Author: Suspicious Popsicle PM
The end of the year makes Yuri introspective, and Flynn finds this out in the worst way possible. Title altered to compliment the follow-up story.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Flynn S. & Yuri L. - Words: 11,212 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 9 - Published: 11-17-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8709912
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This got written WAY faster than I'd expected, even considering how I wrote myself into a corner. The ending still bugs me a bit, 'cause I kinda had to deus ex machina it, but I traded satisfaction for happiness a little with this one since I am WEAK.
This takes place about five years after "Conviction." If you haven't read that, you really should read it first because it establishes a lot of my interpretation of Flynn and Yuri which carries through here.
My friend badomens has begun posting Legacy, her epic (this is not hyperbole, the story is huge). Go check it out.
Disclaimer: The characters and settings for this story are from Tales of Vesperia and do not belong to me.
Yuri had gone missing.
Two weeks ago, Brave Vesperia had accepted a job to kill Brucis, a giganto monster that lived in Hyponia's Egothor Forest. Judith had been busy with a previous request, so it had only been Karol, Yuri, and Repede that set out, just as they had on so many other missions. They'd had years to learn how best to work together and they made a formidable team. Doubtless, they had been confident about the success of the job. Yuri had probably been eager for a fight. At twenty-eight, he was still always at his most beautiful in the heat of battle, all lethal grace and an exuberance born of countless victories against even the most unimaginably powerful foes. Yuri thrived on conflict and chaos, drew energy from it and shone, radiant in triumph.
This time, however, things had gone horribly wrong. Yuri had been distracted by something or simply caught off-guard. The monster had speared him on one of its horns, gored him, and threw him off a cliff into the river below.
Karol had been frantic, but Brucis was enraged and there hadn't been a chance to get away and begin searching for Yuri until after he and Repede had slain the beast. He shook when he recounted the story later, and Flynn could picture the monster lying dead on the ground, Yuri's blood staining its horns.
By the time Karol and Repede had made it down the cliff, there was no sign of Yuri. They followed the river until it led them to the ocean, but turned up no sign of their missing friend. That was when Karol had been forced to make the decision to go home. If Yuri had been washed out to sea, there was nothing either of them could do. He had gone straight back to Dahngrest and told Judith. She had called Ba'ul and the whole group returned to the forest to search. They found nothing and, after nearly a week of combing the woods and asking around in the nearby towns, they were forced to give up. Judith dropped off Karol and Repede in Zaphias to break the news to Flynn while she went to Halure to inform Estellise and Rita.
After telling the story, Karol apologized. He was crying as he spoke, and talking about getting ships and going back out to search, but Flynn refused to do so and suggested he get some rest.
Karol didn't like that and hurled insults and accusations that Flynn allowed to roll off him. Karol didn't understand. Yuri wouldn't forgive him abusing his power again to send out imperial ships as a search party for a missing guildsman. Eventually, he accepted that Flynn wouldn't be swayed. He refused the offer of a room in the palace for the night, choosing instead to go back into the city and find an inn. When he left, Flynn looked down at Repede.
"I had hoped he wouldn't put me through this again. Should we go see if Duke brought him back a second time?"
Repede whined and laid his head on Flynn's knee.
"Yuri's always been better at understanding you than I am." He scratched behind the dog's ears and stood up. "Let's go."
Nothing felt quite real as he walked through the streets of Zaphias. People were carrying on like nothing had happened, smiling and shopping, and going out for dinner or drinks. They were untouched by Karol's news, and the laughter and cheerful conversation roared in Flynn's ears as he walked, making it hard to think.
Seven years ago, Yuri had fallen from the Enduring Shrine of Zaude into the ocean below. Karol's story was eerily reminiscent of that terrible accident, but Yuri had survived before. He was Yuri Lowell. He had fought Alexei, Duke, and even destroyed the Adephagos. He was damned near invincible and even if it was that 'near' part that gave Flynn pause, he couldn't believe that Yuri would lose to a monster, even a giganto monster after all he had faced. Yuri would probably challenge Death itself to a fight, and Flynn wouldn't have bet on Death.
Still, there was a sinking feeling in his stomach that Flynn knew would blossom into panic if he didn't keep a tight reign on his emotions. Yuri would be fine. He'd be a little banged up, of course, but he was strong, the strongest person Flynn had ever known, and he was lucky. He would be fine. He'd probably been picked up by a fisherman or something and was recovering. Maybe he simply wasn't well enough to travel or didn't have a way of letting everyone know he was okay. He would be fine. He'd fought worse. He'd survived worse. He would be fine.
Flynn reached Yuri's door without realizing it, the route as familiar to him as the halls of the palace. He raised his hand to knock and hesitated. If Duke really had brought Yuri back again—and who was to say he hadn't? Duke may have been reclusive and mysterious, but he had a way of being where he was needed most and he seemed fond of Yuri, or as fond as he ever managed to be—if Duke had brought him back, Yuri might be sleeping. Without the benefit of Estellise's healing powers, rest would be the best thing for him. Flynn decided to just peek in and check on him. It would be all right so long as he was quiet.
Silently, he opened the door a crack. The sun had almost set, but there was enough light for him to be able to make out the empty room, the empty bed. Everything was neat and untouched, just as it had been the last time he'd seen it, the night before Yuri left for Dahngrest over a month ago.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside. This was wrong. Yuri should have been here. He should have made it back, Duke should have brought him. He'd survived when it happened at Zaude.
Behind him, Repede whined again.
"I don't know where he is," Flynn said absently, staring at the neatly made bed. "Maybe he just hasn't had enough time to get back." That had to be it. That had to be all there was to it.
The room smelled like dust and smoke. Long ago, before Yuri had split his life between Dahngrest and the capital, it had smelled like Yuri—his soap, the spices he cooked with, the tea he liked, his own scent. The room felt wrong without Yuri, without even that ghost of his presence, and Flynn suddenly wanted to be anywhere except that forebodingly empty room. He hurried out, nearly tripping over Repede.
"We'll come back tomorrow. Maybe he'll be here by then."
