suspicious_popsicle: (Default)
Story: Constructive Criticism
Series: Tales of Vesperia
Pairings: Fluri
Warnings: none

A/N: Birthday gift for Franniel on tumblr. =D

Disclaimer: The characters in this story are from Tales of Vesperia and do not belong to me.



There was a new barista working at the Sagittarius coffee shop when Yuri walked in that afternoon. He called out a welcome across the half-full cafe, surprising Yuri who wasn't used to such immediate and friendly customer service. The place was cheap and made good drinks, but the usual staff hadn't made a habit of welcoming everyone who walked in the door.

Yuri made his way up to the counter, craving sweetness and a hit of caffeine to get him through the rest of his day at the construction site. Just being in the cafe was lifting his spirits, replacing the stink of dirt and asphalt and his own sweat with the aromas of coffee and sweet cream and the scents of fresh pastries. Heaven, Yuri thought, would smell something like the Sagittarius.

“Hi. How can I help you today?”

The newbie was practically beaming. Too much espresso, Yuri wondered, or was he normally like that? He was blond and blue-eyed, broad-shouldered, athletic-looking. He might have been handsome, but he seemed somehow out of place in the dimly-lit dive of a coffee shop. Yuri had never seen him there before as a customer, and wondered how he'd found the place in order to apply for a job.

“Large white chocolate caramel latte. Mix in a bit of cinnamon.”

“Sure.” He keyed in the order and let Yuri swipe his card as he pulled out an empty cup and uncapped a permanent marker. “Can I get your name?”

“Yuri.”

“Yuri....” The barista repeated his name as if he was sampling the sounds across his tongue more than trying to be sure he had it right. He looked back up at Yuri, and although the wattage of his smile had lessened, the friendliness still remained. “What's that mean?”

“What do you mean, 'what's it mean?' It's my name.” He rested a hand on his hip, looking pointedly at the cup that was supposed to be filling up with his coffee. His impatience didn't seem to register.

“Yes, but it's sort of an unusual name. Around here, at least. I was just curious about the meaning behind it.”

“Got me.” Yuri shrugged.

“You've never been curious?”

“Nope.” He was curious how long his coffee was going to take if this guy kept asking questions instead of making it.

“Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you. Spell it for me?”

“Y-U-R-I”

He flashed Yuri a grin before writing his name neatly on the side of the cup. “My name's Flynn. Not quite as unusual as yours. It means 'red-haired' or 'child of a red-haired man.'”

Glancing at Flynn's thick, blond hair, Yuri offered, deadpan: “I'm guessing it's the latter, in your case.”

Flynn's smile only dimmed for a moment. “Yeah. Let me get your coffee made.”

“Thanks.” Yuri had the weirdest feeling as Flynn turned away that he'd insulted him somehow. Trying to shake off the feeling, he fished his wallet back out of his pocket and shoved a couple of crumpled bills into the tip jar while Flynn wasn't looking.

When his coffee was ready, Flynn handed it to him and thanked him for his patience, all shining customer service once more. Yuri nodded his thanks and went to find an empty table. Every now and again, he got the feeling that someone was staring at him, but he had chosen a seat with his back to the counter. He watched customers come and go, listening to Flynn greet them or wish them a good day. By the time he left, he was sure that he'd been imagining things. What could Flynn possibly have found noteworthy about him when they'd barely spoken?

-----------------------

The coffee craving hit early the next day. Without even bothering to take off his hardhat, Yuri slipped away from work during a lull, newly thankful that this construction site was just around the corner from his favorite coffee shop. Again, the first thing he heard when he came through the door was Flynn's greeting. He sounded just as cheerful as the day before, and Yuri wondered how long his batteries would last. Food service, as he knew from personal experience, could be a special sort of hell.

There was no line again, not particularly uncommon since the Sagittarius wasn't all that well-known, but particularly lucky today. He needed to hurry and get back before he was missed.

Apparently Flynn remembered him. “Welcome back.”

“Hey. Can I get a large white chocolate cara—”

“Caramel latte with cinnamon?” He smiled, eager to please, and Yuri resolved instantly to order something different next time Flynn was working.

“Yeah. Thanks.” He paid for his coffee, grateful when Flynn turned to get started on it right away. He hadn't given it much thought when Flynn wrote his name on the cup without having to ask for it, but apparently, Flynn's interest in the name hadn't faded.

“Yuri means 'farmer,' by the way. It's a form of the name 'George.' Those are the facts most of my references agree on, but I also read that it can mean 'the light of God.'” He glanced briefly back over his shoulder, smiling, pleased with the trivia he'd found to share.

“Uh...great.”

“It's a neat name. We get a lot of unique ones through here, a lot like yours that get me curious enough to go look up the meaning.”

“Uh-huh.” He checked the time on his phone and shifted his weight restlessly. Behind him, he heard the door open, and Flynn turned away from mixing up Yuri's coffee just long enough to greet the new customer.

