So I just want to say that I fully 100% support the fact that these precious babies deserve happy endings, and that they don't deserve to be hurt.
That being said, welcome to this fic, where I make them suffer :) CHEERS.
I can't even use the excuse that I wrote this in the spur of the moment at 11PM again, because this idea has been sitting in my head for a week or two. Although I will say, I was sleep-deprived while writing most of this, and I did start it at 11PM.
I STILL wish I could put more than four characters on this site...but it's not as important in this one, I guess. Still. -_-
In their line of work, it shouldn't have been all that surprising that they didn't all see their seventies or eighties and have lots of kids and grandkids and contentedly die of old age, like people are supposed to be able to in peaceful times.
But still, none of them expected Dorothea to go first.
(It could've been any of them, and they still wouldn't have expected it. Even if it was Willard, who was at least a decade older than all of them, they still wouldn't have expected it)
She was late to meet up at the safe house. It put all of them on edge.
Fallon couldn't stop pacing, and after Philip told him at least seventeen times to stop, he got back up after a few seconds of sitting and went back to pacing. The blonde gave up after some time. Fallon didn't even try to ruffle his hair once.
Philip kept tuning his violin, even though it was already perfect after the first six times or so, and he was going to mess it up at that rate because his hands were shaking, not that that was anyone's business but his.
Willard was going over what information they'd already gathered by the weak light of a lamp in the corner. It flickered and sputtered occasionally, and the two younger men knew that the professor wasn't actually getting anything done.
Ever since Yuliy had left, it hadn't been the same. Of course it hadn't. They kept each other close—for practicality, and irrational sentimentality. Yuliy had made his own choice to go and take on the world by himself, but they hadn't heard a word from him. Every time they thought they'd lost him for good this time, he'd leave a little sign here and there, but it still felt like they lost him, like they needed to band together closer now that they were down a member of the pack.
Fallon practically lunged for the door when they heard the knock, but his relief contorted into horror when Dorothea collapsed against the doorframe, dusky skin riddled with bullets and pristine outfit dyed crimson.
For a hot second, they were all panicking like headless chickens, looking for the first aid kit, oh god where was the first aid kit, she was bleeding so much-
Her voice snapped like a whip, and it brought some semblance of control back to the situation, hearing her no-nonsense battlefield commander voice telling them to shut up and sit down, even as blood dribbled down her chin.
They shut up and sat down, gathering close around her.
Willard dutifully wrote down the information she bled for. Compared to his typically neat, print-like writing, it was chicken scratch. People can usually recognize what it is they wrote, though, even if no one else can, and later, he'd read it a hundred times and not take in a single word.
All he would remember was the moment her hand, calloused from gripping rifles and pistols and shotguns, went limp in his grasp, and the moment her eyes slid shut and her head lolled lifelessly to the side, graceless in a way she never was in life.
Fallon was a shell of himself for weeks, even months. Being the closest in age, the two of them were the best friends they had. They'd bickered and teased, fought together, smelled gunpowder and blood and smoke together, saved each other's lives too many times to count, and they were all helpless this time. He'd always been the most emotional one out of the Jaegers anyways, and wore his heart on his figurative sleeve. Seeing him shut down was excruciating.
The professor wasn't much better, even if he looked it. He threw himself into work, and without Dorothea to remind him to go to bed at a halfway reasonable hour, he almost fell apart for a while. Even before the Jaegers were officially founded, the two of them had been working together, from Dorothea's college days, and knew each other's habits and thought trains inside and out. They could often be seen working late into the night on some strange sightings, or murder cases, or whatever it was that needed to be done. It wasn't an easy job for one, that was for sure. Rather, it wasn't an easy job for Willard without Dorothea.
Philip hated it. He hated watching Fallon, puffy-eyed and slightly gaunt, try to summon a half-hearted grin, without even the energy to ruffle the blonde's hair, no matter how many times he put himself within arm's reach purposefully. He hated it when Willard trailed off in the middle of his scheming, only for awkward silence to fill the gap when it became evident that Dorothea wasn't going to finish his thoughts like she always did.
He hated not having a big sister anymore.
It was just that...no one expected it. It'd been ten years since Yuliy left, and they knew he was still alive all this time. It'd been even longer since the Jaegers were first formed. Not a single member had died, which was a bloody miracle.
Did they think they were just going to be this one big happy family for the rest of eternity? Well, no, but they all wanted it so, so badly. And it seemed, just for a little while, that maybe, just maybe it could happen?
And it took months before they could finally inform her family. It was just too risky, in the building heat of the world war, and they had their jobs to do. Dorothea would've kicked their asses for slacking off even for a second.
