"Oh, how I find, every subtle thing screams your name.

It reminds me of places and times we've shared."

It's the scuff of boots on the rough-hewn stone of the castle walls that first alerts Flynn to the presence of his best friend. He looks up from the stacks and stacks of paperwork cluttering his once-impeccably-neat desk in time to see Yuri swing himself over the windowsill, landing on the carpet with scarcely a sound.

"I'm glad to see you took my advice about coming in through the front door like a regular guest to heart," he says wryly as Yuri straightens and takes a few steps in his direction.

Yuri just smirks, not apologetic in the least. "Yeah, well, I wouldn't want you thinking I'd suddenly started listening to your lectures. Besides, you know using the front door's not really my style."

Flynn makes a sound that's somewhere between a sigh and a snort. "Of course not. You'd rather sneak in like a thief." He returns his attention to the papers in front of him long enough to sign off on two search warrants, the newest version of the tax reform bill, and a request for additional funding for the Imperial Academy before making a rather hopeless attempt at damming the flood of parchment that's taken over his desk. "Don't most thieves wait until the person they're stealing from isn't around?"

Yuri chuckles as he crosses his arms over his chest and casually leans against the edge of the desk beside Flynn. "Who says I'm a thief this time? Maybe I'm a spy…or an assassin."

Without pausing in his efforts to straighten the papers, Flynn gives him an oblique glance, one corner of his mouth pulling upwards, though the expression is just as strained as it is amused. "I didn't think I was doing that bad of a job as Commandant. But you know, you're not really subtle enough to be either of those, Yuri."

Yuri has to roll his eyes a little at that. "Yeah, and if anything happens to you, I'm probably the first one they'll blame. Just for old time's sake."

Flynn shakes his head, a thin, tight-lipped smile all he seems able to manage. He looks tired, Yuri thinks, studying him. And of course, why wouldn't he be—he's always taken his responsibilities seriously, and just because he has roughly two thousand responsibilities now instead of the thirty or so he'd voluntarily taken on when they were children doesn't change the way he approaches things. Yet he doesn't look at all unhappy. He's living his dream, he's making a difference, changing how things work. Just like he'd always wanted. Like they'd both always wanted.

Still, Yuri can't help but notice how his oldest friend's smiles are almost always so stiff and polite now; once upon a time, they'd been just as rough and raw and lopsidedly devilish as his own.

Giving up on doing anything more with the paperwork for now, Flynn pushes away from his desk with a sigh, rolling his shoulders a little as he gets up and crosses the room to stand at the window. "I already know what you'll say, and by now, I think I actually agree with you…but I have to ask again. 'For old time's sake,' if nothing else." All traces of smiles and teasing fade as he turns to look at Yuri, open, earnest, entirely serious. "The Knights…no, not just the Knights. I really could use someone like you here with me."

Yuri snorts a cynical laugh. "You've already got a pretty enthusiastic second-in-command. What do you need me for?"

"Sodia is—" It's a hairsbreadth moment of hesitance, a sliver of a fraction of a second that most wouldn't catch; but to Yuri, who knows Flynn far too well for either of them to get away with anything anymore, it's more than telling.

"Efficient," says his mouth.

Not you, say his eyes.

Yuri holds his gaze momentarily, but those two unspoken words and many more besides are echoed by the bleakly downward curve of his best friend's lips, the tilt of his head, the slight slump in his armoured shoulders, and countless other tiny nonverbal cues that force Yuri to look away, unable to bear the sheer weight and raw emotion of it.

"Exactly. You've already got someone around to give you all kinds of headaches with their stubbornness. I wouldn't want to be repetitive."

Flynn gives a snort of his own, and suddenly a shade of the old crooked smirk is back, a flicker of that former life. "You're not so easy to replace, Yuri."

It's been too long since Yuri's seen that smile; it looks good on him, better even than all that armour and the cape and the noble knightly airs, and Yuri can't help but mirror it. "Neither are you, Flynn." His smile quirks a little more towards an outright smirk. "There's no one else around who can constantly one-up me as easily as you."

"That's definitely my line this time," Flynn says with a rueful shake of his head.

"Don't even start with that again," Yuri warns with a groan. "C'mon, you've been stuck in this room for too long. You deserve a break."

"…I think you're absolutely right on that one…" Flynn gives the clutter overflowing his desk a mournful look. "Ever since Captain Schwann…disappeared, a large portion of the paperwork his brigade used to handle has been finding its way to me, since a Captain or higher is required to sign off on it." He turns a surprisingly devious look Yuri's way. "Are you sure you don't want to rejoin the Knights? You'd easily make Captain within a few months, and then look at all the fun you could have."