It only took another couple of minutes, and then Flynn was handing over the coffee, friendly as could be. As Yuri started to walk away, Flynn added, almost as an afterthought: “I think I'm going to use your name for a character.”

Yuri nearly choked on his first sip. “What?” He tried to turn back, but the woman who had just come in had already stepped up to his place at the counter and was rattling off an order for multiple drinks. Flynn held up a finger to forestall Yuri as he hurried to keep pace while entering the order into the register.

“You can't just take my name like that!”

“Sorry, Yuri, but can you give me one minute to finish up here?”

Obviously it was going to take much longer than a minute, and Yuri didn't have time to stick around. He checked the time on his phone again, heaving an aggravated sigh when he realized that he had better make tracks back to work.

“I'll be back later,” he warned. Flynn merely waved and wished him a good day, the same as he did for every customer.

Frowning as he licked a bit of cream off the top of his coffee, Yuri wondered how many other names Flynn had stolen from unsuspecting customers.

---------------------

The Sagittarius was just getting ready to close up when Yuri made it back that night. He slipped past the kid sweeping up with a muttered: “Don't worry—I'm not here to buy anything” and homed in on Flynn behind the counter.

“Welcome back, Yuri. Your usual?” He offered as if he sincerely didn't mind that Yuri had just practically shoved his way in at a minute to close.

“You can't use my name.”

His smile didn't even falter. If anything, it got wider. “Sure I can.”

“No. You can't. That's...! It's plagiarism or something!”

Laughter spilled over from Flynn's growing smile. “It's not plagiarism! You don't own the name 'Yuri.'”

“But you got it from me.”

Flynn toned down his amusement at Yuri's expense. “Does it really bother you that much?”

For a second, Yuri hesitated. Then: “Yeah.” Maybe if Flynn hadn't blown him off earlier, maybe if he hadn't laughed just now, Yuri could have let it go. Now, though, he was invested in this fight. It was his name, damn it.

“Ah.” When Flynn came out from behind the counter, Yuri followed him toward the door without thinking. “I hadn't realized it would be an issue. It is a nice name. I had thought, if anything, you'd be flattered.” He opened the door and held it, moving aside so that Yuri could step through.

“You thought wrong. As long as it's all settled, though—”

“Of course. You'll definitely get over it.” So saying, Flynn swiftly closed the door in Yuri's face and locked it. He had the nerve to wave cheerfully before walking off.

Frozen by shock, Yuri gaped at the sight of Flynn's retreating back. He snapped out of it after a moment, jaw shutting with a click as he flipped Flynn the bird. “This isn't over!” he promised.

Flynn was gonna get it tomorrow.

-----------------

Flynn wasn't working the next day.

Yuri had come down during his lunch hour to be sure he would have enough time to convince Flynn that he had no right to go putting his customers into stories. Or, if reasoned argument failed, to knock some sense into him. He'd been all fired up and ready to go only to walk in and see the old man who owned the place standing behind the bar.

He hadn't planned on getting a coffee, but sugar was a good substitute for confrontation, and his favorite strawberry pound cake was one of the specials. He took his lunch to a quiet corner table to eat, although some of his enjoyment was lost as he wondered what, exactly, Flynn would be writing about Story Yuri.

------------------

The next day, Flynn was back behind his counter. Yuri snuck in behind a group of teenagers and kept out of his line of sight. Flynn's first clue that he was there was when his turn came and he slammed his hands down on the counter, cutting off the automatic customer service response by getting right to the point.

“I don't want you writing about me.”

“About you?” He seemed honestly confused for a moment, then his laughing smile was back. “Oh. No, no, I think you've misunderstood. I'm only using the name. The character himself is completely different. I was working on his backstory yesterday.”

“What backstory?” Yuri asked suspiciously.

“Do you want your usual today?”

“S'mores frappe,” he said, mostly to be contrary.

“Coming right up. He's going to be an orphan, I think, from the slums of a wealthy capital in a powerful kingdom,” Flynn told him while ringing up the order. “I'm going to write about him as a soldier fighting from within the army to reform a corrupt system.”

“That's dumb.” Yuri said it without much thought as he swiped his card. “If the system's corrupt and he's just some foot soldier, how's he going to do anything about it from within the ranks? Unless he's a spy or something.”

“No, nothing like that. He's going to be more direct, especially as he gets promoted. But there are going to be some moral quandaries that he has to wrestle with along the way.”

“Quandaries?”

“The sort of thing that you were suggesting—the difficulty of following his ideals and his orders at the same time. Having to stand by, helpless in the face of corruption today so that he can become a powerful enough figure to prevent such things tomorrow.”

Yuri kept quiet while Flynn finished making his drink. When it was done, he took it without thanks and started to leave. To his surprise, Flynn reached across the counter to touch his arm. Yuri automatically flinched away.

“Wait.” He curled his fingers in over his palm as he drew his hand back, looking uncertain for the first time. “Do you feel any better about my having named him Yuri?”