They'd met the family before, once. It hurt, seeing Dorothea's mother beam at them, smile lines and flour on her face, cheerfully welcome them back, telling them it'd been too long since they last visited and they should come in for some refreshments.
It hurt even more when she frowned, confused, when she didn't see her daughter. She didn't even sound all that worried when she asked where Dorothea was, because she knew the Jaegers protected each other like family, so Dorothea was probably safe, wasn't she?
It hurt the most to see the younger siblings' reactions. They were all grown up by then, with lives of their own, but the oldest, Dorothea's only sister, still worked in the family restaurant with her parents. When the words sank in, she crumpled to the floor and screamed into her hands, breaking down into wracking sobs as her parents knelt by her and folded their arms around her as one broken heap of grief and tears.
They didn't stay long enough for her brothers to come back too. They couldn't.
What felt particularly awful was that they couldn't even have a proper funeral that might've offered some kind of closure. They couldn't bring her body back to her home in Spain and were forced to settle for cremating her and bringing her home in a little porcelain jar—much too small for her colorful confidence and the way she was everyone's big sister and the warm hugs and soft words of encouragement and-
Philip nearly vomited when he saw the jar.
Her family scattered the ashes at the beach. She'd grown up on the coast, so it seemed fitting. The wind swept them away, insubstantial and gone.
A year wasn't nearly enough time to make the hurt dull much.
They wandered down to the beach of her coastal hometown, shoes held loosely in their hands. The waves lapped gently at the sand—if they looked close enough, they could almost see the color of her teal eyes in the ocean water.
It was the spot they scattered her ashes at, a relatively secluded part of the beach. They chose to visit when the sun was starting to set and most people were starting to go home.
The sand was cool and soft under their toes, and the air smelled like salt, as it did the last time they were hear, visiting Dorothea's family. Philip still remembered playing football with her brothers—they were still in primary school then and as hyper as the next kids—and getting shoved into the water by Fallon (he never did figure out if that was actually an accident).
When Fallon stopped in his tracks mid-step, Philip nearly walked into him. Curious and wary, he peered around the bulky Irishman.
Sitting on a broad, flat rock was a bouquet of flowers. Upon closer inspection, they were fresh, and couldn't have been there for more than a day.
Fallon speculated that it was maybe Dorothea's family? But Willard shook his head, with a surprising amount of confidence.
Philip's eyes went wide at the implications, and he exchanged a glance with Fallon. The professor reached out to touch the petals with shaking fingers, and his younger teammates were startled to see tears welling in his eyes. Never had they seen him cry, not even when Dorothea died.
Jasmine, for friendliness and grace, explained the professor. Hydrangea, for pride. Cherry blossoms, for kindness, and transience of life.
"He's still alive," the professor whispered. He wasn't smiling, but the relief and the bittersweet joy in his voice was palpable. "He's still out there, watching over us."
It was still a blow to the gut when Willard was the next to go a few years later.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Out of all of them, he should've at least been able to die of old age. Dorothea was supposed to be there too, to take the mantle of group leader and one responsible adult, but she wasn't.
He wasn't supposed to die in an ambush when their information had been leaked and the vampires, the ones who rebelled against Yuliy's cause, tore them and their plans to shreds.
Beneath the agony marring his expression and the blood staining his clothes and matting his hair, he looked almost content. Yuliy was supposed to kill him, he explained, his voice so quiet that Fallon and Philip nearly bumped heads trying to lean in and hear him. When Yuliy found out that Willard led the vampires to Dogville, that was when the professor expected to die.
Philip couldn't help it.
"That's stupid!" he cried, words barely intelligible. "You don't mean that! You weren't raising him to kill you. He might've been an idiot, and he never really listened to half of what you said about—about being a pack and everything, but he loved you." Tears streaming down his face, he finished vehemently, "It never would've happened like that."
Fallon was staring at Philip in shock, but he nodded emphatically in agreement, sobbing silently. He was still applying pressure to the slash marks gouging hip to shoulder, even though the fabric and his hands were red through and through and it was already far too late.
The professor blinked, twitching slightly in surprise. But then he seemed to relax, a tiny smile on his blood-stained lips, and didn't open his eyes again.
The weeks following his death were like trying to swim through molasses; it was slow going, and they didn't know where they were going anyways. Sure, Philip and Fallon could still do investigative work and fight on their own, but Willard had been the one to do most of the negotiations and make all the connections (along with Dorothea). V Shipping was rather unresponsive to the Jaegers' attempts at communication—the second world war was throwing everything into chaos.
