As a side note, nothing in this story is meant to be slashy, for those not into that. I do write Flynn and Yuri as a pairing, but it is not my intent to imply such things when they are little kids.
2. A Clean Slate
Yuri had accidentally been caught up in a funeral procession, once. On his way back to the encampment of a group of boys he had been staying with at the time, he turned a corner and was confronted with a seemingly endless stream of mourners, shuffling down the street. Before he could turn back, he was pushed along with them—an unwilling participant in their sorrow. Long after he managed to break away, the moans and cries had echoed in his skull.
It was a little like how he felt now, standing in Flynn's house, hardly more than a stranger. Yuri was a little ashamed at how much of a temptation the door, still slightly ajar and only a few steps away, posed for him. The knights, at least, were familiar. Better them than this awkward silence that he had no place in.
"I—my father is in jail?" Flynn finally spoke, almost squeaking out the words. "Why?"
Hanks exhaled, rubbing at his forehead with the side of his hand.
"Y'see…no. I'll level with you, kid. You're pretty savvy for your age, and probably would imagine something much worse anyway."
"Hanks, what happened?" A note of desperation crept into Flynn's voice and the older man dropped to his level, resting on one knee as he gripped the boy's shoulders.
"Your father," he said firmly, "is a good man. Even after everything—the old Kendrick, my friend, is in there somewhere. But…the Empire doesn't seem to like it when they don't get what they think is theirs."
Flynn darted a look over at Yuri, who shook his head vigorously. No need to bring him into this.
"Guess he hasn't paid his taxes for a while," Hanks continued. "The knights came to find him, give him one last chance to hand over the gald—they got more from him than they bargained for." The man grunted.
Flynn sharply took in a breath, that look of disappointment settling over his features.
"He was drinking," he said, solemnly and without surprise. Hanks nodded once, then sighed, straightening.
"I hate to do this to you, kid, but we don't have a lot of time…they're taking the house."
"What?" Unlike the stunned silence after the initial news of his father's imprisonment, this time Flynn responded immediately. "They can't do that, can they? This is where I—it's the only—"
"They can, boy. And we'll have to hurry. Knights will be at the door at any minute."
Yuri's skin prickled at this last bit of information, and Flynn, managing to look even more anxious, backed away from Hanks unsteadily. He swiveled his head from side to side until his eyes lit on Yuri, who had slowly melted into the far corner of the room as the conversation had continued being so grave and personal. Hanks squinted at him, apparently truly noticing the dark-haired boy for the first time.
"Who's this?" He gestured loosely in Yuri's direction. "Nevermind. Flynn, go gather your things. Quickly! Bring only what you can't replace." Yuri wondered if it was his imagination that the man's eyes softened at the corners, just a little, as he watched the blond boy scurry into the house's other rooms.
"Now, then." Yuri turned to find Hanks looking him over with a stern expression. "Some kind of ruffian, eh? Hah. I saw that face you made when I mentioned the knights. So what's a troublemaker like you doing with young Scifo here?"
"That's his family name, son." He shook his head. "Speakin' of names, I haven't heard yours."
Yuri scratched at the back of his neck nervously, feeling uncomfortably exposed by the older man's gaze and wishing that Flynn would return quickly to release him from it.
Hanks raised an eyebrow expectantly.
"Yuri Lowell," the boy added, with some reluctance.
"Lowell." The man brought a hand up to his chin. "A vaguely familiar name. Tell me, does your mother—"
"She's dead," said Yuri. "I barely remember her."
To his credit, Hanks just nodded. It was hardly an unusual story, after all. Far more remarkable were the Lower Quarter families who had faced no loss. Flynn himself was just another example of that fact. He appeared from the hallway and cleared his throat, arms wrapped tightly around a lumpy cloth bag.
"I'm ready," he said. "There's a way out the back, so…um. I guess we should go." Uncertainty flickered in Flynn's eyes for a moment, but he turned to lead them out of his home. Yuri stepped behind Hanks to follow, then halted abruptly and ran back into the central room. Flynn had his hand on the back door when the dark-haired boy caught up to him.