“Honestly? No. What's all that garbage about ignoring problems today and hoping tomorrow will be better? Today's all we've got. I wouldn't be waiting around doing nothing.”

He left the Sagittarius feeling annoyed and oddly dispirited. Even the chocolatey frappe wasn't enough to perk him up. He hadn't expected that sort of idealist crap from Flynn, and it hit a bit too close to home. He threw himself into his work for the rest of the day, stopped in at the gym on the way home and stayed until he was nearly too tired to walk back to his apartment, and collapsed late that night into a dreamless sleep.

--------------------

Yuri avoided the Sagittarius for the next three days. A cloud of frustration hung over him, held at bay by hard work, and beaten back by bouts with the sandbags at the gym.

He'd been helpless in the past, back when he'd been a kid stuck in the foster care system. He'd been one of those people who needed help immediately, rather than in some vague, hoped-for future which had never quite come to pass. Too often, it was hopes like that, hopes for a better future, which killed the spirit by degrees, slowly and steadily as they failed to come true again and again. It bothered him that Flynn had named such a useless character after him.

Then, one day while he was helping to lay down a layer of concrete, Flynn showed up unexpectedly with a peace offering.

“The owner heard that we'd had a difference of opinion,” he said, handing over a white chocolate caramel latte piled high with whipped cream and smelling enticingly of cinnamon. “He was a little upset to think I might have scared off one of his best customers.”

“Like you could scare me off.”

He took a sip, and the chill of it was bliss in the middle of the heat of the day. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Flynn had been watching, though the barista quickly looked away. Out in the sun, Yuri noticed for the first time the freckles strewn across his cheeks and nose and speckling his forearms.

“How'd you find me here?”

“Oh. Well, you were wearing the hat the second time we met, and I just sort of assumed that your job site was someplace nearby. One of your coworkers pointed me in this direction when I asked if you worked here.”

Yuri laughed. 'Coworkers' sounded so professional, somehow, so buttoned up out amid the clamor and the dirt and the stink. He took another sip, staring at Flynn over the sinking mound of cream.

“The old man sent you out to entice me back with a free treat?”

“I came on my own. I'm on break right now.” He hesitated, frowning distractedly at the organized chaos that swarmed around them until Yuri took pity and led him off to an out of the way corner of the site. “I wanted to talk to you, actually. When you got so offended last time—”

“I wasn't offended.” He recognized the protest for a lie the moment it passed his lips. “Like you said, it isn't plagiarism, and your guy sure as hell isn't me. Do what you want.”

“Look, writing is just a hobby of mine. If you think you've got a better idea for how the story should go, then I'm all ears.”

“How should I know what oughtta happen? Give him a giant space octopus to fight or something. Unless you think he'd rather hold out for peace someday with a planet-gobbling monster.”

Flynn rolled his eyes. “I know I just said it was a hobby, but you could take this a bit more seriously. I work till close tonight. If you get off in time—and if you think up any decent ideas—come talk to me. Maybe we can agree on something to make my Yuri less objectionable to you.”

His smile was all good humor despite his failed plan to get Yuri on board with Useless Story Yuri, and he lifted a hand in goodbye as he turned to go. Before he got too far away, Yuri called out one more suggestion.

“What about evil space manta rays? You know—they have those tails...?” He laughed to himself as he saw Flynn shake his head and keep on walking, then he went to find himself someplace to sit and enjoy the rest of his coffee. Regardless of Flynn and his story, Yuri knew that he was going to have to go back to the Sagittarius. No one else made drinks quite the way he liked them.

--------------------

Against his better judgment—which, to be fair, was so frequently ignored that it had faded to little more than a a sarcastic muttering in the back of his mind—Yuri headed for the Sagittarius straight after work. He got there at five minutes to close this time, which didn't stop the other kid on shift from shooting him a dirty look as he came in the door.

In the middle of wiping down the counter, Flynn perked up to see him. “Welcome back,” he called. Then, when Yuri reached him: “Got some ideas?”

“A question. If your guy—” He refused to call him Yuri. “—is so big on fighting corruption, but the whole army is corrupt, then how does he get promoted? How quiet is he being while he's building a power base?”

“He isn't particularly keeping his goals a secret, but he is careful about how he talks about them. And his strength and ideals win him victories which have to be seen to be rewarded.”

“What kind of victories? Is he helping the bad guys?”

Flynn laughed. “No. I was thinking more along the lines of writing in a third faction, maybe another country. Yuri manages to uncover a plot by war profiteers that would have reignited hostilities.”

Yuri regarded him skeptically. “The evil army doesn't want war?”

“It doesn't suit their leader's purpose.”

“Okay, but what about—”

Flynn's coworker stepped up just then, broom in hand, and cleared his throat pointedly. When Yuri met his eyes, he jerked his head at the door.

“We're about to lock up.”

“Sorry.” Flynn grinned sheepishly. “Looks like that's it for tonight. Unless.... Do you want to get dinner? There's a pizza place just around the corner....”

