Chapter 1: First Contender?
Chapter by batty_gal
"Lord von Voltaire, please! Please, calm down!" a terrified voice cried out.
"Get out, get out, get out! My brother will not be marrying you or anyone else anytime soon! Now get out before I bury you alive!"
Wolfram and Conrart, who had been practicing sword-fighting, halted as they heard the commotion. Upon hearing more of the man's shrieks of terror and what suspiciously sounded like the ground caving in, they both started to snicker.
"Sounds like another suitor is being run off by Gwendal," Conrart said.
"That's the fifth one this week. Just where do they keep coming from?" Wolfram wondered.
"More importantly, why do they keep showing up knowing that they'll just be run off?"
"I have no clue."
Ever since Wolfram had angrily ended his engagement almost a year prior, suitor after suitor had shown up almost daily at Blood Pledge Castle to seek his hand in marriage. At first, he had found it amusing (if solely to laugh at how Gwendal was so very upset by it all), but the novelty had quickly worn off as he had to duck and dodge hands that were all too willing to attempt to strike him.
He wasn't stupid, however; he knew that most of the people that attempted to pursue him were only doing so for either a higher status with him as arm candy, or a better alliance with the castle. He didn't think that any of them actually wanted to be with him for love.
He frowned at the thought that he would probably end up with someone he did not really care for.
"What's on your mind, Wolfram?" Conrart asked.
Wolfram sighed. "I was just thinking... maybe I should just pick one to get them all off my back?"
"Is that what you really want? Just to pick one at random?"
"No, but regardless of the one I pick, they all want the same thing from me."
Conrart instantly understood what he meant, and gave his brother a pitying look.
"Don't give me that look, I'm fine with it," Wolfram said, and sighed again.
Conrart's pitying look turned to a pensive one. "I don't think you should pick someone solely because this is getting annoying. Just hold out a little longer – and I think you will find someone to your liking."
"Perhaps, if Gwendal doesn't run him off, too," Wolfram said. "Though I'm grateful for the interference at times, I wish that he would see that I'm not a little boy anymore."
"You'll always be a little boy to him – and me," Conrart said with a laugh.
"And Mother," Wolfram added, and joined in on the laughter.
At dinner that afternoon, everyone at the table listened to Gwendal as he described running off the latest suitor.
"So, Gwendal, what was wrong with this one?" Wolfram asked, amused.
"He struck me as the abusive type," Gwendal grumbled, which caused everyone at the table to start snickering.
"Gwendal, just who is going to be stupid enough to try and abuse Wolfram of all people? If anything, they'd be the one getting abused," Yuuri said, which promptly earned him a swat to the back of the head. "Ow! See?"
Even Gwendal had to hide a smile as everyone else laughed.
"So I'm the abusive type, Yuuri?" Wolfram said in mock anger.
"Please, don't hurt me anymore!" Yuuri said, his voice falsely fearful. He trembled, for emphasis.
The two looked at each other, and started laughing.
"There's something wrong with you two," Murata said, shaking his head.
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Wolfram said, still laughing.
If there was one thing good thing that came out of the entire mess with King Saralegui, he and Yuuri had become closer – and better – friends afterward.
After apologizing profusely for being so very distant with Yuuri and causing that scene at Saralegui's castle (but leaving out most of his other antics in between), the two had reverted back to being close – sans engagement issues and bed sharing. It didn't matter, however – their friendship had bloomed rather nicely.
Wolfram often wondered if they would have become this close earlier in their relationship had they not been engaged, but decided that it might not have ended up that way. After all, he sincerely doubted that he would have followed Yuuri around as much and bothered to get to know him as well as he did.
Still, it was nice to have such a wonderful friend, even if his heart still fluttered due to the Maou at the most inopportune of times.
"I noticed you had a suitor today yourself, Your Majesty," Gwendal remarked.
"Yes," Yuuri said with a sigh.
That was another thing. Yuuri was also gaining a lot of suitors as well. Wolfram wasn't surprised by that considering that, well, he was the Maou. However, he was shocked that Yuuri had not received as many suitors as he had. He supposed it was because of the whole issue about Yuuri being half-human that made some mazoku women (and men) avoid him.
"You don't seem too happy about it, Yuuri," Conrart said.
"Well... it's just, I don't know," the Maou said with a frown.
Wolfram figured that Yuuri was having the same problem as he was when it came to determining a person's true motives for pursuing him.
"Well, eventually the two of you will find someone. Just as long as you choose wisely and not quickly, you'll be alright," Conrart said.
Wolfram nodded at his remark, noting that Yuuri did the same. He only hoped that – for both their sakes – that they weren't driven crazy by their suitors in the meanwhile.
The next day, Yuuri – who was shirking his duties like usual – lounged around in the gardens with Wolfram and Murata.
"So Wolfram, I hear your mother is coming today," Murata said.
"Yes, she should be here soon," Wolfram replied. He groaned. "I hope she doesn't try to instigate anything with all of these suitors showing up."
"Me either," Yuuri moaned. "The last thing I need is to be pushed together with some opportunist."
"Maybe one of you will find your life mate soon," Murata said.
"I wouldn't count on it," both Yuuri and Wolfram mumbled, simultaneously.
Murata raised his eyebrow at the two. "Listen to you two! You both sound like jaded, old men. There's someone out there that doesn't care about either of your statuses, and it's only a matter of time before you find them – if you haven't found them already," he said, sounding more Sage-like than normal.
Though Yuuri really wanted to believe what Murata said was true, Saralegui's words the night that he tried to assault Wolfram still rang in his mind.
Hearing that those women that pursued him on a regular bases only did so as opportunists disappointed him, especially now that he realized it was true. Every time he found himself talking to or dancing with a woman, he wondered whether or not she was interested in him or his title.
Most of the time, he thought that it was the latter.
Probably the only person that he was certain that had showed romantic interest in him and didn't care about his title was Wolfram – and he didn't want to think any further about how that made him feel. He mentally pictured himself booting that thought right out of his mind.
"If you say so, Murata," Wolfram said with a sigh. "Either way, I just wish they'd all stop coming."
"At least you have someone to run them off for you," Yuuri grumbled. "All I have is Günter allowing them in and pointing out how the relationship would benefit the country – as well as sighing because I won't choose him."
"Marrying Günter von Krist would be most beneficial to the country, Your Majesty. Just think of the political clout you would achieve, as well as gaining more of the citizens' affections," Wolfram said, perfectly imitating the mentioned mazoku.
He clutched his hands together for emphasis, and got a far-off look in his eyes. "Though, Your Majesty, I'll have to admit – the day you wed will be the most heart-wrenching day of my life."
Yuuri and Murata, who were already snickering at the first bit, started to cackle loudly at the last part.
"Oh man, if he heard you do that..." Murata started, unable to finish due to laughing so hard.
"That was eerie. That was extremely eerie. Where did you learn to do that?" Yuuri asked, utterly amused.
"Ah, just from being around him for so long! Yeah," Wolfram said, hurriedly.
Yuuri wondered why Wolfram was suddenly blushing, and was about to call him on it when he heard a loud squeal in the distance.
"Sounds like she's here," he said upon realizing who it was.
"The match-maker has arrived," Murata said.
"Come, Yuuri... our respective romantic futures await us," Wolfram said as he stood up, giving Murata a smirk.
Murata gave him a look over his glasses. "Why are you so cynical, Wolfram? I meant what I said. There's someone out there for both you and Yuuri, someone that doesn't care what your respective statuses are."
"Really? Well, when you can name one for me, get back to me, will you?" Wolfram said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"I can name one," Murata said.
"Yeah right, are you even a candidate?"
"Perhaps I am."
Yuuri, who's mind had drifted away from the argument and was focused on dessert, snapped out of it and stared at Murata. He couldn't believe what he had just heard.
Apparently, neither could Wolfram.
"What? Like you're interested in me other than those perverted games you like to play with me!" Wolfram sputtered.
Perverted games? Murata and Wolfram played perverted games with each other? Yuuri wondered just what went on between the two when he wasn't around.
"I feel you up that one time and now you can't consider me as anything other than a pervert. I was drunk, for Shinou's sake!"
"Oh yeah? Then what about that time you pinched me on the butt?"
"There was a ball of lint there, I tell you! I was just getting it off."
"You were getting something off, alright!"
Yuuri simply couldn't believe that Murata had felt Wolfram up. He was about to interrupt and ask just when that had occurred when the Sage spoke up again.
"Either way, I'm serious. I don't care about your status Wolfram, and I'm interested in you. And since Shibuya here let you slip through his fingers-" he said, winking at Yuuri at the same time, "-I no longer have to feign indifference towards you. If you would attempt to see beyond pervert, and try to discover the real me, you might like who you find."
Yuuri watched Wolfram's mouth drop open, and he was fairly certain he was wearing a similar look. He waited for Murata to start laughing with a "gotcha", but it never came. The Sage simply smiled at Wolfram.
Murata stood. "I'm going to greet your mother. Got to get in good with my potential mother-in-law," he said, before turning and setting off in that direction.
Yuuri looked at Wolfram, who's face showed as much confusion as he felt. He held his hands out in an "I don't understand what happened here" gesture, and Yuuri shrugged his agreement as he stood.
He followed Wolfram to greet his mother, staring at Murata's back and trying to figure out just whether he was serious or not.
Chapter 2: Hands-Off
Something Yuuri unwittingly did a few months prior comes back to haunt him as Cheri brings with her some bothersome news. Plus, a discussion between Conrad and Gwendal causes the latter to make a tough decision in regards to Wolfram.
Suitors (Chapter 02: Hands Off)
by Tetra26/Batty Gal
"Your Majesty," Cheri squealed, and ran up to Yuuri.
Wolfram watched as his mother gave Yuuri the same smothering torture that he had been subjected to a few moments prior, himself.
"Ifrf grrd terfee utu," Yuuri muffled out, unintelligibly.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Cheri asked, pulling the Maou's face away from her chest.
Yuuri gasped. "I said, it's good to see you too," he said, and Wolfram mentally cheered that he had deciphered it correctly.
As Cheri fawned over Yuuri, Wolfram's mind went back to Murata implying that he might pursue him.
He found it hard to believe that the Sage could be serious, considering that – when confronted – he usually brushed off his flirtations with Wolfram as a joke. Still, Wolfram couldn't dismiss that perhaps some of those jokes that he had made about them hooking up with each other were not made entirely in jest after all.
Maybe the Sage was serious, and hid it behind jokes and that know-it-all smile of his? Perhaps he should take the entire situation seriously?
Wolfram understood what it was like to have his feelings be brushed off so very easily. He couldn't fathom doing the same to someone that was serious about him, not after his own experiences. He mentally decided to pay more attention to what the Sage said and did from that point on. It could be possible that he was missing something big there.
He was interrupted from his thoughts by Gwendal's curious voice.
"Why are all of these carriages here? And what are all these packed items?" Gwendal questioned, staring at where several men were helping to unload them.
"Those are the party favors for the Ball we're having here next month."
"Ball? I was unaware that a Ball was supposed to take place next month?" Gwendal said, his face showing confusion.
"Neither was I," Yuuri said.
"Your Majesty, how could you not know? You were the one who signed the paper approving it!" Cheri said.
"You did! That paper I had you sign a few months ago for me, didn't you read it? I'm hoping that perhaps Wolfram will possibly find his future beloved there. Maybe you will, even."
Both Wolfram and Conrart started to choke, as Gwendal looked at Yuuri with absolute scorn.
"Your Majesty... you didn't..." Gwendal said, and trailed off.
"Aah," Yuuri started, and promptly clammed up as Wolfram shot him his best look of sheer annoyance.
"Yuuri! Do you realize what you have done?" Wolfram asked. He was utterly bothered by the idea of having to possibly deal with a whole bunch of suitors in one night. It was bad enough dealing with them several times a week, even if Gwendal got rid of most of them before he saw them. And with his mother planning it, no good could come of it – none whatsoever.
And Wolfram knew that Yuuri would be bothered by having to deal with it as well, so why in the world would he even agree to such a thing?
It was then that Wolfram vaguely remembered Yuuri hastily signing something for his mother while trying to get out of her death grip a few months prior. So that was how she managed to get him to agree! He begrudgingly admired her sneaky move, solely because it worked.
"Either way, the invitations have already been sent out, and I have all of these lovely decorations. I simply can't wait for the wedding..."
"The wedding?" Wolfram exclaimed.
"Why yes, the wedding! I'm certain you will find your beloved soon, and he will find you. It's my intuition, of course!"
"Or, perhaps he has already found his beloved," Murata said, and winked at Wolfram.
"Why Your Highness, has my baby boy captured your heart?" Cheri squeaked.
"Perhaps he has."
Wolfram noted that Gwendal's glare shifted from Yuuri to the Sage, and he shot Conrart an exasperated look.
"Mother, I don't think this is a very good idea," Conrart said, and Wolfram mentally thanked him.
"Because, I don't think Wolfram's ready to get married, yet.. And, even so, I think it's best he be allowed to pick who he wishes to marry in due time."
"I'm giving him the opportunity to pick someone! I have invited people from all over. It's too late to cancel."
"Well, that doesn't mean that it has to be some sort of romance-finding thing, right? It could just be a regular Ball," Yuuri said, attempting to ease Gwendal and Wolfram's minds about the matter.
"Of course it could be," Cheri said, innocently.
"Gwendal, I know you're upset, but calm down, alright?" Conrart said as he followed Gwendal into his office.
"I'm calm, I'm fine," his brother answered, coolly.
"I can tell you are not."
"I said I was fine. For now. I can handle this situation, trust me."
Conrart knew the tone of voice Gwendal was using with him all too well. It was his 'someone is going to suffer and I'm going to enjoy it even if it looks like I'm not' voice. He thought about the conversation he had with Wolfram the day prior, and decided to finally voice some of his thoughts to Gwendal.
"Listen, I know that this suitor business has been bothering you – it's been bothering me as well. However, I think you need to step back and let Wolfram make his own decisions."
Gwendal stared at him. "When the time comes, he will make his own decisions. Until that time comes, I'll make them for him."
"When will that time come? When will you let him grow up? He's not a small child anymore, you can't keep coddling him-"
"I know he's not a child anymore, alright?" Gwendal interrupted. "You just don't understand, you've never had to go through this like we have."
Gwendal paused for a moment, before continuing.
"You know how people can be vultures all about upping their social standings. Wolfram could look like the offspring of King Belal and a Kohi, but people like that wouldn't care. His social standing is what counts to those types, and that's why they are circling him now. It's why they used to do the same with me, when I was his age."
It was the truth; Conrart couldn't deny it. Even Wolfram had openly stated it several times to him. Still, he believed that Gwendal should step aside and let Wolfram handle his own affairs. He could tell his younger brother was restless about the entire matter, even if Gwendal was a huge help to him by running most of them off.
"Gwendal, he's almost an adult. You can't protect him forever. Neither can I. He has to have his own experiences; make his own choices. Make his own mistakes, like you. Like me. Besides, what if you run off someone that actually likes him?" Conrart asked, his thoughts on several people that he knew were legitimately interested in Wolfram.
He didn't dare mention any of them to Gwendal, however. Even if he managed to break through to his other brother, which he seemed on the verge of doing, there were several people on that list that would never, ever be approved of by Gwendal. There were a few that would never meet his own approval as well, and he didn't want to think about them. He didn't even want to think about the few that did meet it. And he most certainly didn't want to think about two specific men that he suspected Wolfram had more interest in than he let on.
He decided then to proposition Yozak to go out for drinks later on so that he could un-think the things he didn't want to think but thought anyhow.
"I know, I know. I think if I keep waiting on myself to be ready to let him go, it might never happen. You're right; it's time I let him go," Gwendal said with a sigh.
Conrart nodded, and was about to leave the room when he suddenly got an idea.
"How did you get out of your suitor problem? Did you just go to Mother and tell her to stop interfering? Perhaps you can give Wolfram some tips?" he said.
"Going to Mother wouldn't solve anything, and you know it. Wolfram knows it, as well. It's why neither of us have truly confronted her about it. She means well, even if the ways she goes about it at times are questionable. She just wants us to be happy, and – to her – happiness is love."
"Then how did you scare them all off, permanently?"
Conrart noted Gwendal 's sheepish look, and didn't miss the blush on his face.
"Well, how did you do it? Threaten to bury them? Caused a quake? What?"
Gwendal cleared his throat. "What I'm about to tell you must never leave this room, alright? I don't want Wolfram to attempt it as well."
"Sure, you can trust me."
"Well me, Anissina and Günter came up with this idea..."
Wolfram was about to knock on Gwendal's office door when he heard a loud bark of laughter from within it.
"That's not funny at all! It was all I could come up with! At least it worked!" he heard Gwendal say loudly, as he realized it was Conrart who was laughing.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry-" Conrart wheezed out, and Wolfram heard him start laughing again.
When he figured that he wasn't interrupting anything important (except his brother's laughing fit), he knocked on the door.
"Enter," Gwendal called out.
Wolfram walked in, and was slightly amused to see Conrart attempting to compose himself while Gwendal gave him the evil-eye. He wondered what they had been discussing, but by the way Gwendal was looking, he was certain that asking would be futile.
"What do you need, Wolfram?" Gwendal grunted out.
He decided to get straight down to business. "Listen, we need to find a way to cancel this event. I can't deal with all of this, not in one night."
Wolfram figured that Gwendal didn't want to deal with it any more than he did, and though he often complained about his brother treating him like a child, he would be grateful for the interference this time.
He noted a lingering look between Gwendal and Conrart, who had become more somber. Gwendal turned his gaze on him, and to Wolfram it looked like he was weighing his next words.
Gwendal sighed. "Listen, Wolfram. Have a seat."
Gwendal telling him to sit down without glaring at him was never a good thing. In fact, Wolfram wished that Gwendal's normal sourpuss look was in place instead of the suspiciously gentle one that was present.
"I'll stand. What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong. We were discussing this suitor business amongst ourselves."
Wolfram wasn't sure if he liked where the conversation was going. A flock of birds flew past outside, and it made him immensely nervous. "And?"
