"Good work, everyone!"
Yuuri was very proud of his little baseball team. They were making excellent progress and even though the practice was harder than usual they manage to follow his every drill, every maneuver and every instruction with perfect ease. Under Murata's management and his coaching they were beginning to take the shape of an in-league team.
As they were all gathering their things and scattering to their respective homes, Yuuri could hear them talking about how joyful they were. Yuuri was also happy, but he wondered if his happiness would last once he was back in his own home. It wasn't as though his baseball habit was frowned at, it was simply met with less enthusiasm then he had expected. His father was always disappointed that Yuuri was not spending his time at home having a father-son quality time and his mother always complained about baseball being boring ("But do your best, Yuu-chan!"). But then she used to complain about boys in general being boring ("I've always wanted a girl so that we could go shopping together and eat frozen yogurt by the promenade. Boys are so boring, all they do is play baseball and then they're off to be the rulers of some foreign land and forget all about their mothers, but mama loves you no matter what!").
Shori was a different story.
"You should try and study more, Yuu-chan. Nobody would want an ignorant king!" he would say loftily to Yuuri whenever he bothered taking a break from his Dating Sims game. Yuuri would always find some excuse to avoid having Shori teach him Algebra or Literature or Physics or whatever it was he felt like doing for his little brother at the time. Shori, in turn, would always frown and chide him. "You should do something a little more worth-while than baseball with what little time you've got left here," he would say sternly.
As Yuuri walked from the pitch to the adjoined showers to wash off his face, he remembered those words. With what little time you've got left here. It was, after all, the natural choice to continue his path as the Maou of Shin Makoku, but he should have realized that things wouldn't always remain as they were. His sixteenth birthday was just around the corner and he already knew what choice he would make. He was prepared to live the rest of his life as a Mazoku and pledge his loyalty to Shin Makoku. But he wasn't prepared at all for Murata explaining to him that once he turned eighteen he could no longer return to his life on Earth. Or, more accurately, he could still visit but this time whenever he would return to Earth he would not return to the same minute he had left. As the days in Shin Makoku passed, so would the days on Earth.
He had no idea what to do with his life once he would make his choice, or how to graduate from school while ruling a kingdom, or even if he wanted to attend college, but…
"You're still you, no matter how much you stare at yourself. Or are you regretting that?" Murata said gently as he came to stand next to him. Interrupting his musings with what seemed like an innocent question, only Yuuri was not fooled. Murata's questions usually held deeper meanings than the obvious, simple words he said. Yuuri suddenly realized that he'd been standing with his hand on the tap. Instead of opening it and washing the sweat off his face, he'd been staring at his own reflection in the mirror.
"No," Yuuri answered Murata, smiling. Despite the hardships that it entitled, he wouldn't have given his position up for anyone. He had once made that mistake, just after he had defeated Soushou, and it tore him up from the inside. "I love Shin Makoku. There is no one else I want to be other than the Maou," Yuuri said and opened the tap. The next thing he knew he was being sucked towards the sink, Murata's surprised exclamation lost in the roar of water in his ears, and he saw the familiar black hole that marked the somewhat random entrance to the other world.
Both Yuuri and Murata emerged, coughing up water and soaking to the bone, in a dimly lit hall. It was definitely not Shinou's temple, and, come to think about it, it wasn't even a hall. Halls didn't have piles of hay in their middle and didn't smell of horses, nor did they have horses staring down in fear or… er, wait… WHAT!?
Yuuri looked up once more into Gwendal's horse's eyes, his own eyes going round. The horse stared, and Yuuri stared. The horse whinnied in alarm, and Yuuri was startled so badly that he instinctively tried to skit backwards and ended up tumbling from the horse's water barrel and into a pile of wet mud. As Yuuri was rubbing his sore behind, the horse gave them both an affronted bray and turned his behind to them. Murata Ken crossed his arms over his chest and looked darkly to the north-east, the general direction of Shinou's temple. "That wasn't very funny, you know," he said at length to the skies after a good amount of (admittedly somewhat fruitless) glaring.
It was a good half an hour after by the time boys got out of the water barrel, although Yuuri would've been perfectly satisfied to remain there in case he would be sucked back to Earth. He was so put out that only the looming threat of Gwendal's horse giving them a kick was what finally got him to his feet. As the two began making their way towards the castle, they noticed that something was very wrong. For one, there were no stable boys around the stables. And two…
"It's strange that not even Sir Von Christ is here to welcome us back," Murata mused as they both looked around them at the deserted courtyard. "I would've thought that he wouldn't miss any chance to give you a big hug," he teased.
Yuuri suppressed a shudder. It was true that it was strange that Günter wasn't there, but Yuuri was happy of that, even if Conrad did say that the gyu in Günter's name meant a big hug for 'His Majesty'. Not only was he spared the horror of getting his breath squeezed out of him with a force he would never thought Günter possessed (and really, he was doing excellent work in making Anissina think he was a weakling whenever she tried to use his Maryoku in her experiments). It had spared him the unpleasantness of having his wet baseball uniforms pressed closely against his skin.
"Don't remind me," Yuuri moaned in a tortured voice, but the matter was quickly forgotten once they entered the main hall of the Blood Pledge Castle and found it deserted as well. Even the kotsuhizoku were not about as they usually were, which was even more unnerving (if possible, considering that they were flying skeletons). Also, there was an odd smell about the place. Usually the Blood Pledge Castle smelled of flowers, cooking, and recently from the special washing lotion of the machine Anissina has invented and then bullied the maids into using (the I'll-Clean-That-Smile-Off-Your-Face-kun). Now there were none of those smells, as if nobody had cooked or did any laundry for a while.
"Just what in the world in going-"
Yuuri's query was cut short by a scream. Not Günter at seeing His Majesty covered in mud, but a horrible, agonized scream that echoed off the stones of the castle. Both boys snap their heads to look for its source. Something was definitely wrong.
"Shibuya, the East wing!" Murata called as they both began to run.
"The East wing? But that's where the military hospital is!" Yuuri cried out to Murata over their heaving breathes. With the return of Murata's dark look, Yuuri hastened his pace.
By the time they got to their destination Yuuri's mind has already created a thousand and one scenarios of what they were going to find. From Cheri-sama holding a newborn baby in her arms and smiling victoriously at her three completely shocked sons to a room filled with katsuhizoku that were once Conrad and Wolfram and everyone he loved (Were kotsuhizoku real people once, and if that was so, then did that mean that the kotsugyozoku were real fish once?).
They reached the East wing, dripping and panting and, in Yuuri's case, covered with mud, to see Gwendal coming out of one of the rooms along the corridor, looking pale and worn out, his expression even tighter the usual. He coughed uncomfortably and said something in a hushed tone to someone who was crying inside the room. Now that Yuuri was there he could smell it more strongly. It was the smell much like the hospital he went to once with his mother to visit a friend with a terminal disease. The smell of sickness and death.
"Gwendal!" Yuuri hurried forward, his heart in his throat and all thoughts of kotsuhizoku literally flying from his mind. Gwendal turned with a grunt (which Yuuri had already learned signaled surprise) at hearing Yuuri's voice. It was painfully obvious, even to the usually oblivious Maou, that no one here expected them. "What's going on? What just happened in that room? Where is everyone? Why is there no…" his flood of questions was stopped when Gwendal looked sharply and him and then at the door.
He approached Yuuri and Murata, his voice low. "Not here. Let's go to my office," he said and then sniffed the air. "I've changed my mind. You should go and bathe. You smell of horse," he said sternly and turned to go without waiting for an answer.
"That's because we landed here in your horse's water barrel!" Yuuri exclaimed in agitation, and didn't even notice that the lines around Gwendal's mouth turned lax enough to be called a small smile. "But this is bad, isn't it?" Yuuri's voice lost its volume and its power as he continued, much like it did when he was lost and unsure, or afraid to hear the answer he had asked for.
"It's a disease, isn't it?" Murata asked from his side, filling in for Yuuri's sudden silence by turning the question at the exhausted-looking advisor. As Gwendal nodded his grave answer, Yuuri's heart began to pound.
"A disease? Who is it? Conrad? Wolfram? Günter? Don't tell me it's Greta!" Yuuri asked, his voice now truly becoming strangled. The thought that his beloved daughter could be really sick was too much to bear.
"No. It's not any of them," Gwendal said with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It's the whole of Shin Makoku."
Eventually Gwendal, with considerable effort and a lot of help from Murata, managed to convince Yuuri that the hallway in which the sick people were trying to rest was not the best place to have their conversation. Instead he brought Yuuri to his office, where Yuuri found a peculiar scene unfolding.
By the windowsill was a tray with clean cups, a teapot and a container Yuuri could only presume contained sugar. Just next to it were fresh towels and a stone basin to wash one's face and hands, and next to it was Doria the maid, sound asleep, still clutching her broomstick. Yuuri could only stand there and stare at the little pile of dust that Doria began to clean before she had fallen asleep. Gwendal seemed not to mind, and even if at first Yuuri was weary of waking Doria up he soon found out that she slept so hard she didn't even stir from the noise.
"Tell me!" Yuuri said sternly once he was seated and once Murata finished making all three of them the tea he had so insisted on making. Gwendal frowned disapprovingly at him but Yuuri figured that he had the right to hear what was going on in his kingdom.
"I've called Gisela to fill you in, but from the look of things we might have a plague on our hands, and one we know close to nothing about how to fight against," Gwendal said after it was apparent that Yuuri was not intimidated by his frowns (Yuuri was, but it was more important to hear the truth, and beside, he was beginning to get used to it).
However, at hearing the word 'plague' Yuuri became alarmed and stood up so quickly that he had spilled his tea on the table. "A Plague?" he asked, disbelieving. Gwendal looked angrily at him and then the leaking puddle of brown liquid on his table.
"Oi, don't create any unnecessary work for the maids. They have enough work to do with the sickness as it is," he chided sternly, and Yuuri quickly fetched a towel to clean the table up, but didn't give up on getting his answers.
"Gwendal, is it that bad? Is it really a plague?" Yuuri asked his advisor seriously, a king demanding an answer from his subject.
"I'm afraid it is, your majesty, judging by the rate this illness is spreading throughout Shin Makoku," the voice answering him was not Gwendal's but that of Gisela. She entered the room, dressed in her usual white military uniforms, but up close they looked rumpled and wrinkled, as if she had spent many days and nights in them, rather then crisp and clean. Following her steps was Günter who, after spotting Yuuri by the table, made a beeline to where he was seated and launched himself on his king with beaming eyes.
"Ah, as expected of your majesty, turning up just when we need all the help we could get!" Günter said with a voice choked up with emotions and, ignoring Yuuri's uncomfortable look as his wet baseball uniforms were pressed against his skin unpleasantly as well as the general state Yuuri was in, hugged him close and rested his head on Yuuri's shoulder.
The grip didn't come loose for a while and as Yuuri tried to pry himself free of his retainer he realized that Günter had fallen asleep on his shoulder. "G-Günter!" Yuuri exclaimed as he lost his balance and both he and Günter fell backwards onto the thick rug of Gwendal's office.
"My apologies, your majesty. My father has had little sleep over a too long period of time and had used his powers too much that it's taking a toll on him," Gisela said as she and Gwendal helped the exhausted man into a chair, where he promptly placed his hands on the table and resumed his slumber.
"That's fine, Gisela," Yuuri smiled brightly at her, but the smile was short lived. "You said it was a plague, though. That's a harsh word to use," he pressed once again for information, Murata by his side leaning in to listen as well.
"Yes," said the healer, taking a seat as well. "About a week ago one of the patrolling squadrons came back sick. They all had a massive headache; some were nauseous and felt a great weakness. We thought that they caught some passing infection while on patrol, maybe ate something bad, but before we could verify or deny this we started getting reports from all over Shin Makoku about many people having the same symptoms. Soon enough people started coming here for treatment and we declared an emergency," Gisela said heavily.
"How many people are sick? Do we have a cure for them, a vaccine or something? Do they even get green tea? It's good for everything, you know," Yuuri had said, and Gisela smiled slightly despite herself.
"Our situation is quite dire. So far we have over 2000 sick people in the Blood Pledge Castle alone, and more in the provinces, and we have no cure or vaccination to give them. Most people work in close contact with the patients until they get the disease themselves. We do everything in our power to make things easier for the sick people but unfortunately 'our best' is very little and ineffective."
"Then you don't know what causes this in the first place?" Murata asked, his eyebrows drawn together. Yuuri hadn't thought about asking it since there were other things he wanted to know, but now that Murata said it he was interested to hear the answer as well.
Gisela nodded her head. "No, we had no chance to study it in depth. Every able man who was not sick was helping around the clock to tend to the sick people. There are no hands to spare at the moment since as you can see, when people are not working they are so tired that they catch whatever sleep they can," Gisela answered, motioning towards Doria and her father.
"What are the symptoms of this disease?" Yuuri asked, somewhat subdued in face of such an enemy. This was an enemy the Maou mode could not frighten away.
"They are little, but severe: extreme headache, to the point of blurred vision, nausea and dehydration, numbness in your extremities and a great weakness that eventually causes internal organ failure. It's as if your heart and lungs don't have the power to work anymore. Also, it seemed to affect only those with Mazoku blood," Gisela said.
Yuuri thought about it. When Soushu had taken over Shinou's soul and took the keys from their owners, one of the keys was Wolfram's heart. They thought that he was dead, but Anissina had said that it was only lacking the power to beat. But these people were not keys. They could not regain that power. That meant that some of them had…
"Died. H-how many have… died… from this disease?" Yuuri asked in a small voice, his throat contrasting sharply and his gaze downcast. It was painful to think about the people who died but he must, it was his duty to them as the Maou.
"So far ninety have died in the Blood Pledge Castle alone," Gwendal said with the same heavy voice he seemed to use since their arrival back to Shin Makoku. "Amongst them are Dorcas and Odell von Wincott," he added quietly, but Yuuri caught the words. Dorcas is… dead? And Odell-san, that gentle old man who was Julia-san's father? Yuuri felt like he should mourn him in her stead, but the pain of the lost of ninety people was too much to allow anything else. He had to rein in his emotions, because he knew that in situations like this the Maou tended to take over, and right now Yuuri couldn't think of something he would be useful for except in creating more worry for his well-being. But reining in his emotions was hard, and he had to squeeze his eyes shut to rid them of the threatening tears.
"This is worse than I've imagined," Murata said from Yuuri's side. Yuuri turned to him in wonder, welcoming the distraction.
"Murata?" he asked, but Murata seemed deep in thoughts. The more he pondered over… well, whatever it was he was pondering, it seemed to Yuuri that his face grew darker and more tense. "By the way," Yuuri suddenly remembered. "You don't remember anything like this from your time as Great Sage?" he added.
"Not quite, and it concerns me that we were brought here now, of all times," Murata said.
"Brought here? What does that means?"
"Do you remember the crude way we got here?" Murata asked, and Yuuri frowned at him.
"Like I could forget! I have mud in places I had no idea it could get into," he complained, rubbing the end of his nose absently and then stopping once he noticed the small pieces of dried mud that fell onto the clean table. Luckily Gwendal hadn't noticed so Yuuri tried to wipe them away with his sleeve, resulting in an even larger brown smear.
"I think Shino brought us here in such a way because his mind was otherwise distracted with healing. Not only that, I think he brought us here for two main reasons. The first is that Shibuya is the best person to channel Shinou's powers since their Maryoku is compatible, and the second," Murata paused to push his glasses up his nose. He gave everyone in the room a sharp look. "The second is because Shibuya is the only person in history to have defeated Soushu," he said, and Yuuri bolted from his chair in alarm.
"There's no way that is true!" he said loudly even as Gwendal got up and automatically reached for his sword. Doria woke up with a cry, Gisela put a hand to her mouth and Günter became alert and sharp in a matter of milliseconds. "He's gone! I know he's gone!" Yuuri insisted.
"We all saw that," Gwendal reinforced Yuuri's claims.
"Yes, but such an unexpected and violent plague could be contributed only to him," Murata explained helplessly. Yuuri shuddered, thinking of the foul presence in his heart. He had no wish to have it in his heart once more, it was crowded enough as it were with Wolfram and Conrad and the whole of Shin Makoku to love.
"I saw similar things happen when Soushu was in power, before Shinou has defeated him, I'm afraid. We have to be prepared for that possibility as well. Evil, even if you don't like to imagine it, comes in a great many shapes and sizes and a disease is only the smallest of them," he said gently to Yuuri.
"I refuse! I refuse to believe that this is really so!" Yuuri shook his head violently from side to side, clenching his fists.
"And a wise decision that would turn out to be, your majesty," said a new voice from the door. Yuuri turned to look sullenly at the newcomer, only to be greeted with a shock of orange hair and a smile that seemed so out of place in the sick house the Blood Pledge Castle had turned into.
"Explain yourself, Yozak!" Gwendal demanded, obviously strained.
"I went to the forest where our troops were patrolling when they were infected as you've ordered, your Excellency," Yozak moved into the room and surveyed its occupants. His eyes lingered on Murata. "I've found this, inside a makeshift temple on the ground," he gave Murata a bowl made from the same shining stones that Yuuri once helped mine in Suberera at the Houjetsu mines. The stone was clear and clean. "It had this inside, although I would recommend keeping these two separated." Yozak said at Murata's sharp gaze. He held an open bag with some sort of white powder in it.