There was a tremor in his voice. The pit in his stomach had taken root and was blooming.
Knowing that he needed to keep himself occupied, Flynn buried himself in work as soon as he arrived back at the palace. He skipped dinner and eventually fell asleep at his desk in the wee hours of the morning, exhausted. Even then, he slept fitfully, half-waking out of nightmares that fled his consciousness but left him miserable and angry and afraid. Every time he stirred, he was dragged back into his restless sleep, but sleep couldn't hold him against the phantoms conjured by his restless mind. Dawn eventually broke the cycle, calling him to face the day.
Once more, Flynn threw himself into his work. He barely ate, afraid that if he stopped he would start thinking about Yuri and the look in Karol's eyes when he'd apologized and Flynn couldn't have that, couldn't allow himself to feel anything when there was still the hope that Yuri was out there somewhere, recovering or even captured by one of his enemies, but alive.
Wrapped up in the safe, habitual world of his job as Commandant—official documents, logistics, figures, jargon—Flynn could almost forget that Yuri had gone missing. He did lose track of time, and was only brought back into the present reality of the situation when Sodia came in looking as worried as he had ever seen her and bearing a covered tray from the kitchens.
"You haven't eaten anything all day. Is something wrong?"
He wanted to scream at her for even asking. Of course something was wrong. Yuri was injured and missing. He had saved the world. Where was the world when he needed saving?
"Nothing. Thank you for bringing dinner up, but I think I'm going to go out. I need some fresh air."
"Should I go with you, sir?"
He stared at her for a moment. Over the years, she had slowly become less deferential when speaking to him, and the sudden return of 'sir' when it was just the two of them was startling. She looked uncertain, concerned, even a little scared.
Suddenly, Flynn realized how he must appear to her. A few hours of sleep that had left him feeling more drained than refreshed and a day spent immersed in work to the point where he hadn't even bothered with meals would leave anyone looking rough. Sighing, he rubbed a hand over his face.
"I'll be fine. I just need to…clear my head."
She let him go without further argument, and he made his way straight to Yuri's room. Repede was waiting for him outside The Comet. At some point, the dog had left unnoticed and gone out into the city.
Anxiously, Flynn climbed the stairs, straining to hear even the softest sound that might tell him Yuri had come back. He stopped outside the door, suddenly terribly afraid of opening it and finding only an empty room. Repede had no advice to give. He simply sat and watched, sadly, Flynn thought.
Before he could talk himself out of it, Flynn gathered his nerve and let himself in. The room was exactly as he had left it the night before. He stared around in disbelief.
Yuri had to be there. He had to come back. He should have sent word, contacted somebody, somehow. He had to be okay.
Flynn sat down heavily on the bed and stared unseeing into the room.
Yuri was fine. He had to be fine. Flynn was going to kill him himself if he had…when he came back. He would come back. He always came back. He had to come back. Repede was here. Yuri never went anywhere without Repede. He had to come back.
He flopped over onto his side. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
When he woke up the next morning, he was famished. He tore through Yuri's room, searching for anything edible he might have left behind, thinking eating his food wouldn't be nearly enough payback for making everyone worry like he had.
There was nothing to eat anywhere and, rationally, Flynn knew anything he might have found would have spoiled long ago. Still, he cursed Yuri as he went from shelf to dresser to desk, tossing things aside and emptying drawers. He tore apart the room, furious. Why couldn't Yuri keep anything on hand for the days when he dropped in between jobs? He couldn't have thought that maybe it would be a good idea to have something saved away in case the markets were closed and he wanted a snack? He was such an idiot, never planning ahead, never thinking of his own comfort. It was rude, too, not to have something on hand to offer guests. Stupid and rude…Flynn was going to give Yuri a piece of his mind when he came back.
Nearly ready to go out and buy something from the marketplace, Flynn paused upon noticing something odd about the desk drawer he'd just upended onto the floor. Scratched into the corner of the bottom of the drawer was a tiny outline of a sword. It was the same shape as the old wooden swords he and Yuri had worked so hard to save money to buy when they were young.
He tapped at the wood, listening to the sound, gauged the depth of the drawer and the height of the sides, then pulled out his dagger and wedged it into the corner near Yuri's sign and pried the false bottom loose.
A thin box had been hidden in the drawer. Forgetting his hunger, his irrational anger, Flynn pulled it out and turned it over in his hands. It was locked, but it didn't weight much. Whatever was inside must have more personal than monetary value. He fiddled with the lock, even tried picking it with the tip of his dagger, but he quickly lost patience. As he hadn't seen any keys while ransacking Yuri's room, he used the hilt of his dagger to smash the lock, feeling some small, petty sense of satisfaction over the destruction of the box.
All he found inside was a sheaf of papers. As he unfolded the top one, he realized they were letters written to him in Yuri's hand and he froze. Yuri had never written him a letter before. He wasn't the type to communicate that way. If Yuri had something to say to a person, he would say it directly to his or her face.
His hands trembled as he read the contents.
I've been thinking a lot this year. I know you must be thinking that's not like me but I'm serious so pay attention.
I failed you. I always counted on you to build a better future for the world but I forgot that you still needed someone to keep you grounded in the present. You're always working hard to change things and I was afraid that if I pulled you away from that then I'd be betraying my own convictions. I let you get absorbed in your work to the point that you started to forget about what was happening around you. I'm sorry for that.
Do you remember Theodore Landrigan?
Flynn went cold. He did remember that name. He had been too caught up in talks between the empire and the Union at the time to take part in the investigation personally, but he remembered hearing about the bodies that had been found, the trial, the acquittal. He remembered the cold fury in Yuri's face when he heard, and he remembered that Yuri had left unexpectedly for Dahngrest the next day and that Landrigan had vanished.
He was afraid to read further, afraid that he knew what Yuri had written to him, and he didn't want proof, didn't want one more admission of guilt from Yuri when he wasn't around to defend himself or stand trial. He didn't want Yuri's name tarnished further now that he had disappeared and had no way to redeem himself a second time.