(Could they even call themselves the Jaegers anymore? Could two people be classified as a group? Maybe they could be, but the Jaegers hadn't felt like a whole, complete group for a long time, even before Dorothea died)
Willard didn't even have any family they had to relay the news to. No siblings, his parents were deceased already, and obviously no children either (except Yuliy, and if only they could track him down).
Without work to dive into, like they did after Dorothea's death, they had time to do a lot of thinking and talking—especially after the war came to a staggering halt.
"I think," Fallon said slowly, over cheap wine in the sitting room of their temporary, three-person quarters, "I'm gonna take a break. Visit my family. Maybe...start one. I dunno."
Philip felt a knot coil and tighten in his chest. "Yeah, right, you old man."
"I am forty-two," he argued. Hs tone made Philip smirk, if only for a second, because if he was forty-two, that meant Philip was thirty, and he'd rather not think about the fact that he was already in his third decade of life. For heaven's sake, he'd used to think Willard was old when the man was forty, and now Philip was seventy-five percent of the way there himself.
"I should probably check on my relatives," he sighs. Maybe they made it out of London before the worst of the war hit. Maybe not. He hadn't had the brainpower recently to think about them much, to be honest.
"Is that it, then?" Philip asked abruptly, trying to make the lump in his throat go away by sheer force of will. "The Jaegers. Is that over?"
"No," Fallon retorted, with a surprising amount of emphasis. Philip blinked, startled, and the older man sighed, his tone softening. "No. It's not over. And it won't be over when we die either. It'll be over when Yuliy forgets about us, and that's not gonna happen ever. He still leaves flowers for Dorothea at the beach each year, remember?"
They hadn't been able to visit this year. But there was no doubt that Yuliy found the time to pay his respects.
"But it's not the same," Philip choked out, furiously trying to blink back tears. They'd both seen each other cry more than their fair share of tears after Dorothea died, and after Willard died, and they sometimes pretended they didn't still cry when no one was looking. Philip still wanted to cling stubbornly to the remnants of his teenage pride, though, even if it was futile.
With one burly arm, Fallon pulled him in for a hug, ever the gentle giant (except when he was messing with Philip's hair), and he buried his face in the coarse material of the redhead's jacket. His throat was already hoarse from crying so much into a pillow at night, but it didn't stop him from sobbing more anyways.
"It's not," Fallon agreed, his typically booming voice lowered into a ragged whisper.
He patted the back of Philip's head gently, and Philip sobbed, "S-stop touching my hair. You're s-so bloody annoying." Don't you ever dare change. With how much of their family they had already lost, Philip didn't think he could stand it.
A weak chuckle vibrated in Fallon's chest. Never.
"This'll always be the same," he vowed, voice thick. "Promise."
Both of them officially resigned from V Shipping, although they still retained most of their connections—the ones that had survived through the war, at least. They still had a considerable amount saved up in funds, so they had some wiggle room while they figured out what to do next.
They still stuck together for a while, though. They didn't have much else, and didn't want to quite let go yet either. Using some V Shipping connections, Philip got in touch with one of his cousins who still lived in the UK and found out that his aunt and uncle had managed to flee the country in time, as had his other cousins. His cousin promised to let him know where they were when he heard from them.
They spent some time with Fallon's family in Ireland—some much needed down time to just rest. When the Jaegers first met Fallon's massive extended family (introduced by way of a snowball war), they'd been fairly overwhelmed. Yuliy had had a big tribe but a small direct family, and Philip only had his cousins. Even Dorothea had had only three younger siblings, not five younger siblings, about ten or fifteen aunt and uncles, and who knew how many cousins.
Some of Fallon's older relatives had since passed away, but his parents and some of his aunts and uncles and other relatives were still living in the family home, a ranch-style series of homes cobbled together over time. Lots of his cousins and some of his siblings had moved out to live their own lives, some remaining on the island, some going elsewhere in the world. One of his younger cousins had apparently gone all the way to Australia to make a name for herself, apparently inspired by Dorothea.
Still, some of them were still here, continuing to raise families of their own, and there was never any shortage of children asking them to play cards, or tell them about all the places they'd been to, or join them in games like tag and hide-and-seek and the like.
They asked Philip to play violin several times too, which he was usually happy to oblige. One of the kids he'd met in his first visit, now a teenager (holy hell, the kid was Philip's age when he'd first come here, which made him feel old), showed off his own violin, saying that Philip inspired him to play.
If anyone asked why his eyes were watering, he would say it was the dust, and then deny it to the end of his days. He cried too bloody easily these days.