"How did they interact?" Gwendal asked, keeping his distance and hauling Günter close to him and away from that powder.
"Simple. When put into the bowl-like stone it began glowing an angry red and spin in the air like a small hurricane, a Houje-Chemical reaction actually, slowly drifting towards the cities of Shin Makoku," Yozak explained.
"But who would want to do this?" Yuuri asked, peering with dislike at the powder. Günter tried to pull him away from the dangerous powder but Gwendal was keeping an iron grip on his shoulder and he soon slumped against the other's bigger frame.
"Well kiddo, not everyone is as good a person as you. And ever since Belal's madness overtook him, his country has been in serious trouble. I've heard that they have trouble keeping a group of Houjetsu outlaw users from making trouble. If my information is correct then instead of putting a stop to their actions they recruited them to execute revenge on the Mazoku nation. The fall and defeat of Big Shimaron was a hard blow to its proud people," Yozak said, now completely serious. There were no traces of his easygoing persona left.
"Then that means that if we got rid of this then everyone should get better, doesn't it?" Yuuri asked with hope shining in his eyes.
"Its not that simple, I'm afraid. The people who got infected are not cured just because we removed what caused them to be sick. If you kill a spider that bit you, would it make the bite any less painful? Or would it prevent the spider's poison from spreading to other places in your body?" Gisela shook her head sadly.
"And I would wager that more of these little 'presents' were left in other populated areas," Günter said tiredly, speaking for the first time.
"Then it's settled. I'll take a group of men with me and we'll go scan the country for any other signs of the powder," Yozak said and with a lazy wink was off.
Yuuri's head was hurting. How could it be that it was so easy to find the cause for this utterly rotten situation but still so much more left to do? Catching the culprits, helping the people who were already sick, scanning the country for more of those Houjetsu things… Yuuri wondered why things could never be as simple as they appeared. On the other hand, he was happy that no more people would get sick and that it wasn't Soushu's fault. He shuddered once again at the mere thought.
"I'll go and see if Lady von Karbelnikoff and I can work on an antidote based on this powder. If we can, we will start administrating it immediately," Gisela sounded, more alert than before and was already out of the door when Günter called a plea for her to be careful.
"Good! And I'll go and help the sick people!" Yuuri said with the same enthusiasm that caught Yozak and Gisela.
"You will do no such thing," Gwendal said harshly before Yuuri could even take one step out of the room. "Our allies have sent us letter of condolences and some much needed supplies of food and medicine, not to mention that Cavalcade has agreed to host Greta when we had to send her away for her own safety. As the Maou of Shin Makoku its up to you to write them all back and thank them properly," Gwendal explained, finally leaving Günter to hover over Yuuri , who could only mutter under his breath about the unfairness of it.
Yuuri opened his mouth to argue, but stopped to think. Gwendal would definitely not respond well to a simple 'no'. Yuuri wanted to help the sick people, but he needed to persuade Gwendal that this was the best course of action.
"I will go and tend to the sick people because my Maryoku is stronger then yours and because I still haven't exhausted myself. If I'll be put in charge of writing back to our allies chances are that I'll accidentally declare war on some of them and deeply insult the others," Yuuri said decisively. He had already learned that Gwendal usually listened to the voice of reason (unless it was Anissina's, in which case he would not have stayed in his place long enough for her to open her mouth).
"Shibuya is right, Sir von Voltaire, the best person to tend to the sick people right now is him. Beside, we wouldn't want a diplomatic incident on our hands with everything else that's happened, now would we?" Murata interfered calmly, smiling at the grateful look in his friend's eyes as they turned to him.
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me that you two support each other," Gwendal muttered and then sighed. "Fine, I'll write the letters," he said heavily.
"Really?! Good! I'm off, get some rest, Gwendal!" Yuuri abandoned all pretence of appearing dignified or Maou-like and smiled joyously at Gwendal before he ran out of the room…
…only to be called back.
"I don't think it would be the best thing for our patients if you go to them like this, Shibuya," Murata said with faint amusement, pushing his glasses up his nose and pointing at Yuuri's drenched, muddied and soiled uniforms. Yuuri simply smiled sheepishly before changing direction and running to take a bath.
Yuuri made a quick work with scrubbing himself clean in the company of Murata, who even helped scrub his back of all the remaining mud. It was weird to have a peaceful, even if hasty, bath with someone without having Wolfram barge into the room in a frenzy of jealousy, accusing Yuuri of being an immoral cheater, etc., etc.
Günter, who attended them, was so tired he forgot to have insolent thoughts about Yuuri, and Yuuri was lucky enough to receive the rarity of a clean and bloodless towel from him. As soon as they were done Yuuri instructed Günter to go to sleep and gather back his strength, mostly because he was too afraid that if Günter would keep this up his desk would break from the strain of all the papers waiting for his signature.
As he and Murata walked towards the East wing Yuuri was brooding over something Gisela had not said. Gisela had said that the disease affected Mazoku only, but what about half-Mazoku? Yozak was half-Mazoku and he seemed fine, but Yuuri wasn't sure it wasn't because he wasn't affected. The disease might be taking some time to break and Yozak was near that Hujetsu powder thingy. Not to mention that Conrad was half-Mazoku as well, and from what Yuuri gathered from a sleepy Günter he was off helping the sick. He would have to ask Gisela about it when…
The door to one of the rooms opened just as Yuuri and Murata passed it on their way to the main chamber where the worst cases were being held, and out stepped the man who occupied Yuuri's mind.
"Your majesty!" Conrad exclaimed, surprise registering on his tired face. The first thing Yuuri thought when he saw Conrad's state was that he should offer Conrad his shoulder to sleep on, just like Günter had done before. He looked so tired and worn that Yuuri felt a pang in his heart for him.
He tried not to smile but knew it was a lost battle. "You should know better then to call me 'your majesty', Nazukeoya," Yuuri chided with a smile, and Conrad's brown eyes were immediately flooded with warmth that seemed to worm its way into Yuuri's belly and settle there.
"I'm sorry," the other man murmured, as was his custom whenever Yuuri would chide him about the name thing. "I had no idea you were about to come," he said, including Murata in his query.
"That's because our trip was somewhat… unexpected, Sir Weller. I think even Ulrike would be in for a surprise if she saw us here," Murata supplied cheerfully.
Yuuri looked at Conrad, for the first time hearing the gasps and strained breathing from the room Conrad had just left. "How are things in there?" Yuuri asked quietly, and Conrad's face seemed old and weary once more.
"I would've liked to say that it gets better but in truth it only gets worse. I don't know how much longer we can keep this up," Conrad said, and Yuuri nodded grimly. He rolled up his sleeves and turned to his protector.
"Will you come with me?" he asked, because he found that he missed the other man terribly. He didn't want to leave when they only just met each other. Conrad just smiled a small smile at him and escorted Yuuri to the main chamber, and Yuuri felt that together there was no chance of them not succeeding.
The minutes blurred into hours and the hours blurred until the day was over. Yuuri had no idea how long he had been doing this, but whenever he thought that he had exhausted his powers he would discover some hidden reserve in him and would get back to work with renewed vigor. He had passed the beds of men and women, from children to old and wrinkled Mazoku who took his hand in their trembling one. He had cured and struggled for every single life he had helped, struggled in their stead against death, refusing to believe that sometimes it was a fruitless battle. The disease had spared no one, from noblemen and women to the merchants from the streets.
The first man who died under his care was a young man, a man who reminded him of Wolfram a little. He was once handsome, but as his end neared his face aged and was lined with pain and worry. Yuuri had struggled for him, had took out nearly everything he had, nearly causing himself to get Maryoku exhaustion, but it was fruitless. When the man stopped breathing Yuuri screamed and pushed himself nearly over his own limit. He refused to accept the fact that there was no helping him; that there was no one to help anymore.
Conrad had to forcefully remove him from the bed, embracing him to his broad chest while he told Yuuri in a stern but somewhat choked voice that there were other people who needed his power. His hand kept combing through Yuuri's black hair until he had calmed down a little. However, it hadn't stopped his resolve, quite the opposite. Yuuri was determined to make everything in his power to prevent others from dying.
True to that case, the only one who seemed to be able to make Yuuri stop, even for a moment, was Conrad. If the man had thought he would soon be able to get some much needed rest, he found that he was wrong and had a more important duty; to protect Yuuri from himself. Conrad had no doubt that the only thing that kept Yuuri on his feet was his Maryoku, the same faint blue aura that surrounded his body now constantly. Murata often cast worried looks in Yuuri's direction and between him and Conrad were entire conversations consisting of nods and flicks of the eye.
Yuuri had no idea of how much he was straining himself; he had no idea how frightening he was, with his Maryoku enveloping him and a grim determination on his face. Even Wolfram was wary of getting near him, in this half-Maou half-Yuuri state that he was in. It began with Wolfram, exhausted and half asleep on his feet, passing Yuuri by and muttering "Wimp!" out of habit alone. However, as he registered who he was passing he became alert once more, but stepped back instead of forward. Wolfram didn't greet his fiancé, and didn't even comment on the fact that Conrad just pulled a very frustrated Yuuri into a tight embrace as Yuuri lost another battle against the looming death that seemed to have taken residence everywhere in the castle.
Yuuri registered little of those hours. He did remember that time when Wolfram saw Conrad pulling him into a hug, remembered himself holding back nearly as forcefully as Conrad was holding him, remembered himself biting his lips to keep his control, to keep from crying and losing the battle to the Maou. He remembered listening to Conrad's voice as the other man murmured soothingly into his ear, remembered with strange clarity the feel of his warm breath against Yuuri's ear and Conrad's unique scent. But more than anything he remembered the thing he saw in every face he looked into: despair, fear and pain.
The day blurred into a night but it had little effect on Yuuri. His powers seemed to be ever growing, and his advisors were beginning to grow concerned. Yuuri was keeping a steady flow of healing Majutsu from himself for nearly twenty four hours straight by the next noon, with only Conrad to forcibly remove him from the presence of the sick so that he may eat and drink something. As Murata had explained (in the face of Wolfram's wrath that had much to do with the fact that Conrad was with Yuuri and he was not, and even more with the fact that Yuuri was quite frightening in his current state) it was not only Yuuri's powers that Yuuri was using, but Shinou's as well.
Gisela and Anissina came and went as well, measuring this and that before hurrying back to their lab to continue their research. Gisela was also checking Yuuri whenever Conrad managed to pry him from the sick beds for long enough, to make sure that he wasn't overdoing himself. Surprisingly Yuuri was well enough, his steady flow of magic keeping him on his feet. None of them had known, although Murata and Conrad could guess, that Yuuri took it to heart that the disease was trying to kill his people. It turned from serving help to those who needed it to a personal fight. At some point Conrad was afraid to allow Yuuri to hear that the perpetuators got away from Yozak's (admittedly very long) reach for the time being, fearing Yuuri would be angry enough to undergo the entire transformation and allow the Maou persona out to take his revenge on the surrounding innocent people.
At night, when Yuuri seemed to be at the end of his powers, Gwendal snapped. It seemed that after resting and with the return of his strength was the return of his infamous testiness as well. He pulled Yuuri away from Conrad's protective grasp and out of the room. At first Yuuri had made no attempt to object since Conrad had done this often enough to get him fed and rested, but as Gwendal passed the area that was defined as the temporary kitchen he started thrashing in Gwendal's iron hold. Gwendal (with much protests from his jealous and angry little brother) lifted Yuuri by the hips and carried him to his room, something that earned him the respect of all the courtiers since Yuuri was also rather strong when in this mid-transformational state.
As Yuuri was put down on the bed he bolted upright, his pupils dangerously slanted, a sign that the Maou was closer to the surface then ever. "You dare interfere with my work?! These people need me!" Yuuri exclaimed.
Gwendal regarded him calmly. "Yes, they need you, but not half dead. That's what you'll be if you won't stop and rest, even for a little while," Gwendal said in a hard voice.
Yuuri regarded him, furious. "Get out of my way," he said lowly, threateningly, but Gwendal didn't budge. When Yuuri got up and resolutely tried to go back, he was caught around the waist and was thrown onto the bed ("Brother!" Wolfram had cried out while Conrad tried his hardest to keep a straight face) and was kept still in Gwendal's tight embrace. As he squirmed Gwendal simply put his palm on Yuuri's cheek, efficiently lowering Yuuri's head to his broad chest. And much as Yuuri claimed he wanted to go back before, now he was cuddling close to Gwendal's warm bulk, sound asleep.
Nazukeoya: literally means "man who named me".
Eventually Yuuri's desperate efforts proved to be just the thing that was needed to tip the balance and save them all. The worst of the cases were brought to the castle to be treated there and Yuuri's healing Majutsu kept them all just on the side of living for the time it took Anissina and Gisela to come up with a cure, and while the recovery was slow, and more people had died in the meantime, the general gist was that the nation would be saved.
Once the cure was distributed Yuuri was allowed some time to rest, in which he had to suffer Wolfram insisting on feeding him and call him names like "an indecisive wimp who couldn't see what was best for him even if it paraded in front of him wearing one of Yozak's more sensational costumes" (not to mention "a cheater", something to do with Gwendal and a bed and Yuuri blushing red, and with Conrad and what he vaguely remembered as a much more public intimacy).
The past days had been like a dream for Yuuri, one that he couldn't remember all the details of, and with a grave heart he crept back into the East wing and examined the walls and ceiling closely to see that there was no "Justice" spelled in Japanese anywhere. He was relieved to find that indeed there was none.
To cheer his spirit even more, Gwendal had reported that Yozak managed to find and kill (he phrased it more elegantly but Yuuri was not that oblivious) the rogue group of humans that spread the disease to the Mazoku lands. Not that Yuuri had agreed with that, but he could remember Yozak's fury when he reported that the humans had eluded him and knew that unless he was there to punish them himself they were likely faced with death. He would have words with Yozak about it later, once things have calmed down, but it was also a relief to know that no one would try anything like it again. At Murata's advice, Yozak left once more to install fear in the hearts of all those who might thing to imitate past actions, and the two of them could often be seen muttering and planning together in dark niches of the castle.
Yuuri's entire body was aching, his muscles cramped and his head felt like his brain was swimming laps inside his skull. Gisela had said that it was the aftereffects of using so much power for such a long period of time.
Yuuri thought that it was because Wolfram acted so possessively over him that Conrad hadn't come to visit, and was sorry for it. He would've liked to thank Conrad for supporting him when he needed it and to ask him if he was all right, though he'd have to get over his embarrassment and stop blushing whenever he could remember something (like hot breath across his skin, or sure and strong hands in his hair...) about his embraces with him. Conrad worked very hard and was likely feeling as worn as Yuuri was at the moment.
And while Yuuri was bedridden and Wolfram-ridden (honestly, he could slip a spoon into his mouth alone, thank you very much. Not to mention that Wolfram and cutlery brought some unpleasant memories…) the last of the sick were being treated, and life nearly began to retune to normal.
Nearly. For example Günter, who came to visit Yuuri once a day, got a nosebleed one day when Wolfram spilled some hot soup on Yuuri's chest by accident and Yuuri quickly shed the soiled garment to avoid burns. Gwendal had come to visit and brought with him gifts, mainly paperwork that could suffer no further delays, but also raccoon-looking cats and bear-looking dogs he had knitted himself. Cheri-sama, who was helping at the lower floors, came by at least once a day to use Yuuri's exhaustion as an excuse to press Yuuri's face against her ample bosom (much to Wolfram's chagrin) and sprinkle all sorts of perfumes on him, claiming that it would be good for his head. And Yozak tried to sneak into his room disguised as a maid and was surprised when he was promptly thrown out by a raging Wolfram.
Only Conrad was hardly there. Yuuri once saw him outside, drilling the soldiers, but he had to return to bed and pretend he'd never left it when he was brought soup, and by the time he managed to finish it, the yard was already empty. If it was a shorter than usual drilling session, Yuuri had not noticed it.
By the time it was declared that Shin Makoku was once again safe, with only the most stubborn cases still hospitalized, Yuuri decided that the nation needed some sort of celebration both to cheer everyone up after braving the disease and to remember those who had succumbed and pay them respects. He therefore got out of bed and ignored all pleas for him to stop, and dressed in his usual black gakuran. He had his advisors and counselors all in his office after no more then half an hour, and was staring happily at them all.
The signs of fatigue were still visible on their faces, and Yuuri figured his was no exception. It would probably take some more time before everything would be back to normal. Cheri-sama was looking haggard and a little less like her shining self, Günter was paler then normal and Gwendal was brooding twice as much as he normally did. He wished Wolfram was any different as well, but the other boy was simply twice as annoying, almost as unchanged as Murata was. Anissina had not regained that devilish glint to her eyes back, and Conrad was pale and quiet, his eyes duller and more opaque then usual.
"Everyone doing fine? How are the last patients doing?" he asked Gwendal once everyone took their seats.
"There are still some people who seem to be recovering slowly, but I've spoken with Gisela and she said she's hopeful that there will be no more casualties," Gwendal said in response. Yuuri nodded his head approvingly, happy to hear the news.
"Good, good, that's good to hear," Yuuri said, and launched into a very long and very enthusiastic monologue about the merits of throwing a festival to cheer the people up and to pay last respects for the dead. He had planned and rehearsed what he was going to say for so long that he was actually a little put out when Murata calmly pointed out that everyone was in agreement with him and that he needed to convince no one of the necessity of it.
