Hanks had seemed like the sort of old man who'd just keep going forever. He'd been a constant in Yuri's life since he was twelve and Hanks had never judged Yuri for his choices. When Yuri left the Knights, Flynn hadn't really understood – had expected Yuri to eventually reenlist – but Hanks had accepted that Yuri's path would take him elsewhere and assured Yuri that not knowing what he wanted to do with his life was okay so long as he was willing to find out all the things he didn't want to do with his life.
In many ways, Hanks had been the father Yuri had needed. Hanks was the one Yuri had feared disappointing the most, both as a child and as an adult, and Hanks was the one whose approval meant the most.
However, Hanks had already been an old man when Yuri had first met him. His wife had just passed away weeks before Hanks encountered Yuri and Flynn living on the streets. Despite the fact that he was still grieving, Hanks brought the two of them home with him and, somehow, their shared grief – the children for Finath and Hanks for his wife – was easier to bear. Yet, it had been easy to forget just how old Hanks was; he had the sort of appearance that aged well, making him seem younger than he was.
But it was at the age of eighty-three that Hanks had a heart attack he could not recover from. It had been four years since the Adephagos was defeated and blastia ceased working, but it didn't seem like long enough. Yuri knew, rationally, that Hanks had lived a long life and that Hanks was likely reunited in the afterlife with his wife, but it still didn't feel like...
For the third time in his life, Yuri had to attend the funeral of someone who'd been a father figure to him. Finath, Niren, and Hanks... all gone.
The funeral itself was a small affair. Hanks' niece, nephew, and grand-nephew all attended, along with various friends, though Hanks had touched the lives of so many that it seemed almost as though the entirety of the lower quarter had gone into mourning.
During the funeral, Yuri managed to hold himself together by force of will and leaning on Flynn for strength. About halfway, through, though, Yuri had the strangest feeling that his fellow mourners were all treating him like he was Hanks' son. While Anna, Jeff, and Ted had always acted like Yuri and Flynn being fostered by Hanks made them their cousins, they'd certainly never made it official. Yet almost everyone in attendance offered Yuri the support that was traditionally offered to grieving children.
It was bizarre, but Yuri did his best to accept their well-meant words with respectfulness, despite being utterly confused by the whole thing. It warmed Yuri, though, to wonder if the way he was being treated was indicative of how Hanks had viewed him.
The way he was treated at the funeral made a little more sense when he attended the reading of the will afterward. That group was much, much smaller and Yuri wasn't even sure why he'd been asked to be there... until it turned out that Yuri had inherited the majority of Hanks' things, including Hanks' house. That was about when Yuri started tearing up (he tried not to because crying was not, generally, a thing he did, but once the tears started he couldn't get them to stop even with Flynn's arms holding him tightly), which continued on and off for the rest of the day.
That evening, Yuri went to bed in his room at the Comet Inn, Flynn holding him as he insisted that he'd be selling Hanks' place. He was just too distraught to bear the thought of living there, reminded of Hanks every day. In the morning, however, Yuri awoke equally certain that he couldn't sell the house and that, maybe, it would be okay if he and Flynn made it their own after all.
Flynn just smiled and accepted Yuri's change of heart with the air of someone who'd expected the turnaround from the start.
About three months after they'd finally settled into the house and felt comfortable calling it their own, Flynn had to leave on a tour of the Knights facilities in Tolbyccia.
The first night, Yuri slept fine, but only because he'd been out all day tracking down a monster's nest on a mission for the guild. The second night, however, Yuri twisted and turned for at least an hour before giving up in a huff to make himself some tea in the kitchen.
It was raining softly outside, which was nice... but also a little frustrating. Usually rain lulled him to sleep, but tonight it had no effect at all.
There was a noise outside the door.
Curious, Yuri put the kettle on the stove and then moved to the window, cupping his hands over his eyes to cut down on glare from the candles he'd lit. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness outside. There was a pile of blankets at the door and it took Yuri another few seconds to realize that the blankets were shivering.
