The Parting of the Ways
Rating: PG-13 (swearing, light slash, crossdressing)
Summary: Being a waitress, it turned out, was not much different than being a Knight. Which is why Yuri decided he wouldn't be either, not ever again. (crossdressing, slight Flynn/Yuri)
Notes: Here's an addition problem for you: The brevity of Yuri's stint with the Knights + his unwillingness to wait tables + Flynn's warning to Estelle about Yuri + the way half Yuri's career seems to be advancing Flynn's + my head = ....
I figured as long as I was putting Yuri in a dress, I might as well throw in some shounen-ai too. It's a trifle ambivalent, though.
Yuri Lowell was beginning to dearly loathe his job.
He was starting to suspect that he was never really cut out for it in the first place-- he hated taking orders like he'd never hated anything before, he wasn't wild about the uniform, and the more he learned about the empire, the less thrilled he was about defending it.
But he could've put up with it. For Flynn, and the promise they'd made, and for everyone in the Lower Quarter who believed in them. He probably would've suffered through it for their sakes... but goddamn Rakerson.
Yuri glared at the square in front of him, the only thing he was allowed to appear to look at as a guard at the gate. Rakerson hated him. It was a fact. Everyone knew it. Even Flynn, who'd made enough excuses for their instuctors to bail a boatload of serial killers out of prison. Whenever the subject of Rakerson came up, he always just hesitated and said "Well, maybe he'll warm up to you."
But that was exactly the problem.
Yuri gritted his teeth. None of it was his fault. All he'd done was stand there. It had been Rakerson who'd come up to him in the corridor after Protocol and started chatting him up. Like a teacher should be hitting on a student anyway! Every time Yuri'd tried to get a word in edgewise, the damn pervert had just leaned closer and closer, telling him about how he was a very pretty girl and how he surely didn't want to be risking his life in the front lines, when there were such easier jobs available that he could open the doors to...
He'd resisted the temptation to slap him. He'd resisted the temptation to sever a few of the man's limbs with his blade. He'd resisted the temptation to scream
rape and bring down half the compound on them. No, he'd done like Flynn had begged him to do so many times. He kept his cool, he was respectful, and he simply said "no".
That one word was enough to send the dumbass halfway across the corridor with a shriek that could've woken the dead. "You're-- you're not a girl!!"
"Yeah, I noticed." Okay, Yuri'd rolled his eyes at him then. He defied anyone to resist rolling their eyes at that kind of remark. "So, flattering as your offer is, I think I'll pass."
And then he'd left, ignoring every single one of his instincts that said you cannot let this pass. And Yuri had never breathed a word about the incident to anyone.
But apparently Rakerson was afraid he would, because the man'd had a vendetta against him ever since.
He must've figured out I'm not talking, Yuri growled to himself behind his perfect guard's mask. I guess he's just so horrified that he was hitting on a boy that he's convinced himself it had to be my fault... and he's intent on burying all the evidence.
The gate duty wasn't so bad, just boring as hell. No, Rakerson was in charge of chores, the duties that every probationary Knight had to perform, and that was the problem.
And he maybe could've taken even that if this son of a bitch didn't take such obvious joy in assigning him the stupidest or most demeaning tasks available. "Sir," said Yuri, voice perfectly neutral.
"I've found a new task for you. Come along."
"Yes, sir," said Yuri, and followed. Such greasy brown hair the man had. He wondered if that would make it easier or harder to set on fire.
They weren't headed for the upper levels, which at least meant he wasn't going to have to serve as plaything, escort, and general bitch to that Councilman's daughter again. He wouldn't've minded playing dress-up so much if the dresses in question hadn't been so skimpy, and, in particular, if the girl in question hadn't been sixteen. On the other hand, there was plenty of fun to be had in the lower floors of the Palace, as well. And outside the Palace, there was that sewer entrance...
But they seemed to be headed toward the kitchens. Not the Knights' kitchens-- the Palace kitchen, where the royals' food was prepared.
