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When Yuri slips in through the window of the Commandant’s room, he immediately knows that something is off. There’s an unusual amount of tension in Flynn’s shoulders as he hunches over his work desk, scanning through official documents, but it’s the lack of greeting and routine lecture of Yuri’s inability to use the door like a ‘normal person’ that’s most telling.

Yuri quietly wanders over to Flynn’s bedside table, picks up a frame containing one of Ted’s wax drawings and pretends to study it as he recaps recent events in his head, trying to remember if he’d done another mischief that would warrant Flynn’s behaviour. He comes up with small things like spontaneous bar brawls and pulling a fast one on the Tweedles, but nothing particularly heinous comes to mind.

He glances at Flynn from the corner of his eyes and watches for a moment, waiting for what seems to be the inevitable reprehension of something or another that he’s done, but it doesn’t come. Flynn continues to read the scrolls scattered on his desk, jotting notes onto a separate piece of paper.

Yuri purses his lips, uneasiness settling in his chest. Whatever it is he’s been called for, it must be serious.

He sets the picture back down and leans himself against the bedframe, inwardly sighing as he crosses his arms.

Might as well get this over and done with.

“You said you wanted to see me?”

The scratching of pen on paper comes to a halt as Flynn stops writing, quill hovering just above the pale-brown sheet. A few seconds tick by before he replies with a steady, “Yes. We need to talk.”

The controlled calm that echoes in Flynn’s words makes Yuri frown. Despite all the years they’ve spent together and having learnt to read the even smallest tell-tales of Flynn’s gestures and voice, he’s always had difficulty deciphering that particularly neutral tone.

“… Alright then, let’s talk.”

The tension in the air is palpable as Flynn takes another long pause.

“Sodia has asked to resign from being my second-in-command.”

Yuri feels a dip in his stomach at the mention of Sodia’s name, suddenly all too aware of what this may be leading up to, and a phantom prickle hits just below his ribs. He stops himself from unconsciously reaching out to touch the spot which has healed into bumpy flesh—it’s a gesture that would be too conspicuous even if Flynn isn’t looking his way—and instead squeezes the cuffs of his sleeves to keep his hands in place.

He gives a nonchalant hum, seemingly unperturbed, and hopes that Flynn had somehow missed the brief delay in reaction. “And here I thought she’d be the type to never step down,” he says carefully, tone light. “A bit young to be retiring though, no?”

There’s a sharp tap on Flynn’s table. “Technically, she’s asked me to dismiss her.”

“So you just let her go?”

That’s not—” Flynn’s voice is instantly taut, volume rising, before he abruptly cuts himself off. Yuri sees him tighten the grip on his quill from the whites that colour his knuckles. “… I told her to give me time to think about it,” he confesses, voice softer but heavy with emotion.

Flynn’s hesitation is what gives it away, cementing Yuri’s initial suspicions, but it doesn’t stop him from continuing his façade of ignorance. Instead, he just lets out another blasé hum (feigning indifference comes easy to him after all the years of practice he’s had) and relaxes into the arms he folds behind his head. “Well it’s your decision to make, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to find a replacement for someone as loyal or dedicated as she is to you.”

There’s a stretch of silence before Flynn asks in a low, almost strained tenor, “And what about you? Would it be easy to find someone to replace you?”

A self-deprecating laugh slips from Yuri’s lips at the thought. “Sure, there are plenty of criminals to go around in this world.”

Flynn suddenly slams his fists on the table, and the harsh sound reverberates throughout the room as he whips round to face Yuri, eyes ablaze. “This is not a joke, Yuri! You could have died!”

Yuri bristles at that. “So could you, when you took Alexei’s hit. And so could any of us when we went off saving the world! It’s part of the package, Flynn.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it!” Flynn yells, rising to his feet. “Those would’ve been deaths in the line of duty! An honourable death to save a friend! Not—” His face scrunches as he struggles to put his frustration into words. “Not something as horrible as being killed by your best friend’s subordinate!”