"I don't think you wanted to leave this," said Yuri, holding out the framed photograph he had retrieved from the wall. As usual, he hadn't really thought through the why of his actions; it had just seemed important, for some reason. He shifted uncomfortably, though, as the blond boy stared at him for a long moment before stammering his thanks and tucking the picture under his arm. When Yuri looked at Hanks out of the corner of his eye, the man's expression could only be described as thoughtful.
The streets they walked were, for all appearances, free of knights at the moment. Yuri imagined that most of the ones posted to the quarter were either occupied dealing with the missing gald or the situation with Flynn's father. Not many ventured into the area, on average—one of the primary complaints he had often heard from the adults who lived there. It was no wonder that petty crime was so common, with such a lack of fear for Imperial punishment. They sat in the castle's shadow, left for the most part to deal with their problems themselves.
"I have been thinking," whispered Flynn, "and you're going to have to return the gald to the knights."
"Huh? What happened to 'give it back to the people'?"
The blond boy clenched his fists, bitterness seeping into his voice. "The Empire will come back. They'll ask for the money again, maybe even more than before. They've hurt enough people, so…it's the best way."
Yuri rolled his eyes. Flynn was wrong—going along with the knights wasn't going to help anything. They walked without speaking for a while.
"Anyway," said Flynn, a bit hesitantly. "I guess you're safe now."
"Yeah. I'll have to lay low for a while, though."
"Do you have somewhere to go?" That was Hanks, who had apparently been listening. Yuri paused, thinking how to respond. He didn't have a house, that's for sure. Just a list of places he could spend the night in relative safety, boys he knew would band together rather than attack him while he slept—though he couldn't count on even that if anyone found out he had hidden all that gald.
"Sort of." He shrugged and Hanks clenched his jaw, looking conflicted.
"Alright," he said, gruffly. "She'll just have to watch both of you until we get this mess straightened out."
Yuri and Flynn glanced at each other as Hanks walked ahead of them. This was the first time a she had been mentioned—Yuri had assumed they were going to wherever Hanks lived. Then again, taking in a pair of young boys didn't exactly seem to suit this guy's demeanor. The group wound through the haphazard maze of streets until an alley spilled into one of the quarter's central squares. A large fountain bubbled in the center, where several women chatted while washing clothes. Their children chased each other around the fountain. It seemed like one of the safer parts of town, but also the sort of place where Yuri wouldn't find anywhere to hide—where he would stand the risk of being noticed, dragged off to some orphanage. He shuddered.
Hanks stopped in front of a two-story building not far from the fountain. It was a simple yet homey-looking place, the entrance lit by a lantern now that the sun was beginning to set.
"My niece runs this inn. Flynn, you've met her before, I think. At any rate, she's agreed to take care of you until we can sort things out." He squinted at Yuri. "Imagine she won't complain to one more. You won't take up much room, scrawny as ya are."
Yuri scowled, wondering not for the first time how he had gotten caught up in all this. But he had to admit, he was curious. It wasn't often—okay, it never happened—that he had the chance to stay in such a place. And if things got too weird, he'd just leave.
The two boys followed Hanks inside what seemed to double as the inn's lobby and a small tavern. A woman bustled around the room, wiping a cloth across the long counter and straightening the objects arranged along it. As the door creaked open, she looked up with a friendly smile.
"Welcome to the Comet…Oh!" Concern was etched in her round, pleasant face as she rushed over to greet them. "Uncle Hanks, I was so worried. But you've brought him, that's wonderful. Come here, darling."
The woman beamed at Flynn, who looked vaguely petrified. Wrapping her arms around the blond boy, she squeezed him briefly against her apron, then held him at arm's length to look him over.
"So much like her," she murmured, before catching sight of Yuri with a gasp. "Flynn! Is this a friend of yours? Oh, my."
Pressing fingers to her lips, she took in his appearance. Yuri couldn't remember a time that there had been so many adults scrutinizing him in one day.
"No, no. This won't do at all." Her tone was absentminded, as if talking to herself.