"I think you have natural talents which should make you uncommonly suited to this job, Lowell," said Rakerson, heading toward the double doors. "You see, there's rather a large party being held tonight. Had you heard?"
"Yes, sir." Some of the guards actually cared, and a hell of a lot of the women coming through the gates had been chattering about it. Yuri couldn't care less, except that it was probably about to cause him pain.
"It seems that the Palace is unfortunately short on wait staff at the moment. One girl is... in a situation... and two more have called in sick. Desperate for replacement waitresses, they came to me-- and I to you."
Yuri tried to remember why it was he shouldn't kill this man. There was some good reason, he knew it. There had to be, or he'd have done it ages ago. "Sir?"
"Naturally, the normal punishments for dereliction of duty apply," he said, with a smug, slimy grin. "You'll have to hurry. The preparations are already beginning."
And he cheerfully shoved Yuri through the doors.
"...GODDAMNIT, RAKERSON!!" yelled an older brunette woman in a waitress's outfit, glaring at the doors behind him.
"Ooh!" The similarly dressed blonde girl beside her clapped her hands in delight. "He's so cute!"
Yuri paled: he recognised that voice. That was exactly what the Councilman's daughter had said before putting him in a teddy.
"Using us to torture young guards..." the brunette said, sighing. "The depravity."
"But we're short," said the blonde. "If we want to get everything out there--"
"I know, I know!" The brunette pushed her hair out of her eyes. "Sorry, kid. Celie... go and have your wicked way with him."
"YES!" Celie grabbed his hand and dragged him away. "Okay, not much time, not much time-- you! Wash up here while I go find a razor."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Yuri glared at her. "More frightening women than you have tried to make me shave my legs."
"No, no, no, we don't have time for that, this is to make sure we don't have some chick with stubble out there. Although..." She squinted at his chin. "Maybe I don't need to bother?"
"Just-- shut up."
"I've gotta go grab some supplies. Rinse yourself off, okay? I've got you a uniform right here."
Yuri stared at the tiny shower and wondered if the punishment for dereliction of duty was really any worse than being a waitress to rich people all night.
Definitely not. But... there were the people who believed in him. And being able to punish Yuri personally would probably be even more satisfying to that son of a bitch Rakerson. Not to mention... Yuri was beginning to wonder just how creative his notions of "punishment" might be.
The water in the shower was cold as hell, but that was something Yuri could handle.
"Okay, this should be everything we need," Celie called from outside the door. "Aren't you done yet?"
"I kinda need a towel."
"Oh! Right." There was a brief clatter as Celie scuttled away, then reappeared in the form of a tanned arm thrust through a crack in the door. "Got one."
Yuri took the towel from her, dried himself off as well as he could, then tied the towel around his waist. "Seriously, there aren't any waiters in the Palace? At all?"
"I think it's a law." Celie came in with some ridiculous black-and-white confection of a dress, shrugging. "Okay, you can keep your underwear, but now we have to start with the bra."
"..." Yuri put his head in his hand. "This always happens to me..."
"This'll work well enough." Celie stuffed some tissues into the bra, turning him around to fasten it. It was a little tight, but, to his distinct lack of enthusiasm, fit.
"I brought you some stockings so you don't have to shave your legs!"
Yuri glared at her. "Look, the only reason I'm doing this is because it might not be quite as bad as fifty lashes and sewer duty for a month. Don't expect me to get enthusiastic about this."
"You kept saying this always happens to you. I thought you liked it."
Yuri glared at her.
"Whatever. Put the things on." She held up the dress, looking between it and Yuri critically. "I think this will work... It'll come close, though."
Yuri turned his glare toward the dress. It was, at least, not low-cut. It was black and lacy, with a frilly apron attached. It had long, cuffed sleeves and a full, knee-length skirt. As dresses went, it was not the most humiliating one possible.