Damn. One mention of it and Yuri was craving pizza like crazy. His stomach growled in agreement. Flynn wouldn't have been his first choice of company, but....

“Sure. Meet you there, I guess.”

“Great! I should be out in just a few minutes.” He was beaming.

Now that he'd noticed them, Yuri could pick out his freckles even in the dim light. They actually made him kind of cute, particularly given how eager he looked as he came around the counter to walk Yuri to the door. His hand was warm where it settled on Yuri's back as they wove through the tables.

Once outside, Yuri set off for the pizzeria at a jog, shaking his head at a particularly ridiculous thought that had crossed his mind. Flynn's friendly manner had almost made the offer to go get pizza sound like a date or something. They were just meeting up to see if he could help fix Flynn's stupid story.

Thinking about it made him laugh. He was willing to bet that Flynn wouldn't ever ask him for ideas again after tonight.

--------------------

Somehow—and Yuri wasn't sure how, considering that they argued as often as not—spending his lunch hour at the Sagittarius had turned into a regular brainstorming session with Flynn. There was a small table nestled near the end of the counter where Yuri could sit and eat while they tossed ideas back and forth between Flynn helping customers. Flynn's story had already seen vast improvements so far as Yuri was concerned.

“So, Friend—” Over the past week, Flynn had shifted most of Story Yuri's original role onto a childhood friend character currently called Friend for simplicity's sake until a decent name suggested itself. Friend would be the more stalwart of the two, holding out to make lasting changes while Yuri, newly quit of his short career with the army, would deal with problems in a more immediate manner.

“Friend,” Flynn was saying, “comes across Yuri and immediately draws his sword on him. He's seen the wanted posters—breaking and entering, robbery, resisting arrest, and now breaking out of jail—and he wants to make a point.”

“So the first thing he does is attack? Not even a 'Hi, how are you?' Harsh.” Yuri grinned, amused by the idea. “Does Yuri kick his ass?”

“The fight will probably be interrupted.”

“But he doesn't lose to a sneak attack.”

“No.” Flynn reassured him with a smile that crinkled up the corners of his eyes and made them sparkle. “They're pretty evenly matched. The trick is going to be getting Yuri back into Friend's good graces after he broke so many laws.”

“Well, if Friend had been around to help out—”

“He would have done it a different way.”

“You're the one that said the nobility have the law on their side. What could Friend have done?”

“That's probably what Yuri will ask him. The aftermath of the fight is going to be an argument that highlights the issues with both of their approaches.”

“Nice of you to show both sides.”

Flynn shrugged. “Life doesn't always have easy answers. I've got to have some realism in the story to balance out your giant space octopus.”

Grinning hugely, Yuri half rose up out of his seat. “You're writing that in?”

Just then, a harried mother with two small children came in. Flynn called out a welcome to her, and just had time to dash Yuri's hopes as she crossed the cafe.

“In your dreams. I was kidding.”

“Loser,” Yuri accused. He stuck out his tongue, but Flynn was already turning away to go back to work. Yuri's lunch hour was almost over anyway. He finished up the last sip of coffee and stuffed the rest of his cinnamon roll into his mouth. As he navigated through the tables, he heard Flynn shout after him: “See you later!” and he raised a hand to wave on his way out the door.

------------------------

“What if you name Friend 'Lowell?'” They were at Yuri's gym, running side-by-side on a couple of treadmills, and talking about Flynn's story again.

“Ehhh....”

“Got one, may as well use the other.”

“It isn't quite what I'm looking for.”

“Lloyd?”

Flynn shook his head.

“Ludger?”

“No. Are you stuck on 'L' names?”

“Rumpelstiltskin.”

Reaching over to shove Yuri's shoulder, Flynn laughed shortly. “I think not.”

They finished up their run without coming up with a new name for Friend, and left the treadmills behind.

“Basketball?” Flynn asked.

“That's a dumb name.”

They both laughed at the stupid joke as they headed for the indoor courts. Yuri was chugging from a bottle of Gatorade when Flynn asked quietly: “What about Finath?”

“Mm...might work. Where'd you come up with that one?”

“It was my dad's name.”

“Don't know if I wanna be so buddy-buddy with your dad in this epic adventure.”

“You would have liked him, I think.”

Yuri glanced over. Flynn's voice was usually subdued, and his smile wasn't entirely happy. As they stepped into the gym, Yuri cut him off and headed for a bench to sit down. He pretended to be more interested in finishing his drink than in rushing to play a few rounds, and Flynn obliged him by sitting down as well.

“Tell me about him,” Yuri suggested, hoping he wasn't stepping on an emotional landmine. But Flynn was the one who had brought him up in the first place. Maybe it would be fine.

“He was a police officer.”

Sipping his drink, Yuri waited, giving Flynn time to find the words he wanted. Usually, words came easily to him. Then again, this wasn't exactly something they usually talked about.

“He didn't...he didn't love the job, exactly, but it was his calling...you know?”

