Breaking into the knights’ quarters has always been a pain in the ass, but the change in command has only made it worse. Figures that Flynn would take the whole Zagi thing under consideration, take all the wrong lessons from it, and tighten security around every room except his. Convenient for when Yuri wants to drop in on him; less so when there are other places he needs to break into.
Like, say, the most heavily guarded room on the knights’ side of the castle. It’s still not hard to sneak in, but it’s time-consuming and irritating, which just adds to the building frustration in Yuri’s gut.
By the time he arrives at Sodia’s quarters, Yuri’s dodged three patrols, eight royal guards, one half-asleep lieutenant, and an awkward conversation with Estelle. Luckily, whatever delegate she’d been speaking to kept her attention off Yuri when he’d sidled through the gardens. Lying to Estelle is almost as hard as lying to Karol, and if there’s one thing he tries to avoid, it’s explaining himself.
“Explain yourself,” Yuri demands, barging through Sodia’s door.
“Yuri Lowell.” To Sodia’s credit, she doesn’t flinch, though she doesn’t do much of anything else, either. She doesn’t even turn around. Just continues taking her clothes down from her dresser, packing them neatly into her bags. “Breaking and entering can result in a sentence of—”
“Minimum three weeks of community service, got it. Put it on my tab.” Yuri rolls his eyes. “Not why I’m here.”
“No,” Sodia says, the vaguest hint of irritation straining her voice. Good. Now neither of them are happy. “I didn’t think so.”
“I told you that I didn’t want to talk to you,” Yuri says, shutting the door behind him as he strides further into the room.
“That was my understanding as well.” Sodia’s posture would be described as carefully casual by someone who doesn’t know what a fighting stance looks like. “I have respected your wishes.”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Yuri repeats. “But it looks like I have to. Care to explain why I keep hearing about you withdrawing from the knights?”
“That would be because I requested to withdraw from the knights.”
Sodia isn’t stuttering like she had in Capua Nor or Aurnion. Her back is straight, and her voice and hands are steady. It’s a strange display of determination from someone who’s abandoning everything they swore to uphold.
“Y’know, I was wondering how far your resolve would go. Didn’t think it’d run out this fast.” Yuri scoffs. “You can stick a knife in my gut just fine, but the second you’re asked to stick around and protect what’s important, you swan off?”
“It’s because I stabbed you.” Sodia’s hand falls from the dresser to curl at her side, gripping the pommel of a sword that isn’t there.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Yuri narrows his eyes. He won’t be anyone else’s excuse. He’s not that much of a martyr.
“I stabbed a civilian.” Sodia sighs, then returns to packing her bags. “You may no longer be a citizen of the empire, but extrajudicial…” She stumbles over the rest of the sentence, her breath catching. “What I did was an inexcusable abuse of power. No matter how I may wish to atone, I cannot do so while maintaining my position. This… This cannot happen again. I won’t allow it.”
There is a moment of silence, oppressive and dark as fog rolling over the bay.
“How long have you been carrying that little speech around?”
“Since Aurnion,” Sodia says. “It takes time to process a discharge.” She pauses. “When done properly, anyway.”
Yuri snorts. Any paperwork sent his way stopped being his problem the second he left the knights. Not his fault if they disagreed.
“Figures. Can tell you worked hard on making all the justifications sound pretty.” Yuri walks over to Sodia’s trunk, then sits down. Better to be prepared for a marathon of an argument than stand around like a jackass. “Still sounds like a good excuse not to take accountability, if you ask me.”
“It does,” Sodia admits. “Unfortunately, unless you testify or accuse me at a tribunal I will not get actual adequate punishment.” Her fists clench, tight enough that it has to hurt. “So, I’m removing myself from the knights as I would through the proper channels.”
She pauses. Reaches up for another tunic. Folds it too carefully to be natural. Or maybe not— after all, she is a noble.
Yuri picks at the mud that’s crusted onto his boots, scowling down at the worn leather.
“It would be another story if you let me tell anyone about what I did.”
“I said that you could tell anyone you want about it. Just don’t whine to me.” Yuri puts a little too much force into chipping at a stubborn clod of dirt, accidentally taking some of the sole off with it.
“Without testimony on your part, this would just get brushed under the rug. You know that as well as I do.” Sodia pauses. “Even better than I do,” she adds, quieter.
Oh, she is not going to sidetrack him with that particular landmine. He knows what misdirection looks like, thanks.