"Goddamn it," he muttered, pulling the thing on. Just his luck, the thing fit, only a little tight around the waist.
"Stockings..." Celie tossed them to him, and he resentfully pulled the things on. At least no one had managed to make him shave his legs yet, though he had a sinking feeling it was only a matter of time.
"Now get over here." Celie pulled out a tube of lipstick and made a few brief strokes across his lips before he could react. "Press your lips together."
"Why the hell should I--?"
"If you're gonna be crossdressing anyway, would you rather pass as a woman or obviously be a crossdressing man?"
...Yeah, if he was gonna be a chick, he might as well be a hot one. He sighed, resigned, as the servant came at his eyes with some sort of stick.
"And the heels."
"Oh, come on."
"They're low heels!" Celie defended. "Besides, we do this all the time! Suck it up, Knight-man!"
"How the hell did this happen?" Yuri asked rhetorically, staring at the glossy black shoes.
The brunette from earlier poked her head in. "Apparently, Rakerson hates you. Vindictive son of a bitch. And I'm really sorry for you, but the guests started arriving five minutes ago and we need people out there with appetizers."
"..." Yuri slipped into the low heels and stalked out.
"He's gonna be brilliant," Celie said, hands clasped together.
"Just give me the goddamn plate!!"
"...Maybe we could work on the voice," Celie said.
"Leave the boy a scrap of dignity, would you?"
Being a waitress, it turned out, was not all that different from being a Knight.
First, you had the uniforms. They were both a pain in the ass, though he couldn't decide which was worse: the goddamn bra or the goddamn armor.
Second, you had the taking orders. There was actually a little less of that with the waitressing, at least in the beginning of the evening: it'd probably be just the same or worse in an actual restaraunt, though. Same damn skill-set: stay quiet, don't talk back, remember what you're told, the one giving the orders is always right.
Third, you had the same old duties repeated over and over. Fetch. Carry. Forward. Back. Salute. Keep watch. Stand there and look pretty and be the first one in when anything goes wrong.
Fourth, you had the sexual harassment that had gotten him into this damn mess in the first place. He was getting seriously tired of getting pinched on the ass, or 'accidentally' groped, and he was even more tired of having to grit his teeth, say nothing, and walk on by. To keep up appearances, so that someday he might be able to do something to change it-- if he could be everywhere, see everything, know exactly when it was happening and what loopholes the slimy sons of bitches were using to get through.
The rules had to be changed. He believed in that more than anything. But what were you supposed to do in the meantime?!
"Kid." The brunette woman grabbed his arm. "Don't worry, it's the busboys who clean up the tables."
"Oh." Yuri's shoulders slumped. "How long are those other idiots going to stand there talking about the three books they've actually read?"
"Oh, hours," said the brunette. "But there's only ten or so, right? It'll be fine for one waitress to take care of on her own. Celie."
"What?!" Celie jumped. "Why me?!"
"First, you're young. Second, you've had your fun for the evening, anyway." She smiled sunnily at the girl. "Go. Shoo."
"Aaw..." Celie sighed, hoisted a polite smile on her face, and stepped back into the banquet room.
"...Thanks," said Yuri.
"...The cooks box up the leftovers for me, and I take them to the inn in the Lower Quarter," said the brunette. "Help me carry?"
"What, that's you?" Yuri tried to remember the name of the woman the landlady had always talked about. "Marchia?"
"Oh, are you from the Lower Quarter?"
"Born and raised." Yuri smiled, and even though his face still hurt from smiling, it was the first real one he'd worn in... far too long.
"Yeah. I'm Marchia. Marchia Howling." She stuck out a hand.
"Yuri Lowell." Yuri shook it. "Sure, I'm glad to help. I had a couple of these meals myself."
"..." Marchia smiled. "Okay. C'mon. I have a wagon outside."