Although Flynn didn't look at him for confirmation, Yuri nodded anyway. Flynn was hunched forward, fingers laced between his knees. His thigh was pressed up against Yuri's. Accident, probably, but maybe he needed the contact. Despite the fact that they'd only known each other for a little over a month, Yuri found that he wasn't particularly surprised that Flynn would choose to share something so difficult to talk about with him. They'd clicked, and since they had begun meeting up, searching out spare hours between Yuri's work and, once the new semester started, Flynn's classes and scaled back hours at the coffee shop, they'd spent a lot of time talking.

“He was out there everyday,” Flynn was saying, “working hard, sometimes risking his life. He did his best to make the city safer, to make it a better place to live for me and mom. For everyone. That's why...that's why it always got to him when people beat the system. There would be arrests: gang leaders, corrupt politicians, people who knew people—knew the right people. There are criminals that the law can't touch because they have the money or the connections or the influence to escape justice. They can subvert the law, get around it, bend it to their whim. And they get away with it. And they keep getting away with it.”

With a sigh, he leaned back against the wall. He was still staring straight ahead, but now his shoulder rested lightly against Yuri's.

“I could have become a police officer. It's what I wanted to be as a kid.” A wistful smile crept across his face. “I wanted to be just like him,” he said softly, and something in his voice made Yuri look away. “I could have gone right into the academy. Instead, I thought...I thought maybe if I studied law...became a prosecutor...maybe I would have a better chance against those types of people. The law should apply equally to everyone. I thought...even if I can't do anything right away...maybe one day I'll be in a position to make the changes that need to happen.”

His story made more sense now. “Gotta have both,” Yuri conceded. Help now. Change later.

Briefly, Flynn leaned more heavily against him. His smile had regained some of its shine when Yuri met his eyes. “Thanks for listening.”

With a shrug, Yuri stood up. He drained the last of the Gatorade and tossed the empty bottle into a recycling bin, then grabbed a basketball off the nearby rack.

“Ready to lose?” He grinned, dribbling the ball lazily as he backed toward the court.

Flynn followed him, eyes alight in response to the challenge. “That's my line.”

------------------------

“I'm just saying that I don't know why you need to go back and add in a princess. It seems like a lot of work for no reason.” Yuri pressed his phone closer to his ear, turning away from the road as a truck rumbled past, loud enough to almost drown out Flynn's response.

'I want there to be some balance. Not all the nobility in the story can be evil and corrupt.'

“Why not? Hey, didn't you say that Friend's second-in-command was from a noble family?”

'Yes, but I haven't found much room to use that in the story. The princess would be able to broaden Yuri's horizons, though, by showing him that good can exist in people from all levels of society.'

“Just how jaded did you make him?” He reached the parking lot for the gym and hurried away from the road, duffel bag jostling against his hip as he walked. After nearly a week of overtime, he was beat, and he leaned against the side of the building when he reached it. A cold shower and a workout would wake him up, but he hoped that Flynn wasn't looking forward to a late night.

'Well, he has reason to be. But meeting a princess who believes in his goal will give him hope. Besides, it's going to take more than just the two of them to really change anything.'

“Yeah, all right. That makes sense, I guess. But why does the princess want to wreck shit? I mean, she's had a cushy life, right? Why rock the boat?”

'She's pure of heart? I don't know. I only just came up with the idea. I hadn't really thought that far.'

“Uh-huh.” Smirking, Yuri asked: “What was her name?”

'I don't know what you're talking about,' Flynn said with studied innocence.

“Oh, yes you do. Some little ray of sunshine came into the cafe this morning, and you heard a name that you just couldn't resist using for a character. Whose name did you steal this time?”

'All right, first of all, I did not steal your name!' The smile in his voice was so clearly audible over the phone that Yuri could picture Flynn's expression. 'I used what in some parts of the world is a very common name for a character which you have contributed a great deal of backstory and motive and personality to over the past several weeks. Second, her name was Estelle, but I'm probably going to tweak that a bit for the princess.'

Yuri laughed. “Does she know you're turning her into royalty?”

'All I did was take a bit of inspiration from her name. And, no, I didn't mention it. I usually don't.'

“Making me the exception to the rule.”

'And aren't you glad of it?'

Truthfully, he was. Not that he was going to say so outright.

'Listen, my next class is about to start. I'm going to have to let you go.'

“All right. What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”

'Would you mind cooking? The stir-fry you made last time was amazing.'

“Just for that, I'll even cover half the groceries. Meet you after class and we can stop by the store on the way to your place?”

'Perfect. See you in a bit.'

“Later, nerd.”

He hung up and leaned over his duffel to drop the phone into it. As he did, he caught a whiff of the clinging stink of the construction site and his own sweat, noticed how thickly caked with dirt and paint his jeans had gotten, saw how grimy his once-white t-shirt had become, and grimaced at the mess. He'd brought a clean change of clothes to wear after he left, but he was struck with the sudden fear that they would be just as worn out and stained as what he had on.