“Spare me the details.” The idea of Flynn dying for his sake of all people makes Yuri sick. “I’m alive and kicking, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Doesn’t matter?” Flynn splutters. “You were nearly killed by someone from my team and you’re telling me that it doesn’t matter?” He shakes his head in disbelief and starts laughing, voice bursting out in a near-hysterical manner that makes the hairs on Yuri’s skin stand.

Flynn’s hollow cachinnation dies shortly, and when it does, his eyes are focused on Yuri again, scrutinising.

“When exactly were you planning on telling me about this anyway?”

Yuri doesn’t reply, but the answer must show on his face in some way because realisation slowly dawns in Flynn’s eyes and the anger in them morphs into incredulity.

“…You had no intention of letting me know,” he says quietly. It’s not a question.

Silence echoes between them as Flynn’s face dips downwards, hair shielding his eyes, but not before Yuri’s seen the immense hurt formulated in those bright blues, the watery shine that reflects off them. It catches him by surprise, and for a split-second Yuri drops his act, drops his guard, fear gripping him by the heart, because in all his years Flynn’s only ever cried in front of him once and that was when Flynn’s mother had passed.

“Flynn—”

Yuri barely manages to a catch a glimpse of the glare Flynn shoots his way, because in the next instance Flynn’s rammed into him, tackling him with the weight of the man’s whole body, and it causes Yuri to stumble backwards, landing unceremoniously onto the cushy mattress beneath him. Flynn’s hovering over him now, and a part of him is relieved to see that his best friend’s eyes are dry (not a tear in sight), that is, until he feels Flynn’s touch on his skin, hand dipping below his shirt, and another feeling blooms altogether.

Yuri is so distracted by it that he only registers what’s actually happening when he feels Flynn’s fingers graze over the protruding scar on his abdomen and spots another hand reaching for the edge of his shirt. Panic sears down his spine at the realisation, and he immediately thrashes about, trying to get Flynn off him.

“Stop it! Let go of me!” he growls, but the protest goes unheeded because Flynn doesn’t budge and instead continues grappling him despite his fierce resistance. It’s an actual struggle even with Yuri’s full strength, and he feels a twinge of resentment towards the physical advantage Flynn’s always had over him.

If this was a sword fight—

Flynn suddenly chances an opening, and in one, swift movement manages to pin both of Yuri’s hands above his head in a vice-like grip. Yuri attempts to kick his way free but Flynn’s kneeling on his legs, trapping them underneath thick muscles. As a last resort, he tries to push forwards, tries heaving his entire body upwards and outwards and just, out of Flynn’s grasp, but he’s kept firmly in place through sheer force alone.

A frustrated cry rips from his throat when his tunic is finally pulled above his chest.

The fist bunched in his shirt unclenches and gradually fans out onto his skin, touch unexpectedly gentle, but Yuri doesn’t look at it, doesn’t allow himself to think of what it’s tracing (what Flynn’s seeing) and instead squeezes his eyes shut, head turned as far as it can into the bed in shame.

Time trickles by slowly, seemingly infinite, until there’s a knock on the door.

“Commandant Flynn? Is everything alright?”

Yuri doesn’t recognise the voice and absently thinks that it must be one of the guards out on night patrol.

“Everything’s fine,” Flynn assures, though it comes out a little winded. “Tell the other knights I have this hallway covered for the evening.”

“Sir!”

The clopping sound of footsteps through the corridor grows faint as the guard makes his leave.

“Now that’s a weird way of abusing authority,” Yuri spits bitterly, irritation building in his chest anew. They both know that the only room this particular hallway leads to is the Commandant’s quarters. “You plan on keeping me here the whole night or something?”

Flynn stays silent and when it’s evident that Yuri’s not going to get a reply, he turns his head and looks up. Their eyes don’t meet. Flynn’s looking downwards, gaze so intense that it gives off the impression that he’s memorising each and every scar that maps Yuri’s torso, but Yuri knows that there’s a specific wound his eyes are trained on—the cicatrix underneath his ribcage. It’s healed into a thin line; the dagger had gone in and out in one clean jab, miraculously missing his vital organs, and the injury had turned into just another streak across his skin, another badge of survival from a non-lethal attack.