Marchia led Yuri into the kitchen-- and yeah, he remembered these brown parcels, knew the texture of the twine one of the cooks was closing it with. They hadn't exactly starved in the Lower Quarter, not too often, but they tended to get the last and the coarsest of everything, and orphans the last of that. Free Palace food, once a month or so, had been something they'd looked forward to.
So that had been her. He eyed the brunette with a new respect.
Marchia did indeed have a wooden cart waiting outside the nearest door-- old, and a little rickety, but in decent shape, even if it creaked a little under the weight of the food they were piling on it. Yuri sighed, pushing sweaty hair out of his eyes.
Yuri looked up: the woman was holding out a long strap of leather, thin but tough. "Thanks," he said, and pulled his hair back into a high ponytail. He didn't always like the style-- as a kid, it'd only made him look even more like a girl-- but it was a hell of a relief to feel the night breeze on his sweaty neck.
"C'mon," she said. "Only a couple more."
Yuri nodded, following her back inside. "How long have you been doing this?" he asked.
"Pretty much since I came here... It must be twenty years, by now." Marchia smiled, picking up the last box. "God, I can't believe I've been here twenty years."
Yuri could appreciate the feeling. "So, why d'you do it?"
Marchia considered the question as they made their last trip to the wagon. "For one thing, no one ever cared," she said, placing her box on the pile and checking to make sure it was secure. "They didn't care what happened to the food, as long as it was gone. So I never got in trouble for it or anything."
She took up one side of the handle, and Yuri took the other. "Yeah, but there's gotta be more to it than that."
"I grew up in the Lower Quarter, myself," she answered. "You see a lot of orphans there. You know that. Both my parents were alive, but I didn't have many friends who were as lucky. And seeing everything these people have, and seeing so much of it just thrown away..."
Yuri nodded. "Drives you nuts."
"I figure it's the least the government can provide for its citizenry."
Yuri snorted. "Damn right."
The first hill came, then, and they had to focus on getting the wagon down it without brusing their shins or dropping the food.
"So," Marchia said, stopping at the bottom of the hill. "A Knight, huh?"
"...Guess so." Yuri found himself strangely loath to answer yes.
"...Guess you didn't have that much choice, in the Lower Quarter. It's that or survive on odd jobs, unless you've got a family to take you into their business."
"Yeah," said Yuri. "That..."
"...We were trying to change things," Yuri said, looking up at the rings of the barrier against the night sky. "But I'm starting to think I'm not cut out for it."
"And Rakerson hates you." Marchia nodded, voice gone bitter. "That'll be a problem, too."
"What, more than it is already?"
Marchia gave him a long look. "...I wanted to talk to you about this," she said. "It's why I asked you to help me. Let's do that, on the way back. Okay?"
Yuri blinked. "Sure."
Marchia picked up her side of the handlebar again, and Yuri followed suit, wondering at the bitterness in her voice.
It wasn't too far to the inn: just another long hill, and they piled the parcels on the kitchen table, quietly, to not wake anyone up. Marchia locked the back door again with her key once they'd left, and started up the hill, leaving him to deal with the empty cart on his own.
He wanted to complain, but she was a nice woman who didn't look happy, and the cart was pretty easy to pull along behind him, anyway.
She stopped at one of the park benches in the merchants' district, and sighed, dropping onto it with an undignified thump. Yuri took a seat beside her, with a little more grace-- which wasn't exactly a comforting thought. Even if there could theoretically be advantages to being able to pass as a girl, it'd only be cool if it were something you did deliberately.
"...Rakerson holds grudges," Marchia said.
"Yeah, I noticed."
"Rakerson holds grudges forever."
Yuri glanced over at her. "...Once I'm out of my probationary period, that shouldn't be a problem anymore."
"That's the thing..."
"...I'm not going to get out of my probationary period," said Yuri, "am I?"
"He knows people," she sighed. "On the Council and the review board. Not enough to block it if you have an advocate. Do you have an advocate?"
"I didn't think you would."
