The lady Meissa Alhena Orionis. Flynn had heard of her, of course. Heiress to the Empire's largest shipping company, and as blue a blood as one could find, many much more worthy of her station had surely already offered the bleeding entreaties of their hearts and the jingling contents of their purses to woo her fair hand.
And yet here he stood in his office, surrounded by teetering stacks of papers to be signed and budgets to be approved, staring at an engagement proposal.
Council-member Alnitak had been the one to deliver the letter. He coughed lightly into his beard.
"She is a very lovely young woman," he stated. "Surely one could do worse. Much worse, much."
Flynn spared him a brief glance over the top of the letter. "One could."
Though, one should be more focused on the progress of the reconstruction efforts, rather than entertaining marriage requests to strangers. Flynn set the letter down on his desk, right next to To-Do Pile Number Twenty-Two.
"I will consider my response to the Lady Orionis very carefully," Flynn said, simply.
Alnitak gave Flynn a frank look. "…if I may, Commandant Scifo?"
Flynn stayed silent.
Alnitak raised a hand to stroke at his beard, and gave a heavy sigh. He was a true, upright man; one of the few council-members who had proved blameless and blemishless in the hearings those fleeting months ago. Flynn couldn't help but grasp at whatever honest help he could find in the upper echelons of the government, these days.
"Your skill as Commandant is commendable, Scifo. Few will argue that. Despite your age…and despite your background."
Alnitak walked slowly across the grand office, toward the window, deep in thought. Flynn's gaze fell once again on the letter. Such a grand seal, such elegant stationery, such delicate, weaving script.
Alnitak had surely noticed how long it took for Flynn to decipher it. Long nights studying in the library still could not completely mask a peasant's education.
"The issue of your young age will resolve itself in due time. But there will always be talk of your upbringing. In our troubled times, we must be able to depend upon the full support of the government to maintain stability."
He turned to Flynn, his eyes full of great and terrible empathy.
"Marriage into such an established family would help your acceptance into the hearts of the less open-minded nobles. Scifo, my niece is an understanding woman. Her family simply wishes to secure a good match, to a good man. And she could do worse."
"Much worse," mumbled Flynn, under his breath. "Please, just let me think on it."
Flynn made a mental note to conduct all private matters within an opaque soundproof force-field in the future. He knew that walls had ears within the palace, and the only thing faster than light was gossip, but honestly. The whispers from the halls drifted back into his memories:
"Did you hear? The Commandant - "
" - my maid friend who works in the palace spied a sweet-looking little letter on his desk - "
"I heard he plans to elope with a reclusive noble maiden from the farthest reaches of the realm!"
"I have heard the Captains of the Guard are commissioning a grand engagement present! A grand horse statue, of gold and silver and…what? No, I don't know why a horse statue, but –"
"Ah, say no more, lest I be struck with divine lightning, but I heard there may in fact be a child involved in this sudden news…"
Nobles had nothing better to do with their time, it seemed. And this was the group he so desperately needed to appeal to. Flynn scrubbed at the dark circles under his eyes irritably.
The clock struck the hour. It was mid-afternoon already, and midway through the week, and yet the window of his office remained completely on its hinges and undisturbed by wandering adventurers. Yuri was usually so oddly punctual with this kind of thing.
Maybe it would be good to stop by their old room at the inn this evening, Flynn thought with more than a little unease.
The first warning sign was to be found in Repede, lounging outside on the balcony, looking long-suffering. He gave a brief thump of his tail against the wooden floor at Flynn's greeting pat, and stared at Flynn with one baleful eye.
Flynn hesitantly set a hand on the doorknob, and eased his way in.
"Commandant Scifo!" Yuri bellowed, amazingly drunk. "Congrats on the engagement. Bought you some champagne to celebrate, but since you've come to the party so late, looks like I've drank most of it."
Flynn stared. Yuri staggered over from his seat at the windowsill to clasp a hand to Flynn's shoulder and shove the nearly-empty champagne bottle into his hand. He gave Flynn a grin so wide and so fake that he was merely baring his teeth.
"Yuri," Flynn began, ready and raring to go for a lecture and extended fussing session.
"Aw, no need to thank me," Yuri crooned. "Just a present from your favorite peasant. Though I bet the wife has hookups to some great shit, more suited to a noble's finer tastes."
Flynn bristled. He could barely walk down a hall in the palace without hearing that damned gossip, and now it had somehow made its way to the Lower Quarter. More specifically, it had made its way to Yuri's ears, causing him to react just like he always did, like the self-depreciating, self-destructive, little – little drama queen –
Flynn heaved an explosive sigh and seized Yuri by the arm, dragging him over to their old bed and shoving him down onto it. Yuri cackled, rolling onto his back and puffing his hair off his face.
"Oh ho, want one more roll with the riffraff before you get hitched? Don't worry, I won't expect you to tell her about me, you can still wear white and I will keep my lips zipped—"
By this point Flynn had retrieved the pitcher from the sink and used it to hurl water in Yuri's face. Yuri stopped, sputtered, and glared. Flynn returned the glare, measure for measure.