"So you don't have room for two, then, Nell?" said Hanks. She lifted her eyes to him quickly, startled.
"Oh, don't mistake. This one's welcome here, too." She smiled kindly at Yuri, who shifted from foot to foot. "Poor child. Where is that girl…Kay!"
A young woman appeared from a back room and stood next to Nell expectantly.
"Please draw a bath for…ah…"
"Yuri," Flynn supplied.
"Yes, thank you. For Yuri. Now let's see, there should be some old clothes of Rob's left here somewhere…" The woman drifted into all the things she'd need to prepare, leaving Yuri to feel utterly overwhelmed. It wasn't as if he was opposed to the idea of a bath, but all this attention was too much. Maybe he should have taken his chances out there, where he knew what to expect. It still wasn't too late, in fact…
"Alright, boys, I'm leadin' you to your room, and then I have to go. Understand?" Yuri jumped at Hanks's voice, but Flynn nodded for both of them and followed the man outside.
"Do I really need a bath that badly?"
Flynn responded by sliding off the edge of the bed he had been perched on and walking over to his bag, which was propped up in a corner. Reaching into it, he dug around until he found what he was searching for—a small, silver mirror with intricate designs on the back and handle. He turned it around so that it was directed at Yuri's face.
Yuri didn't look in mirrors very often, of course. He raised a dark eyebrow as he saw what others did when they looked at him. Smears of dirt coated his face; his hair hung slack and dull. He ran his fingers over chapped lips and tugged at an ear. Snorting, he pushed the mirror away from him.
"Careful," Flynn scolded. "This was my mother's." He set it down gently on a nearby table.
"I don't really know what the big deal is. I'm just going to get dirty again." Yuri laughed at the appalled look that Flynn gave him in response, and suddenly knew why—and how—the house of a drunk was so clean. Which made him remember how he got here in the first place. The blond boy seemed like he was holding up alright, considering, but he was being pretty quiet. Then again, Yuri honestly didn't know him that well. Maybe this was normal.
They both turned their heads at a soft knocking at the door. They stepped outside to find Kay smiling down at them, a pile of towels in her arms. "Ready, Yuri?"
He took a breath to respond, but suddenly Nell bellowed from the main floor. Kay looked uncertain for a moment, then dumped her fluffy burden into a very confused Flynn's outstretched arms.
"Sorry, boys—sounds urgent. Ah, Flynn, could you take these to the bath? It's just down that way." Pointing a slender finger to a door at the end of the building, she scurried down the stairs.
This day, Yuri thought, just kept getting stranger. He shrugged at Flynn, whose blue eyes just barely peeked over the folded white cloth. They turned and kept walking until they had arrived at the indicated room. Flynn reached for the handle, shifting the load slightly so it rested in the crook of his other arm.
The room was small, clean and simple. A washbasin and pitcher rested on a small table, various instruments of hygiene and appearance arranged around them—a change of clothes was placed there, as well. Large mirrors were expensive, so Yuri wasn't surprised that there weren't any on the walls. Instead, landscape paintings hung at regular intervals. He stared at one that depicted the ocean for a while before he realized that Flynn had been talking to him.
"—but this sponge should do. It will take a lot to get the dirt off your hands and feet. Are you even listening, Yuri?"
"Oh. Yeah." He tore his eyes away from the painting.
"Sit," said the boy, directing him to a nearby chair. "Show me your palms."
Yuri rolled his eyes, but sat anyway. Why was he listening to what this pushy kid was telling him to do? He'd almost rather take his chances with the knights.
"What are you, my mom?" He lifted his hands, crisscrossed with dark lines of dirt. Flynn took the sponge to them; it wasn't soft. Yuri winced and tried to snatch his hand away, but the boy grabbed his wrist—that surprisingly strong grip, again.
"I don't even want to think about what your feet must look like," said Flynn, once he had finished. "Soaking them in the tub should help. Now, for the—"
"Yeah, okay. I can wash the rest myself."