Still, he had to know. Maybe the letter wasn't a confession. At the very least, he owed it to Yuri to set aside his feelings and read.
Do you remember Theodore Landrigan? He was that merchant who bribed his way out of justice after it was discovered that he had been preying on children. He disappeared not long after he was released. You never did ask me if I had anything to do with that. There have been a few people over the last few years that went missing or turned up dead after they had weaseled their way out of punishment under the law. I wasn't responsible for dealing with all of them but you never once asked me whether I had anything to do with the fates they met.
Flynn's heart sank. Hadn't he promised years ago to fix things so that Yuri wouldn't be faced with that choice again? He'd wanted so badly to shield Yuri from that because, despite whatever he might say about the necessity of his actions, Flynn knew taking a life weighed on him. He'd meant to protect Yuri, but his oldest friend had always been very good at pretending to be invincible, so good that even Flynn was fooled sometimes and forgot that he was only human, he could fall, he could make mistakes.
He could be let down by the person he was closest to, the person who professed to love him. He could be ignored, lied to, betrayed.
He could disappear. He could die.
Flynn couldn't keep himself from wondering: if he had asked Yuri back then what he'd done, if Yuri had answered truthfully and been punished for his crimes…would he still be here? Would he be safe in a cell rather than injured and lost in the wilderness or swept out to sea?
If Flynn had kept his promise and confronted Yuri, arrested him…could he have saved Yuri?
He couldn't bear to think about that just then, and turned his attention back to Yuri's letter.
It made me wonder if you had become so focused on the future that the present no longer mattered to you or if you were simply afraid of what you would have to do if you found out what I had done.
You can't be afraid to deliver justice Flynn. The world you want has to be fair. Before I write another of these letters I'm going to talk to you. I'm going to confess to my crimes. If you're the man I've always believed you are then you won't hesitate to arrest me and have me tried. If it comes to that I'll destroy all of these letters. You won't need them if I spend the rest of my life in jail.
If anything happens to me before then I know you'll find this box. What you're doing as commandant is important but don't lose sight of the people around you. If I'm gone you'll have to carry my burden as well and protect the world while you change it. If anyone can do it you can.
Don't forget me.
Flynn stared at the page in his hand, at a loss. He read the last few paragraphs again, barely able to focus on the words, on what they meant.
Yuri had known he was going to disappear? How? Why did he accept the mission? No, that was a stupid question. Of course he would accept the mission. He was Yuri Lowell.
Slowly, he began to realize what he held. Yuri knew he lived a dangerous life. He had written all these letters to Flynn just in case anything happened to him. How many times had he…? Flynn thumbed through the stack, counting. Eleven. There were eleven letters in total. He turned the stack over and unfolded the first one, sinking numbly into the rickety old chair as he read.
You always said I was going to get myself killed being so reckless. You're probably right but I can't just sit still when there's so much I could be doing to make a difference or help or just get through another day. You know as well as I do that the empire is corrupt and the knights are useless. If anything is going to change we're going to have to change it with our own strength. I know you have a plan. You're going to join up with the knights. You'll probably be the only decent one in the ranks. If they don't kick you out for that maybe you can make them into your strength. I never said anything but I'd kind of like to join with you. It's not like we can make our voices heard any other way.
I guess I got carried away. I meant to start by saying that since we're both pretty sure one of my stupid stunts is going to get me killed—and I hope you still remember those were your words—
He did remember. He remembered saying that when Yuri had taken up beaning Knights with rocks to knock them out or make them leave their posts.
—I figured maybe it would be best to leave something behind for you. There are things I won't say out loud but if I'm dead I guess it doesn't matter if you read them.
Tonight is the last night of this year. Next year I want to quit talking about changing the world and actually do it. Maybe it'll just be the two of us at first but everyone in the lower quarter knows that something has to change. We just need to get things started.
I'm sure I'll do more reckless things next year. If I survive I'll write you another letter and tell you the things I couldn't say. If I do get myself killed I hope it'll be for something worthwhile. Until then we promised to change the world together and I'm holding you to that.
It ended just like that, no signature, no real conclusion. He wondered if Yuri had done it on purpose or if he had been interrupted and never come back to finish.
He opened up the second letter.
I guess you were right. I know you meant it when you told me I had no business being a knight but I also know that you were looking out for me. I think that's what I hated most. When I die I want to die having done everything in my power to save this world of ours. I don't want to sit by and waste my life waiting for orders or letting other people fight my battles for me. I guess I ended up doing that anyway after I quit the knights. It's tough having to sit by and watch you come to the rescue while I'm stuck as just another lower quarter troublemaker. I think I've been arrested more times this year than I ever did before we joined the knights. They ought to give me my own cell. Maybe one day when you're the one in charge it can be your gift to me.
I have two fears. I'm afraid that I'll die without having made a difference. I couldn't make it as a knight. I couldn't save Captain Niren. I couldn't save Lambert. I killed Garista but that didn't do any good for the dead. This year I need to find my path again. I still remember the promise we made. I want to change this world but right now I don't know how I can.
I said I have two fears. I guess it's okay to tell you the other one here since I won't be around to regret it anyway. I'm afraid that you'll forget me. You're going to accomplish what I may not be able to. You have it in you to be a great leader. If I'm not around throwing knights into the river don't go and forget me okay? Even if no one else remembers I ever existed I don't want you to forget. Sorry. I bet you're pissed that I would ask that of you.
He crushed the letter in his hand. 'Pissed' didn't even begin to describe what he was feeling. How dare Yuri…how dare he sit back and ask something like that? Taking a deep breath, Flynn smoothed out the letter and continued reading.
Suck it up. I'm the one who's gone.
"Damn it, Yuri!" He crumpled the letter again, this time compressing it into a ball and hurling it across the room.
He couldn't be gone, not really. He'd written this letter years ago. It was just a terrible accident that Flynn found it when he did.
Repede retrieved the letter and brought it back to Flynn. He sat there, staring, until Flynn had no other choice but to accept it, open it once more, and finish reading. There wasn't much left.
