Disclaimer: Not making a profit off this other the growth of my writer skills and the spread of YurixSodia love. Enjoy?
Rita comes to see us off in the morning; she has a slight scowl embedded on her face and the sight reminds me of Witcher and the characteristic frown he always wore. Perhaps that how all mages—no, they're called theorists now, I remind myself--are perpetually dissatisfied. It definitely makes sense, now that I think about all my past dealings with him. I wonder how Witcher is doing--and the Knights.
"You better come back with a damn good gift," Rita practically growls out. "Remember, Judith is coming to pick us up in seven days so make sure to get back as soon as possible. And you better not get eaten by a monster!"
"Aw, I'll miss you too," Yuri teases. "Have fun rebuilding Aspio while I'm gone."
"Yeah, yeah, of course."
I feel slightly awkward watching their banter--even I could hear the small undertone of concern in the girl's voice and I barely knew her. At that moment she had reminded me of Flynn I had realized as I watched her, a perhaps grumpy and more cranky Flynn, but still with the same mother lion tendencies. I felt like an outsider at the scene, the voyeuristic feeling knotting uncomfortably in my stomach.
The girl turns away and walks back to her house, leaving the two of us to start. A nervous feeling flutters in my stomach as I think about last night; the fight (if you could call it that) had resolved decently, yet I still felt as though there was some precariously thin thread of what was not nearly enough of a connection to be called a friendship hanging between us, a giant pink elephant in the room. Or rather, just in my thoughts. And as my mind goes over the events, mechanically replaying the words and feelings that I can recall, nothing seems to really make sense. I still can't believe just how close I had gotten to telling Yuri about my mother.
And what about what he had hinted at to me? Later that night I had taken the time to go through the next few chapters of the Princess' book to see if I could find any hints--but then Raven's warning echoed in my ears. Of course, the Princess had changed things; and who knows what Yuri might have been talking about. For all I knew, he had a pet kitten as a child that had accidentally drowned.
(And now I wonder what we are--it's not exactly friends, but not exactly strangers either. For here we were, somehow having ended up traveling together again.)
"So, what's our plan?" Yuri asks as we walk out the gates. "You still haven't told me how we're going to magically going to get to Dahngrest and back in a week."
It's called a map. "We're just going to have to keep up a fast pace. It'll take two days to Capua Nor, another day to Dahngrest; you'll spend a day there to find something and then we'll start back. It'll be a week exactly."
"A day from Capua Tor to Dahngrest? Really?"
"The Knights have done it before," I say and before I can stop myself I find myself adding, "Don't think you can keep up?"
He raises an eyebrow at the challenge, opening his mouth to retort when his eyes focus on something behind me.
I instinctively duck and watch as Yuri fluidly draws out his sword to attack a flying bat had been aiming at my head--and then it falls, dead in a smooth, quick strike. My heart skips a small microsecond of a beat as I watch the swordsmanship; Yuri Lowell has a certain finesse that is almost admirable (Flynn, of course, is far more graceful and refined), though I'll never admit it. He turns back to me as I get up. I try to ignore the flush that burns up my cheeks.
"Thanks," I grudgingly say.
"It's no problem."
His smirk says it all and he walks ahead, a satisfied look on his face. I hurry to catch up.
"So what is at Dahngrest?"
"Well," I start. "Since Dahngrest is the centre of all the guilds, including the trade unions and artisan guilds, the markets there are far more extensive and probably of better quality than any Imperial market you go to." I give him a wary look. "Though don't tell anyone I said that."
Yuri grins. "Of course not. Can't let people know that our role model Lieutenant was slandering the Imperial Market. It would lead to tyranny."
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. "I'm sure you would appreciate that."
"Hey, it's not like I'm an anarchist or something," Yuri protests. "I just disagree with certain aspects of the system."
"The Commandant has changed things since he was promoted," I point out.
"Have you seen the conditions of the Lower Quarters? You were even there when the gate broke. Broke, in the middle of a monster raid." Yuri shakes his head. "Flynn can't do everything--ever since the blastia barriers broke down, you know how the Knights' forces have been forced to spread thin. And of course, people are more scared to join now that there's no blastia and with less Knights, less people are willing to travel; everything's becoming more isolated and who knows what consequences that will have."
"But that's not the system's fault," I argue.
"Yeah? Nonetheless, we still need to adapt to the changing times. It's unfortunate that Flynn has so much other things to deal with on his plate."
I stare at him, suddenly understanding Flynn's frustration with him. He had all these opinions and yet, I can't help but wonder what he was actually doing about it. I could see him easily as a Knight, as a squadron leader, maybe even a politician if that his sort of thing. It was illuminating to finally see some sort of passion (or rather, intelligent thought) in this aloof man, yet now it manifested, now that I could finally see his thoughts and opinions, it also made me a bit irritated to wonder what he was doing, just relaxing in the Lower Quarters.