“So instead of figuring out a workaround, or putting in the work and making sure no one else can get away with things like this, you’re gonna be a coward and quietly slip away without anyone actually knowing about your particular fuckup. Great. Nice going.”
“Then what should I do!” Finally, finally , Sodia whirls around to face him. “What do you want me to do about it, Yuri? Cover everything up, like Cumore? Alexei? Just go around pretending?” She laughs, a harsh, bitter rattle. “You and I both know how easy it would be for me to do this again, Yuri. And next time, it would be easier to justify.”
“That’s why you have other people!” Yuri springs to his feet, fists clenched. “To keep you in check!”
“Like who!” Sodia is inches from baring her teeth, desperate and cornered. “Who? Tell me! Witcher? He’s not a soldier! He can’t hold me accountable! The capt— commandant?” That same, tired sob of a laugh. “We both know what that would do to him.”
“Excellent,” a new, horrifically familiar voice interrupts. “In that case, at least one of you can fill me in.”
Yuri and Sodia’s heads swivel towards the door in tandem. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t a fucking nightmare.
Their voices overlap, a resigned sigh and startled inhale.
Flynn stares at the both of them, gaze expectant and measured. It feels like a physical weight, pressing down on Yuri’s chest, and adding a single ounce of disappointment could collapse his ribcage. Luckily, he’s survived worse.
“Guess the cat’s out of the bag,” Yuri says, shaking his head. There’s a flicker of grim amusement at the way Sodia’s eyes go startled and wide, but it’s snuffed out by a wave of self-derision. Of course she thinks the worst of him.
“Couldn’t expect to hide it forever, anyway.” He relaxes the tension from his shoulders and meets Flynn’s eyes head-on. This dance is familiar, and the steps are easy to follow. “I’m the reason Sodia’s withdrawing from the knights. I told her that if she wasn’t strong enough to protect you when you needed her help, she might as well quit.”
“Is that so?” Flynn asks, his voice oh-so-polite in the way that means Yuri’s definitely gonna get his ass kicked, but not for the reason he’s shooting for. Not good.
“That’s it,” Yuri says, doubling down. It’s hard to figure out the right expression for this, to mix in enough wounded pride along with the shame. To sell half-truths at full-price. “I changed my mind after everything, so I was trying to convince her not to leave when you walked in.”
“I see,” Flynn says, and the disappointment in his eyes might crush whatever’s left of Yuri’s chest, but it’s worlds better than the hurt and betrayal that would twist his face if he knew , the way he’d blame himself, the self-hatred, the worry, the literally every-fucking-thing in the world piling up on his shoulders.
And if some selfish, cornered part of him doesn’t want to see the way Flynn looks when it finally, finally occurs to him that his second-in-command thought he’d be safer with Yuri out of the picture, and that she wasn’t completely wrong, well… So what? Yuri’s always been the selfish one, between the two of them.
So he grits his teeth and bears with it.
“Sodia,” Flynn sighs, turning to look at her. “Since Yuri isn’t going to tell the truth any time soon, would you care to fill me in?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Yuri snarls, desperation clawing up his throat. “That was the truth!”
“Sure.” Flynn laughs, but it’s a sad sound. “Maybe I’d believe you if you weren’t looking me in the eye the whole time.”
“Don’t pretend that you can—”
“Sodia,” Flynn prompts, like Yuri isn’t even there. “Now.”
“Addressing the Commandant,” Sodia intones, and her eyes shift to Yuri in a way that lets him hope for one brief, shining moment that she’s about to do the right thing. “Consider this my request to expedite and finalize my dismissal from the knights, as I—”
“Let her speak,” Flynn snaps.
“I not only failed to safeguard—”
“Stop it! Just stop!”
Miraculously, Sodia complies. But only for a moment. “This is what you wanted!” She whips around to face Yuri, face crumpled in some indecipherable jumble of emotions. “You wanted me to take responsibility! I want to take responsibility! So I am! And you, Yuri Lowell, will not take that from me!”
Yuri bares his teeth, fists clenched, before pivoting away in futile, wordless protest.
“Commandant.” Sodia turns back to Flynn, shaky voice smoothing out until only determination is left. “I am escalating the matter of my dismissal from the knights, effective immediately. I knowingly harmed a civilian with—” Her breath hitches. “The intent to kill. It is only through external forces that he was saved.” She closes her eyes.
“This is not only an abuse of power unbecoming of a knight, but an act that drastically impacted the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of my direct commander and fri—” Sodia cuts herself off, shrinking in on herself. “My superior.”