"Heh, nice. But I don't really feel like cleaning up after 'Schwann,' so no thanks. Just hurry up and change into something more casual already so you don't scare everyone off with all your stunning knightliness, and let's—"

Go, he'd been intending to say, but the pillow that hits him square in the face cuts his sentence short. He grins as he sends it right back at a comparable speed, ducking a second pillow and laughing when the first rebounds off the wall a bit and clips the side of Flynn's head before tumbling to a stop in the middle of the floor.

"Oh, just shut up about that for once, Yuri," the Commandant grumbles...but he smiles as he says it, and there's a lightheartedness to it that makes Yuri grip the second pillow a little tighter and lunge for that first pillow lying on the floor between them.

Before he's even halfway there, Flynn already has it in his hands, and is ready and waiting for him.

Yuri stretches and gives a low hum of satisfaction as they make their way down the twilit streets. Brief as it had been, the impromptu pillow fight had managed to loosen Flynn up a good deal. He looks as if a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders (and considering how heavy all that armour he generally wears is, that current relief is literal as well as figurative), his smiles coming more quick and easy, more like the old days, back before they'd joined the Knights.

Unsurprisingly, Flynn's closet had contained nothing but more uniforms, but the one he eventually settled on was old and outdated enough that, without the armour and covered by a long, plain grey cloak, it could be mistaken for casual clothing. And so far, that mistake has been made by almost everyone they've encountered; a smudge of dirt here, a few displaced hairs there, some purposeful rumpling of that once-neat uniform, and Flynn is suddenly below the notice of most of the city's population. He gets the odd double-take every so often, but so far the only people to give voice to their suspicions were Adecor and Boccos, who they had the misfortune of running into soon after they left Zaphias Castle. (They'd stared for second before Boccos had ventured an unsure, "C-Commandant, is that you?" Which Yuri had answered with a quickly quipped, "Not right now, he isn't!" before dragging Flynn away from them. The shouts of "HALT, I say!" and "Kidnapper! We won't let you get away with this!" had followed them through almost half the Public Quarter before they'd managed to shake them off.)

Ducking down narrow alleys, hurtling stacks of crates, vaulting garden walls, and running along rooftops; sitting on the edge of the canal, feet dangling over the burbling, continuously-flowing water, munching on apples and fresh bread; the laughter, the good-natured teasing, the cheerful roughhousing; it's all exactly how things had been five, ten, fifteen years ago. Yuri hadn't realised how much he'd missed those times until now, and judging by the way Flynn's face softens when he catches his eye, his best friend feels the same way.

They're both feeling more than a little nostalgic as they walk side by side down the ramp towards the Comet Inn & Tavern, Yuri's home of sorts these past few years, when suddenly a sound that's all too familiar and more than a little unwelcome reaches their ears.

"Tell us what you know, old man, or our blades will taste of your blood."

They round the last curve of the ramp to find a group of cloaked, rough-looking men, all with weapons drawn, clustered around the edge of the aque blastia. A few are prowling around the sides of the square, preventing any of the Lower Quarter's other occupants from attempting to rescue the gang's captive: Hanks, who they've backed up to the fountain, obviously intending to shove him beneath the water if he doesn't give them the information they want.

When Hanks stays staunchly silent, the slightly taller, much more polished-looking leader of the group gives a cruel laugh as he forces Hanks' head beneath the water. "Wet your throat a little grandpa, and let's try again!"

Almost before he finishes his sentence, Yuri is there, sword out and swinging, Flynn right on his heels. In a matter of moments, they've cleared the square, and Flynn is holding the down and bloodied leader of the group at swordpoint as Yuri hauls Hanks up out of the fountain. Slightly paranoid from his adventures, Yuri gives the square another quick scan, noting with faint surprise that Flynn hadn't held back any more than he had, aiming to strike and kill as quickly and cleanly as possible. But these men had been openly threatening Imperial citizens, in the capital city no less, so he supposes it's to be expected. It certainly sends a clear message: there will be no mercy for those who break the laws or challenge the authority of the still relatively new Commandant.

A flicker of movement catches at the corner of his eye, and he turns just in time to see one of the men he'd taken for dead spring to his feet and lurch at Flynn's turned back, a wicked-looking dagger in his hand.

