A/N: For anyone who comes across my fics for the first time here: you need to read "Conviction" and "Letters Unsent" in that order before this story for a lot of it to make sense.
This one is written from Yuri's headspace in order to give a better idea of what he was going through in "Letters Unsent." Yes, he was going through stuff. Yuri acts like he's got all his shit together, but there's plenty going on under the surface. Despite the occasional existential crisis, it is a happier story.
FYI, this is another abridged version. Mature version is up in my journal. Read it if you like, but any reviews should only pertain to the content here, please.
Disclaimer: The characters and settings in this story are from Tales of Vesperia and do not belong to me.
Standing on the bow of the Fierta as it was carried through the sky by the Entelexia, Ba'ul, Yuri leaned into the wind and relaxed, Two months ago, Brave Vesperia had taken on a job for Fortune's Market, helping to protect a group of men and women as they carved out a mining town in the wilderness of Yurzorea. There were rich deposits of minerals that were needed to produce more of Rita's exploding powder, which had become an increasingly important component of weapons development over the years. When Kaufman had learned that a vein of some of the necessary raw materials had been discovered, she wasted no time in putting together a group of people willing to pick up and move to the largely uninhabited continent in order to build a town and, more to the point, a mine. Brave Vesperia had been hired in order to protect the venture from monsters and competitors.
Now, on the last day of the year, they were finished with that job. The town was built up and fortified, and the citizens had learned to defend themselves. The work hadn't been bad, but Yuri was happy to exchange it for the relative peace of the capital. He'd fought a giganto monster, been thrown off a cliff, been arrested, tried, and declared innocent, then spent two months fighting beasts. He felt he'd earned himself a rest. The only problem was that Flynn was sure to be waiting to give Yuri a sizeable piece of his mind.
The last time Yuri had seen him, Flynn had been strangely subdued. He'd expected a whole lot more yelling and at least one punch. That was why he hadn't wanted Karol tagging along that night, but Karol had insisted. Apparently, Flynn had somehow managed to land himself solidly on Karol's shit list—something Yuri hadn't even realized existed until Flynn made the cut. Neither had told him exactly what went on between them, but Yuri could take a few guesses. Whatever the case, it would probably all blow over. Flynn was a good guy. Karol would see that and forgive him whatever he might have done.
The sun was still rising, and Yuri raised his right hand to shade his face, then paused, realizing that something was wrong. The quickest way back to Zaphias was to fly west, but Judy had them heading northeast. The only thing that lay along the course they were currently on was Yumanju. He turned away from the railing to find Judy and Karol watching him.
"What's going on, boss?"
For all that he had grown in the past five years, Karol still looked very young when he crossed his arms and frowned the way he did when answering Yuri's question.
"You broke the guild's rules again. You kept secrets from us."
Yuri had been wondering when he was going to face his punishment from these two. He smiled a little, glad to be coming that much closer to putting this particular mess behind him. After Karol and Judy finished with him, Flynn would have his say, and then everyone could move on.
"So, what's my sentence?"
Judy's smile widened into a knowing smirk which never boded well. "Given your history, we've decided that there's someone else who could deliver a much more just punishment than we could. We're bringing you to him."
She could only be talking about Flynn, and Yuri still wasn't sure he was quite ready for that. He'd expected to get another day or two's respite as they made their way back to the capital, but now he was starting to think he knew where Ba'ul was headed, and it was already coming into view before them. He wasn't prepared to face Flynn. Two months was a lot of time to think things over, even for someone with the Commandant's busy schedule. Yuri wasn't sure he wanted to find out what conclusions Flynn had come to in that time. It was entirely possible that after that last stunt he'd made himself too much trouble to bother with anymore. If that was the case, he couldn't really blame Flynn, but he knew it was going to hurt in ways he'd never been hurt before.
Yuri's palms itched, and he clenched his fist around the Second Star. He'd rather be thrown off a cliff by Brucis again, or stabbed by a knight sworn to protect the citizens of the empire than have to hear Flynn tell him it was over between them.
Karol was talking, and Yuri pushed away his fears to listen.
"—keeping in touch with Flynn. We let him know when we'd be done with this job. He said he'd be waiting for you."
"We're almost there," Judy said, hoisting Yuri's pack. "I've got your things for you."