"I think, Shibuya, that right now we need to focus on what to do to entertain the people coming to our festival," Murata had said and Yuuri, who was a bit lost since his train of thought (admittedly a somewhat out of control train) was interrupted, brightened considerably.
"Oh, we are going to have so much fun! We could bring dancers and we can have merchants to put stools and sell Maou dumplings and… and at night we have to have Raman stools! There's no festival without Raman," Yuuri said decisively, and without allowing anyone else a word in edgewise, though Günter seemed like he wanted to melt with the force of his admiration for his king, carried on. "Ah! We could have Ryan come with KJ to perform! It's been too long since I've last seen Ryan and…"
And he should have known better then to phrase his thoughts that way, because Wolfram seemed to sit and wait for the right opportunity to erupt in jealousy rage. "CHEATER! What do you want to see Ryan for, eh?! Just what are your relationship anyway, you and him?! You're so easy, you immoral weakling! I bet he charmed you with that monstrous sand-bear of his and you fell for it!" The blond raged while Yuuri tried, unsuccessfully, to appear sheepish and calming, while laughing awkwardly and making soothing hand motions.
"Wolfram… eheheh…" Yuuri laughed awkwardly, edging away from the angry blond, something which seemed to be making him angrier.
"Don't you forget that I'm you're fiancé, you good for nothing cheater!" Wolfram cried hotly, his face jerking close to Yuuri's in such a sudden movement that Yuuri was nearly out oh his chair in alarm.
"Ah," he lamented after he had taken a safe distance from Wolfram, "again this nonsense? I told you it was a mis-" but before Yuuri could finish his sentence and Wolfram could have another angry fit at him, Gwendal coughed and shifted the attention to him.
A muscle in Gwendal's face twitched. "I think that having KJ and Ryan as part of the festival's attractions is a good idea," he said mildly. While Wolfram was busy with being scandalized that Gwendal supported Yuuri's immoral behavior, Yuuri congratulated himself and smiled a sly and smug smile. He knew that Gwendal couldn't resist the idea if he mentioned that cute animals would be there as well.
"Ah, your majesty, indeed a marvelous idea!" Günter cried dazedly at him. "And I think that we should also invite our allies to celebrate with them and thank them for their support. Some of them had been most generous toward us in our time of need," he offered, and Yuuri's eyes lightened up.
"A wonderful idea, Günter! Then Greta could come back with Hristo-Cruyff-san! And I could get to see Flurin-san and hear about the reconstruction of Caloria…" and once again Yuuri was interrupted by Wolfram, trying to strangle him to death for being a… well, he really hadn't had time to listen to whichever name Wolfram called him now because he was too busy calming him.
"Honestly!" Yuuri cried in indignation. "They were half destroyed once more when Soushu was in control!" he tried to justify himself because really, he had absolutely no idea what Wolfram was so angry about. He really and genuinely was interested to hear about Caloria's progress.
"Conrad, you should really do something with that troublesome brother of yours, he's…" Yuuri stopped mid-sentence while Wolfram raged on about being called Conrad's brother. Conrad was not really listening. As a matter of fact, he seemed to be not entirely there with them. "Is everything alright?" Yuuri asked Conrad. He thought he saw Conrad swaying in his seat a little, but he wasn't sure.
In close inspection Conrad seemed even worse than most. His skin had a waxy quality to it and was sallow and pale, his usually warm brown eyes were too bright and their color was too opaque, too lifeless. His sculptured, pale pink lips were pressed into a thin, bloodless line and his eyebrows were pulled down in a slight frown. Everyone looked somewhat worse to wear so Yuuri had paid Conrad's appearance no special attention until now.
"I'm fine, your majesty," Conrad said, though his voice was harsher than it usually was, his teeth clenched. He tried to smile when Yuuri continue to give him worried glances, failed, and with a strangled moan and eyes rolling to the back of his head, lost his consciousness.
"CONRAD!" Yuuri's voice broke on that single word as he watched the always strong Conrad fall from his chair into a crumpled heap on the floor, pale as a ghost and barely breathing. Yuuri felt something inside of him fall as Conrad fall, something inside of him breaking when Conrad's body hit the unforgiving stone of the Blood Pledge castle's floor.
The blood was roaring in Yuuri's ears, drowning the anxious screams of the others, and only when he saw Cheri-sama by his side had he realized that he was by Conrad's side and out of his chair. Cheri-sama gently held his shoulders and Yuuri pulled his hand from Conrad's hair where it had intertwined itself in an attempt to smooth it out of his face, since it fell in disarray when Conrad fell.
Yuuri looked up at Cheri-sama, who was even paler then before, tears in her eyes. "Let Anissina examine him, your majesty," Cheri-sama told him gently, and Yuuri stepped away from Conrad, watching Anissina with huge eyes and a lump in his throat, hoping that she would say that he was tired, that he had forgotten to drink enough water, that he had not eaten enough… hoping that she would say that Conrad was alright. His entire body was thrumming with tension and his skin was covered with goose bumps. Conrad, please be alright…
Anissina listened to Conrad's shallow breathing while everybody in the room held theirs, and when her face turned grave and weary Yuuri wanted to yell Conrad's name once more. She took his pulse and put a hand to his forehead, but snatched it almost immediately away, biting her lip and looking uncharacteristically somber. When she remained silent for a long while, Yuuri tore away from Cheri-sama's grip and felt Conrad's forehead himself. The skin under his hands, the skin he knew from accidental fleeting touches was warm and pleasant, was now clammy and burning with fever.
"Gwendal, take him to his room. I'm not the expert, but I believe that he'd caught the same malady that we were plagued with. I must go and fetch Gisela," and with that she hurried out of the room, but not before everyone caught sight of the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Conrad… sick? Conrad was never sick. Conrad could not be sick, they've beaten the disease and it was no more! Hadn't Yozak cleared away every possible factor when he patrolled the borders? Hadn't Yozak killed the perpetuators? Only a couple of days before Yuuri saw Conrad drilling his men in the yard below, and he looked just fine! And this disease, it could kill! It could kill and that meant that Conrad could be dead and he couldn't bear to think about it! It was hard to breathe if he did, hard to see beyond the veil of tears and why was Anissina crying anyway, it wasn't as though he wouldn't be fine, be right as rain in a few days... No, it was a lie and it was still hard to think about anything but Conrad's limp form on the floor and Conrad's possibility of dying. He couldn't breathe, couldn't bear it if Conrad was not a part of his life, couldn't…
"AAAHHHHHH!!!" the scream was torn from one mouth but died in another, a mouth set in a grimmer and more somber lines then that of Shibuya Yuuri. The Maou was kneeling in front of Conrad's limp form, surrounded by ethereal blue light, his dark eyes slanted and harsh and his hair carrying about him on invisible wind. The king's advisors stepped back with alarm, not prepared for the sudden transformation. Gwendal had to hold Wolfram and his mother to keep them from interrupting, and Günter was clasping a hand to his mouth, shaking his head and staring with wide-eye disbelief.
"Your place is by my side, Conrad. I will not allow death to take you away from me. You. Will. Not. DIE!" the Maou's voice rose in volume, in time with the flowing stream of healing Majutsu, and the more frustrated he became the more Majutsu he was pouring into the unconscious man before him.
It had no effect whatsoever.
"CONRAD! YOU WILL WAKE UP! I AM JUSTICE AND I COMMAND IT JUST THAT YOU WAKE UP!" the Maou's voice was so much similar to Yuuri's, so laden with emotions, that the king's advisors were confused for a moment as to who was in control.
"Stop it! His body isn't built to receive such a flow of Majutsu! He doesn't have the capability to handle it, you'll kill him if you'll continue like this!" Murata was screaming at his side, his voice urgent and cutting, but there was no way to tell if the Maou had listened.
"CONRAD!" the Maou cried once more, and the stones of the room started crying water and crumble to dust in face of the Maou's rage and sorrow.
Four different voices cried out all at once to stop the emotional rampage their king was undergoing. However, once the dust cleared off it was only Yuuri, standing and hugging Conrad's unmoving form and shaking quietly in his place.
Without a word but with a white face Gwendal heaved Conrad into his arms and motioned to Yuuri to come along with him and to open the door. All Yuuri could think of, in the haze of his Maryoku exhaustion and emotional turmoil, was that Conrad's body should not be that easy to heave off the floor.
Wolfram swung his sword hard into the wooden doll in front of him. He rarely used wooden dolls to practice since it made him remember the dolls that kidnapped him on Soushu's command, and then Soushu in general. He didn't like it. But he was so angry. So very angry, that his entire personal guard was nursing their aching arms and he still hadn't spent his anger.
How dare Sir Weller be sick!? How dare he hide it for so long!? Gisela had said that she had encountered only one other half-Mazoku that had the same malady, but that half-Mazoku had died. She said that Sir Weller was sick for a long while, according to how developed his symptoms were. She told them that there was no helping other then administer the cure and pray to Shinou that everything will be fine.
That fool! Who goes about hiding the fact that they're ill? What point would that serve? Absolutely no point. And now Sir Weller was in his room, his shirtless body pale and covered with sweat, causing Mother to change the sheets three times a day. And Gwendal was there with Mother to support her and to watch over Sir Weller. But Wolfram couldn't bear to see his brother like this… his…
The doll's hand went flying across the training center to the other side. Sir Weller was no brother of his! He refused to be related to a human. Who needed them anyway, those half-human half-Mazoku? All they did was catch diseases that normal cures can't cure… and besides, he would never acknowledge that someone who caused Yuuri so much agony and grief was related to him.
Right now Yuuri was in his office, going over every page of the paperwork that piled on his desk awaiting his signature, reading and re-reading and discussing it with the somewhat ruined walls of his office, before phrasing his orders on the matter in Mazoku language. It was a lot of work and Yuuri had worked himself to exhaustion but Wolfram had heard him complain that it seemed to be going a lot faster then it usually did, and why was it going so fast when he wanted it to last forever.
Wolfram knew what Yuuri was trying to do. He was trying to avoid having to see Sir Weller like this, so weak-
And heart breaking-
SNAP! SNAP! SNAP!
And the wooden doll was nothing more then a collection of twigs on the ground and wolfram was panting and sweating, but still very much angry.
Wolfram was no fool and would not suffer to be treated as one. That single time Yuuri came to visit Sir Weller Wolfram could see it. Could see how heart broken Yuuri really was, how completely in love with Sir Weller Yuuri really was. He had not pushed himself into Yuuri's bed since Sir Weller became sick but he still knew that Yuuri cried himself to sleep, Sir Weller's name often on his lips.
It wasn't like it was new. It was clear that between Yuuri and Sir Weller there was a special relationship that Wolfram could not imitate between him and Yuuri no matter how ridiculous and lacey a nightie he wore. Ever since the beginning Yuuri would turn to Sir Weller for help, would always seek Sir Weller whenever he came to Shin Makoku, would smile at the mere sight of him. Sir Weller would catch Yuuri when his Maryoku exhaustion took its toll on him at the beginning. Sir Weller understood Yuuri best since he'd been to Yuuri's world for enough time to absorb the culture.
Wolfram tried to tell himself that their bond was due to the fact that they understood things from that world, and seemed to like the fruitless activity of throwing each other a ball for hours on end. But then Sir Weller deserted them for Big Shimaron and there was no denying the raw pain Yuuri felt, his stubbornness in trying to talk to Sir Weller and his hurt when he was time after time rejected. It wasn't the fact that Yuuri chased after Sir Weller when the fool decided to leave because he had raised his sword against the Maou that had him really thinking about Yuuri's behavior.
It was when he had accidentally overheard the Great Sage tell Yozak about their adventures in Small Shimaron. The Great Sage told Yozak that when Yuuri saw Big Shimaron's men and guns, he had transformed into the Maou simply because of the memory of what such guns had done to Sir Weller. It was then that he also remembered the end of the tournament in Big Shimaron, when Yuuri turned into the Maou and only Sir Weller's voice was able to reach him and stop him from killing innocent people.
Of course it wasn't the only time. Wolfram was never able to do it like Sir Weller had done it. He remembered the look the Great Sage had in his eyes, that thoughtful sadness and pity as he realized it was Sir Weller who managed to calm Yuuri down, whose name ("Conrad" in his mouth) the Maou had said before collapsing… He also remembered the pain in his eyes when he told the newly awake Yuuri that Sir Weller had stayed in Big Shimaron. And Yuuri's pain.
After Sir Weller returned to their side, after he had recovered from his wounds, Yuuri could hardly leave without his eyes looking to see if Sir Weller followed. He gazed at Sir Weller even when Wolfram painted him, and whenever he arrived from the other world he would look to see that Sir Weller was still there and with them. Wolfram had no doubt that if Sir Weller was to desert again, Yuuri would follow.
With a wordless cry, Wolfram's Maryoku flared and two vicious Majutsu fire lions burned the twigs that were once the practice doll to ashes and dust.
And then there came the whole Bandarbia escapade. He had no idea what exactly happened there, but he knew that something important to both Sir Weller and Yuuri had happened. First Sir Weller caught Yuuri after a drop of what was probably fifty feet if not more (and just what kind of a power made him knew that Yuuri was falling, anyway?), and then there was the whole "I'll protect you, not the talisman" thing that Wolfram was not quite sure he understood. He knew that it involved the medallion Sir Weller gave to Yuuri when Yuuri first arrived to Shin Makoku, and he knew that Yuuri rarely parted from it, and that Sir Weller was upset when he saw Greta wearing it once…
Sometimes when Yuuri was looking at Sir Weller it seemed to be the only thing he could see. Sometimes when Sir Weller and Yuuri were looking at each other they became so lost in each other that they forgot that Wolfram was around as well. He even caught Brother watching them once and smiling a small smile at their interactions, at their shared looks and their easy flowing conversation and friendly banter. He refused to talk to Brother after every time he would catch him doing it, but his resolution was usually put to the test of practically and necessity. More often then not he simply gave up, lacking the energy to be angry at Brother as well.
Wolfram had always told himself that Yuuri was lucky to have him since he was handsome, an excellent swordsman, sharp and reliable and loyal. He refused to acknowledge the growing bond between Yuuri and his not younger-older brother, and told himself that Yuuri will learn to love him in time. After all they were engaged and were raising a child together. It was no mere trinket.
But now… Now there was no denying that Yuuri loved Sir Weller the way Wolfram had hoped Yuuri would come to like him. Not after the way Yuuri had reacted when Sir Weller collapsed. The Maou's words, words that still echoed in Wolframs' ears painfully: your place is by me side. I will not allow death to take you away from me, made that clear enough that those were Yuuri's true feelings as well.
And Sir Weller… who wouldn't love him? He was perfect, wasn't he? The only imperfection he had was the fact that he was not a Mazoku and had no Maryoku. But Wolfram was still angry and bitter, so Sir Weller can forget about Yuuri because Yuuri was his fiancé and he would never give him up… even if he knew that right now Yuuri doesn't love him he still had hope that one day Yuuri would. After all that happened he was bound to see that Sir Weller was such a man of low morals, if he caused Yuuri to worry like this, and besides…
Mother was calling for him. She was wearing a ruby-red dress that was quite modest, in Mother's standards. Wolfram went to her side obediently and allowed her to crush him to her bosom. He knew that she needed the support and that despite her… er… carefree attitude, her sons were her world.
"Walk with me," Mother asked softly of him. Wolfram wanted to refuse, wanted to keep venting his anger at Sir Weller and his good for nothing fiancé. But from up close he could see that Mother had not slept properly, that her face were pinched and dry, her makeup smeared sloppily over eyes that had dark circles around them. Mother had never allowed herself to look quite so bad before and it was enough of a shock that she did so now that Wolfram sighed and sheathed his sword without a word.
They began strolling along the gardens, Mother's arm in his like a gentleman should do when escorting a lady. Wolfram breathed her in, the smell of powders and perfumes that was hers ever since he could remember. He had always loved this smell and when he was little. After he found out that his younger-older brother whom he admired so was a mere human, he used to sneak to Mother's bed and lay there alone, breathing in deeply and taking comfort from the fact that she was there in spirit, always there with him.
He found that they were heading toward the patch in the garden where Mother bred her flowers. He remembered that patch as well. When he was little he had always liked to go there and look at his flower, and was always telling everyone how he had a flower called after him. 'Beautiful Wolfram'. And then there came the battle of Rütenberg and all he could see was that flower.
"Conrart Stand Upon The Earth," Mother caressed the blue petals while whispering the name, softly. He remembered the pleasant smell, the simplicity and the beauty of it as he gave it to Susanna-Julia to give to Sir Weller when he heard that she was going to see him off. There was something eerily similar between the flower and the man, something catching in the simplicity of it that was the same with the man it was called after. He only hoped that the man could survive rough conditions just like the flower could… not that he cared! It's just that his flower was always beautiful, but never had much of a smell to it.
"I wonder why his existence has to be so tortured. If he's being punished for something I did in the past, or if it was simply what fate had in store for him," Mother asked Wolfram, looking up at him from where she was kneeling by the flourishing patch of ground and Wolfram felt like a child caught reading a forbidden book, for thinking the thoughts that he did.