"What would you do, then?" I ask. "How would you like to see the Knights become?"
"Well," He pauses, a few seconds going by as he thinks on it. "For one, there needs to be some way to attract new recruits."
"Free education is offered to anyone who joins."
He scoffs. "That's not enough--think about it. Trade is going down and is adversely affecting the economy; do you honestly people are going to care about an education that doesn't give an edge in this job market? And don't bother mentioning the knight's wage, the rate is pathetic. It pays more to be a construction worker in Aspio, honestly."
"But there's not enough funds for a higher wage!"
"Yeah. Sucks doesn't it."
I find myself grinding my hands into small fists and when I realize what I'm doing, I quickly let go. I shouldn't get riled up by him, even if his nonchalance can get irritating. "You say all these things, but I don't see you doing anything about it."
"I have enough work as it is, protecting the Lower Quarters."
"The Knights are for that."
"I'm helping lessen their load."
"But you obviously think there's there to be done; you're just being lazy!"
"And I'm looking at the Lieutenant who's taking a one month of vacation."
He's got me there.
There's a few seconds of silence (I don't dare look at him), in which I shut my mouth in protest, face forward and stride forward more quickly. A few seconds later, in the corner of my eye, I see Yuri's frame catch up to me and this time, when he talks, his tone is less hard--his attempt to lighten up the conversation I suppose.
"Enlighten me then. Beside joining the Knights or something like that, what should I be doing to save the world or whatever? I'm not book-smart so it's not like I'm going to create the next new technology. I'm not exactly tactful so I wouldn't be the best diplomat. What exactly does that leave?"
"I still don't understand what you have against the Knights--"
"Authority problems," He interrupts cheerfully.
"--but protecting the Lower Quarters and doing odd jobs there is just such a waste of... " I hesitantly say the next word. "... potential. You definitely can do more than that, open up a martial arts school, I don't know. But you're demeaning yourself now."
He raises an eyebrow. "Considering your low opinion of me, I didn't think that was possible."
"You're just that talented."
He chuckles and sound surprises me--it suddenly hits me that we're making actual conversation. How odd, that out of all people to be comfortable talking with, even bantering with, it's Yuri Lowell. And to think, less than a week ago I had been outside his apartment, asking for forgiveness.
He looks at me and the spark of amiability in his eyes is a welcome change. "You really are like Flynn, you know? Besides, why do you care so much anyway?"
"I just..." I bite my lip a bit and pause, not really how to answer that. As if I had an answer for that. Instead, I just say the first that comes to mind. "... I dislike people who complain and don't do anything about it."
"And I'm one of those people?"
"... It can come across that way."
He lets out a mock-sigh. "Man, You'd think that after saving the world, people would let up on you, huh?"
This time, I actually do roll my eyes. "Yes, what a tragic life you have, Yuri Lowell."
We reach Ehmead hill by evening, the orange glow of the sun just filtering over the foliage. The last couple of hours had passed pretty quickly talking with Yuri, monster attacks interrupting briefly every once in a while.
Looking over the foliage, I straighten up and my spine tingles with apprehension; evening gave hungry monsters an advantage, for while we lacked sight, they had smell to guide them. My hand resting on my sword, I turn to Yuri, who's already gotten out one of the Holy Bottles. (The gesture almost impresses me--almost.)
"Let's look for a good campsite while that lasts," I say. Yuri, however, turns to me with a rather odd and knowing look on his face.
"Actually, I already have one in mind."
"Just follow me."
I follow after him in perplexed silence, but he navigates the twists and turns with such confidence that I don't question him. Despite the apprehension I feel at all the monsters that we pass by, still unnoticed by the Holy Bottle, I suppose there's a level of trust I have with Yuri. And then, before I know it, we've stopped. He turns around with an almost welcoming gesture. "This is it."
For a moment, as I'm still climbing up the hill to catch up (he has longer legs, I can't help it), I don't see what he's talking about. What 'it'? It's the top of the hill, what could there possibly be--
And then I see it.
I think my heart stopped for a moment.
My mouth drops open slightly and I can't help but help out a small gasp as I see the scene in front of me. As a Knight, we always took the official road through Ehmead Hill; there had never actually been a need to actually go up the hill and reach the top. But now, here I am, and I can't believe I didn't find this place earlier.
As I watch, for a second, there's a moment of tenuous silence and I'm almost too afraid to say anything, not wanting to ruin the fragile vision before my eyes and even so, I don't there could possibly be any words to describe this utter feeling of... peace.
