“Hello, Mr. Walter.” Yuri smiled at the man sitting across from him. His face was bruised and beaten, and he sagged in his seat as if he had no strength to hold himself up anymore. Despite his defeated and wary posture, Yuri was not deceived. He could see a glint of resistance in the hotel owner’s eyes.
I would expect no less, Yuri thought. If he really has the stomach to work with the likes of Garden, he is not a man who can be intimidated so easily. Otherwise, we would have gotten everything out of him already.
“Let’s not bother with formalities, shall we?” Yuri said, keeping that placid smile on his face. “I’m going to be honest about what I think. You’ve already told us about your working relationship with Garden. I see no reason for you to put up resistance on the further details. Why not spare yourself the pain and tell me what I want to know?”
Walter gave him a tired glare. “And I shouldn’t have told you that in the first place. Their boss will make sure I pay for this. But if I stop it here, there’s a slim chance I’ll get out of this alive.”
Yuri leaned forward. “If it’s only your safety that you’re concerned about, we can make arrangements to keep Garden away from you—that is, if you cooperate.”
Walter hesitated. “Garden’s assassins are the deadliest people in the world. Can you really ensure my safety?”
“I have no doubt that Garden is powerful,” Yuri agreed. “But you can’t begin to fathom the resources we have at our fingertips. Garden is formidable, but so are we.”
He sighed. “Fine. What do you want to know?”
Yuri’s smile widened. “Let’s start with that boss you mentioned. Tell me everything you know about them.”
“I don’t know what he looks like, if that’s what you’re asking. He always made sure to communicate through telephone or send messengers who hid their appearances. And on the few occasions he did show up in person, he also made sure his face was obscured. But I do know he calls himself Shopkeeper.”
Not much, but fine. Yuri decided to cut to the point. His colleagues could do a last sweep for additional information later. “Okay. Tell me what you know about that night.” He didn’t need to clarify; they both knew exactly what Yuri was talking about.
The hotel owner faltered, looking down at his hands, which were cuffed to the table. He was silent for a moment while Yuri arched a brow, adjusting his gloves in case he had to resort to… harsher methods.
“I hope you won’t force me into doing some dirty work,” Yuri threatened when the silence stretched too long. “I see my colleagues haven’t touched your hands yet. I wonder, which finger should I break first?”
Walter bristled in anger. “You expect me to believe you’ll protect me when you’re the primary threat to my life right now? What’s the point of cooperating, anyway? Either you’ll kill me or Garden will!” he spat in explosive fury.
Yuri was quick to grab him by the hair and slam his face against the table. “Who is in charge here, Mr. Walter?” Yuri asked mildly.
He grunted something resembling a curse.
Yuri yanked him back up roughly, ripping some strands from his balding head in the process. Walter’s nose was bleeding from being smashed against the table so harshly. Yuri decided to finish the deed by breaking his nose with a quick, deft strike.
“I’ll ask you one more time before I start pulling off fingernails. Who is in control over your life right now, Mr. Walter?” Yuri repeated over Walter’s pained cries.
“...You are…” he said after a moment.
Yuri gave him another smile, but this one had none of the friendliness from before. It was predatory and threatening—sadistic, even—taking pleasure in his position of power. “Good. Now, will you cooperate or shall I break more bones?”
“I’ll cooperate,” he hissed out through gritted teeth.
Yuri chose not to sit again. Instead, he paced around Walter, watching him shift uneasily whenever Yuri disappeared behind him. “What exactly was happening that night? Who were those people? What was Garden’s business?”
“I don’t know much because Shopkeeper keeps as much as he possibly can from me exactly for situations like this one. He did tell me that their client was extremely high profile this time around, and the objective wasn’t actually to kill them. I think he sent his top assassin after them.” Walter frowned in thought. “Shopkeeper seemed to be expecting the client to put up a good fight. But I don’t know who could possibly go up against Garden’s top assassin. And the fact that they warranted Thorn Princess to come after them in the first place… it must mean that whoever the client is, they are an extremely important person.”
“Thorn Princess is the name of their top assassin?” Yuri inferred.
“Do you know why Thorn Princess was sent after this client?”
“I don’t know.”
“About the client…” Yuri continued the interrogation, but his mind was already racing with the information he gained.
The mystery of the woman’s identity was solved. Thorn Princess, the best of the best. Probably the most dangerous person in Ostania.
But Yuri was far more excited about the man. They knew he was probably a spy, but Yuri was beginning to suspect that he wasn’t just any spy.
The client was high profile, enough to warrant sending Thorn Princess after him. He was capable of putting up a good fight against her, and Garden wanted him alive despite being an assassin organization. Whoever he is, he must be an extremely important person.
Yuri happened to know of a spy who could fit that description. A spy who was a master of disguise, revealing nothing about his true identity or appearance. A spy who was completely and utterly elusive, always leagues ahead of his opposition, infiltrating their ranks and vanishing without a trace long before they realized it was him—if at all. A spy who Yuri considered his greatest enemy, who had Yuri staying up late into the night, obsessing over him and formulating countless futile plans to lure him out before discarding them in a fit of rage because there was no way he would fall for them.