Not that it mattered. He was only meeting up with Flynn, after all.

Straightening up, Yuri caught a glimpse of his reflection in the gym's tinted window. His hair was a snarl of tendrils trying to escape the lopsided bun he'd tied it up in, and dirt and dust streaked his skin. He hurried to the door, avoiding a second glance at himself. A quick shower before he changed for his workout took care of most of the problem, but it wasn't much help dealing with the fact that, for just a moment, it had mattered that Flynn had seen him like that before.

It had been a fleeting thought, one that Yuri had recognized as stupid and dismissed almost immediately, but it had still been there. It mystified him as he went from treadmill to sandbag. Why should he care what he looked like around Flynn? It didn't matter. It had never mattered.

Right?

The more Yuri thought about it, the more he realized that he did want to show Flynn that he could clean up well. He couldn't remember a time they'd met up when he hadn't been grubby from work or dressed down for the gym. And maybe this sudden interest in his own appearance was because Flynn, despite his flyaway hair, never looked like he'd picked the least dirty clothes off his floor to wear. But....

But Yuri couldn't shake the odd feeling that maybe it was something else.

He tried not to dwell on it. He and Flynn could get pretty competitive, and that was probably all it was. Or maybe it was just a symbol of the gap between them: law student and construction worker. They were a bit of an unusual pair, but the differences made things more interesting.

Yuri resolved to stop worrying about it as he showered again after his workout. What did it matter? It didn't, he decided. Not at all. Obviously, his tired brain was just short circuiting or something. He changed into a black t-shirt and a pair of old jeans that were ripped and faded and discolored but clean, and set off to meet up with Flynn.

The campus was across town, and it was full dark by the time Yuri arrived. Flynn was waiting for him at the bus stop. As they walked together, they talked more about his new character, about how she would fit in and if she would have any connection to Friend. Yuri asked if she was going to become a love interest, but Flynn dismissed the idea without a thought. Yuri was glad to hear it. Flynn had promised to let him be the first person to read the finished story, but he'd never been much interested in romance plots.

At a small grocery store a block from Flynn's apartment, they bought chicken, carrots, potatoes, lemons, an onion, and a loaf of bread. Yuri had to stand with Flynn in front of the spice section to double check and be sure he had everything they would need. Flynn's pantry was under-stocked, the result of living off of take out and frozen meals for simplicity's sake. While Yuri checked off a mental list of ingredients, Flynn held the basket, offering it up each time Yuri picked up something new to add. At the register, they split the bill and the bags, then headed for the apartment.

Only one thing had bothered Yuri at all since they had met up. Because he'd been looking for it, he caught Flynn staring at him more than once; at his torn-up jeans, and at the old t-shirt that had shrunk a bit in the wash. Neither of them said anything about it, but it left Yuri with the annoying thought that he should have chosen his clothes more carefully.

Back at the apartment, Flynn went to go put his things away. He brought his homework out to his small dinette and worked on it while Yuri began preparing dinner. Soon, the aroma of spices was filling the small apartment, and Yuri took the other seat at the table, staring upside down at Flynn's textbook and notes and interrupting his studying until, grinning lopsidedly, Flynn gave up and put his work away. They talked about the new character; about when she would come into the narrative, and what she would add to the story. They hashed out a few more details as the chicken and vegetables roasted. Mostly, Yuri asked questions and Flynn fine-tuned based on his answers. Yuri's only solid contribution came when he suggested adding in a battle against a unicorn monster with a golden horn.

“If you've got a princess, you may as well have a unicorn,” he said.

Flynn looked doubtful, but as he made a note on a scratch sheet of paper, his expression became thoughtful.

“A quest from one of the crooked nobility, maybe? Whoever brings back the golden horn can request a boon? Forgiveness of a debt, the release of an imprisoned family member or friend?”

“Imprisoned in a dungeon filled with man-eating monsters?”

“Why is it always monsters with you?”

“It's a fantasy epic, right? Gotta have monsters. Keeps things interesting.”

“It wasn't supposed to be an epic,” Flynn protested, laughing. “You kept adding to it.”

“Hey, Friend was your idea, and he's the reason Yuri is now kicking ass on some huge mission.”

“I only suggested him because you kept complaining!”

Yuri shrugged. He could tell Flynn why, tell him about what it was like growing up. He'd been thinking about it ever since that day at the gym when Flynn had talked about his father. Yuri wasn't normally one to talk about his past, and he certainly didn't believe that every confidence shared deserved a confidence in return, but...he thought it would be okay to tell Flynn. Not just yet, though.

“I like the changes,” Flynn assured him when Yuri's silence went on too long. “I'm glad that...that Yuri turned out more like you. Actually...I had a new idea for part of his and Friend's storyline.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you remember when I mentioned adding in the risk of a war starting up again? I'm going to put Friend in charge of the diplomatic mission that sparks it.”

“That's a pretty big fuck-up.”