Like the captain said—become a great knight. Surpass your father. I know you can do it.
He read through the next three without any more outbursts. They were written during the years that Yuri had practically sequestered himself in his room above The Comet, coming out only to make trouble for the Knights. Flynn had never realized exactly how much leaving the Knights had cost Yuri, but there it was spelled out for him in Yuri's own messy handwriting and hinted at between the lines. Lost without a path to follow, Yuri had all but given up on himself during those few years.
He opened the sixth letter with a heavy heart.
I started off this year just like I ended my last one. You must have thought I was pathetic just watching life go by from my window. I hated it when you lectured me about how I was wasting my life. I'll make better use of it in the new year. I say that every time but this time is different. I don't think Estelle and the others would leave me alone if I went back to how I was.
Congratulations on your promotions. We never really got to celebrate with the world ending and everything. I keep meaning to drag you out for a drink but it seems like there's always something in the way.
Flynn laughed bitterly at that—there was no way that could happen now—then slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a sob. He took a moment to gather himself before he continued.
I'm sorry that I disappointed you but Ragou and Cumore couldn't be allowed to go unpunished. I won't apologize for killing them. I won't even say I wouldn't do it again because we both know I would. Even though I hate it that the laws meant to protect people let those two go I feel better knowing you hold me accountable. Keep that resolve. You'll need it to be the leader the world needs.
I'm sorry such a huge sacrifice had to be made to defeat the adephagos. You always said I should take credit for the things I did to protect the world and I'm more than willing to take the blame for all the hardship the loss of the blastia has caused. I'm sorry so much of the blame has been placed on your shoulders. I never meant to tarnish you.
You're doing good work as commandant. Things are already improving. I know you don't need me telling you to keep it up. I always believed you were the only man for the job. Prove me right.
The next letter would have been written after they became lovers, but there was nothing in it that touched on Yuri's feelings for him any deeper than the others. It read as if he had still been second guessing the change in their relationship, even though Flynn had never noticed any hesitation in him once he had set aside his uncertainties and given in. If he had written it at the end of the year, it meant he had still been having doubts months after their first night together. He'd never said anything, never let on, just watched Flynn carefully, searching for any sign that what they had between them might be interfering with Flynn's duty. Yuri always had been such a self-sacrificing idiot. The eighth letter had been written a year after that, and Flynn stopped as he skimmed the first paragraph.
We didn't get to see each other much this year. I think last time I wrote one of these I still thought that was a good thing. I'm proud of you though. You're changing the world and you've proved to me that it's the most important thing to you. Thanks.
Yuri wasn't being sarcastic. Flynn knew he meant it sincerely, but it didn't stop him from feeling sick to his stomach. How many times had he ignored Yuri in favor of work? How many times had he cancelled plans because of some pressing matter with the Knights?
He clamped a hand over his mouth as his stomach lurched. His eyes burned and he squeezed them shut, holding back tears, trying desperately to hold himself together against the crushing sense of guilt.
He would never again have to choose between Yuri and work because Yuri had gone and gotten himself killed and taken that choice away. What had he worked so hard for? Was it all worth it? Were the few changes he'd managed to make worth sacrificing so much of the time he could have spent with Yuri? Right at that moment, he wasn't sure and that thought terrified him. It felt like Yuri was his world and, reading the words he'd left behind as encouragement and apology, Flynn felt like his world had been destroyed. It was the second time in his life he had felt such devastating grief and it was tearing him apart.
Yuri was gone. He had to let go or risk losing it. He still had work to do, important work, work that he had valued above Yuri's company while Yuri was still alive. He had made his choices, decided on his path years ago. He had to continue. It was what Yuri had always expected of him.
He owed it to Yuri to read the few remaining letters, but he knew that if he did, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from breaking down, and he couldn't afford that. He was the Commandant. He had to be strong.
Carefully, smoothing out the creases he'd made, Flynn tucked the letters back into the box, closed it as best he could with its broken lock, and returned it to its hiding place.
He gathered his composure, steadied his breathing. He would have to return to the palace. He had a full schedule tomorrow. He'd have to assign someone to plan a funeral. Lady Estellise wouldn't like it, but there had to be an end. They couldn't all keep trying to go on with the grief and the hope hanging heavy over their heads.
Yuri was dead.
Estellise arrived from Halure the next day. She came straight up to see Flynn, took one look at him, and burst into tears as she threw her arms around him. Flynn stood there, lost, having been pulled from his immersion in his work by her unannounced arrival in his office. Rita had apparently come with her. She watched him for a moment before stepping in to help, pulling Estellise gently away and leading her out of the room. The look in Rita's eyes had been one of pity and Flynn didn't want to think about why she would look at him like that when Yuri was the one who had died.
Flynn buried himself in his work. He'd asked Hanks to handle the funeral arrangements, but Hanks had flat out refused, so he'd had to leave things up to a member of his personal staff who hadn't known Yuri nearly as well. Estellise found out and returned to his office to scold him and beg him to call it off. When Flynn tried to send her away, Rita slapped him. She shouted at him, demanding that he come to his senses, which was a ridiculous thing to say, since he was apparently the only one acting like the world hadn't ended. Yuri was dead, but life went on. He had a job to do, all of them did. Yuri expected great things from them, the arrogant bastard, and they couldn't dishonor his memory by falling apart just because he wouldn't be around to see what they would accomplish. That stupid, over-confident, arrogant bastard.
He collapsed halfway through the fourth day after hearing Karol's news and had to be put to bed. He slept for hours, only because his body was too worn out for even his dreams to rouse him. When he woke late the next morning, he was ravenous and disoriented. It felt like everything might have been nothing more than a nightmare or fever dream. Maybe he had been sick and delirious. He certainly felt weak enough for that to have been the case.
Everything seemed normal as the maids came in with a platter of food that he devoured gratefully. He got himself up and dressed, taking the rest of his tea with him into his office.
He froze when he saw Judith waiting for him there. His teacup rattled against the saucer as his hands began to shake.
"We found him. He's in his room."