When Philip tried to pay them for room and board, he got shot down faster than he could mow through a horde of hostile vampires with a machine gun. He tried arguing, and failed, and tried a few more times as the days turned into weeks, and then eventually gave up and just let himself relax.
It was much needed. Before soldiers were called to war, before the war even started, the Jaegers had already had their hands full. Figuratively speaking (and almost literally speaking), Philip wasn't sure he'd had a decent rest in at least five or six years. Certainly not since Dorothea left, and not for a while after Yuliy left.
Speaking of Yuliy, the two former Jaegers (Philip tried not to think about that much) flew out to visit the cemetery they'd buried Willard at a year after. There were flowers waiting.
Philip bent down to inspect them, trying not to get his hopes up. But when he saw the dog-eared pages torn from a book and folded neatly inside of the bouquet, he knew. He recognized those pages, from that book about Hanakotoba, the language of flowers, that Yuliy kept close like a kid dragging around an old teddy bear. Apparently, Yuliy decided that they probably needed some help deciphering the flowers without Willard to explain them.
An unfamiliar voice suddenly spoke up from behind them.
"Excuse me, gentlemen?"
They both turned to see a woman standing there, older than Fallon by at least ten or fifteen years, with hair like steel wool and smile lines creasing her face. Her back held a slight stoop, but her eyes were bright and strong.
"You must be the foreigners he asked me about," she said, smiling.
The two of them exchanged a wide-eyed look. Could it be…?
"A young man left those flowers here yesterday," she explained, gesturing at the bouquet. "Very strange-looking. I've never seen eyes that blue. His hair was all white in front, and at the ends, but black through the rest...Wore an eyepatch too. Kids and their fashion trends these days…" She shook her head idly, seeming to not notice or care about the way their hearts lurched in their chests. "He said he knew there would be people coming to visit later today, and asked me to relay a message."
She paused and cleared her throat. Both former Jaegers found themselves leaning in in anticipation.
"'I'm sorry that I haven't been able to see you all. I miss you greatly. But we're family, and I haven't stopped thinking about you all for a second. If you ever need me, I'll be there.'"
With one last smile, the old woman bowed briefly and left. Philip turned back to the gravestone and the bouquet and reached slowly for the folded book pages in silence.
White chrysanthemums, for truth. Bluebells, for gratitude. Tartarian asters, for remembrance.
"He couldn't even bother to show up in person," Philip muttered, glowering at the flowers and the book pages, as if he wanted to toss them into the trash can (not that he would ever).
Fallon just sighed. Both of them knew Philip wasn't actually mad.
(But if Yuliy was still here, then two would become three, and then it wouldn't feel so goddamn lonely)
Not that it was always lonely. He had Fallon, and Fallon's five hundred relatives, who were all very warm, affectionate people. But sometimes, sitting there in the living room by the fire, watching them play cards and laugh and chatter and smile, he could be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.
Never for too long, though. Fallon would know, and he'd come over and sit down and they'd be alone together, but not lonely.
"Maybe I should start a flower shop in town or something," Fallon mused aloud. "Lure Yuliy there."
"Great idea, for someone who kills every plant he touches," Philip snarked.
"I do not kill every plant I've ever touched!"
"What kind of person can't keep a cactus alive?"
"They are very prickly plants. I bet that one just wanted to spite me."
When they left the cemetery, though, their hearts were considerably lighter than they had been in a while.
He didn't come in person. But he was still out there. He was alive, and he remembered them.
After that, Philip decided he needed to get back out there in the world. Fallon was sad, but accepted it with a nod, shifting in his seat, turning slightly so that Philip wouldn't see the watery sheen in his eyes.
He saw Philip off at the port, the two of them exchanging hugs, slapping each other a few times on the back, words eluding both men. Despite all their words, it still felt like this was it. That with their separation, the Jaegers were gone.
Fallon broke the silence finally, clearing his throat so loudly he startled some passersby.
"You'd better come visit sometime," he tells Philip, reaching over to ruffle the blonde's hair.
Philip doesn't even have to think about it; it's reflex now to duck away from the redhead's hand, scowling without any real anger.
"Not if you keep doing that! Jeez." He patted his hair down again and slung his violin case over his shoulder, pretending not to notice Fallon's wistful smile that's just a tad lonely. "I'm going now!"
He'd never admit it, but it was lonely sometimes without Fallon's booming laugh, or the weight of his hand ruffling Philip's hair. Whenever he felt it, he'd shake his head at himself and move on to the next place, wherever his heart wanted to go. Or in some cases, wherever his finger landed on a map when he closed his eyes.
When it landed on Ireland by chance, he decided maybe it was time to go home.
