"Oooooh, Yuu-chan! How adorable you look!"
She smells like baby powder and laundry soap and hand crème and curry, though he doesn't know what those things are and won't for years. He doesn't know her proper name, either, not the Japanese one or the Americanized version. She's just Mama. It's the only word Yuuri knows, or needs.
Mama's touch is gentle, her skin as soft as his stuffed koala's velveteen, but the koala's face can't crinkle with joy when Yuuri smiles, and it can't pick him up and press him to a laundry soap-and-curry-scented bosom. The koala doesn't have silky chestnut hair for Yuuri to grab hold of and pull undone.
Yuuri has a rival, Big Poopy-Head, who smells like tobacco and ironed shirts and automobiles and sometimes in the morning like Mama. Big Poopy-Head likes to kiss Mama, which makes Yuuri jealous. He picks up Yuuri, too, but when he changes him he never gets it right and Yuuri fidgets and fusses. When that happens Mama yells at Big Poopy-Head. That makes Yuuri happy.
"Oh, Yuu-chan!" Mama finishes tying a bow in Yuuri's shaggy hair to go with the ruffled clothes that he will not know to be embarrassed by until he is older. Right now, though, life is good, all yummy-nummy and poopie-change and blankie-bed and Koko-bear and best of all, Mama.
Yuuri Shibuya is in love.
The day is won, but so much that Yuuri finds precious may have been lost.
Right now Yuuri doesn't feel like a victorious king, or a powerful Maou. Right now he's just a fifteen-year-old boy wracked with grief and doubt. He looks at the pale bloodied figure before him and thinks Dammit, I'm not worth your life!
Conrad, his guardian, his friend. His companion since he arrived in Shin Makoku. But Conrad knew him even before he was born; he gave him his name, helped with his arrival, and theirs is a link Yuuri may not understand but feels nonetheless. Since he arrived in this new, strange world, Conrad has been the only one who understands him completely. Whenever he meets Conrad's kind, warm gaze with his own, something passes between them that Yuuri can't explain. Whatever it is, it comforts him. It also gives him tingles up and down his body, like a mild electric shock – surprising, but pleasant.
It's strong enough that it makes Wolfram angry.
Don't die, Conrad, Wolfram said on the battlefield when he saw Conrad's grievous injuries. Dazed with his own shock and fear, Yuuri'd forgotten Wolfram, too, must be worrying – Conrad was -- is! IS, dammit! his brother. But Yuuri can't stop thinking what will happen if Conrad dies?
What will happen to me?
He's ashamed to be worrying about himself, but losing Conrad is unthinkable; not having him around for the last few months has been unbearable enough . He's never felt this way about anyone, that someone was as much a part of him as his own flesh. Conrad's like that. While he was missing, Yuuri thought about him all the time -- why he left, where he'd gone, how he was doing. Gunter and Gwendal thought his pursuit of Conrad was nothing short of an obsession.
But of course he'd never have let Conrad disappear! Of course he had to get him back! Conrad is his most important person—
Yuuri sits back on his heels and tries to catch his breath. Conrad is my most important person.
Am I...is this...could this be...?
He should be freaked out by this. Conrad's male, so's he, and Conrad's older, but somehow none of that matters. Conrad's...Conrad.
Cheri stirs beside him. She's holding her son's hand, pouring healing magic into him. She's whispering something, soothing, motherly words that ordinarily would surprise coming from flighty, shallow Cheri. But Conrad engenders concern, and loyalty, and trust...and love.
I...love you, Conrad.
And in that moment, Conrad's eyes open, seeking his. There are tears in Conrad's eyes, and Yuuri feels his own welling up, and a lump growing in his throat. "Yuuri, you're safe."
The tingle is there, too, weak but present, and it doesn't matter if Wolfram notices, or anyone else for that matter. Yuuri's heart is filled with happiness. You're going to live. You're going to stay with me. "Yes, Conrad. I'm safe." Because of you. "I'm safe."
"You two look good together!"