The teacup shattered on the floor, and Flynn was out the door before the carpet had absorbed the spill.
He had never run the distance to Yuri's room so quickly. Everyone else on the streets seemed to be moving in slow motion, taking their time when Flynn couldn't ever remember being in more of a hurry in his life. They laughed and dawdled and got in his way until he felt like he might scream.
Finally, finally, he arrived at The Comet. He took the stairs three at a time, stumbling, catching himself with his hands on the steps until he stood, panting, in front of Yuri's door.
He could hear conversation from inside, but it came distantly, dreamily to his ears. He reached for the knob, shaking, seeing in his mind's eye the empty room beyond. He hadn't ever returned to clean up the mess he'd made.
He heard Repede's bark, and the voices inside quieted. There was a murmur, a minute of hushed conversation, and then the door opened and Yuri's friends filed out past him, tears in their eyes, a funeral procession, except they were smiling, all of them, even Rita. Raven clapped him on the shoulder. Karol wouldn't look at him, presumably still angry over his reaction to the news and the funeral he'd ordered arranged. Estellise was the last to leave, and she took Flynn's hands in her own trembling ones.
"He's back. He's going to be okay."
She sniffed and wiped her eyes, then she was following the rest of them down the stairs, and Flynn was left staring into Yuri's room, still littered with the evidence of his intrusion. Hesitantly, he stepped over the threshold, turning to close the door behind him. Taking a deep breath, he finally allowed himself to look at the bed where Yuri sat, watching him.
Bandages were wrapped around Yuri's head and his right forearm. His left arm was in a sling and, from the shape of it under the blanket, Flynn could tell his right leg was in a splint. More bandages were visible beneath his open shirt, binding him up to his chest. He smirked at Flynn.
"I hear I made it back just in time for my funeral."
Flynn made it to the bed before his knees gave out, but it was a near thing. He sagged against Yuri, squeezing him for all he was worth. He had never been so relieved to be able to hug someone.
"Hey, watch the ribs!"
Yuri tried to push him away and Flynn's anger flared. Before he knew what he was doing, he pulled back and punched Yuri square on the cheek.
"I thought you were dead! You asshole, I thought you were dead! Where have you been? Why didn't you contact anyone?"
Rubbing his cheek, Yuri glared up at him. "I'm going to pay you back for that, with interest. You think I was just sitting around laughing at how much everyone would worry about me?"
"No." As fast as it had come, the anger was gone, leaving him feeling drained and ashamed of his actions. He sat down in the chair, wanting to put some distance between himself and Yuri. "No. I'm sorry."
"Good. The reason I didn't contact you is because I couldn't. The guy who fished me out of the ocean lived on this little island. No guildsmen passing through to send a letter with, and I wasn't exactly in any shape to be moved."
Flynn shivered when he said it. Yuri didn't admit to weakness of any kind. He heard in those words how close his friend had come to death.
"It took forever for me to get him to take a letter to the mainland and find someone who could bring it to Dahngrest. Judy and Karol came and picked me up as soon as they got it."
He didn't bother asking why Yuri hadn't sent him a letter, as well. With Ba'ul transporting them, Judith and Karol could have made it to Hyponia and back to Zaphias by the time a guildsman could have brought word from Dahngrest.
"So, who tore up my room?"
"Oh. That was me. Sorry."
"What the hell, Flynn? Couldn't take your anger out on me, so you went for the next best thing?"
"I was hungry."
"I see." He left it at that, but Flynn could tell he suspected there was more to it.
Silence settled between them again. Flynn wanted so badly to reach out and hold Yuri, but he didn't want to look weak, didn't want Yuri to know how close he'd come to falling apart after reading those letters.
The letters. Sooner or later, Yuri would realize that Flynn had found those letters and then Flynn would have no choice but to arrest him. He could put it off for the time being, pretend he had never actually read them, or at least not that one, but it would be turning his back on the person Yuri believed him to be. It would be an enormous betrayal of his trust.
If he came out and admitted that he knew, however, Yuri would be tried and imprisoned. At least that way he would be safe. He would be unable to go chasing danger across the world. Flynn would never again feel the way he had when he'd stepped into Yuri's vacant room…
…and Yuri would hate him. He would know, of course he would, that Flynn's objective wouldn't be to claim justice for the people Yuri had killed, but to protect Yuri from himself. In the end, it wouldn't be much different from telling Yuri he didn't belong in the Knights. It was just Flynn doing what little he could to try and protect the person he cared most about in the world when that protection was completely unwanted.
He didn't want to talk about the letters, didn't want to talk about what he had read or what he was going to do about it. Yuri was laid up, anyway. He wasn't going anywhere. Flynn had time to make his decision.
Or at least, that's what he thought until he noticed Yuri glancing at the drawer with the false bottom. He made the mistake of meeting Yuri's eyes, and saw the realization set in.
"You found the letters."
There was nothing for it. He never could lie to Yuri. "Yes."
"Did you read them?"
"Not all of them."
Yuri's mouth twisted in distaste. He clenched the sheet with his one good hand and looked away.
"You ass. You weren't supposed to read those until after I died."
"I thought you were dead."
He looked back up at that. "You would have known if I was. We're connected, Flynn. The moment I die, no matter how far apart we are, you'll know it. It would be the same for me."
"I don't want to know that. I don't want to go through that again." He hoped Yuri would drop the subject but, deep down, he knew he wouldn't. Yuri was too stubborn.
"You read the last letter."
"You know what you have to do." There was nothing in his voice, no anger, no resentment, not even expectation. Flynn couldn't look at him.
"It's my fault."
"You said you'd failed to keep me grounded in the present, but I'd promised to build you a world where you wouldn't need to do what you did. I let you down."
"This is your chance to make up for it, then. Show me your resolve, Flynn. Show me that I was right to trust you with the fate of the world."
Flynn surged up out of the chair and seized him by the front of the shirt. "Can you just drop it? Can you, for once, set aside all your pride and ideals, and just be a human being? You almost died! I asked Hanks to plan your funeral! You're bedridden, covered in injuries: you certainly won't be fleeing into the night to escape justice. Just…just let it go."