"Hmpf!" he pointedly threw his nose in the air, closing his eyes. "What nonsense," he said harshly, typically. "Like I care what happens to him," he added childishly.
Mother looked at him knowingly and he felt nervous under her penetrating gaze. "Do you really think that?" she asked him in her bell-clear voice, and Wolfram stared at her like a frightened child.
"It's still nonsense," he told her hurriedly, not really denying or confirming her question.
When Mother got up and dusted her knees off, she was holding a flower in her hand. It was Cheri's Red Sigh and it was still covered with dew. She smiled at him and caressed his cheek, and he allowed her.
"You know, Gwendal's father was even bigger then Gwendal himself," she told him suddenly and Wolfram nearly choked on his own saliva.
"MOTHER!" he exclaimed, reddening and not really interested in such a detailed story of his older brother's father or his mother's sex life, but Mother ignored him and instead inhaled the scent of the flower in, closing her eyes and smiling.
"He had such broad shoulders that whenever he would hold me I felt like nothing bad could possibly happen. His chest was so broad I could hide and disappear entirely behind him. And he was shy," Mother even laughed a little in nostalgia and Wolfram found himself listening closely despite his earlier indignation.
"He was a man of little words, but then when he was alone with me and would look at me I had no need of his words myself. He was the first man I had ever loved enough to marry," Mother's face became tinged with sadness again. "But then he became ill. It was horrible. From the broad and strong man he was, he became a feeble leaf. I nearly gave Stoffel a heart attack when I refused to meet with five different ambassadors simply to be by his side."
Wolfram was hesitant in interrupting her, even though his impatience demanded that she get on with the story. Mother rarely talked about Gwendal's father to him.
"He was also a proud man," Mother said haltingly. "He killed himself, threw himself on his own sword. Told me he would rather die then allow me to see him so sick and weak," Mother turned away from Wolfram, who felt in awe at hearing the story. He was weary of what she was getting at and he didn't like the feeling, but this was Mother. He knew that he would hear this story, either preserving his own pride, listening to it like an adult and, more importantly, on his own two feet, or after much pouting and much Mother-hugging-Wolfram-to-her-bosom moments and in her lap.
"Gwendal was young. He didn't understand what had happened but ever since then he turned to his grumpy nowadays self. He thought that that was what his father was like, and never listened when I told him his father was merely a man of fewer words and more actions, and that he was simply shy… Not like your father! Your father had no problems with expressing himself!" Now Mother was cheerful again, like talking about a precious jewel, and Wolfram started edging away in fear of being at the receiving end of a fit of nostalgia.
"Awww… your father and I complimented each other so well!" Mother mourned in a childish way that reminded Wolfram disturbingly of himself, and he swallowed nervously. "He was tall and blond and I really have no idea how you came out so short, Wolf," his mother continued enthusiastically.
"Mother!" Wolfram raged at her, pulling himself to the last of his inches in a pathetic effort to appear higher. It was a sensitive topic.
"Oh, but you are!" Mother insisted, but before he could voice yet another objection she continued. "He was sharp as well, once you got to know him and see past his façade. And you know, I really did like to have him around, but not if all we did was fight. It was for the best that he left, I think, because that way we were both free to find someone who wouldn't drive us crazy," she smiled at him, and now Wolfram began to see it.
"So you had one husband who died, one whom you kicked out, and one who deserted you," he said accusingly. At hearing this Mother's face softened, but her eyes hardened. She turned to Wolfram fully and placed a hand on his shoulder, but not in a gesture of affection. Her hand squeezed his shoulder hard.
"Wolfram," she told him in a serious voice, and Wolfram swallowed. "Of all the men I have been with in my life, I have loved Dan Hiri Weller the most," she said and Wolfram felt a pang of pain and betrayal in his chest. However once again she guessed that he was about to storm off because she placed her other hand on his cheek, flower forgotten, and forced his eyes to meet hers. "It doesn't mean that I love you any less then I love Conrart. I love all of my sons, each for his unique personality. But if there's one thing that nothing could change, not even the knowledge that my love for my husbands was engineered and directed by Soushu, is that Dan Hiri Weller was and still is the man I loved the most," she said seriously.
"Then why didn't you fight for him?! When he left, why didn't you call him back?! Why did you let him go away!?" Now Wolfram really erupted in anger, tearing his face away from her grasp. It wasn't because he remembered the betrayal he felt when he saw the wrinkled old man who was his brother's father, and how painful it was to find out that Conrart was human. Nor was it because he remembered the sadness in Mother's eyes when Brother told her that Dan Hiri died. It was because she allowed him to walk away without fighting for him and that was something Wolfram would never allow Yuuri to do, even if Yuuri loved Sir Weller and not him.
Wolfram has always believed that if you loved someone you should fight for them without regards to anything else. Wolfram was damned if he would allow Yuuri to walk away like this, damned if he would allow himself to go through what Mother had been through when Dan Hiri left in the middle of the night. He loved Yuuri!
Mother allowed him to pull away and her hands fell to rest beside her body. Her face wore the saddest and yet happiest expression he had even seen on her. "Why didn't I fight for him? Because I knew that he would be happier if I'd let him go. Because when you love someone you let them go away if you know that they'll be happier this way, even if you'll end up hurting more because of it," she told him and walked away without waiting for his response, leaving him rooted to the ground and staring after her retreating form in shock.
He loved Yuuri.
I think it's necessary to explain the difference between Maryoku and Majutsu. Maryoku is the ability itself. Besically all Mazoku has Maryoku, and the meaning is that all Mazoku has the ability to preform 'magic'. Majutsu, on the other hand, is how you called the Maryoku you cast. Once someone uses his Maryoku, the form it takes when outside of their body is called Majutsu.
Also some of you may have wondered about why, in this fic, both Wolfram and Cheri-sama called Conrad "Conrart". The truth is that Conrart is the real name (since its origins are German), but since Yuuri can't pronounce it well he called him Conrad.
Truth be told, Yuuri had already been through every single paper on his desk, had taken care of them and had even signed all the invitations for Shin Makoku's big festival himself in his flourished Shibuya Yuuri Harajuku Fuuri Japanese signature, though he had no desire at all to celebrate while Conrad was so sick. But Günter was right when he said that it would only serve to sink the people moral if they refrain from having a festival just because Conrad was sick. The rumor has already spread and people were looking forward to it.
Everyone thought he hadn't visited Conrad, hadn't gone to see him, but it was not so. Yuuri would always come when everyone else was in bed. He was there alone with Conrad, or sometimes Cheri-sama was there with him but sat silently by the door and watched as Yuuri begged Conrad to wake up, or told him about his day. When it would all get too intense and he would break down and cry Cheri-sama would come to him and hold him, and he would feel her tears in his hair even as his soiled her dress.
Now he was with Günter in the throne room, dressed in his blackest gakuran and his purple cape and practicing for the arrival of their guests. He preferred this than thinking about Conrad all day long, something he was unable not to do. It was hard because it wasn't like the time when Conrad went to Big Shimaron on Soushu's orders because then he was alive and well, simply at the side opposing Yuuri, and even that wasn't entirely true since he was faithful in heart the whole time. Or the time when Soushu took the keys from their owners and Wolfram's heart stopped beating. He knew that there was something he could do. He knew that if he could get Soushu to return the keys then Wolfram would live again.
And Conrad had lost the ability to move his left hand. He would rather have Conrad disabled or opposing him then dead… or dying.
"Now, your majesty, next come the representative from Yurumuwaki," Günter was once again standing by his side with the big book in his hands and his reading glasses firmly in place, and was instructing Yuuri on how to greet his guests. "They're from the high hills on the borders of Small Shimaron but they refer to themselves as an independent area. Their greeting goes by clasping each other's forearms and then circling about each other once while hopping on one leg. The clasped hands symbolize their desire for a bond and…"
Yuuri sighed quietly. He already knew it all. The hopping on one leg symbolized the Yurumuwaki's wish for a balanced alliance and the circle symbolized the cycle of life, meaning they were hoping for a life-long partnership. They've been through it the last time Shin Makoku hosted a ball for all of their allies.
"Your majesty? Your majesty! Where are you?!" Günter suddenly raised his head and looked at the door. He had done so three times already, certain that Yuuri was trying to sneak off somewhere while he was busy with the big book in his hands. He always looked towards the door, was always anxious, but really, Yuuri was standing right there and listening obediently the whole time.
"I'm right here, Günter," Yuuri said tiredly. "Exactly where I was for the last four hours," he added bitterly. He had no will or desire to sneak off and besides, where would he go?
"Oh," Günter said in a strange voice. He examined Yuuri for a few moments before putting the book down and approaching his king.
"Can we go on now, please? I'm really getting tired standing all day and doing strange mo… ARGH! HÜNTE! WHA ARE YOU DOIN!?" Yuuri's scream was nearly unintelligible because Günter approached him, grabbed his mouth, and pulled as if trying to see if his face would come off of his head. It was hard to talk with Günter pulling his mouth like this and Yuuri's reproachful glare probably had less than the desired effect with his face so distorted.
"Günter!" Yuuri exclaimed, but Günter merely took off his glasses and closed his book.
"You are no imposter," Günter said heavily and his face grew soft with sadness. "I'll take my leave now, your majesty. Perhaps you should use your free time to think things over," and with that he left the throne room, leaving Yuuri staring after him, completely shocked.
What was that all about!? Günter, the always-meticulous Günter, was leaving in the middle of their practice? And what was that creepy comment all about? It was downright disturbing, Günter's behavior. Just when Yuuri thought he understood his advisor he was shocked by some new oddness from him. Why wasn't Conrad around to save him when he needed h… oh.
Oh. Right. Conrad was sick, Conrad was not responding to the medication at all and Gisela had said that if things would not improve soon then Conrad's body would start shutting down. The body that Yuuri took such comfort from when Conrad hugged him when he needed to be held against the threatening emotions only a few weeks back would shut down and with it the great mind that it hosted. Those warm eyes would never look at Yuuri again.
Yuuri shuffled his feet desolately across the stone halls, halls he had only now came to realize were cold, until he was in his office again. He hadn't wanted to go to his room because he couldn't bear the thought of being there. Every time he was there he would wait for Conrad to come in and call him to a battery practice, or lunch, or a ride or a thousand other things he only now realized he was waiting so anxiously all day to do. And Conrad never came.
Not that his office was any better because when in it he would remember all those times when he would sneak away from Günter's lessons and run to find Conrad, who while chided him severely for neglecting his studies would find the best way to sneak into the stables and out of the castle without being caught.
He had to fight his tears once again, something he had to do too often for him to be comfortable about. He hated crying. Whenever he would cry he would hear Wolfram's voice echoing in his ear, calling him 'soft' and 'wimpy'.
It seemed like all the times he had cried since he came to Shin Makoku were because of Conrad. The time when he came to help with the spreading fire in the Mazoku village and was nearly taken hostage with only Gwendal's horse to save him, he had cried when he learned that Conrad had been teaching the local children how to play baseball. And the time right after he had learned that Conrad had deserted and wanted to go back to talk to him and see him but fell overboard and got swept back to his own world. But the worse was the time when he thought that Conrad had truly deserted, right after he threw Yozak over the cliff and would not hear Yuuri's pleas for him to stop. He sat silently on the ground with his hands tied behind his back when Conrad pretended like he was about to kill him because if Conrad was not by his side then there was no point in struggling.
Yuuri's last thoughts then were that at least the last thing he would see would be Conrad's beloved face.
Remembering that, Yuuri leaped from his chair and promptly hit his knees on a corner of his desk. Wincing and rubbing the hurting place furiously, his mind reeled at his own recollection. He had not had time back then to analyze the emotions he was feeling because he was so happy to learn that Conrad had always been loyal to him, that when Conrad was waiting for him to arrive every day was happiness, to think straight. And then Belal got angry and pierced Conrad's body with arrows and Yuuri was too worried for Conrad's life to think about what he was feeling. And then Conrad tried to run away and… well, he simply never thought about what he was feeling.
Whenever he was with Conrad he felt warm from the inside. It was like a ball of warmth had coiled inside of him whenever he thought about Conrad that erupted and flooded him with pleasure whenever Conrad would catch his eye and smile at him. He looked for Conrad when he was happy and when he was distressed. Conrad, Yuuri suddenly realized with a shiver, was the first thing he would look for and the last thing he would see (when he could) when going between worlds. When Conrad told him that he believed Yuuri could do something than Yuuri, despite his many insecurities, would be filled with confidence as well.
He liked the sight of Conrad. When Conrad was on patrol and it was Günter who woke him up the day felt grayer, but Yuuri always chalked it to not having his morning run with Conrad and lack of physical action. He always felt so good with Conrad but, in his mind, he had thought about Conrad's face as beloved. And with a sudden jolt he realized that Conrad's face was always sharp in his mind, always hovering and smiling behind his lids when he closed his eyes. He had always told himself it was because he was so close to the man, but was it…
Yuuri had never thought about it. He was happy where he was, with Conrad by his side and as the half-assed Maou he was. As long as he got to play baseball and make new friends there was nothing more for him to want from his life. Playing baseball was now always associated with Conrad, and making new friends was a part of being Maou (which inadvertently included Conrad as well). He truly had no complaints.
But when he tried to think about things he was shocked to realize that nearly every aspect of his life, and not only in Shin Makoku, included Conrad in one way or another. Even when he was in Japan and was doing his day to day things he would think of him. He would wish for Conrad to be there so that he could share a joke with Yuuri, or simply wished they would hurry and meet again so that Yuuri could tell Conrad about this or that. Yuuri had to gulp before he summoned the courage to think his next thought. Was it love? Romantic love?
The more Yuuri thought about it the more it became frighteningly clear. He was never in love before. Sure, he had appreciated nice-looking girls just like the next guy (not that the next guy liked other guys but he really had enough to think about as it was and decidedly ignored the question of his own sexuality for now) but he had never truly saw himself as in love with them. None of the girls he thought about, even the beautiful and fierce Elizabeth-eventually-not-Wolfram's-fiancé-the-more-the-pity had lingered in his thoughts and…
Wolfram! Wolfram knew what love was! Wasn't he always going on about his love for Yuuri? Sure, Yuuri wasn't really listening but Wolfram talked about it so often that Yuuri caught the general gist.
Let's see… Wolfram insisted that they should sleep together in the same bed. He hated sleeping with Wolfram at the same bed, mostly because he usually got kicked, insulted and was left cold and without a blanket. However he remembered the time he slept with Conrad and it felt entirely different.
Wolfram was sick when Yuuri wanted to go camping, not that it had stopped him from trying to go with them but Gisela went into sergeant mode and her eyes were dark and scary when she told him point blank that he was going nowhere. (Which was why Yuuri informed him of this when she was doing her daily check on him…). He had gone alone with Conrad and they went to sleep side by side after hours of stargazing and thought-sharing, and woke up side by side, and the first thing Yuuri saw when he woke up was Conrad's smiling face and warm eyes. He basked in Conrad's gentle warmth and felt content and happy all morning after that and it was… well… wonderful.
And in retrospect, it had nothing to do with the fact that they were out camping. Nothing at all, because he really couldn't remember even a single thing of their sightseeing other then Conrad's melodic voice explaining about this and that or the look in his eyes when he saw something beautiful or the smile he would smile when he looked to see how Yuuri would react to something.
Wolfram had always insisted that Yuuri should think about him all the time, but Yuuri had already established that he thought about Conrad all the time. Wolfram had also insisted on being with Yuuri all the time, but truly it was Conrad who Yuuri usually sought out, and while Conrad hadn't painted disturbing portraits of him in smelly love colors (and Yuuri thanked every possible god for that because he didn't think he could've stand that) they did do all sorts of activities together. They had their battery practice, sword practice, their morning runs, their long talks in the evenings, and…
And Wolfram always told him that he should be with Yuuri wherever he went because he was Yuuri's fiancé, but Yuuri remembered the trips he had made when Conrad was in Big Shimaron as the loneliest trips in his life…
Wolfram always told him he needed to accompany Yuuri because he needed to make sure that Yuuri wasn't doing anything inappropriate, but when Conrad was with Yuuri all Yuuri wanted to do was talk to other people and then talk about it to Conrad and hear what he had to say.
And Wolfram always wanted to hold Yuuri but the only embrace Yuuri was comfortable with was Conrad's, the only one he had truly relaxed against when he was tending to the infected people was Conrad, and Conrad's smell was so comforting and Conrad's arms were sostrongthatYuuriwantedtoalwayshavethemaroundhim…
And he really needed to take a deep breath because his thoughts were so erratic that they were blurring together in his mind and…
He was in love with Conrad, wasn't he?
Now what should he do?
He should tell him, of course!
Yuuri was halfway to the door when he realized that there was nobody to tell. Conrad was sick, he never listened when Yuuri pleaded with him to wake up, never stirred when Yuuri's tears fell on his face…
He was on his way back to his desk when he thought that maybe Conrad hadn't stirred because he never had any motivation to do so. And maybe if Yuuri would tell him that he loved him Conrad would wake up and tell Yuuri that he loved him as well!
Yet Yuuri's hand on the doorknob never pushed it open. What if Conrad doesn't love him? Or no more then Günter loved him, er… wait, if that was so then Conrad should have been smitten with him and that was really disturbing to think about. But really, what if he doesn't love him back?
