|Return to Me
Author: Striped Neko PM
Haunted by the ghosts of the past and current misunderstandings, Gwendal von Voltaire has never been an easy demon to love. Can the Maou's light overcome the stoic General's resistance? Will he win Gwendal's heart, or lose him to old regret? Gwen/YuuRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 8 - Words: 64,022 - Reviews: 155 - Favs: 92 - Follows: 102 - Updated: 10-27-08 - Published: 09-18-08 - id: 4545931
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
So, here we are again, my friends—another multi-chapter fic, and this time the pairing is…GwendalxYuuri. I've had a couple of requests for this pairing, and I have no idea, really, truly, no idea where this one is going. For all that Gwendal is my personal favorite character in the KKM world, pairing him with Yuuri, as pairing him with Gunter was in the last fic, something that will really stretch my brain. So, where I am beginning is this: I think the anime shows Gwendal to be thoughtful, insightful, and really, really, really challenged when it comes to expressing his more tender emotions to beings other than adorable creatures, and cute, lovable bearbees. Of course, there's Yuuri, who is vivacious, headstrong, and always, always, always leading with his heart. So, let's see where this goes, ok? And, as an aside, I'll be regularly updating a series of ConYuu one-shots because I am devoted to that pairing, and it might be the only way I can keep Conrad from hijacking this fic and running away with the Maou. All right, Phee and Sillvog…beat me with Yozak's lucky dress if this one goes awry. I'll be counting on you to challenge me. (P.S. the ConYuu one-shot series is titled: Loving the Maou: A Soldier's Handbook, just so you can follow it if you like). So, this is my disclaimer for this fic: I DON'T OWN KYOU KARA MAOU. And, really, as much time as I spend working on fics, you'd think they'd throw me a bone, right? Sadly, no. So, the characters aren't mine, just the words I use to describe them. Ready? Strapped in? Ok, here we go and I'll see you at the bottom of the page…
Chapter One: The Worst Date Ever...
"I'm not wearing that."
Gunter von Kleist sighed and tried, once more, to coax his king into the costume he was holding. "Heika," he said, smiling. "I assure you, this is a very traditional costume. You will look very well in it, and besides, Princess Greta will only be ten once in her life. You promised her a costume party, so, it's hardly fitting if you don't dress up as well."
"I know all that Gunter," the Maou said, his lovely lips turning down into a frown. "I am more than happy to dress up for this party…but…THIS? No way! When you said costume, I thought you meant a pirate, or a secret agent—possibly even a highwayman, but there is no way in either world, that I'm wearing a BUNNY SUIT!"
Gunter cringed, the outraged screech of the Maou's voice traveling straight down his nerves. At a loss, the adjutant hesitated, the soft, fluffy costume still in his hands. He was saved, however, when the princess came into the room.
"Yuuri!" Greta cried. "Are you ready yet?"
The young girl bounced into the room, dressed in a smaller version of the costume Gunter currently held in his hands. She did look just like a small, brown and white bunny, with one straight ear and one flopped forward. The tip of her nose had been painted pink and small whiskers had been carefully glued to her cheeks. With her large brown eyes, and her bright smile, she was absolutely adorable.
"I'm not quite ready yet, sweetheart," The Maou said, his cheeks suffusing with blush. "You look great, Greta…so cute!"
"Do you like it?" She said, happily twirling to show off her costume. "I can't wait to see you in yours! Wolfram wouldn't wear his, because he said that pink doesn't suit him, and he's going as an old-fashioned knight, but that's ok, because you and I will match and everyone will know that you're my papa!"
Gunter schooled his features to remain neutral as he gazed on the king. He could see the young man war within himself, finally coming to a decision. "Well, I'll be ready in a little bit, Greta. So, if you'll just wait for me, I'll come for you as soon as I can. Maybe you could make sure everyone else is ready?"
"Ok, Yuuri!" Greta sang out. "I'll be waiting for you."
"Oh…Greta," the king said quickly, before the little girl could disappear out the door. "I might make one or two very slight alterations to the costume, ok?"
"Alt…alterations?" she asked, confused.
"Well, instead of carrying the basket, I was thinking of wearing a sword…what do you think?"