Ba'ul was dropping nearer to the ground as he flew, and Yuri could see Yumanju speeding closer. Forget having a couple days to try and prepare, he barely had two minutes. He accepted his pack from Judy, wondering wryly if they were planning to land or simply throw him off the boat as they passed.
They did land, of course. Ba'ul set them down a little ways out from the inn. As Yuri disembarked, he noticed that Repede was still lying beside the ship's cabin.
"You coming, Repede?"
The dog didn't even deign to wake up and look at him.
"Repede's decided to stay with us this time," Judy said. "We did include him in the discussion about what to do with you."
Feeling like this new betrayal was a little much, and battling an unusual anxiety in the pit of his stomach triggered by a quick glimpse of blue, white, and blond that could only be Flynn striding toward him from the inn, Yuri waved goodbye and tried to look like nothing was wrong as his guild abandoned him before the oncoming wrath of Flynn Scifo.
Smirking, Yuri shouldered his pack and let Flynn come to him. He'd forgotten how regular clothes made Flynn look smaller, somehow. It had been a long time since he'd seen him in anything other than either his uniform or nothing at all. Now, Yuri watched him coming up the path and remembered that, beneath the admiration and expectation he'd heaped onto Flynn's shoulders, his oldest friend was just one man. He was peevish and overworked and couldn't cook to save his life. He was flawed and capable of hesitating or stumbling in places along the path he walked.
For the first time, Yuri wondered if maybe he shouldn't have forced Flynn to arrest him. He'd felt bad about the necessity of it before, but now, seeing just Flynn, not the Commandant or the man Yuri had entrusted with all his hopes for their world, he wondered if it would have been better to pretend he had never realized that Flynn had read that last letter.
After two months apart, they were finally face to face, and Flynn was as calm as he had been the last night Yuri had seen him.
"Yuri." His greeting was clipped.
"Hell of an expensive place for you to lecture me. Better keep it short; I don't have enough to cover more than a day or two."
"I've paid for our room. Come with me. We'll drop off your things, and then I want to work out some of the frustration you left me with."
Flynn had already turned back toward the inn, but he looked over his shoulder to offer a thin smile. "You'll be needing your literal sword for that, not your figurative one."
Grinning, Yuri set aside his irritation at Flynn's presumptuous orders and followed him into the inn. It had been far too long since they'd crossed blades. This was the sort of confrontation he could handle. Eager to get to it, he barely let Flynn get the door open before tossing his bag into the room. Flynn retrieved his own sword and a plain shield and led them back outside to the open field where Yuri had been dropped off.
If Yuri had been unsure whether Flynn was still angry at him, his doubts disappeared as soon as they crossed swords. When they fought, Flynn always put everything he had into his sword and, in this battle, Yuri could feel his fury, banked and nurtured, grown cold and precise. Perhaps if they had dueled immediately after Yuri's release, Flynn's sword would have been wielded with the haste and passion of his undisciplined rage. In that case, it would have been an easy win for Yuri, accustomed as he was to using Flynn's anger against him to throw him off balance. However, two months had given Flynn time to temper his anger, to make it into a weapon rather than a liability. He wouldn't snap and make a mistake. He was razor sharp and focused, and he charged Yuri without a sound, without a cry of attack. His brilliant blue eyes were gemlike: hard and cold. There would be no quarter given here, and Yuri welcomed the challenge and reveled in it as he met Flynn's blade.
Hours later, after they'd beaten the fight out of each other, they lay sprawled on the ground, worn out and gasping for breath, bruised and scraped and sore. He wasn't sure if Flynn felt the same, but Yuri couldn't believe it had been so long since they'd physically fought and he had honestly missed it. Flynn was the only person Yuri could really cut loose with, the only person who could leave him feeling so intensely alive even when he could barely lift his sword by the end of a match. It was as good as sex and, if that was his reward, he thought maybe he'd have to back Flynn into a corner more often.
"Was it good for you, too?" he asked, laughing a little breathlessly.
Flynn laughed as well and, in that moment, Yuri knew they were going to be all right. He was probably still going to get an earful, and he was sure he'd wind up paying for his little test for a good while, but Flynn would forgive him in time.
They must have lain there for at least a quarter of an hour before Flynn picked himself up and extended a hand to help Yuri to his feet.
