not sulking,” Flynn says with his mouth full. “I’m a grown man. I’m brooding.”
Repede lies down next to him. Flynn pats his head automatically, frowning at a withered flower next to his shoe. “I’m Yuri’s best friend. I always have been. I’m allowed to worry about him. And I’m allowed to want to know what’s going on with him. I feel like we’re in two separate worlds. I don’t know half the things he gets up to and he won’t tell me. This wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t left the Knights, you know. We’d still know everything about each other and this wouldn’t even be an issue.”
The breeze rustles his shirt. Repede boofs quietly and puts his head in Flynn’s lap. “I know. If he’d stayed with the Knights we might all be dead. I don’t begrudge him friends. I just wish he hadn’t replaced me.”
Repede snorts. Flynn makes a face at him but the awful dog isn’t bothered. “What? I’m not jealous. You – don’t look at me like that, I’m not. I don’t care he has friends other than me! I’m just concerned about him. Don’t you feel the same?”
Unsurprisingly, Repede shakes his head. Flynn flips his ear inside-out in a moment of malice. “Alright, fine. So what if I am jealous? I’m his oldest friend. Maybe I just want him to pay attention to me more now that we finally get to be in the same city for a while.”
Repede continues to judge him. Flynn puts down his half-eaten dinner and sighs. This is his life now. A new low for the illustrious Flynn Scifo – acting Commandant of the Imperial Knights at age twenty-two, arguing with a dog who clearly thinks he’s an idiot and is probably right. He fiddles with his fork sullenly, watching moonlight glint off the faux silver and cast off patterns on Repede’s fur. “Fine. I know why I’m jealous. Sue me.”
Repede licks his hand softly. Flynn scratches his ears the way he’s liked since he was a puppy. He feels old. Tired and wrung-out, but tomorrow he’ll get up and trudge back to work like he always does. And this will be shelved just like every other problem in Flynn’s life, neatly packed away to make room for the rest of the world’s burdens.
A cicada chirps in the distance. Repede’s fur is soft and dense under his fingers. Flynn smiles crookedly and offers him some of his bread roll. “Yes, I know,” he says, leaning back. “I should have seen this coming. Yuri’s really not hard to like.”
In the morning he goes outside to enjoy the sunshine. The barricade’s almost fully up. Flynn walks along the side of the north wall, checking for weak points where they started running low on supplies. There’s no real chance of monsters targeting them, exactly, but they’ll need to stand up to the mindless brute force attacks that every city’s going to suffer for a while.
A twig bounces off his head. Flynn looks up to see Yuri perched on a pillar. “What are you doing up there?” he asks, more exasperated than really annoyed. “This is what you do now you’re not saving the world? You climb things and throw sticks?”
“The view’s great without the barrier blastia in the way,” Yuri calls. The sun backlights him so he’s more silhouette than man. “You should come here and join me. Bring some wine.”
Flynn smiles crookedly. “I doubt I could make it up there. At least, not without a lot of huffing and puffing. And definitely not while carrying wine.”
Yuri doesn’t tease. He just scrambles down to meet him, landing on his feet with almost no noise. Like a cat. His hair swooshes daintily over his shoulder and tickles Flynn’s nose. “What’cha up to?”
“Checking on things.”
“Am I one of those things?”
“With good reason.”
That’s only partly true. Yuri’s been clearly happier lately, especially around his new friends. Still. Flynn’s probably never not going to worry about him and he accepted that a long time ago. “I’m not making trouble today, Commandant,” Yuri says, saccharine sweet. “I’m a good egg, promise.”
That’s an understatement. Flynn smiles crookedly. Nobody else is around. It’s just them and the wall. “Maybe, but you are still very troublesome. Come have brunch with me. If I’m going to keep an eye on you I may as well be fed.”
“I promised Estelle and Karol I’d take them shopping. You’re welcome to join, though.”
“Oh.” Flynn tries his best not to sound rueful. “I don’t want to impose.”
“You know they like you.”
“Not as much as they like you.” Yuri frowns. Flynn can’t help but reach over to squeeze his arm. “I don’t mean that badly. I just mean your friends are very fond of you. Go spend time with them, they miss you.”
“They see me every day.”
Yes, but you’ve also almost died multiple times and I can barely stop myself sometimes from reaching out to touch you just to make sure you’re still here and safe, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them to have been there and seen it all, Flynn doesn’t say. “Just trust me. Go on, then. Shoo.”
Yuri makes a face and flounces off. He’s got a great flounce, Flynn thinks to himself. Real theatrical. Makes him look like the heroine in a play about arranged marriage and corsets.
“Dangerous,” says a voice in his ear.