Except it almost hadn’t been.

The pain etched in Flynn’s eyes shows that he’s aware of this fact and Yuri feels the fire inside him extinguish. He remains still and allows his friend to continue staring openly and unabashedly at the marks that coat his body. When Flynn’s fingers trail the line beneath his ribs, Yuri shivers at the touch but doesn’t pull away.

“I asked you about this scar months ago,” Flynn eventually says, voice unbelievably soft. “You said you didn’t remember where you got it from. It was obvious that you were hiding something, but I didn’t want to push things.” Flynn’s hand curls into a fist on top of him and from the tremors that follow, Yuri realises that it’s trembling. “I never would’ve imagined…”

Flynn finally looks at him. “Yuri,” he breathes. “Yuri, why didn’t you tell me?”

The vulnerability on Flynn’s face is so open, so apparent, that Yuri can’t find it in himself to summon any fight he might have had in him to argue. He swallows thickly and averts his gaze. “It doesn’t concern you.”

“How can you say that?” Flynn cries, frustration growing again. “Damn it, Yuri, you were almost killed by my men and you’re telling me that it doesn’t concern me?”

“It doesn’t,” Yuri insists, and he just feels tired of the whole situation. Flynn was never supposed to find out about this in the first place. “It’s got nothing to do with you.”

A strangled noise erupts from Flynn as he grips Yuri harshly by the shoulders. “Stop it! Why do you always try to shoulder these burdens alone? Why won’t you tell me anything? Is it that hard for you to trust me?”

“It’s got nothing to do with trust!” Yuri yells exasperatedly, and he shoves Flynn off as he uprights himself. There’s little resistance this time round. “Look, it was my problem so I dealt with it. That’s all.”

“Sodia is my second-in-command! You can’t just tell me that this has nothing to do with me, Yuri!”

Yuri groans at that. “It’s got nothing to do with you or your position! God, it happened ages ago, Flynn, just drop it, will you!”

“She said tried to kill you, you can’t expect me to just let this go!”

“Yeah, well, I’ve actually killed people and that’s all been let go so maybe you should.”

Yuri!

There’s a warning edge to Flynn’s tone that causes Yuri to flinch, and the expression Flynn’s wearing makes him immediately bite back the retort that’s on the tip of his tongue. The man looks livid. Yuri pauses to compose himself and he rubs his face with his palm before letting out a long, weary sigh.

“Flynn, seriously, I don’t care about it anymore,” Yuri says, voice considerably calmer, and he lifts a hand to Flynn’s shoulder as a reassuring gesture. “There’s been more things to worry about since then. The Spirits, the Adephagos, getting rid of all the blastia… Everyone’s had their share of troubles.”

The tension in Flynn’s shoulders eases a little but the creases in his eyebrows don’t let up.

“We even went out and did something as ridiculous as saving the world and came back in one piece,” Yuri continues. “We’re alive, Flynn. I’m alive. It’s all good.” He tilts his head and tries to give the most genuine smile he can muster. “I’m here aren’t I?”

This seems to strike a chord somehow, because the anger in Flynn’s eyes all but dissipates and what’s left behind is pure anguish. His gaze is forlorn, wistful. He looks downright miserable. “‘Until the right person comes along’?”

Yuri frowns in confusion. “What do you—?”

Suddenly it hits him, the conversation he had with Sodia months ago flashing in memory, and his eyes widen in recognition of the words being quoted back to him.

‘I’m just standing in until the right person comes along.’

Yuri feels momentarily breathless, gut wrenching at Flynn’s knowledge of a conversation that was never meant for his ears, before anger spikes towards Sodia in actual, unadulterated resentment.