Yuri leaned his head back, staring upward. The news should probably be hitting him harder than it was-- but he'd suspected.
"...You're not the first," said Marchia.
Yuri blinked, but he really should've expected that, too, come to think of it. "He's gotten other people kicked out?"
"You might be the first boy," she said. "But there's one every semester. One girl he feeds his lines to."
"The old 'such a pretty thing as you shouldn't be risking her life in the front lines' spiel?"
Marchia stared at him. "He told you that nonsense?"
"'Till I finally got a word in edgewise..." He allowed himself a faint smile.
"I would have paid money to see that. Good money." She laughed, just for a few moments. "But yes. That's the one."
"And what happens to them?"
"Some accept," she said. "Some get worn down, and accept later, just to make him stop. Not that it really works. Some... get three months of torture, and a dismissal notice. And if you're someone who believes in the system-- like a lot of people who want to be Knights are, especially girls, because people still don't quite think girls as a rule are supposed to be Knights...."
Yuri knew when there was a story coming, especially when it was one he needed to hear.
"...Talia," she said. "My niece. He broke her down, and I couldn't stop him. She wouldn't be what he wanted her to be... so he made sure she couldn't be anything she wanted to be, either. You know how young people are-- he convinced her he could control everything, that she didn't have a future, and... She couldn't see past him, and..."
She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "That strap... it was hers."
But she didn't have any use for it anymore. Something cold settled in Yuri's heart-- cold, and sharp.
"...He's just going to keep doing it, and it's killing me," said Marchia, staring at the wall. "I don't even know how he could be stopped, I don't know what he could be afraid of. He's not going to just reform... It'll keep happening, and happening, until the Board finally stops him or he retires or he's terrorized or he's dead. And there's nothing I can do about it."
"...." Of course not. The rules were there, but no one was bothering to enforce them. Maybe Flynn could change that someday.
And until then...
"And now I'm a party to it." Marchia sighed, leaning back, blinking tears from her eyes. "He used us to hurt you, and there wasn't anything I could do. So... I wanted to help you. Any way I could. Like I couldn't help Talia."
Like Yuri couldn't help anybody. Biding his time and biding his time day after day, and-- even if there hadn't been a Rakerson to contend with, he wasn't a commander. Leader, maybe, on a very good day. He couldn't command if they'd let him, and he couldn't impress the people in command. Yuri would never get anywhere in the Knights. He should've figured that out a long time ago.
"...Let's go," she said, and took the handlebar of the cart.
She looked up, eyes glittering and red.
"Thank you," he said.
"Just..." she said. "Don't let him do to you what he did to her."
She started toward the next hill, and he followed behind, thinking.
There has to be a way to stop him. But they won't enforce the rules, and no one can make them--
No one can make them enforce the rules, but there's nothing stopping someone from doing it themselves, is there?
Except, of course, for Knightly protocol.
Yuri had had enough of Knightly protocol.
There was a plan forming in his mind. It was probably a stupid one, but all his smarter options had been taken away from him.
And besides... this isn't a path I can take. This is what Flynn can do. It's his job.
"Even if we have to take different paths," they'd said. "Even if no one understands."
There were a lot of things that Flynn wasn't going to be able to do anything about for years or decades. Things in the Lower Quarter, say, that he'd want to see taken care of, when he'd be ordered elsewhere.
There should be someone to take care of the worst of those things for him, so he could follow the rules long enough to change them.
That... That, Yuri thought he could handle.
"Your things are in the corner," said Marchia, fishing out a worn leather purse from beneath the counter.
"...Yeah." Yuri stared at the Knights' uniform.
He should want to put it on. It was all he had to wear, besides this goddamn dress.
If even that wasn't enough to make him want to wear it, his choice was pretty clear.
From the pile, he fished out his sword and his blastia. "Marchia."
"Hmm?" She turned.
"Tomorrow morning, in the training halls. Something might happen you'll want to see."
