The following references and is complemented by a previous oneshot, For a Bit of Bread, but reading that story is not necessary to understand or enjoy this one. Justice Born will likely be a three-part story. Hope you enjoy!
1. A Place to Hide
Bare feet slapped against the pavestones as Yuri ran down the center of the street, propelling himself forward with long strides. He cast a look over his shoulder without slowing his pace and caught a glimpse of his pursuers. They weren't far behind, swords clattering against armor that reflected the light of the midday sun.
"Hey, kid!" one of them shouted. Yuri whipped his head back around and kept running, sliding around a corner with practiced ease. He knew that they would follow him, but each time he went down a different street he gained a little more ground. It wouldn't be long until he lost them completely. The boy smirked, but his satisfaction was short-lived.
It came from up ahead, a knight with peppery hair and a serious expression who stood at the end of the street. That wasn't supposed to happen. Muttering a particularly colorful curse that he had learned by keeping his ears open but that no one had ever bothered to scold him about, he cast around desperately for an alternate escape route. An alley. A short wall he could hop over. Something.
Yuri's eyes lit on a ladder propped against one of the nearby houses and he scrambled up it before thinking about what he would do once he got there. Below, he could hear the sharp, metallic sound of the knight's boots striking the brick-paved street, swiftly coming closer to his impromptu hiding place.
So. The rooftops. Yuri didn't relish the thought of moving along them, risking a broken leg or worse. He also didn't want to get caught, so he moved. The house he currently stood atop had a flat roof, as did the ones immediately around him, which was something at least. They were also pretty close together, as was common in the Lower Quarter. He headed for the next roof, ignoring the fact that the serious knight's head had appeared at the top of the ladder.
The dark-haired boy made it across several houses, only occasionally having to grip the edge of a higher roof and pull himself up or carefully lower himself down. While running, he looked over the edge from time to time, searching for some way to get down without the men noticing where he had gone. Most of the people in the streets went about their business without realizing that a skinny orphan boy was sprinting above their heads, though one or two looked up and noticed him, shaking their heads as if their eyes deceived them. Then there was the woman.
After inspecting the produce in a fruit stall and making her selection, a large woman with a ridiculous hairstyle—coils of brown hair piled high atop her head and held in place with colorful pins—happened to look up. She dropped the orange that had been in her hand, letting it roll under the stall unheeded, and pointed with a shaking finger.
"A boy, a boy!"
Yuri groaned inwardly. Just what he needed. Before he knew it, an entire brigade of knights would be chasing him. Predictably, at the woman's words everyone in the immediate area looked up, too. The street erupted with surprised exclamations, and Yuri wanted to dig a hole and climb into it. One of the voices stood out among the others.
Despite the situation's urgency, the boy froze. Not a lot of people knew his name, or at least could bring it to mind so readily. He scanned the crowd. It didn't take long to find who he was looking for. Him. The blond kid that stole his bread a few months ago. Stole it and then shared it with him, he grudgingly amended. What was his name? Flan? He'd seen him a few times after that incident, usually at the bread line, and they had nodded to each other in recognition but hadn't spoken.
But this was no time for musing about acquaintances, and the knights were gaining at a frightening pace. Yuri made brief eye contact with the blond boy, and was about to keep running. But the serious knight stopped.
"You, in the red shirt there." He was talking to the bread kid. Wonderful. "Do you know this boy?" The knight pointed at Yuri, who was still poised to bolt away.
The blond boy looked over at Yuri, narrowed his eyes suspiciously, then turned back and nodded. The little traitor.
"Do you know his name? You will not be in any trouble," he added gently.
"His name is Yuri," the boy responded without hesitation. Yuri glared at him, relieved that he had never mentioned his last name. You just never knew who you could trust around here.
"Thank you, child." The knight gripped his sword's hilt, clenched his jaw as he turned his gaze back on Yuri.
"Is," the kid said, licking his lip nervously. "Is he in trouble? Are you taking him to jail?"
The knight looked back at him—Flynn? Was his name Flynn?—and lifted his chin. "That is none of your concern."
That's right, keep talking. Yuri slid along the roof, scoping the stalls for the best target. Yes. That one would do nicely.
"But what did he do? It's something really bad, isn't it." Flynn sounded disappointed, somehow.
"As I said, that is—" The rest of what the knight had been about to say was quickly cut off. "Where did he go?"
Yuri would have laughed at the man if he hadn't been busy tumbling inelegantly into the billows of a nearby vegetable stall canopy. It crumpled a little even under his insubstantial weight and dumped him sideways onto the street. Ignoring the irate scolding of the owner, he pushed himself to his feet, winced at a scraped elbow, and set about absorbing into the market crowd.