(Not that he really had a home anymore. Home became a very loose definition a long time ago when he joined the Jaegers, because they travelled so often. But Fallon is all that's left of the Jaegers, besides Yuliy, so he is home now)
To his impatience, the ship got delayed by a few hours for some reason or other, and it was past midnight by the time it pulled into the harbor. Philip stifled a yawn and absently fingered the letter in his pocket, the last one Fallon sent him.
His sense of smell was nowhere near as good as Yuliy's, but he didn't need to be able to smell vampires when he smelled the smoke.
His instincts as a Jaeger kicked in immediately, and he charged up the mountain path, all traces of sleepiness vanishing. With old, practiced motions, he flipped open one of his violin cases, the one that did not contain a violin, and tossed it into the bushes to retrieve later (maybe).
Philip barely managed to get a finger on the trigger before a monstrous shadow leaped at him from the bushes, and he peppered the beast with bullets. The familiar thrill took over his body, complete with his heart racing, blood roaring in his ears, sweat beading on the back of his neck and on his palms.
Despite Yuliy's best efforts, there were still vampires who refused to ally with any race besides their own, hellbent on clinging to their racial pride. How the hell did they find Fallon here? It'd been at least two or three years since they resigned from V Shipping. They hadn't done anything remotely Jaeger-related in even longer.
All thoughts of how fled from his mind as he burst into the field surrounding Fallon's home.
The house was in flames. Some parts had already collapsed. Vampire slaves ran rampant across the property, chasing down fleeing members of the family, and Philip didn't hesitate to mow them down.
He tore over to where one of Fallon's younger brothers was trying to guard some of the children. Blood dripped from a gash on his shoulder, but he held Fallon's crossbow steady.
"Where's Fallon?" Philip shouted over the chaos, throat already hoarse from all the smoke.
"I don't know, but there are still more kids inside!"
"Wh-what's going on?" one of the children sobbed, still dressed in nightclothes and clutching a stuffed animal.
Philip sucked in a long breath through his teeth. "I'm going to find Fallon," he barked over his shoulder as he ran off. "Try to stick together and send for help!"
He looped around the side of the house, gunning down vampires as soon as he saw them. It felt familiar, in a cathartic sort of way, and if he wasn't bloody terrified that Fallon could die (or already be dead), he might've been grinning at the tang of gunpowder in the air.
"Fallon!" he screamed hoarsely, rounding the backyard. "Fallon! Goddammit, you big dummy, where are you?!"
Another vampire exploded to ashes with a few more bullets until he realized he was out of ammo. Cursing, he whirled around to see another vampire charging straight at him, only to crash to the ground with a crossbow bolt through the head.
"Philip!" Fallon's voice carried easily over the din. "Catch!"
He had a crossbow in one arm and one of his nieces in the other, and Philip barely had time to react when Fallon tossed the kid from the second floor window. The girl was too terrified to even scream; thankfully, Philip managed to catch her in time with a grunt.
"Are you crazy?!" he yelled up at Fallon. "Come on, get out of there!"
Fallon didn't respond, instead reloading and firing again, and Philip said something he probably shouldn't have said in front of a four-year-old as a vampire crashed to the ground behind them and crumbled to ashes.
"I think that's everyone!" Fallon shouted, starting to clamber out of the window. "Get her to the oth-"
He broke out in a coughing fit, staggering back, and for a second, Philip couldn't see him through the smoke billowing into the sky. The four-year-old in Philip's arms shrieked when a splintering CRACK rang out like gunfire, and someone let out a hoarse, wordless scream (or maybe it was him?).
Fallon's crossbow clattered to the ground in front of Philip, reloaded, and the girl whimpered, eyes fixed on something past Philip. His instincts screamed, and he grabbed the crossbow, swung it around, and fired.
Coughs wracked both of them as the glowing ash blew into both of them from the remnants of the charging vampire. Philip dropped the crossbow; it was virtually useless without any more bolts.
"Uncle Fallon," the girl squeaked out, clinging to the hem of Philip's shirt.
The second floor had collapsed in flames entirely, and even as he opened his mouth to scream for Fallon, he knew there was no chance of getting to him.
Without saying a word, he scooped up Fallon's niece and ran.
He stayed just long enough to help the family rebuild their home, though he could hardly bear to look them in the eye. Through some of his old connections in V Shipping, he managed to acquire some assistance. When the house was mostly standing again, Philip left, making just one stop at the edge of the property, where a simple grave stood.