Yuri grinned, slipped the blastia around his wrist, and walked out the door.
If he was skipping, just a little, it was obviously all the goddamn skirt.
Usually, Flynn could count on days he was standing guard outside the throne room to pass entirely without event. Not only was the duty itself boring, but the utter inanity of the experience always seemed to exert an almost gravitational pull on the rest of the day.
Judging by the panicked screams coming from the main hall, that wouldn't be the case today.
"What's going on?" he asked someone passing by.
"I dunno, but I want to see," the man answered, pulling his arm away and hurrying on.
He had a point, so Flynn followed him toward the small crowd that was starting to build up where the corridor they were in met the main hall. That voice was familiar, he knew it, and it sounded like it must be coming from the main floor--
"Lowell!! This is dereliction of duty, a-and, and, assaulting an officer, and--"
Flynn's heart jumped into his throat. Faster than he would've believed possible, he was through the crowd and at a prime spot at the balcony, where he could see--
--A dark-haired girl in a maid's or waitress's uniform, except this one had a sword, and she-- Yuri was-- attacking a teacher, what in the hell was he--
--He was grinning, happier than Flynn had seen him in months, and god, it showed. Flynn was used to Yuri's swordwork-- efficient, often brutal, with an occasional twist of the easy humor Yuri brought to everything he did. But this--
Maybe it was the skirt, but Yuri was whirling like a dervish, laying into Rakerson and blocking every one of the man's terrified swings without effort. Graceful and precice and enjoying the hell out of himself, and for long moments, all Flynn could do was watch, breath caught in his throat.
Yuri'd always said he couldn't dance. Obviously, he'd been lying.
"Lowell!" Rakerson screamed. "You'll be drummed out of the Knights for this!"
Yuri brought his sword around in a particularly elaborate whirl, which Flynn suspected was probably paired with a similar roll of his eyes. What could he be thinking--
Flynn ran outside, and toward the front stairs, as Yuri pushed Rakerson closer and closer to the fountain. "I'll have you brought out on charges, they'll never let you out--" Rakerson was screaming.
Yuri caught his blade with his own and leaned forward, whispering something into Rakerson's ear.
"THA--THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENED AT ALL!!"
"Please," scoffed Yuri. He brought his sword upward, scabbard still hanging by a long leather strap in his right hand-- he wasn't even trying hard, or he'd have thrown the thing away. Yuri never did have much patience for scabbards.
"It was all you! You and your-- you were thoroughly impossible, no discipline at all, that is the only principle that guides my decisions--"
"Please," someone beside Flynn muttered. "I know a girl who got sewer patrol all last year."
"Clearly the whole incident was your fault--"
"Right," Yuri said, and there was the brutal efficiency, knocking Rakerson's sword aside with a force that had to have hurt the hell out of the man's arm. "It couldn't just be that you made a mistake. No, clearly I was trying to trick you into making my life a living hell all semester."
Flynn's head jerked up, as he finally remembered he was trying to make his way toward the fight, to do something about it. The stairwell wasn't far, and there weren't too many people blocking his way--
"You were never fit to be a Knight! You never will be!" Rakerson swung at him, a wide, unpracticed lunge that any idiot could have told him would never hit.
Yuri did him one better, knocking his sword across the courtyard with one swing.
Yuri stepped closer, his blade pressed against the man's throat.
"Yuri!" Flynn threw himself down the stairs.
Yuri was whispering something in Rakerson's ear, again, too low for the crowd to hear: all Flynn could hear as he drew closer was "--will if I ever hear you've done it again. And I will hear."
"Yuri! Stop this!" Flynn skidded to a halt behind him. "Have you lost your mind?"
Yuri turned, with a sad smile-- wait, was he wearing lipstick? He couldn't be wearing lipstick.
"Sorry," he said. "I think this is where our paths diverge."
"What are you talking about?! You promised!"
"This isn't what I promised, Flynn." Yuri gave a cheeky grin and wave to the crowd-- and ran for the gates.