Yuuri jumps; he's so intent on the fair-haired woman before him he didn't hear Cheri-sama come out on the balcony from the party. "Um," he says faintly, blushing to the roots of his hair. "Um, I—"
"Mother, how could you?!" Wolfram (who's been lurking sullenly the whole time) comes away from the wall with furious intent. "How can you say such a thing in front of me, Yuuri's fiancé?!" and mother and son go at it tooth and nail. Relieved, Yuuri turns back to the woman beside him, to the tinkling bells of her laughter. "Thank goodness they went back inside," he sighs.
"Cheri-sama is very sweet, don't you think, Yuuri?" Flurin's lilting voice is playful and her eyes sparkle with amusement.
"Um, er, yes." He hates how he mumbles at her, stumbling over words, but Yuuri's already half in love with the beautiful queen of Caloria. The first thing he thought when he saw her was What a beautiful lady! and if anything, she's grown more lovely. In his eyes she's perfection: gentle manners, pale flowing hair, eyes that glitter like jewels (not an intense, angry emerald like Wolfram's, but softer, the color of the sea). Her slender figure fits perfectly against his own; she's even shorter than he is, which is a rare commodity in this world of tall, handsome people. Flurin even has a tragic past, which makes her exceptionally alluring to Yuuri's secretly (and embarrassingly) romantic nature.
Her hand is on his arm. He catches his breath as gooseflesh rises. Could she like me, too?
He definitely gets that impression. After all, she followed him on his quest – even stowed away to be part of the action. That, Yuuri concludes, is very, very cool. She's like the heroine of some comic book. Or anime, or even a computer game.
She seemed genuinely pleased to see him tonight. No – happy to see him. Delighted, in fact. And isn't it the usual kind of thing for rulers of different countries to, you know, make political marriages for the good of their people?
Maybe, Yuuri thinks, this is the real, true stuff you find in myths and epic poems, the ones about the fearless prince (or Maou) and the fair damsel (Flurin) in distress (okay, she's not in distress now, but she was a while back) where the hero (Yuuri) rides his white charger (okay, brown, Wolfram's the one with the white horse) to rescue her (he came by boat, but you get the idea, and he did rescue her, in fact. Sort of.). It's the kind of story a guy should want written about himself – the kind of love a guy deserves, instead of the weird arrangement Wolfram has in mind (and which still weirds Yuuri out, though he's given up trying to kick Wolfram out of his bed each night) and not the kind of hero-worship he's decided is at the bottom of his feelings for Conrad. And if he still gets a shiver when he and Conrad look at each other, that way, well, too bad. Flurin is all woman, and beautiful to boot, and he gets a different, but equally pleasurable tingle from her.
Yuuri smiles at Flurin.
Flurin smiles back.
Wow, Yuuri thinks. This is a woman I could love.
Very, very cool.
Once upon a time Yuuri Shibuya got sucked through a toilet, became a Demon King and slapped an arrogant pretty-boy named Wolfram, thus becoming engaged to him.
For several years now he's been paying for that particular breach of etiquette. Wolfram is miserable, petty and argumentative; Yuuri keeps him at arm's length without actually denying their situation (which would be impolite). He's endured Wolfram invading his space, his friendships, even his bed (though strictly platonically, Yuuri hastens to assure). He's put up with the assumptions made by Gunther and Cheri-sama (and sometimes Conrad, too, who he thought was on his side) that some day he and Wolfram will actually (gah!) get married.
But then one day he comes in from playing baseball with Conrad and once again finds Wolfram waiting impatiently for him, muttering, "Cheater!" under his breath. And Yuuri suddenly wonders, Why does Wolfram keep hanging around me like this, when it's so obvious I'm not interested?
…what if Wolfram really does – sort of, kind of -- love him?
That's a staggering thought.
That night, restless, he turns on his side and watches Wolfram sleep. He concedes that Wolfram really is remarkably pretty. And even if he does have a quick, vile temper, is totally self-involved and calls Yuuri a wimp, there's no denying Wolfram's loyalty to him. Would it be so awful to be loved by Wolfram?