The little girl tapped her fingers against her lips, considering the possibility. "That sounds ok. I know! I'll go and ask Gwendal for a little dagger—then we can still match."
"I don't know, Greta. Daggers can be dangerous." Yuuri frowned.
"Ask his Excellency for one of the practice daggers, Greta," Gunter said, softly. "Those will be perfectly safe."
Greta grinned and clapped her hands together. Gunter listened to her joyous laughter as she ran away.
"Now, Heika," he said, turning back to the Maou. "What shall we do?"
"All right, all right, just give it to me," Yuuri-heika muttered. "But…I want a sword, so I guess Morgif will have to do. And an eye-patch."
"Very well, Heika." Gunter knew it was now as good as it was going to get.
Gwendal made a few last minute adjustments to his costume, not that it entailed very much. Dressed in the custom of an ancient Celtic warrior, or undressed as the case may be, he wore only a garment Gunter referred to as a sagum. The short skirt made of heavy leather that folded in pleats barely came to middle of his thighs. Over his shoulders, the mid-length cape draped down his back and over one side. It was fixed with a sharp length of bone that acted as a pin. Gwendal thought the bone was a smart choice, actually, considering it was sharp enough to be used as a dagger if necessary. His sword did not fit with the costume, as he had seen the weapons pictured in the Maou's earth history book that Gunter used to fashion his costume. His own sword was finer, more easily manipulated than the heavy short swords he had admired, but Gwendal acknowledged that such details could be overlooked. It was a party after all—and even if it was, Gwendal's first priority and responsibility was Shin Makoku's safety, and that meant the safety of the king. Therefore, he was never unarmed.
A tap on his door took his attention from his mirror. "Come in."
"Gwendal, are you almost ready?" Gunter asked, as he came into the General's room.
Gwendal looked over his best friend's costume. Gunter looked beautiful, as usual. He was dressed as another character from Earth's history—a Roman Catholic Pope. His white gown flowed around him, gold and silver trim glinting in the light.
"Um, Gunter. Why do you get to wear the nice clothes and I get the old horse blanket?"
"Oh hush," Gunter said, fussing with the folds of the sagum. "You are a king of the Visigoths, Gwendal, and this was the traditional uniform of one of their soldiers. Much of what you're wearing was adopted by the Romans, of which I am the Spiritual Head, tonight. Where are your shin guards and sandals?"
"I don't want to wear them."
"You have to put them on! Yuuri-heika and Greta are counting on everyone."
Gwendal crossed his arms over his bare chest. "Ok, I'll wear them, but what about something for my chest—I feel strange without a shirt."
The adjutant shook his head and glared. "No! Look, I played five rounds of chess with you Gwendal, and the condition of your losing meant I got to choose the costumes. I've already compromised on your sword, so just…just put on your shin guards! It's not like I ask that much of you."
"Oh, all right, then," Gwendal muttered, sitting down on his bed and strapping the leather shin guards to his lower legs. Gunter had to help him with the knots on the strange sandals, but it was easier just to give in rather than risk Gunter's tears. He didn't really mean to be so grumpy anyway, he just had the feeling that everyone was going to laugh at him…and if there was one thing he hated, it was being the object of scorn.
"I feel ridiculous."
Gunter came to stand at his shoulder, smiling into the mirror where they were now both reflected. "But you look amazing," the adjutant said.
Before Gwendal could move, Gunter had plucked the tie from his hair, loosing his dark, grayish brown mane so that it tumbled over his shoulders and down his back.
"What are you doing!" Gwendal shouted.
"No," Gunter replied, tossing the hair tie over his shoulder. "Tonight you let your hair down, Gwendal, literally. It's part of the costume."
"You owe me for this," Gwendal growled, feeling increasingly self-conscious and more nervous as the moments passed. Outwardly, he knew none of his distress showed, but, still, on the inside he didn't quite know what to do. "Yuuri-heika is going to laugh at me."
"You haven't seen his costume yet," Gunter said, gently. "Don't frown so much, Gwendal. You're so handsome when you are at least…not glaring. Can't you try, just for tonight, to relax a little? You don't want Greta to be afraid, do you?"
"Greta is dressed exactly as she should be and has, therefore, no reason to be concerned. Her costume is…wonderful."
"Even with the little dagger?"