“This is without taking into account that… If I had been successful in my aims, the continued safety of Terca Lumireis would not be guaranteed.”
“Having presented my case,” she finishes, “I ask to be expelled from the knights and appropriately punished, effective immediately.”
Yuri’s eyes are fixed on the open window, the curtain swaying with the breeze. It’s an ugly thing, discolored and bleached from too much time in the sun. But it’s better than looking at whatever expression Flynn’s making.
The only sound in the room is strained breathing, too arhythmic to overlap, but it can’t mask the throb of Yuri’s heartbeat and the way it pulses in his ears, overtaking the shrieking absence of anything, any response at all.
When a reaction finally comes, it’s with the same sudden sharpness as a knife to the gut.
Flynn makes a soft sound, like the keen of a wounded animal, and Yuri is running before he’s conscious of it, muscles burning as he jumps from Sodia’s window to the waiting tree below, then grass, then cobblestone, the nobles’ quarter, common quarter, lower quarter, anywhere, anywhere but the room with Flynn hurting in it, somewhere far enough away that Yuri can stop hurting him.
If he could, Yuri would be halfway to Yurzorea by now. It might even be in the realm of possibility if Judy hadn’t made Ba’ul promise not to fly him anywhere without at least one other adult present. As it is, Yuri’s shit out of luck until Judy finishes her errands.
He’ll still be shit out of luck as soon as she finishes, considering the second she finds out how he’s fucked everything up this time, she’s going to do that thing where she stares knowingly at him for eight hours and enlists someone else to yell at him about it.
However, crucially, all of that can happen on another continent.
Until then, Yuri’s stuck camping on the beach: close enough that Judy can track him down when it’s time to leave, but far enough away that Flynn stands a chance of actually figuring things out for once.
Yuri lets a long, drawn-out breath loose. As much as he’s tried to get it across to Flynn before— why Yuri can’t be there, why they have to walk different paths— he kind of hoped it’d be on his own terms. Almost thought it came through in Aurnion, when they fought to exhaustion, but even then… Flynn seemed to get something different from it than Yuri.
Didn’t matter if they used swords or words. Yuri’d even tried talking it through, at the end. Tried to say that they bore different burdens. Tried to make him understand.
But Flynn had just smiled at him, the glow of the sunset filtering through his hair and glinting off his armor. He looked so warm. Satisfied. Hopeful.
“That’s why we’re not alone,” he said, and Yuri smiled too. If nothing else— if he can take comfort in any truth in this world— it’s that Flynn will never be alone.
But Yuri can’t stay beside him.
Flynn always wants to be there for everyone. To save everyone. More than that, he’s stubborn enough— strong enough— to try. But sooner or later, he’ll have to add up every ounce of blood on Yuri’s hands and make a final calculation. Sooner or later, Flynn will realize he’s beyond saving.
It’s not a difficult algorithm. After all, Sodia carried the one just fine. Put Yuri out of reach, and it gets even easier.
It’s always been harder to give up on the impossible if it’s close enough to touch. Better to create some distance from the get-go.
Yuri throws an arm over his eyes, blocking out the too-bright sky. Estelle would probably feel bad if he ever told her, but he used to get a little skittish after hearing about good ol’ Vesperia watching over them. It felt like being a kid again, sure that Hanks knew exactly what happened to the missing apples from the pantry.
Vesperia might be extinguished now, snuffed out with all the other blastia, but, well. Habit’s habit. Besides, it’s easier to sleep without moonlight in his eyes.
Hopefully by the time he wakes up, Judy will be ready to go.
When Yuri wakes up, there’s a dog biting his face.
“Why!” He yelps, jolting into the bleary awareness between sleep and consciousness. He’s halfway to his feet before he fully registers who woke him up. “Repede?”
Repede makes a low sound, somewhere between an irritated exhale and a bark, then tries to bite him again.
“Good job,” a familiar voice praises, and Yuri is suddenly, achingly awake.
Repede woofs in approval, jabbing his traitorous, bony face into the softest parts of Yuri’s stomach before finally backing off, circling back to stand at Flynn’s side.
The worst part is that Flynn just looks at him. He stands next to the firepit, armorless— which at least explains how he managed to sneak up on Yuri without waking him— and motionless as a statue. Like he’s expecting Yuri to make the first move.
Yuri glares at Repede instead.
“You sold me out again?”