(The body was only identifiable by where they found it, and because vampires didn't leave bodies and there was only one family member unaccounted for. Philip didn't let the family anywhere near that part of the house until the body was gone. He lost track of how many times he threw up from the stench of charred flesh, and if the family heard him choking out strangled sobs in the remnants of the room, they didn't come in)
Philip kept travelling, anywhere and everywhere. He taught himself all the languages that he needed—not that that was terribly hard. The Jaegers all taught each other at least four or five different languages. It was harder to learn without each other to practice off of, though.
He made friends whenever he hung around long enough. But he often didn't stay around for much longer than a few months. It didn't feel normal. The Jaegers typically only stayed in a country for a few weeks, maybe a few months at most. He just let his heart take him wherever he wanted to go, and made money doing odd jobs wherever he landed and playing his violin on the streets. Sure, there were one or two times when he found himself dangerously low on funds, and unable to find a job or rattle up cash through his music, but a Jaeger always found a way.
Through frozen tundras and windy plains, along rocky beaches and treacherous cliffs, he wandered and learned. Fell in love a few times, but never stayed long enough to make it work. He had to keep moving, or else the memories would catch up to him.
He always pulled out all the stops in each performance, brought out all the rich tunes of his violin with every song, drowning out the memories of the sounds of his comrades letting out their last breaths. He trained himself not to close his eyes while playing, or else he'd just see fire everywhere.
Had Yuliy ever felt like this? When Philip went there with the others, Dogville looked like it had been burnt to a shell. How many times had Yuliy woken up in a cold sweat, despite the searingly realistic fire in his nightmares? How many times had he come down for breakfast with the echoes of his family's screams ringing in his ears? How many times had Philip teased him for staring off mindlessly into the distance, when he was trying not to relive the moment his brother sacrificed everything in an instant for him?
Maybe Philip wanted to find him, and ask him how to make the pain go away. Maybe that was why he travelled, searching for glimpses of white hair and blue eyes, because he was all alone now and Yuliy was the only one who could even begin to understand.
He still left flowers for everyone. Fallon now too (book pages and all).
Red poppies, for a fun-loving personality. Edelweiss, for power and courage. Pansies, for a thoughtful and caring heart.
One day, he found himself back in Japan.
He'd been thoroughly surprised when Ryouko, both of them pushing their forties (good grief, he was old now, wasn't he?), not only recognized him instantly, but also pulled him in for a warm hug, almost like a sibling might. Startled, he found himself having to blink tears away, and there was definitely something stuck in his throat. When was the last time he'd had anything close to an older sibling? Fallon, and Willard, and Dorothea, they all felt like they'd been gone for so long, and what was the last thing he even said to Yuliy?
His heart still sank when she looked around, her face falling slightly as she asked where the others were, and it clenched tight in his chest when he forced himself to drag the words out of his throat.
When he explained haltingly that he was the only Jaeger left (except Yuliy), she gasped softly, tears springing to her eyes, which almost surprised him. They'd only stayed with the Naoe family for a week or two. But he wasn't all that surprised, really. She was always the type to wear her heart right on her sleeve.
"Not that I'm not happy to see you, but why did you come back to Japan? You're not here on V Shipping business, are you?"
She'd invited him in for tea, and Philip was pleased to find that she still made the sponge cake he'd scarfed down plates of during those two weeks.
"I'm practicing my Japanese. I got rusty."
Ryouko rolled her eyes, making him smirk slightly. "Yeah, you sound like a foreigner now," she teased, and he pretended to be all offended. "I never understood how you guys were all so fluent in so many-"
She stopped abruptly, clearing her throat, and Philip lowered his gaze to his reflection in his tea. What he saw almost made him do a double take. Last time he'd been to the Naoe estate was when he was fourteen. His face was still undeniably his, of course; he hadn't changed that much. But it was also so different. He was almost forty now. He'd teased Fallon about being forty-two once. Last time he was here, Willard was forty-one.
Where did the time go?
"Because we were all together here."
Ryouko looked up with a small 'hmm?', and he sighs, leaning back in his seat. "I came back here because it's the last place we were all together, as a real fa—team."
Her hazel eyes softened, and she put her teacup down with a soft clink.
"Sometimes, they'll go somewhere we can't follow them," she murmured. He followed her gaze to the cabinet on the far side of the room, where a picture of a young Ryouko and an older woman who looked strikingly like her sat. "But the people we love never, ever stop being family."
Philip went back every so often to Ireland, and Spain. He didn't know if he deserved to talk to their families, not after their son and daughter and brother and sister had died when he'd walked away with hardly a scratch, but he knew he owed it to Fallon and Dorothea to make sure their families were still okay.