"What the-- Yuri Lowell!" Flynn pulled out his sword out of instinct as he gave chase.
"If you want me to answer for my crimes, you'll have to catch me first!" Yuri called back.
Flynn gritted his teeth and set about doing just that.
Yuri had known full well that Flynn was going to catch him. He always did, after all.
He'd kind of been hoping he'd at least get a little further than this, but whatever. It was far enough no one official would hear or see.
"Damn it, Yuri!" Flynn was breathing heavily, sword still drawn. Yuri wondered if he actually intended to use it. Knowing Flynn... it was a possibility.
It didn't really matter, anyway. Yuri just cocked his head, tracing one hand along the brick wall behind him. "You know, this isn't going to do much good for the Knights' reputation."
"What, you putting on a dress and nearly killing an instructor? No. No, I don't think that's going to be helpful, thanks for bringing that to my attention. Mind explaining why you did it?"
"That's actually not what I was talking about, but sure. Which first?"
"The dress, the attack, or the leaving?"
"I... okay, the dress." Flynn gestured at it helplessly. "I mean, is that a maid's uniform?"
"Where did you even get that thing?"
"Waitressing." Yuri blinked patiently at him.
"When the hell were you..." Flynn shook his head. "Oh, no. I know this game. Fine, I'll drop it. Why did you attack Rakerson?"
"Because he had it coming," was Yuri's prompt response.
Flynn put his head in his hand. "So you've mentioned. Why today?"
"I realized his punishment was way more overdue than I thought."
Flynn stared at him. "And the appropriate response to this was a physical assault."
"Yep!" Yuri beamed, almost exactly the way Miss Patterson always had when they'd read a new book, or mastered a times table. Flynn almost expected him to try to ruffle his hair.
"You know, you're being particularly intractable today."
Flynn took a step closer, trying not to raise his sword. Yuri could practically hear the rules they'd both had drummed into them running through Flynn's mind: never attack in anger. "Why did you say you were leaving the Knights?"
Yuri met his gaze steadily. "Because I am," he answered.
"And why is that?"
"Because I hate it. Because I'm never going to get a damn thing done if I stay in the Knights. And you've got to know that."
Flynn shook his head. "Damn it, if you'd just be patient--"
"It's not for me. Haven't you noticed? I could be a soldier-- take orders the rest of my life, if I lived long enough to have one. But there's things they look for in officers. I don't have any of those things."
"They promote people who win battles," Flynn snapped. "I have seen you with a sword."
"They promote people who get the credit for winning battles," Yuri corrected. "When have you seen me get credit for anything that wasn't trouble?"
"If you'd just--"
"And if you can see me as a commander, you're really out of your mind."
"You're great at leading people!" Flynn yelled.
Yuri raised one finger. "Leading." Raised another. "Commanding." Wiggled them both. "Not the same thing."
"How are they not the same thing?!" Flynn yelled, leaning forward, sword dirfting a couple of inches closer to Yuri's throat. Nothing to worry about quite yet, Yuri thought. "I am sick to death of you just deciding that you can't do things!"
"How am I deciding I can't do things?! I'm telling you the truth!"
There was a crash at the head of the alley as a rubbish bin fell over; both boys' heads whipped around at the noise.
"Flynn, what in the name of hell're you--" Hanks stopped, eyes open wide. "Oh. Yuri. Uh, why--? No. Nevermind." He spun around, tucking his hands behind his back. "Er, never mind me. Carry on. Carry on."
"What the...?" Flynn stared after him as Hanks quickly retreated. "What was that about?"
"You know what I was talking about before? The reputation of the Knights?" Yuri cocked his head. "You with a sword, me in a dress, backed up against the wall..."
Flynn blanched. "W--what?!"
"Just saying. Doesn't exactly look good."
Flynn dropped his sword. "I-- this is entirely not my fault!!"