"Why did you come here, to the Lower Quarter?" Flynn is demanding, letting the edge of his sword hover a little closer to the cowering leader's throat. "What are you—" His eyes widen, words cutting off abruptly as he catches that flash of motion as well, though he knows even as he starts to turn and bring his sword up to guard that he's too late; but instead of the impact of a body crashing into his own and the fierce, burning pain of a blade ripping through his flesh, a spray of blood is all that hits him, splattering across his cheek and the right side of his cloak and uniform. The would-be assassin drops without a sound, and Flynn is left staring into the set, compassionless face and hard grey eyes of his best friend. He holds that gaze for a long moment, his own expression carefully neutral and unreadable, not even looking away to aim a vicious sideways kick to the gang leader's gut, cutting short his feeble attempt to crawl away and escape.

"Yuri!" Ted comes darting out of nowhere to wave a note in Yuri's face, breaking off the odd staring contest of sorts. "One of those guys dropped this!"

With a flick of his wrist, Yuri shakes most of the blood from his sword before calmly snatching the note from the kid's hand. His face grows stony as he reads what is obviously a letter from one of Zaphias' nobles to one of the small remaining factions of the Blood Alliance; the most notable section (to Yuri, anyway) is the offer of a considerable monetary reward for assassinating the 'new, shamefully low-born' Commandant.

He stops reading after that, and he can't help crumpling it in his fist a bit before shoving the letter against Flynn's chest, but his attention is already trained on the gang leader crouched beside the aque blastia and clutching his freely-bleeding shoulder. Yuri's hand tightens on his sword, knuckles flaring white as he moves towards the man, his expression ominous as he starts to draw back his sword for another sweeping slash.

"Yuri, wait!" A hand closes around his upper arm well before he's within range, Flynn pulling him to the side and then around to face him. "We need him alive, for questioning."

Yuri bares his teeth, roughly jerking his arm free. "You don't have to walk on eggshells with this one. He's no guild member. He's a noble, Flynn—you can see it in his clothes and in his face, not to mention the way he collapses at the first sign of actual danger." He shoots a glare at the man over Flynn's shoulder, and though he's easily twice Yuri's size, the injured noble still flinches visibly. "Hmph. Only brave when you're threatening old men and kids, huh?"

"Lord Delques will be arrested and placed on trial for conspiring against an agent of the Empire," Flynn says evenly, and Yuri's focus snaps back to his best friend's face at the name drop. Flynn gives him one last look of warning before stepping towards the downed noble again, and Yuri watches him go with mild bemusement.

"…So you knew all along…"

There's a sudden clatter of iron-shod feet on stone, and a squad of Knights comes clanking down the ramp into the square, Adecor and Boccos at the forefront along with LeBlanc.

"Yuri Lowell! I say, we've found you at last—"

"In the name of the Imperial Knights, we shall—"

"What is the meaning of this—C-Commandant?" LeBlanc goes from authoritative to submissive in the space of two heartbeats on seeing Flynn, straightening up in a hasty salute, the men at his back quickly following suit.

Flynn gives a faint sigh but returns the salute anyway before starting to issue orders. "Search these men for weapons and any further evidence as to their purpose here. Any survivors are to receive medical attention promptly before being imprisoned. Lord Delques is to be arrested and jailed separately, to be interrogated and held until he can be tried by a court of law for assault, conspiracy against an agent of the Empire, murderous intent, disorderly conduct, and possible treason. As one of the charges levied against him is treason, posting bail will not be permitted, and neither will he be allowed any visitors without special permission from the Commandant or the Emperor himself. He is to be kept under constant guard until his trial, and will be listed as kill on sight if he attempts to escape." The Commandant's eyes briefly flick towards the noble, the steel in his expression more than enough to set the man quivering again. "Is that clear?"

"Sir, yes sir!" With another salute, the Knights scramble to carry out their orders, and before long the square is bustling with more activity than it's seen since the aque blastia broke just over two years ago.

In all the confusion, no one notices Yuri vanish into the shadows except Flynn, who follows after him a moment later, not quite ready to go back to his role as Commandant just yet. He'll have to in the morning, he knows, and he neither dreads nor regrets it; but this time is his, and for now, he simply wants to be Flynn Scifo, commoner, orphan, former street urchin…and best friend to Yuri Lowell, the true Hope of the Town.

A short time later finds them both sprawled on their backs on the roof of the Comet, listening to the bells tolling out the hour as they look up at all the countless stars scattered across the sky-so much brighter and clearer now that the barrier is gone-and for the better part of two hours, neither says a word.

Yuri's face is relaxed, blank and bored and probably almost half-asleep, while Flynn's silence is a brooding one. What just happened, the kind of brutality they just prevented bothers him, of course; but more than that, Yuri's behaviour bothers him. He'd had to do what he did because he was a Knight—to keep order, enforce the laws, and protect the Empire's people, and to show any would-be assassins or troublemakers that no quarter would be given if they were found out. But Yuri…Yuri was there by choice, and if he himself hadn't been there to stay Yuri's hand… And yet, if Yuri hadn't been willing to get involved and unhesitantly strike to kill, no questions asked, Flynn knows that he himself would have been seriously injured, if not killed.