"She didn't tell me what it was for, but it gives her little bunny suit a slightly rakish flair."
"She told me that she wanted to be a bunny, but she is a little concerned that the other children will laugh at her because she's ten now, and maybe bunnies are for younger children…"
Gwendal drew himself to his full, very impressive height. "Princess Greta is perfect the way she is…and if anyone laughs at her, they can deal with me."
"Gwendal, really. What are you going to do? Draw your sword on a child?" Gunter was laughing.
"You know what I mean," Gwendal replied, blushing slightly.
"Yes, I do, and I'm sure everything is going to be just fine, and Greta will have the party she is hoping for."
"I guess it's time then."
"Yes, it is. And, honestly Gwendal, could you smile, just a little bit? You look like you're going to your own execution."
"It's not too late to schedule it," Gwendal muttered as he followed Gunter from the room.
Gwendal did his best, as the evening wore on, to stay on the edges of the party. He admired many of the costumes from afar. He might have complained to Gunter, but in his heart, he wished he had the ease of character it took to enjoy a gathering like this. He had seen his brother, Conrad, dressed as a Shogun—an historical military general from the Maou's earth homeland—dancing with several people, laughing and smiling in that easy way of his. Conrad would always be able to smooth over the awkward moments, never hesitating to offer a kind word or smile to any of the guests. Yes, people loved Conrad—well, those who didn't mind that he was only a half-mazoku. Then, of course, there was Wolfram. What his youngest brother lacked in manners, he made up for in sheer, physical beauty. Many of Wolfram's sins were forgiven by those too dazzled by his blonde hair and emerald eyes. Even so, Gwendal's youngest brother seemed to be in his element. He looked dashing in the traditional costume of Shin Makoku's first knights. If he flipped his hair a bit more than necessary, well, there was no harm in that, right? And, it went without saying that Gunter's ethereal beauty shone through no matter what the man wore. He looked peaceful and benevolent, very much the spiritual head of a major religion. But, Gwendal had read the bloody and war-filled history of the early Catholics of Earth. It made him smile, inwardly, to watch Gunter make his way through the crowd. He was very much like the Pope he was portraying—beautiful on the outside, and a fierce warrior on the inside. Very few people knew Gunter von Kleist as Gwendal did, and the general knew that should anything ever happen to place Yuuri-heika in danger, Gunter's sword would be the first to draw blood—possibly even before Conrad's. Yozak, of course, was dressed in a style that suited his gregarious and irreverent personality. He had chosen the slinky, form-fitting gown reminiscent of a famous female spy from Earth—Mata Hari. Wherever the orange-haired spy went, a laughing coterie of admirers followed him, hanging on his every word.
"Hey, Gwendal." A soft, hesitant voice at his elbow wrested his attention, and Gwendal suddenly had trouble breathing. "Is everything all right?"
He looked down, and to his right, the person he most wished to avoid was staring up at him with wide, black eyes—well, one black eye as the other was covered with an eye-patch.
"Yes, Heika." He answered, keeping his voice carefully steady. "The party seems to be going well."
The young Maou nodded, turning his gaze back on the assembled company. It was easier to refrain from reaching out to touch the fur of the King's costume when he wasn't looking directly at Gwendal. The general's fingers still itched, though, to stroke the soft fabric. The young man looked so…very cute. Gwendal bit back a sigh.
"I think everyone is having a good time," the Maou remarked.
"But, you haven't moved from this spot all night. Are you sure everything's ok?"
Gwendal pressed his lips together in a thin line. Had the King been watching him all this time? "I do feel a little…exposed in this costume."
"I think you look terrific," he whispered, then quickly scratched the back of his head, making one of his floppy ears wiggle in a charming gesture. "I mean, everyone does. All the women have been talking about how handsome you are. You really do look great!"
"Th—Thank you, Heika," Gwendal replied, unsure why the Maou was blushing quite so deeply. But, he acknowledged, it only improved the young man's looks.
"I was wondering…would you, maybe, like to dance? I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to, or anything. It's just that I've already danced with everyone else, and I was thinking—"
"If you are asking me to dance, Heika, then I have no objection," Gwendal said, rescuing the young man from his embarrassed diatribe. The last thing he wanted to do was dance, especially in front of so many people, but he knew it was his duty to acquiesce to his King's requests.