"We should get washed up," he said. His voice was soft, and the usual spark in his bright blue eyes had gentled to an expression that Yuri had grown increasingly accustomed to seeing focused on him since Flynn's confession five years ago.
Resisting the urge to yank Flynn back down and into a wrestling match, Yuri accepted his hand and walked with him back to the inn. He'd only stayed at Yumanju once before and it had definitely been a treat. It was nice to relax in luxury once in a while, but he couldn't help wondering if the empire's elite appreciated all their comforts, or if their immersion in wealth left them unable to enjoy little pleasures. Accomplishments and rewards were sweeter when they'd been earned through hard work.
They went straight to the springs and washed away the grass and dirt and blood from their fight in the attached bathing room. Freshly scrubbed, they settled into the steaming water, letting the heat soothe away their aches.
Yuri sat still until his uncertainty over how Flynn planned for the evening to progress started to get the better of him. He wasn't sure if they would spend the night arguing or crossing figurative swords, and he didn't particularly want to wait to find out.
When Flynn didn't even bother to open his eyes, Yuri flicked water at him.
"You shouldn't fall asleep in here."
"I'm not. I'm just relaxing."
"I know something else we could do to relax." He reached out under the water and ran a hand up Flynn's thigh. It failed to get much more of a reaction.
"We're not making love in the hot spring, Yuri."
Yuri chuckled. "Spoilsport."
"Says the guy who announced to the whole capital that we were lovers."
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"Not as long as I'm still catching shit over it from your Knights. Wife of the Commandant, my ass."
Flynn yanked Yuri close and kissed him. He'd probably only done it to shut him up, but he'd played right into Yuri's hands. It wasn't a long-term solution. Yuri knew he still had to answer to Flynn for what he'd done, but maybe it would be easier if they made up first and vented their frustrations after. Even after five years, he still wasn't sure about the best way to handle situations like this. Tossing things like love into the mix made relationships entirely too complicated.
The soft smack of lips and the quiet splash of the spring were the only sounds in that peaceful moment. Flynn ran his fingers through Yuri's wet hair, his touch incredibly gentle after the harshness of the blows he'd struck not an hour before. Yuri wasn't in the mood for gentleness. That was something to be saved for nights when it wasn't important to banish the doubts that rose in his heart. He had never doubted his path before this thing with Flynn had made him begin to question his justice. He remembered those four years after leaving the Knights when he hadn't had a path before him. The thought of falling back into that rut was unacceptable, yet Flynn…no, his attachment to Flynn and the bond they had formed made him doubt and question and waver. Who was he without his convictions?
When Yuri started to shift, moving to straddle Flynn's lap, Flynn broke the kiss and pushed him back, though he let his hands linger on Yuri's shoulders.
"Nice try, but it would be rude to the other patrons to make a mess in here."
Yuri rolled his eyes. He didn't want to think about this anymore. He wanted a distraction.
"Back to our room, then?" He leaned close, leaving only the barest space between them so that if Flynn tilted his chin only a hair, he'd bring their lips together. Flynn didn't rise to the bait.
"For a late lunch, certainly, or it may be an early dinner at this point. Aren't you hungry?"
He was smiling, amused, and Yuri grinned crookedly back. As much as he wanted something that demanded a little more of his attention than food, he had to admit that getting a bite to eat sounded like a really good idea.
They left the warmth of the water and donned the robes provided for guests before going back to their room. Flynn arranged for a meal to be brought in and, as they sat down at the low table, he did exactly what Yuri was hoping to avoid. He started talking.
"I took some leave in order to come here with you, but you must realize that there are still issues between us that need to be resolved."
"Don't go all diplomatic on me, Commandant. Just say what you want to say straight out."
"I don't want this to be a fight, Yuri. We did that earlier. I want to have a discussion with you, like adults."
"If that's what you want, it'd help if you didn't insinuate that I'm a child."
"I didn't…!" He stopped and took a breath. "I didn't mean it like that. All I was trying to say was that it would be more productive if we talked things out rather than hiding behind jokes or writing letters never meant to be sent."
"Don't worry, I won't be doing that anymore. We both saw how well it worked out."
"You could have let it go. Or lied to me. Or, I don't know, resisted the urge to stoop to vigilante justice in the first place. Instead, you killed three people and forced me to clean up your mess."