Would loving him back be an impossibility?
Yuuri rolls onto his back. He's already faced his infatuation with Conrad – so how can it be okay to care for one guy, but not another?
…maybe it's time he conceded the point.
The next time Wolfram calls him "cheater," instead of arguing Yuuri smiles at him. Wolfram falters a little, and shuts his mouth.
The next time Wolfram shows up in his ridiculous nightgown, Yuuri smiles and says, "Sleep well, Wolfram," and holds open the covers for him. Wolfram gives him a startled "Goodnight" and rolls on his side.
The next time Conrad pulls out the baseball, Yuuri asks Wolfram to join them. Wolfram won't, but remains in the courtyard to watch. He doesn't yell "Wimp!" even once.
All of which makes Wolfram quieter, and easier to manage, and Yuuri begins to relax. Maybe this engagement business isn't as bad as he'd feared.
And then one night, when Yuuri comes to bed, Wolfram is waiting.
"Good night," Yuuri yawns, pulling back the covers.
Powerful arms snake around him, and he is pulled on top of his fiancé. His naked fiancé. "Wh—what are you doing?"
"Don't be stupid," Wolfram says, kissing him.
Yuuri manages to pull his face away, though Wolfram's arms are still wrapped tightly about him. "Wolfram! Stop!"
"What if someone sees us?"
A snort of disgust. "This is the Maou's bedroom, Yuuri! No one would dare enter."
Oh, dear. No rescue that way. "But...but…we shouldn't!"
"Why? We're engaged!"
"I know! But—"
"But what!?" Clearly annoyed, Wolfram gives him the "glare of doom." Yuuri shivers. Wolfram's glare of doom is terrifying.
But what's worse is the very obvious something poking him between the legs. Yuuri's seventeen – he knows perfectly well what the "something" is, especially because his own "something" is getting interested.
"It's wrong," he says weakly, as much to his body as to Wolfram.
"Wimp." Wolfram smiles; it's even more terrifying than his glare. "You act like you're afraid you'll get pregnant."
Pregnant! Oh no! That means Wolfram is thinking of doing…things, serious things. Things with parts that go into other parts. Yuuri hadn't gotten past the idea of kissing.
All that time he was considering loving Wolfram back, he forgot about this stuff.
Can he do it?
Does he want to?
"Shut up, wimp," Wolfram says, rolling them so he's on top. He starts to kiss Yuuri again.
Yuuri tries hard, very hard, to enjoy kissing Wolfram. And to be sure, Wolfram is a pretty good kisser (not that Yuuri has much to compare him to) and he can't call Yuuri names while they're kissing, and he has nice skin, and Yuuri doesn't hate the way it makes his body feel to have Wolfram rubbing up against it.
So his body's having a great time, but all he can think of is what if someone sees us? and this is wrong, I know it's wrong.
When they break apart, Wolfram's face is flushed, his hair is in his eyes, and his lids are half-closed. He looks messy and sexy. "Yuuri," he purrs in a low, seductive voice.
Yuuri wants to. Yuuri's body certainly wants to.
Yuuri wants to love Wolfram.
"I'm sorry, Wolfram." Yuuri forces a smile. "I guess I really am a wimp, huh?"
Wolfram's smile fades; the fire in his bright green eyes seems to dim. Without a word, he gets up and leaves the chamber.
The next day their engagement is broken. Gunter faints. Greta cries. The three maids chatter and cluck. Gwendal scowls and signs papers. Yuuri goes to the stables and pours out the whole story to Conrad.
Wolfram hides in his room.
The day after that Cheri takes a new lover, the king of Cabalcade comes to visit, Anissina makes Gunter try out an invention and Gwendal scowls and signs papers. Yuuri plays catch with Greta. Wolfram comes down to dinner.
Days become weeks. Life goes on as before in Shin Makoko.
But no matter how hard he tries, or how much time passes, Yuuri can't forget the light going out in Wolfram's eyes.