The king smiled then, his expression lighting his entire face. Gwendal took a deep breath trying to control the now erratic beat of his heart. He really couldn't help it—the handsome young man was engulfed inside the cutest costume he'd ever seen, blushing and giving him that sweet, shy smile that only he had. That particular expression had wormed its way into Gwendal's heart ever since they'd been chained together in the desert years before. Still, this was the Maou and his brother's fiancé. So, the general reminded himself that dancing with him was a duty of state that the King was obligated to perform—and it meant nothing more than that.
Still, he might have taken just one or two liberties as he led the younger man toward the group of dancing revelers. If he held the Maou an inch too close, or let his hand rest just a hair lower than it should on the boy's waist, it really didn't mean anything. Gwendal almost sighed in happiness as he was finally able to sink his fingers into the soft fur of the cute little bunny costume. It was just so charming, and the young man's face was a perfect picture of shy happiness. Gwendal tucked away the moment—holding the young Maou in his arms, guiding him around the dance floor and listening to the boy's excited chatter—as one of the best in his long life. As much as either Gunter or Conrad—though far more understated—his devotion to the Maou of Shin Makoku was complete. Of course the young man was still silly, often lazy, and his great, bountiful heart continued to get him into trouble, but Gwendal had long ago given up his initial resentment of the one he once viewed as an ignorant outsider. He was proud to call Yuuri-Heika his Maou, and dancing with him, even so informally, was enough to make Gwendal forget his own embarrassment at his current state of dress. Besides, Yuuri-heika had called him handsome, and that was good enough for him.
"This suit is so uncomfortable," the Maou said, his breath coming faster. "It's a million degrees inside of this thing!"
Gwendal nodded, and steered his king slightly to his right. Without losing a step, he danced the king out of the room and onto the balcony. It was much cooler outside, and while the sounds of laughter and music were still clear and loud, there was a measure of privacy, as well. Dusk had come and gone, and the courtyard of the castle had been brightly lit with torches and lanterns. The children below were playing an exuberant game of tag. Gwendal stood beside the King, as they both rested their arms on the balustrade.
"Thank you, Gwendal," The king said, breathing deeply. "It really was warm in there, and this is much better."
"You're welcome, your Majesty."
"It's Yuuri, Gwendal. How many years do we have to know each other before you call me by my name?"
Gwendal paused. He had used the Maou's given name before, but…it wasn't something he could allow himself to get used to—something that could become commonplace. He didn't know how to explain it to the young man, but sharp pain slashed across his heart. Using someone's name, their special name, meant intimacy. And intimacy meant caring. And caring meant investing. And investing meant…pain when that person was gone.
"It wouldn't be appropriate, Heika," he said, finally, still staring at the children below.
"I see." The king's voice was laced with disappointment, but Gwendal couldn't allow himself to take his words back.
"I doubt that," the general said suddenly, reaching out and flipping up the eye-patch to reveal the King's other, equally beautiful eye. "There, that's better. That patch doesn't suit you at all."
"You don't think so?" The Maou shook his head. "I just couldn't stand being a bunny. I thought the eye-patch and sword might toughen the costume up a little bit."
Gwendal shook his head. He couldn't verbally express what he was thinking, but he knew that he didn't like the current additions to the king's attire. "What's wrong with bunnies?" he asked. "I love bunnies. And bunnies shouldn't have to wear eye-patches. It would mean he'd been hurt."
The king didn't reply, but he did give Gwendal a hug that began and ended so quickly the general wasn't sure if it happened at all. "Thank you for the dance, Gwendal. I'll go back inside now, but I just wanted to say…you're the most handsome man here tonight, and you shouldn't be embarrassed. No one in Shin Makoku is as sexy as you. And your hair looks really nice down."
Then the young man was gone. Gwendal stood rooted to his spot, and stared. The king thought he was sexy? The king thought HE was SEXY? He had been described as many things, but sexy…not that often, maybe not ever. In the dark, in his solitude on the balcony, Gwendal allowed himself a smile. The compliment, awkwardly expressed though it had been, felt good.