"Good, because I wasn't going to help you with that, you weirdo." Flynn stood and left the room, shutting the door behind him. Yuri placed his hands on his hips as he looked at the tub. Well, he'd already come this far.
When he'd finished and gotten dressed again—this "Rob" had apparently once been about his size, fortunately—Flynn wasn't waiting outside, nor was he in the room. Yuri took his next best guess, walking down the stairs and into the tavern. Flynn was seated at a table by the window, reading. When he noticed that the other boy had emerged, Flynn set the book down and grinned at him.
"Not bad. How do you feel?"
Yuri rubbed at his cheek.
"Shiny," he said.
Flynn collapsed into a fit of laughter, his small shoulders shaking. Wiping his eyes, he stood and walked over to Yuri.
"You know, I thought your hair was just dirty," said Flynn, holding a section of long hair and inspecting the strands. "But it's some kind of black-gray-brown-purple mixture." He looked at Yuri curiously. "Are you part Krityan or something?"
Yuri shook his head. "I don't think so. But hell, I don't know. Never knew my father."
"Yeah. It's not a big deal. I'm good with being on my own."
Flynn just looked at him, and Yuri wished his expression wouldn't be so concerned. Who was he to him?
"What about friends? Everyone needs those," the boy said quietly.
Yuri thought of the kids he'd sometimes hang around. They stole from the market stalls and threw rocks at the knights. Once they planted some of their stolen goods on him, and that was the last time he'd even remotely trusted them.
"Friends. Huh. They just get you in more trouble."
"Maybe the bad ones. There is such a thing as someone who's got your back, you know."
"Oh, is that what you're like, Mr. Goody-Goody?" Yuri smirked.
"I mean, I'm sure being all noble and crap gets you lots of friends."
The blond boy scowled. "Shut up, okay?"
"Boys." Nell walked over from behind the counter, pursing her lips but not seeming particularly angry. She smiled, then, clapping her hands together. "I know just the thing," she said, before disappearing behind the counter once more.
A few minutes later, she set a small plate in front of each boy. On them were slices of cake—chocolate, topped with plenty of icing. Practically holding his breath, Yuri picked up his fork and took a bite. He closed his eyes as he chewed, ignoring the fact that Flynn was snickering at him. It was, of course, completely delicious—he felt like sliding down to the floor with sheer delight.
"I take it you like sweets," said Nell, amused. Yuri didn't feel like telling her that he didn't remember ever eating anything that tasted like this. It wasn't the kind of scrap or hand-out you would find being given to Lower Quarter orphans.
"It's very good," he said, around a larger mouthful. Nell chuckled, patting him on the back as she walked by.
"It's because of my secret ingredient," she said, winking. Yuri thought he should fight this feeling of security and comfort—it never paid to let your guard down too much—but at that moment, chocolate was the only thought that his mind kept singing.
Late into the night, Yuri woke to the other boy stirring beside him. Voices drifted up from below, adults trying to speak quietly but also expecting the inn's other occupants to be asleep.
"Flynn?" he whispered.
One of the voices, Yuri realized suddenly, was Hanks. He also recognized Nell's voice, more serious than usual, but there was another man he didn't know. Whatever they were talking about, it was becoming more heated—the words became louder, more distinguishable. He strained to listen.
"…doesn't look good," said Hanks. "Tried to talk some sense into him, so something like this wouldn't happen, but…"
There was a soft voice, Nell speaking quietly, and Yuri couldn't make out what she said.
"No, don't wake him." The other man's voice. "Tomorrow will be soon enough."
"But Henry—" Was she crying? Flynn stiffened, wrapping blankets more tightly around himself.
"We don't know if he's…Nell, we don't know."
No one spoke for a while.
"But where will the boy go?"
The woman spoke so faintly that Yuri wondered, at first, if Flynn had heard. But he was too still, his breathing quick and uneven. After that, sleep would not come—Yuri stared wide-eyed into the darkness as the minutes crept by like thieves.
A/N: I don't think that the innkeeper lady was ever named in the game, but if I'm wrong I'll go through and replace it. She looks like a 'Nell' to me, though. *smiles*