They seemed grateful to talk to him about their children. Dorothea's sister surprised them all when she burst out cackling at one of her older sister's less graceful moments, and Philip didn't miss the relieved look that her parents exchanged. Fallon's siblings had already heard plenty of funny and embarrassing stories that Philip had been all too happy to share, but there was never a shortage.
After a particularly funny one that involved casting a fishing pole inaccurately, an angry hedgehog, and tangled fishing line, a little redhead cousin reminded Philip, "Now you have to tell us funny stories about yourself."
He balked at that. "Why?"
"Because every time you told a funny story about him, he'd tell one about you."
With an explanation like that, and many sets of eyes fixed on him, he didn't have the resolve to say no.
Aside from stories about how Fallon and Dorothea got into trouble, Philip also made sure to tell lots of stories about how the big siblings of the squad had gotten the others out of trouble. How they had dove into danger without hesitation, risked their lives for the team, time and time again.
How they had had their teammates' backs not only in the midst of gunfire and blood, but also in the quiet times outside of combat, even Willard (Dorothea was the only person the professor would ever listen to about not overworking himself, and once in a while Yuliy). How they would always know the right words to say, in that uncanny way that Philip supposed was universal to older siblings (he was an only child, and his cousins were more friends than older siblings).
He brought it up idly in a conversation with Dorothea's sister, but she just shook her head.
"It's not an older sibling thing. It's a family thing."
While Philip digested that revelation, she added softly, "My brothers are goofballs, but sometimes, they just come out with the sweetest, most heartfelt thing that is exactly what I need to hear when I'm down. I bet there are more times than you know when you just said the perfect, right thing to them, and you didn't even know it."
She bit the inside of her cheek, then said, "For what it's worth, I'm really glad my sister met you guys."
His gaze shot up. "How can you-"
"Because you guys made her happy." She propped her cheek up on her hand, staring out the window. "I know plenty of people even here in this little town that spend their days regretting everything they could've done but didn't do with their lives. It could've been her if she stayed here, and it could've been my parents if they didn't decide to take the risk of changing our family business. We had a lot of rough spots, and we knew it could fail, and we almost did a lot of times, but we wouldn't change it for the world." She cleared her throat, slightly misty-eyed and hoarse now. "I know my sister felt the same about her life, right up to the end."
The years blurred together over time. Philip saw Fallon and Dorothea's family members come and go. He wasn't much more than a stranger to some of the younger ones, but the older ones always welcomed him as a friend. It was sobering, though, that the youngest generation would never know anything except secondhand stories from their predecessors about the bravest, strongest people Philip had ever known.
Talking to their families would always sort of hurt a bit, in that numb way. But Philip wouldn't trade it for the world, because they deserved to know. He almost wished that Willard had living relatives too, because he was just as important as the rest of them. He had been their cornerstone, and without him to guide them…
Well, without him to guide them, the Jaegers sort of fell apart, literally. Yuliy hadn't been seen since the day he left, and Philip and Fallon had gone their own ways after some time.
Philip had never been as close to the professor as the others had. But still, the man had been an important, trusted mentor who almost seemed as if he had all the answers Philip could ever need sometimes. He still was. Whenever Philip was in a situation he needed to think his way out of, he'd think to himself, What would the professor do?
How was Yuliy doing? He wondered that a lot. And then he'd berate himself for it and stew bitterly, because what kind of person who up and left his family without a word of explanation deserved to be worried about?
It didn't stop him from worrying. And it didn't stop him from feeling a rush of relief every time he saw fresh flowers at the graves each year, because, like Willard had said, it meant that Yuliy was still out there, watching over them, still alive.
And whatever he was doing, he seemed to be succeeding. Philip still talked to people in V Shipping, and they said that hostile vampire activity had decreased over the years. Whatever Yuliy was doing with the Ark, it appeared to be working, and Philip was glad for it. He was glad that more children didn't have to participate in a war, he was glad that maybe, just maybe more people wouldn't have to die like his brother and sister and mentor had.
Before they knew it, he and Ryouko, still friends (and sort of quasi-siblings?), were in their eighties and celebrating the entrance of a new millennium.
"Once, we were in New York on New Year's Eve."
Ryouko made a 'hmm?', and he nibbled on his fourth piece of sponge cake. "We were fighting vampires that night, and Yuliy was all put-out that we didn't get to celebrate New Year's. Apparently, it was a big tradition in his hometown.