“That damn woman doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut—” Yuri’s already on his feet, ready to hunt Sodia down and give her a piece of his mind (maybe even sock one in if the opportunity arises) but Flynn grabs him by the wrist, keeping him in place.

“Yuri, I need you,” Flynn says, and there’s something in the way he says it, something firm and so wholly earnest that makes Yuri stop and turn back to look at him. Determination burns in Flynn’s eyes, bright and unwavering.  “There’s no one else I’d rather have by my side. You have to know that.”

It takes Yuri aback, and his anger towards Sodia is instantly overpowered by the guilt that curls at his chest. He feels a lump forming in his throat as Flynn continues to watch him, gaze steady and sincere, and ends up ducking his head to break direct eye-contact.

It’s too much for him to handle.

Seconds tick by as Yuri steels himself, and he’s silently relieved that his voice doesn’t shake when he finally tells Flynn the same thing he’s been telling himself for years:

“You don’t need a criminal by your side.”

Flynn’s chiding comes instantaneously. “Stop it, stop saying that! Master Ioder and Lady Estellise have long since pardoned your crimes.”

There’s a short pause as Yuri shifts his focus to where their hands are linked and he starts prying Flynn’s grip off his wrist. “You don’t get it, Flynn. Someone like me isn’t supposed to be next to someone like you.” ‘Regret, sorrow and despair will hound you all the way to hell, and I will be waiting there for you,’ Barbos taunts at the back of his mind. “… It’s just who I am.”

“You’re wrong!” Flynn objects. “You always make it seem like I’m the one who’s needed, but don’t you realise that you’re the one who’s been doing half, or even more, of all the saving? I’ve told you this before, but most of my achievements, they’re—”

“That’s not important!” Yuri interrupts. “Flynn, I…”

I don’t belong there. I don’t belong next to you.

“Yuri.”  

Flynn grasps Yuri by the shoulders and moves in closer so that they’re face-to-face; Yuri has no choice but to meet his gaze.

“You refuse to take credit for all the good you’ve done and as frustrating as it is, there’s nothing I can do about that.” Flynn’s grip tightens, fingers pressing into Yuri’s skin. “But that doesn’t change the fact that these triumphs are yours. Stop making it sound like you’re unworthy of standing beside me.”

I’m not, Yuri thinks. I’m a criminal, and you’re the perfect knight. The perfect leader. I’ll ruin you.

“You deserve better,” is what comes out of his mouth instead.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Flynn yells, shaking him. “This isn’t about who or what you think I deserve! This is something that I want, Yuri.” Flynn leans in, his eyes turning soft, expression tender, and Yuri suddenly forgets how to breathe. “Of all the people out there, I choose you,” he says, voice low. “I want you by my side. Doesn’t that matter to you at all?”

Yuri feels his heart constrict. The words offered are what he’s both longed for and dreaded to hear for years, and the conflicting emotions swirl violently in the pit of his stomach, making him want to hurl. Part of him knows that he should just make it easier for them both by being cruel, by telling Flynn that no, it doesn’t matter, that Yuri doesn’t want to be by his side, that it’s suffocating and he’s overbearing and Yuri’s just had enough of it all.

But he can’t bring himself to say it.

He’s not ready to let go just yet.

(Truth is, he’ll never be)

Instead, he tries to avert his gaze again, to pull himself away, but Flynn holds him securely and puts a hand on his chin, keeping it in place.

Yuri stares helplessly into eyes that remind him of clear skies, of brighter, simpler days where two kids would laugh and wrestle throughout the Lower Quarter alleyways, forever attached at the hip, and feels his resolve wavering.

He can’t do this. He wants to run away.

He tries tugging backwards, but the strong arms around him prevent him from leaving.  Flynn looks at him, searching.

“Yuri, tell me what you’re thinking.”

The plea is so soft it comes out a whisper, and Flynn’s voice is so gentle, so kind, that Yuri’s hit with the urge to cry. His throat is tight, face tense, and he feels his eyes burn, tears pricking at its corners. He can’t breathe.