But even if he doesn't, once Yuuri knew how he felt it would be impossible to hide it, and it would be best if he confessed it himself then having Conrad find out alone. He was sure that the man would be hurt by Yuuri hiding it from him.
Which was a good time to also consider the fact that Conrad was a man, but then again so was Wolfram and they were still engaged…
And Yuuri and Wolfram were still engaged! How could he possibly forget that!? And how could he tell Wolfram once and for all that he wanted to break the en-
Yuuri never completed that mental sentence because the door swung open wildly and Yuuri, who was standing with his hand on the doorknob, was crushed face first between it and the wall.
The phrase Shibuya Yuuri Harajuku Fuuri is actually a pun Yuuri has adopted. It is fisrt mentioned on the first chapter, when the bullies shoved Yuuri's head into the toilet. Shibuya and Harajuku are two well known train stations, but since Yuuri's name can be read as "advantageous" the pun actually means: (train-station) Shibuya is in an advantage over (train-station) Harajuku. Yuuri has heard this pun so many times that he sometimes use it to indicate that he's talking about himself.
Also, Yurumuwaki really is mentioned in the anime, but their greating I've made up myself.
"Yuuri! I'm calling off the engagement!" Wolfram stormed into the room with his finger held high to puncture his words, but his enthusiasm was visibly replaced by dismay when he saw Yuuri's deserted desk.
"Ai, Always so sudden…" Yuuri pushed the door closed once again and rubbed his bruised nose. "Haven't you learned how to knock, Wolfram? You can't go about surprising p… eh? Wait, what did you say?" Yuuri's complaint broke off when he registered what Wolfram had said.
Wolfram looked as enraged with him as always. "You wimp! What are you doing lurking behind the door like that!? And besides, you should listen when people talk!" he reprimanded angrily.
"It was hardly my fault you don't know how… wait, that's not what's important right now! What did you say about canceling our engagement?" Yuuri demanded to know, and Wolfram scowled.
"Exactly that, you lazy loafer! I'm canceling our engagement!" the blond called hotly at Yuuri and Yuuri instinctively took one step backward. Now he was really confused.
"Not that I'm not thrilled but, why? You were the one who was always putting so much emphasis on the whole engagement thing…" Yuuri was weary to breach that subject from fear that Wolfram would retract his words but he really needed to know.
Wolfram looked a little flushed. "You should just be happy that I did! I've decided that I don't want to be engaged to a wimpy person like you anymore. I've already informed Günter and Brother and, well, Mother was very disappointed that she won't get to plan a wedding but my decision is final!" Wolfram claimed, but Yuuri spent enough time around him to know when Wolfram was lying.
"Wolfram, why did you cancel the engagement?" Yuuri asked once more, surprisingly gentle. He imagined he was talking to Greta and coaxing her to tell him something she didn't really wanted to, and used that voice on his now-ex-fiancé.
Wolfram looked distinctly uncomfortable and he avoided Yuuri's gaze for a while before meeting his eyes. Wolfram's green, beautiful eyes were pained and saddened and Yuuri had to bite his lip to keep from saying anything. "I will not force you into an engagement when it's clear that you love someone else," he told Yuuri seriously, his voice uncharacteristically soft and subdued.
"C-Clear!?" Yuuri spluttered for a moment, horrified, before he registered the fact that Wolfram had been completely serious about what he was saying. What was there to say to him? Would this cause a rift between the two of them? Or between Wolfram and Conrad? He knew that that was the last thing Conrad would want. "Wolfram…" he started, but was at a loss on how to finish the sentence. He didn't want to lose Wolfram and a friend but wasn't keen on being bonded to him in ties of matrimony as well.
"Don't worry, a wimp like you need someone as strong and intelligent like me around to keep him from getting into trouble. Brother can't be burdened with all of Shin Makoku's troubles alone you know. And don't forget that I'm Greta's father as well!" Wolfram covered his moment of tenderness with his usual harsh and arrogant speech, and Yuuri was forced to smile. He wasn't very good at analyzing other people's emotions, but like every average Japanese boy he knew how to say 'thank you'.
"Thank you, Wolfram. I really want us to remain friends. I would miss you if you left," Yuuri told him sincerely.
"I'm not going anywhere!" Wolfram covered his momentary surprise at hearing Yuuri's words with a hurried snarky remark. When Yuuri went on smiling at him he became unsure once more and looked around him. "Well, I am going to the dining hall to meet with Mother, but it's not the same!" he added, turned and marched away, a fierce blush staining his cheeks.
Yuuri was left watching after his retreating form and wondering if he had missed something in choosing Conrad over Wolfram. But he was in love with Conrad, had been for who possibly knew how long, and was happy not to have to give up on Wolfram to be with Conrad.
If Conrad truly wanted him as well.
Yuuri managed to get out of his office by evening, after such a pep talk he almost wished he was preparing his baseball team for the league cup game instead of simply confessing his love. He half hoped he would be talking to his baseball team before such a great event because he had a feeling it would be much easier.
He was not someone who could keep things inside. His mother always told him that having something on your mind is like having something in your belly and if you won't let it out you'll have a stomachache. So he found himself walking determinedly down the hall toward Conrad's room. His hands at his side were clenched into fists and his breathe was labored as he tried to steel himself and confess to have feelings that while he didn't exactly understood, knew he wanted to discover more about. He wondered if it would be enough for Conrad.
However, he had forgotten momentarily about Conrad and the fact that he had a major confession to make when he turned a corner and found Günter standing at the far side of it. If he saw Yuuri he made no attempt to catch his attention, and in fact was holding Gisela in his arms. And Gisela was… crying.
Why was Gisela crying?
Tentatively, Yuuri approached the pair. "Gisela? Is everything all right? Are you hurt?" he asked, and then a horrible thought made his vision go black and bile to rise in his throat. "Conrad is fine, isn't he?" he asked anxiously, approaching further and staring at her pleadingly, tears already gathering in the corners of his eyes.
"He's fine, your majesty," Günter calmed him over the crown of his daughter's head. "It's not Conrart who died today."
Yuuri nearly lost his balance, a colliding mixture of emotions leaving his body momentarily free of the gathering tension. The strongest feeling was relief and happiness that it wasn't Conrad who died today, and the other was a terrible sense of loss, both because it could have been Conrad and because they had lost yet another person. The third was shame for being so self-centered as to care for Conrad so strongly that he disregarded everyone else who died. Died…
"Then…" Yuuri said slowly, as if only now comprehending the fact that someone did die, "who did?" he asked. Günter seemed hesitant to give him an answer, and eventually it was Gisela who answered, her voice thick with tears and strangled with emotions.
"It was Adelbert von Grantz," she said heavily, and then hid her face in her father's cloak once more. Yuuri was shocked, and there was a slow pain spreading in him at hearing this. Adelbert was the first man who welcomed him in Shin Makoku (even if it was in his own… er… unique… way). He always called Yuuri "boy" but he actually liked Yuuri and was a good man in heart. Yuuri knew it. Adelbert was one of the people he never wanted to let down because he felt honored to have his trust.
"Adelbert-san is… dead?" he repeated weakly, disbelievingly. "I…" he had to swallow around the thickness in his own throat before he could continue. "I had no idea he was sick," he whispered, because his vocal cords would not produce a stronger sound then that.
"It was his specific wish that we would not tell you. He knew that you'll try to help, but when he managed to make his way to the castle he was already past saving. The disease ate at him until he passed away a few hours ago," Günter replayed with the same heaviness that filled his daughter as well.
"Of course I would have tried to help him!" Yuuri exclaimed, but then became subdued and silent as he pondered on the burn in his chest. "I would not have given up on him so easily," he whispered, choked, lowered his eyes and blinked furiously.
"Thank you, your majesty," Gisela dislodged herself from her father and hugged him instead, and Yuuri held back to give as much as to take comfort in her. "I think it's for the best," she whispered shakily against his ear. "I think that…" and her breath hitched, "he was glad to have an excuse to give up, because that way he could join Julia's soul in the afterlife with his pride intact," she said, and Yuuri's back stiffened.
Because Adelbert could never join Julia's soul in the afterlife, because Julia's soul was now Yuuri's soul and Adelbert would be all alone in the afterlife for as long as Yuuri is alive. He knew this since he told Adelbert this, and he knew this since it was the reason Adelbert protected him and followed him, because he thought that he was protecting her through it, because he still loved Julia.
And Conrad still loved Julia as well, didn't he?
The pain made Yuuri's chest so tight he could barely breathe now. His breath was labored and went in harsh puffs through his nose as he realized what a fool he was. It was strange, some part of him watched detachedly, that some of the pain was for Adelbert and his death and cruel faith in the afterlife, some was for Conrad and the pain he would undoubtedly feel when he heard it and the fact that his hearing it was uncertain at best, and some was for him, for the fool he was for not seeing that Conrad loved Julia and saw her in him like Adelbert did.
Yuuri had never felt the burden of having Julia's soul so heavily before. He wished suddenly that he was never born, never became the Maou and so Julia-san never had to die to give him her soul and Conrad and Adelbert would not still be in love with a woman who was dead.
"I'm sorry!" Yuuri cried as he tore from Gisela's embrace and ran back to his office, not stopping to catch his breath until he was safely behind the heavy locked doors. It was only then that he realized that he was crying and hugged himself, feeling utterly miserable.
What a fool he had been! What did he have to offer a wonderful man as Conrad in return for his love?
He was scrawny, he knew that. He was a little short for his age, even if he was only a head and a half shorter then Shori is now. Murata always told him he was enthusiastic about the wrong things and Wolfram always told him he was stubborn, naïve and a wimp with no morals. Shori used to call him oblivious and lazy, and always tried to dress him as a girl (something in the genes, perhaps, because his mother had the same tendencies) and maybe it was because he was not manly enough. Then again, if Conrad loves Julia then perhaps he ought to say that he's not womanly enough.
He liked baseball and hated politics and was so single minded in his actions that everyone already knew what he was going to say about everything and were only bound by protocol to still ask, and if that was so then he must be the most boring person in Shin Makoku. He had no talent whatsoever with the sword, his handwriting looked childish at best even with the added practice of recent weeks, and while he loved his Ao, horseback riding was still something he did with effort and more often then not – gracelessly.
He was sure Julia was a good rider.
Julia was a healer, while all he managed to do was create scary water monsters or ugly water monsters (often times they were both), and had nearly no control over them. He wasn't even himself when he preformed Majutsu, but some harsh superior judge that was the embodiment of justice. He was scared of it himself sometimes, how could Conrad not be?
And he was always doing something inappropriate, like slapping Conrad's younger brother and in doing so asking for his hand in marriage, or picking up knifes and forks and starting fights…
He remembered the day when he was in Big Shimaron and was trying to wield his sword into some form that resembled a sparring match, without much success. Conrad took pity on him, instructing him as they sparred but blocked his blows with ease Yuuri envied. It was almost like they were back in Shin Makoku and practicing Yuuri's swordsmanship. Almost, but for the aching sadness and betrayal that raged so strongly in Yuuri. And then Adelbert came and tried to kill him.
And Conrad had screamed at him: "You're going to kill Julia! Yuuri's soul is Julia's!"
Right before Conrad came back he had said to Belal, when he pretended to kill Yuuri that before Yuuri came every day was happiness. It was because he was waiting for Julia to arrive wasn't it? Because he knew that they'll be reunited once more.
Yuuri never paid it much attention, but now that he did he had to ask. What was a man without his soul? And Yuuri had Julia's soul.
Come to think about it, it wasn't the first time he had realized that maybe Conrad liked him because he had Julia's soul. It was a shocking revelation on Bandarbia but right after he pondered on it he and Adelbert had to run from those Tourounagashi guys from Big Shimaron. They chased them and then Adelbert threw him over the cliff and Conrad caught him and wasn't angry that he gave the pendant to Adelbert and it was all forgotten.
Julia's pendant, the pendant she gave Conrad before he went to fight in the Rütenberg battle. Adelbert said that he had no way of knowing what feelings Julia entrusted to Conrad along with the pendant.
Soushu claimed that Julia was his creation. A carefully bred soul that was at its pick Susanna-Julia von Wincott. Even Soushu said that she was perfect, supposed to be for him to possess and reach the height of his power. But she was too perfect for his plans, so he modified it and added mediocrity to her to create Yuuri.
The White Julia. If Julia was indeed perfect then was there any wonder that Conrad loved her? After all, even Gisela said that everyone loved her…
Even Yuuri, mediocre Yuuri, loved her back when he met her as he was sent to the past. She was smart, resourceful, compassionate, and understanding. She was also beautiful, even if she was blind. She even had this gentle sense of humor that Yuuri liked when they met. He also liked her because she cared for Conrad so much…
It was all Soushu's fault, but it changed nothing. It never changed the fact that Julia was perfect or that Conrad loved her. Oh, and how Soushu continued hurting them even after he was gone (and he was gone, right? Right?) by killing Julia and placing her soul in Yuuri. Now because of him a good man like Adelbert would be lonely in the afterlife, and the sight of him in this life tortured a good man like Conrad. And because he loved Conrad, a good man like Wolfram is hurt because he couldn't love him back. They were all fine men, men that if he would be half as much as them then he would have nothing more to aspire to.
But the fact remained that Conrad never really loved Yuuri because of who he was. He loved Yuuri because Yuuri had Julia's soul. It was actually Julia Conrad was smiling at, and protecting, and guiding. It was actually Julia that Conrad loved.
Finally there came the thought he was trying to avoid more then most. If Conrad and Julia loved each other, and Yuuri had Julia's soul, then who exactly loved Conrad now? Was it really Yuuri who felt like this or was it the echo from Julia?
"Damn it!" Yuuri choked out in bitter frustration, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes in an effort to stop the tears, but it was fruitless.
Eventually he cried himself to sleep.
Tourounagashi is a ceremony in which paper lanterns are sent floating down a river in rememberence of the dead. Typically for Yuuri, he first mistook the pursuers from Big Shimaron (who came in boats carrying torches) for Tourounagashi.
The Great Sage, currently known as Murata Ken, knew many things about… well… many things. Sir von Christ would surely faint from the amount of information the Great Sage could tell him, and he therefore had no intention of doing so.
He also had many memories. He remembered loving the man Shinou was before Soushu took control over him, so many lives ago, as the Great Sage he was then. He remembered loving José Rodriguez as Christine. He remembered finding that he still loved Shinou deep in his heart when Shinou was suddenly truly himself, and the Great Sage didn't have to struggle to bury such futile emotions since Shinou's fate was suddenly not doomed. Now that he was there and free of Soushu's influence.
And as one who had so many memories he thought that Shibuya was silly. There was no one who knew more about love than him, but even if he didn't it was impossible to miss the way Sir Weller was looking at Shibuya, almost like he wanted to devour him at times. Or the way Shibuya returned his gaze, such a painful longing in his eyes. Honestly, there couldn't be two people who were more in love with each other but afraid of it than those two.
Now the Great Sage stood in the darkened hall, listening to the soothing sound of the waterfall over the golden symbol he helped design so long ago. His glasses glinted with some unseen light as he pushed them up his nose.
"You do know that you owe him much more then you could ever repay, right?" the Great Sage said, seemingly talking to himself since there was no other presence in Shinou's temple. Even the temple priestesses respected his need to be alone.
"I thought that you were getting tired of babysitting me," the blond man who appeared suddenly was leaning against one of the pillars behind the Great Sage and was currently checking his rear with a smile firmly on his face. His smile widened when the other merely sighed. "I know that perfectly well, my Sage," he decided to grace the Sage with an answer.
The Great Sage turned around, and chose to ignore what had transpired between his back parts and Shinou. "I think now would be a good time to start repaying," he told him conversationally.
Shinou's pretty face drew into a scowl. "You know perfectly well that I'm doing my best. I was there for Shibuya Yuuri when he tried to heal Sir Weller and right now the only thing that keeps Sir Weller breathing is my strength. He's still struggling to fight off the disease, and is succeeding admiringly at it since he's nearly recovered, but I can't help him. The disease has infected the human part of him and all I can do is support him while he fights. Without me he would've been dead by now, and believe me I'm well aware of the debt I have towards the Weller family as well," Shinou told his Sage cuttingly.
"Now, now, calm down," the momentary flash of Murata Ken's phrasing and behavior, instead that of the Sage, was enough to startle Shinou out of his dour mood. The Great Sage was hoping for it, but Shinou's eyes narrowed dangerously at him.
Taking a deep breath the Great Sage, who was Murata Ken, who was all this time the Great Sage and only him, had to pass a test of his own. It was time to see whether he knew his liege as well as he thought he did. As well as he once did.
"I'm tired," he stated, something that was entirely true. "I'm tired of carrying the burdens of past sorrows, and I'm tired of retaining my memories while everyone else I love around me dies. I have loved too much and lost too much in the years since we last separated," he told Shinou ruefully, young face framing such ancient and weary eyes that Shinou stood straighter and walked to him in worry.
"That's not my Sage talking. He would never give up!" Shinou's voice was angry and frightened but his hand was soft and yet unearthly cool against the Sage's cheek where it touched. The Great Sage only smiled.
"What is there for me to hold onto?" he asked simply, shrugging and gazing directly into penetrating blue eyes. "You're you again. Soushu is gone. The kingdom has a good Maou and a good patron to guard it. I'd say that's about the criteria of a golden age."
