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a mockingbird’s lullaby

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Yuri Leclerc is a tightrope walker.

Every step, every breath, every twitch of a muscle—none of it goes unchecked, none of it unplanned, lest he risk even a moment’s break in concentration. It’s a delicate balance, a razor-thin line between being too distant and not being distant enough, and he can never, ever lose control.

His logic is this: if he opens up too much, he’s sure he’ll scare his allies away, and besides, it does no good for someone whose role involves lies and manipulation to wear his heart on his sleeve. On the other hand, if he closes himself off completely, how can he expect the Abyssians to trust him to keep them safe? He has to give them something, just enough to show that he’s on their side, that everything he does is for them—but no more than that. Never any more than that.

Sometimes, on good days, days when there hasn’t been any conflict to speak of, when it’s safe to say that everyone has been fed, Yuri considers giving up the act, just a little. He’s been leading Abyss for a while. His people know by now that he’s a scoundrel, but they also know that they’re safe with him. Sometimes, he lets his mask slip, if only slightly, barely enough for anyone to notice unless they’re looking closely enough. And they never are anyway.

But then he goes up to the monastery, and he has to walk that tightrope all over again, only this time it’s the students and faculty whose trust he endeavors to gain.

The waning light of the setting sun warms his face as he strolls past the student dormitories, his ears pricked to catch snippets of conversation. Garreg Mach in the evening is a different, more beautiful beast, he thinks, than in the hustle and bustle of daylight. People are more themselves at night, too tired from a long day of hard work to keep up appearances. Even Yuri, though he wears his mask well, feels like he shows more of his true self when the sun goes down. That’s when he commits his most heinous crimes, when he reveals just how far he’d go to protect what he loves.

There are only two points within the span of a single day during which Yuri feels he can actually be relatively at peace: dawn and dusk, the hour-long transition from light to dark or vice versa. It’s too bright for those who kill under cover of night to strike, but dark enough that there aren’t as many people out and about.

The fishing pier is empty, so Yuri wanders over and sits down at the edge, letting his feet dangle just above the water as he stares at the orange sky. A few birds sing in the distance, and a soft breeze tousles his hair. It’s freeing, in a way, to not have to think, to feel safe enough to slow the constantly turning wheels in his brain, if only for a moment. He can never let his guard down completely, but this...well, this will do.

Predictably, the tranquility is fleeting. Yuri hasn’t been seated for more than five minutes when he hears a wailing infant in the area just behind him. Peering over his shoulder, he spots a haphazard commoner woman standing next to the staircase that leads to the dining hall, desperately shushing the crying baby swaddled in her arms. She’s not an Abyssian—he’d recognize her if she was—but she could be, someday, if the Church ever decides it can’t house her any longer.

Yuri stands up and waltzes off the pier. The woman’s face flushes in embarrassment when she notices him walking toward her. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she says. “Are we bothering you? She’s just tired; I-I’ll be going now—”

Yuri holds a hand up. “No need. You’re not bothering me. I just thought I could try to calm her down. I’m good with kids. I see a lot of ‘em around here.”

“Oh,” the woman says. “You’re a student?”

“That’s right,” Yuri replies. It’s true enough.

“Well, I suppose you can try,” the woman says with a sheepish chuckle as she gingerly hands him the still-crying child. Yuri steals a quick glance at the surrounding areas before taking her, just to make sure no one who knows him is watching (he has an image to maintain, after all).

As he stares into the girl’s bawling face, Yuri starts to sing the first song that comes to his mind, a simple lullaby his mother sang to him when he was a child. He almost chuckles at the first few lines, and the irony within them: Hush, little baby, don’t say a word; Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

It’s different, singing because he wants to, singing as an act of kindness. He’s only ever made music to ensure his own survival, to please the wretched nobles who wanted him to sing in more ways than one—but here, with a crying infant and a disheveled, long-suffering mother as his only audience, his voice high and sweet, crooning for the child and the child alone...here, it’s alright. It’s alright.

The baby quiets down surprisingly quickly; by the time Yuri gets to the fifth couplet, she’s mostly fallen silent, except for the occasional gurgle here and there, and has started to drift off to sleep.

The woman stares at him in awe. “You have a lovely voice,” she says as he hands the child back to her. “That doesn’t usually work when I do it. Thank you, uh…”

“Yuri. And don’t worry about it,” Yuri says. “It’s the least I could do.”

The woman turns to leave, but before she can get past him, Yuri blurts, “Wait.”

The woman stops and tilts her head in confusion.

“You’re staying at the monastery, right?” Yuri asks.

The woman nods. “Yes. We lost our farm to some bandits who came pillaging. My husband died trying to fend them off. So the Church took us in.”

“I’m sorry,” Yuri says, shaking his head, and he means it. Already his heart aches for this woman. “The reason I ask is because I run a place where we take care of people like you. It’s not as glamorous as up here, sure, but we never turn our backs on anyone who needs help. I just want you to know that if something ever happens here, and you need somewhere else to go, come and find me. You’ll always have a place with us.”

“Oh,” she says, visibly relieved. “That’s very kind of you. I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”

As the woman shuffles away, Yuri turns his gaze to the top of the stairs and finds himself completely unsurprised to find Byleth leaning over the ledge, watching him with those deep blue eyes. Yuri can’t recall hearing their footsteps, and yet it’s almost as though he knew in his gut that they would be there.

Yuri looks them dead in the eye, and Byleth stares back without a word, both of them practically daring the other to speak first. Finally, Byleth simply turns, their expression infuriatingly unreadable, and heads into the dining hall, as if they didn’t just see...well, whatever it was they saw. Yuri doesn’t actually know how long they were there. Still, Byleth isn’t the type to gossip. His secret will be safe with them, he’s sure.

Yuri sighs and leans against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. The blazing sun looks like it’s sinking into the pond, and he watches its distorted reflection in the water until it disappears behind the horizon.