“It's not going to be his fault. I was thinking that he would be carrying a letter from the Emperor, but at some point on his journey, it gets switched out. Friend is arrested and locked up when the false letter is presented.”

“Ha ha! Lame! I guess Yuri gets all the action again.”

Flynn's smile wasn't nearly as smug as Yuri's. “No. Yuri is going to break him out of his cell so that Friend can get the real letter, avoid the war, and restore his good name.”

“Meanwhile, Yuri will be kicking ass and taking names when he finds the guys that made the switch, right?”

Flynn hesitated. “Eventually. See...I was kind of thinking...what if Yuri traded places with Friend?”

“What, you mean stayed in the cell? Why the hell would he do that?”

“Well...because there is a chance that Friend could fail. If that happened, Yuri would be there as a show of good faith, and he might be able to avert the war using the truth. Or other methods!” he added hastily as Yuri snorted.

“Seems more likely he'd be killed or something for freeing such an important prisoner.”

“Maybe. If Friend didn't make it back. But he trusts Friend. They're very close.”

There was something about the way Flynn said it that made Yuri take a closer look at him. His smile was faint, expectant, waiting for the question to come.

“How close?”

Just then, the timer went off. Yuri jumped up, hurrying back into the kitchen proper.

“Sorry. Gotta get the garlic bread ready.”

Flynn waved off his apology. “I'll set the table.”

He cleared away his textbook and notes as Yuri worked to finish cooking, then got them plates and glasses of water. For some reason, he didn't answer the question. Yuri didn't ask it again. He had a feeling that the answer would have been much more complicated than it should be.

When everything was ready, Flynn piled his plate high. He ate every bite and went back for seconds. That, more than his compliments on the food, sincere as they were, made it extra gratifying to cook for him. He didn't take it seriously when Yuri told him that the secret ingredient was love, but then, Yuri hadn't really expected him to. No one ever did. Not that it really mattered. It was pretty funny to see the surprise on Flynn's face, though. Maybe he'd have believed it if Yuri hadn't started laughing at his expression. Too late now, and Yuri wasn't interested in pressing the point.

After dinner, Flynn insisted on doing the dishes himself. He shooed Yuri out of the kitchen, telling him to find a movie for them to watch.

“I've got a little bit of homework left after this, then I'll be able to join you.”

“Just going to ignore me whenever it's convenient?” Yuri teased.

“Absolutely. I'm sure you'll get over it.”

“Some friend you are.”

Rather than take a seat on the living room sofa and find a movie on TV, Yuri headed for Flynn's room. His laptop was on the desk, asleep but unlocked, and Yuri grinned as he helped himself.

“Too trusting, Flynn,” he murmured. “Who knows what mischief I might get up to?”

From the kitchen, Flynn called for him, probably wondering why the TV wasn't on and where he had gotten to.

“In your room!” Yuri shouted back. “You've got Netflix, right?” He was pulling up the site even as he asked. “Already logged in and everything,” he said to himself as he brought the laptop over to the bed and made himself comfortable. “Let's see what's on.”

He was still browsing when Flynn came in and glanced at him, murmuring: “Make yourself at home.”

“Thanks. I did.” He was leaning against the wall, one of Flynn's pillows shoved behind his back, legs stretched out over the sheets. “What do you want to watch?”

“I need to finish up some homework first, remember? Put on whatever you want.” He sat down at his desk, putting his back to Yuri, and opened up the textbook from earlier.

“Won't that be distracting?”

“I'll manage.” He looked back over his shoulder and smiled. “It's fine. Go ahead.”

“Whatever.”

He chose a movie that he knew Flynn wouldn't really care about, since he wouldn't be watching the whole thing anyway. It was an old black and white monster movie, barely interesting enough to hold his attention. Every few minutes, he looked up past the laptop's screen to see Flynn, broad shoulders hunched over his desk, head dipping and turning as he looked from his book to the notes he was taking. His hair was white gold at the ends, darkening against his scalp where it grew most thickly. Yuri could pick out the spot where it parted, radiating out in all directions in its usual messy, oddly charming way. Flynn had switched on the desk lamp, and the light shone over his arm, turning the blond hairs into a thin halo over his tanned skin. The pencil looked tiny in his hand.

Sitting there on Flynn's bed with a warm laptop on his thighs and the faint sound of pages turning reaching him periodically over the stilted dialog of a cheesy movie, Yuri felt the past week fast catching up with him. He considered asking Flynn if he could crash on the couch, but he couldn't bring himself to speak and break the peace that had settled over the room. He stopped watching Flynn, had long ago stopped watching the movie. Eyes closed, he listened to the actors exclaiming about this and that, their words losing sense as his attention faded out....

There was a soft click.

“Yuri?” Flynn's voice came to him out of the darkness, pulling him up out of shallow sleep. “Yuri.” The bed dipped. A warm hand curled around his shoulder. A girl was shrieking as a man shouted orders, the sound of their voices quiet and tinny through speakers. “Hey. You've got to wake up.”