"So it was a quarter before twelve, and we'd finished up for the night, and before we knew it, Yuliy was on top of a roof, heading for Times Square, where the ball was dropping, and we had to leg it to the car to follow him—that's how slow the traffic was." He grinned fondly at the memory. "We probably illegally trespassed on a skyscraper, but it was the best view." With a wry grimace, he added, "And then we had to leg it before someone called the cops on us."
"You guys got up to a lot of crazy stuff," she stated plainly, not sounding surprised at all. With the Jaeger chaos that she'd participated in herself, it was hard to be surprised anymore.
When the clock hit twelve, all the occupants of the Naoe manor cheered as fireworks shattered brilliantly overhead, raining smoke and light, like gunfire and clashing steel.
The new millennium was here. Philip's days of fearing for his life with a finger on the trigger, of dashing through bodies and blood before he was even legal drinking age, were well and truly over. Still, he wouldn't have traded it for the world, because although life had been a bloody minefield then, there'd always been time to appreciate the moments in between.
He turned to see Ryouko holding up a glass, smiling.
"Here's to everyone we wish could've celebrated with us today," she said softly.
Realistically, at this point in time, the two of them (and Yuliy, wherever he was) probably would've been the only ones left alive anyway, even if everyone did manage to die of old age.
But he tapped his glass against hers anyway and added, "Here's to the ones that we got right now."
Philip was surprised when Yuliy left flowers for Ryouko too. He'd never known the lone werewolf to be particularly close to her; Yuliy hadn't even noticed her huge crush on him in their teens. And Ryouko had never said anything about talking to him either.
As his fingers, clumsy in a way they never were in his youth, tried to separate the book pages, another slip of paper, much newer than the pages, fluttered to the grass. On it were five words, written in that same nearly illegible scrawl that Philip had used to tease him about.
Because she's your family too.
Philip stared at the words. Reread them about a hundred times, the first and probably last bit of communication he would ever receive from Yuliy. Then he unfolds the book pages. They're barely legible too. It rained, so the ink was smeared, not to mention the book itself had to be almost as old as he was.
Anemone, for sincerity. Magnolia, for natural nobility. Lotus, for purity of heart.
Holding the note in his wrinkled hands, he smiled wryly, thinking of the small bundles of forget-me-not flowers that had appeared for Fallon and Dorothea's families, even for Willard's parents.
"How much money does that guy spend on flowers every year…?"
The cemetery is quiet as a lone figure approaches the newest gravestone, a bundle of flowers in hand. The only spectators are a pair of robins in the tree branches above.
Yuliy, seventeen forever, kneels down and traces the 'P' carved into the gray stone. He's glad that at least one of his teammates died a natural death. It makes all the struggles and the conflict and the negotiating and the blood and sweat and tears over these long decades worth it.
Tears sting at his eyes, and he clenches a fist above his eyepatch, and what lies beneath it. All that's left of those days, days of just relaxing with his family, are the memories.
It feels like it did when he said goodbye to Mikhail. As his brother crumbled to glowing ashes in his arms, it felt like he was taking the last of home with him. He'd gone to be with Mother, and Gustav, and all of Dogville, and for a while, Yuliy felt so alone, without anyone else who knew.
But he still carries their memories. And as the Ark of Sirius, protector and connector of worlds, it's his duty to carry their memories forever, connecting past and present and future, even if no one else will know hundreds of years from now.
Quickly, he scrubs his eyes with his sleeve, sniffling. Philip would never let him hear the end of it if he saw Yuliy blubbering like a baby over his grave.
He sets the bouquet down gently and rises to his feet. Honestly, he feels like this is the best-fitting one he's picked.
Zinnia, for loyalty (and also because he thought the flamboyant colors fit Philip's personality). Sweetpea, for goodbye. And daffodils, for respect.
Yuliy breathes out a sigh and takes a deep breath of the cool fresh air, tucking his hands in his pockets.
Maybe he'll learn piano. That's what typically accompanies violin, right?
After all, he's got all the time in the world.
Anyway, I went with the idea that the Ark makes Yuliy immortal (so he's just seventeen forever), until he decides to like pass it off or is killed or something. Was heavily inspired by a fic called 'in case you don't live forever' by sweetpeasprite on AO3 (for the fandom Ni No Kuni), and 'Slipping Out of Time' by Scrawlers on AO3 (Pokemon). The flowers were chosen from Hanakotoba, the Japanese Language of Flowers. Fallon's death was inspired by the Ranger's Apprentice book series. Also, I completely made up his and Dorothea's families (I wrote a little fic about Fallon's family too called 'No Place Like Home' if anyone's wondering what the snowball war was about).
So this was a bit of a change from my usual fare in this fandom, huh...? At least the ending is kinda maybe hopeful? Sorta?