Flynn barely manages not to swing his sword. That would have worked out worse for him than it would have for Judith, anyway, because she’s wearing very sharp heels and has no qualms about exacting revenge with interest. “Will you stop sneaking up on me,” he shudders. “One of these days someone’s going to get themselves killed.”
“You don’t spend much time together,” Judith says like she can’t hear his heart hammering with her mysterious Krityan ears. “If you’re not careful someone will steal him from under you.”
“Have you been talking to Patty?”
“He has admirers.”
“Like you?” Flynn says before he can stop himself. “I mean. Well. You’re close.”
She smiles. “You’re jealous.”
“I – I’m not.”
“I must say I’m a little surprised,” she sighs, leaning against the stockade and picking at her nails like she’s waiting in line for groceries. “I thought you’d have cracked by now. You have mental fortitude. Or you’re just stubborn.”
“You’re fond of him, aren’t you?” she asks, arching one perfect eyebrow. “You must be, considering you’re ready to draw your sword on me any time I get within touching distance of him. It irritates you.”
“No it doesn’t,” Flynn says, clearly irritated.
Judith chuckles. “What I can’t wrap my head around is why you won’t just do something about it. This flip-flopping is unlike you. Either give him up without a fight and stop being possessive, or tell him you intend to court him and take him off the market for good.”
A bird chirps. Flynn crosses his arms over his chest, pointedly looking somewhere to the left of Judith’s ear. “You make this sound very simple.”
“It is simple. Date him or don’t. Unless you don’t think he’s worth taking a risk for, I suppose.”
His frown deepens. “You don’t even know the number of risks I’ve taken for Yuri’s sake.”
“Then what’s one more? Why is this the thing that scares you?”
Flynn clenches his jaw. The breeze makes Judith’s hair flutters over her eyebrows. She tilts her head, studying him like she’s trying to dissect him with her eyes.
“Forgive me,” she says, not sounding all that contrite. “I have a tendency to say what’s on my mind. You’re being cowardly, Flynn. It doesn’t suit you.”
“I’m not,” Flynn says grudgingly. “This is… not the type of battle I’m used to.”
“Figure it out,” she says, shrugging. “I don’t think you’re the type to run from a fight.”
Danhgrest feels like being in a pressure cooker. Every time Flynn sees Yuri with someone else it raises the gauge just a bit, making him restless and eager to do something with the weird bubbling under his skin. Judith keeps looking at him. Raven does too, mouthing tick tock so nobody else sees. He keeps to himself a lot, brooding in silence and taking solitary walks through the city.
Yuri comes up to him after sunset once as Flynn’s tossing rocks into the river. He’s holding a colourful drink in one hand that Flynn politely declines. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m alright,” Flynn says on autopilot. “Rare to see you wandering around by yourself nowadays.”
“I still want time to myself once in a while.”
Yuri shrugs. “I got used to being alone after we split. Company’s nice but I like the quiet sometimes.”
“Am I interrupting you, then?”
“No. You’re different, it’s fine.”
He leans against the side of the bridge, sipping his juice monstrosity and gazing elsewhere. Flynn admires the orange light glinting off his hair. Yuri’s pretty, Flynn can admit in the privacy of his own mind. He’s always known that but never really stopped to think about it. A dog trots past with a stick in its mouth. Its owner, a small child, runs after it laughing. Flynn, elbows resting on the stone parapet, puts his chin in his hand. “You know, I keep thinking I should have fought harder to keep you in the Knights.”
Yuri pauses beside him. They’re facing different directions but Flynn can already imagine the little frown on his face. “It was my decision to leave. You couldn’t have stopped me.”
“No,” Flynn admits. “It’s a good thing I didn’t, but I wanted to.”
“Why do you think? We’ve been attached at the hip since we were children. It was like missing a limb.”
“What, you didn’t find me annoying?”
“I found you extremely annoying. Didn’t mean I didn’t miss you.”
He snorts unattractively. Flynn is, unfortunately, charmed. “That makes two of us but it was for the best. I’d say things worked out okay the way they went.”
“You did save the world.”
“And you get to boss the whole squad around.”
“You could always still join.”
“Nah. I think I’m happy with Brave Vesperia. And you’re gonna be busy with the Knights so you won’t have too much time to miss me.”
“I’ll still see you, though, won’t I?” Flynn says, turning around properly to look at him. “I suppose I’m too young to start getting nostalgic but almost dying has put some things into perspective. I don’t want to go months without seeing you if I can help it. I like it better when I have you nearby.”