“Mmhm?”

“You fell asleep. I think it's time for you to head home. Come on. Wake up.”

The warmth of the hand left his shoulder. The weight of the laptop disappeared. A moment later, the sound of the movie cut off.

“Lemme crash here.”

“Don't you have work in the morning?”

“Nuh-uh.” The room had gotten cold. Yuri slumped to the side, pressing his back against the wall and trying to drag the covers up over himself. The bed smelled like Flynn, and he nuzzled against the sheets and breathed in deeply.

“Stop. You're just messing up my bed. If you want to stay, you can go sleep on the couch.”

“Good here, thanks.”

“Yuri....” The bed jostled and shifted as Flynn moved. He rested a hand on Yuri's shoulder again and shook gently. “Come on.”

Yuri groaned. He didn't want to leave. He liked being with Flynn, liked eating with him and talking about the story Flynn had stolen his name for. He liked the way it all made him feel warm inside.

“Didn't answer my question,” he mumbled, looking for something to get Flynn talking and stop him from kicking Yuri out of his bed.

“What question?”

“How close are Yuri and Friend?”

The silence stretched out long enough for curiosity to get the better of Yuri. He opened his eyes to see Flynn kneeling on the bed, leaning over him. Flynn turned away when Yuri's eyes met his. He was backlit by the overhead light, but the shadows weren't dark enough to hide the pink that crept into his cheeks.

“They were just supposed to be childhood friends, originally. Now...I can't shake the idea that they were made for each other.” With a sigh, he sat back, taking his hand off of Yuri's shoulder.

“I asked you out once, but you never realized it,” Flynn said.

What?” Yuri raised himself up on one elbow, thoughts clearing as he came fully awake. That was news to him. “When?”

“The night we first went and got pizza together.”

“That—!” Eyes wide, Yuri scrambled to sit up. “That wasn't a date! How was that supposed to be a date?”

Blushing even redder than before, Flynn couldn't meet his eyes. “I screwed up when I asked you. I hadn't meant to be so subtle about it. When I realized that you hadn't even noticed...I just let it go. I thought: 'Let's see where this takes us.' So we became friends first. Instead. I don't—” He forced himself to meet Yuri's eyes. “I'm glad that we're friends. I really am. I wouldn't trade it for anything. But...I've been wanting for the longest time to ask you out. Again. So that you would understand.”

Yuri stared blankly at him. Finally, he leaned in, head cocked to one side. “What's stopping you?”

The shock on Flynn's face, so similar to his reaction when Yuri had told him about the secret ingredient to his cooking, was too much. Yuri laughed. He let it wash away the tension that had driven away sleep, and slumped back down onto the bed.

“Let me crash here tonight,” he said, smiling up at Flynn as the laughter subsided.

“I— Right here? Is that a yes?”

“Could be worth a try.”

Flynn stared at him for a moment longer, then, before Yuri had a chance to react, he leaned in for a kiss. His mouth was hot on Yuri's lips, the kiss soft and gentle. Yuri was left gaping as he pulled back, and then it was Flynn's turn to laugh.

“Shut up,” Yuri grumbled. He dragged the edge of the blankets out from beneath himself and hid under them. “You could give a guy some warning.” For all its brevity, the unexpected kiss had set his heart racing. He was still exhausted, but no longer in danger of going right back to sleep.

“Do you want me to ask every time?”

Yuri didn't dignify that with an answer. The bed dipped and shook. He felt Flynn get up and heard him set his laptop safely aside on the desk. There was the scrape of drawers and rustle of cloth, the sounds of Flynn changing clothes while Yuri lay beneath his sheets. They had changed together at the gym before, of course, but this was different. Yuri peeked out from under the covers, unable to resist now that it was suddenly okay for him to take a good look at Flynn's body. Flynn had been quick, though. Yuri was just in time to see him yank his tank top down, and then he flipped the light switch and the room went dark. Oh, well. There would be other chances.

The bed dipped again as Flynn pulled back the covers and climbed in. The glow of the streetlights through the blinds was just bright enough for Yuri to see that Flynn was watching him. They both stared at each other as he settled in so that they were lying face to face, separated by a hand's width of space. They lay still, barely moving, until Flynn laughed softly.

“It's...it's a little....”

“Awkward?”

He nodded. “Can I...kiss you again?”

Yuri felt his face heat up, but a laugh soon broke free, easing his embarrassment. “You nerd,” he said, scooting closer to hide his face beneath Flynn's chin and drape an arm over his side.

Hesitantly, Flynn slipped an arm over Yuri. They shifted, trying to find the most comfortable position in each other's arms. Flynn still smelled faintly of coffee and sweet cream beneath the scent of his skin, and Yuri breathed deeply and soaked in the warmth of his body. He felt at ease with Flynn in a way he'd never felt with anyone else before.

“I tend to kick in my sleep,” he warned. Lips pressed against his hair, and Flynn's arm tightened fractionally around him.

“This is worth it.”


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