"I would've thought you knew not to listen to street gossip."
Yuri rolled upright and twisted his hair to wring out the water, right onto the floor. Flynn gritted his teeth. It wasn't his room anymore. It wasn't their room, so he had no say in Yuri's lax housekeeping tendencies.
"Hand me my towel, at least," was Yuri's only response, voice still a bit hoarse from drink.
The nearest towel was one flung across a bedpost, so Flynn grabbed it and dropped it over Yuri's head, scrubbing Yuri's hair dry with perhaps more vigor than necessary.
There was a long, almost peaceable silence. It could have almost been like the way they were before…well, before they joined the Knights together. Flynn draped the towel around Yuri's shoulders, and drew his hair over it to smooth with his fingers.
"You should go through with it. The engagement," mumbled Yuri.
"To satisfy the council? Never thought I'd hear that out of you," Flynn quipped.
"You know. What I mean." Yuri swatted a fall of hair out of his face, trying to find his words through the haze of drink. "She's great, I bet. Will get you lots of nice connections. Be a good influence on you. Get those Imperial fat cats to shut their damned mouths about where you came from."
"I'm not marrying someone I don't know just so I can get brownie points with the nobility," said Flynn. "Besides, there's a precedent of sorts. Many commandants have remained unmarried for the full duration of their careers – "
"And we saw just how well that turned out with the last one," said Yuri. "Maybe if he'd been hitched he wouldn't have had all that free time."
Flynn made an irritated noise. "Yuri, please. In any case, as far as someone to keep me grounded, I know that I'll always have you."
Yuri stiffened, and then jerked away. Flynn reached out a hand, concerned.
"Yuri, what – "
"Still dragging me along everywhere," Yuri spat. "Like some ratty security blanket. No one's going to take you seriously as commandant when you're still palling around with your old street friends and taking advice from criminals."
Yuri had been granted a full pardon, ages ago. It had been His Highness Ioder's top priority after Yuri's triumphant return from saving the damned world. Whatever differences they still held on the nature of justice didn't change the respect Flynn had for him, or the way he felt.
Yuri flung the towel off and rose from the bed. "I'm sure you'll grow to like each other, anyway. There'll be a passel of little Scifos running around the courtyards."
Flynn was dumbstruck, then just angry. "Yuri, what on earth? I don't know what the hell went into that champagne, or what's gotten into you. You know I wouldn't ever agree to this kind of arrangement, so why – "
Yuri waved him off and hoisted his satchel onto his back, wobbling unsteadily to the door. "Believe me, we'll all be better off this way. I'm off to run an errand for the guild. Don't bother sending me an RSVP for the wedding, the nobles wouldn't want me there anyway."
Flynn seethed and stormed after him. As Yuri tried to open the door, he shoved him into it, slamming it shut and pinning him there.
"You always do this. Stop your goddamn assuming for me. Can't you get your head out of your ass for a second to realize that I'm not here out of some misplaced sense of pity, or some deranged desire to watch you drink yourself into an even bigger stupor than the one you seem to constantly exist in – "
Yuri's eyes met his, gray, bleary and tired. "I'm tired of being your excuse. Go do something that's actually good for you, for once."
He shoved Flynn away. Flynn listened to the heavy thump of his boots on the stairway, growing more and more faint, and felt utterly lost.
There was the issue of how Alnitak would take the news, of course. The potential loss of his only Council ally was not a happy thought. As for the rest of the Council and the nobles, well, despite Alnitak's best hopes, Flynn knew their contempt for him would not have been dissolved with a simple marriage ceremony in the first place. That loss was easily written off. And the Knights, well, his men would surely realize the burden he bore, and that a sudden engagement would topple the teetering tower…
Flynn gazed out the window of his chambers, lost in thought, as the first stars flickered in the darkening sky. The security of his position as Commandant would not suffer overmuch for the decision, and it was the honorable one to make. He knew that from the start.
But every time, it was the same routine. For so long, Yuri assumed the worst of him, of the intentions of anyone and everyone…and the worst of himself. Surely, this new world offered an opportunity for renewal and change. Why couldn't Yuri see that, too?
There was a fete that night. There was always a fete, a ball, a masque, a soiree, a wine-tasting; even with the world's very foundations changed, the nobles felt no need to deny themselves their parties. Flynn was usually able to avoid the events, citing his workload (and it was not a lie, really), but tonight Alnitak had specifically and respectfully requested the honor of his presence.
And so here he was, dancing a stiff waltz with the Lady Meissa.
She was tall and dark-haired, with a mischievous slant to her gray eyes. It all seemed like some sort of joke. But this overly-practiced, sterile waltz was nothing like the wild dances with Yuri in the Lower Quarter festivals, or the clash of their swords in that field in Aurnion…the music finished with a flourish of strings, and the partners bowed to each other. Lady Meissa shot a brief glance to the grand clock on the wall.
"This dance was a pleasure, Commandant," she said, flicking her fan open to fluff her locks from her face. "Though I must admit I am in need of some fresh air, if you'll exc – "
Flynn offered his arm. "I will be happy to accompany you through the courtyards, my lady," he said.