“You’re planning on leaving me,” Flynn somehow manages to conclude, and ice shoots through Yuri’s veins, stomach sinking from having his intentions read and bared out in the open.

Yuri doesn’t reply, doesn’t dare to speak in fear of his voice cracking, and just continues gazing into Flynn’s crestfallen eyes.

He’s not sure what Flynn sees, whether it’s silent apology or defiance that shows on his face, but it’s undoubtedly the cause of the cry he hears before he’s suddenly tugged forward and pulled into a kiss.

With their mouths slotted together, Yuri feels his body go boneless, completely pliant, and for a moment he allows himself to sink into it, relishing it, because it feels like falling into place, like coming back home after so long. The kiss is fierce, desperate, and Flynn clings to him tightly like he’s frantically trying to seal all the gaps between them, to somehow fuse their bodies together so that they’ll never be apart.

It’s like he’s afraid of letting him go.

Yuri continuously tells himself that this is wrong, that they can’t be doing this, because Flynn’s the Commandant and he’s a criminal, and his hands are so heavily soaked in blood that no matter how much he washes them, how much he wishes for them to be clean, they will taint Flynn, smear him in red and blemish his long, upstanding record of achievements, and the image of it keeps repeating in Yuri’s head, helping to remind him that this is wrong, wrong wrong—

Until he finally manages to wrench himself away.

The noise Flynn makes when they pull apart is like a broken whimper and Yuri feels his heart plummet.

“We can’t,” Yuri breathes, keeping Flynn at arm’s length.

The expression Flynn wears is doleful, eyes tinged with sadness and mouth pressed at the edges, but he doesn’t push this time. He instead lifts an arm to his chest, lightly grazing his fingers over the hand Yuri’s placed there, and his touch is hesitant, questioning. Still reeling from the chaos churning inside him, Yuri doesn’t attempt to pull away, and Flynn seems to take it as permission to gingerly lace their fingers together. Flynn’s hold is gentle, careful, like he’s handling something delicate, fragile, but so undeniably precious to him.

Yuri’s chest throbs. He doesn’t deserve this.

“Yuri, listen—” Flynn’s eyes trail down to where their fingers are attached as he absently thumbs circles into Yuri’s hand. “At the Shrine of Zaude, when you went—missing,” he says, and his face crumples like the very memory itself is too painful, “I was a complete mess. I had the knights search every part of the building, every corner of its shores. We had boats sent out for days to scan the surrounding seas, but each trip, each vessel would come back empty and I just—

“I couldn’t focus on anything else. And I’m not proud to say it, but I started getting reckless. I made countless mistakes in paperwork, and in battle I—” Flynn shakes his head in disapproval. His voice is strained now, eyebrows furrowed. “—it could’ve costed lives, Yuri. I was a wreck. Sodia, she—she saw this. She saw how lost I was without you, and that’s why she—” Flynn purses his lips. “…She’s worried that I won’t be able to handle losing you again.” He lifts his gaze, eyes locking in with Yuri’s. “And she’s right. I can’t do it, Yuri. You’re too important to me.”

There’s a glassy look to Flynn’s eyes, but the sincerity in them shines bright and intense. Yuri feels like there’s something sharp and painful lodged in his windpipe, ready to choke him.

Flynn shifts closer and uses his free hand to cup Yuri’s cheek, whose breath hitches at the touch. “So you can’t say that this is all temporary. That you’re only going to be by me until someone else comes along.” He presses their foreheads together. “Yuri, please,” he says, and Yuri feels the words ghost across his own mouth as Flynn exhales. “I need you.”

They’re so close, lips almost touching, and then Flynn leans forwards and they do. Yuri freezes at the contact but the kiss this time is soft, chaste, and Flynn pulls back a little only to sigh another “Please.” He repeats the gesture, alternating between pecking kisses and murmuring pleas as he holds Yuri close, and it almost sounds like he’s chanting a prayer.