There was a kid, huddled in the blankets, trying to use the overhang to keep the worst of the rain off.
Unthinkingly, Yuri jerked the door open and found himself looking down on a tiny face. Scared blue eyes peered up at him as the child began to back away.
“Come in kid,” Yuri offered, opening the door a little wider. “There's no rain in here.”
Looking around nervously and then peering inside, the child looked like she would scamper off rather than go inside a strange man's house. Yuri would understand if she did. He distinctly remembered being her age, maybe younger, and shying away from the Knight who offered to save him from the Aunt who beat him.
But the little girl nodded and came inside slowly. Then she fled to the table where she seated herself and dripped over everything. Repede slunk over, sleepily, and curled up at the little girl's feet. She regarded him carefully, then decided the dog was safe and relaxed.
Smiling to himself, Yuri let the door shut and then retreated to the hallway for a moment to fetch some towels from the closet and grab a basket the girl’s wet blankets could go in until they could be hung up to dry. He brought them to the little girl right as the kettle started to whistle at him. Fortunately Yuri had put enough water in for two cups, so he was able to plunk down a mug of warm, sweet tea in front of the girl and still have enough for a mug of his own.
“I'm Yuri Lowell,” he introduced himself, blowing over the top of his tea to cool it.
The girl watched him for a moment and then followed suit, blowing on her tea. “Commandant Scifo lives here with you, right?” she asked.
Yuri nodded. “He's away on business, though. Do you have a name?”
Nodding, she hunched her shoulders. “Iris.”
“It's nice to meet you, Iris.”
“You too,” she murmured into her tea.
Allowing things lapse into silence for a while, Yuri let the girl sip her tea and gather her thoughts. What with how she'd known that Flynn lived here, Yuri had a feeling she'd come to his kitchen doorstep for a reason.
“Will... will Commandant Scifo be back soon?”
“He'll be gone until sometime next month,” Yuri told her gently, trying not to wince when Iris looked visibly crestfallen. “Maybe I can help in his stead?”
“I...” Iris took a shaky breath. “I...” She shook her head, unable to say the words.
“What if I had... my friend Leblanc come here to meet you tomorrow?” Yuri tried to tell himself that calling Leblanc his friend hadn't sounded awkward at all. “He's a Knight, Captain of the Schwann Brigade. Do you think you could talk to him?”
She nodded and clutched the mug in her hands tightly.
“Alright, then. We'll go see him in the morning. I've got a spare room and some clothes you can use, if you'd like.” Iris' head bobbed and Yuri waited for her to finish her tea, before showing her to the guest room and fetching a shirt for her to change into. It would likely swamp her but would be fine for sleeping in.
After cleaning the kitchen up and draping the used blankets and towels over the radiator to dry, Yuri headed back to bed, hoping he'd be able to sleep this time, despite the unexpected guest in the other room. As he passed by her door, he heard the quiet murmur of crying, barely audible over the sound of rain. Paused at the door, wondering if he should say something or not, Yuri wished that Hanks was there to give him advice.
“So...?” Yuri quirked an eyebrow at Leblanc.
“I'll tell you later; right now I have an arrest to make.” Leblanc grimaced uncomfortably. “I'm worried that if I put her in the orphanage, she'll run off again. Could... she continue to stay at your house until the trial? I'm... not sure when that would happen, but...”
“It's fine,” Yuri promised, glancing over at Iris. “I doubt Flynn will mind if she's still at the house when he gets back.”
“Thank you, Yuri.”
“Hey, kiddo,” Yuri waved to Iris and she hurried over to stand beside him. “How would you feel about staying at my place a while longer?”
Iris nodded effusively. Reaching out, she grabbed on to the hem of his shirt and clung close.
“Do you have any clothes other than what you've got on right now?” he asked. She shook her head negatively and Yuri ruffled her hair. “Then let's get you some.”
“I... I can't afford...” she stammered. “Clothes are 'spensive.”