Gwendal deeply sighed. "Wolfram, you're almost a grown man now. I can't keep speaking for you, and I know you don't want me to."
"So, I'm stepping back. I'm letting you handle this situation from now on. My hands are off it, unless absolutely necessary."
Wolfram couldn't believe his ears. Gwendal was actually going to back off and let him take control of the entire thing?
He was more bothered by the idea that he didn't want Gwendal to do so. At least, not yet. He couldn't find any words to express it to him, however. He was stunned silent by Gwendal actually implying that he wasn't going to treat him like a child anymore, when it came to that aspect.
He had often found it funny that Gwendal had little to no problem with his military pursuits (aside from the more dangerous situations), as well as his drinking, but had an absolute fit when someone showed more than a passing interest in him. It was one of those things that he loudly claimed to dislike, but secretly didn't mind. He had even been surprised when Gwendal had shown little-to-none of that part of him when he had been engaged to Yuuri. He used to think it was because Yuuri was the Maou, but slowly he had come to understand the real reason why.
He was stunned by the sudden amount of bitterness that he felt about it, and quickly pushed the thought away. He didn't want to go there again; he hated doing so. Especially late at night, when he was alone in his bed.
Then again, he would take those thoughts over the disturbing ones he had been having lately. Especially the not-so-innocent ones about a few people that he absolutely should not be thinking about under any circumstance like that, ever.
"Just be careful, alright?" Gwendal said. "I know the motives most of those people have, and so do you. Just remember that you don't have to choose any of them. That it's perfectly acceptable to choose to stay single as long as you want to be, even if that means forever."
Wolfram watched Conrart nod his agreement, and wondered what part he played in the matter. He remembered his conversation with him a day prior, and realized that perhaps his brother had voiced some of his thoughts on things.
He felt both grateful and betrayed at the same time.
"Is there anything else you need?"
Wolfram shook his head, still unable to speak He wanted so very badly to tell Gwendal that he didn't want him to stop, that he didn't want to handle the situation, but he refrained from doing so.
"I'm proud of you, Wolfram. In these past four years, you have grown up a lot. I know His Majesty influenced a big part in this, but something tells me that you would have turned out well enough, regardless."
"Thank you," he said, finally finding his voice.
Wolfram left Gwendal's office, still in a daze about the entire conversation. He wasn't paying attention to where he was going, and practically ran Yozak over.
"Where's the fire? No, wait..."
Wolfram groaned at the ancient joke between them. "I'm not in the mood for that old joke," he mumbled, and sighed.
"Well, do you want to hear a new joke?" Yozak said, and smiled.
Wolfram gave him an exasperated look.
Yozak was unfazed, and smiled even harder. "It's a dirty one."
Wolfram marveled at the idea that, just a year ago, he would have insulted Yozak and claimed he was too vulgar. The old him would have brushed past Yozak, refusing to hear another word of it. He definitely wouldn't have stood there and considered listening to it..
It just showed how close they had become since the night he ended his engagement, and Yozak had revealed to him what he had seen Saralegui do.
"How dirty?" he ultimately asked.
"Is it a funny one? I could use a good laugh after the day I've had," he said, and sighed again.
"I'll make a wager with you. If you think it is funny, I'll owe you one. If you think it's not funny, I'll owe you two. You win, either way."
Wolfram thought about the situation with the suitors, and Gwendal's new hands-off approach on the matter. Favors from Yozak could always come in handy, and the part of his mind that plotted and schemed during the Saralegui revenge incident started to rapidly lay out plans once more.
"Try me, then."
Chapter 3: Situations and Such
Chapter by batty_gal
Yuuri's imagination runs wild after overhearing Wolfram make a plea to Yozak, Shinou questions Murata's true motives, and Wolfram and Yozak have a late night discussion.
Suitors (Chapter 03: Situations and Such)
by Tetra26/Batty Gal
After having been scolded by Günter for slacking off earlier when he hid in the gardens with Wolfram and Murata, and managing to get through yet another afternoon of boring lessons, Yuuri was tired. All he wanted to do was go to his room and collapse onto his bed – and the minute he left his office, he headed straight that way.
He was just about to round the corner when he heard the tail end of what sounded like a very dirty joke.
"-and then she muffled out, 'That's the second wrong hole you've stuffed it in, idiot!'," he heard Yozak say with mirth.
The sound he heard next made him pause in his steps.
It was Wolfram.
Laughing heartily, at that.
Yuuri had never heard Wolfram laugh so very freely. Sure, he had heard him laugh quite a few times, but never quite like that.
"Yo.. Yozak! That was so very wrong! Oh man, I can't breathe!" he heard Wolfram gasp out.
"Neither could she!" Yozak said, which set Wolfram off all over again.
Yuuri stood there, simply listening to Wolfram's laugh. He wondered why Wolfram had never laughed that way around him.
Or with him, even.
He was about to turn and walk in the opposite direction, but Wolfram's next words froze him place.
"Listen, I need to see you tonight, alright? Come to my room after hours – and make sure those nosy maids don't see you this time."
Yuuri remembered rumors from a while back about Wolfram and Yozak, and had even noticed that they were a lot closer, but he was uncertain about the nature of that relationship.
He wondered if something was going on between the two.
He couldn't think of a good reason why Wolfram would want Yozak in his room late at night, at least not one that involved having to keep it a secret like that. His mind started to conjure up all sorts of situations and reasons that it could be, many of which involving the two doing naughty things with each other.
He didn't like his mind traveling to those sorts of places. Not at all.
"What's wrong?" he heard Yozak ask.
"I'll discuss it then. Just, please. I need you," Wolfram answered.
The way he said it – almost as if pleading – made Yuuri's imagination run even wilder, and he found himself thinking about various things. From a Romeo and Juliet situation, to a shotgun wedding forced by Gwendal, the thoughts he had became crazier and crazier.
"I'll be there, like always," he heard Yozak say in a low (and husky – he was pretty sure that could be categorized as such) voice, and Yuuri's heart skipped a beat. He didn't know what was going on between them, but whatever it was, it must be serious.
As he heard them walk off in the other direction, with Yozak starting on yet another joke, he wondered about the real situation between the two.
Could it be that they were secretly in love? Was it possible that the reason why Wolfram ignored all of the attractive people that threw themselves at him was not just because they were opportunists, but because his heart belonged elsewhere? To Yozak, perhaps?
And what about Murata?
Yuuri's mind went back to Murata implying that he might pursue Wolfram.
He had a hard time believing it considering that Murata had never shown any sign of being interested in Wolfram before. Sure, Murata had made comments about Wolfram being attractive, but then again so had he. In fact, Yuuri had made more comments about Wolfram's attractiveness than Murata, and surely that meant something...
It meant nothing, and Yuuri couldn't believe his mind was about to even consider it did. It was one thing being honest about how attractive Wolfram was, but to even think that because he said it more than Murata, it had a deeper meaning, was just asking for trouble.
Still, the thought of Wolfram and Murata hooking up together bothered him. He didn't see how they were suited for each other at all. He was still reeling over the idea of Murata feeling Wolfram up, and wondered just how they even got into such a situation with each other. And, though he had resolved his issues with all of the blatant homosexuality surrounding him (he had to, how else could he deal with Günter?), he hadn't been aware of – or even considered – that Murata was into guys as well.
Plus, there was Wolfram's ambivalence about a certain other person he knew, no matter what he claimed.
The more he thought about it all, the more it ate at him – and he simply couldn't understand why.
He wouldn't understand why.
"You look so very self-satisfied," Shinou remarked, his eyebrow raised. "I question your seriousness about this matter."
Murata, who was humming a tune from his favorite video game, stopped and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"If you are not serious, you should stop right here. You, out of everyone, should know what happens when you play games with people's hearts."
"I'm not playing a game with his heart, I'm just... opening his options. Expanding his horizons. Multiplying his answers. Complicating his decisions."
"I get it, you can stop now with those idiotic Earth-based idioms. Still, what is the real purpose of you pursing him?"
"I like him."
"You like him?"
"And that's it?"
Murata rolled his yes. "Yes, that's it."
"Define 'like', in this instance."
Murata sighed, and looked away from the one person he couldn't stare down. He knew that his old friend was well-aware of what he meant, and just wanted to make things difficult by having him say it out loud.
"His behavior about this whole suitor business is bothering me, and I'm worried about him. I simply want to show him that not everyone out there is interested in him solely because of his status. That he could find someone who didn't care about it. That he doesn't have to give up – or give in, either."
"Yuuri is having the same problem. Do these worries extend to him as well? Are you going to give him the very same treatment?"
"Yuuri has a whole other world, one where very few people know that he's the Maou here. He can easily find someone from that world, someone who won't care about his status. All Wolfram has is here, where everyone knows who he is, and who he will become."
"You need to ask yourself if you like him as a friend, or if you like him romantically. If it's the latter, by all means you should go for it. If it's the former, I don't think you should make any move that could end up with him in love with you if you aren't serious about him."
"Why are you so concerned about this?"
"Because I like him, too," Shinou said with a smile.
"There are eleven shades of wrong with that sentence if you mean romantically," Murata said.
"Quit deflecting from the issue here. Would you be doing this as a friend, or a potential lover?"
Murata finally realized what Shinou meant by his line of questioning, and admitted to himself that he was right. If he pursued Wolfram solely to teach him a lesson, it could backfire immensely if Wolfram were to actually fall for him. Any lesson that Wolfram learned would be canceled out due to Murata not having been serious about the entire matter.
"I think you need to think this through a little further before you put the moves on him," Shinou said.
"Perhaps you're right."
And he would.
He couldn't deny that he had some sort of interest in Wolfram, but he had never seriously thought about whether that interest was simply physical attraction or genuinely emotional.
In fact, it could be possible that he was just like those suitors, but desiring him based not on status, but his looks.
He didn't want to dare act on it if it were so. Shinou was right; he knew all too well what happened when hearts were tampered with. He could tell that he would be pondering this for quite some time.
After several more moments of thinking about it, he spoke out. "Out of curiosity, though, what are the chances that Wolfram and I could end up together if I were to pursue him seriously?"
"That wouldn't be fair to the others that actually have a chance with him if I told you."
The others that have a chance? Aside from the two people that he suspected liked Wolfram more than they cared to admit, he wondered just who he would be up against – if he decided to participate at all.
"Come on. Humor me."
"Slightly higher than Wolfram ending up with Dakaskos, but lower than Wolfram ending up with Adelbert."
"You said you wanted me to humor you."
Yozak leaned back in the chair he was sitting in, quietly watching as Wolfram paced the floor in his bedroom. It had been months since he had seen him in his plotting and scheming mode, and he couldn't ignore how excited it made him.
The last time Wolfram had been this way, he ended up having so much fun with him. With the others, too. From Yuuri's various facial expressions when he heard all the rumors Wolfram planted, to watching Conrart sputter as he chastised him for dressing his brother up as a maid (Yozak knew it was less about the dress-up lesson, and more about Wolfram gossiping to the maids that perhaps their relationship was far beyond brotherly), he had been so very amused by it all.
"I have it!" Wolfram cried, interrupting his thoughts.
"What do you have?" Yozak asked, eager to hear it.
"An idea. Listen, how about you dress up for this ridiculous Ball and pretend to be my date? That way, people won't be as quick to try to hassle me!"
"I don't know if that will work in this situation. It may be easy to fool some of the people, but not all of them. Even with my makeup skills, coming up with a full background story for those people who ask will be troublesome."
"We'll avoid questions by dancing only with each other."
"For five hours, Wolfram? And, what about your brothers? Will you let them in on the situation? Gwendal wouldn't agree to this at all, and if he recognized me..." Yozak trailed off at the thought of Gwendal figuring him out.
Wolfram sighed. "Gwendal probably wouldn't even recognize you. You've done this plenty of times, and most people, including him, hadn't noticed it was you. Even if they notice who you are, at the most they'll think we have a forbidden relationship going on that prompted you to dress as a noble. If I can just get through this night while making more permanent plans for getting them off my back, I'll be fine."
"What about your reputation? If I were revealed, and people thought you were involved with someone like me, it could cause a scandal."
"Yozak, I punched the Maou out and rejected his proposal, and it made me more popular than ever. I doubt that being revealed to be your lover would make me a social outcast. Besides, I would rather suffer an ailing reputation than deal with one that shot up due to marrying someone who clearly wants me for one reason only."
Yozak saw Wolfram's point, but wasn't quite convinced that his plan would make any difference. He tried a different angle. "Alright, what about the suitors that will continue to show up after that? They won't stop coming solely because you had a date for this Ball."
"I'll deal with that when it happens. I'll probably have to deal with some of them soon, before the Ball. They have been crowding me since I got unengaged. I'm so sick of this."
"I don't know if this will work, Wolfram. We can try, but what will we do if my cover is blown?"
"Then I will declare my everlasting love for you in front of everyone and propose," Wolfram half-joked.
Yozak laughed. He knew that Wolfram may very well do that, if pushed. "Watch it, I just may hold you to it if you do."
"Could you imagine the look on Gwendal's face?"
"Or your mother's squeal of happiness?"
"I'll bet the wedding would be almost completely planned by the next morning."
"And we'd be fitted for dresses by noon."
"Or you'd be fitted for your funeral outfit by then, depending on Gwendal's reaction."
"We'd have to elope, probably."
"If we did that, we'd both have to be fitted for funeral outfits after my mother finished with us."
They both chuckled softly at the idea of Cheri being furious because she wasn't allowed to plan a huge wedding for Wolfram.
After things quieted down, and Yozak started to mentally plan his potential wardrobe for the event, Wolfram broke the silence.
"I wish that..." Wolfram started, but promptly clammed up. "Never mind," he quickly said.
"You wish what?" Yozak asked, curiously. He noted that Wolfram had an almost wistful look on his face.
He sighed. "Nothing. It's nothing, is all. Just, let me know how you want to go about this situation."
Yozak gave him a lingering look, and raised his eyebrow when Wolfram blushed and looked away.
After staring harder, and watching Wolfram's blush go even deeper, he decided to let it go. "Let's see, how should we do this? You want me as your male date? Or would you like a display of my feminine side on the night in question?"
"Male date, of course."
"Aw. I wanted to wear one of those new gowns that's in fashion now. I simply adore those puffed sleeves!"
"Alright, alright. Well, I was thinking that I'd take on my Kelby Loring persona, once again," Yozak said. "I took a peek at your mother's invite list, and that King hasn't been invited. Even if he decides to show up anyhow – which I doubt since he's probably still licking his wounds – I could simply say that I came to my senses and realized how much you meant to me if he questions why I'm back with you."
"Fine. Well, we should come up with a cover story for 'Kelby', if necessary."
"No need to. I have an old noble friend that lives on the outskirts of the Karbelnikoff territories. He's known as an hermit, and he's shrouded in mystery. He'll swear up and down that I – as Kelby – am his long-lost nephew, if questioned about it after the Ball. If it's revealed not to be true, he'll swear up and down he's senile as well. Maybe, if the rumors spread that you're serious about someone, people will lay off of you."
Wolfram snickered. "You always have everything covered, don't you?"
"Always. I am the greatest, after all," he said, and puffed out his chest in a display of false arrogance.
Wolfram laughed. "Indeed, you are. Now, let's plan this down to the last minute."
Chapter 4: Sneakiness in the Key of Cheri
An unwanted guest shows up at Blood Pledge Castle. No, not THAT unwanted guest.
Suitors (Chapter 04: Sneakiness in the Key of Cheri)
by Tetra26/Batty Gal
Cecilie von Spitzberg glided through the empty Ballroom, mentally placing the decorations and finalizing the layout planned for the upcoming event. Though the Ball was two more weeks away, and she had planned it for quite some time, she still found herself coming there every day just to tweak things.
It was important that things were placed right, and that things went right. If not, the purpose of even planning this event and what she hoped would be the fallout would fail.
She had planned, plotted, and calculated things for quite some time. This event would hopefully be the catalyst to move things along in a way she saw fit.
If not, then she feared that Wolfram would become even closer to falling into the same trap as Gwendal and Conrart had. All three of her boys were stubborn, but hopefully her youngest would find someone to his liking before his stubbornness caused him to give up on love altogether.
And what of His Majesty, Yuuri?
She detected a newfound weariness in the king when it came to issues of love, one that bothered her as well. He had not even been jaded like Wolfram and her other boys had, and it seemed as if he were already about to write the notion of love off. It bothered her, because she though of him as another son.
She hoped beyond hope that there was at least two people out of the entire set of people she invited that would pique their respective interests. To her, there were not many things worse than completely giving up on love, especially when repressed emotions seemed to quickly follow.
She had watched it happen with her two older sons, Shinou be damned if she wanted to see it happen to her baby boy as well.
Yuuri stared across the table where Wolfram had nodded off and was lightly snoring, biting his laughter back as he watched Günter stoop down to speak in his ear.
"Are you enjoying your dream, Wolfram?" Günter asked. Yuuri was amused to find that Günter – when annoyed – had an eye-twitch that rivaled even Gwendal's.
It took an extra amount of self-control not to laugh out loud when Wolfram sleepily mumbled "yes".
"We're enjoying your dream, too," he said. "Are we in it?"
Yuuri gripped his chair in order to restrain himself as Wolfram's eyes shot open and he practically fell out of the chair he had been dozing in.
"What's going on? What am I doing here?"
"You claimed you came here to brush up on your studies, but I'm suspecting that's not your true intent," Günter said, accusingly.
And, he was right.
Yuuri was certain that Wolfram volunteering to come study with him and Günter was in order to avoid having to deal with the suitors.
It had been two weeks since Gwendal – true to his word – had decided to step back and let Wolfram take on his own responsibility, and it had become a game to him to watch how Wolfram did anything but. He and Murata poked fun and laughed at Wolfram for some of the things he did to get out of meeting suitors, or – if he was caught off-guard by one of them – running them off. He was amused by Wolfram's theatrics, but he was saddened that he had to go through it at the same time.