Repede snorts, unashamed of his treason. To add insult to injury, he starts settling onto Yuri’s now-empty bedroll, ready for untroubled dreams.
“Maybe he wouldn’t have to if you’d stop running off,” Flynn says, his voice hoarse. It’s hard to see his expression in the dark, but there’s no mistaking the way his stance shifts. It’s just as impossible to ignore the sound of him unsheathing his sword.
Yuri picks his own up, climbing to his feet, and it’s almost a relief. He understands how this works. Fighting, at least, is easy.
“So what was I supposed to do?” Yuri asks, settling into position.
“Stay.” Flynn’s voice strains as he slashes towards him, an aggressive opening move.
“You had— fuck!” Yuri hisses as he dodges a flurry of strikes, weaving in and out of the openings. “You and Sodia needed to talk it out!”
The kick at Yuri’s face takes him off-guard, as does the blade that follows. Flynn usually creates distance after big moves— he doesn’t get up close like this. Not like now, where he’s throwing out strikes with his fist as often as he is his sword, or throwing out a leg to take Yuri off-balance.
“Me and Sodia,” Flynn says, his voice almost unrecognizable. “Me and Sodia needed to talk! Of course!” The arc of his blade is wild, control sacrificed for power, and Flynn doesn’t fight like this.
He’s charging recklessly into every attack, leaving enough openings that Yuri could easily wipe the floor with him, if he actually went on the attack, if everything wasn’t wrong . Flynn doesn’t throw up a single guard— he doesn’t deflect, doesn’t backstep, as if he doesn’t even realize he’s not wearing armor. He just keeps throwing his weight behind his sword, again and again.
It’d be easy to knock Flynn over. He leaves his weaker side unguarded, like an invitation.
Yuri stays on the defense.
“Stop running away!” Flynn’s voice comes out accusatory and plaintive, closer to childhood accusations of cheating than anything that should come out of a commandant’s mouth.
“I’d rather not get hacked to pieces, thanks,” Yuri counters, using the flat of his sword to twist Flynn’s blade away. “I know you’re mad, but we’re working with live steel.”
Something about that sets Flynn off worse than ever, until he’s a blur of fast, heavy steel and unprotected fists. It’s all Yuri can do to dodge and deflect, distantly registering that there’s something just as familiar about this as it is wrong.
It takes him until he goes to stop Flynn’s tiger blade and gets punched in the face because of course. Of fucking course. He should have realized sooner.
Flynn doesn’t fight like this.
But Yuri does.
The realization does more to knock him on his ass than the right hook does.
He can taste iron as he gapes up at Flynn, stunned, and they just stare at each other, choking down air like they haven’t breathed the entire time they were fighting. Flynn stands there, looking down at him, and it’s a long, long moment before whatever wild, desperate emotion possessing him drains away.
“I keep trying,” Flynn starts, then stops. He shakes his head. “I keep trying to get everything I want to say across, but you never listen. Even when I think maybe you understand, it turns out…” He slashes through the air, directionless. “I don’t know what I thought.”
Flynn drops his sword, careless in a way he isn’t, then walks off toward the ocean, only stopping once he reaches the water. It doesn’t take long. High tide has brought the waves closer than ever. Funny, then, that Flynn’s never felt further away.
He seems so much smaller without his armor.
This should be the moment that Yuri walks away. The moment he does the final, right thing.
But something’s wrong, and Yuri’s never known how to leave well-enough alone. Besides... he’s been following after Flynn his whole life, and it’s hard to give up on the impossible when it’s close enough to touch.
Flynn doesn’t respond to Yuri’s approach. He just keeps staring out at the waves. Though, he might just be getting a good look at the remains of the Heracles, if he can spot the shadow of it out on the ocean.
There’s not much left of it, anymore. The political-powers-that-be might take a while to cooperate, but once they get moving, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Soon, only a bare, metal frame will be left of the world’s ugliest monument to wasted taxes and unchecked martial power. Even then, it won’t take long for everyone and their dog to scavenge whatever scrap they can get their hands on.
Distantly, Yuri wonders if Patty’d be willing to make a trip of her own. Rita’s been complaining about a shortage of materials.
Flynn still hasn’t spoken. Hasn’t even shifted his weight. That’s what knight training does to a guy, eventually— all of that practice standing guard starts to sink into your bones. Then again, it’s always seemed to come naturally to Flynn.
Yuri never had that kind of patience.
“Why were you even outside Sodia’s room, anyway,” he asks, breaking the silence.