If it really was who Yuri thought, then this could be huge. This was his chance. His chance to catch him. To finally triumph over him.
They got home late in the evening after spending the day at the aquarium. Yor had been worried at first because Anya seemed to be in a despondent mood after she returned from helping Twilight. But after some time, her daughter perked up, to Loid and Yor’s relief. In no time, Anya was racing between water tanks, pressing herself against the glass and staring at the fish with starstruck eyes. Yor smiled fondly at the simple thought of Anya’s happiness.
Fortunately, their schedule wasn’t pushed back because Loid didn’t have to cook dinner—they had leftovers from lunch. For once, Anya was too tired to watch Spy Wars, so Loid sent her to bed early with a promise to record it for her.
Now, it was just the two of them, sitting together in the living room. Neither of them spoke, but they didn’t need to. It was a comfortable silence. Yor sat across from Loid on the couch and watched him sort through a stack of work-related paperwork. Light blue eyes flitted to and fro as he skimmed the papers and hummed idly.
Yor smiled. It was a simple moment in time, but treasured nonetheless. The excitement at the aquarium today was great, but she appreciated these quiet nooks in their day just as much. She loved sitting like this with Loid, neither of them feeling the need to say anything. They simply enjoyed the companionship of the other as the day winded down to an end.
Times like these were precious to her. And Yor’s mind couldn’t help but wander to all the ways this peace could be torn away from her.
She thought back to her time with Twilight earlier. Twilight, looking back at her with Loid’s gentle eyes, but the icy look in them was all Twilight. He promised her he wasn’t planning to impersonate Loid, but that moment demonstrated how easy it would be for Yor to lose Loid or Anya nonetheless. Not to Twilight in particular, but rather, to the cruel world they lived in.
A cruel world, but also a beautiful one. Yor found Loid and Anya, after all.
Yor closed her eyes. This world is beautiful. And that’s why I would do anything to protect the beauty in it.
She stole a glance at Loid, who was still leafing through his papers. Would he understand her?
Twilight does, Yor thought. Watching him torture that man earlier, she’d been struck by an overwhelming sense of kinship. Twilight’s eyes, so cold and detached as he inflicted pain on another human being. But those were the same eyes that burned with a desire to save people. To better the world they lived in.
He was like her. They immersed themselves in the darker side of humanity so that no one else had to. Loid and Anya walked in the light, pure and happy. And Yor—she walked beside them, too, in the shadows. She lurked in the dark, purging the world of those who would harm the innocent. If Loid and Anya were her twin suns shining bright and true, Yor would be their tranquil night, protecting them in her veil.
When light meets darkness, the shadows must inevitably disperse. And in the same way, Loid and Anya couldn’t know Yor’s true nature. If they did, she would have to leave.
But Twilight could. He already did. He was a kindred soul, and for the first time, Yor could be completely open with another person. With Twilight, there was no need for secrets, no fear of judgment. No weight of lies. No longer did Yor walk alone in the dark, desperately trying to keep up with the light as everyone left her behind. Now, Twilight walked with her, alongside her.
A warm voice pulled from her thoughts. “What’s on your mind?”
Yor blinked. Loid was watching her with a small, gentle smile. His paperwork was set down on the table, and he gave her his full attention, fixing her with a gaze full of clear crystal skies.
He was looking at her so patiently and intently, Yor couldn’t help the spontaneous, overwhelming rush of fondness that crashed over her.
“Your nose is scrunched up that way it always is whenever you’re deep in thought,” Loid continued.
Yor let out a small, surprised laugh. “My nose?”
He smiled light-heartedly. “Yes. It’s endearing, actually.”
Yor’s heartbeat fluttered in her chest at the admission. She returned the smile, drinking in the sight of him. Faced with Loid looking at her like this, so gentle and content, how could she not think he was beautiful?
It was true that light and dark could never meet. But the world was not just light or dark, black or white. There were shades of gray, too.
Would he be willing to meet her in between? Could they live in their own little patch of gray?
Yor thought back to Camilla’s party. The way Loid had defended her without knowing a thing about her. He understood what it meant to do a dirty job for the sake of others. Then there was that night he shared his past as a soldier with her. He trusted Yor enough to share that with her, and he promised her in turn he would always be ready to listen to her. Loid would understand the weight of lives, the blood on her hands.
If there was anyone who could meet her in between, it was Loid. Maybe one day, they could paint their world in spectacular blooms of gray. Their own little haven among splotches of black and white.
Yor smiled at Loid. “I was just thinking about how grateful I am that you’re here. And with every passing day, I feel so happy that I married you,” she said truthfully.
And looking at him in that moment, she couldn’t help but love the sight of him, the soft light framing his face and dappling his hair just so, and her gaze was drawn to his blushing cheeks, his pink lips, as she wondered how they would feel against hers, and she really wanted to—to kiss him.
Oh… Yor realized joyfully. I think… I might be in love with my husband.