He had continued his observations of Murata and Yozak, and their respective relationships with Wolfram. He still wasn't certain if Yozak and Wolfram had something romantic going on together, or if he was simply reading into the whole thing wrong. He felt like a tool sometimes when he found himself hiding behind bushes and pillars, spying on the two talking and walking together from a distance. Aside from that one time where he overheard Wolfram asking Yozak to come to his room, he hadn't been able to get close enough to hear what they discussed without being discovered by one of them (usually Yozak). He had a time coming up with excuses as to why he was lurking in the shadows, among other things.
He was completely unsure of what was going on with Wolfram and Murata.
One of Wolfram's favorite ways to get away from his various suitors was to confine himself to the shrine – where Murata was often there with him. It was the sole place that the suitors couldn't breech. Yuuri had casually asked Murata once what Wolfram and he were up to there, but Murata had only smiled at him and said "nothing much".
Still, he hadn't failed to notice how Murata stared intensely at Wolfram sometimes, or that Wolfram often stared back at him with a pensive look. However, Murata had not brought up being interested in pursuing Wolfram again, at least not around him. He was not certain if Murata was doing so when he spent time alone with Wolfram.
As he watched Wolfram and Günter bicker over whether or not Wolfram should be allowed to continue sitting in on the lesson, his mind started to drift to the recurring dream he kept having about Wolfram.
In it, he kept seeing Wolfram in a white and gold uniform, standing beside another man who's physical features were blurred to him – but also wearing an identical suit. He was certain it was some ceremony, but he wasn't sure which kind.
In his dream, he was seated with whom he supposed were the guests. Ulrike was standing in front of Wolfram and the unidentified man, chanting some sort of incantation. Wolfram would turn away from her, and look back at him with an indescribable look. It was then that he would wake up.
He didn't know the significance of the dream – or even if it even had one at all. What he did know, however, was that every time he had it he woke up feeling anxious.
He didn't like that feeling. Not one bit.
After being physically removed from Yuuri's lessons by Günter, Wolfram stomped off, calling him everything but a child of Shinou.
So he had fallen asleep during the lesson. So what? After that incident with one of those opportunist idiots sneaking in his room while he was asleep and waking him up with a pathetic serenade, he had been on edge. He was tired, crankier than normal, and utterly annoyed by the suitor business.
Though his brothers had warned him to take his time before picking one, Wolfram was close to giving in. The guy from last week hadn't been all that bad; maybe he should call him back to the castle? He considered writing out an apology for setting fire to the man's wooden leg, lest he be wary of coming back and having it become reduced to ashes once more.
He glanced out the window, and noted with disgust that yet another carriage was coming. He quickly looked around him, pondering where to go off too. He could not make it to the shrine in time, and most of his other options were out as well. Not only were the suitors persistent, somehow they had been learning – perhaps from each other – where all of his hiding places were.
He looked at the carriage once more with dismay, before fleeing down the hallway. He hoped that Gisela wouldn't mind company for the evening.
Besides, the cabinets in her work room looked to be quite roomy enough for hiding in.
Gwendal blinked slowly at the guest that stood in front of him. It took all of his willpower not to cave in the ground right underneath his feet.
"Hello, cousin," Herschel von Voltaire said to him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, incredulously. He hoped it was not for the reason he though it might be. If so, he knew that there was no way he would be able to keep his promise to back off.
He had been proud of himself for managing to keep his word, which was no small feat. Especially after the serenader. That had made him almost go back on his word as well. In fact, if Wolfram had not chased him off, he most certainly would have.
Herschel smiled at him. "Well, I was invited here. For the Ball."
"That Ball isn't for another two weeks, and I don't remember your name being on the list," he said, narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
"Well, I received an invitation," he said, fishing it out of his inner coat pocket. "I came early because, well, I was free," he said.
"Free, huh? Does that have to do with the rumors you were kicked out of your father's home?" Gwendal asked., taking the invitation from him. He opened it, and gave it a quick glance over.
He gasped upon reading how his mother had worded the invitation. He sincerely hoped that Herschel's had been forged or written on a whim, and that all the other invitations that Mother had sent out didn't say the very same thing. If so, there was going to be far more trouble than he had imagined.
Double the trouble, to be exact.
Yuuri (fresh out of his lessons), and Wolfram (fresh out of Gisela's cabinets), stood alongside Murata, Yozak, and several others that had paused in their work, watching the argument in front of them between Gwendal and his cousin.
"Absolutely, positively not. You cannot stay here," Gwendal said.
"Aw, cousin, don't be that way!" the man that Yuuri had learned was Herschel von Voltaire, said.
Yuuri had instantly been taken by how he and Gwendal looked in comparison. Where Gwendal was solidly built, Herschel was lithe – as if a light wind could pick him up and carry him away. While Gwendal's face appeared to be permanently grim, his cousin's face showed permanent mirth instead. And though Gwendal's hair was charcoal-gray, Herschel's was salt-and-pepper.
It was quite obvious that they were family, however. Aside from having the same shade of eyes, their facial features were quite similar, though Gwendal's were screwed up in absolute loathing at that moment.
"You are not welcome to stay here, especially not overnight!"
"Why am I not welcome? I'm family! You shouldn't turn your back on family!" he shot back.
"I will not have you here practicing your perverted ways on the people in this castle!"
"I promise to be on my best behavior! Besides, I have nowhere else to go since Dad put me out."
"I wonder why," Gwendal said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"I can't help it if my reputation decrees me!"
"It's 'precedes', not 'decrees', Herschel."
"I was close enough! Either way, the rumors that I'm a pervert are highly exaggerated. Do I look like a pervert to you?" he asked, an innocent look on his face.
"Yes. Yes you do."
"Hey! I can't help it if they can't find a good maid to stick around. Totally had nothing to do with me not being able to keep my hands to myself. Nope, not at all."
Yuuri turned to ask Wolfram about the implications of Gwendal's cousin being a pervert
"Who exactly is this fellow?" Yuuri whispered to Wolfram.
"Gwendal's cousin. Mediocre archer, sub-par air mazoku, and renowned pervert," Wolfram whispered back. "I hope he isn't here for what I think he's here for," he said, and sighed.
Yuuri looked at Wolfram, who stood with his arms crossed and a dispassionate look on his face. He noticed how tired Wolfram looked, and between that and him falling asleep during the lesson, he was certain that he wasn't sleeping at night.
And, who could hardly blame him? Yuuri thought that he must be on edge due to being awakened in the middle of the night by a crooning suitor. Yuuri knew that he had felt a similar way the first few times Wolfram had crept into his own room, especially that time he was naked.
He shoved away the memory as quickly as it came, but not before remembering how he had briefly considered something that time. He still wasn't sure what that something was, because he would never entertain the thought long enough to find out.
He did, however, consider asking Wolfram to sleep with him again – at least for awhile. Sometimes at night, he would wake up missing him there – and Greta never slept with him anymore. She considered it improper for her age.
All in all, it was kind of lonely sometimes.
Still, even if he asked, he knew that Wolfram would decline. Right after their engagement had broken up, he had begged him to go back to their old way of doing things – including sleeping together. Wolfram never relented, though. He simply said it was better that way.
Yuuri often wondered who it was better for. Wolfram? Or him? The both of them? Usually, that annoying voice at the back of his mind would say it was better for Wolfram – and Yuuri didn't want to think about why it could be right. Doing so meant he would have to admit to himself things that he had noticed but actively ignored for years.
In other words, it meant he would have to face all of what had happened – and didn't happen – between him and Wolfram. Yuuri wasn't sure when, if ever, he could stop putting it off.
It was then that Herschel noticed Wolfram. "Wolfram! Is it really you? You've really grown up nicely!" he said. He tried to make his way over to where Wolfram was standing, but was blocked by Gwendal.
"Like I said. Goodbye."
"Gwendal, can I at least say hello to Wolfram? I haven't seen him ages!"
"Now you've seen him. Now you can leave."
A loud squeal of happiness sounded out behind him.
"Herschel, darling! Look at you!" Cheri rang out.
Yuuri watched as she ran up to him and gave him one of her famous chesty hugs.
He muffled out something, and she pulled away. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Nice to see you too!" he said, breathlessly. He didn't bother to pretend he wasn't staring at her chest, and Yuuri vaguely wondered what it must be like to be that bold.
"You're kind of early for the Ball, aren't you?" she asked.
"Bad luck has befallen me," Herschel said, woefully. "I have lost my living place. I came here early to see if I might have a place to rest my tired, overburdened mind, before I set off to find myself."
"Well, I would of course let you stay-"
"Mother!" Gwendal and Wolfram exclaimed.
"-but it's not up to me," she finished. "However, since His Majesty is here, why not ask him?"
Yuuri felt Wolfram tense beside him, and knew that was the last thing he wanted. He hated being put on the spot like that, and anxiously watched as Herschel's sights set on him.
Yuuri bit his lip as Herschel walked over to him. He was about to speak, but paused as Herschel's eyes lighted up. Yuuri turned around to see who it was he was looking at, and saw that behind him stood Gisela. Günter was beside her, glaring at Herschel as intensely as Gwendal was.
"Gwendal, is there even room for him? I mean, with your mother back, accommodations might be a little too cramped," Günter said. "Besides, with his reputation, I worry about my daughter's virtue – as well as your brother's."
Yuuri wondered just what kind of reputation Gwendal's cousin had that warranted such opposition to his presence – especially from Günter, of all people.
"The only virtue that you need to be worrying about is your own," Herschel said as he quickly ducked away from his spot in front of Yuuri and smoothly slid up beside Günter. "You're still beautiful, after all these years. Did you know that you were my first crush? The fun times I had with you in my mind..." he trailed off, suggestively.
"Young man!" Günter said, his face completely scandalized. He glared over to where Murata and Yozak were snickering.
Yuuri was fairly certain he now understood why Herschel von Voltaire had the reputation he did. He wasn't sure he wanted such a person around Wolfram.
He mentally corrected the part about "around Wolfram" to "around anyone", and refused to address why he made that mistake in the first place.
"I would appreciate it if you would not say such things about me," Günter said to Herschel. He crossed his arms, and glared harder at him.
"You know, the older you get, the more beautiful you become. If I fail at pursuing my cousin's brother, you wouldn't hold it against me if I came after you next, would you?"
"This is why you can't stay here!" Gwendal practically shrieked as Wolfram squawked and Günter's face turned bright red in fury. "I won't have someone like you pursuing my brother! It was bad enough that pompous windbag of a brother of yours tried to, I'm not dealing with you as well!"
"Gwendal, don't be like that! Besides, I would love to have the honor of accompanying Wolfram to this event," Herschel said, and winked lewdly at Wolfram.
"I already have a date," Wolfram said, quickly.
Yuuri glanced over at Wolfram. He wondered if Wolfram really had a date, or if he was lying to get Herschel off his back.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Herschel said, sadly. "What about you, Gisela?"
"Yes, I do have a date," she said, as quickly as Wolfram.
"What are you going to do? Go down the line? No one here is going to attend with you, now leave," Gwendal said.
"Your Majesty, I am so very glad we could finally meet," Herschel said suddenly, addressing Yuuri for the first time.
Yuuri watched as he bowed elaborately.
"Nice to meet you," he said. He hoped he didn't sound as unconvincing as he thought he did.
"You know, you're far more attractive than they say you are. I could see myself with you. Or in you, even. You wouldn't happen to have a date for the Ball, would you?"
Yuuri's mouth dropped open at how quickly Gwendal's cousin came on to him after only having spoke to him for a few seconds.
"No, he doesn't," Murata said cheerfully, and Yuuri briefly wondered what the punishment was for murdering the Sage when you were the Maou.
"So, would you like to attend with me?"
"Yuuri's only interested in women. I should know," Wolfram said, and it was Yuuri's own turn to tense up at the way he said it.
"Really? You limit yourself like that? Love is love, be it between a man and woman, woman and woman, or man and man," Herschel said. "If you ever find someone who loves you, you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss them over something like that. You may be letting your happiness float away."
Yuuri thought it was probably the most poignant thing he had ever heard. Perhaps there was more to Herschel than being a pervert, after all?
"Besides, in the dark it's all the same. Unless, of course, you're on the receiving end of things. There was this one time I got drunk in the Spitzberg territory and woke up unable to move beside this man named Brutus. He had the hugest-"
"Enough!" Gwendal bellowed, as Yuuri decided that all hope was lost for Herschel von Voltaire. "Listen, we don't have the room. Now, there's several inns in town, I would be happy to arrange for you to stay in one of them."
"I don't have much money-" Herschel started.
"I'll pay for it, myself!" Gwendal said. "Just... go. Yozak?"
"Yes?" Yozak asked.
"Direct him back into town after I finish arranging things, will you?"
"Sure. No problem."
Gwendal turned back to Herschel. "As for you, I don't want to see you again until that wretched Ball, do you hear me? In fact, I don't want to even hear your name around me! If I catch wind of you stepping foot on these grounds before then, the consequences will be grave."
Yuuri figured that Herschel had realized that Gwendal was on the verge of homicide. He just nodded at him – though the smile on his face never left.
"Mother! Did you send this invitation to him?"
"Yes I did. Why?"
"Why wasn't his name on the invite list?"
"Must have slipped my mind, I suppose," she said.
"Did any other invitees slip your mind?" he asked, rubbing at his right temple.
"Maybe a few, here and there," she said.
"Wolfram, come here," Gwendal said.
Yuuri watched as Wolfram stepped over to him.
"Read this," he said, holding out what he supposed was Herschel's invitation.
He watched Wolfram read the invitation, his eyes growing wider and wider.
"Mother! How could you put that in there! Great Shinou's ghost, help me! Yuuri, come here!"
"What''s wrong?" he asked, alarmed. He walked over beside Wolfram.
"Just... read this," Wolfram said, unceremoniously thrusting the invitation in his hands.
Yuuri couldn't help but stare at how scandalized Wolfram looked. He had a feeling that what he was about to read wasn't a good thing at all.
He slowly started to read the invitation, wondering just what had Wolfram so shook. When he neared the end, he saw what it was that had Wolfram up in arms.
"Murata?" he asked, feeling light-headed.
"Yes?" Murata questioned.
"Suddenly, I remember that we can't be here for this Ball. I forgot about that important baseball event we were supposed to be attending."
"What important baseball event?"
"The one I just happen to be attending that falls on the same night of the Ball. Now if you'll excuse us, we really have to get back to Earth," Yuuri said to the others.
He ran up to Murata, and grabbed his hand. "We'll be back. Eventually," he called behind him, dragging Murata to the closest fountain.
"Oh no you don't! You're not leaving me alone in this!" Wolfram said, running behind him and grabbing him by the waist.
"Let me go!"
"No! You're staying here with me!"
"I don't want to!"
"Don't be such a wimp, you're staying and that's that!"
"I don't wanna!"
You are cordially invited to the Royal Ball at Blood Pledge castle on Moon 3, Day 14, Year 4 of the 27th Maou. The Ball will start at seven and will end at midnight.
The Shin Makoku Orchestra will be performing pieces from some of the greatest Mazoku composers to have ever existed – from past legends to more contemporary ones. Also, renowned tenor Kord von Karbelnikoff will be performing a few selections as well.
There will be even more entertainment, as well as refreshments in the form of appetizers, desserts, and an extensive selection of wines.
We sincerely hope to see you here as we utilize this event to search for spouses for both Lord Wolfram von Bielefeld and His Majesty Shibuya Yuuri. With luck, that special someone might end up being you.
Lady Cecilie von Spitzberg
Chapter 5: The Longest Night Part I
Chapter by batty_gal
Part one of what seems to be the longest night ever starts as the ball kicks off, Gwendal buys a clue, and Yuuri falls in and out of love in the span of a minute – prompting him to come to a stunning realization.
Suitors (Chapter 05: The Longest Night Part I)
by Tetra26/Batty Gal
Lady Cheri hadn't lied when she claimed that she invited almost everyone, and the way the ballroom was packed was proof of that.
When Yuuri walked into the ball (fashionably late by ten minutes, as suggested by Günter), there was hardly any room for him to maneuver around. He took in all the elaborate gowns with their hoop skirts and puffed sleeves, and concluded that the clothing probably took up at least twenty-five percent of the space in there.
He had to admit to himself that Cheri had outdone herself. The decorations were brilliant, and the food looked and smelled wonderful. He shook his head when he noticed that Beautiful Wolframs were strewn around the room in vases, as part of the various display pieces, and hanging from the ceiling. Even the members of the orchestra had a few tucked either in a jacket pocket or behind one of their ears.
Yuuri was not surprised at how quickly he was swamped upon walking in, especially since Lady Cheri had sent that terrible invitation out. He had not wanted to come, but Wolfram's threats were effective. After his second attempt at fleeing, Wolfram had tackled him and firmly pressed a sharp knee into his back. Yuuri would have done anything to get rid of the pain, which was why he promised to attend the ball after all. Such a simple method of torture, but it worked.
"Your Majesty, how nice it is to see you!" an overdressed young girl said to him, batting her eyes. Yuuri shivered. She didn't look that much older than his daughter, Greta.
"Nice to see you as well," he said, politely. He was unsure of Shin Makoku's age-of-consent, but he was not about to go there and find out. He nodded his head at her, before walking off.
He did not get far, before Anissina reached out and grabbed him.
"Your Majesty, come here with me! I want you to meet my cousins!" she said, happily.
Yuuri internally groaned. He hoped they were nothing like Gwendal's cousin, who he noted was practically chasing Günter around the room. He also hadn't missed the way Adelbert was glaring at him, and he guessed that Herschel had probably tried something with his date, Gisela, too.
He allowed Anissina to pull him over to where the orchestra section was, waving at everyone who greeted him along the way. He looked back and quickly scanned around the room as he went along, trying to catch a glimpse of Wolfram. Unable to locate him, he hoped that Wolfram had not decided to ditch at the last minute. Especially since Wolfram had practically strong-armed him into attending.
Anissina chose then to suddenly stop, and he crashed into her due to looking behind him – but not hard enough to knock her completely to the ground. He turned his head around to apologize, but was met with a sight that made his heart race.
Yuuri stared wordlessly at Anissina's two cousins – or, to be more honest, he stared mostly at the female one.