Over the last six years, Shibuya Yuuri, 27th Maou, has had occasion to ask himself a number of tough and largely unanswerable questions:
- how exactly did he end up as Demon King?
- how does a Maou find time to do homework?
- how many times will he be shot at, kidnapped and endangered before the Mazoku and humans achieve peace?
- is there any way to arrange for Hidecki Matsui to be sucked down a toilet so he can play for Shin Makoku?
Remarkably, Yuuri's managed to accomplish it all. Well, except that last bit.
Today he's asking himself something infinitely more terrifying:
- how does the Maou survive his wedding day?
Yuuri stands at the foot of the high altar, ready to ascend to his -- doom? Fate? He tries not to fidget (Gunter says bridegroom-kings do not fidget, but on the other hand Gunter routinely collapses in sobs and/or nosebleeds, so his advice is at best suspect).
Nervously Yuuri casts his eyes around the chamber. Murata waves at him. Easy for him to be so light-hearted; he's not the one getting married! Baron von Stoffel is in attendance; he's clearly dressed to impress, and next to him Raven holds his accustomed place. After all this time, the two finally have acknowledged their commitment to each other. Yuuri's glad – he's never hated Stoffel, and Raven seems an okay kind of guy.
Flurin of Caloria is seated at the front of the honored guests. Seeing her, Yuuri feels a little pang; his crush on her was of the epic variety, and lingered until the day she gently told him she thought of him more as a brother. Cheri-sama hangs on the arm of her latest human lover. Perhaps she'll marry this one – though no doubt Wolfram would object, and Cheri loves her youngest son even more than she loves love. Her oldest, Gwendel, is – no surprise here! – scowling at the world at large. Anissina stands demurely by Gwendel's side, a position she's maintained since that day last summer when, having had quite enough of being tortured as Anissina's guinea pig, he grabbed her and kissed her soundly. The generally held opinion is that she chased him until he caught her. Anissina can outwit any man alive.
The wait is so long, Yuuri's seized by panic. A large, warm hand clasps his shoulder. "Don't worry," Conrad murmurs gently. "You haven't been left at the altar. Some people just take longer to dress, you know."
Of course Conrad would understand his fears. "I know," Yuuri says, He has a momentary image of Wolfram standing before his mirror for hours, and feels an old ache. But the memory somehow steadies him. "Thank you, Conrad."
"For what, Yuuri?"
"For—" He wants to say for everything, because it's true, but emotion closes his throat. Conrad has always been there as his support, his companion, his protector. No wonder he believed for a time that his feelings for Conrad were of the romantic sort. The truth is, they go far deeper than that; it's a love that has nothing at all to do with romance, and everything to do with the linking of souls.
Conrad ruffles his hair, though they are nearly the same height now, and his wide mouth curves into a smile. Strangely, absurdly, Yuuri thinks of his mother, and is comforted.
Conrad glances toward the door. "Heika. It's time."
There is a flurry of trumpets, the golden doors part, and the person to whom Yuuri has pledged his life and kingdom sweeps into the chamber. There is a murmur of approval from the gathered guests, and Yuuri's breath quite literally is taken away. He'd expected white lace and a veil, but instead he beholds a perfectly-fitted white uniform, with lace at the throat and cuffs, gold epaulets and shiny white boots. The short hair is artfully arrayed to curl over the wide, perfect forehead.
It's the sort of outfit Wolfram might choose.
--but then again, his is an unconventional bride, as much of a soldier as Conrad, as uncompromising as Wolfram, and if not as sweet as Yuuri's mother or as traditionally lovely as Flurin, still with a special grace of her own.
There is a sharp poke in his ribs. "Wimp. You have to say the words or it can't start!"
Yuuri turns his head; Wolfram, shoes and sword polished to a blinding shine, is glaring at him. Yuuri cannot hold his gaze; his eyes drop as he turns to utter the words he's rehearsed.
"I, Shibuya Yuuri, call for you, Leila of Francshire, to be my queen. Come forward, and let us be joined."