"From what I heard, you didn't do much of the cleaning."
Flynn slammed his hands down on the table. "Don't you dare belittle me over this, Yuri Lowell! Do you have any idea—no, of course you don't. All you care about is satisfying your own ego: playing the hero when justice fails, getting so caught up in trying to make a difference—any difference—that you don't even stop to think about what you're becoming and what it's doing to the rest of us!"
Yuri did think about that, though, or he had started to think about it, anyway. That was the problem. He didn't need those doubts hanging like fog over his path. He hated the thought of being mired once more in uncertainty. It wasn't something Flynn would understand. His was a hero's path. It shone before him, reflecting his own dedication to lawful justice and lighting the way. Yuri had only his own convictions to guide him, and if he began to question those, he would be lost.
"What's the big deal? I did what was necessary, and you did what was right. Hasn't it always been that way?"
"You don't understand." He sighed. "Sometimes, I wish you'd never joined the Knights."
"You've always wished I'd never joined the Knights."
"That isn't true! I think it would have been a good experience for you if you'd only been willing to stick with it. It's just…the more I think about it, the more I wish things had ended differently. If I'd stopped you from killing Garista, if Captain Niren hadn't said what he did—"
"Don't you talk about him!" Surprised by his own sudden anger, Yuri shifted uncomfortably, toying with the cuff he still wore years after it had stopped providing him any advantage in battle.
Flynn was taken aback, too. "I didn't mean to—"
"Don't. Niren was a hero. It's because of him that I became the person I am."
"Is that really the way to honor his memory? Yuri, you've broken the law over and over again. You've murdered people. Is that what he would have wanted for you?"
"I saved everyone who could be saved." He spat the words bitterly, but he still clung to that image of his fallen captain and the last order he'd been given.
"Those men didn't have to die," Flynn said, softly. "Not like that."
"They were beyond saving. Every one of them." He had to remember that. He had to hold on to that knowledge. It would keep him safely on his path.
There was a knock on the door, and Flynn went to answer it. When he returned, a few members of the inn's staff came with him bearing trays laden with food, which they arranged on the table before taking their leave.
They ate in silence. Yuri barely tasted the food as Flynn's words ran through his mind again and again. What had Niren expected of him? What could he do if he wasn't suited to working within the law? Wasn't he necessary? Wasn't there still a place for him in this imperfect world?
Eventually, Flynn realized something was wrong. He set aside his food and studied Yuri.
"I've hurt you." He sounded surprised.
"Don't be stupid. We were just arguing. We always argue."
Flynn didn't buy it. He stood up and came around the table to kneel beside Yuri. Hesitantly, staring into Yuri's eyes the whole time, he reached out and brushed back a lock of his hair.
"I just wanted you to understand, to think about what you've really done. I didn't mean to—"
"I know where you're coming from, Flynn, but I can't go back to the way I was."
"That isn't what I'm asking of you. I'm sorry, I—"
"Should you really be apologizing right now? You had me brought here because you're still angry, right?"
"It isn't an eye for an eye, Yuri. I don't want to hurt you for what you did. I want to know if you're satisfied now. I want to know if you can change."
He held eye contact until Yuri pulled him to the floor and kissed him, parting his lips easily with a questing tongue. Yuri rolled them over, pinning Flynn securely beneath him.
Once he was satisfied that he'd managed to get Flynn focused on something less complicated, Yuri kissed the tip of his chin and ducked his head lower, forcing Flynn to bare his throat. He kissed a line down Flynn's neck, feeling beneath his tongue the movements of Flynn's muscles as he pressed up into that warmth, the bob of his Adam's apple as he swallowed.
"Mmm. Forgot how much I missed this."
"I'll have to—ah!" He flinched as Yuri bit him. "—take care to make a more lasting impression."
He grabbed Yuri by the hair, pulling him back up into a kiss made desperate by the differences between them and the time they'd lost to circumstance and separation. It amazed Yuri to know Flynn could still want him like this, even after all Yuri had put him through. Flynn was too stubborn for his own good. Maybe there really wasn't anything Yuri could do that would cause Flynn to give up on him.
"Guess you missed me, huh?" He murmured the words against Flynn's mouth, joking, and was surprised when Flynn let his head fall back against the floor to gaze sadly up at him.