He swallowed hard, unable to give her a proper greeting. He could not believe how beautiful she was. Almost as beautiful as...
Yuuri did not even bother to complete the thought.
Even her brother, who was dressed completely informally in trousers and a shirt he didn't even bother to tuck in, was beautiful – but in a more carefree way. They both had the same warm brown eyes and coral-toned hair – his chopped short in a cut similar to Conrad's, with hers in shoulder-length spiral curls.
Yuuri was in love.
"Your Majesty, these are my cousins. Kord is the boy, and Lotte is the girl," Anissina said.
"Nice to meet you," the boy said, cheerfully. He held out his surprisingly delicate hand, and Yuuri shook it.
"Likewise," Yuuri said. He instantly felt at ease around the boy, probably because – even though he was beautiful – there was nothing overwhelmingly spectacular and perfect about him, unlike most of the males there. In short, he didn't feel so intimidated and homely around him.
"Nice to meet you," the girl spoke up to him, her voice low and almost sultry.
"And I am their mother, Doris," a thin woman, with sandy blond hair and the same brown eyes they had, said.
Yuuri simply nodded politely to her, his eyes going back to the girl.
"Nice to meet you, Lotte," he blurted out suddenly to the girl, and bowed.
Her face scrunched up in anger, and Yuuri feared that he had just made an etiquette error according to Shin Makoku rules. He mentally went down the "things-to-absolutely-not-do" list Günter had taught him, and could not come up with one he had broken.
He was about to apologize anyhow, but the girl spoke up, effectively stopping him in his tracks.
"I'm not Lotte, I'm Kord."
"You are? I thought Anissina said that the girl was Lotte and the guy was Kord?" Yuuri questioned. He was sure he had gotten it right.
She instantly looked even more affronted than before, and Yuuri thought he was about to hear some choice words, but her mother shot her a look that made her back down.
"I am a guy, she's the girl," Kord said, pointing to the smirking girl that Yuuri had thought was male beside him.
Yuuri was out of love.
"Wait, you're a... that's the..." he couldn't even get what he wanted to express out. Yuuri simply couldn't believe that the beautiful creature was a guy, and not a girl – especially since he was wearing what appeared to be a dress.
"We get that often," Lotte said cheerfully, while Kord simply crossed his arms and looked off to the side.
"Well, if you would be more ladylike and put on a dress, you wouldn't get it at all," Doris said to her, snootily.
"And if you would allow Kord to be more manly instead of dolling him up all the time, he wouldn't get it either," she shot back.
The atmosphere started to feel ominous to Yuuri as he watched the mother and daughter glare at each other.
"Well, I hope you all enjoy the ball tonight," Yuuri said, laughing nervously. He was beginning to understand why Gwendal was so very upset with him.
"Where's Wolf?" Kord asked, quietly.
Yuuri tensed up at the nickname, which was one that only a handful of people used for Wolfram – and only close people at that.
"He's not here yet, I don't think," he said, measuring his words. He wondered if Kord and Wolfram knew each other well.
"Drat, I wanted to see him before my performance."
"Performance?" Yuuri asked.
"Yes. I'm to sing tonight," he said.
"Your Majesty, did you not pay attention to Günter's lessons on the music of Shin Makoku? Kord is wearing the Tenor's dressing! It's what performers of pieces from the Seventeenth Maou's rule wear!" Anissina said.
"I see," Yuuri replied, not really seeing at all."If you'll excuse me, I need to go check on my daughter."
In truth, he wanted to find a drink, and toss it back as fast as he could. He had been there for less than five minutes, and already he wanted the night to be over. He wondered how in Shinou's name could he last the next few hours!
Wolfram sighed as he made final adjustments to his clothing.
It was time.
A month's worth of plotting, planning and scheming were to be put into effect, and Wolfram was anxious about the entire matter. It did not help that he hadn't been feeling all that well since that morning.
A big part of him wanted to forget the plans, and just show up as is. He had been dealing with being pursued since his engagement had ended almost a year prior, what was one more night?
Every time he started to follow that line of logic, however, his more scheming half would point out that he hadn't had to deal with hordes of them at one time. Sure, he had attended a ball after that unfortunate night, but at that point the situation wasn't as intense as it currently was.
Or, rather, the majority of people had been waiting to see if the Maou would attempt to renew the engagement.
Wolfram sighed, again. A part of him had wanted Yuuri to reinstate things, but he had known there was no way Yuuri would have given up his new freedom. Yet he had been surprised when, along with the hurt, he had felt relieved that it was finally over. He supposed that finally knowing the answer would always be no, rather than holding onto hope for years that the answer might eventually be yes, was better. He no longer held illusions about his and Yuuri's relationship.
Or maybe he was lying to himself so much, that he found it convincing.
Was he really okay with it ending like that?
Wolfram didn't know the answer to that then, nor did he know if he would ever have it. What he did know, however, was that his thoughts and dreams were no longer filled with just Yuuri. There were others there now.
Wolfram pushed all thoughts of Yuuri and the others out of his mind as he walked toward his bedroom door. Yozak was waiting for him, and the both of them were ready to get this night over with.
A wave of nausea washed over him as he touched his doorknob, and he almost doubled over. He didn't feel good at all. He hoped that it would rapidly pass.
He hoped the night would also pass quickly, as well.
Yuuri once again found himself wading through the crowd, half-heartedly waving at the people who greeted him. He was almost smothered by one of the grandest puffed sleeves he had ever seen, and wondered if there would be carnage on the dance floor once the waltzes began.
He chuckled to himself upon imagining the last woman standing on the dance floor, having won the battle of the ball gowns by using her dress as a weapon to smother or otherwise injure her rivals. He envisioned the prize as being an all-expenses paid trip to the asylum of her choice.
A drink tray almost made it past him, but he managed to stop it in time. He grabbed one glass of Shin Makoku's finest wine, but threw all caution to the wind and ended up taking another. He figured he would need it by the time the night was over.
He noticed a spot near the doors to the outside, and decided to stand over there. It would come in handy if he had to get out, quickly. He managed to reach the place before someone else did, but imagined that no one other than him wanted to flee from this event quickly, aside from Wolfram, who wasn't even there yet.
Yuuri once again wondered if Wolfram would show up, and thought about several ways he could get him back if he didn't come. He knew, however, that he would never go through with them. Still, the thoughts of Wolfram whining for Yuuri to get off of him for once entertained him.
A vision of a flushed Wolfram, writhing underneath him with his hands held above his head by his own, caused Yuuri to quickly drain his first wine glass and half of the second one. He did his best to push the thought out of his head, but the harder he tried, the more it treaded into even unsafer territory.
He tried thinking about playing baseball, and the scene shifted to him and Wolfram, in the same position, right smack on third base. It didn't help that what he suspected was the "home crowd" was filled with a set of cheering Muratas, while the "away crowd" had a bunch of booing Shouris.
He didn't even want to know what that latter thought implied, not when he was having such a huge problem with all of the former thoughts.
Yuuri thought that perhaps the wine was already taking effect, even though he didn't feel all that different from when he walked in. He wouldn't be surprised if the wine had a completely different reaction on his body than Earth alcohol. He once ate a Shin Makoku pear and spent three days utterly depressed.
After closing his eyes and breathing deeply for a minute, he managed to push that atrocious vision to the back of his mind. Yuuri wondered why he kept having such thoughts about Wolfram, of all people. It wasn't like Wolfram was a girl. He was a guy. That complicated things.
He opened his eyes, his vision focusing on Kord von Karbelnikoff. Yuuri thought about how his heart has raced when he had first laid eyes on him, back when he thought he was a she. He remembered how he had turned off all romantic feelings once he found out that beautiful being was another guy.
Wait a minute, turned off? He turned off his feelings? Yuuri scoffed at the idea. There was no way he could turn his feelings on and off like that. If he felt something for someone, he would openly feel it, right? He wouldn't repress what he felt for someone, would he?
Yuuri gasped loudly when his next thought answered that question with "unless it was another guy". He emptied the second wine glass, ignoring the funny looks that people nearby were giving him.
It was too much to come to terms with, especially at that place and time. Realizing that he had been actively repressing any feelings he had for certain people due to their gender was like having to suddenly carry around a hundred extra pounds, and the sudden weight of his thoughts almost caused him to sink to the floor. His mind, unwilling to yield to his thought-suppressions anymore, rapidly went down the list of men that he had actively repressed himself from thinking about in certain ways. Men that he hadn't been confused into thinking were women, unlike Kord.
His father's best friend. His teacher from grade seven. His baseball teammate, Yoshida. The times he thought Günter might be the most lovely person in existence, watching with awe as he happily lectured him on the most mundane of things. Any time Conrad effortlessly used his sword against an enemy, pausing only to quickly wipe away the sweat that accumulated on his forehead. Murata, the times their often-naked bodies got squished together when leaving and returning to Earth. Gwendal, whenever he blushed or smiled or did anything other than glare at him.
And Wolfram, the only one of them where the feelings weren't fleeting, but constant. The only guy that he had repressed his feelings for, practically on a daily basis.
That first time he awakened to find Wolfram in bed with him, naked. The few times when Wolfram had actually come on to him. The occasions when Wolfram had pulled him closer to him in his sleep, his breath against his neck. Each and every of the times Wolfram had come to save him, even when his own personal cost was far higher than Yuuri's own.
He was still reeling over the thoughts and realizations when Wolfram finally entered the ballroom, date in tow.
The majority of people in the room were stunned when Wolfram von Bielefeld walked in on the arm of a tall brunet with gorgeous blue eyes – a man that seemed familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
When Gwendal spotted Wolfram's date, he immediately noticed that it was the same man he had seen with his brother the last time there was a ball at Blood Pledge Castle. His mind ran through a list of noble families that the man could be related to, but drew a blank. Ultimately, he shrugged his shoulders and went back to the conversation he was holding with his other brother.
However, he found himself continuously turning from Conrart to Wolfram's date, unable to shake the feeling that he knew him from somewhere. There was something extremely familiar about the man to him, as if he knew the man very well.
After turning and staring for the umpteenth time, Gwendal turned back to his brother, about to ask if he knew the mystery man. But before he could open his mouth, he noted an almost expectant smirk on his face. He was about to ask him what it was about, but Wolfram's date suddenly twirled him around on the dance for, distracting him from his purpose.
He hadn't missed that his brother seemed almost tense when they had first started dancing, and raised his eyebrow at how Wolfram visibly relaxed in the man's arms after the twirl. He was about to turn once more back to Conrart when it suddenly hit him who the man was.
He groaned out loud, and buried his face in his palm. Conrart's snickering let him know that he was well-aware of who Wolfram's "date" was, and that expectant look from earlier was just him waiting to see how long before he figured it out.
Gwendal glared at Conrart. "Tell me you did not tell Wolfram what I did to get out of my own problem," he grumbled.
"No, I didn't tell him. Wolfram thinks a lot like you, you know? This was his own idea with Yozak."
Gwendal couldn't even get angry over the deception, not when he, Günter and Anissina had done something similar at a ball many years prior. Only, no one had dressed up as someone else. He had walked in with Anissina on one arm, and Günter on the other. The gesture spoke louder than words, and once the rumors spread only a few people had bothered pursuing him again. And, since he was used to murmured insults thanks to his mother's free-loving ways, he wasn't all that bothered by the comments about his "lifestyle".
"Does he know you know that's Yozak?" Gwendal asked.
"Yes, he told Yozak to inform me," Conrart responded.
"They aren't really together, are they?" Gwendal asked, remembering the rumors he had heard about them months prior. "I can't say I would have a problem with it, but if they are I don't see why Yozak should have bothered to disguise himself."
"No, they aren't really together – though I suspect that Wolfram might have some sort of hero-worship going on for Yozak. This is just something they came up with to keep the vultures off of Wolfram tonight."
"Since when are they in cahoots with each other..." Gwendal trailed off as he realized that, more likely than not, Yozak had probably had a hand in all of Wolfram's exploits in the Saralegui incident. He felt like a tool for how easily Yozak, and especially Wolfram, had played him throughout all of it.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to have a very long talk with the two of them," he grumbled.
"If tomorrow comes. Something tells me this night is going to last forever."
"What makes you say that?" he asked.
"Adelbert just lunged at Herschel."
Gwendal looked up, and saw with dismay that Conrart was right. Günter was trying to restrain Adelbert, while pushing Herschel's arms away from his own body.
"Gwendal, it's been ages," a familiar and falsely-sweet voice rang out behind him, freezing him in place. He turned around slowly, and was met with the superficial smile of Doris von Karbelnikoff.
A long night, indeed.
Chapter 6: The Longest Night Part II
Part two of what seems to be the longest night ever continues as Yozak lies. Beautifully. Several POV changes in this chapter.
Suitors (Chapter 06: The Longest Night Part II)
"Maybe you should not go to the ball, and stay here. You do not look very well at all," Shinou said, concerned about Murata's sickly appearance.
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss this night for anything," Murata said, fumbling with the clasp on his formal jacket. "Wolfram and Shibuya, stuck in a room with hundreds of suitors – and the many ways it could all go wrong. I would pay money to see it if they charged!"
More than anything, Murata wanted to see if he would win his bet with Yozak on whether Yuuri would figure him out. He had a good amount of money on Yuuri not figuring it out unless he were told, while Yozak gave Yuuri enough credit to figure him out on his own. The outcome would be interesting.
He grabbed a handkerchief off his dresser, and blotted his forehead with it. Ever since the night prior, which he had spent talking with Wolfram, he had not felt well at all. After wiping the sweat from his forehead, he tossed the cloth back to where he had grabbed it from. As he started to step away from the dresser, his vision doubled, and he had to clench at its edge in order to keep his balance.
"It won't do you any good if you are too sick to enjoy the festivities."
"It's not doing me any good that you are mothering me."
"Fine then. Go and faint while dancing, then throw up on Lord Weller's chest when he lifts you up to bring you back here."
"Well, I guess that just means no dancing, then. I'm still going."
"Your health," Shinou said, shrugging.
"Wolfram, you are so very tense," Yozak whispered in Wolfram's ear. "Relax if you want this to look natural."
"I'm sorry, I'm just not feeling very well," Wolfram whispered back.
The two of them had not been there for long, but they had went straight to the dance floor upon their arrival. Yozak knew that there was no way they could dance the entire time, though. Eventually, they would have to take a break.
And then, the questions would come. Questions about his heritage, family, his past, and everything else under the sun. Yozak wasn't worried about it, however. He had his routine down pat, he had used it so much.
He was worried about Wolfram, however. As calm and collected he had been in their previous games with each other, he just wasn't so this time around. Yozak thought that he might crack at any minute, and it puzzled him.
He wondered if it was because Wolfram was so very stressed out. The tenseness in his body just seemed abnormal for Wolfram, especially considering that the last time they had been in that position, he had been completely relaxed.
It had to be the stress, or the tiredness. Maybe if Wolfram had a drink, it would ease him a little.
"I think we should pause here for awhile. Grab a drink and calm down," he whispered to Wolfram.
"I'm not ready to stop dancing just yet."
Yozak looked down at him, and nodded. "Very well, but relax. We're only as believable as couple as how we act together as one," he said.
He suddenly twirled Wolfram around on impulse, and was delighted when he saw the pensive look flee his face. When he pulled him back into his arms, he noted that Wolfram's body was much more relaxed than it had been.
"Every thing will be fine, Wolfram," he said. "Trust me."
"You're right, and I do," Wolfram replied, giving him a small smile.
"If they play a sexy number, we'll make them all blush and do the forbidden mazoku waltz," Yozak joked.
"I don't think Gwendal could take it. I can tell he has figured us out. His eyebrows are about to twitch entirely off his face, march over here, and beat us both down," Wolfram said in an amused tone.
"His Highness is staring at us. It's probably because of how close I'm holding you against me. I think he likes you," Yozak said, and pulled Wolfram even closer to him for emphasis. He wanted to laugh at how wide both Murata and Yuuri's eyes went due to the gesture.
"Maybe he's staring because he likes you, instead?"
"Right. His Majesty is giving me interesting looks, as well. He still hasn't figured out who I am yet, however."
"Yuuri is giving you interesting looks? Why?"
Yozak laughed. "So it's your turn to play the dense one, hmm?"
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. Just don't make the same mistake he did," Yozak said. He decided not to expand on the subject when Wolfram raised his eyebrow.
Yozak was fairly certain that His Majesty's feelings about Wolfram were far more complex than Wolfram thought. Why else was he peeking at Wolfram around corners and trying to shadow him?
He didn't buy the Maou's excuses for showing up around them one bit. Initially he had thought that perhaps Yuuri had caught on to their game at one point, but quickly dismissed the theory. Something told him that Yuuri was less onto their game, and more onto the idea that perhaps there was actually something going on romantically between him and Wolfram.
He chuckled at the thought of him and Wolfram together. There was no match for him odder than that one, aside from, perhaps, him and Günter. Thinking about either possibility caused him to laugh a bit louder.
"What are you laughing about?" Wolfram whispered to him.
"Nothing much, just thinking that if you and I were really a couple, it would be an odd match," he said.
Yozak almost stumbled when he saw Wolfram's face, for it almost seemed disappointed.
"Yes, I suppose it would be," Wolfram said quietly, and Yozak noticed that his expression changed to a distant one. He also did not miss that his dance partner's body had tensed again.
It worried him. Could it be that Wolfram actually liked him like that?
Yozak dismissed the idea. He thought that maybe Wolfram was thinking about something completely different.
Then again, a few weeks back during a drinking session, Conrart had asked him whether or not he had feelings for Wolfram. At the time, he had laughed so hard he had fallen off his chair. He had asked his best friend how he come up with the notion, but all he had received was that damned knowing smile of his.
He looked down at his dance partner, who had relaxed once more. He sincerely hoped that Wolfram would find someone who could make him happy, but he did not think he could be the one that could do so – nor did he feel that they were suited to each other.
No matter how nice it felt to have him in his arms.
"Your Majesty, are you sure you would not like to dance with me?" a young woman asked.