The crowd sighs. Gunter sobs profusely and Gwendel hushes him, though to little avail. Conrad gives Yuuri a final squeeze on the shoulder. Wolfram…well, Wolfram's gone uncharacteristically quiet. Yuuri's heart pounds, but as he watches his chestnut-haired, tomboyish warrior-bride approach, he tells himself she's everything he ever wanted. He's lucky to have found it all in one person. Yuuri takes Leila's hand, and together they ascend to where Ulrike waits to unite them.
There's a lot of talk and music and ceremonial details and Yuuri finds his mind wandering. He thinks about all the people he has loved in his short life, and his heart feels so full he's afraid it may explode. He wonders; if he falters, will Leila shore him up? Will she defend him with her life, as Conrad has done? Will she follow him against terrible odds, as Flurin did? When he is hurt, will she clasp him tightly and make everything all right, like Mama?
And if he falls, will she catch him and never let him go, and if she cannot hold him, will she choose to fall with him, like—
"Yuuri," Conrad whispers at his elbow, "pay attention."
"I…what?" he says, having lost his place.
"Wimp!" Wolfram's growl pierces the solemnity. When Yuuri looks, Wolfram is rolling his eyes.
"People of Shin Makoku, honored guests and witnesses to this ceremony," Ulrike intones, "As Shinou commands, these two shall now be united—"
Oh no! Who would dare interrupt! Yuuri immediately turns to look at Wolfram, but Wolfram just stares at him, with a look of disbelief on his face. Not Wolfram, them… King Antoine of Francshire, perhaps? He was Leila's intended, before Yuuri. But no; Antoine merely looks perplexed. Yuuri scans the chamber. And suddenly realizes--
every face is turned to him, with the same expression of disbelief.
I said it?
"Yuuri-heika?" Ulrike turns a serious face to him. "Do you, or do you not pledge your love to this person for all eternity?"
Yuuri opens his mouth.
And closes it again.
"Yuuri-heika?" Ulrike gazes at him with concern.
"Yuuri?" Conrad prompts.
"I…um," Yuuri croaks. "Well, I—"
"Yuuri!" Leila growls. Oh no, a scary face as terrifying as Wolfram's.
Words still are not forming in Yuuri's mouth. He daren't look at the woman by his side for fear Leila will start shouting at him, as Wolfram would do. As Wolfram always does, always will--
"Excuse me, please," he says faintly. "What was the question?"
"Yuuri-heika," Ulrike says, leaning forward, "Is there some reason you cannot pledge your love to this person?"
No, say no, Yuuri tells himself.
But strangely, when he opens his mouth, what comes out is a raspy, "Yes. There is." He swallows. "Well, yes, I--um. Have a reason."
"What reason!?" Leila hisses, and once again Yuuri sees Wolfram in her expression.
"Leila. You're…perfect. In every way. Really. But…"
Say it, Yuuri, say it, just say it! "But…I love someone else," he stammers. "I guess."
"You guess?!!" Leila's hand is on her sword, or where her sword would be, if she were wearing one. "WHO?!"
"Um," Yuuri says. He closes his eyes against a wave of vertigo, but when he opens them again, everyone is still there, still staring at him. This is hell. This must be hell.
What the hell.
He says a name.
And all hell breaks loose.
But when the commotion finally dies down, and Cheri is fanning Gunter, who has fainted again, and the three maids have finished squealing, and Conrad is sitting on the steps holding his head and laughing, and truly wimpy King Antoine has finally made his move and offered to kill Yuuri on Leila's behalf, and she's declined the offer because Antoine is far more appealing in this mood than he's ever been before, and Murata and Ulrike are off behind the tapestry ending 800 years of Ulrike's status as Maiden, and Gwendal and Anissina have decided to elope to avoid the whole rigmarole of court weddings and Stoffel and Raven are halfway back to their home after concluding the Maou has finally lost his marbles—
--when all this has happened and order is restored, Yuuri remains in the middle of the chamber, totally oblivious to the havoc he's caused.
Because he's still kissing a very startled Wolfram–
--and he doesn't give a damn who sees them.