"Exactly," Shinou smiled triumphantly. He always smiled that smile when he thought he had outmatched his Sage, but he had no idea that it betrayed his intentions and the Sage never bothered correcting him, for his own ends of course. "Would you truly leave me alone, now that I'm me again, to be responsible for so many people?" Shinou teased, his hands now in the Sage's hair and his lips ghosting just above his temple.
"I cannot babysit you forever, but even if I wanted to, would you take me like this? In this body?" the Great Sage returned a question for a question, even if his breath was coming short. It had been too long since he had felt this touch on his skin, even if it was the skin of a body long ago dead.
"You're still my beautiful Soukoku," Shinou breathed into his ear as his hands held onto the Sage's shoulders, and the Sage shivered because he loved the possessiveness Shinou always unknowingly presented when referring to him. "I would take you in whichever body because what matters is that your soul is your own," Shinou continued, and then he whispered the Sage's name and the Sage was very nearly undone because that name was forbidden in every land and the only man who knew it had his arms wrapped firmly around him.
"True enough," the Great Sage had to concentrate to keep his train of thought. The exhilaration of his victory and the reawakening of old feelings were so unexpected he was tempted to just give into his king. "And if you believe so then you should help your Maou realize that as well," he stepped away and regarded the blond with darkened eyes.
Everybody said Shinou was much like Wolfram in appearance. The Great Sage had no idea why, since it was obvious that Shinou's face were so much nobler, his body stronger, and his smile slyer. His face was narrower and his eyes were a beautiful blue.
Shinou looked amused, as he always was when he realized his Sage had manipulated him. "True to form, aren't you, my Sage?" Shinou asked and the Great Sage smiled humbly as if receiving a compliment.
"However I have no way of telling him that his soul is his. It was Susanna-Julia von Wincott's before, but it was always destined to be his and it was actually she who was hosting a soul not entirely hers. Soushu had planned to give it to him when he was finished with it. And besides, what made Susanna-Julia who she was died along with her, and only the basic materials and beliefs were passed on to Shibuya Yuuri with her soul, as that soul was not reincarnated like yours," Shinou explained, and the Great Sage thought sadly about his beloved having to endure all the things done through his body without the power to respond. How helpless he must've felt.
"Does Sir Weller know about it?" the Great Sage asked instead of reaching his hand to Shinou's cheek. Shinou nodded his head.
"He does, but he's in no condition to tell it. Wasn't it you who stopped Shibuya Yuuri when he tried to heal him because his body can't take so much Majutsu in?" Shinou replied, once again looking moody and unhappy and the Sage remembered anew what a good person he was at heart.
"You're right, he's in no condition to tell. Not in this time around," and the Sage smiled one of his infamous mysterious smiles as he pushed his glasses up his nose.
"Oh?" his beloved king smiled and stepped closer. "I'm listening."
"You're wrong," a voice was saying. Yuuri knew who it was. He was once again in that dark place in his mind, probably sound asleep on his desk in his office, but suddenly there was a beam of light over him and he knew it could only be one person.
"He loves you, not me," Yuuri told Julia sadly, having left with no power even to cry anymore.
"You're wrong, and I never loved him. Not more then a friend would another friend," Julia's ethereal voice told him once more.
"Loving someone doesn't require them to love you back. I'm a living proof," Yuuri heaved a sigh. "How could he love me instead of you?"
"You have your many merits," Julia told him once more, and Yuuri was reminded of a similar conversation in which Julia reminded him that he wasn't mediocre and that people needed him, back when Soushu tried to fill his heart with darkness.
"As a king, perhaps I do," he told her, doubting his own words. "Besides, I don't even know if I'm me or if what I know to be me is actually you, or if you were always me or…" Well, at this point it got too confusing for him to continue thinking about.
"If you believe it to be so then you should wake up," Julia told him firmly and before he could respond he was opening drowsy eyes.
It was the still of the night outside, and on his desk someone left a bowl. Perhaps Günter wanted him to eat something. Yuuri wondered how did Günter manage to unlock the doors and wearily took the bowl, but had no real desire to eat.
He realized the bowl was empty when he found himself looking at its bottom. It was similar to a Raman bowl and he was sure he saw it somewhere because the pattern of sky-blue circles and golden lion was terribly famili…
The Demon Mirror, one of Shin Makoku's most valuable treasures, rolled onto the desk and came to rest against a stack of papers, which Yuuri's vacant eyes stared unseeingly at.
It took a second or two for Yuuri's vision to focus, but gradually the blurred colours in front of him took the shape of a carpet, a desk and chairs, a map on a stone wall and himself sitting and s… WHAT!?
But indeed, Yuuri was looking at himself, a self that didn't look all that different from him… er… himself… that was confusing….
Now he remembered what that Raman bowl was. It was the Makyou, the Demon Mirror that sent him to the past to meet Julia-san and see Conrad off to the Rütenberg battle. Then did that mean he was in the past again? Or was he in the future?
Whichever time it was Yuuri had read enough manga back at home to know that horrible things could happen if yourself from a different time met you. He knew he would've been horrified if it happened to him… well… the him that was really him… er…
But the Yuuri behind the desk didn't seem aware that he had company, and with a jolt the not-behind-the-desk-Yuuri remembered that he had only a few seconds before his body will become solid again and he would've been seen by the Yuuri behind the desk. It was with another jolt that he realized he's about to turn solid any second now, and with a small cry he launched himself into a closet to his right, going right through the doors and rematerializing the second he was inside.
That was close, and Yuuri-now-in-the-closet didn't really want to dwell on what would've happened if he had rematerialized halfway through the closet doors.
The closet doors were ajar, and Yuuri had a good view of the desk and the space behind it, so he tried to understand to which time he was sent to now according to what he saw.
He looked at himself, but the Yuuri behind the desk was approximately sixteen, or about to become, and looked just like Yuuri in the closet did, so that wasn't helping. The room, however, looked different. It was his office. He knew it because he knew the position of the windows in the wall was unique to his office, but his office was arranged differently. For one thing, the desk was angled differently, the map that was usually to the side was now behind the desk, and on the side was a special stand on which Morgif snored happily in the afternoon sun.
Yuuri in the closet had never arranged his office like that though now he wondered why, because the new arrangement seemed more comfortable. So it was safe to assume that he was in the future. In the very near future, unless he hadn't changed at all by the time he was eighteen and he really didn't want to think about that possibility.
But why was he sent to the future? The last time he was there he had to understand something by experiencing the past, but then he had Julia to help him do it. He indeed understood the need, beyond wanting, in creating a kingdom in which humans and Mazoku lived in peace side by side. So that people like Conrad and Yozak would never had to prove themselves in such horrible ways as the Rütenberg battle.
So it was like one of his Playstation games, and he needed to clear the level to move on. Well, he had better start soon, before anyone would worry about him back at the present. But as he turned to watch, all he could see was his future self signing papers and heaving sad sighs (and present-Yuuri could really sympathize). What was he supposed to learn from that, aside from the already known fact that paper signing was terribly boring? And who's going to help him now?
After ten more minutes of paper signing and sigh heaving closet-Yuuri started becoming bored. Really, what did Shinou think he was doing, sending him to the future now of all times? Murata had explained to him that the activation of the Demon Mirror that sent him to the past was Shinou's will. That guy was really troublesome, and closet-Yuuri had enough to worry about with Conrad being…
The opening of the door cut away what was bound to be a string of very depressing thoughts about Conrad loving Julia, he was sure, but he forgot all about it when he saw that the person who entered future-Yuuri's office was…
A Makyou literally means "Demon Mirror".
A soukoku has black hair and black eyes. The Great Sage was one in his first life, but even though such appearance is rare even in Yuuri's time, then they were considered cursed and unnatural. Only Shinou was willing to befriend him, despite the warnings.
A Conrad who was very clearly healthy! If he wasn't hiding in a closet Yuuri could've jumped with joy at learning that Conrad was going to make full recovery.
Future-Yuuri heard the door opening and lifted his head to see who was coming. When he saw it was Conrad, his eyes were flooded with warmth and his smile was practically face-splitting. He rose from his chair when Conrad came in, but unlike the present, here Conrad sidestepped the desk to come and stand near future-Yuuri behind it.
"Yuuri," Conrad said, his voice as soft as molten chocolate. "I've been looking for you," he added, and future-Yuuri beamed at him. Closet-Yuuri was beaming as well, but the closet was hiding it. "I thought you'd be with Günter, rehearsing."
Future-Yuuri made a face. "We were rehearsing all morning!" he exclaimed. "Günter forced me to stand all morning sticking my hand in and out of that waterfall and practicing my lines, and then he made me stand another three hours – and miss lunch! – just so that he could tell me to put on one cloak and then take it off and put on another. He had me wearing my two red cloaks on and off for an hour and a half, first the one with the leather collar and gold bead and then the one with the golden flowers in the clasps, until he decided that we'll go with the one that had the gold flowers at the clasps!" Future-Yuuri complained, but his eyes were happy and smiling, and Conrad was smiling gently back, which seemed to distract future-Yuuri in places during his speech.
"Well, Günter only wants you to be as ready as possible for your birthday party. It's not every day that the Maou gets to choose his future for everyone to witness. It's not an easy choice," Conrad told him, seriously.
"I know that! But why must making sure I'm as ready as possible takes so long? Not to mention that Anissina decided she was making her Let-Me-Hear-your-Heart's-Cry-Kun work the other way around in an improved manner for my parents' sake and is now going about the castle talking Japanese, which is downright disturbing," closet-Yuuri could see Conrad trying to stifle a laugh, and smiled. It was such a beautiful sight, mirthful Conrad.
But future-Yuuri continued in his litany in a dizzying speed, barely pausing for breath. "And then I had to sit with Gwendal and plan my crest, and he was looking at me like this-" future-Yuuri frowned his face in a passable imitation of Gwendal's customary scowl "-before he accepted my offer for Shibuya Yuuri Harajuku Fuuri kanji though you'd think he'll be grateful to have Anissina off his back and… That reminds me, Conrad, you're here!" Future-Yuuri seemed to have realized that last fact when Conrad finally gave in and stopped pretending to listen, outright laughing instead. Future-Yuuri smiled back, his joy at watching Conrad happy so clear that closet-Yuuri felt a pang of longing in his chest. He wanted to be living that future instead on watching it from a closet.
"At last you're allowed out of bed," future-Yuuri told Conrad softly once the laughter had subsided, his entire face lighting up. Conrad smiled back at him, and closet-Yuuri had the urge to smile as well even if the smile wasn't meant for him.
"Nice of you to notice," Conrad teased gently, something he had never done before but closet-Yuuri suddenly wished he would in his time as well. "But it's about time. It's already been three months but I wouldn't want to miss you're sixteenth birthday celebration, even if Gisela threatened to separate some of my favorite organs from me if I overdo myself," Conrad came to stand closer to future-Yuuri, his hand straying to future-Yuuri's head to brush some of his fringe away.
Future-Yuuri smiled mischievously. "I hope she wasn't hinting at the organs I have yet a chance to enjoy," he said lowly, and at hearing this, and seeing the smile on his face and his darkening eyes, closet-Yuuri really did forgot he was in a closet and attempted to rise in dismayed indignation and hurt his head on the lower shelf.
As he looked toward the pair in the office to see if Conrad noticed something or heard something unusual, he managed to stifle a moan of pain. What was going on? How did he allow himself to say things like that? Why the sudden change of mood? And since when did he even think about things like that?!
What he saw in the office was enough of an answer, though closet-Yuuri had to put a hand firmly around his mouth so as not to cry out.
Future-Yuuri was reaching his hands towards Conrad, placing them flat over his chest, and pushed him gently back against the map-covered wall. Conrad allowed this, his face still set in the same soft expression it had before, but that too changed once future-Yuuri leaned flushed against him, trapping him between himself and the wall.
Morgif seemed to have awakened from the commotion and was now Huu-ing and Haa-ing at them enthusiastically, his eyes shining like stars and the entire hilt of the sword shaking with his wriggling.
"Oh, I see that Morgif is here," Conrad froze and cast the sword a wary glance. Future-Yuuri looked over his shoulder at the Maken and shrugged.
"He was lonely in the treasury and I was lonely here, without you... We entertain each other when we're bored and he's actually very cleaver in matters of politics," future-Yuuri explained, and then scowled at the bucking sword. "But if he won't behave himself he'll be back in the treasury in no time," he added pointedly, and Morgif made a face at him, but fell silent.
"Now, where were we?" future-Yuuri asked in a husked voice.
"Yuuri, we've agreed to wait until you're sixteenth birthday," Conrad was breathing raggedly for some reason, and when closet-Yuuri's eyes looked for it he could see that future-Yuuri's hand was trapped between them and was straying boldly down Conrad's body.
"It's tomorrow! It doesn't count!" Future-Yuuri pouted and arched against Conrad when Conrad enveloped him in his arms, bringing them closer together.
So Yuuri was in the future, a day before his birthday.
"I want it to be special," Conrad was whispering against future-Yuuri's ear, and closet-Yuuri could practically see the shiver it sent down future-Yuuri's back. And then Conrad was kissing future-Yuuri, their lips melting against each other perfectly, covering each other, and closet-Yuuri could've sworn he even saw a flash of tongue between them.
Then future-Yuuri's bold hands became bolder still and started working on the buttons of Conrad's shirt, deftly undoing the small raw of it (too deftly, and just what was going on!?). Conrad merely moaned into his mouth, a beautiful sound, and only then did closet-Yuuri noticed that he had already undid future-Yuuri's shirt and was now running his hand over future-Yuuri's skin.
Whoa! What were they doing!? How did the… but the question died in closet-Yuuri's mind when he watched future-Yuuri arch against Conrad after Conrad brushed his nipple with one long finger. And then future-Yuuri had the courage to break the kiss and bend down to mouth Conrad's nipple!
But all thought of indignation and shock were driven from closet-Yuuri's mind when he saw Conrad close his eyes and allow his head to fall to rest against Shin Makoku's map behind him, fingers threading in dark hair and lips shaping the name 'Yuuri' like a prayer. And it was the most erotic thing closet-Yuuri had ever seen in his life. He half wished he was the one who was out there wi…
"Shinou help me! Yuuri!" Conrad cried suddenly, his voice low from passion. Future-Yuuri must've done something closet-Yuuri couldn't see because Conrad's eyes were nearly completely black and he was panting for breath all of a sudden.
"If you don't stop now…" Conrad started, and even if it sounded more like a request than a threat future-Yuuri still stopped and lifted his head to kiss Conrad on the lips once more, their exposed chests pressing together.
"Yuuri, I think we should stop now," Conrad said, a bit unsteadily but firmly still, once the kiss was over and they parted for breath. Future-Yuuri smiled sheepishly and surveyed Conrad's chest, where closet-Yuuri was appealed to see a huge love mark blooming right over Conrad's nipple. Future-Yuuri had the good grace to blush.
"We should, shouldn't we?" future-Yuuri said sheepishly, smiling a smile that was distinctly not apologetic, and Conrad laughed.
There was a companionable silence as both of them turned around and redid their shirts, trying to make themselves presentable once again, until Conrad spoke once more.
"I nearly forgot, Yuuri," his hand caressed future-Yuuri's cheek. "Wolfram wanted us to come and see the painting he had made. He wants to show it to Gisela," Conrad had said, and future-Yuuri's nose wrinkled.
"Must we?" he whined, and Conrad smiled patiently. "I mean, after I finally managed to get him to stop painting me I thought I'd never have to smell that awful stuff in my life!"
"But he wants to ask what we think about it since he wants to ask Gisela to dinner with him," Conrad said in a low voice, directly into future-Yuuri's ear. Future-Yuuri perked up immediately and smiled widely. Closet-Yuuri could practically hear his mind working: if Wolfram had someone else to date he won't focus all his energy on Yuuri.
"What are we waiting for? I'm sure it's a piece of art and that she would be very impressed!" Future-Yuuri declared and dragged Conrad out of the room, fingers entwined with each other and shoulders brushing more than could be chalked down to accident.
And the office was still for a long moment.
Closet-Yuuri slid down to sit between the coats that lined the floor of the closet dejectedly, a bitter taste in his mouth.
Sure, seeing Conrad in passion was erotic, there was no doubt about it. He wished it were his hands and his tongue that mapped Conrad's body and he was half hard in his pants only from watching (which was a very immoral thing to do but he really couldn't take his eyes off of it and beside it was himself he was watching…). But he was also disappointed in himself. That wasn't how it was supposed to be. He wanted Conrad to love him because he was Yuuri, not because he had Julia's soul. Had he really given into him? Or would give into him in the future, living while knowing it wasn't exactly him Conrad loves?
Yuuri buried his head in his hands and bit his lip to stifle a sob. He thought he was better then that. He was unhappy enough merely thinking about Conrad not really loving him, then in the future he must be a wreck from the inside for having Conrad and knowing it wasn't him that he loved. Was he that easy? Was all it took to make him do something was a bit of sex? And if so, then what does it mean regarding his qualifications as a Maou?