The river sparkles. The sun’s almost dipped behind the horizon, casting long shadows on the flagstone and making them look gruesome and stretched out. Gently, Yuri bumps their shoulders together and gives Flynn a crooked half-smile. “I get it. We’ll figure that out when it happens. Anyway, you have me right now.”
“Yes,” Flynn says, looking out at the water. “Yes. I suppose I do.”
Construction finishes in late autumn. King Ioder stops by on his tour of the continent with gifts for the new Don, already working on mending things between the Guilds and the Empire. Flynn waits until after the official meeting to see him. The completed blockade means a new mission’s already lined up and Flynn will be on a boat to oversee the next project in a week.
He finds Ioder outside the town hall talking to Karol and Yuri. Flynn hangs back politely so as not to interrupt. Karol’s bouncing around, indignant, while Ioder laughs and Yuri pats his head. “I didn’t mean right this instant,” Ioder says cheerfully. “Just whenever he gets tired of mercenary work.”
Karol huffs louder. “He won’t. He’s my second in command. We’re not leaving Brave Vesperia until we die.”
“What, really? Even with a cushy bed and hot baths? With access to the castle and everything?”
“I do like a cushy bed,” Yuri says solemnly. “But I don’t know how much I’d enjoy being cooped up indoors.”
Ioder grins. “I would keep you very busy.”
“With Empire work?”
“Among other things.”
Yuri pretends to consider this. “Okay, but would I get all access? Don’t see the point in coming to work for the Empire if I’m only allowed in the boring rooms.”
“Technically only royalty gets to roam around everywhere,” Ioder says, tilting his head. “Which isn’t out of the question if you marry into the family.”
“And how would I do that?”
“Do you like blonds?”
“Honestly? Yes. Yes I do.”
Flynn walks right up to them before he can think about it, shoving himself bodily between Ioder and Yuri. “Your Highness!” he says a bit too loud. “How nice to see you. How was your meeting? Did it go well?”
Ioder pats him on the shoulder. “It was fine, thanks to Yuri. The new Don really values his opinion. I’m trying to get him to come back to the capital with me to work his magic on the council.”
Yuri laughs. “I don’t think the nobles like me.”
“How could anyone not like you?”
Flynn clears his throat. “Yuri’s made his intentions clear. He’d prefer to be with Brave Vesperia. And I don’t think he would enjoy being part of the royal family, either. It’s too stifling.”
Ioder looks at him. Really looks at him, big blue eyes searching right through his skull and into his brain. Flynn’s seen that expression before in council meetings. It always ends with the advisors leaving discombobulated, not sure what they were arguing about but Ioder serene about getting his way. He smiles slowly. Eyes sparkling with horrible delight, and Flynn shivers under his armour. “Why Flynn,” he says gleefully. “You should have said something. If Yuri was already part of another family I wouldn’t dream of getting in the way.”
Karol tilts his head. “What family?”
Flynn claps a hand over Ioder’s mouth before he can say anything. Someone gasps. Flynn would gasp too if he could do anything but panic because he’s just silenced an actual king. “Your Highness,” he says, voice tight. “Let’s go talk about my next mission.”
Ioder pulls his face away. “How can I send you on a mission? You should be on your honeymoon!”
“What honeymoon?” says Yuri.
Flynn physically feels his heartrate go up. “Your Highness. I have no plans to get married.”
Ioder’s terrible smile widens. “Then you won’t mind if I take Yuri to dinner tonight, will you?”
“To dinner,” Flynn says flatly. He’s getting tunnel vision. There’s blood rushing through his ears and something about Ioder is pushing his fight-or-flight reflex firmly towards fight. Stiffly, he smiles. “Of course, Your Highness. You can do whatever you like.”
“Then our meeting can wait until tomorrow. I’ll be busy tonight.”
Flynn bows and leaves. He does not throw a punch because he’s an Imperial Knight who behaves with dignity and class, and he’s well aware Ioder’s just pushing his buttons the way everyone else does. Flynn’s above such squabbles. He’s the Commandant. Not the type of man to fly off the handle at a little light teasing. He knows better. He’s not jealous, or, god forbid, petty.
He decides to go for a walk. The autumn air is refreshing even with his heavy uniform, and the steady wash of the river sings to him like a quiet lullaby. It’s calming. He turns his face up to the sky and shuts his eyes, fading sunlight making spots dance in his vision even through his eyelids. The chill soothes him. Little by little he feels himself relax, shoulders losing their tension and jaw unclenching. He stays out until well after the sun sets. At dinnertime he decides to return to the city, feeling light and peppy as he skips through the front gates.
He runs into Estellise outside the inn. Her smile fades when she sees the blood on his boots.
“Uhm,” she says faintly. A drop of red falls off the edge of his sword and splashes onto the cobblestones. “Are you alright?”