Feeling a bit more confident, he went back inside, just in time to see his youngest brother dragging the Maou off to a corner, apparently taking objection to some form of Yuuri-heika's behavior or other. Gunter caught his eye, and smiled. Gwendal dipped his chin in return, and took his place by the door—this time in the light as opposed to the shadows. He kept an eye on the Maou, as he continued to try and get a word in through his younger brother's lecture. The eye-patch had disappeared completely.
While the argument with Wolfram had marred his enjoyment of Greta's party, Yuuri had to admit, it had been a great success. He was thrilled, of course, that his daughter was so pleased, and he was proud as well. His little girl had accepted her gifts graciously, and spent the next two days carefully writing thank you notes to everyone who attended. He didn't fail to notice that the stationary she used had been stamped with little, nose-wriggling rabbits.
Tapping his pen against the table, Yuuri considered the future. What kind of party would Greta want when she was older…and rabbits were too passé. He shook his head, sorry he had ever objected to the costume. He now understood that these were precious days, and soon enough, his daughter would begin her own life—even as he had. The day was coming when he would no longer be the only man in her life, and the thought of that truth made the Maou scowl. Someone would recognize her, of course. She was too bright, too vivacious not to attract attention and even as a child her pleasing manners were engaging. In fact, Little Rinji von Wincott had been chasing her around during the game of tag with a bit too much tenacity for Yuuri's liking. Shaking his head again, the king put the thought out of his mind. It was much too early to be worrying about his daughter's future love life. Still, maybe he'd discuss the prospect of private education with Gunter when he had the chance…
"Heika?" Gwendal's stern voice held the usual tone of reprimand and Yuuri realized he'd been daydreaming again.
"I'm sorry, Gwendal. What did you say?"
"I said that it would be better if you read and signed that document you're currently holding, as opposed to doodling all over it."
Yuuri blinked and looked down at his hands. He had been drawing, it was true. There were little bunnies, small children, and little faces dancing across the page. He sighed and looked up and apologized. "I'm sorry, really, Gwendal. My mind was elsewhere."
"That much is obvious, Heika. Now, if we could continue…?"
Yuuri nodded, and did his best to turn his attention back to the document in his hand, but this time he was distracted by the man seated behind the desk across the room from him. He had taken to doing his morning work in Gwendal's office. It was a habit long left over from his first days in Shin Makoku—before he could read the language and before he really understood what it was that he was meant to do. Those had been the days that Conrad would often appear and rescue him, taking him for a run, or a game of catch. In recent months, however, his soldier had saved him from his work with far less frequency. Yuuri hadn't needed such rescue anyway. He knew his duties, and while he was still easily distracted and hated to spend lovely spring days indoors, he still did his best to perform them.
Curiously, though, the most powerful distraction in his life was neither baseball nor adventure, but the mazoku currently working in silence. He wasn't sure when he'd first noticed it, but Gwendal wrote as though he was in a sword fight. His hand sliced across the page in bold, sure strokes. His pen almost flew with the speed of his thoughts and he almost never took breaks. Then, of course, there was the way he looked framed in the window. Gwendal appeared to best advantage in the morning, Yuuri decided. In the early morning light, his deep blue eyes lightened, and the worry lines around his mouth eased. Yuuri loved the way his sleepy expression slowly gave way to his usual concentrated gaze as the taller man woke up. And there were the small habits, as well. Whenever Gwendal was thinking hard about something—usually a decision he was making that balanced the precarious scale life and death for his soldiers—his fingers worked in the motion of his knitting needles and his lips turned down at the corners, but only just. If some news arrived that was good, instead of smiling, the General always took the message and put it on the right side of his desk. Bad news, or unwelcome intelligence was carefully stacked on the left side of his desk. It broke Yuuri's heart that even though the pile on the left had been reduced over the years, it was still taller than that on the right. There were other things he knew about his general, as well. He knew that Gwendal liked seven sugars in his tea, that he kept the bottle of Laphroig Yuuri brought from Earth for the somber demon's birthday in the lower left drawer of his desk, and he knew that Gwendal suffered from headaches that sometimes made him clench his fists so hard that the quiet general left little half-moon nail gouges in his palms.
"You will not find the answer to your question on my face, Heika," Gwendal said, without looking up from what he was writing. "Unless, of course, the information contained in that document has magically been transferred to my skin?"