Yuuri may be a teenage boy, but he liked to think that unlike most, his hormones did not control him. He wondered what kind of a Maou he would make if he couldn't even refuse a man who loved him only because he was a memento for the woman that man once loved. What other reason was there for Conrad to kiss him and touch him like this? He was a boy, all angles and awkward limbs, while Julia was a grown woman, with roundness in just the right places and maturity of mind Yuuri had no illusions he possessed.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Yuuri got up from the closet floor and opened the door. The office was still and silent but as he walked out of the closet Morgif spotted him and Huu-ed at him loudly.
"Morgif!" Yuuri whispered, half jumping in fright that someone might hear and come to check what the commotion was all about. He approached the groaning sword and shushed him once more. Morfig simply smiled his skeletal smile back at Yuuri, not seeming to understand that it was a Yuuri from a different time instead of his current master.
Yuuri looked at Morgif, remembering his enthusiastic reaction at catching Conrad and future-Yuuri making out against the wall. "Do you think he likes me?" Yuuri asked the sword, and Morgif's face fell, eyes going droopy and mouth turning down, the equivalent of a frown on the ancient Maken's face. He groaned a quarry at Yuuri and watched him with his empty sockets with trepidation.
"Conrad, I mean," Yuuri clarified, watching him intently. Morgif's face turned to the wall and back. Only when he Haa-ed as enthusiastically as he had when the action took place there did Yuuri understand that he was looking for a more meaningful reply, or some new insight, that will help him cope with that strange ache in his chest. Yuuri hurried to hush him once more. He looked back at the sword sourly, lips pressing together, disappointed beyond rational thought.
He suddenly had a vision of himself tied with his hands behind his back, looking mesmerized at Conrad's eyes as Conrad heaved Morgif in the pretence of following Belal's orders and executing Yuuri. He remembered that Morgif made a piteous sound, but Conrad paid it no heed. Yuuri knew that killing him would cause Morgif more pain then anyone thought the sword could feel, but he hadn't pleaded with Conrad to spare Morgif like he had with Adelbert (who was dead, Yuuri remembered with another painful pang) on Bandarbia.
Morgif had no magical insight into people's minds, or he'd know that Conrad was only pretending, wasn't it so?
"It's not like you understand. Not really," he told Morgif and walked out, feeling too miserable, alone and pathetic to try and explain everything to Morgif as the sword crooned a question at him.
Well, Yuuri had learned his lesson. This was a future he needed to alter. He needed to avoid getting close to Conrad like this, because this happiness is false. Conrad never loved him like he had loved Conrad. It was not the same emotion and giving in to it, while undoubtedly pleasurable, was not right.
So why didn't he return to his office and his own time!? Why!? What more is there to learn!?
That he still wanted such a future, despite all his pretty words to himself in his head? That he was unnaturally happy to have Conrad back with him, alive and well? That he would rather have Conrad even if Conrad didn't love him because Conrad's happiness was important to him more than his own? It wasn't new. It was always so: if Conrad was happy then Yuuri had no reason in the world (two worlds, actually) not to smile back at him. If Conrad was sad then Yuuri's heart felt torn in half and all he wanted to do was talk to Conrad and make things right.
Feeling his emotions about to take the better of him, and fearing what this might lead to, Yuuri escaped to the baths, filling the big pool-like bath that was usually reserved to him in steaming hot water. Maybe Shinou needed some help in getting Yuuri back. Maybe he could even return Yuuri to Earth and Yuuri could wait until he could control his emotions better. He felt fried around the edges with Conrad as sick as he was in his own time and so happy but for the wrong reasons in this time.
Yuuri didn't want to think anymore. Usually there was someone around to distract Yuuri from such thoughts and he wouldn't start dwelling on one subject for too long, or correct him and help him find the right proportions for things, but no one was around now and the thoughts kept swirling in Yuuri's head unchecked.
Yuuri shed his cloths and went into the water, but the warmth that seeped into his body brought little relief and only amplified his headache. Was it even him that loved Conrad? Or was it Julia?
"You're troubled. Why?" a familiar voice sounded close by, full of warmth and gentleness.
"Because of you," Yuuri answered before he could think of watching his mouth. His hands flew to cover his lips and he cursed himself. That wasn't what he planned to say. He was going to say one of a thousand other lies and hope that they would be convincing enough to fool Conrad. But the familiarity of the voice, the closeness they always shared, brought Yuuri to lower his guard automatically when it came to him.
Yuuri didn't dare turning around and facing Conrad, but the decision was not in his hands. The water made a soft sound as Conrad's body slide smoothly into it, and suddenly there were hands around his waist - his very naked waist – and an equally naked body surrounded Yuuri in a warm hug. Yuuri gulped.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. Conrad was wearing his swimming suit, but it too had the G-string shape like all underwear in Shin Makoku, so Yuuri wasn't sure if it counted or not. But still…
"Umm… Conrad…" Yuuri felt his face heat up as he remembered that in this future he was Conrad's lover. "I just wanted to point out… in case you haven't noticed that is… hahaha… that… umm… we're both… naked." Yuuri's entire body wriggled awkwardly along with the words, but Conrad's large hands kept him still for the most part.
"Is that so?" Conrad's amused voice was so close to Yuuri's ear that his breathe, cooler than the steaming air in the bath, sent a shiver down Yuuri's back. And then Conrad's lips followed and kissed a path from a point just behind Yuuri's ear, one that he had no idea how sensitive it was until then, to the juncture of neck and shoulders.
Yuuri's breath nearly shuddered to a stop in his lungs, and liquid fire was coursing through his veins. He turned in Conrad's embrace and Conrad kissed his jaw-line and his chin, making Yuuri's body feel fresh and alive. The water suddenly became a peculiar sensation on his exposed skin, like he was suddenly aware of every place in his body that was submerged in it and felt the wetness against his every nerve ending.
"Does it matter that we're both naked?" Conrad whispered once more against Yuuri's ear and Yuuri bit his lip to keep from making a much undignified gasp at him. He dimly remembered that only a moment before he was uncomfortable with Conrad's naked closeness but… well… that was a moment before, and now it's the moment after the moment before and who the hell cares? All that mattered was the incredible feeling in his body and that pleasant buzz of the pounding blood in his ears whenever Conrad's lips were against his skin because not only did it feel good, oh god so very good, it also felt right.
Let-Me-Hear-Your-Heart-Cry-Kun was the device Anissina has invented just before the Mazoku all went to Earth to search for the last box. It's a device you put inside your ear that can translate what you hear into Mazoku language from 9 different languages, English and Spanish included. What Anissina was planning for improving the device is beyond me, but rest assured that Günter knows well enough considering he was her guinea pig...
"Let me kiss away your troubles," Conrad whispered once more and made to kiss Yuuri on the lips, but to Yuuri his words were like a bucket of cold water over the head. He drew back sharply and disentangled his hands from around Conrad's neck (when did he put them there?) to put a little distance between them. The rush of water over the skin that was previously pressed against Conrad's felt unnaturally cold, and Yuuri's skin rose with goose bumps.
Conrad regarded him, not particularly hurt by the sudden withdrawal. His eyes were shrewd and sharp as Yuuri met them for a second and then looked away.
Privately Yuuri wondered, between the sudden pressure in his chest and the horror of his actions in light of his recent decisions, what he had done to deserve such torture. It was torture to think of Conrad as a torture, or to think about Conrad's kiss in terms of horror in the first place, but still, he must've done something very awful for Shinou to punish him so severely.
Conrad always told him that every Mazoku, including the Maou, was subjected to Shinou's judgment. He only wished he knew what his punishment was about.
"Yuuri…" Conrad's voice was suddenly pained, distracting Yuuri. He gazed with wonder at Conrad's eyes, eyes that were suddenly sad beyond words. "It's about Julia again, isn't it?" he said quietly, more stating a fact then asking a question.
"Conrad…" Yuuri started, but with no idea what to say next. He had the insane urge to laugh out loud, but he feared it would sound hysterical. But Conrad was right, it was about Julia. "It probably always has been." Yuuri voiced the last of his thoughts aloud, reasoning that there was no more point in beating around the bush. "You love her, don't you? And I have Julia's soul, so you love me," he explained it like a mathematical equation, but he was unable to stop the slight hitch in his voice, something Conrad was bound to notice as well.
Conrad sighed. "I loved Julia, I won't deny it," he started, and the tightness in Yuuri's chest became nearly unbearable. He knew it all along, so why did it hurt so much to hear Conrad say it aloud?
"But Yuuri, I knew I could never have Julia. She was Adelbert's bride and I was happy with being her friend. I never asked for more than her friendship and she gave that happily away.
"When she died, I was as angry as Adelbert was, but unlike Adelbert, I knew that it was her own choice. I allowed myself the satisfaction of chasing people like Geigen Huber and Stoffel because they created the circumstances that led to her death, but I knew it was inevitable. She chose to forfeit her life to allow her soul to become yours."
Yuuri really did laugh, but it was bitter and echoed harshly back from the tiled walls of the baths. Like Yuuri wasn't feeling bad enough, Conrad had to go over the excruciating details of Julia's death. Conrad merely talked on, though the look he gave Yuuri was filled with sorrow.
"When I took Julia's soul to Earth and gave it to you, I had no idea what was going to happen. I returned to Shin Makoku and waited for you to come to me, but all this time the one I really was waiting for was Julia. In my mind's eye I could see her… or rather, a male version of her, coming back to Shin Makoku and illuminating all of our lives.
"But then you came, and from the moment I looked at you I knew that you're not Julia. I tried to resent that, but you were so sweet that I couldn't bring myself to do so. I tried to maintain my distance from you, to be strictly professional in my relationship with you, but it was of no use," Conrad laughed softly while Yuuri's nails dug into his palms in an effort to hold back his emotions and not flinch or cry or explode in anger at the unfairness of it all.
"I couldn't help my smiles whenever you would look at me. I found myself responding to your enthusiasm with that of my own, and I found myself not hesitating at all in reaching out for you, because to me you shone like a light in the dark. You endeared yourself on me without my will with your clumsiness and your pig-headed faith that peace is an ultimate goal and even with your occasional foolishness in your interactions with people," Conrad chuckled at some memory he was remembering. He assumed Yuuri had already heard it because he wasn't rushing his story, and Yuuri wanted to scream.
"At some point I could no longer pretend that I thought so fondly of you because you had Julia's soul in you, because soon enough Julia's image was not the same. The image I usually held dear suddenly had black eyes and black hair and was most of the time running away from my enraged little brother.
"Yuuri, I couldn't deny my feelings for you. After I returned to Shin Makoku from Big Shimaron I was flooded with happiness just by thinking that you were there with me. You, Yuuri, not Julia. By the time we had our final battle against Soushu Julia had no more room in my mind. My every thought was somehow connected to Shibuya Yuuri, the Maou, and it was you that I wanted to save, and you that I lost my heart to, and you I wanted to have by my side forever. Not Julia."
Conrad took a deep breath and looked at Yuuri, eyes earnest and confident. "I never felt as I do for you even though I've already lived for so long. In comparison, what I felt for Julia was like a boy's crush. And unlike Julia, I wasn't willing to accept that you couldn't be mine. What I feel for you is so deep it shook my beliefs and the foundations of my life. So deep, Yuuri, that if you wanted me as well I eventually would've fought over you with Wolfram, at the price of losing my younger brother forever," Conrad's voice was so honest and so straightforward that Yuuri took a step back.
He knew how much Conrad loved Wolfram. For Conrad to risk upturning their lives, and not only the three of them but also everyone's life, was no small thing. And when Conrad told him he would've fought for him he seemed so painfully true to his words that Yuuri had no choice but to believe him.
They stared at each other in serious silence for a minute or two, Yuuri contemplating if he could've possibly misinterpret Conrad's tone of voice and Conrad watching his debate with rapt attention. Then, suddenly, Conrad laughed. "Well, lucky for all of us, you made that decision for me and asked for my hand in marriage, saving me the trouble of fighting Wolfram," he winked, and Yuuri nearly toppled over into the water.
"WHAT!?" Yuuri exclaimed, eyes going round as saucers. What!? He proposed!? When!? How!?
Conrad looked startled for a moment and Yuuri quickly remembered that he was in the future and he was supposed to be the future Yuuri, who already did all that and knew what Conrad was talking about. "I mean… hehehe… of course it… saved you the trouble…" think fast, think fast! "That was why I did it! Yes, that was it! Hehehe…" Yuuri gave an awkward laugh and scratched the back of his head, hoping desperately that Conrad believed him.
"Do you understand now, Yuuri? It's you that I love, not Julia. I forgot my feelings for her when you came and filled my heart so that there was no more room in it for anything else. And I eventually did let go of Julia. Even if it was against my will to forget about her and fall in love with you, I don't regret it," Conrad said softly, eyes happy once more. His hand caressed Yuuri's cheek, leaving a wet trail on it.
"But…" Yuuri started remembering himself sitting in his room and thinking over it. "But when you were in Big Shimaron and Adelbert was about to…" Conrad didn't let him finish.
"It was the only was I could think of to make him stop," Conrad said in a voice so firm and so final that Yuuri never thought to argue with him.
"So when you were protecting me, all those times, you weren't protecting…" Yuuri was once again cut-off mid-sentence.
"I was protecting Yuuri. I can hardly afford my liege and the boy who holds my heart to die. My heart would've died with you and I would prefer to die myself than to allow this to happen," once again the finality in Conrad's voice was so complete Yuuri could not question any further.
"But I'm a boy!" Yuuri exclaimed, face reddening. The mechanism of male sex was still a bit unclear in his mind, though he did have a general idea of what to do.
Conrad laughed. "As Günter tried to tell you time and again, in Shin Makoku it's not a rare thing for two males to be in a relationship," Conrad told him, but his face somber when Yuuri spoke next.
"But Julia was perfect. I'm just… me. I'm just mediocre and simple. And Julia was…" a hand on Yuuri's mouth made him jump and raise torn eyes to meet Conrad's.
"I never wanted perfect. Yuuri, love is not about perfection, it's about the imperfections in us all. And I love each of your imperfections more than I would've loved you if you were perfect," Conrad said sternly, and only when Yuuri nodded did he drop his hand and step back.
Yuuri couldn't help himself. He looked at Conrad, watching the play of moisture over his sculptured chest, his handsome features and his warm brown eyes, now more serious and hopeful then everything else. Conrad's face, etched in his memory and at the same time firmly in front of him, was always the same. It was only the look in his eyes that changed, from gentle protectiveness and polite attentiveness, to fierce protectiveness and warm honesty he rarely showed anyone else. And that something, that flicker Yuuri saw in the times Conrad's eyes were unguarded, when they were looking at each other on Bandarbia, or right before Yuuri disappeared back to Earth after defeating Soushu. That flicker was of longing and love that enveloped Yuuri like a hug and flooded him with happiness.
Could he rely on his memory? Could he really trust this and have the faith to reach out for Conrad?
"I love you, Yuuri. Now you must decide if you can believe in it," Conrad said quietly, and Yuuri raised frightened eyes at him.
"Even if I believe in it," he said in a choked voice, "I have Julia's soul. Is what I feel really belongs to me? Is it me who feels those feelings for you or is it Julia?" Yuuri asked angrily, wanting to forget everything and simply believe in Conrad and have no more doubts. But he already thought about it too much to dismiss it as simply as he wanted to.
Conrad looked startled. "Yuuri…" he began, and then stopped and began again. "What do you think?" he asked Yuuri back, and Yuuri closed his eyes. He had no answer for this, because he was so confused. Everything Conrad was saying was so new, and it was all so sudden, that he had no idea if he could trust in himself.
"I want to believe that it's me who feels those feelings," Yuuri said eventually, truthfully. Conrad stepped forward until he was standing right in front of Yuuri and Yuuri could feel the heat his body was emitting.
"Yuuri, your soul is your own. It's not Julia's, it's yours. The one who believes and feels and acts and creates is you, not Julia. All you inherited from her is the base and foundations from which her soul was made. You may have the same ideals and the same aspirations but it's you that decides who you are, not Julia. Julia is dead, and with her everything that made her who she was. Her soul was not incarnated. Right now all that there is here inside," and Conrad touched Yuuri's chest gently with his fingertips, "is Yuuri."
Yuuri looked up at Conrad, unable to not believe him. Conrad was so real and honest, and so very much there and Yuuri wanted to believe in him… and in himself. He wanted to believe that he was Yuuri, and that it was this Yuuri that Conrad loved.
Suddenly he knew why he was being punished. Hadn't he said that he was not going to doubt anyone again? Hadn't he said to Murata and Yozak in Small Shimaron that from now on he would believe in everyone? And it was his own words that he didn't listen to.
Yuuri threw himself into Conrad's arms and felt them wrap tightly around him, holding him hard against his chest. He didn't care that they were both naked or that the breath was squeezed out of his lungs, he never wanted to let go.
He felt so light headed with relief that he laughed out loud, and felt a thrill running through him when Conrad echoed the sound, his laughter as powerful as Yuuri's.
But then Conrad pushed him gently away, smiling in knowing sort of way, thought he was happier then Yuuri had ever seen him. "Go back now, and be certain of my love for you, who is Yuuri Shibuya," Yuuri gaped at him, shocked into speechlessness. "After all," Conrad winked at him, "you still have to ask for my hand in marriage in a most outrageous fashion." And before Yuuri had a chance to ask Conrad what was he saying and how he knew, he opened his eyes to find that he was in his office once more, his eyes gazing at the stones of the ceiling and hands tangling in the carpet's long braids.