He loosed his grip on Yuri's shirt and sank to his knees beside the bed, wrapping his arms around Yuri's waist. He breathed in deeply. The scent of Yuri's spices was missing, so was the tea and the soap. All that was left was Yuri and it was enough to bring forth the tears that Flynn had been holding back since the shock of Karol's news had first worn off.
"Please. At least until you've recovered," he begged.
He couldn't lose Yuri again. He wasn't as strong as he'd always thought. It would break him. There was no one else he could lean on, on one else he trusted and loved like Yuri. He couldn't be the hero Yuri expected him to be, not alone.
He cried into Yuri's shirt, clinging to him and shaking, knowing he was probably only causing Yuri pain, but unable to let go. At some point, Yuri had begun stroking his hair and, as Flynn finally calmed down, he focused on the reassuring feel of Yuri's fingers against his scalp.
"You promised me, Flynn," Yuri murmured, and Flynn thought he could hear regret in his voice. "Back when things between us changed, you promised me that you wouldn't let it stop you from doing what's right."
It killed him to know that Yuri was right, that he'd known it would eventually come to this and had even warned Flynn five years ago, given him a chance to back away, distance himself, and prepare for the inevitable—and it was inevitable. Yuri could no more ignore an injustice before him than he could fly to the stars.
It shouldn't have been any different from their confrontation after Cumore's death, but it was. Flynn didn't have a family, he didn't have friends. He had his duty and he had Yuri, and now he had to choose between losing one to honor the other and losing both.
He'd had five years to love Yuri after a lifetime of friendship and rivalry and it wasn't anywhere near enough. The time had flown by, and now he felt he'd wasted so much of it on pursuing his career. Hadn't there been things he could have delegated to others? Hadn't there been times he'd earned a break? He felt his loyalties fraying and knew before Yuri spoke that he would not be forgiven if he wavered in his duty.
"You've gotten too attached to me. Used to be, you wouldn't hesitate to deliver justice, even when I was the one on the wrong end of your sword."
He refused to relinquish his hold around Yuri's waist as Yuri continued stroking his hair, offering what little reassurance he could through his rigid devotion to his convictions.
"Give me a break. You came back from the dead, Yuri. Can't I be allowed to feel something about that?"
"You should be. It isn't fair. You hold me up to these ridiculous standards while you go off and do whatever you want. You task me with changing the whole world, but you can't show a little restraint to give me peace of mind?"
"They didn't deserve restraint."
"But I deserve to be forced to choose between you and my duty?" Yuri flinched, but held his tongue. "That wasn't a rhetorical question."
"You think I like this any better than you? The great Flynn Scifo, high and mighty Commandant, and Yuri Lowell, murderer. Some pair we are."
"How can you joke about this?"
"Because if I take it as seriously as you do, I'm gonna snap. I hate that the world is so screwed up that I had to become what I am in order to protect people. That never should have happened. The empire failed us, Flynn; it failed all of us. Someone has to fix it so that there aren't more kids who end up like I did, and you're the only person with enough integrity to do it. Even after all these years, even after everything between us, I still have faith in you. You're wavering now because you're only human but—"
"Damn it, Yuri, of course I'm only human! So are you!" Rearing up to look Yuri in the eye, he wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, wanted to make him understand. "We all make mistakes, but we can all be forgiven. Justice without mercy is almost as bad as no justice at all."
"What I've done can't be taken back and it can't be forgiven…not by the living. I won't run away from this, Flynn. I won't let you run away from it, either." He only just barely managed a smile. "Can you forgive me for that?"
"You utter bastard."
He nodded slowly. "I'm sorry I let you down. I'm glad you're a better man than I am."
"Fine. Once you've healed—"
"Why wait? I'm fit enough to stand trial. You'll have to get me a crutch, though."
Yuri looked up expectantly as Flynn stood, defeated, and extended a hand to help him out of bed. He leaned heavily on Flynn, holding his bad leg off the ground, as Flynn supported him.
"Yuri Lowell, I hereby place you under arrest for the murder of Theodore Landrigan."
As he helped Yuri back to the palace and down into a cell, Flynn felt he had never shouldered a heavier burden.
The weeks before Yuri's trial left Flynn numb and exhausted. He had expected backlash from Yuri's friends and it came almost before he'd made it back up out of the dungeon. Estellise confronted him about what had happened, why he had locked Yuri up, and he told her that Yuri had confessed to murdering at least one person, and had probably killed a few others. She stared at him like she didn't recognize him and fled into the darkness to ask Yuri about it herself.
Something Yuri said must have convinced her that Flynn wasn't to blame for the situation. She began visiting his state room a few times a week, bringing him tea or simply checking on him. She understood that he was suffering, and he knew that she was as well, but she offered what comfort she could.
The rest of Yuri's friends were not so forgiving. Karol and Judith confronted him only a few hours after Yuri's arrest, and Flynn wouldn't soon forget the look in Karol's eyes. The young man had actually punched him, and Flynn couldn't say he didn't deserve it. He heard later that Yuri had received much the same treatment through the bars of his cell, though he was certain the feeling behind the blow had been vastly different.
Judith didn't say a word to him. She had just watched him coolly before leaving with Karol.
Rita came by and harangued him, more for making Estellise cry than for arresting Yuri, but he didn't turn her away. He never thought to turn any of them away, or to issue orders barring them from his office. Facing the people hurt by what had happened was all part of his punishment. He hadn't worked hard enough, hadn't been good enough to protect Yuri, and now they were both paying the price.
The empire's broken system of justice wasn't wholly to blame. Yuri had made his own choices, after all. Still, it was hard: hard to think that there was something he could have done to prevent what had happened, hard to think he was still working for the government that had allowed matters to reach that state.