"I apologize, but I don't really feel like dancing tonight," Yuuri said, brushing yet another person off. Many people had come to where he stood and asked to dance, but he was not interested.
He was too busy eyeballing Wolfram's date and trying to figure out why he seemed so familiar to him.
Yuuri recognized him as the man he had seen dancing with Wolfram before at another ball, but something inside of him believed that he knew the man from elsewhere. He kept going over all the events he could remember and people he had met, hoping that something would jog his memory.
Plus, not only that, but he was also dismayed to find out that the more he stared at Wolfram's date, the more inadequate he felt in comparison to the stunning man.
"Why are you standing over here all alone, Your Majesty? Why don't you dance with my daughter?" a man asked.
"I'm sorry, but I'm feeling a little sick," he said. "Maybe next time?"
He watched as they walked off, and sighed when he noticed yet another person approaching him from the corner of his eye.
He wished he had the same idea as Wolfram to bring a date. Any date would have done the job, even if it were just Yozak in a dress. He suspected that Wolfram's idea to bring a date was not because he found the man interesting, but in order to keep the suitors from bombarding him.
At least, he hoped that was Wolfram's motive.
He looked over to the person approaching him, ready to reject yet another dance offer. He paused before he could say anything, surprised by who the person was.
"It has been a while, Your Majesty! How are you doing?" the newcomer greeted him, cheerfully.
Conrart Weller was patient when it came to many things. Keeping calm when Yuuri got himself into disastrous situations. Pulling Yozak off of the morons who loved to grope him regardless of whether he was dressed as a man or woman. Dealing with Wolfram whenever he went out of his way to be so very. Damned. Difficult.
Listening to Doris von Karbelnikoff drone on and on about her perfect son was not one of those things, however.
"Well, I'll leave you two to talk then," he said, ignoring Gwendal's astronomical glare. Gwendal was on his own on this matter. It wasn't like Doris really wanted to talk to him anyhow, since he was certain she planned on appealing to Gwendal about Wolfram on her son's behalf.
He felt Gwendal's eyes burning holes in his back as he walked off, which made it all the more amusing to him.
Conrart aimlessly made his way around the room, nodding and smiling at those who bothered to acknowledge him. He had never felt particularly welcome in that sort of atmosphere, especially not before Yuuri had come along and brought the mazoku and humans – and those like him in between – all together.
Still, he could not help but think that a lot of those smiles directed towards him were just as fake as the ones he flashed back. It angered him that – since he and Wolfram were now on good terms – these people saw him as a stepping stone towards his brother's heart (and status).
Get in good with the brothers, get in good with Wolfram.
He sighed upon thinking about it all, and grabbed a glass of water from the closest table. He would not bother with alcohol at this event, in case something went wrong – and with Herschel in the room, something was bound to.
He also could not shake the feeling that something even more bothersome than that was coming, and hoped that Yozak and Wolfram's scheme did not blow up in their faces. So far, everyone other than Gwendal, Murata, and himself were oblivious to what they were doing.
He was amused by the bits and pieces of conversation that he managed to overhear on the "couple". The minute Yozak and Wolfram parted from their dance, both of them were going to have to deal with a torrent of questions. Conrart wasn't worried about that, however. Yozak's performance and contrived background history were flawless, and Wolfram himself was a very meticulous planner when he wanted to be. If Yozak was indeed revealed, he was pretty certain that he and Wolfram had at least two or three contingency plans that would save them both.
Just like he and Yozak used to have when they'd have to come up with some sort of scheme.
His last thought made him stop mid-step. He and Yozak used to get into so much together – sometimes for important matters, and sometimes purely for their own amusement. They had so much fun together before everything went all to pieces.
Before he went all to pieces.
He sighed, and drained his water glass. There was no point in brooding about it again; he was what he was.
After approaching a section of the room that was fairly uncluttered with people, he leaned against the wall and decided to simply take in the atmosphere. The dancing was well under way, and Kord's beautiful voice rang out as the orchestra played softly behind him. He listened to the mournful lyrics about a man in love with someone unobtainable, somewhat disturbed that the words mirrored parts of his own life.
When that particular song ended, Conrart turned his attention to Murata, who was mirroring his pose against the opposite wall. He thought the Sage looked somewhat ill but nevertheless attentive, and tried to determine just what he was looking at.
He was less than shocked when he noticed that his sights were set on Wolfram and Yozak. He had long noticed that Murata's interest in Wolfram were more than passing. However, he was unsure of what that interest fully consisted of.
After staring for a few moments longer, he sighed and looked across the sea of people in the direction of the Maou. He was amused to find that Yuuri was looking at the same two people as Murata, but once again was not shocked by it all. He had the same suspicions about Yuuri that he did with Murata, due to how strangely Yuuri had been acting for quite some time.
Conrart was not sure of the extent of those interests, but he thought that – whatever they may be – it was something Yuuri needed to figure out on his own, and he suspected that this entire event might very well cause it to happen..
He wondered if that was his mother's intention, to get Yuuri to figure things out. If so, he was worried that it might very well backfire, especially if Yuuri's feelings were not deeper than either curiosity, confusion, or a slight crush. Not only that, there was also Wolfram. Although his little brother was not fully over Yuuri (no matter how much he insisted he was), he was also no longer fully into him either.
Upon thinking about his mother and her motives for the night, he sought her out, and was surprised to find she was not even there. Maybe she really did want Wolfram and Yuuri to find happiness – and not necessarily with each other. Still, he could not believe she was not there to manipulate the situation.
His mother was what she was.
Günter was at his wit's end, and the ball had not even lasted an hour yet. Between having to keep various people from killing Gwendal's cousin, Herschel, and having to prevent Herschel's untimely death by his own hand, he was ready to call it a night.
"I know what you're thinking," Herschel whispered in his ear.
He did not bother to prevent himself from groaning out loud. "Somehow, I do not think you do," he answered.
"You're thinking about me, aren't you?"
Günter, utterly annoyed by Herschel, answered him snidely. "Yes. In fact, I am thinking about you. I'm thinking about thrusting you clear across the country with my maryoku."
"Heh. Thrusting," Herschel said, unfazed by the threat.
Günter sighed. Herschel was one of those people who would not take a hint, even if you spelled it out to him. The man had selective hearing; he only heard what he wanted to hear.
"You know, I had a dream last night," Herschel said.
"I do not care," Günter said, monotonously.
"I dreamed about you and me, lying on a blanket, a field of lavender surrounding us-"
"And my hair fell in my eyes, and you gently brushed it behind my ear. Our eyes locked together, and you knew I was the one for you, and you for me, for now and forever," Günter finished. "I know, I heard you use that line on Ollie von Gyllenhaal.
"He means nothing to me, darling," Herschel said, flippantly. "I only said it to him to cheer him up since he looked so downtrodden over Wolfram already having a date. You know you're the only one for me... well, you and your daughter. You know, since she's not actually a blood relative of yours – I think you, me and she could live and love together quite nicely. "
"Herschel..." Günter started, but stopped as he observed Doris talking to Gwendal. He locked eyes with Gwendal, who looked at him helplessly.
Herschel continued to ramble on. "Plus, it's not like there aren't rumors about you being into the threesome thing. I've always wondered about you, Anissina and Gwendal myself. All those times alone in that lab together. You can not convince me you haven't taken one or both of them up against the wall a few times-"
"Herschel, for the love of Shinou, shut your mouth!" Günter hissed, cutting him off. "Now, I'm about to go over rescue Gwendal from a conversation that I'm certain he isn't enjoying having. If you do not leave me alone, I will make sure that, upon freeing him from the grasp of Doris, he comes over here and deals with you personally. Do you understand?"
He watched as Herschel shrank back.
"Alright, alright, I'll be on my best behavior. Sheesh," Herschel said, exasperatedly. "This is truly shaping up to be a horrible night. Gisela has a date, you are too busy keeping tabs on your lovers, and Wolfram shows up with the most handsome man in the room. I'm feeling a sense of loneliness here. I also feel unwelcome, as if there's no place in this world where I belong."
Günter – who had been ready to make good on his threat – was startled by the last remark. Herschel actually looked lonely, his shoulders slumped and his eyes to the ground. He was about to apologize, but noticed that Gwendal still had a "save me" look on his face.
"I have to go deal with Gwendal," Günter said.
"I see," Herschel replied. Günter watched him turn, his smile much dimmer than before. He felt regretful for his words, but any apologies would have to come after he dealt with Gwendal. He turned away from Herschel's retreating back and started to make his way over to Gwendal. He rolled his eyes, and disregarded his prior feelings of guilt as he heard Herschel's loud voice addressing someone else behind him.
"You know, I dreamed about you last night. I dreamed you and I were on a blanket in a field – with roses surrounding us..."
Yuuri stared at the person who had approached him, shocked.
"Surprised to see me, Your Majesty?" Elizabeth said, cheerfully. "It's been quite some time, right?"
"Ye... yes! It has!" Yuuri said, stuttering. He had not expected for her to show up, but was pleasantly surprised. She was as beautiful as ever, he mentally noted. And, she really was a girl.
He filed that thought away for later. He would not hesitate to pull it out as a defense for his straightness.
"What brings you here? Are you here to pursue Wolfram, too?" he questioned.
"Maybe I'm here to pursue you," she said, smirking.
"You mean, like last time?" he said, before he could stop himself. He was glad when she did not take offense, and laughed instead.
"I suppose I deserve that! I'm still sorry about that whole event, Your Majesty," Elizabeth said.
"It's fine, and I'm sorry for bringing it up," he replied.
"Why are you over here by yourself? Isn't this event supposed to be about finding you a mate?"
Yuuri groaned at the reminder. "I had nothing to do with that invitation! That was all Lady Cheri's doing."
"So you aren't looking for someone?"
"I see. These poor women in here are going to be disappointed upon learning this."
"There seems to be plenty of available men here willing to pick up my slack," Yuuri said, watching as Herschel was turned down yet again.
"Not every woman is completely interested in men, though," Elizabeth said, motioning towards where two ladies were dancing together.
"I suppose you're right, sorry," Yuuri said. Even though he acknowledged that relationships that were rare from where he came were abundant here, he still had not changed that his mind defaulted to heterosexuality.
"Wolfram seems to be doing fine," she said, softly.
Both he and Elizabeth chose that moment to sigh. They then looked at each other, and laughed.
"You amuse me. Mind if I just stand over here with you?" she asked.
"I don't mind, but I do not understand why you aren't out there? There's plenty of people with their eyes on you, male and female."
"I'm not up to pushing people's hands off of me tonight, if you know what I mean."
"Ah, I see."
Yuuri was about to move over so that she could fit up against the wall beside him, but noticed that Wolfram and the mystery man had ceased dancing and were at the refreshment table, with several guests surrounding them.
"Come on, let's get closer to them!" he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her off with him.
He wanted to know just who this man was, and why Wolfram looked at him with so much adoration.
Wolfram marveled at how Yozak lied so effortlessly when being questioned.
"Where do you hail from, Loring?" a fellow from Gyllenhaal territories asked.
"The outskirts of Karbelnikoff," Yozak replied, smiling brightly.
"Oh really, I grew up in that area and I do not remember seeing you," another man, clearly jealous, responded.
"I was raised by my Uncle Harkott after my parents died, and since he was a recluse I was pretty much restricted to the home."
"I see. How did you study, then?" yet another of the suitors asked. Wolfram remembered running him off once, and thought he was fairly bold to show his face around him again.
"My uncle was a highly intelligent man, so I was schooled at home."
"But what do you do for a living?"
"I'm an artist. Since my uncle is so very well-off, I'm able to travel and paint the many sceneries that I come across."
"That's interesting, I'm an art collector and I've never heard of your art."
"Well, to be honest – by the time I complete a piece, I'm far too in love with it to sell it. When I do love, I love hard," he said, looking lovingly at Wolfram.
Wolfram had to prevent himself from keeling over from laughter. No matter what the question, Yozak had anticipated an answer for it.
From the long, completely fabricated story as to how they met, to the mentions of his "uncle", who was only a rich and reclusive old man who was grateful that Yozak had saved him many years prior, the lies came as fast as lightning.
And the best part was that everyone who was unaware as to who Yozak really was, were fooled.
Wolfram finally allowed himself to let out a sigh of relief. It did not look like anyone would recognize Yozak for who he really was, which would definitely cause a storm.
The best part, however, was that even after the night was over – he would have "Kelby Loring" as an excuse to reject anyone who attempted to pursue him. If anyone tried to do any research on Kelby, they would come up with old Harkott Loring of Karbelnikoff. No one would dare try to go to his house to confirm any of Yozak's lies; the man was rumored to be meaner than a ten-headed dragon. Even if they did attempt such, Harkott would only play along since Yozak was so special to him.
As people continued to fire their questions at Yozak, he took the time to scan the room.
His mother had not appeared, he noted. He wondered if she was sick, because he suspected that was the only way she would miss this event. He had to remind himself that the ball wasn't even halfway over, though. She still had time to show up and meddle. He wasn't worried, however, because he and Yozak had several backup plans in case something went wrong.
He looked over at Yuuri, and saw that he was chatting with Elizabeth. It bothered him far more than he wanted it to. He drained his wine glass, which probably was not very much of a good idea considering he was still feeling queasy.
He looked away from Yuuri and Elizabeth, but not before noticing how stunning she looked. She was so radiant, possibly more so than any other woman in the room. A part of him wished that they truly had ended up together, but he would always see her as a friend rather than a lover. Which – he noted wryly – is what Yuuri would always see him as.
Get what you give.
Still, if Yuuri had to end up with a girl, Elizabeth was by far the best one for him. Plus, unlike the majority of the women pursuing Yuuri, he was certain she would never go after the Maou because of his status. He mentally made a vow to himself to approach her and give his support, especially since she had given him her support even in the face of heartbreak.
Wolfram was jolted out of his thoughts about Yuuri and Elizabeth when Kord von Karbelnikoff started performing another song – one that was among his favorites. He looked over to where Kord stood, and saw that Kord was staring at him.
He groaned underneath his breath. Undoubtedly, Kord's mother was probably pressing Kord to pursue him. He turned away, ready to pull Yozak away from the inquisition, and noticed that Yuuri and Elizabeth were now standing nearby, listening to Yozak.
Wolfram was highly amused at how Yuuri seemed to be studying Yozak meticulously, and wondered if he would ever figure it out. He had not bothered with the bet between Yozak and Murata, but he could not wait to see which one was the victor. He loved it when Yozak or Murata gloated after winning a bet against the other. The loser would get so indignant, while the winner would become so childish while taunting the loser after winning.
He had not been shocked to find out that Murata had been onto him the entire time during the Saralegui event considering that, well, he was the Sage. Not much got past him, which was unfortunate when he wanted to discuss things that Wolfram had no intentions of getting into. Especially if the conversation involved certain people.
"Lord von Voltaire, do you approve of this Loring man?" a man asked, interrupting Wolfram's thoughts.
He whipped his head back around and stared at Gwendal, who looked put on the spot.
"I really am not concerned with my brother's love life," Gwendal said, quickly.
"Then why were you running everyone off who tried to pursue him?" another man asked.
"That was different," Gwendal said, staring at him. Wolfram swallowed hard. He knew that Gwendal was going to give him – and possibly Yozak – an hours-long lecture really soon.
"How so?" the same man asked, boldly.
"None of them were worthy of his time," Gwendal said, dismissively.
"Are you saying that Loring here is worthy of Wolfram? This guy we know so little about, who seems to live off of someone else's wealth?"
It just so happened that Adelbert was passing by with Gisela, and heard the man's snide remarks.
"Isn't that what the most of you have done all your lives? Live off of someone else's wealth? You can hardly get upset at this man for doing so," Adelbert said, gruffly, surprising Wolfram.
"Besides, if Wolfram likes him – that's all that really counts," Gisela added.
"That's true," the guy that had first questioned Gwendal said.
As he watched how the suitors seemed to be resigned that they would get nowhere with him, Wolfram mentally thanked Adelbert and Gisela for the unwitting assistance. Still, several others started to ask more questions, more so out of curiosity than jealousy.
When Wolfram thought Yozak had been on the spot long enough, he walked over and gently grabbed him by the arm. "If you'll excuse us, I'd like to go back to dancing with Kelby. It's so very rare that I get to see him, so I'd rather we spend it in close proximity."
He caught a glance at Gwendal's face, and knew that he and Yozak would have something to laugh about for months to come. He pulled Yozak back towards the dance floor, mentally celebrating their victory.
Several moments after Wolfram started dancing again with the "Kelby Loring" man, Yuuri still could not stop staring at them. He was so far into his thoughts about the man that he had all but forgotten Elizabeth, who was standing beside him.
"I think they make a nice couple, what do you think?" Elizabeth asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"Why do you think that?" he asked.
"Well, he seems like a nice man. He's charming, and seems very refined and intelligent. Also, it helps that he's very handsome," she said.
Yuuri once again found himself comparing the man's qualities and looks with his own. He was coming up short, he sadly noted.
"Plus, the way I figure it, if Wolfram can not have you he at least deserves someone like that, right?"
"What makes you think Wolfram will end up with him?" he asked, and noted that he sounded way too defensive for someone who should be supportive of the potential happiness of someone who was just a friend. He ignored the part of his mind that nagged him about his epiphany of himself not even an hour prior.
"I never said that he would end up with him, Your Majesty. I just think that he might make a good mate for Wolfram. Besides, Wolfram seems to be into him."
Even he could not deny that. Wolfram had looked at the Loring man as if he were a hero to him of sorts.
Or maybe a lover.
"I still do wonder if he's over you, however," Elizabeth said. "Even now, when he glanced over at you, there was an expression there that I can't find the words to describe."
Yuuri was stunned by the idea that Wolfram might not be over him, and felt faint. He stumbled back a little, bumping into someone behind him.
"Watch where you're going, you idiot," a woman's voice rang out. He turned around, and was met with a woman that he was certain had been alive since Shinou's original time.
"I'm sorry, Grandmother," he apologized, bowing slightly.
"Who are you calling Grandmother? I'm no one's grandmother, you horse's ass!" the old woman said, shaking her cane at him.
