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Day and Night

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In the daytime, it's easy to feel like they were heroes. The Eastern Kingdom of Mikado is rebuilding, and for the most part the settlers coming up from Tokyo are being welcomed with open arms. Tokyo's citizens marvel at the sunlight, at the growing plants, at the Casualries' simple, fresh food—the older people remember these things from their youth, but the younger generation had never seen the sky before Shesha blasted open the Ceiling.

Nanashi and his friends are still living in the city, but they come up sometimes to visit and to trade their scavenged electronics for Mikado produce. He looks well, human and alive and comfortable with his role; perhaps it's easier to come to terms with killing gods when they were only ever the enemy, and when you've grown up sustained by the flesh of demons. Isabeau can only theorize.

On one of those visits, they head out to the Casualries' District, where they barter with a farmer for a basket of apples from his orchard. As they're leaving one of the farm dogs comes running up the lane, tongue lolling, tail wagging, and Nanashi tenses as if he's preparing for battle.

"Don't," Flynn says. "It's all right."

Nanashi glances over at him. "It's one of yours?" he says.

"It's not a demon," Isabeau says. "Just an ordinary animal."

"You didn't summon it, then," Nanashi says, still watching warily as the dog comes gallumphing to a halt in front of them.

Flynn shakes his head. "Only in the way where he hopes someone here will want to pet him." He reaches out as he says it and the dog licks his hands delightedly.

"Animals don't need to be summoned," Isabeau says gently. "They just are. Like us."

"Huh," Nanashi says as the dog jumps up to try to lick Flynn's face. "Neat."

Maybe it's the dog's exuberance, or maybe it's Nanashi's dry, bemused tone, or maybe it's both—something about that exchange makes Flynn burst out laughing, the sound warm and easy and natural. In that moment he looks young and carefree in a way Isabeau can't remember ever seeing, even when they were newly fledged Prentices just beginning to learn the duties of Samurai. Her heart swells. Right here, right now—they're going to be all right.

It's harder at night.

When they got back from...that final battle, after the first night Flynn and Isabeau moved their beds into the same room. Not for any prurient purpose—not that there's anyone left who would have the right to censure them for it if it were—but because it's hard to feel safe in the dark alone. It was always dark in Tokyo, even in the places where people still lived, and no matter how much everything else about being home is different, waking up alone in the dark feels like being back there.

Because they do, of course. Neither of them sleep very well anymore. Isabeau used to be such a heavy sleeper it was something of a joke in her family, but now some part of her is constantly alert even when she's trying to rest. Soldier's reflexes, Hope said when she mentioned it. The souvenirs of a war.

Tonight when she wakes it's because Flynn is having a nightmare. He's not crying out—it's nothing that obvious—but his breath comes fast and sharp, and he's struggling in the blankets. It's not the first time and it won't be the last.

Isabeau slips out of bed and crosses the room to sit down beside him; enough moonlight spills in through the window that she has no trouble finding her way. She tugs at the blankets until they come untucked and she can take his hand. She squeezes gently.

"We're safe," she says softly. "They've been defeated. We're going to be okay."

Flynn wakes up with a hard shudder, the kind that used to make people say someone's just walked over your grave before that came entirely too close to the truth. He grips Isabeau's hand tight, and even in the dark she can see him trying to forcibly relax. "I woke you again?"

"It's fine," Isabeau says, even though nothing about this is. "You probably have more reason to have nightmares than any of us."

"Maybe so," Flynn allows.

They sit together in the dark for a few minutes, his hand warm in hers, the air comfortably cool around them and sweet with the scents of dew and hay from the fields outside. Isabeau thinks about asking what the nightmare was about, but she doubts she needs to. The long days of his captivity haunt her badly enough, and it must be so much worse to remember than to imagine.

"I'm sorry that we couldn't save you sooner," she says. She's tried to say it before, in the daytime, in the light, and the words always stuck in her throat. "I'm sorry that when Shesha—I should have known." In hindsight it's so easy. The way Shesha spoke, the way it smiled, was crueler than Flynn had ever been, but instead of asking questions Isabeau just assumed that the war in Tokyo was changing everyone and he was no exception. "I should have known."

"You couldn't have known." Flynn's voice sounds small, sounds hollow. "I... saw him. After he took my shape. Before he went to get himself 'rescued.' He was... pretty convincing."

Isabeau is quiet for a minute. He doesn't usually talk in any detail about anything that happened while the Divine Powers had him captive. "He didn't have your heart," she says at last. "That should have been obvious. I just... wanted you back so much. I wanted it to be true."

"It's fine," Flynn says, and it isn't but Isabeau doesn't argue. Focusing too hard on what's happened, and how it didn't happen they way wanted it to, will only make it harder to get through the night.

And then he takes a deep breath and goes on: "That was the only time it was Shesha, but they all came to visit sometimes." His voice is low and he's staring up into the dark, not looking at her. "Odin would come in and check on how I was doing on... on that cross. Because it hurt, and it was hard to breathe, and... I think it was his job to make sure it never got bad enough to kill me. Not quite.

"Maitreya would come in and just... watch, and then eventually go away again. But Krishna... Krishna would come to talk to me. To call me his Kalki, to tell me how long he'd been waiting for me. How much he needed me. How glad he was that I was there." He laughs nervously; the grimace he makes was probably meant to be a smile. "And I would try not to listen to him, and make myself think about anything else. Whether those kids from Tokyo were okay. How much I missed the sky. ...How much I missed you." He lets go of her hand, but before she can pull back he shifts to lace their fingers together. "He told me when Shesha's version of me was... accepted."

He doesn't say that he lost hope after that, because he's too kind, but Isabeau can imagine it: the hope of rescue dashed, the chance to return to the fight lost. She wonders if that was when he surrendered to Vishnu's consciousness. It almost has to have been.

"I'm so sorry," she says again. It feels so inadequate.

"You... Don't blame yourself, okay?" He huffs, shaking his head. "I know that's a lot to ask. But I don't blame you. Remember that, at least."

"Thank you," Isabeau says.

She probably ought to go back to her own bed now and try to get some more sleep; the crisis is past and they'll have plenty of work to do in the morning. But instead Isabeau gathers up all her courage and lies down here instead, stretching out beside Flynn on top of the blankets. He tenses just for a second, but then instead of pulling away he tugs the blanket loose and drapes it over both of them. Isabeau's heart warms, and she curls against his side. His arm wraps around her shoulders.

It's so tempting to just stretch up and kiss him, to press in closer and... see what happens. But maybe not yet. Not tonight. This thing between them is as strong as can be, after everything they've been through, but in some ways it's still fragile, too. Flynn holds himself apart in so many ways, and it's going to take time before he's comfortable letting his guard down. It's not like in a manga where the hero's tenderness and passion make the heroine's fears just melt away. She can't just kiss him until the past stops mattering to the present.

But this is still good. Flynn is warm against her, and solid with swordfighter's muscle, and he doesn't seem tense anymore. "I'm glad you're here with me," Isabeau says, settling her arm across Flynn's waist.

He nods. "Me too. It feels good. ...I think, like this, I should be able to get more sleep."

"Good," Isabeau says. "Sleep well."

Flynn hugs her, a quick one-armed squeeze. "You too."

She smiles. "I will." She closes her eyes and lets herself relax against his side. Things are going to be okay—for Mikado and for them, too. They can live with the ways everything has changed.

The nights are hard sometimes, but morning always comes.