Yuri wondered what happened to her Uncle. Kneeling down, Yuri looked at her scared, hopeful face. “You just helped Leblanc solve a crime, right?” She nodded uncertainly. “Then don't worry about the cost. The clothes will be a gift from me, to say thanks for helping make Zaphias safer. Okay?”
“Okay,” she mumbled, a small smile on her face.
“You're pretty good with kids,” Leblanc said as he let himself in to the kitchen.
Yuri gave him a look and poured a second cup of tea, passing it over to the Knight. “Most people knock.”
“I waved in the window first,” the older man said with a smile, inhaling the delicious scent deeply before taking a cautious sip.
“So you did,” Yuri agreed, knowing perfectly well that this was Leblanc's way of getting a little payback for every time Yuri had been purposefully irritating towards him. The Knight had earned it, though, so he let it drop. “She's napping in the guest room. It's been a long time since she's gotten anything of her own,” he added. “The excitement wore her out. She did start talking with me, though. How long will her Uncle be in jail?”
“Long enough to be executed; given the evidence, the trial will pretty much be a formality,” Leblanc assured him, taking a seat. “Her Aunt's body was still in the bathtub when we arrived to arrest him. He was passed out drunk, covered in her blood. He thought he'd killed Iris too. He's been tied to a couple of deaths from a bar fight earlier this year as well and confessed to several other serious crimes since being taken into interrogation. We might not even need Iris to attend the trial, given everything else we have against him.”
Yuri shuddered. Iris was lucky the bastard had been too drunk to know the difference between reality and his imagination. “I'm glad she knew where to look come looking for Flynn.” Even though he hadn't been there, the fact remained that kids like Iris knowing there was a safe place to go for help was a step in the right direction.
“Lucky she found you.” Leblanc drank some of the tea and smiled, “this is as good a cup as any Hanks ever served me. You know… it was kind of like deja vu when you came to let me know about Iris. Do you know how many times Hanks would come to me over the years, asking me to stop by his house because a child in need had found their way to him?”
Yuri nodded. There’d been more than a few of those visits during the years he’d lived with Hanks. He hadn’t really known Leblanc until years later, but Yuri could remember a much younger, eager knight, good with kids, who’d dropped by from time to time to help Hanks deal with homeless, abandoned children, pickpocket gangs, and the other sorts of trouble that kids went to Hanks for help escaping.
There’d been more than a few times that Leblanc had corralled Yuri and Flynn when their wandering in the Lower Quarter found them more trouble than two kids could handle too.
“It’s tradition at this point,” Yuri replied dryly. “Besides, you’re good with scared kids. Your tweedles, though, would just freak her out.”
“They’re good knights,” Leblanc objected.
“Didn’t say they weren’t. Just that they’re kind of off-putting to kids.”
“Adeccor has children of his own, you know,” Leblanc huffed. Yuri just raised an eyebrow and Leblanc huffed. “Alright, so he’s awkward with his own kids, especially when they’re upset.”
“So, when will you know for sure whether Iris will be needed for her uncle’s trial?” Yuri sipped his own tea and glanced at the window with a frown. There was a slight whistling noise that made him suspect the window’s seal needed to be repaired before the weather started getting truly cold.
“Two, maybe three weeks. The court system’s a bit backed up with one of the judges out on vacation and the sudden death of Judge Malphour.” The way Leblanc said the dead judge’s name made Yuri suspect the death was seen as no great loss to the knights. “Most inconveniently timed heart attack I’ve ever seen,” Leblanc added, frustration dripping off his words. “He was about to pass sentence on a that spree killer, the one who went after all those working girls. Now the whole trial has to be reheard by another judge. The council wants His Highness to recommend a replacement, but won’t even consider the one Lady Estellise put forth even though Master Ioder made it clear he backs her recommendation. The whole thing is a mess and I don’t look forward to having to sit through that council meeting tomorrow when His Highness takes them all to task on the subject.”
“So that’s what had Estelle so upset when I saw her the other day. She didn’t want to talk about any of it, so I took her along on a guild job instead.” Yuri had been more than happy to take advantage of her pent up frustration by pointing her at the large monster they’d been after.