And Yuri, he—he’s breaking. His resolution’s withering, each plea picking it apart, each kiss blunting its edges, and he feels like ripping his own hair out because Flynn’s borderline begging at this point and it makes him want to laugh. (He wants to cry)

How does the world make any sense if someone as respectable and honourable and kind as Flynn deems it necessary to beseech him, of all people, to stay?

And yet—

I need you, Flynn said.

Yuri can’t help but want.

He’s suffocating; his emotions are haywire, refusing to be repressed and contained to the bottle he’s long since shoved them into, and instead they climb and crawl and demand to be felt, jamming their way into his lungs and throat, clogging his entire respiratory system. His mind screams at him, alarm bells going off in warning because his feelings are taking over, pummelling through the wall he’s erected, but Yuri sees kindness in gentle blues and for the first time in his life, he wants to believe that this can be forgiven.

He wants to believe he’ll be worthy someday.

Yuri’s voice comes out hoarse when he finally speaks. “Flynn, I can’t promise you anything.”

It sounds more like a croak than an actual sentence, but Flynn seems to make out the words fine since he pulls back just far enough to look Yuri in the eyes, and says:

“That’s okay.”

Flynn must notice the shift in Yuri’s stance, because relief washes over his features when he gets a good look at Yuri’s face, eyes softening at the corners. “That’s okay,” he repeats. He gives a waning, hopeful smile, like he knows that whatever Yuri’s willing to give is brittle, tentative, but he wants it anyway. “Just—stay. Please.”

Yuri’s aware that Flynn means for it to be forever, that he wants Yuri by his side permanently, but from the cautious lilt in his voice (he’s being careful), at this point in time, he’s only asking for now.

Flynn’s smile burns away the last of Yuri’s resolve, scorching it to ashes, and finally, he relents.

“Okay.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Once the air has cleared and they’ve both collected themselves, Flynn strips his armour down and carries Yuri to his bed. They’re lying side by side now, facing each other, and Flynn’s stroking Yuri’s cheek with calloused fingers. He looks calmer than Yuri’s possibly ever seen him, the usual lines on his face smoothened out and gone, his smile small but inviting. He looks at peace.

It makes Yuri feel a little bad for what he’s about to bring up.

“Flynn?”

“Hm?”

“About that captain of yours,” Yuri starts, and when Flynn immediately stills as anticipated, he gently rubs soothing circles into the man’s free palm to help relieve the tension. “…You should give her a second chance.”

Flynn stays quiet for a while. “I’ll think about it.”

“Yeah.”

It’ll take some time for Flynn to come to terms with everything, but Yuri knows he’ll cave in one day. Despite his own grievances with Sodia, Yuri admits that she’s a good soldier—loyal to a fault, unwavering faith and trust, and a strong sense of justice. If even Yuri can see it, Flynn must have it memorised—he’s been by her side the longest, after all.

Flynn lets out a sigh before he starts burrowing his head at Yuri’s chest, mumbling into it. “You know, you’re probably the only one crazy enough to forgive the people who’ve tried to kill you.”

Images of Raven and Duke flash through Yuri’s mind. “What can I say, with all the people out to get me, I wouldn’t have any friends otherwise.”

“Don’t say that,” Flynn scolds, thumping him.

Okay, he probably deserves that one. “Sorry,” he murmurs sincerely. “But I’m not the only one you know, Estelle’s just as bad.”

That earns him a chuckle. “That’s true, Lady Estellise is very forgiving.”

Silence falls on them like a blanket, and they remain like that for some time, bodies close and arms tangled, just breathing together as the seconds go by.

Flynn eventually lifts it. “I’ll convince you, Yuri,” he says gently. “Of how important you are. Of how much I need you.”

Yuri doesn’t reply.  He doesn’t know how to. Flynn seems to realise this because he doesn’t press for an answer, and instead just asks, “For now, just stay?” His arm wraps around Yuri’s waist, pulling them closer. “Give me a chance to prove it.”

Yuri leans into soft, blond hair and presses his lips to the crown of Flynn’s head.

Okay.