“Her Highness Estellise saw you.” Flynn’s voice is clipped. “She informed me that you’d headed towards the knights’ quarters.”
“I approved Sodia’s dismissal,” Flynn says. He doesn’t look at Yuri.
Yuri sighs. That… also figures. It’s not exactly becoming of a knight, going around stabbing people. Closer to Yuri’s purview.
A strand of irritation flares in his chest. Sodia could have at least put up a fight. As it is, Yuri’s stuck with the job no one else wants.
He told her he didn’t want to talk about this.
“She was doing her job,” Yuri says, trying not to sound as sullen as he feels.
“What.” That, at least, gets Flynn to look at him. He whips around fast enough to break his neck. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said,” Yuri defends. “Her job is— was— to protect people. And that means protecting you.”
“How is stabbing you supposed to protect me?” Flynn demands, bristling, and god fucking shit damn Sodia really did her absolute best to go down a martyr, huh? It looks like she didn’t explain anything.
It’s almost impressive how little she did to defend herself. It must have been hard, facing up to the full weight of Flynn’s disappointment. Too bad that the whole stoic, bearing-the-weight-of-the-world’s-ire, lone-wolf routine has to go to waste.
Sodia was willing to protect Flynn at any cost. Yuri won’t let that sincerity go unacknowledged, now that the cat’s finally out of the bag.
“You took that—” Yuri cuts himself off, grimacing. He looks up at the sky. “You took Alexei’s attack for me. Almost put an end to literally everything you’ve worked for, for me. Some murderer that keeps putting everyone within reach in danger.” He sighs. “I may not like the numbers she ran, but I get why she decided to take me out of the equation.”
Yuri’s hands clench at his side, remembering the way Flynn crumpled after taking the hit, limp as a puppet with its strings cut.
“The people around you can do what they do because you’re there, Flynn. You can’t just— You can’t afford to throw all of that away.”
“But you can?” Flynn’s face is twisting, horrified and disappointed and unbearable. “My life isn’t worth yours, Yuri!”
“I know that,” Yuri snaps, and if Flynn interprets that differently from how he means it, then good. “I didn’t exactly get stabbed on purpose.”
“No, you just thought it was an appropriate response to me getting a little roughed up!”
“You could barely move!”
“And you almost died!” Flynn’s eyes blaze, hurt and fury warring on his face. “You sure have a lot of fucking gall, getting on my case for protecting you when you never gave a thought to what would happen once you pissed your life away.”
“Don’t give me that,” Yuri hisses. “You know it’s different. You’re the only person in the world who can fix that shitshow of a—”
“No, I’m not,” Flynn says, flint and steel in his voice. “And I wouldn’t even have made a dent by now without you.”
“You would have figured something out,” Yuri lies. There’s a reason he chose this path. Some things are beyond the law’s— beyond Flynn’s— reach. Someone else would step in, though. Maybe Sodia. Maybe someone else.
If time has proven anything, it’s that there’s always someone like Yuri. But there’s only one Flynn.
“I can’t believe you.” Flynn laughs, a cold, incredulous sound. “You think I could do even a fraction of the work you’d leave me with if you just disappeared?” He throws his arm out, gesturing at the endless, ravenous horizon. “I couldn’t… I can’t do the things you do, Yuri.”
Yuri freezes, blood turning to ice in his veins as he pictures Flynn taking his place. Having to do half the things Yuri’s done.
“It’s not your job,” Yuri says. “You wouldn’t have to—”
“I did ‘have to’! We all had to! You were gone, Yuri!” Flynn snaps, full of anger and half-formed grief. “You were gone, and you didn’t even leave anything behind.” A hollow, choked off mockery of a laugh falls out of his mouth. “Just us.”
Flynn’s hands are shaking.
“Don’t make me do this alone,” He whispers. “Please. Not again.”
This isn’t right. Flynn stands by his ideals to the end, even when it’s about to get him killed. He stares the universe in the eye, daring it to blink first, to prove that its cruelty can’t endure the sheer, stubborn might of Flynn Scifo beating his head against it.
Flynn wouldn’t give up just because Yuri couldn’t see it through.
“You’ve always been stronger than me—”
“I’m not!” The sound that rips from Flynn’s throat is as jagged as broken glass.
“You get up again, Yuri! You always get up again, talking about how we can deal with any consequences when we get there, while I’m losing my mind over how I’m supposed to deal with any of it by myself when you go and get yourself killed!” He takes in a breath, and it’s a shaky, shuddering thing. “I wouldn’t even know how you died.”