“Peachy!” he chirrups. “I ran into a den of monsters while I was out. I took care of them, though, don’t worry.”
“I see.” A young mother pulls her son across the street to avoid them. Something plops out of Flynn’s hair onto his shoulder. Estellise winces. “What’s that?”
“Monster guts, probably,” Flynn says and brushes it off. “Or brains. Did you know Basilisks had secondary brains in their tails? I didn’t. I poked around and didn’t find any more but it warrants further investigation. Have you seen Yuri?”
“Inside,” she says, grimacing. “Maybe you should, uhm, take a bath first. Not to be rude, it’s just, well, your uniform’s more purple than blue and you’re starting to sort of, uhm, congeal –”
“Thanks!” Flynn says and heads to the inn.
Yuri’s perched on his room’s windowsill reading an old book. He blanches when Flynn barges in without knocking. “You know there’s this little thing called privacy – holy shit, is that blood?”
“I’ve been thinking,” says Flynn, kicking the door shut behind him. Yuri has a mug of cocoa on the floor next to him. Cute. “What we talked about the other day. When I said I didn’t like the idea of us not seeing each other for a long time. Do you remember?”
“Yes,” Yuri says slowly. His eyes follow a clump of monster fur as it splatters on the carpet. “Do you need a doctor or something?”
“I know you don’t want to join the Knights and I respect that. You want to travel with your guild, which is fine, but I don’t think we’ll run into each other an awful lot and letters can only do so much –”
“I’m gonna go ahead and call Estelle to check up on you –”
“How do you feel about dating?”
The curtains flutter in the breeze. Yuri’s eyes go wide and round, hands stopping in the act of snapping his book shut. Flynn’s blood pulses with adrenaline. Mostly from the killing spree, probably, but partly also because Yuri spends a long time not saying anything. He sets the book down slowly. Sits upright, hands lax in his lap, blinking at Flynn like a child. “Are you,” he says haltingly. “Are you planning to stab me if I say no?”
“What? No,” Flynn says, remembering belatedly to sheathe his sword. He crosses the room to kneel by the windowsill, tugging off his gloves and reaching for Yuri’s hands. “Obviously you’re free to pick someone else if you want to. I just happen to like you. Very much, I’m afraid, but considering our history that’s not a surprise.”
Yuri makes a face. “You’re getting monster juice in my cocoa.”
“We could try it out,” Flynn barrels on. “Dating. I don’t think much will change in a practical sense – you’re already my dearest friend and I’d trust you with my life so at this point romance just seems natural. I’ve always thought you were handsome. I’ve also been informed I’m decent-looking and I know you’re attracted to men because I remember you sneaking out of the barracks to meet that boy from the farmers’ market when we first got recruited.”
“We were just friends, I wasn’t dating him or – why are you asking me this now?”
“It’s possible I have a jealous streak,” Flynn admits. “I may have finally stopped to examine exactly why I don’t like other people flirting with you, and, well. Like I said. The almost-apocalypse put things into perspective somewhat. There are very few things in the world I can’t stand to lose, Yuri, and you’re one of them. I’d like to keep you close if you’ll have me.”
Yuri goes slightly pink. He sits there, hands trapped in Flynn’s, looking vaguely pouty and confused. Flynn desperately wants to hug him. “You know I’m technically a criminal.”
“I could commit some crimes if that would make you feel better.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“Maybe,” Flynn says, thinking of Ioder. “Anyway, you’re also a hero in my eyes and the Empire’s, so I don’t know why you’re being all humble now.”
“I’m not. I’m just saying, the Commandant probably shouldn’t be seen with someone who –”
I think I might love you, he thinks. “Did you really go to dinner with Ioder?” he says instead.
Yuri huffs and pulls his hands free. “No, Flynn.”
“Because I’m not interested in him.”
“You said you liked blonds.”
“Yuri,” Flynn says and scoots closer. “I’m blond.”
He grows pinker. Flynn crowds him until he’s resting his chin on Yuri’s knee, trying to communicate with his eyes how much he means what he’s asking. A lock of hair falls over Yuri’s shoulder to brush his chest. “Well. I guess I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about it.”
“Let’s take it slow. The world’s not ending anymore. We can figure it out.”
Slowly, Yuri smiles. The moonlight shines behind him and gives him a halo of fuzzy silver. “Yeah. I guess we can. Let’s give it a shot.”
“Okay” Flynn says, smiling wide and silly like a schoolboy. “Then, can I kiss you?”
“Absolutely not. You need a shower.”
"After I shower?"
"Yeah," Yuri laughs and pinches Flynn’s nose. "Yeah, okay."