"…When Karol first told me, I didn't believe you were dead. The rest of that day, all of the next, and the morning after that, I still thought you would just come wandering back, banged up and grinning. Then I found those damned letters of yours…."
Suppressing a sigh, Yuri dropped his weight down on top of Flynn and kissed him soundly, a move Flynn wholeheartedly agreed with as he buried his hands in Yuri's hair and clenched fistfuls of it, holding him in place as if afraid to let go. The kiss was rough and sloppy, and Yuri was reminded of what Estelle had told him about Flynn's demeanor months ago and how much of a wreck he'd been. Outwardly, Flynn had mostly held it together, but Yuri had known him long enough to recognize how much strain he must have been under. As level-headed as he was, Flynn wasn't the type to overwork himself to the degree that he had.
While he couldn't apologize for what he had done, Yuri could reassure Flynn that he was there, that he was safe, that he didn't hold a grudge. Without using words that might tie him down, he could try to show Flynn how much he loved him. It was all he could do.
The robes made things interesting as they continued, as Yuri noticed what little clothing he and Flynn wore being pulled loose and pushed aside by degrees. He squirmed a little, working his shoulders free and letting the fabric slide down his back as he reared up above Flynn. The look in those blue eyes as Flynn stared at him sent a shiver down Yuri's spine. Smirking, he raked his nails lightly down Flynn's chest.
"Like what you see?"
Flynn's response had come out on a breath and sounded, to Yuri's ears, like nothing so much as a plea for more. He wondered, not for the first time, exactly what it was his oldest friend saw in him. He was strong, sure, but so were a lot of people they'd met. Flynn was more likely to call him foolhardy than brave, and pigheaded rather than principled. Yuri knew he had honor, but he was realizing more and more that it was warped and perhaps not deserving of recognition. All the same, there was devotion in Flynn's eyes, right along with the need and the desire, and Yuri knew that Flynn loved him, knew that he always had in one way or another. As redemption went, it wasn't so bad to know that the one person Yuri believed in with all his heart could look at him that way. It made him want to be a better man, even though he knew that protecting people and seeking justice were not always the same thing.
He wanted to escape thoughts of what he'd become for a time, to shed all the extra pieces of himself that he'd picked up through his travels and trials. He wanted the two of them to be nothing more than themselves for a while: not a vigilante, not a soldier, not a guildsman, not the Commandant. He wanted to find himself again in Flynn because maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way he'd lost sight of the man he should have been and, if that was the case, he wanted to know if he could become the man Flynn saw in him, the person those blue, blue eyes shone for.
Flynn sat bolt upright suddenly, and yanked Yuri roughly forward into a kiss. When he pulled away it was with reluctance, and he leaned back in once, twice more to catch Yuri's lips briefly with his. The smile he offered was rueful.
"I forget sometimes that you're only human. You forget, too, when you look at me."
Yuri couldn't help but laugh at that. It was too funny. Had Flynn really been thinking those things as he watched? Even when they were at odds, they still understood each other; they matched, somehow. Now, unencumbered by titles and responsibilities, they could see in each other, not what they wanted to see, but what was really there beneath the burdens and the fears.
"I'm being serious."
"That's why I'm laughing."
No longer smiling, Flynn let a lock of Yuri's hair slide over his hand before catching the end and raising it to his lips for a kiss.
"Your actions may infuriate me or make me wonder how someone so amazing could act the way you do sometimes, but I love you for who you are, not what you've done."
His words sent Yuri into a fresh bout of laughter because, really, they were entirely too much alike.
Exasperated, Flynn let go of Yuri's hair and leaned back. "I wish you wouldn't act so flippant about things like this. Even now, it's like you're afraid to show me who you really are. What is it you fear that makes it so difficult for you to be honest?"
He'd expected Flynn to understand him better than that. Being honest meant realizing that the decisions he'd made may not have been necessary, that there may have been another way, and, if that was the case, he'd become a murderer for nothing. It would have meant admitting that he was too attached to Flynn despite knowing how things were going to have to play out between them one day. Being honest would have meant revealing how much he hated the thought of being locked up for the rest of his life, how much he hated having to force Flynn into arresting him. Flynn didn't need to know how much all that had weighed on Yuri, didn't need to think that he might have been able to convince Yuri that there was another way. It would just have been one more thing wearing him down.