"Sorry," Yuuri mumbled, blushing at being caught out in that way. But it wasn't like it was his fault. Gwendal was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. How could Yuuri help but admire him? He was strong, and dependable. He was confident, and calculating. He was stern, true, and maybe he didn't laugh enough, but he was also loyal and unshakably committed to Shin Makoku's prosperity. Gwendal had given the whole of his life to public service, and how could a Maou do anything but respect a demon like that?
His admiration for Gwendal had begun, if he was honest, after he'd been trapped in the desert with him—when he'd been mistaken for his bride. Yuuri could still remember the feeling of the tall general's arm around his shoulders as they shared a frigid night in the great, empty expanse of sand and wind. He remembered Gwendal's bravery as they'd stood before the human court, and the resigned way he'd asked Yuuri to hurt him, just so the Maou could escape. Frowning, Yuuri thought about the way Gwendal's face had looked then, as though he just expected Yuuri to cruelly slice at him and be done with it. Hopefully, his general knew him better than that now. So, he'd acknowledged his crush at least in his own heart, but he never told anyone—except Conrad because he told Conrad everything. It was just a crush, after all, and Yuuri had been sure it would pass. Except, that it hadn't passed, and five years later, Yuuri was still doing his work in Gwendal's office, admiring him from across the room and sneaking glances whenever the General wasn't looking.
"Heika!" Gwendal slammed his pen on the desk. "Is there something hanging from my nose? Why else would you be staring at me so steadfastly this morning?"
Yuuri gulped and looked at the document in his hands. He'd been caught…again. Five years, though...five long years and he still couldn't bring himself to actually confront the dour mazoku in front of him with his feelings. Gwendal was not approachable, not the confidant that Conrad was. And, he certainly was not gentle or understanding like Gunter—despite the beautiful adjutant's tendency to smother Yuuri in tight hugs. Gunter was almost as close to him as Conrad, and Yuuri knew he could talk to the scholar about anything. He could even handle Wolfram with all his fits of temper, because he wasn't intimidated by him, but Gwendal…he was like a beautiful, terrible, powerful sculpture. You went to museums to see heroes like his general, carved in marble, and you were always just a little glad to escape the room because of the nagging feeling that if you were to linger just a little too long, that marble might begin to turn into flesh, and if you were ever faced with such a creature alive, you'd probably meet the end of his sword. Yuuri didn't really think he was a coward, but he wasn't an idiot either, and every time he tried to tell Gwendal what he was thinking, he ended up biting his tongue. He could just imagine the older man's horrified look, the cringing disgust in those handsome blue eyes.
"Heika…is something on your mind?" Gwendal's voice was softer now, his usual growl had gentled into a sort of soft rumble that caused a little shiver of pleasure to race down Yuuri's spine. The Maou both loved and hated that sound. He loved it because it made him feel all strange and melty inside his chest, and he hated it because he knew it wasn't meant to make him feel like that.
Conrad had told him once that bravery was nothing more than doing what you feared to do when the time was right. Yuuri took a deep breath. Maybe he could be brave.
"There is a party in three nights from now—for Lord Radford's son. You know he married, right?"
"Yes." Gwendal was staring at him now, his fingertips bridged together and his elbows resting on his desk.
"Well, I have to go and I was wondering…if maybe you'd go with me?"
Yuuri bit his lip and tried not to stare. Gwendal looked as though he'd just slapped him with a rotten trout.
"Wolfram should accompany you, Heika. It would not be appropriate for me to do so."
"Oh." Yuuri nodded, and blinked, surprised to feel the sting of tears behind his eyes. "I guess it doesn't matter, then, but Wolfram took Greta to visit Cheri-sama this morning, to complete her birthday week. I'll just go alone. I apologize if I offended you, Gwendal, I didn't mean to."
"I'm not offended," Gwendal said, his expression easing a tiny bit. "I didn't know Wolfram had taken a trip."
"It was…a sudden decision." Yuuri thought it best not to include the part where he and Wolfram had descended into a screaming match the night before culminating in his fiancé calling him a cheater, yet again, and Yuuri suggesting the blonde take some time to cool off.
"Anyway, it's ok. I'll go on my own."