Yuri’s hand twitches at his side. The inches between them feel as vast and hostile as the ocean, and every nerve ending in his body is alight with the sudden awareness of Flynn’s raw, undisguised hurt.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Flynn asks, voice too soft. Too quiet. “Why do you always try to handle everything by yourself?”
Yuri raises his head to respond, but the slowly brightening sky stops his mouth before he can shove his foot in it. The morning light is barely enough to see by, but it’s enough to catch the wet sheen on Flynn’s cheeks.
Yuri crosses the distance between them before he’s even aware, everything other than fixing this mess tossed to the side.
“Oh no, no, no, don’t cry, c’mon,” Yuri pleads, cupping Flynn’s face in his hands. He wipes away a tear that’s made a break for it. “Don’t waste that pretty face by getting snot all over it.”
“I wouldn’t be crying if you weren’t such a jackass,” Flynn says, but he doesn’t rip himself away from Yuri, so that’s something, at least. “You won’t even tell me when you get stabbed. When one of my knights almost kills you.”
“There were more important things going on,” Yuri evades.
“It’s been over a year, Yuri.” Flynn pulls back. “I don’t know if it’s because you think I can’t handle it— if you really think I’m so weak that I can’t bear the truth— but I need to know when the knights under my command are going around stabbing people. I have an obligation to the people I’ve sworn to protect.”
“I don’t think you’re weak,” Yuri says, frowning. It’s never made sense, why Flynn always circles back to that argument. He’s the strongest person Yuri knows. The problem is, he thinks that gives him an excuse to take on every problem in the fucking world. Just looking at him is exhausting.
So, if Yuri can take a load off, or keep him from taking on yet another burden, then he will. It’s that simple.
“Then why are you always running off instead of letting me help?” Flynn sets his jaw in that same, stubborn expression that Repede picked up from him years ago and hasn’t stopped using since.
“It’s like you said before. You have people you have to protect.” Yuri sighs. This seemed like a better argument before Flynn started crying. Before this whole beach misadventure in general, really. “You’re already swimming upstream with all the nobles looking down at you, and I have a bit of a messy reputation. It’s better for you if I keep my distance.”
Flynn opens his mouth to argue, so Yuri holds up a hand, cutting him off.
“No, listen. Every fuck-up of mine ends up hitched to you by association, and that’s at best. At the worst, you get completely screwed over. It’s not fair to you.”
“No.” Flynn pushes aside Yuri’s hand. “What ‘isn’t fair’ is you making my decision for me and pretending like you’re some kind of cosmic punishment. You said you don’t think I’m weak, but it sure seems like you don’t think I’m strong enough to make my own choices.”
“I’m not trying to make your choices for you,” Yuri says, but the words stumble together in their escape. Too fast. Too unsteady.
He isn’t, right? He’s just making things easier.
“Then why did you leave?” Flynn looks away, like he can’t bear to ask while looking straight at Yuri. “Why didn’t you tell me about Sodia? Why didn’t you talk to me? ” He heaves a deep, shuddering breath. “You didn’t give me a single chance. A single choice.”
Yuri stands there, hand outstretched: caught between stopping Flynn or comforting him and unable to do either because he’s a useless jackass.
Yuri’s done a lot of things he’s not proud of. If protecting people means getting his hands dirty, he’s the first to plunge his hands into the muck. But there’s a difference between protecting someone and taking away their choice. Up until now, Yuri’d thought he was doing a better job of walking that line.
Way to fuck that up.
Yuri takes a deep breath. He can’t fix what he’s already done. But he can do better. Flynn deserves at least that much.
“I’m sorry,” Yuri says, and recalling the anger and grief on his best friend’s face pulls sincerity from the very core of him. “I’m so sorry, Flynn.” He looks down, for a moment, then meets his gaze head-on. “What can I do to make this right?”
Flynn looks at him, gaze searching. Whatever he finds there must satisfy him, at least a little, because something in him seems to relax by inches.
“Better late than never, I guess,” he says.
Flynn’s always forgiven too easily. It makes the relief pooling in Yuri’s gut sour, just a little, but it’s overpowered by the warm disbelief of it.
Yuri will just have to work to deserve this. To warrant the belief Flynn has in him to carry through on his promise.
“First of all,” Flynn starts, eyes narrowing. “Never collude like that with one of my knights again. I can’t believe I even have to say this to you, Yuri. You killed people for things like this.”