Conrad turned back and smiled. "I had no idea you trusted me so little," he told his Yuuri, who emerged from the steams and shadows of one of the corners.
"Well, you were not by my side to reassure me, what did you expect?" Yuuri in the future asked his Conrad, bending down to caress Conrad's cheek tenderly. "Thank you for doing this," he told Conrad and kissed him on the mouth.
Conrad laughed. "The gain was entirely mine, don't you agree?"
Yuuri tried to sit up too quickly, he supposed, because as soon as he was in a sitting position his head started spinning.
"Easy, Shibuya!" hands came to rest on his back to stabilize him against the fall, and Murata's concerned face swam into focus. He looked paler, but he had a certain look in his eyes that implied that he knew more then he let on.
"Murata," Yuuri said back, once he could sit on his own again. Murata was kneeling by his side on the carpet and even thought Yuuri could support himself by then he had made no move to get back up. "Did you put the Demon Mirror in my office?" he asked, suspiciously.
Murata smiled in a Murata Ken sort of way, a way that said he was innocent and ignorant of everything important. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Shibuya! Have you been to the past again?" he asked cheerfully, but Yuuri already knew that smile. It was the smile Murata smiled at him in Caloria, before Yuuri knew he was the Great Sage in his time.
Yuuri figured there was no point in arguing with him. They both knew that Murata was the one who could put the Demon Mirror there, even if he denied it. "I was in the future," Yuuri answered instead, looking into Murata's eyes. "Which reminds me, why are you here at such an hour of the night?" Yuuri asked, looking at the moon high in the sky outside his window.
"Ah, I came to call you because I thought that with all the commotion people would simply assumed you've heard. Sir Weller has regained consciousness," Murata told him, smiling gently as Yuuri simply stared at him.
"Conrad is… awake?" he asked slowly, looking so intently into Murata's eyes that it must've been uncomfortable for his friend, but he didn't care. Yuuri already knew Conrad would wake up, but hearing it was good nonetheless.
"Yes," Murata nodded and offered Yuuri his hand. "You're not as excited as I thought you'd be," he added as he directed Yuuri toward the door.
"That's because I saw him alive and well in the future," Yuuri said, smiling back at his friend and hastening his strides.
Murata stopped in the middle of the hall, outside Conrad's door. "What you're saying isn't possible, Shibuya. No one can see the future, since it hasn't happened yet," Murata said, his glasses glinting and behind them his eyes serious.
I know that some of you are confused since the whole Julia issue was never really solved. On the one hand Yuuri was repeating things Julia told verious people in her life, and was showing desires and wishes that were associated with her first. He also had a feeling that he knew Conrad when he first saw him. On the other hand, he is Yuuri, and Souhu himself said that there were differences (and he would know since he created both Julia and Yuuri). For this fic, Julia and Yuuri are seperate entities. For all matters and purposes Julia is dead. Think of it like recieving a boxfull of sand. You can build the Taj Mahal from that sand, and then ruin it and build the Buckingham Palace. The sand is the same one you used for the other castle, and both shapes are palaces, but they are not the same despite the similarities.
Yuuri turned to look at Murata, filled with dread. "Then what I saw was actually… a dream?" Yuuri asked, hands seizing Murata's lapels. Why had Murata brought him the Demon Mirror if none of it was real!?
"A dream? No, it was not a dream. But it was also not the future," Murata clarified, which wasn't making things clear at all.
"But Wolfram! He said that the Demon Mirror could be used to send a person to the past and to the future! If it wasn't the future that I saw, then what was it!?" Yuuri raged, all traces of the easy going and trusting boy disappearing, leaving only the seriousness of the Maou.
"You saw what Shinou intended for you to see," Murata answered, the wisdom of the Great Sage reflecting in his eyes. Yuuri, however, paid it no heed. He was so enraged he would hardly mind if the Maou came out and punished Shinou, even if it was only wishful thinking.
"So I saw what Shinou had made up himself? Like a play, only I was a character as well?" Yuuri asked incredulously. He could see his hand, the hand that still had Murata's lapel held in a firm grip, surrounded by blue licks of Maryoku.
"No. Even Shinou must obey the laws of Maryoku, and the laws of the space and time. He cannot send you everywhere he want, because even if it is he that's powering the Makyou, they are both bound to the laws and rules according to which Maryoku is working. Like you cannot create water if you don't have two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen," Murata explained, but it served little in calming Yuuri down.
"So what was it that I saw!?" Yuuri was nearly shouting.
"Shibuya, listen to me. The Demon Mirror is a powerful object in itself, but it was not designed to be so in the first place. In the first place, the Demon Mirror is a part of a machine called the Dry Wind. It's a machine that, when holds two people in it, would show them each the future from which they dread the most…" Murata started, but was cut off.
"But I don't dread such a future! Not anymore!" Yuuri exclaimed.
"Shibuya, Listen! When the Demon Mirror is not connected to the Dry Wind it can only take one person through time, and it will show him the future he would crave the most," Murata hastened to explain. Yuuri let go of him, but his anger was not subsided.
"Now you're not making any sense! You said that Shinou is bound by the laws of Maryoku and cannot create whatever he wishes! But you also said that what I saw was what I crave the most and if that's so then what I saw was my own creation! If Shinou can't create a future for me to see then how can I do it?" Yuuri was pacing up and down the hallway now, agitated.
"Because it's a future that could come to pass, if you work your hardest for it. You see, our life is made of endless fork roads, and our future is decided according to the choices we make," Murata answered, calmer and more collected when he noticed that Yuuri was himself again, eyes and pupils round and big and no blue Maryoku anywhere.
Yuuri came to a stop in front of Conrad's door. "Then you're saying that if a tell Conrad I love him we'll end up just like we did in the future I saw through the Demon Mirror?" Yuuri asked, quietly.
Murata's glasses definitely glinted with an evil light now. "Well, there's no guarantee for that. The future has yet to unfold before us."
"WHAT!?" Yuuri turned to look at Murata, horrified. "Then how am I supposed to know what to do!?" he demanded. Murata simply smirked.
"Why, Shibuya. Just follow your heart!" The familiar Murata Ken, in all his cheerfulness, exclaimed at him. Yuuri's face fell and he cast Murata an annoyed glare.
"You know, that's low even for you, Murata. Where did you take it from, a Hirumero or som…" But then Yuuri felt something he was all too familiar with, a familiar hand that was pushing him against the now slightly ajar door, like it had done many times in the past, and Yuuri was forced to take a step forward and into the room to keep from falling.
Conrad's room was crowded with people. Anissina and Gisela were there, standing side by side and beaming towards the bed. Gwendal was standing, his expression softer than Yuuri had ever seen it, to the left and supporting a tearful Günter. Wolfram was standing beside a very happy Yozak, his nose in the air even though his eyes were glued to the bed.
And on the bed, with Cheri-sama stroking his hair, was Conrad. He looked pale and sickly, but he was smiling and his eyes were their usual beautiful brown once more, and his hand was holding that of his mother's.
At the sound of Yuuri's stumbling into the room everyone turned to look, and Conrad's eyes were suddenly filled with warmth. Yuuri had no idea what he was supposed to do. He knew what he wanted to do, throw himself into Conrad's arms and kiss him senseless like he'd done with the future Conrad, but he couldn't really do it. So what did he do now? How was he supposed to follow his heart? Murata never explained that part…
And then he remembered future Conrad's parting words: You still have to ask for my hand in marriage in a most outrageous fashion.
"Your Majesty, I apologize for dragging you out of bed in the middle of the night," Conrad, the present Conrad said, his words gentle and teasing. But Yuuri was not going to tell him that it wasn't like he could sleep with Conrad dying, or chide him about not calling him by his given name. He would soon give Conrad a reason to call him by his given name always, and one it would be hard to argue against.
Yuuri summoned his courage, every bit of it that he could find in himself. His vision began to blur with the Maryoku coursing in his blood once more, and when he looked down he saw that he was engulfed in blue light. Well, if that was what it took he had no complaints. He only hoped his hastily put together plan would work instead of scaring Conrad away.
"Sir Conrad Weller, a long time ago you have made me a promise," Yuuri spoke, and it was as if the Maou was speaking with him, his words echoing Yuuri's. He was once more in mid transformation, but it was Yuuri that controlled the situation. Around him, in the room, there were shuffling of feet and weary glances cast his way, but Yuuri didn't see anyone other than Conrad on the bed.
"You have promised me that you would give your arm, your body and your life for me," Yuuri could hear everyone in the room draw a sharp breath. "I now call you to fulfill your promise."
Someone tried to move and stopped, or was stopped, but it mattered little. No one tried to utter a word. Conrad's face was completely white and his eyes were big and shining unnaturally bright with sickness.
"Sir Conrad Weller, you have already given me your arm and your body, both in protecting me from Big Shimaron's evil plans. Now I call for you to give me your life," Yuuri said, voice strong and deep, more the Maou's voice then his.
The reaction to this was immediate. Gwendal tried to lunge for Yuuri, a wordless cry strangled in his throat, but was stopped by Günter from reaching his sword, even though Günter's eyes were wide with betrayal. Both Anissina and Gisela looked stricken, holding onto each other and covering their mouths with their hands. Yozak's look of honest astonishment was mirrored in Wolfram, and Cheri-sama's cheeks were suddenly wet with tears and she was biting her lips to keep from making a sound.
But all Yuuri saw was Conrad. Conrad, who looked surprised and hurt and betrayed, whose forehead creased with pain and disappointment, whose misunderstanding was clear as the sun. After a second Conrad mastered his emotions, making his eyes looked like close shutters, opaque and unhappy. Yuuri had seen that look on Conrad's face, the look of utter desperation, when he was in the past and saw Conrad in the yard before the battle of Rütenberg, leaving for what was thought of as certain death.
"Which is the way I should give you my life that would please you the most, my liege?" Conrad asked, his voice curt and emotionless but Yuuri's heart still threatened to break. Conrad was loyal and courteous to his very end, asking how he would sacrifice his life to please his king most, and for a moment Yuuri's throat closed in tears. He cursed himself ten times a fool for doing what he was doing now because all he wanted to do was make that expression on Conrad's face disappear, but the deed was done and could not be undone. The words could not be unsaid.
Yuuri moved forward, stepping to stand next to Conrad on the right. The room was completely still, even Gwendal stopped struggling. "You will die, Sir Conrad Weller, as an old and wrinkled man, beside me as my partner and lover, after years spent together in Shin Makoku. This is my command to you," and with that, Yuuri raised his hand and slapped Conrad across his left cheek, hard.
Conrad's head turned left from the strength of Yuuri's blow, and stayed there. When he finally turned his head back to look at Yuuri his eyes were wide and unguarded, hope and disbelief shining in their brown depths. His face was completely white.
"Y-Yuuri… But… Wolfram…" Conrad stammered at him, looking at his younger brother and Yuuri alternately. Yuuri smiled, feeling more like himself again. He'd done it. He'd told Conrad that he loved him and asked for his hand, and he did in a most outrageous fashion as well.
"We broke our engagement while you were sick," he announced to Conrad, and took a tentative step back. "So, what do you say? Will you give me your life?" Yuuri asked, eager and shy and anxious all at once.
Conrad looked at Yuuri, still with disbelief in his eyes. His hand rose to caress Yuuri's cheek, fingers moving over the jaw line and back up again. Yuuri nuzzled into that warm hand, smiling shyly at Conrad while his face turned progressively redder.
What was taking him so long? Would he accept the proposal? Why doesn't he say anything? Please say yes, please!
"Of course I will, Yuuri," Conrad whispered, smiling tentatively back at Yuuri and startling Yuuri away from the creeping insecurities. Yuuri felt his entire world light up at this answer. He found himself babbling uncontrollably in his happiness.
"I'm so glad! I was afraid you'd faint or that I'd offend you, but thank god… we'll have to tell Greta about the change when we pick her up and we'll inform the council of nobles…" Yuuri's babble came to a stop when he remembered something. "This proposal does count, right? Because I know you've said that you're not of noble blood but they do call you 'Sir Weller' and I really don't know how else I'm supposed to propose in this world other then slapping you on your cheek, sorry if I hurt you by the way but… well, does it?" Yuuri drew a deep breath and looked back to Günter, his eyes hopeful.
Günter and Gwendal posed an odd sight. It looked like they were entwined in each other, Gwendal with his hand on his sword hilt and Günter with his hand around Gwendal's waist and Gwendal's other hand on Günter's shoulder so that it was completely unclear who was supporting whom, but it was clear that they were both completely astonished.
"Ah… It's true that Conrad is not a noble, his father was a human with no rank…" Günter started dazedly.
"That may be so, but his mother was the Maou, so I'd say that the proposal definitely counts," Cheri-sama intervened, smiling brilliantly at Conrad while stroking his hair. Yuuri was matching her smile, reaching out his hand for Conrad to take, their fingers intertwining together.
"I'm happy. Like this, I know that I can have you with me. I know that life is full of uncertainties, of dangers and of things we have no control over. That's why I want you by my side always, Conrad, where I can see and feel you and smile at you. Only then I could know for sure that you're truly with me," Yuuri told Conrad in such honesty he imagined it burning his chest. But he needed to say it because coming down to it, only in face of losing Conrad did he realized just how much the other man was important to him. How much he loved him.
Conrad's forehead creased, however, at hearing Yuuri's words. "Yuuri, I will always be by your side," he chided softly, troubled eyes looking for Yuuri's.
"How can you promise me that when…" Yuuri's hand parted from one of Conrad's to wave at Conrad's state, the sick bed and his paleness, but Conrad reached out and caught it once more in his own.
"I can," he told Yuuri seriously, looking into his eyes. "Because no matter where I am, I will always be by your side and you will always be in my mind. In this life and the next," Conrad vowed solemnly, and Yuuri felt his eyes filling with tears. He smiled a watery smile at Conrad, so happy he felt like his emotions were overflowing. Because Conrad was making a promise to him right there and then. And Conrad was smiling back.
Yuuri had no idea how long they stood like that, hand in hand and looking at each other, but apparently Wolfram did. "You wimp! Do you need a written invitation? Kiss him already!" and a bold hand gave Yuuri a not-so-gentle a push and he stumbled forward, right into Conrad's arms.
The sudden heat and the contact of Conrad's shirtless chest against his palms sent Yuuri to a different world. Suddenly there was nothing more important then looking into Conrad's eyes so he raised his eyes from Conrad's neck to meet surprised and happy brown eyes. And once he did that there was nothing as important as pressing his lips to Conrad's and so he pushed himself up and closed the distance between their mouths, giving Conrad a little peck on the lips.
By the time Yuuri's priorities had been decided, Murata managed to usher everyone else out of the room and Conrad managed to get the amused light back in his eyes, causing Yuuri to ponder once again how he loved this mirthful Conrad.
"Now that we're alone, allow me to kiss my fiancé properly," Conrad said in a low voice that sent shivers down Yuuri's back. He watched as Conrad's strong arms, strong even when sick, shifted and settled around Yuuri's hips, and suddenly Conrad pulled him forward and he landed with his arms on either side of Conrad's head. He found that, as he looked down at Conrad, he rather liked that position.
Conrad's right hand rose to tangle in Yuuri's hair and coax Yuuri down, as if Yuuri thought to turn anywhere else. Conrad other hand came up as well, leaving Yuuri either to lean on his forearms or to lie flushed against Conrad. With a devilish smile Yuuri raised his hands, allowing his weight to settle on Conrad and burying his hands in Conrad's damp hair.
And then, finally, Conrad kissed him. It started as a soft caress of lips against lips until Conrad's tongue joined to caress Yuuri's lips and Yuuri opened his mouth to allow him in. Moaning deep in his throat, Yuuri felt Conrad's tongue thrusting inside, mapping his mouth with eagerness he matched. Yuuri's tongue dwelled, inexperienced, against Conrad's and his hands messed Conrad's hair and caressed his face even when they both rose for air.
Yuuri was dizzy, a pleasant sensation starting to spread in his entire body, weakening him against Conrad and causing him to melt into the other's embrace. Conrad merely chuckled, kissing the crown of Yuuri's head and raising disbelieving eyes at him.
"I've wanted to do that for so long," he confessed with a small smile, "that it seems like a dream to be able to do it now," and he kissed Yuuri's nose lightly, causing Yuuri to broaden his smile.
Before Yuuri could confess about his burning need to finally kiss Conrad Gisela bustled in and shooed Yuuri out of the room to examine Conrad and allow him to rest, and wasn't satisfied until their eye contact was interrupted by the door.
Yuuri smiled to himself, a content feeling he had not felt in weeks spreading through him. Conrad was well, he was going to be healthy and he loved Yuuri back, for who Yuuri was. Yuuri figured that Conrad deserved some rest after all that, especially because Yuuri was determined to work with Conrad and make the future Shinou showed him a reality. He had so much to tell Conrad about his trip to the future… Oh, and he mustn't forget to move Morgif to his office to keep him company in the mean time!
Hirumero's are soap operas that are aired during the afternoon in Japan and are mainly watched by housewives.
Regarding the promise of "your arm, your body and your life". Some versions and translations told it as "arm, chest, life" and some "arm, body, life". Of course that the meaning is the same, but seeing as Conrad's entire body - and not just his chest - was pierced with Belal's arrows in chapter 40 ("For That Bond") I've decided to go with "arm, body and life".