The girl beside her gasped. "Auntie! Don't you realize that's the Maou? You just cursed at the Maou! I'll never get a chance with him now," the girl moaned.
Yuuri thought that she would not have had a chance regardless of that.
"As if you had a chance with him anyhow!" the old woman exclaimed, echoing his thoughts. "I know who he is, everyone knows who he is! I've been watching him all this time, and his eyes have been on Lord von Bielefeld ever since that young man and his date set foot in the door!"
"Don't 'Auntie' me! It's true!" the old woman said. She glared at Yuuri, and he shrank back a little. She pointed her cane directly at his chest. "You should just re-propose to him and cut out these shenanigans! Hmrph! Got me and all these other women in this ball thinking that they actually have a chance with you! I knew I should not have worn my best dress! What a waste of time!"
Yuuri watched her hobble off, with her mortified niece in tow. He turned back to Elizabeth, took one look at her scandalized face, and started laughing. After a few seconds, she joined in.
"This is going to be one long night, isn't it?"
"Indeed, Your Majesty."
The two continued to snicker, their eyes following the old lady as she violently cleared a path towards the exit with her cane.
Just as she was about to exit, the doorway was blocked. Any humor he had felt moments prior drained away when he noticed who had arrived.
It was Lady Cheri, and her arm was linked with who was perhaps the last person he wanted to show up at this already-maddening event.
Chapter 7: The Longest Night Part III
What seems to be the longest night ever continues as the latest unwanted guest interacts with Wolfram.
Suitors (Chapter 07: The Longest Night Part III)
Unlike the ball that followed the events where Wolfram ended his engagement to Yuuri, the crowd of people in the room barely reacted when King Saralegui showed his face.
The huge ruckus that had happened at King Saralegui's castle had been ignored, mostly. The reality was that no one could believe that Lord Gwendal von Voltaire could go into such a rage, nor that Lord Conrart Weller would do such an insulting thing to the king as shearing off his long golden locks. Most of all, however, no one could believe that His Majesty, Yuuri, would lash out at King Saralegui in such a way that could have potentially caused war.
Thus, they were all too willing to disregard the rumors as urban legends over-blowing a minor quake at Saralegui's castle. None of them would guess that all of those things had – in fact – been done, and that Wolfram had used pheromones and Saralegui's own reputation against him in order to anger each party enough to commit such acts. In the end, the dismissal of the events by the populace had been fortunate for everyone involved in the matter, as well as their respective reputations.
To the people at the ball, King Saralegui showing up was just a given with how close they presumed His Majesty was with the King of Small Shimaron. There was only a ghost of chatter about the night he had caused Wolfram to end his engagement with His Majesty.
And with the last ball that King Saralegui had been in attendance along with Wolfram having been peaceful, no one fathomed that anything explosive would happen at the event – except for the handful of people who knew the truth of the last night they had encountered each other in person.
For those people, his appearance was a Bad Omen.
"Oh and, Kord was the first and youngest tenor ever to win the Regency's Award at the school of music he attends," Doris von Karbelnikoff said about her son. "And he's the second most powerful fire mazoku currently living, right after your brother. It's interesting though, after seeing your brother in action while they were in military training together, he worked hard in order to become just as good. He really, really, really admires Lord von Bielefeld."
Gwendal wanted to tell her he was really, really, really agitated by her annoying voice, but at the moment his mouth was too busy hanging open at his mother's audacity to show up with King Saralegui.
So that was her game? Walk into the ball two hours late with the last person that should attend? What was her purpose for doing so?
He then remembered bitterly that she had been almost ecstatic to hear about King Saralegui's molestation of Wolfram – as if it had been a good thing. Well, to her, perhaps it was – but not to him.
Seeing King Saralegui accosting his brother had filled him with a white rage that he had not felt in ages. Even knowing now that Wolfram had enticed him into that state, it still did not make him any less upset – mainly due to the issue of his learning that King Saralegui had pulled the very same stunt with Wolfram and His Majesty first.
Though, he admitted to himself, Wolfram was highly at fault for that. After the extremely long, and drawn-out-just-to-make-him-squirm lecture, Wolfram had confessed under duress the exact event that had started it all. Gwendal had added another half-hour of ranting against Wolfram's actions, one that Yozak had stuck around for just to interject his unneeded opinions and defense of Wolfram.
And what was that all about, Wolfram and Yozak? Gwendal had not put two and two together and figured out that Yozak had a part in the entire Saralegui events, not until he had seen through their ruse earlier that night. Just why were those two in cahoots together all of a sudden? He would find out the following day, which was when he planned to address them both for as many hours as he could find words to deride them for their sneakiness.
At the present, however, he had to figure out quickly what to do to head off anything that King Saralegui might be planning as revenge.
Doris interrupted his thoughts, further frustrating him in the process. "And not only that, ever since he was a small child he has had an aptitude for anything he puts his mind to. His sister would be the same way, if she applied herself, but I don't want to discuss her right now. Anyway, Kord learned how to play the-"
"If you will excuse me," Gwendal said, interrupting. "I need to go have a very important conversation with my mother."
Just as he was about to stalk off toward his mother and King Saralegui, Doris reached out and grabbed him by the sleeve.
"Lord von Voltaire, please, save a dance for me, will you? I want to tell you about that time Kord fearlessly saved a bunch of children from a deranged sandbear, and almost valiantly lost his life in the process," Doris said.
He was a hair's width away from opening his mouth and telling her that the sandbear probably would have been doing the world a favor had it succeeded finishing her son off, when Günter reached him.
"Gwendal, I need to talk to you about something," Günter said, grabbing him by the other arm – the one she was not touching. He was grateful that his friend had seen the stress he was under.
He closed his eyes, and sighed. "I won't be dancing tonight, Lady von Karbelnikoff," he said.
He gently pulled away from her, and nodded his head in dismissal before turning to Günter. "I need to go talk to Mother," he said, as Günter released his arm.
"I wonder why she didn't show up, tonight. Is she sick?" Günter asked.
"She's here. Take a look at the east doorway," he replied.
He watched as Günter glanced over in the direction of the hallway, and without following his line of sight he knew when Günter had spotted his mother's guest – for his mouth dropped open comically at the pivotal moment.
"Now do you see why I have to have a talk with her?" Gwendal said.
"This is, oh my... oh my... this is..." Günter said, unable to finish.
"Horrible," Gwendal completed, grumpily.
It was Wolfram, then Gwendal, who reached where their mother stood with Saralegui first. Just mere seconds later, Conrart, Murata and Yuuri – whom had left from their respective places the minute they had spotted the newcomers – arrived as well
"Mother! What is this?" Wolfram said, flailing his hand in Saralegui's direction.
"Baby boy, is that anyway to greet a guest? Surely I raised you better than that!" Cheri said, the smile on her face wide. It made him ill to see how happy she apparently was on Saralegui's arm.
Before he could address her grievance, his eldest brother spoke up.
"What are you doing here?" Gwendal directly addressed Saralegui, his voice as polite as it could be – if one could consider his scathing tone polite at all.
"I was invited, Lord von Voltaire," Saralegui said, fishing around in his jacket pockets with his free hand.
Wolfram gritted his teeth as Saralegui came up with an invitation and held it out for Gwendal to view.
"I don't believe it," Gwendal grumbled, staring at the invitation as if it were a notice that one would be executed. "You weren't on the list of official invitees. I should know, I wouldn't have approved... I didn't approve a list with your name on it."
"Really?" Saralegui said, innocently. "Well, I received this a few weeks ago. Someone invited me."
"I did," Cheri spoke up. She planted herself between Saralegui and her oldest son.
"Mother!" Wolfram exclaimed. "Why did you invite him?"
"Why not? Are we not allies?" she questioned. "Besides, he is single. So are you. I think you two would make a lovely couple! Plus, think of all the benefits such a marriage would bring to Shin Makoku."
"Lovely couple? Just what makes you think that I would want to be a couple with him?" Wolfram spat.
"My mother's intuition tells me that there's something between you. Every time you two are in a room together, the air changes."
"The air probably will literally change if he doesn't get out of here soon!"
"You don't have to pretend with Mama. I'm aware that you have those sort of feelings for King Saralegui, just like I was aware of your feelings for His Majesty Yuuri. When you first laid eyes on him, you fell for him. That's partially why you insulted his mama that day."
"What? It's cute! You've always hidden your feelings behind contempt."
"Why? It's true. Look at how things were between you and Conrart? And, need I mention your decades-old crush on-"
"Mother! Do not bring that up, ever! I am not interested in King Saralegui! He is hardly my type! I don't like him that way," Wolfram said, crossing his arms and pouting.
Cheri tilted her head while looking at her youngest son. "Wolfie, the way you are rejecting King Saralegui and anyone who attempts to pursue you now concerns me. I think that having your love rejected by His Majesty has turned you off of loving someone else."
There were several reactions to that sentence.
Yuuri guiltily took in a sharp breath, while Gwendal and Conrart blinked rapidly – stunned by their mother's frankness. Murata frowned as he finally understood what it was that had been bothering him for quite some time. Before he realized it, he was clutching at Wolfram's shoulder, hoping that the small gesture of comfort came across as he intended.
Wolfram – his face blank – pulled away from Murata's grasp and turned to walk away.
"Wait a minute, Lord von Bielefeld! If it is alright with you, I would like to dance," Saralegui's voice rang out.
Wolfram quickly turned to object, but Yuuri had already picked up on Wolfram's tenseness and spoke up, first. "Wolfram already has a date."
Yuuri missed Wolfram's wince as Saralegui spotted Yozak, or "Kelby Loring" as Saralegui knew him.
"I'm not dancing with you," Wolfram growled.
"Oh? I think you should."
"As I said, I'm not dancing with you-"
"Loring, it's a pleasure to see you again after our last encounter," Saralegui said, lightly. "I guess love really does prevail. You know, even though you are naturally a brunet, I've always thought it was far too dark of a hair color on you. You would look even more striking as a blond, or even as a red head. Surely, you could let Lord von Bielefeld go long enough for one dance?"
Wolfram visibly tensed. He turned around, glaring at Saralegui. "Fine. One dance. But if you try anything, I will commit treason. And no one, not even the Maou himself, will stop me this time."
"Wolfram, don't. You don't have to dance with him," Yuuri said.
"It's fine, Yuuri. It's fine. I'm sure Saralegui won't forget anytime soon what happens to those that cross me."
Saralegui's smile did not even falter. "Well, shall we?"
"Sure. Why not?" Wolfram said, in defeat.
As much as he hated to admit it to himself, having Saralegui in his arms once again felt nice.
Perhaps even more than nice.
It was not that he had totally dismissed the idea that his nemesis would show up, but he certainly had not expected him to show up on his mother's arm. The idea that his own mother might be in cahoots with his rival made him sicker than he already felt, and he was torn between saying some very colorful things to Saralegui, or spewing some very colorful things on him.
Neither would be proper thing to do in the middle of a ball, but – then again – ending his engagement to Yuuri and choking out Saralegui had not been, either.
"Miss me, Lord von Bielefeld," Saralegui murmured, his breath tickling Wolfram's neck.
"No, but if you go away for – say – the rest of your lifetime, perhaps I would. Eventually. Maybe," Wolfram grumbled.
The laugh that Saralegui emitted tinkled in his ear, and did a whole bunch of other things elsewhere. He willed himself not to react.
"Contrary to what my mother thinks, I do not have any romantic interest in you, whatsoever," Wolfram said. He ignored the part of him that screamed "liar" in his head.
"So you say. You don't need to deny that there's something between us, Lord von Bielefeld."
"Whatever," he said, rolling his eyes.
They danced in silence for a few moments, before Wolfram spoke again.
"So, when did you figure 'Loring' out?" he asked.
Saralegui chuckled softly. "After the dust settled – literally – I guessed that 'Kelby Loring' was someone you used to further your plot. It took a little longer to figure out who he really was, however. It wasn't until your mother visited me and told me of how close you have become with Yozak that I put it together. Though, admittedly, I did not expect to see him disguised as such tonight."
"I see. Speaking of seeing things, I see you cut off the other side of your hair," Wolfram said, hoping to rile his dance partner up. He internally cheered when Saralegui tensed in his arms.
"Well, I had wanted to cut it anyhow," he sniffed. "It was becoming a bother at that length. Too time consuming."
Wolfram snickered. "So you say," he said, parroting Saralegui's earlier words.
"So, what is the purpose for utilizing "Kelby Loring" this time, if I might ask?" Saralegui changed the subject.
Since Saralegui pretty much had him right where he wanted him, he decided to come clean with it. "I wanted him to help me get all of these suitors off my back," he confessed.
"Yeah. They've been coming, nonstop, since you caused me to end my engagement."
Wolfram took in the familiar scent of the man in his arms. He remembered the last time they had been so close, right before he had pulled off the last part of that stunt at Saralegui's castle.
He remembered how close he had been to giving up on his plan and giving in to his desire, though in retrospect he understood that it would have been very wrong for various reason – mainly because Saralegui's ability to fully consent to it was compromised due to Wolfram having drugged him. Yet, even knowing how wrong it would have been, it did not stop that ever since that night his dreams had been filled with that scene – his mind playing out the ending that he had not allowed to take place.
He often wondered if Saralegui thought the same.
"I see Yuuri is now standing over there with a very beautiful woman," Saralegui said. "Is that his date?"
Wolfram twirled Saralegui around, spotting where Yuuri stood with Elizabeth – staring at him. Their eyes met, and Yuuri raised an eyebrow, as if asking him if he needed assistance. Wolfram half-shrugged. There was nothing Yuuri could do for him at the moment, and Wolfram was uncomfortable with playing the Maou card again.
He had not forgotten the Maou's warning about punishing him if he did so.
"Lord von Bielefeld? I know you love gazing adoringly at your former fiancé, but could you answer my question? Is that his date?"
"No, it isn't," Wolfram said, snidely. "That's Elizabeth, a good friend of mine," he said.
"Elizabeth? Oh! Your mother told me of her," Saralegui said, his voice filled with glee.
Wolfram internally cursed his mother for being too mouthy.
"Isn't she the girl you accidentally engaged yourself to when you were younger?" Saralegui asked, his turn to smirk. "Upon hearing that story, I found it highly hypocritical that you would force Yuuri to honor his engagement to you while not honoring your engagement to her."
"That engagement was accidental."
"So was the one with Yuuri."
"I was a child! According to Conrart, I was trying to swat at a butterfly!"
"And Yuuri was trying to defend his mother. That doesn't change that you're a big hypocrite."
"Let's not talk hypocrites, Your Majesty," Wolfram whispered furiously into Saralegui's ear. "I find it hypocritical that you can be so rotten when no one else can hear you, and put on an innocent face as if you've done nothing around others. How did you hook my mother in? And what do you have planned for tonight?"
"I have nothing planned," Saralegui countered. "I am just here as your mother's guest. It was she who came to visit me. She who invited me. She who is absolutely convinced that there's more to us than tit-for-tat and games."
"Well there's not," Wolfram stressed.
"Are you absolutely sure about that?" Saralegui asked, suddenly serious.
Wolfram almost stumbled due to his words, as well as at his expression. He seemed sincere.
If it were anyone else, Wolfram would have been had. But it was Saralegui, and he refused to be fooled.
Wolfram glanced away from his dance partner's face, and noted the crowd surrounding them. When he was satisfied that the ballroom floor was packed enough to hide his actions, he forcefully stomped down on Saralegui's foot, hard.
"Ow!" Saralegui hissed, and glared at Wolfram.
Wolfram smiled back, innocently. "I'm absolutely sure, Your Majesty."
"In that case, I guess I agree," Saralegui said, forcefully bending back Wolfram's hand. "There's obviously nothing to us."
Wolfram winced, and dug the nails of the hand around Saralegui's waist into the king's skin. "We are simply unsuited for each other, aren't we?"
"Absolutely," Saralegui gritted out, kicking Wolfram in the shin. "However, you and your brother's friend seem to get along quite nicely. I suppose he's used to dealing with a brat like you."
Tears sprang to Wolfram's eyes, and it took every ounce of his willpower not to serve Fried Saralegui as the main encore of the ball. "He's a good friend, and loyal," he squeaked out, crushing Saralegui's fingers with his grip. "Surely you know something about good friends being loyal. Oh, that's right, you don't have any friends."
"Yuuri is my friend," Saralegui yelped.
"Please. He sees your true colors now, Your Majesty. He knows that you are far more trouble than you're worth," Wolfram huffed. "I'm Yuuri's friend. You are Yuuri's acquaintance.
"And you are not trouble?" Saralegui said, ceding defeat on physical attacks, and focusing on winning verbally. "Do you really think he has enjoyed being the subject of your physical assaults and bratty behavior over the years? You told me earlier that I put on a nice front, how about you? You have people truly fooled into thinking you are no longer the brat you have always been."
"The person that causes me to be that way is you!"
"Still not owning up to your own behavior and taking responsibility? You haven't matured a bit."
"What is there to own up to? You are the only one that provokes me enough to be bratty! I have changed, it's just that the very essence of you just makes me settle into the familiar."
"Coming to this ball and pretending to have a date is not bratty behavior?"
"No, it's not bratty behavior! It's self-preservation! Do you know what it's like, having people fall all over you suddenly and trying to engage themselves to you? I'm so very close to giving up and just picking one!"
"They are only after your title, just like they are with Yuuri. None of them could love someone like you."
"Do you really think I am naive enough to not know that? I'm not Yuuri! I know the only thing people see when they look at me is prestige," Wolfram said. "All they see is the son of the former Maou. The person that's probably Waltorana von Bielefeld's successor as one of the Ten Nobles. A potential candidate for becoming the Maou after Yuuri. They don't see me. No one ever does. I always have been, and probably always will be, an afterthought."
Wolfram decided to break even with Saralegui, and conceded victory over the verbal aspects of their game. "Now, are we finished here? Is this dance between us done, finally?"
He meant it beyond it's literal interpretation, and hoped that Saralegui picked up on it.
"For now, Lord von Bielefeld. For now," Saralegui said, giving him an unsatisfactory answer.