Cumore and Sodia aren’t exactly on the same scale, but now’s not the time to argue that.
“Promise,” Yuri agrees with ease.
Then, he pauses.
“In Sodia’s defense,” he qualifies, “I pulled the same shit she tried to, and all I got was a stern lecture.”
“You weren’t a knight. You weren’t even a citizen of the empire,” Flynn counters, eyebrows furrowing. “It is my duty to ensure those under my command aren’t abusing their power.” His expression flattens out, as if he’s carefully ironing any trace of emotion from his face. “If you’ll recall, you implied you’d kill me if I ever failed in that duty.”
“That’s because you were being a bootlicker,” Yuri says, mouth operating faster than his brain. “Fuck. I’m supposed to be apologizing.”
“That, at least, is one thing you don’t need to apologize for,” Flynn says. “I needed it. I needed a reminder of why I’d decided to do any of this in the first place.” He sighs. “Though, I wish I’d let the wake-up call come through a bit earlier.”
“Hey, you figured it out eventually.”
“Only because of your help,” Flynn says. “Which brings me to my next request.” His voice softens, along with his expression.
“I tried to tell you this before, but obviously the duel didn’t do what it was supposed to. So I’m using my words this time.” The light settling across Flynn’s face reflects in his eyes, like they’re lit from within. “I can do everything I do because you’re beside me.”
“When you argued with Duke at Tarqaron, you said that we could make the choices that we did because we had each other.” The warmth of Flynn’s gaze is so sincere that it burns. “Will you trust me, this once, that I can keep going because I have you?”
Flynn reaches out a hand. An offering.
“I don’t want to imagine my life without you in it, Yuri,” he says, his voice soft. “So please... Please let me choose you.”
Flynn is strong. Capable of doing almost anything he sets his mind to. And if there’s anyone Yuri trusts to stick to their resolve, it’s him. And even if part of Yuri is scrabbling at the walls, desperate to run, to protect Flynn from the inevitable baggage that will come along with choosing to keep Yuri around… he promised to listen.
He promised to let him choose.
There’s something a little helpless in Yuri’s smile as he accepts Flynn’s hand. The warmth of it almost burns, after so long in the cold.
“You know that part of making choices like this is having to live with them, right?”
Flynn’s smile hits like a fatal strike, and Yuri only comes back to awareness after he’s already been pulled into an embrace.
“That is the idea, yeah,” Flynn says, pressing his forehead into Yuri’s shoulder. “Ideally, for the rest of our lives.”
“Careful,” Yuri says, throat dry. “That almost sounds like a proposal.”
He really hopes he doesn’t seem too wistful. They’ve waltzed with vulnerability far too many times in this conversation, and there’s a fine line to walk between joking and letting slip that he’s dreamed of waking up tucked against Flynn’s chest far too often to be healthy.
Flynn sighs, and his breath is hot against Yuri’s neck.
“Y’know, sometimes I’m not sure if you’re pretending to be obtuse, or if you’re really that clueless,” Flynn says, his voice too soft for their usual ribbing.
It’d be easier to process what the hell he means by that if each exhale wasn’t feathering across Yuri’s neck, and every point of contact didn’t feel like a brand. For a brief, desperate moment, Yuri wishes the both of them were wearing armor.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Yuri asks, drawing back so he can restore whatever higher brain functions were lost to touch-starvation.
“Yeah, that’s about right.” Flynn doesn’t answer the question, laughing instead. “I don’t know why we thought swords would work.”
“I’m thinking a sword would work just fine right now,” Yuri says, narrowing his eyes. He might not know what Flynn’s insinuating, but he can recognize an opportunity to reestablish normalcy when he sees one.
He moves to stand, but he barely gains an inch before Flynn grabs his sleeve.
“Nah.” Flynn shakes his head. “Not this time.” He smiles, but there’s a shaky uncertainty to it.
“C’mon,” Yuri says, too fast to sell nonchalance. Despite himself, he settles back onto the sand. “Not even a little? I might even let you—”
“Yuri. Please.” Flynn’s hand settles on Yuri’s wrist, thumb resting on his pulsepoint. “We’ve been putting off a lot of important conversations for too long. So we might as well get this one out of the way while we’re at it.”
Any snappy comeback dies, caught and starved somewhere between Yuri’s brain and the calloused palm against his skin.
“I’ve been in love with you some way or another for half of our lives.” His thumb sweeps a small path across Yuri’s wrist, then returns the same way. “And I want to spend the rest of mine with you. In whatever form you’ll let me.”