"Yeah. I know." Yuri sighed.
"Do you think--" Flynn almost stepped away, then stopped. "Of course you know! It's your fault!"
"No no no. Nice try, Yuri, but you're not getting rid of me that easily." Flynn took a step closer, pushing Yuri back against the wall again. "I want a straight answer."
"I already told you."
"No. You didn't. Now tell me, Yuri." Flynn gripped Yuri's shoulders more tightly. "Why can't you be a Knight?"
How to get out of this one? Yuri narrowed his eyes at Flynn, wondering what the hell else he could say. He'd told him the truth twice over; what the hell was he looking for?
Something he could argue against, of course, Yuri thought, cynically. Something stupid, that he could disprove or refute or fix, letting him drag Yuri back to the palace where Flynn thought he belonged. He still thought it wasn't too late; he still thought they could take the same path, stay together, change the world bright and simple and aboveboard. Flynn could probably manage it, too.
But Yuri couldn't do this. And how the hell could he convince him of that when he so clearly didn't want to be convinced?
"Why can't you be a Knight?" Flynn repeated, voice gone softer. Probably he thought he was winning, like he always won. Probably he thought they'd keep going like before, side by side. Yuri didn't mean to leave him. He just couldn't stay in the Knights. And if Flynn was still convinced those meant the same thing...
"Because I don't follow the rules," Yuri answered, and tugged Flynn closer until he could seal their lips together in a kiss.
Flynn's eyes flew open in shock, but Yuri had no intention of giving him any time to think. Taking advantage of the way the Knight's jaw had dropped, he swept his tongue into his mouth, pressing toward him until the grip on his shoulders loosened and Flynn's eyes slipped shut.
Probably just surprise, Yuri knew, just an instinctive reaction, but it made his heart ache a bit anyway. Still. Whether it was shock, or-- whatever else it could be, the next step was obvious.
Reluctantly, he pulled away, leaving his face near Flynn's for a moment. Just to catch his breath, though that wasn't particularly easy with Flynn's eyes still closed and his shaky breaths close enough to feather against Yuri's lips.
But he did it anyway. Taking a deep breath, he brought a knee up into Flynn's stomach and spun. He heard armor hitting the opposite wall of the alley, but he didn't dare stay to look; he was running again already, back toward the main street, up to the roofs if he could manage it.
He'd barely cleared the alley before he heard the howl of rage behind him. "Damn it, Yuri!!"
Yuri smirked. He'd broken the rules quite thoroughly that time, all right. And Flynn always was a stickler for the rules.
Which meant that he wasn't going to be chased, this time. The smile slipped from Yuri's face as he kept running anyway, just in case.
But there was nothing for it. If Flynn was still convinced that leaving the Knights meant leaving him and all their childhood dreams behind... then that was what he was going to have to do.
But there couldn't be just one road. There couldn't be just one way to change the world. Yuri was going to keep on helping Flynn on his path, if he'd let him. And then... then, he was going to find his own.
When Rakerson explicitly endorsed Flynn's promotion to full Knight, Flynn wasn't sure why. He'd been afraid the man would hold a grudge after the Incident-- everyone knew he'd been Yuri's best friend.
It would be a long time before it occured to Flynn that he'd technically chased Yuri out of the Palace grounds with a sword, ostensibly intent on bringing him to justice. And, of course, whatever his intentions at the outset, his fury at the man when he'd come storming back had been entirely unfeigned. Of course Rakerson would've been impressed by the one Knight to try to apprehend the student who'd so humiliated him.
It would be even longer before he realized just how thoroughly Yuri had orchestrated the entire incident. He hadn't just humiliated the teacher, he hadn't just made sure to do it in a symbolic and epic fashion, but he'd made damn sure Flynn would chase him out of that compound-- made damn sure his disgrace would only further Flynn's career.
Yuri was going to make a habit out of that, in the years ahead. It would be quite a long time before Flynn finally figured out how to stop him.