"Are you going to reveal us?" Wolfram asked, referring to his and Yozak's scam as a couple. He needed to know what Saralegui would do. Either way, he and Yozak had contingency plans, having anticipated scenarios in which Saralegui showed up.
"I am undecided," Saralegui said. "It looks like I hold all the trumps this game, hmm? I could reveal you, and watch as your various suitors swamp you – or, I could not reveal you, and taunt you with it for as long as you hold up this farce. I'm trying to figure which method would be the most excruciating."
"Well, if you are going to reveal me, care to give me a head start in order to flee the wolves?" Wolfram half-joked.
"Not a chance," Saralegui said, smirking.
"Then do you care to go on and do so? I would rather have it out of the way, then."
"And I should cater to you? No, I'd rather drag it all out until the end of this night."
"And risk my simply revealing it myself?"
"You are mighty bold in the face of being revealed. Let me guess: you have something else in your bag of tricks tonight in the instance that I do reveal you."
"Perhaps I do," Wolfram said, returning Saralegui's smirk.
"How I miss doing this with you," Saralegui said, laughing. "It's so much fun, us trying to destroy one another."
"In a way, it is," Wolfram agreed.
"You know, if there wasn't so much grudge between us, we might have been friends, or more," Saralegui said.
Wolfram was certain that, this time, he truly was genuine. "Probably so," he admitted.
"As it stands, though, we can not trust each other one bit."
"And we're always waiting for the other to make a move."
"If we ever tried to be more, we would just be paranoid around each other."
"And we would probably end up poisoning each other's food."
"Or drowning one another in the baths.
"Or smothering the other in their sleep."
"Like I would even close one eye around you."
"In that case, I'll just have to settle for what we have, and muse over what was not," Saralegui said.
"Once again, likewise."
Saralegui sighed. "Your mother is a very nice woman. She went through the pains of inviting me, knowing how much animosity there is between us."
"Mother doesn't see the animosity. She sees something else."
"Something that we both see, but refuse to acknowledge, right?" Saralegui said.
It made Wolfram uncomfortable to stare into Saralegui's eyes, even with the glasses he always wore masking them. More importantly, it made him highly uncomfortable that his mind was once again reminding him of the various thoughts and dreams he'd had of Saralegui ever since they first started the game between them.
"If you say so," Wolfram said, ultimately.
"Very well," Saralegui said shrugging. "If you keep refusing to acknowledge it, so will I."
"We acknowledged it mere seconds ago, and came to a conclusion that it wouldn't work."
"You're thinking long-term romance. I'm thinking something more short-term and far more satisfying than waiting for one of us to kill the other."
Wolfram swallowed, hard. Was Saralegui prepositioning him for...?
He refused to believe it, just like he refused to acknowledge the sheer excitement that rushed through him with the thought.
"Think on it, Lord von Bielefeld" Saralegui said, grinning almost predatorily.
"I refuse to-"
"Since I'm here, however, I guess I'll go over and talk with my friend, Yuuri" Saralegui cut him off, easily changing the subject. "That is, if he doesn't mind me butting in on him and that enchanting fiancée of yours."
"If you do anything to Yuuri-"
"Relax, Lord von Bielefeld. I've learned not to engage Yuuri. He plays rough."
"So do I."
"Yes, but I can handle you easily. Him? Not so much."
"What do you mean you can handle me easily?"
"I just can," Saralegui said, stepping away from him, and walking in Yuuri's direction.
"Hey, what do you mean?" Wolfram called after him, but before he could follow, a hand gripped his upper arm, firmly.
"Wolf, I've finally managed to catch up to you, tonight! You look wonderful. Had I seen you before you entered the ball, I would have whisked you away and had my way with you in some dark corner or another. In fact, it's not too late to do so. Just give me the word."
Herschel von Voltaire.
"You know," Herschel continued. "Since you are a fire mazoku, and I am an air mazoku, we would fit well together. Why don't you give me a private fire show later on, and let me blow you... out."
Wolfram buried his face in his palm as his nausea got even worse. Would the night ever end?
Chapter 8: The Longest Night Part IV
The longest night ends as Wolfram gets rescued from Herschel, Elizabeth snaps, and a rather heated conversation between two insecure young men leaves them both more hurt than angry.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Wolfram had to get out of Herschel's grip fast – and follow that meddling King Saralegui, who had approached Yuuri and Elizabeth. There was no telling what someone with such a venomous way of words would say in such a situation.
“Listen, Herschel, I'm kind of busy at the moment. I'll... talk to you later,” he said, about to turn and walk off.
Herschel grasped him by his upper arm, quickly. “But Wolf, we haven't spent any time together since I hit town. I know you're here with a date, but can I at least get some of your time? And, maybe more than that.”
“I'm sorry, I have to go-”
Just then, Herschel pulled him into his arms. “I don't want you to go, yet. Let's dance. Or, better yet, let's skip to the good part.”
Boldly, and uncaring of the fact that Wolfram had shown up with a date, Herschel moved in to kiss Wolfram on the lips. Wolfram stood, stock still, unable to move or think fast enough to get out of it. Luckily enough, just Herschel's lips were about to touch his, Wolfram was violently yanked away from him.
“Go kick rocks, Von Voltaire. Wolfram isn't interested in what you have to offer,” Kord von Karbelnikoff said.
Wolfram sighed in relief. Saved – at least for the moment. He had no doubt, however, that his savior had essentially the same motives that Herschel and the others in the room had, though.
“How about you not interrupt, and go back to singing your little songs?” Herschel said.
“How about I make a fire, and you walk into it and die?” Kord shot back.
To an outsider who did not know Kord all that well and judged him by appearances, it seemed an unlikely thing for such a refined young man as him to say. But Wolfram knew him personally – they had known each other since childhood, and had trained in the military together in the same unit in their late sixties. Underneath the facade he put on due to his mother, there was a temperament quite similar to his own.
“I guess even the most beautiful and delicate flower such as yourself can have the most poisonous stems,” Herschel said.
“What kind of idiom is that, you fool?” Kord asked, tilting his head in confusion. “You know what? Never mind. Besides, I only look delicate, but I'm a lot stronger and competent than you'll ever be.”
Wolfram watched as Herschel tossed back his head and laughed, as if it were the most hilarious thing he had ever heard.
“It's kind of hard to take that seriously from someone who's wearing that outfit,” Herschel gasped between laughs.
“As I told you earlier when you made such a big deal about it, it's the Tenor's Dressing! It's not something I would wear outside of performing!”
“Oh, please. You would if your mother told you to. You'll do anything that Mommy asks of you,” Herschel teased.
“Shut up! At least my mother cares about me. Where's yours? Oh, that's right!” Kord said, snapping his fingers. “She's busy fawning over your older, more responsible, and smarter brother! Meanwhile, poor incompetent Herschel is left here in the dust, disowned and abandoned.”
As much as Wolfram disliked Herschel, even he thought the comment was harsh as he noted how – for the first time he could ever remember seeing – even Herschel was shook. It did not help that it hit a raw nerve within himself, as their bickering reminded him of his own with Saralegui.
“I'm a survivor, Von Karbelnikoff. I'll find a way to stand on my own two feet, and live my life as I please,” Herschel said, angrily. “Can you say the same? Or will your mother run your life forever? At least your sister has the sense to put her foot down. I can see who wears the pants between you two.”
“Let's not talk about someone wearing pants. I heard you got so drunk in Rochefort that you were dancing in the town square without any of them. I also heard there was nothing spectacular about your dancing, or anything else.”
“That's only because it was cold and snowing. Of course one can't make good fireworks in the cold rain. Catch me on a warm sunny day and we'll see how spectacular I can get. That is, if you can get away from Mommy long enough.”
“No thanks, there's no telling what kinds of germs are on that overused toothpick of yours. My body is pure and clean, and I intend on keeping it that way until someone who is absolutely not you comes along. In the meanwhile, I saw a few mules on the way here. Surely one of those will stand still long enough for you to have a little fun. After all, I hear you don't discriminate.”
Wolfram watched the two bicker with amusement, unable to control the smile that crept onto his face. Watching them bicker was showing him different sides of them. This was the real Herschel von Voltaire – a playboy who was unwilling to live by the rigid rules set by his family, so much so that he would rather walk away from it all and mark his own path. He was a high contrast to Kord von Karbelnikoff, the man who let his mother dominate him and his every action – but still a man who had a feisty side of him that he held back from showing most people.
Even though they resented each other, they complemented each other very well. Sure, they were nothing alike – Herschel underperformed on purpose, while Kord overperformed in order to make up for something Wolfram was sure he understood more than anybody. Kord – just like him – had people underestimate and judge him based on his perceived delicateness.
He bit his lip when he remembered how harshly he had judged and taunted Saralegui about his own physical features during the times they exchanged letters. Whereas Kord and Herschel were nothing alike, Wolfram and Saralegui had a lot in common, even though they resented each other.
So that was what he and Saralegui probably looked like from an outsider's point of view? Was this why his mother was convinced that they had some sort of chemistry with each other? Saralegui evoked some sort of feelings in him, but he was not sure what they were – nor was he sure he wanted to find out.
Just then, he remembered that he had been intending to follow Saralegui before he was distracted by Herschel and Kord, and gasped loudly.
“I'll see you two later!” he blurted out.
“Wait, Wolfram – I wanted to talk with you,” Kord cried out.
“Sorry, later! Write me a letter, sometime!” Wolfram said as he turned to run off.
He looked over through the crowd to where Yuuri had been standing with Elizabeth, and sighed with relief that they were still in the same spot. As quickly as his relief had come, it dissipated once he took in that Saralegui was there and speaking to them, and the look on Elizabeth's face said it all.
He had to get to them, quickly.
With every step Saralegui took toward him, Yuuri's chest grew heavier with dread.
For starters, he was still quite ashamed of his actions at Saralegui's castle. Though he had apologized profusely afterward, things had seemed unsettled between them.
In fact, the entire event still seemed surreal – and often he found himself thinking about it and the events that had led up to it.
Especially the fear he had held about Wolfram actually wanting to be with Saralegui – which in retrospect might be because of his own confusing feelings on the matter.
And his feelings were very confusing.
Just two hours prior, he had acknowledged to himself that he did find men somewhat attractive, with Wolfram being the strongest example. However, he had always found women to be attractive, and the more he talked with Elizabeth, the more attracted he became to her.
Yet, he was suspicious of both of the sudden attractions – because he felt something was underlying beneath both of them. Something that had nothing to do with love or lust or any of those positive emotions, but of a negative one that was unrelated altogether. And somehow, the person walking toward him underlined that negative feeling even more.
“Yuuri, it's been awhile!” Saralegui said, upon reaching him.
Yuuri had not missed Wolfram's expressions while he danced with Saralegui, and he figured that they must have exchanged a few choice words during their dance. He drained the rest of what had to have been his sixth glass of wine, before speaking.
“Sara, it's good to see you again,” he said, politely. It wasn't a lie; he did consider Saralegui to be a friend. It was just that the war between Saralegui and Wolfram had left him wary of Saralegui – and of Wolfram also, to a far lesser extent. “This is Elizabeth,” Yuuri said, motioning to where she stood beside him, taking in the newcomer. “Elizabeth, this is King Saralegui of Small Shimaron.”
“Hello, Your Majesty,” she said, nodding.
“It's nice to meet you,” Saralegui said, nodding back.
Yuuri glanced at Saralegui's face, and noticed that he was studying Elizabeth rather intensely. He hoped that Saralegui would do nothing to start anything.
“So, you are the Elizabeth that Wolfram engaged himself to once, right?” Saralegui asked.
“Ah, yes, but that was so long ago! Also, it was an accident,” she said, quickly.
“Accidental like Yuuri engaging himself to Wolfram, right?” Saralegui said, his voice neutral.
All of Yuuri's hopes went flying out of the window. He imagined himself crying tears of loss as he waved goodbye to flying moneybags with wings, labeled “Hope”.
“I, uh, suppose?” she said.
“What does that matter? It's old news, in the past, all of it,” Yuuri said, hoping to diffuse anything that might be starting up. Elizabeth was already starting to look rather uncomfortable to him.
“Maybe it's old news to you, Yuuri, who never took that little accident seriously, and the same to Wolfram, who seems to be moving on, but what about you, Elizabeth? Is it old new to you?”
“I... yes. It's old news,” she said, laughing nervously. “It was all a mistake, after all.”
“A mistake you took seriously for many decades, right? It must have been crushing for you. My heart goes out to you.”
“Well, I've moved on as well.”
“I see. Are you moving on with Yuuri? I think you two would make an excellent couple,” Saralegui said. “I've long told him that these women who throw themselves at him are only after one thing, but you seem to be different from them. If you are over Wolfram, and Yuuri was never onto him in the first place, I think you two would be well-suited to each other.”
Finally, the reason why he was suspicious of his sudden awareness of feelings for Wolfram, and his sudden interest in Elizabeth, dawned on Yuuri. Wolfram had shown interest in him beyond his status, and Elizabeth wasn't the type to go after someone because of theirs either. He felt safe with the two, because they were not like the people Saralegui mentioned were after him.
In other words, if he acted on any perceived attraction to either Wolfram or Elizabeth or anyone, until he got over his current hangups about the very thing Saralegui mentioned, it would do anyone he even thought of pursuing a disservice.. It would be settling for the safest option – and Wolfram, Elizabeth, or any other person with legitimate interest in him deserved better than that.
Most importantly, he had to admit to himself that he was not quite ready for a real relationship with anyone, status-seeking or not. He was amazed at how all of his newfound perception had come to him in a matter of hours.
It had to be the wine.
“His Majesty and I are not interested in each other like that,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh? Pity. He needs a woman like you,” Saralegui said. “Are you interested in someone else, instead?”
“Currently? No. I'm just spending my time alone right now,” she said.
Yuuri could tell that Saralegui's line of questioning was starting to agitate her, and with Elizabeth being a lot like Wolfram, things could become explosive. And – speaking of Wolfram – Yuuri noticed him pushing his way through the crowd towards them, probably because he had sensed something was wrong. A huge part of him hoped that Wolfram would turn around and ignore it, because there was no telling what the outcome of this whole conversation between Saralegui and Elizabeth would be.
“You know what? Suddenly, I feel like dancing. Elizabeth, would you like to dance?” Yuuri asked, attempting to get her away from Saralegui.
“Yuuri, I suggest you tread carefully. Even though the lady professes to be content alone, I believe she still has feelings for Lord von Bielefeld,” Saralegui said, smiling sweetly at her.
“And you, someone who has known me for all of two minutes, presume that you know my feelings?” Elizabeth shot back.
So much for preventing things from boiling over, Yuuri thought to himself, as Wolfram finally reached them. He had to remove Elizabeth from the situation, because Saralegui versus Wolfram and Elizabeth spelled disaster. He gently took her arm, and winced when he noticed the look that came across Wolfram's face in response to his gesture.
What a situation.
“No, it is just that I am a highly perceptive person,” Saralegui said, turning and noting Wolfram's presence.
Yuuri watched him smirk, and turn back to Elizabeth.
“Though you say it is old news, the look on your face when Wolfram walked up to you said it all,” Saralegui said.
“Sara,” Yuuri warned. He did not feel like potentially breaking up any physical fights. “Please, drop it.”
“What?” Saralegui asked, innocently. “I'm just asking. I really do think you two would make a lovely couple, but as long as she doesn't acknowledge her lingering feelings for Lord von Bielefeld she will never be able to move on-”
It was then that Elizabeth knocked Yuuri's hand aside, and stepped in front of Saralegui. Yuuri watched as she pointed her finger directly at his chest.
“You want me to acknowledge my feelings for Wolfram?” she said, her voice low. “Fine.”
“Elizabeth, don't fall into his trap,” Wolfram said. “You don't have to say anything at all.”
“For almost sixty years, I loved Wolfram. I breathed Wolfram. I imagined the day that we would actually get married,” she said.
“Elizabeth-” Yuuri started.
“When I heard that he had managed to get himself engaged to someone else, I was devastated. When I heard it was the Maou, I was heartbroken. I deceived people into believing that I was interested in Yuuri in order to come here and commit treason, all because I couldn't bear the thought of Wolfram marrying another.”
“Elizabeth, let's go have a drink,” Yuuri pleaded, still trying to get her away from Saralegui. “It will calm your nerves.”
“When I saw that Wolfram really cared for Yuuri, however, I realized that I had lost,” she said, ignoring Yuuri's pleas. “You want to know what I feel about Wolfram? I love Wolfram, and I always will, in a way. But that love is no longer a romantic one, but more of a nostalgic one.”
“Nostalgic love? Please, explain,” Saralegui said.
“Whenever I see Wolfram, I no longer feel desperately in love with him – but I remember what it was like to be in love with him. That excitement of being in love, the hope that he returned my love, and the many dreams I had of us spending our lives together come back to my mind. However, I'm also reminded of the heartbreak I felt upon realizing that none of it would ever be – and it is that which makes me want to tread carefully when it comes to romance.”
“Elizabeth, I'm sorry,” Wolfram said. “I never meant to hurt you that much.”
Yuuri had never seen such a look of agony – of sheer guilt – come across Wolfram's face before as it had during Elizabeth's speech.
“Lord von Bielefeld apologizing to someone? And, he's sincere? I must be dreaming,” Saralegui said, smirking.
“There's no need to apologize, Wolfram. It's not your fault for not loving me. No one is at fault here, because you couldn't make yourself love me, or that I couldn't make myself not fall in love with you, either.”
“Deep. Profound, even,” Saralegui interjected.”You should take note, Wolfram, and realize that this is what you should be saying to Yuuri.”
“As for you, King Saralegui, I am not sure what your game is, but I'm not the one to play it with,” Elizabeth said, her finger still pointed at his chest.
“I was not playing a game with you, I was merely trying to provoke you into acknowledging your feelings for Wolfram. I thought maybe if I did so, you would come to terms with them and see that love did not end with Lord von Bielefeld. I mean, the Maou seems quite interested in you. I was just trying to help you two out.”