“Good. That girl doesn’t get out nearly enough these days. Don’t be surprised if she gets sent out to run a Progress of the Nation survey come spring.”
"Quite a change of tune from the first time she went on a walkabout," Yuri teased. "I kind of miss the wanted posters."
"So do I," Leblanc retorted dryly.
Yuri recruits Estelle to take Iris shopping. They find her clothes that she likes, that she finds comfortable. Estelle gravitates to dresses and skirts, but Iris prefers trousers and so that's what they get her. Trousers that fit and shirts that Iris caresses lovingly because they're soft unlike the harsh fabric she's used to.
And when she gets tired as the day goes on, she let Yuri pick her up and carry her back home. Yuri cajoles her into changing into her new night things after an early dinner and then tucks her into bed.
"You're good with her," Estelle said. "Maybe Rita and I should've made you take care of that lost baby we found all those years ago."
Yuri wrinkled his nose. "I'm not good with babies. Kids with the ability to talk back and think for themselves? Those I'm good with. And Iris is a sweetheart."
"She really is. How did she end up in your care?"
Yuri quietly explained the girl's situation.
"Well, if you need a babysitter," Estelle offered, "I'd be happy to help."
"Thank you, Estelle."
Iris doesn't know how to read, so Yuri starts teaching her. Reading and writing aren't exactly Yuri's strong point. The smaller the print the more letters tend to drift around on the page or entire lines disappear from Yuri's view.
There's something heartwarming about seeing the little girl sitting on the floor, Repede curled up around her, quietly reading primer books Estelle loaned them to the dog.
She'd go with him to the Guild House when Yuri needed to work and she became a bit of a mascot amongst the other members of Vesperia in Zaphias. There were only a handful and none of them were amongst the guild founders like Yuri. Karol ran the branch in Dahngrest. Judy ran a more nomadic branch that traveled in the Fiertia with Ba'ul. And Raven had jumped ship from Altosk to join Brave Vesperia, running a branch out of Aurnion.
Yuri misses the three of them - he doesn't see them nearly as often as he wanted. But he doesn't regret settling down in Zaphias after marrying Flynn the year before. And he gets to see more of Rita and Estelle. He wonders what his missing friends would think about him fostering a kid.
He wonders what Flynn will think of it when he gets home.
He's gonna miss Iris when she finally gets moved to the orphanage. If... if she gets moved to the orphanage.
Yuri groans and runs his fingers through his hair, trying to calm his mind. He's gone and gotten attached to the kid.
What the hell is he going to say to Flynn?"
Flynn gets home both early and late.
He's home three days earlier than expected, but it's also nearly midnight when he lets himself into the bedroom and smiles at Yuri with a seductive edge that gives Yuri good shivers down his spine. Yuri slinks out of bed, wraps his arms around Flynn's shoulders, and enjoys the taste of Flynn's kiss. And then, carefully, extracts himself from Flynn's arms and takes a deep breath.
"Is something wrong," Flynn asked in confusion.
“So... uh... Flynn...” Yuri's voice was hushed and his hands waved wildly as he tried to gather his thoughts.
Flynn grabbed his wrists lightly and steadied him, giving Yuri an amused look in the process. "As entertaining and rare as it is to see you this flustered, what is it?"
“I may have not-quite adopted a child.” On seeing the stunned look on Flynn's face, Yuri gently pulled his hands free and began to pace the room. “I don't mean like 'a self-reliant twelve-year-old has imprinted on me like a duck' either. I mean, there is an eight-year-old asleep in our guest room and I really, really want to keep her.”
For a long moment, Flynn stared at Yuri blankly. And then, slowly, he began to giggle.
"It's just... you realize Hanks would be so proud, right?" Flynn smiled, fondly, and walked over to where Yuri's pacing had led him before drawing him into a kiss. "I can't wait to meet this kid who managed to wrap you around her fingers while I was gone."