When he'd confronted Flynn about the letters, Yuri hadn't been his friend, he hadn't been his lover: he'd been a criminal, and it didn't matter what a criminal thought about his punishment. Justice mattered. The integrity of the Commandant mattered. Everything else was immaterial. Yuri may not have been able to spare Flynn his half of the burden, but he did what he could to keep Flynn from suffering for the both of them. He held himself together, he told Flynn it was all right. That was all he had been able to do to make it easier. He hadn't fully expected to be forgiven, but the two of them had promised to change the world for the better and, even if Yuri couldn't manage it, he wasn't about to let Flynn break that promise, too. It might not be fair, but it was necessary.
Besides, what right did he have to be unhappy about the situation when it had been his choices that created the whole mess?
"You're being awfully quiet. Are you actually considering what I said?"
Yuri smirked at him, pushing those troublesome thoughts away again. "What I'm considering is how best to get you out of that robe."
"You could ask nicely."
"I could. I've got something better in mind, though."
He pulled Flynn in for another kiss, and they both forgot about talking for a while.
Later on, as midnight neared, and they lay together in shadows and tangled sheets, Yuri tightened his hold around Flynn and pressed his forehead against the back of Flynn's neck.
"Karol really let me have it," he murmured. "He was pretty pissed at you, too, you know, though I think he actually sympathizes with you." He laughed shortly, and Flynn tried to turn around in order to get a good look at him. Yuri had a secure grip, though, and refused to lift his head. After a few moments, Flynn gave up.
"I guess I put you two through a lot," Yuri admitted.
"Not just us. Your actions matter to other people, Yuri. All your friends were worried sick about you."
"Yeah." He felt the barest smirk turning up the corner of his mouth, though he really didn't feel much like smiling. "He said the same thing. He also said that as a founding member of Brave Vesperia, my actions reflected on the guild, too. I guess I'd better look for another way of handling certain problems."
"That's what I've been trying to—" he sighed as Yuri's arms tightened further around him, and let the matter drop.
For a little while, it was quiet. Yuri had nearly drifted off when Flynn spoke again.
"You make me so furious, sometimes," he said softly. "Enough that, even after all these years, I forget you're doing it on purpose. You had me so angry at you over this whole mess that I didn't even realize maybe you weren't as okay with it as you wanted everyone to think."
"I don't have the luxury of being able to regret my choices." He was tired and just wanted to sleep, but he knew Flynn wasn't going to oblige.
"Tonight is the last night of the year."
"I told you, I'm not going to write anymore of those letters."
"Yes, but you can't expect me to believe you haven't been thinking about what you planned to say. It's been your tradition for the past eleven years."
Yuri laughed softly. Flynn was such a know-it-all. Maybe it didn't matter if he knew. He understood Yuri better than anyone else, and Yuri had already trusted him with his life and, far more important than that, the fate of the world.
"Flynn." Yuri felt him start to move, but continued before he said anything. "Been kind of a crazy year, hasn't it? Thanks for proving that I made the right choice by trusting you. Thanks for still thinking I'm worth saving even when you know what I've done.
"I can't say that I regret my actions because I…" he hesitated, half of him screaming to stop and bottle it up, but he forced himself to continue. Flynn deserved an apology. He'd have to settle for the truth.
"…because I'm afraid I won't be able to face myself if I admit that I was wrong to kill those men. I fight to protect people and to save everyone who can be saved. I can't afford to regret my actions. I can't afford to believe I've been taking the wrong path for all these years."
He had been planning the letter, even if he'd never actually planned on writing it. Hidden in the darkness, weary after a day of fighting and arguing and sex, Yuri found that the words came easier than he would have thought.
"I said you'd gotten too attached to me, but I'm no different. Back when I carried out the justice you couldn't against Ragou and Cumore, I never stopped to wonder if the world would be better off without those men or with you spared the burden of bringing me to justice. It seems like I can't escape those thoughts now, though.
"I can't renounce what I've done without rejecting who I am but…I wish things were different. I wish the empire had been willing to punish the villains it spawned, rather than leaving them alone to kill or be killed. I wish I could be someone who supported you, rather than being a burden.
"Maybe one of these years I'll figure out how."