Flynn knew he wasn't entirely innocent in the matter, either. The first time Yuri had killed a man, Flynn had been right there beside him. He remembered Garista standing before them, unsteady on his feet, defeated. He remembered the look in Yuri's eyes, the light reflecting off Captain Niren's blastia, given to Yuri along with the captain's last words. He remembered how Yuri had charged, how he had cut Garista down. He remembered the spray of blood that stained Yuri's hands red. Later on, he would recall Captain Niren's last words to Yuri about saving everyone who could be saved, and Flynn would wonder why he had let his best friend kill a man before his eyes.
He pushed his feelings down, buried them deep, and threw himself into his work. It was all he could do to keep from going crazy, to satisfy his need to make a difference even after all the suffering his path had caused. It was all he could do for Yuri who had made sacrifices in his place.
One day, more than a week after Yuri had been imprisoned, Ioder showed himself into Flynn's office.
Immediately, Flynn stood and bowed, but Ioder waved him down, smiling softly.
"My cousin says you aren't looking so well these days."
"I appreciate your concern, Master Ioder, but, as you can see, I'm fine."
"You've certainly been working hard." He picked up a paper off Flynn's desk and skimmed it before setting it back down.
"I hear the investigation into Yuri Lowell's crimes is meeting with some difficulties."
"Yes. Most of the deaths took place some years ago and, aside from Landrigan, all the victims were from Dahngrest and had few connections to the empire worth pursuing. There is little evidence to be uncovered. From what I understand, no bodies have ever turned up."
"But there was a confession, wasn't there?"
Flynn hesitated. Yuri's letter had alluded to his responsibility for the murders of Theodore Landrigan and a handful of other criminals, but he had never outright claimed he had killed them, and Flynn hadn't asked.
"It wasn't exactly a confession. If you need details, Sodia would be the best person to ask. I assigned her the investigation."
"The image of impartiality?" For a moment, his smile stretched a little wider and Flynn had the irrational thought that Ioder knew the real reason he hadn't wanted to be the one to question Yuri. Then, just as quickly, his smile was gone entirely, replaced with a seriousness equal to Flynn's.
"The people he is accused of killing were all dangers to society. I have no doubt that the number of deaths would have been considerably higher had their lives been spared. I pardoned Yuri Lowell once before in light of the actions he took to save the world. I never did repay the debt I owe him for saving my life."
Flynn's heart leapt at what Ioder was offering, but he knew he couldn't accept. What Yuri had forced him to do—the arrest, the trial—it was all a test to see if Flynn was still the man Yuri wanted him to be, or if his resolve would crumble beneath his personal feelings. It was cruel, but Yuri felt it was necessary, and if Yuri had killed those people then he had to face justice. He'd left Flynn with no choice.
"Please don't trouble yourself over him, Master Ioder. Believe it or not, this is what he wants."
"As you say, Commandant." He turned and left Flynn alone with his thoughts.
Flynn didn't visit Yuri at any point through the whole process, though he did ask after him during Estellise's visits. Through her, he learned that he was healing quickly and appeared to be dealing with the situation as well as could be expected. It probably helped that his friends were there to support him. Even Raven had returned from Dahngrest and gone down to the dungeon to see Yuri. He was in good enough spirits, at least: taunting the guards and complaining about the quality of the food. Flynn mentioned to Estellise that Yuri liked the mabo curry served to the Knights, but it was as close as he came to interfering. He even kept completely hands-off the investigation and interrogation, asking Sodia to submit written reports rather than discuss the matter with him in person.
As the day of the trial approached, Flynn returned to Yuri's room for the box of letters. He should have turned the final one in as evidence, but he knew that Yuri would not have lied during questioning. The insinuations in his words would not have done much to alter the outcome of events, and Flynn felt he could be forgiven the small trespass of wanting to keep the letters private. The night before the trial, he read every one of them and remembered.
Yuri's fate was out of his hands. It always had been, but he had never fully accepted that. As the sun rose, he let go and prayed that, whatever happened, he would have the strength to deal with the outcome.
Flynn forced himself to attend the trial. He held his head high and met Karol's accusing glare and endured Rita's open scorn. It seemed like the entire lower quarter had turned up as well, shouting encouragement to Yuri, and Flynn was almost able to smile upon seeing the show of support. He looked Yuri in the eye, even when his oldest friend smiled slightly and gave him the barest nod to let him know that he had done no wrong in Yuri's book. He still felt like dirt, and hoped it didn't show.
Sodia read off the list of crimes to the five judges and detailed both Yuri's confession and the evidence the Knights had collected, which was not much. Yuri was not allowed to speak for himself but Estellise stood up to speak for him. She described how Yuri had told her details of Theodore Landrigan's death that the Knights had not asked him about. She told them about how Landrigan had taken another child and that Yuri had killed Landrigan in order to save the boy. The judges murmured amongst themselves at that, and Sodia gaped at Yuri as he stood impassive before all assembled.
The proceedings were over in less than a day, and the judges would return their decision in the morning. Yuri was taken back to his cell, surrounded by his friends as far as the guards would allow them to accompany him. Only Flynn hung back, watching silently. He returned to his office, but not his work, and spent the remainder of the afternoon staring out into the sky, waiting for evening and the appearance of Brave Vesperia. The cold, clear light of the star gave him little peace that night.
Everyone gathered once more in the morning, and it took a good five minutes for the chief judge to call them to order and silence the chatter and rustling. The atmosphere in the room was heavy, but with a sharp, restless edge of anticipation. Flynn worried about what might happen should people get too worked up over a guilty verdict, and summoned a few more Knights to serve as extra security.
As the judges looked down on him and began to speak, Yuri stared right back at them, standing tall and proud, unafraid to face the long-delayed consequences of his actions.
"Given the testimony supplied by Lady Estellise that the killing of Theodore Landrigan took place in defense of another citizen of the empire, and the distinct lack of any evidence connecting the accused to the murder of any other citizen, we find Yuri Lowell to be innocent of the charges leveled against him. He is to be immediately released from custody."
Yuri's friends surrounded him, cheering and congratulating him, barely allowing enough room for a Knight to squeeze through to unlock his shackles. In the midst of it all, Yuri grinned and laughed and let the group usher him out into the streets for a celebratory meal.