“I was not aware I needed a matchmaker,” Elizabeth said. “However, if that's what you truly meant, then thank you but I'll handle my own love life in the future. In the meanwhile, perhaps you should focus on your own?”
She finally dropped her hand, and stepped away from Saralegui.
“Elizabeth, would you really like to leave them alone and get a drink now? I needed another one three minutes ago.”
“Actually, I've stayed long enough. I'm going,” she said. “Goodbye, Wolfram. Yuuri. And, King Saralegui,” she said, nodding curtly.
“I'll walk you out,” Yuuri said to Elizabeth. He needed a breath of fresh air, anyhow.
“I do not need anyone to walk me out,” Elizabeth snapped. “Thanks, anyway,” she added, her tone quite a bit softer.
“Goodbye, Elizabeth. And I hope things work out for you!” Saralegui said, grinning like he had won a huge amount of money.
Something told Yuuri that he had won something that night, even if he were unsure what it was. Something also told him that Elizabeth was far less composed than she put on for Wolfram as he watched her walk off, her mouth trembling.
He briefly wondered if – perhaps – Wolfram put on a brave front for his sake as well. He ignored the impulsive desire in him to see her out anyhow, instead turning to chastise Saralegui for his words. But before he could do so, Wolfram forcefully grabbed Saralegui by the arm.
“If you'll excuse us, Yuuri, King Saralegui and I have a lot to discuss.”
Before he could object, Wolfram yanked Saralegui – who looked so very pleased with himself – further towards the corner of the room.
“What is it with this night?” Yuuri mumbled to himself.
Since there were no people in his proximity walking by with drink trays, Yuuri found himself walking to the closest table with drinks and appetizers, instead. He grabbed yet another glass of the red wine he had come to love in that night, knowing fully well that he was already dangerously teetering towards being drunken.
Just as he was about to take a sip, he noted that Wolfram's date, Kelby Loring, was standing close to the table, staring at where Wolfram had yanked Saralegui to and was holding an intense conversation with him. Yuuri took in the man for a few moments, before throwing all caution to the wind and walking up to him.
“Erm, hello,” Yuuri said. Even to him, it was a rather pathetic way of greeting someone.
He had a feeling he was going to make an ass out of himself in front of such a refined gentleman as Kelby Loring.
“Hello, Your Majesty,” Kelby Loring said.
Yuuri noted that his voice seemed almost amused. Once again, he was feeling rather inadequate in comparison to the man. Yuuri wondered what in the world Wolfram ever saw in him when he could easily pull men like the one in front of him.
“I, um, came in on the middle of your conversation with the others about you and Wolfram. Er, how did you two come to meet?”
“Wolfram never told you where we met? I'm almost hurt, especially since he considers you to be one of his closest friends. After His Highness, of course.”
Wait... Wolfram considered Murata his closest friend instead of him? The idea of that cut Yuuri to the bone, especially since he had not been privy to this knowledge until it came from this man – who he had not known anything about prior to that night.
It bothered him.
“Anyhow, Wolfram and I actually met in the town square during one of those artsy events a while back. I'd known of him, and seen him at a few balls and such, but we'd never talked directly. I was just there, watching a guy do renditions of some dancing children, and noticed he was also standing there. It was cute, the way he was totally entranced by the man's sketches,” Kelby Loring said.
Yuuri did not miss the obvious fondness for Wolfram in his voice, and wondered if Wolfram was just as interested in the man as he seemed to be interested in Wolfram.
“Before I knew it, I found myself striking up a conversation with him over it, and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the event together discussing art things,” Kelby continued. “Impulsively, I asked him out the next day, and we ended up spending the rest of that week I was in town together, meeting up at various places. We've kept in touch through letters and things.”
Listening to Kelby Loring's story made Yuuri wonder why Wolfram had never mentioned the man. Weren't they friends? Surely, Wolfram could talk to him about someone he potentially loved.
Just where did he and Wolfram stand?
“Say, what attracts you to Wolfram?” he asked. He wondered if the man had similar answers as he did.
“It's hard to explain, to be honest. I just am? We have a lot in common, yet we have many differences. I actually cherish our differences more than our similar tastes, for some reason. It's like we compliment each other so very well. He has strength in the areas where I'm a bit weak, and the opposite seems to be true as well.”
Now that was something Yuuri never thought he would hear being said about Wolfram. Even more damning, it struck a nerve within him, because Yuuri felt essentially the same way as he did. It also put his skepticism that this man could potentially be like all the other status-hungry men after Wolfram to rest. This man seemed genuine to him.
However, it did nothing to put him at ease overall. If anything, he felt threatened.
“Wolfram is a wonderful guy, but I worry sometimes that I'm not wonderful enough for him. After all, he had you – and coming after you makes me feel mighty inadequate,” Kelby Loring said, his voice filled with sincerity.
It shocked Yuuri that such an astounding man would feel inadequate in comparison to him, especially since he himself felt inept in contrast with Kelby Loring.
“Ah well, there was nothing between me and Wolfram, really! If anything, he moved on to better things,” Yuuri said, before he could catch himself.
Why in the world was he trying to reassure this man?
“Pardon me for being frank, Your Majesty, but even if you say there was nothing between you two, I'm afraid that may have just been on your side. Wolfram sees things quite a bit differently, unfortunately. It's like I'm trying to fight an invisible enemy standing between us sometimes, he's so reserved and wary. I just hope that - one day – Wolfram will love me as much as he loved you,” Kelby said, giving him a small, sad smile. “If you'll excuse me, it's about time for me to exit. I'm going to go tell Wolfram goodnight – and escort him out, perhaps. It was a pleasure talking with you, Your Majesty. I see Wolfram's high opinion of you is most accurate."
“It was nice talking with you as well,” Yuuri said.
In reality, Yuuri wished the conversation had never taken place. It had only served to make him question what he was to Wolfram, what he meant to Wolfram, and where he and Wolfram were going.
As he watched Kelby walk over to where Wolfram stood, he drained his glass of wine and picked up yet another.
Not for the first time since his engagement to Wolfram ended, he felt as if he had lost something important to him. Something that he would never get back.
And as sad and guilty as he felt about it, something inside of him felt an unquenchable anger over it all.
“You are the most rotten person in existence,” Wolfram said, after pulling Saralegui into a corner. “Elizabeth did not deserve such treatment from you! In the future, leave my friends out of our game!”
“You were the first person to bring extras in on our game, Lord von Bielefeld,” Saralegui said, smirking. “Need I remind you of your brother's friend's role?”
“Like Beries had nothing to do with your making me end my engagement,” Wolfram said, glaring at Saralegui.
“He knew about it, he just did not do anything. That was all my work. I don't need any help at defeating you,” Saralegui said.
“I didn't need any help at defeating you! I could have done it all alone, but it just so happens that Yozak saw what you did to me. He wanted to help, I never enlisted anybody,” Wolfram said.
“So he saw me? Hmm, next time I'll have to be even more discreet.”
“There won't be a next time. This ends tonight.”
“Oh, you are conceding? This time, for real?”
“I don't want you using my friends, or upsetting them. I already feel horrible enough about the situation with Elizabeth. She's trying so hard, and the last thing she needs is your big mouth instigating things!”
“Lord von Bielefeld? Actually feeling remorse for something? Between this, and all of your heartfelt apologies tonight, I'm beginning to think I should reassess my beliefs that you are nothing more than a brat.”
“And you aren't one? Causing me to end my engagement was a bratty move! Accosting Elizabeth as you just did was one, as well! You have no right to call me a brat, because you're just as much of one as I am.”
“That's hardly the case,” Saralegui said.
“Oh really? The only difference between us is that I'm a spoiled brat and you are a snooty one.”
“You are both of those.”
“Heh, you're right. I am. But so are you.”
“I'm nothing like you.”
“You're exactly like me. We just give others a different front, is all. At least I'm up front with my brattiness, unlike you who hides it behind sniping and that stupid smirk of yours.”
The more he stood there, talking to his arch enemy, the sicker he got. If he had not felt that way since the prior night, he would have accused Saralegui of pulling another pheromone stunt on him. Either way, between Saralegui's verbal assault of Elizabeth and his guilt over the entire situation with her, and the illness, he needed a breath of fresh air.
“You keep talking as if you hold all the cards in this game tonight. Need I remind you of what I know, and how revealing it could ruin your well-laid plans? Even if you have a backup plan, I would still love to see you even briefly squirm under that much pressure as those eager rats swamp you. It would make you miserable, yes?
“Then do it and savor the moment!” Wolfram snapped.
“I don't think I'll do that, though,” Saralegui said. “Your mother has been so hospitable to me, I may as well return the favor by not humiliating her bratty son.”
“The gesture is appreciated, though I don't know if I can trust your words.”
“Don't worry, I'm serious. In fact, I think I will leave you alone right now. I've had more than enough fun for the night,” Saralegui said.
“At the expense of someone's pain, I might add,” Wolfram grumbled.
“Why do you care so much? Clearly you did not care when she came to fight Yuuri in order to prove how much she loved you.”
“Just shut up.”
“Such a weak spot there for you, isn't it? Probably because – just like her – you are left lying to yourself that you're over something that hurts every single time you even think about it.”
“Is that all you can respond with, now? Shut up? Oh well,” Saralegui said, patting Wolfram's shoulder. “I guess the truth really can render one speechless. Anyhow, don't worry. There are plenty of people willing to allow you to pretend they are Yuuri in the dark. After all, it's not like they won't be pretending you're more to them than a rise in status.”
Wolfram clutched at his chest, not because the words hurt his feelings, but because there was actual pain there. Whatever it was that had him sick, it was making him worse and spreading from his stomach in the form of hot pain. He closed eyes eyes and grimaced in pain.
“Lo... Lord von Bielefeld. What is wrong with you? You don't look very well,” Saralegui said, suddenly.
“What in Shinou's name do you care for?” Wolfram gritted out.
“I am not a heartless monster, you know.”
“Then quit acting like one and saying the most foul things you can in order to hurt me.”
He opened his eyes, and glared in the face of his nemesis after scanning the crowd to see if they were paying any attention. Luckily enough for him, his mother – who had dragged Murata out on the dance floor and was twirling him around – had most of the others distracted. He noted that Murata looked as sick as he felt.
He also did not miss that briefly – just briefly – there was a look of alarmed concern on Saralegui's face, as well as a brief flash of hurt, before his normal disdainful look returned.
“Well, you must be fine after all. Until next time, Lord von Bielefeld,” Saralegui said.
Wolfram watched wordlessly as Saralegui gave him one final smirk, before spinning on his heels and departing towards his mother – who met his eye and winked at him. He felt even sicker at the idea that is was his mother who had enlisted Saralegui to show up, and caused the entire debacle. He had to get out of that room, with all the noise, and scents, and disconcerting looks of disappointment and greed being shot his way.
He had to get away, and forget Saralegui's hurtful words.
Saralegui berated himself for the umpteenth time that night, as he walked away from Wolfram and toward Lady Cheri, who had just ended her dance with the Sage.
The conversation he had hoped to have with Wolfram had went every way but where he had wanted it to go. Instead, he had insulted him and obviously hurt his feelings as well, as well as went out of his way to hurt Elizabeth's as well. Not only that, Yuuri probably thought less of him.
And his final jab – right before Wolfram had clutched at his chest – had completely crossed the line.
He had been so thrown off balance at Wolfram having someone pretend to be his date, especially considering who it was. Wolfram's mother – upon visiting his castle – had relayed quite a bit of gossip to him, including rumors that he and Yozak had something going on.
And honestly, it bothered him.
Before Wolfram had spotted him, Saralegui had just enough time to view him in Yozak's arms, comfortable and at ease. Smiling up into his face, as if it were nothing. As if whatever connection between them were real.
And that had been before he had figured out who the man was, because Yozak's back was the only thing he could view. When Wolfram had spotted him and started to stalk over, Yozak had turned – and Saralegui had recognized him first as “Kelby Loring” before his memory of Cheri's gushing over Yozak and Wolfram's newfound friendship had caused the clues to fall into place.
Loring had not simply been a random noble who he had run off and away from Wolfram, but a key player in Wolfram's scheme against him. Saralegui had lied to Wolfram when he had had implied that he figured out Yozak was Loring prior to that night. He hadn't. His mind had not even considered it. He had long thought that night he had implied such nasty things about Wolfram, his running Loring off had been the final cause of Wolfram's plotting against him – not an element of Wolfram's plans against him.
And that realization had ticked him off beyond comprehension.
Was there nothing real between them? As much as Saralegui had brooded over their last encounter, he had believed that – at the very least – Wolfram was somewhat interested in him – at least physically. He could not deny his own interests either, nor how ever since their very first encounter had placed Wolfram firmly in his thoughts, dreams, and desires.
And he hated it, because he was not sure if any of it was real. Not the initial kiss, not the flirting between them, not even the passionate moments they shared at his castle.
It was not real between them, and probably never would be.
He turned his attention toward the man he had given a secret signal to upon learning of Wolfram's deceptions, and locked eyes with him. He shook his head, and gave a signal for him to back off from following Yozak around and waiting for his hand signal to pull off Yozak's wig.
He had done enough damage for the night, and maybe – just maybe – the knowledge that Wolfram probably hated him even more than before would finally help him get over it.
He approached Lady Cheri, who smiled warmly at him. Saralegui supposed that it was clear on his face that his and Wolfram's talk did not go well at all, for her look of warmness quickly turned to one of concern.
“King Saralegui, are you alright?” she asked.
“I'm fine. It just didn't go well, is all,” he said, quietly. There was something about her that made it easy for him to tell the simple truth to her, and not hide his feelings.
“I swear, you and Wolfram are more alike than you are different,” she said, sighing.
Amazing how her son had essentially said the same thing to him moments prior. “Yes, but there's simply too much baggage between us,” he admitted.
“Only because the both of you are too stubborn to let it go, and neither of you are willing to concede to the other and be honest,” she said.
If it had been any other person, he would have lashed out, insulting her in the silky tone that he reserved for those he disdained the most. Yet, seeing the sheer concern for his wellbeing in her face made that impossible.
Instead, he gave her a half-smile. “I suppose so.” In truth, he was certain that Wolfram had been honest with him when it came to addressing his contempt of him.
For all the things he'd said about no one ever loving Wolfram, the truth was, he had been projecting big time. He had essentially the same problem as Wolfram, being surrounded by greedy suitors who looked at him as a rise in status and not as a man to love unconditionally.
Perhaps he used such words against Wolfram because he could not say them to himself.
“Wolfram,” a soothing voice whispered from behind, its owner gently grasping one of his wrists.
“Do we need to go to another plan?”
“No. He claims he won't be revealing anything tonight, though I'm still wary of him.”
“I think we've had enough for tonight. Care to make our elaborate exit?”
“Let's do so, quickly. I think I'm a few minutes away from having the contents of my stomach exit before I do.”
“Maybe you should have thrown up on him,” Yozak joked.
“His face would have been more than worth every heave and the embarrassment of it all.”
“It's still not too late. Want to go over there and give him a present?”
“I'll pass. But the next time he and I have words, I'll be sure to consider it as an option,” Wolfram said.
Yozak linked his arm with Wolfram's. “Let's exit this fretful place,” he said.
And so, arms linked together, Wolfram and 'Kelby Loring' made their exit from the dwindling ball, both of them giving polite nods to those they passed as they left.
Yozak, wary of Saralegui, wisely directed Wolfram out of the west exit, past where Gwendal was standing with Günter, clearly exasperated over having been cornered yet again by Doris.
Once they were outside, in front of the area where the carriages arrived to drop of their guests, Yozak spoke up.
“I guess we'll split off right here, then,” Yozak said, gently unlinking his arm from Wolfram's. He turned facing Wolfram, and placed his hands on his shoulders.
“Sure. Thanks for everything tonight,” he said, quietly.
“Please... use the time we bought you wisely. What I'm saying is, don't let the way some of these people are after you make you believe that there's no one out there with legitimate interest in you..”
“I'll be fine,” he said. “And yes, I'll be using this time wisely.”
He couldn't bring himself to admit to Yozak that his perception of love had already been skewed in that direction, perhaps – especially after Saralegui's words – permanently.
What happened next shocked Wolfram to his core.
Yozak gently took Wolfram's face in his hands, moved in, and lightly kissed his lips. It was a brief kiss, and if it was not for the ghost of a feeling left behind when Yozak pulled away after a few seconds, he would have sworn he had imagined the entire thing.
“I thought it might be a more realistic touch,” Yozak whispered in his ear, before correcting his posture.
To Wolfram, Yozak may as well had been speaking in another language. His mind was still trying to reconcile itself with his lips.
“Goodnight, Wolfram,” Yozak said, patting his shoulder.
Wolfram watched as he turned around, and followed a crowd of people that had passed them by as they eyeballed their kiss, undoubtedly to make it seem as if he were slipping away to where Kelby Loring came from.
After Yozak was out of sight, Wolfram still stood there, unable to move or even think properly. All of his thoughts were jumbled and fragmented.
He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts, and was about to turn when he noticed Conrart standing there, holding up a very ill-looking Murata.
Both of them were looking at him in ways that made him uncomfortable. Conrart looked as if he were pondering something deep, while Murata seemed to look right through him, period – as if he could see that the kiss had left him off-balance.
“That was just his way of making things seem a bit real, is all,” he said, quickly, before either of them could ask anything. “Anyhow, what happened to you? You look as sick as I feel.”
“His Highness got a bit ill in there, unfortunately,” Conrart said.
“It was... most embarrassing,” Murata said. “I tried to make it out in time, but I couldn't. It almost hit Lord Weller, but he moved just in time.
Just the thought of it made him even sicker. “I... I don't feel so good,” Wolfram said.
And just like that, suddenly the sickness he'd had that entire day manifested completely as he leaned over a rail and puked all over the shrubbery below.
What a night, and hopefully one he would never have to repeat ever again.
Author's note: Finally, the longest night is OVER. This has legit been sitting fully-written for almost 2 years. So has the 2 upcoming chapters, though I'll be gutting those. Next chapter: Conrart worries about his brother, Wolfram and Murata are ill, and Yuuri hangs with Gisela for a bit.