Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or profiting from Tales of Vesperia.
A/N: This is my own personal vision of childhood events. However, while I have seen many skits and sidequests that explore the characters, I have not seen every single one. So please forgive me if anything here contradicts established canon.
He was good at crouching in the shadows. From where he sat, he could watch everything that happened in the Zaphias lower quarter, all the things that no one in the public quarter, let alone the royal quarter, could ever guess at. Men exchanged bundles wrapped in cloth for coin, looking over their shoulders but ignoring the small, dirty boy that sat almost directly beneath their noses. A pair of young women swayed their hips as they walked up and down the dimly lit streets. People trying to eke out an existence any way they could, hoping it could be by honest means, pushing down their pride when that failed. Sometimes it was hard to believe that this was part of the capital city, the pride of Ilyccia, seat of the Emperor. There were richer villages.
Yuri Lowell was wedged in the opening of a narrow alley, his dark eyes taking it all in. The quarter was loud, coarse, chaotic. There was also an undercurrent of whispers and secrets, if you were very still and listened close enough. Every day, deals were made and rumors born. Sometimes word from the castle would trickle down, and soon it would be on the lips of every resident. It happened the day that the princess, Estellise, was born. Yuri was very small then, but remembered the celebration vividly. His mother danced in the square with her young son perched on her shoulders; it was one of his few, treasured memories of her. When he closed his eyes, he could still see the small display of fireworks, which probably cost several families at least a full month's pay. The quarter didn't often have much cause to celebrate.
Today, however, was just another day. The sun had disappeared behind the tall stone buildings and if Yuri looked in the nearby windows, he would see families gathering around their tables for the evening meal. He tried not to. Instead, he stood and stepped out of his shadowy hideout, ducking down side streets as he headed toward a place where he knew he could get a piece of bread, two if he was lucky. He smelled it before he turned the last corner, a warm, yeasty scent that cut the sour rankness of the poorly maintained streets. And dozens of unbathed children, a sea of heads crowding around the handful of adults who stood in the center. Yuri couldn't see them from where he stood, but knew that those men and women were holding baskets of freshly baked bread. They came down every day after closing their bakery in the public quarter, and Yuri could never decide whether the gesture was selfless or stupidly dangerous. All he knew was that he was hungry, and that anyone who took the last bits of bread before he got there would regret it.
Yuri tried squeezing his shoulder in at the far edge of the crowd, but the other children were just as determined as he was and wouldn't yield their place in line. By the time he had finally reached the center, the crowd had thinned significantly. Many of the kids sat down just a little ways away to eat, feeling secure in the presence of the bakers. A man who held the last remaining basket smiled down at the dark-haired boy, who briefly glanced up at him with a grateful look before he reached a grubby hand toward the much-depleted chunks of bread. His fingers grasped only a dusting of crumbs and some cloth, which had served as a barrier between the food and the finely woven basket.
Whirling his head around in fury, Yuri spied another boy retreating down a nearby alley. He did not hesitate a second to follow, ignoring the apologetic words of the adults who called after him. His wiry, slender frame made him a fast runner, so it wasn't long before he was able to reach out and grab the back of the other boy's shirt, pulling him up short with a muffled yelp. The boy turned around slowly after Yuri released him.
"You were behind me," Yuri said. His hands were closed in tight fists at his side.
"Sorry?" The boy's blue eyes widened. He was clutching the small loaf of bread to his chest. Yuri shook his head.
"Not good enough. You stole my bread."
The other boy stiffened, and Yuri was ready to fight. Instead, though, the boy started talking at a rapid pace, hardly stopping to take in a breath.
"I don't see how it belongs to you. Your name's not on it, for one thing. And there will be more bread tomorrow, won't there? I need to go home now, so if you'd please step out of my way—"
"What," said Yuri through clenched teeth, "did you just say?"
"You have a home. Parents, too?"
"Well. I have a father. But he—"
Yuri's eyes were narrowed, and the other boy was backing away deeper into the dark alley.
"A father. Hmph. Brothers and sisters, too, I bet."
"No, I don't. It's just me and him, I swear." He was reaching the end of the alley, which ran up against the back wall of a two-story building. Yuri smirked.
"I bet you even go to school," he said in a sardonic tone.
"No! Not anymore," the boy said, and then winced, both from his unfortunate admission and his sudden contact with the wall.
"Not anymore," Yuri said, mocking him. "You have a private tutor now. Did I get it right?"
The boy frowned, met Yuri's eyes without fear. He seemed to reach down inside himself and find the will to fight back, even cornered in the literal and figurative way that he was.
"Look around you. I live in the same quarter that you do. My father," he said, almost spitting the word, "is a drunk. He doesn't think about me. He doesn't make sure that I have food. Half the time, he isn't even there. And when he is, he's dead asleep."
Yuri snapped his head back as if he had been struck. He had misjudged the other boy, as much as he didn't want to admit it. But he was also still hungry. As if in reply to that thought, his stomach gurgled in protest. Yuri placed one dirt-streaked hand on his hip.
"You still stole my bread," he said, after a moment. The boy looked surprised, then shook his head and sighed. His shaggy blond hair swung in front of his eyes with the movement.
"Here," he said. Holding the bread in both hands, he tore it into two equal pieces, then held one half out to Yuri. This time it was the dark-haired boy's turn to be surprised. He stared at the bread as the other boy stood there expectantly. Then his eyes narrowed.
"Keep your pity." He started to turn away, but the other boy grabbed his shoulder with his free hand.
"Take it," he said, putting more force into the words than Yuri would have expected from him. Wordlessly, he reached out for his half and sat on the shallow stone step of a back door that faced the alley. A moment later, he felt the other boy settle beside him. He shot a look at him and thought about saying something, but shrugged instead and started eating. The bread was no longer warm, but tasted as good as it had smelled. They ate in silence for a while.
"So," said the blond boy. "What's your name? I'm Flynn."
"Hm? Oh. It's Yuri."
The other boy—Flynn—chuckled. "That sounds like a girl's name."
Yuri, who was swallowing his last bite of bread, almost choked.
"Shut up." He shoved his shoulder against Flynn, who just laughed more. Yuri shook his head, then looked up at the strip of sky above the alley, where the night's first stars were appearing. When he closed his eyes, that dark sky exploded with color.