Again, Flynn stayed behind. He knew Yuri would come find him eventually. He made his way back to his room in a daze. Yes, he was happy that Yuri was free, even if he felt that justice still hadn't been served, but he had never expected a group of Zaphias' well-to-do would judge the infamous Yuri Lowell and find him innocent. It was such a ridiculous thought that he couldn't help but laugh.
As he collapsed onto his bed, laughing helplessly, he let go of all the stress and tension he'd been carrying for the past month. Yuri was alive. Yuri had been arrested for his crimes and stood trial and been released. He was going to be okay. He was alive and free and Flynn hadn't lost him, yet. The laughter turned to tears and, in the solitude of his room, Flynn allowed himself to cry and let out all the fears, all the frustration and anger and bitterness that had weighed him down and sapped his strength. He let it all go and simply thanked the lucky stars that looked over Yuri and himself.
Hours later, long after he'd had time to calm down and center himself and get cleaned up, Yuri came knocking on the door. Flynn let him in, noting that Karol had accompanied him and now stood unhappily in the middle of the state room, Repede at his side.
"Hey, Commandant. You as surprised as I am?"
"More, I think." He noticed Yuri eyeing him suspiciously and sighed. "I had nothing to do with it—any of it. Ask Sodia."
"I suppose it's customary to offer congratulations in this situation, but somehow I feel that would be inappropriate."
"You're damn right it would." He lowered his voice, glancing back to where Karol waited in the next room. "You and I both know that wasn't justice in there. Did you hear what that ass said? The part about 'the distinct lack of any evidence connecting the accused to the murder of any other citizen?' I confessed to killing two other men, but since they were from the Union and I'm just one more guild troublemaker, the empire's fat cats can't be bothered dealing with me. Not their people, not their problem, no matter if it all happened on imperial soil." He huffed, irritated. "It's pretty ironic that the same system that failed to punish all of them would let me go."
"So, what do you want me to do about it?" He dreaded the answer, but Yuri cocked his head to the side and grinned at him.
"Exactly what you've been doing. We both know it's going to take time to fix this mess. Just keep up the good work. You've proven that you're the only person fit for the job."
"About that…. Don't think I've forgiven you for testing me like this. I'm still angry with you after all you put me through."
"Oh?" His cockiness faded to be replaced with a mask of nonchalance. "How angry?"
"Angry enough to not want to see you again until the end of the year."
Yuri whistled. "That bad, huh? That's okay. The boss says we have a job lined up that ought to take about that long to complete. I'll drop by when I'm done and you can yell at me until you're blue in the face." He paused, sighed, and dropped the act. "I had to know, Flynn. I put all my faith in you, and you started to change. I had to be sure."
"I'll forgive you for it when you apologize, though I'm not holding my breath on that one. I don't believe for a second that you're sorry."
"I'm sorry you had to suffer. Your eyes look a little red, by the way." The smile he offered was lopsided and rueful.
With a sigh, Flynn leaned in and kissed him briefly.
"Go. Do your job. We'll talk when you get back."
Yuri's face contorted into an exaggerated grimace at that, and Flynn couldn't help but smile. At the moment, he was too drained to really be angry, but in a couple months' time, he was sure he'd still be able to work up a good tirade about everything Yuri had done. He walked Yuri out into the state room, where Karol assumed custody of him. He'd grown tall enough to throw an arm around Yuri's shoulders, and he did so then, sticking his tongue out at Flynn.
"Oh, Yuri, one last thing." Flynn held out his hand, expectantly.
"I'd like you to return the key Raven brought you."
Smirking, Yuri reached around to the back of his neck and yanked, freeing the key from where he'd hidden it under the mass of his hair. A few strands were still knotted around it as he passed it to Flynn.
Karol stared at him in disbelief. "You mean you could've escaped?"
Yuri shrugged. "Not really. I broke the law. I was fully prepared for the consequences."
The look Karol shot Flynn was considerably less harsh after that little glimpse of Yuri's stubborn adherence to his principles.
"Don't let him do anything too stupid," Flynn cautioned. "He has a knack for it."
Both of them rolled their eyes at that and left. Repede barked in farewell and followed.
As Flynn started to return to his room, the door opened once more and Ioder entered.
"I'm a little surprised your visit didn't last longer. I know the past few weeks have been a burden on you. I had expected you'd have more to say to him."
"I do, but it will have to wait. Is there something I can do for you, Master Ioder?"
"Not this evening. I came to thank you for all your years of loyal service to the empire."
He bowed his head. "I've simply been doing my duty as a Knight."
"I believe you've gone above and beyond that." He paused, then: "Yuri Lowell is a very honorable man, isn't he?"
Surprised, Flynn snapped his gaze up to meet Ioder's. "Yes. He is."
"I spoke to a few of the judges about him before the trial." Once more, he paused, making sure this time that he had Flynn's full attention. "I won't do it again."
Having said his piece, Ioder bid Flynn a good evening and left.
The judges' decision suddenly made sense, and Flynn knew Yuri could never find out. He was grateful Ioder had waited to tell him. As raw as he felt, he knew that he wouldn't have been able to hide the knowledge from Yuri. He didn't want to find out what it would do to him to know he had escaped justice not simply because of a flawed system, but because the judges had been unfairly influenced on his behalf—and by Ioder, of all people. Yuri had plenty of problems with the empire already. He didn't need that on top of everything else.
Flynn smiled to himself, realizing that he was trying to protect Yuri again and that he wouldn't be thanked for it. He sat down at his desk, knowing that he wasn't about to get any work done that night. Sighing, he mentally counted up how much he had in savings, working out the cost of a week at Yumanju for two. At the end of the year, he was going to take a vacation for once. Yuri could join him, and the two of them were going to actually talk and figure out how this relationship of theirs was supposed to survive caught between their convictions and resolve…and maybe afterward they'd have some time together to forget the rest of the world for a little while. Finding a balance between them would be difficult, but he'd always known it wouldn't be easy to love Yuri Lowell and, with as much faith as Yuri put in him, he knew he had to be equal to the challenge.