Doing your duty is one thing, and self-defense is all well and good, as is protecting the people who are important to you from an obvious threat to their life and well-being...but where is the line drawn between that and outright vigilantism?

He has to close his eyes to keep himself from shuddering at the memory of that cold, utterly remorseless expression on Yuri's face, and even then it sets his teeth on edge…though of course it's not the first time he's seen it. Part of him wonders just how long it will be until he finds that same look turned his way, something he dreads from the very bottom of his heart, regardless of the reason. (Either of the two primary reasons he can think of will mean he's failed-failed all the people he'd set out to protect, failed himself…but whichever way, regardless of who falls first, he'll have failed Yuri most of all. There doesn't seem to be any way of avoiding that now, a thought that makes him grind his teeth in helpless frustration. If only he'd made Captain sooner—)

"So, you gonna tell me what's bothering you?"

Flynn turns his head towards Yuri, but Yuri's eyes are still closed, his posture still careless and relaxed, arms folded behind his head. He opens them a moment later though, looking over as Flynn sits up and leans forward a little, staring into the streets below without really seeing them.

"It's just…I wonder…is it our actions or our intentions that we're judged by in the end…" His eyes, pensive and troubled, slide sideways towards his best friend. "What do you think, Yuri?"

Yuri meets his gaze unflinchingly, his expression grim. "Our actions," he says at once, without a pause for either consideration or hesitation.

"Yes." Flynn's voice is soft, and abruptly he looks away, unable to maintain eye contact for more than one reason. The sword at his side suddenly feels very heavy, and even without all the armour, the uniform he's wearing seems stifling and restrictive and oddly hard to breathe in. "I think so, too."

"So what's with that face? The great Flynn Scifo, champion of the law, saviour of the Empire shouldn't have anything to worry about."

The glower Flynn gives him is enough to make him tense instinctively. When they were younger, that look had always meant the blonde was precariously close to losing his temper…and considering Yuri's inability to keep his mouth shut, it had also usually meant that a fistfight was imminent.

"I'm not nearly as blameless as you make me sound," Flynn growls, "but you know very well that I'm not the one I'm most worried about."

"Yeah? Well, maybe whoever it is doesn't want you worrying about them. It's not like you don't have better things to do—"

His words cut off with a whoof! of hastily-expelled air as Flynn lunges at him, landing half on top of him before apparently trying to either shove his fist down Yuri's throat or throttle him, or both at the same time. Taking advantage of that minor indecision, Yuri grabs Flynn's wrists, twisting out of his grasp as he brings his knee up into the other man's gut. Flynn recovers quickly though, before Yuri can roll away, and this time there's no hesitance at all in the punch he aims squarely at Yuri's jaw. It connects with a solid crack, and Yuri's head snaps sideways, striking the rooftop below them; he tastes blood and he sees stars for a moment, but he forces a laugh anyway.

"Isn't fighting in public considered disorderly conduct?" he chuckles, scrambling a little to avoid a follow-up punch and mostly succeeding, taking it in the shoulder instead of the face. "Disturbing the peace? Tsk tsk, Commandant!"

"We're not disturbing anyone," Flynn grits out, deflecting a kick from Yuri, pinning that leg to the ground by the knee before all but throwing himself forward at his best friend again. "And no one can see us anyway."

"So that makes it okay for you to break your own laws?" Yuri pants as they grapple, grinning devilishly despite the bruises already forming on his face. "Or are you gonna turn yourself in for fighting when you get back? Maybe we could even share a cell, be roommates again-what do you think?"

"I think you really need to learn to shut up, Yuri," Flynn snaps in reply, planting his knees firmly and stopping their sideways roll across the roof before lashing out with his fists again. He's heavier-he's almost always been heavier-but they're about equal in strength, and while Flynn had always won their fistfights as children, and probably technically wins this one, too, Yuri must have learned a thing or two in his travels, because this time he gives almost as good as he gets, right up to the very end.

Then all at once there's an almost-pause of sorts: Flynn's got his hands twisted up in Yuri's collar and Yuri's gripping at his arms, trying to get free and keep himself from being choked, and they're deadlocked for a breathless, mostly-motionless instant. Flynn stills in the middle of slamming Yuri's shoulders back against the ground again as he gets a good, full look at Yuri's face. The cuts and scrapes aren't so bad, but there's a rather impressive-looking bruise forming on his best friend's jaw, and one cheek is already swelling up nastily; but despite all that, Yuri's expression is still unyielding and undefeated, and just like always, he's obviously not going to back down.