She seemed somewhat taken aback, just for a brief moment, then schooled her expression behind her fan. Arm-in-arm with her, Flynn walked solemnly to the grand courtyard doors. This sterile practiced dance could go on for no longer. He would explain himself fully, and gently, in the privacy of the trees, and face the wrath of the Council as an honest man.
The night was cool and the stars bright, no longer masked as they once were behind the glow of the barrier blastia. Once they were well out of sight of the party, Flynn gestured to a secluded bench. The lady hesitated, then sat stiffly down in a shush of skirts. Flynn knelt to one knee, expression grave. Lady Meissa looked distinctly distressed, so Flynn put his hand to his heart in a gesture of sincerity.
"My lady," he began. "I can go on dancing like this for no longer. I realize my upbringing may render what I have to say next as…quaint, and naïve, but the machinations of the heart know no logic."
The lady's fan began to flutter at triple speed. "I…Commandant, I, I cannot…I feel faint, please, if you would, fetch me some water while I recover my senses…"
"I apologize, I must continue to speak while I still have the audacity," Flynn said, urgently. "Lady Alhena Orionis, may I please beg your – "
'Your pardon', 'your forgiveness', 'your best wishes as I pursue the hand of a surly raven-haired drunk', any of these were Flynn's intention. However, their talk was interrupted by a sudden crash in the bushes. Flynn's hand flew to his sword.
"Miss Meissa!? You over here?" squawked Karol, poking his head out from a shrub. "We've been looking for you all over the place, I thought we agreed to meet at the third plum tree from the…"
Karol suddenly caught sight of Flynn, and stopped short. Flynn was stunned for only a moment before he was interrupted by a choked sob. He looked to see the Lady Meissa fumbling for her handkerchief with shaking hands.
"I…Commandant Scifo, please forgive me," she whispered, urgently. "I do not mean to spurn your feelings, but there is already another that has stolen my heart."
Flynn looked at Karol, baffled. Karol shook his head frantically.
"No no nonono, not me, not me! I mean, not that you're not pretty, Miss Orionis, and client confidentiality prevents Brave Vesperia from revealing any more information without the clear consent of all the parties involved and – "
"Come on now, Karol, we can let Flynn in on business matters," came Judith's voice from up a tree.
Flynn glanced up, and Judith winked at him.
"I believe we in the business call this job an elective kidnapping. It's really very common among those young noble ladies facing an arranged engagement," she explained.
"Pretty much all guilds do it these days," Karol said. "I think it's called a tag-n-snag!"
The Lady Meissa rose her reddened, weeping face out from her handkerchief. "You…you all know of each other?"
"Just like family," Judith said, dropping down from the tree and landing gracefully on the bench.
She bowed deeply, giving the lady a generous eyeful of cleavage, which Flynn noted the lady regarded with no little interest. Judith offered her hand and a sly smile.
"Your kidnappers await, my lady," she purred. "Your fair maiden awaits you just outside the palace walls."
Lady Meissa choked on a gasp and scrambled to her feet. "Maia," she whispered. "Please, I beg you, take me to her. But…"
She glanced mournfully over her shoulder at Flynn. After a long, long moment, Flynn gave her a sincere, if confused, smile.
"I wish you two the best," he said, earnestly.
Lady Meissa gave another tearful smile back, and daintily gave her hand to Judith, only to squeak in delight as Judith swept her off her feet and absconded into the trees. Karol yelped and ran after them.
"Hey, wait; you guys are my ride too…!"
It was not often that Flynn's problems resolved themselves so neatly, and so he took a moment or two to savor the feeling. However, he soon had the distinct feeling he was being watched. Flynn turned his head just slightly, to watch the shadows from the plum trees play along the courtyard walls.
"Hope you weren't too hungover on your errand," Flynn said.
A shadow parted from the others, and turned its face to flash a smile.
"I'm a consummate professional," Yuri said.
Their eyes met across the courtyard. A few stray plum blossoms wandered across the marble at Flynn's feet, teased along by the night wind. Yuri turned his head away first.
"Sorry to make off with your fiancée like that," Yuri said. "Looks like you'll have to find another lucky lady to make little Scifos with."
Flynn tucked his arms behind his back, and strolled slowly into the trees, his expression thoughtful.
"I had an idea," he said. "That I as Commandant might wish to set an example of the new world we live in by refusing to cow to the prejudices of the old."
"What a nice thought. I'm sure the nobles will jump right on board," Yuri said, raising an eyebrow.
"I've dealt with much more stubborn people, believe me."
Flynn lifted a hand to Yuri's shoulder. This time, Yuri let it stay, but his mouth twisted back into that tired unhappy line.
"We're talking about your career, your dreams here. What did I tell you about doing something good for yourself, for once?" Yuri murmured, low.
"I took the advice to heart," Flynn said back, closing the distance between their lips.
After a long, quiet moment, Yuri drew back with a smirk on his lips.
"Just so you know, if you give the Council the old 'my country is my only mistress' line, I am not wearing a flag in bed to prove your point."