"It's... That's a magnificent view," I finally say, walking closer. The ocean spreads out before, grand and majestic with speckles of sunshine colouring its depths with tangerine and purple shades. Even further is a clear view of the sunset and its perhaps the closest I've ever been to one, save for when I used to climb Halure's tree and watch them. But that was long ago; this scene is so much clearer and open and a sense of serenity settles over me, the kind of calm that makes me almost want to write poetry or dance or just something, just an ache to create something as beautiful or even just a hundredth of what was in front of me. Suddenly, I wanted to stay here forever.
"Yeah," Yuri agrees and I can see the same look of awe on his face. "This was one of the first sights I saw when I left the city with Estelle... I couldn't believe it, that I had been missing this world while I had been stuck in the city."
I turn to him. "Have you figured out what you're going to get her?"
"Er... Not really."
I give him a reproving glare, but don't say anything about, still feeling the effects of euphoria from the sunshine. Instead, I put my pack down and start to rummage through it. "Let's just set up camp."
I look up from my bag and give him a curious look. "What was with that 'oh'?"
"Well." He frowns and holds up his bag and there I see the hole in the corner, the edges looking somewhat like a monster slash. "Some things fell out."
"What things?" I ask. The euphoric feeling is quickly disappearing, replaced with a growing sense of dread and the edge of my stomach and slowly taking over.
"Just some gels... " He says as he rifles through his bag. "... oh wait." He pauses to take out a bundle and when I see him unfold it, I realize it's his tent. If it be called that, with the large gash practically ripping it in two. What bad luck. "Guess I'll be sleeping outside then."
"Don't be foolish, you'll get sick like that."
"Yeah, and your solution is...?"
"We'll share a tent."
Here, he stares at me, and I'm surprised at the obviously uncomfortable look on his face. I know I'd expect this kind of behavior from Flynn, but Yuri? He didn't seem the shy type at all--or is it me? Perhaps the idea of sleeping with me made him distressed--I'm not really sure what to think of that. No, surely I'm not that offensive?
"Is something about the idea disagreeable?" I ask, trying to keep my voice level.
"I'm not really comfortable with it, " He replies. "While traveling with the group, Karol, Raven and I would always sleep separate from the girls. It wouldn't feel right otherwise."
Yuri Lowell being a (somewhat awkward) gentleman. I never thought I'd see the day.
As I took my time setting up the tent and monster-repellent scent, Yuri had decided to take on the cooking and so by the time I'm done, I'm greeted with a surprisingly alluring smell of beef and something else.
"You can cook?"
He presents his work with a proud smirk. "Of course I can. I had to to learn; you don't think I'd let Flynn touch the kitchen, did you?"
We both share a shudder, knowing Flynn's (lack of) cooking skills, and we end up sharing small grins with each other. The brief moment of camaraderie surprises and somehow excites me; for a small second, my heart skips a beat for some reason and I quickly break eye contact and instead look to the pot boiling over the fire.
"So what is it?" I ask as I come closer.
"It's just a soup made with some beef and vegetables. Doesn't really have a name."
I eye with admiration and I look at Yuri with a curious look. "Looks like you went all out."
"Well, I'm going to be needing something real warm tonight." I don't say anything at this; Yuri just goes on talking, changing the subject. "So I've been thinking about what to get Estelle and it's kind of difficult. I mean, it's hard to think of a present for a girl who has everything, you know?" He looks at me. "Tell me, what would a noble want?"
I can't help but scoff at this. "You don't really think nobles have everything? Maybe it was just me, but I remember when I was young, there was nothing more than I wanted than to just get out--I mean, I knew I was being sheltered, and can you imagine how that feels, knowing there's a world out there that you can't access?"
"But wouldn't being nobility give you more opportunity to travel?" Yuri asks.
"I only ever went to Zaphias and even then, I was always supervised and my trips always had itineraries that had to be followed, you know, visit other certain children, be nice to other certain children," I try to ignore the usual sick feeling I get when I think about those memories. "And to think the princess escaped the cage much later than me. It's amazing a person as sweet as her lasted so long."
Yuri lets out a small snicker. "And you wonder why I don't want to join the Knights. But look, you've got the same issues with authority, see."
"I just chose a path where I could directly protect the people I care about," I say in defense. He looks at me.
"So did I."
My heart does the odd skip again and I quickly break eye contact. It's one of those almost-serious but inconsequential moments where he looks at me that really scares me--the same feeling used to happen with me when Flynn would give me some top-priority order, and it almost felt like he was sharing a secret with me, made me feel empowered. But these moments with Yuri, where I can't but feel as though he's revealing something to me (even though he's not, really), where he just looks at me directly, I can't but feel somewhat frightened by them. So I just look away.
"Food's done," Yuri says after a few seconds and gets up to serve it. He pours me a bowl and watches as I test it out with a small mouthful. "So?" He asks, leaning closer. "What do you think? Because, you know, I've been thinking about becoming a professional chef ever since someone has told me that I haven't been living up to my potential, so I figure that I could maybe open up a soup kitchen..."