Seeing that expression, Flynn feels a sudden poignant stab of guilt. What is he doing? He's too old to simply lose control like this-he's not a child, not even a teenager any more, so that's no excuse-and he's taking out all his frustration on the person who deserves it least, the one person who really understands him; the person he wants to protect the most and never see hurt, who he's currently about halfway to beating into oblivion.

Abruptly he sits back on his heels, letting go of Yuri's shirt and pulling away, going to stand on the opposite side of the roof, distractedly clutching at one bruised fist.

Yuri lies there a moment, then sits up (which takes a bit of effort), though his tone is cheeky and challenging as usual. "What, giving up already?"

Flynn just tightens his grip on his own hand, focusing on the throb of a probably-broken bone with a sick sort of satisfaction (he deserves it, after doing this to his best friend, he more than deserves it), and refuses to look back at Yuri, his mouth set in a thin, angry line.

Yuri can read the tension in his shoulders though, and he's more than a little annoyed that Flynn's doing this-blaming himself for everything-again. "Come off it already, Flynn," he scoffs. "I was asking for it and you know it. No one can keep their temper all the time. Besides, it's better that you lose it with me, someone who doesn't matter and who can actually fight back, than someone else who'll just get hurt." He sucks on his torn knuckles thoughtfully, perhaps a bit peevishly. "Still, I thought I'd do better than this…I guess just because I can beat you with a sword sometimes now doesn't mean I can beat you in any sort of fight."

Flynn snorts, and he can't help but angle a faint smirk down at Yuri, setting his split lip bleeding again. "Heh. Now who's the loser?" His smile fades as he watches Yuri give a subtle wince as he puts weight on his left wrist; almost before he knows it, he's closed the distance between them, kneeling beside Yuri and murmuring a quick First Aid spell.

"…You do matter," Flynn admits diffidently as the golden glow envelops his best friend, masculine pride preventing him from adding the rather obvious to me at the end of his sentence. "I wish you wouldn't talk like that."

"Yeah, a 'common criminal' is definitely just as important as the Commandant of the Imperial Knights," Yuri drawls sardonically, giving his newly-healed wrist a roll to test its soundness. "I bet that second-in-command of yours would be really pleased to know that for once you're hanging out with someone who's actually your equal."

But Flynn doesn't move away, and this time he refuses to rise to the bait. "Are you all right?" he asks quietly, Yuri's sarcastic statements ignored entirely as he leans in to probe Yuri's cheeks for any further signs of bruising.

Yuri scowls out of habit, annoyed at having his verbal barbs so calmly disregarded as well as the fact that his best friend's expression is more anxious than it really should be, though those familiar words annoy him most of all. "Not like I haven't had worse," he grumbles, turning his head and smacking Flynn's lingering hands away from his face.

Flynn arches an eyebrow as he drops his hands to his sides, the corners of his mouth quirking upwards. "Really? There's someone other than me around who can 'one-up' you?"

"Heh, so you finally admit to all the one-upping?"

"Of course not," Flynn says with a shake of his head as he stands, pulling Yuri to his feet after him. "I just know arguing about it won't do any good. You're too stubborn to ever change your mind about anything."

Yuri huffs a laugh at that. "Oh ho, really? What's that old saying about pots and kettles?"

"That they're both equally black," Flynn says with a placid smile beneath the knowingly pointed look in his eyes. "But that just means they've been through the fire a few times…and I like to think that they've come out stronger because of it."

"Maybe they have at that," Yuri chuckles, then adds as they slip over the edge of the roof and down onto a high garden wall before dropping to the street below, "….Even if the pot does still have a stick up its ass a lot of the time."

Flynn's comeback is delivered along with a weary, yet undeniably amused snort. "And even if the kettle still doesn't know when to be quiet."

"Well, of course," Yuri says, and though he's facing forward, not looking over at Flynn, his smile is unexpectedly warm. "Even with time, something things don't ever change."

Flynn just smiles in reply, but it's no accident that his shoulder bumps Yuri's right then, just hard enough to make him stumble slightly. Yuri smirks, returning the nudge along with an added bit of elbow, both of which Flynn takes with a good-natured grunt of quiet laughter. And (still trading shoves every so often) side by side they make their way down the dusky moonlit streets, neither with any particular destination in mind, but both perfectly content in the knowledge that wherever they ended up, they'd go there together.

Yuri + Flynn - In dark alleys and on wet city streets, we are again like we once were.