It wasn't difficult. This time of day, people jostled shoulder to shoulder looking for good deals among the rows of locally grown and crafted goods. One small boy looked much like another, especially when this one weaved in and out of the crowd, using his size to his advantage and never staying in one place long. Yuri saw freedom in the intersection where the street split to the left and right, where he would break away from the knights for good. That is, if they weren't already blocking the exit in a solid line of flashing metal and scowling faces. Yuri's chest constricted with the cold realization that he was out of ideas, and that was very bad.
He felt a small hand loop around his arm and tug him to the right. Before he could recover, he was stumbling along a narrow series of alleys that he hadn't thought led anywhere. It didn't, really. Flynn brought them to a stop and released his grip a few houses away from where the final alley ran up against a tall stone wall that was overgrown with some type of delicate vine.
"What do you think you're doing? Where are we?" Yuri rubbed his upper arm, frowning and wondering if there would be a bruise.
Instead of answering the questions, Flynn approached a door and thrust a key into the lock. He flung the door open and ushered Yuri inside, then slammed it shut and leaned against it, winded. The dark-haired boy took a moment to look around. The house was modestly furnished—unsurprising; this was the Lower Quarter, after all—but fairly attractive. The wooden floors were shining with polish, the simple, rough-hewn furniture free of dust.
Flynn nodded, still out of breath. His cheeks were flushed. Apparently this kid didn't make a habit of running through the streets like his life depended on it.
"Flynn, right?" Another nod. "This your house?"
"Yeah," he said, his breathing beginning to slow. "Me and my dad's." Almost unconsciously, his eyes darted to a small portrait displayed on a nearby wall. It was a woman, smiling, with long blonde hair that fell in loose curls around her shoulders. She was, without a doubt, beautiful. There was a slightly younger Flynn standing in front of her, a dark-bearded man at her shoulder. Your stereotypical happy family. Yuri would normally be disgusted, but he couldn't help noticing the pained expression on the blond boy's face as he looked at the photograph. It was probably the only one they had ever been able to afford.
"So, uh," said Yuri, feeling uncomfortable. "Is your dad here now?" He seemed to remember the kid saying something about him not being around much.
"No." The boy paused. "He shouldn't be." After a moment, he spun and faced Yuri. The sudden movement surprised him, and he half-reached for the knife that he always kept concealed in the waist of his pants, letting his arm fall when he realized he wasn't being attacked.
"You know, a 'thank you' would be nice." The boy planted his fists on his hips. Yuri blinked at him.
"I saved your tail out there. I don't even know why. You probably deserved whatever they were going to do to you."
"Now hang on a minute—"
"The knights were chasing you. That means you're a criminal, right? What did you do?" Flynn fixed Yuri with an intense look. "Tell me, or I will open this door and take you back to them."
Yuri snorted. "I'd like to see you try."
"I swear that I would. Don't test me." Somehow, even though the pitch was high and boyish, he managed to drop his voice into a tone that was surprisingly firm. Yuri shrugged. It wasn't like it was a secret, and Flynn seemed pretty determined to make trouble for him otherwise.
"Okay," he said. "I stole money from them. They were getting people to give them a lot of gald, and it was making those people mad, so I took it."
Flynn seemed surprised by this answer. He considered it for a moment before he spoke.
"So you were going to give it back to the people?"
"Hm? I don't know. Maybe. Hadn't really thought about it yet."
Yuri stretched, lifting his arms above his head. Standing there was getting boring. The knights were sure to still be looking for him, though. They were persistent like that, and he was pretty sure this was the worst thing he had ever done to them. He hadn't meant for it to turn out that way. To him, it had been a simple affair: take the money when they weren't looking, get away, live to gloat about it. That was about it. Giving it back, though. Huh.
"So," said Yuri. "What now?"
"I don't know. You did still break the law."
"What, are we still on that? Give me a break." Yuri crossed his arms, blew a section of dark hair out of his face. "I mean, what should we do until the knights get called off?"
"Oh. Well, we could—"
They both turned at a knock at the door. Yuri shot Flynn a look of warning, but the boy crossed the room and opened the door enough to see who was standing outside.
"It's okay," he called back to Yuri. So that meant it wasn't the knights. Probably. The door opened the rest of the way, and a man stepped inside. His face was lined with age, its expression somber.
"Hanks, is something wrong?" The man grimaced and ruffled Flynn's hair affectionately yet absently with one hand before he knelt to his level.
"It's your father," he said. "You need to come with me."