"It's satisfactory," I say, if only to shut him up. I'm beginning to regret the whole 'potential' thing was ever mentioned in the first place. He only grins in response.
"I thought so."
I don't say anything as I watch Yuri take out his sleeping bag. I can just see he's going to wake up with quite the sore back, maybe worse, and I'm definitely not looking forward having to travel with that tomorrow morning. Men and their pride. He better hope it doesn't rain.
"Goodnight," I say as turn in, letting the flap close down.
And then it rains.
After a crash of thunder startles me from my sleep, the first thing I notice is hard rhythm of the pellets, hitting down hard on the tent. Then I notice the slightly salty smell of rainwater, and there's a cold chill in the air. Consciousness seeps in slowly, and when I register the presence of an unfamiliar warmth near me, lucidity and caution hits like a cold wave.
I reach for the dagger under my pillow, about to strike at the assailant when I stop and actually look at the shadow, meeting dark, clouded, familiar eyes. Blinking a bit, the shadow starts to become clearer until I realize that the shadow that's hanging over me is actually the damp and slightly hunched up frame of Yuri. Relief hits me and I deflate a bit, putting the dagger a bit. The drowsiness comes back.
"It's raining pretty hard out there," He says after a few seconds of silence. Way to state the obvious I wonder how long he's been sitting there. I hope he's not sick.
"You look uncomfortable sitting up like that," I murmur instead and gesture for him to lie down. "Come on, sleep." At his unconvinced face, I add jokingly (and I swear, it's the sleep that made me say this, nothing else), "I swear of my Knight's honour I won't molest you or anything of the sort."
He cracks a small grin. "That's reassuring but, ah... I can't."
"My sleeping habits can be uncomfortable for people near me," He says evasively, before quickly adding, "I can sleep sitting up though. It's fine."
I stare at him a bit, thinking over the phrasing of his words and wondering why it sounded so odd. Sleeping habits, uncomfortable, nearby people, meaning he sleepwalks, no probably not, so maybe he snores or...
"You're a cuddler, aren't you," I say, deadpan.
I had only meant it as a joke, but when I see how he glares at me, I can't help but wonder if... no... it couldn't possibly be true. "Hey, I just move around a lot. Who said anything cuddling?"
"No, if it was just that you would have said so in the first place," I pause. "So what happened when you shared a tent with other people on your journey?"
"I had Repede--Ah," He stops. Even in my slightly less-than-conscious state, there's a small feeling of satisfaction that grows when I see his horrified face, realizing his error as he hits his face in a reproachful manner. "Well played, Lieutenant, especially at this hour. I'm impressed."
"I'm glad. Now--(another yawn)-- will you just sleep? I promise to not judge you if I wake up," I take a moment to figure out a more eloquent way to say 'in your arms'. "...in a compromising position."
When he doesn't move, I sigh and give up, lying back to my previous position. Let him kill his back, I'm not going to waste my time trying to convince him otherwise. A minute later though, I hear the rustle of his sleeping bag and then I can feel the pressure of his presence and he lies down next to me. I feel myself relax a bit until I'm in a comfortable position, leaning against his back.
I'm not sure how many minutes pass through all the sleep-induced thoughts, when the sudden image of Yuri hugging a Repede suddenly comes up. And then that leads to me thinking about Yuri holding onto a baby Repede, and then I imagine of a baby Yuri holding onto a baby Repede and then it's a baby Yuri holding onto a baby Flynn... I feel my face forming into a rather mushy smile and through all the haze, I find myself letting out a little laugh.
"You better not tell anyone this," Yuri mumbles from the other side and after the few seconds it takes for me to process the statement, I find myself giggling again.
I'm never going to let him forget this, ever.
I don't remember his response.
Author's Note/Rant: Whoo, I can't believe I actually updated this within a decent time period. Haha, I'll eventually figure out how they actually start falling for each other (haha, I'm much comfortable with writing angst), but I guess for now, friendship is a pretty decent step. And thank you to the reviewers who pointed out the plotholes (ahem, destruction of Aspio, Repede, etc), so please if you guys notice anything I've obviously forgotten, please point it out. It's been a bit since I've played the game.
So thanks to all for reading/reviews/favouriting/add to alerts, I really appreciate all the feedback. xD Whoo, I've gotten past the 20,000 mark! Maybe I do have it within me to write a multi-chapter fic.
EDIT: APPARENTLY, Ehmead Hill also happened to get destroyed. ... Yeah. Come on. It's like everything in the game was either crushed or shot down or augh. The game needs to stop killing all my locations. xD And also, someone made a comment about Yuri's OOC-ness that I find myself agreeing with, so I changed the chapter a bit.