Yuri stares at him.
And keeps staring at him.
“Sorry,” he says, finally, after whacking his brain repeatedly, shaking it, and finishing it off with a fatal strike. “You wanna run that past me again?”
“I’m in love with you,” Flynn repeats, the picture of impossible patience. His eyes search Yuri’s expression for a long moment. Whatever he finds there knocks something loose, easing tension from his shoulders and the set of his jaw. “You really didn’t know?”
Know? Never. There were times Yuri suspected, though. Times when Flynn looked at him, eyes shining, and Yuri could convince himself that maybe… Maybe.
But that had been before. Before getting kicked out of the knights. Before choosing different paths. Before Yuri covered his hands in blood and Flynn started making worse and worse decisions in the name of justice.
Yuri'd been sure that, somewhere along the way, whatever Flynn might have seen in him had just... fizzled out. Or that he'd deluded himself in the first place. After all, if years of flirting hadn't made a dent before things hit critical mass, it definitely wouldn’t win any prizes after Flynn watched him kill a man.
Except… apparently it had?
He knows Flynn cares about him, of course. But Yuri kind of always thought it was like a pet project, on Flynn’s end. Trying to save whatever was left of the person he used to know.
At his most generous, he could believe that Flynn still thought of them as best friends. That maybe Yuri’s position could be higher in Flynn’s heart than he deserved.
He never thought it would be this high.
“Yuri?” Flynn prompts, and right, he needs to respond here. Respond to Flynn’s... confession.
“Why?” Yuri makes a face the second it slips out, but fuck it. There isn’t really a better way to articulate everything he has to say. ‘Why?’ will have to do.
Flynn sighs and closes his eyes. When he opens them again, it’s to look longingly towards their abandoned weapons.
“We can go back to—”
“We’re not going back to swords,” Flynn says, though he doesn’t sound happy about it either. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Don’t be a tease,” Yuri says because he’s an idiot with no filter. “Fuck. I mean... Shit.”
Flynn’s covering his face, but it’s impossible to tell if it’s because he’s mortified or trying not to laugh at Yuri making an ass of himself. Probably the former. He wouldn’t bother to hide it if it was the latter.
“What do you mean, why?” He asks, muffled.
“You know damn well what I mean,” Yuri says, rolling his eyes. He’s making an airtight case for the opposition here, so Flynn had better be ready with some stirring testimony.
“Do I?” Flynn says, restrained exasperation rolling off of him in waves. “Because it sounds like you might be implying something stupid that we’ve already fought on this beach about.”
“I just don’t think you’ve considered all of...” Yuri trails off, gesturing at himself. “Sure, fine, it’s your choice, but… I don’t know if you really thought this one through.”
“I’ve thought it through every time you smile at me,” Flynn says, which almost makes Yuri choke on his own spit. What the fuck. How can he say something like that with a straight face.
“If you really want to know why I love you, I could probably list out all the reasons. But I think if I did that, you might actually start attacking me, sword or no sword.”
“I would, and I’d be right,” Yuri says.
“That’s what I thought.” Flynn shakes his head. Then, he squeezes Yuri’s wrist, bringing his hand to his chest.
Yuri’d almost forgotten he was holding that, as gentle as he’d been.
“It’s my choice, Yuri,” Flynn repeats, holding Yuri’s hand over his heart.
Yuri’s fingers tense, creasing the fabric as he hesitates. Every ounce of him is shrieking with the impulse to run, to protect Flynn from the inevitable.
But it’s Flynn’s choice. And there’s a selfish, desperate fire burning through Yuri’s soul that wants to choose him back. Yuri’s almost helpless to the warmth of it, embers feeding on the knowledge that Flynn wants him around for his own sake. That this could be selfish indulgence on Flynn’s part.
“...Then I guess you’ll have to live with it,” Yuri says.
There’s a moment of wild joy on Flynn’s face, and Yuri has to close the gap between them before he says anything sappy. And if the resulting kiss is a little sloppy and tastes too much like iron because it reopened his split lip, and Flynn has to pull away to confirm that this is Yuri choosing him back, as if that was ever in doubt, then that’s just fine. And if eventually they’ll have to have more awkward conversations about what all of this actually means, and Yuri will have to learn to use his words more often, then that’s fine too.
After all, part of choosing is living with those choices, and working to make better ones. And neither of them has ever been particularly good at giving up.