"You cannot attend without protection, Heika. In this case, shouldn't Conrad escort you?"
"He already has a date. It's ok, though. He'll still be there, so that will be all right, I guess."
Gwendal's frown etched deeper into his face. "No, that won't do. You must have an escort with you. What about Gunter…?"
"Don't worry about it," Yuuri said, gathering up his papers. He had to get out of the room before he made a bigger fool of himself. The man couldn't make it more obvious that he didn't want to go, and if he said another word Yuuri was sure he was going to cry. "I'll figure something out."
Yuuri paused, hardly daring to breathe. "I'm sorry…?" He couldn't have heard the man right.
"I said I'll go," Gwendal replied quietly. "I didn't realize the situation, Heika. You cannot go alone."
Yuuri shook his head quickly. "No, it's obvious you don't want to go with me, Gwendal. I wouldn't ask you to do something you find objectionable. Please forget I even asked."
"I never said I didn't want to go with you, Heika. I just didn't want to cause a scandal."
"You…You want to go with me?" Yuuri asked, still feeling teary.
His heart relaxed when Gwendal nodded. "I would be happy to attend, Heika. Thank you for thinking of me."
"You're the only person I asked," Yuuri confessed before fleeing from the office. He didn't want Gwendal to see his first expression of glee any more than he wanted the man to see his disappointed tears.
"But Heika!" He heard the general shout as he was turning the corner at the end of the hall. "You haven't finished signing these documents yet!"
This is not a date. This is not a date. "This is NOT a date," Gwendal repeated, out loud this time, to his reflection in the mirror. Still, he took extra care with his hair, brushing it until it gleamed in the candlelight. He fingered the tie he usually used to secure his ponytail and decided, finally, against it. It wasn't really because Yuuri-heika had said he preferred it loose. If he spent more time than usual making certain that his boots were polished to gleaming perfection, and that his formal-dress uniform was spotless, well, he was just paying attention to detail. No, this wasn't a date. In his capacity as advisor to the king, and the chief military officer of Shin Makoku, he was accompanying his Maou to a social event in place of the king's absent fiancé. It was nothing more than that.
So, there was no reason his fingers should tremble as he buckled his sword belt around his waist. There was no reason that he should check the attachment of the tiny plastic bando-kun a third time, to make sure that it was secure on his scabbard. Of course, the King had given him the small, adorable trinket many years ago now, but it still made Gwendal feel just a little bit special. No one else in Shin Makoku had one—only he did, and that it came from Earth made it that much more unusual.
"You've really gone all out," Conrad said as he pushed away from his place near Gwendal's bookshelf. "Yuuri-heika will be stunned."
"If I must attend this gathering, then I believe I should look my best. It is expected after all."
"Of course it has nothing to do with wanting to impress a certain Maou?"
"You are teasing me." Gwendal said flatly.
His younger brother smiled, his expression kindly but his eyes grew serious. "Not really. He likes you, Gwendal, but you still scare him a little. Try to be nice, all right?"
"You act like his older brother."
"Not at all," Conrad replied, his smile still intact. "I'm his nazukeoya, his godfather, and his happiness means the world to me. Please, try not to frighten him."
Gwendal frowned. Was he such a monster that he had to be lectured by his younger brother on how to be civil? "I think my father taught me decent manners, Conrad."
His brother nodded, and brushed his shoulders. "You do look very handsome. Will you ride in the carriage or take your horse?"
"The Maou will travel by carriage, therefore I will as well. As you are escorting Lady Gilbit tonight, someone must be with the Maou at all times."
"I offered, but Yuuri-heika wanted to ask you."
"He…he wanted me?" Gwendal shook his head lightly. "I don't see why."
"I've noticed," his brother said, under his breath. "All right. Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be." Gwendal couldn't bring himself to admit that he was actually looking forward to the evening so he said, "Let's get this over with. The sooner we arrive, the sooner we can come home."
The evening began well. Gwendal had been surprised when Yuuri-heika had presented him with a small rosebud for his jacket. He didn't realize that the king knew the tradition that the Maou's escort could be identified by the deep-blue rose—only the Maou's maryoku could change the color of the blossom, thereby preventing imitation. He noticed that the king's fingers trembled as he pinned it to his jacket, the young man's blush turning even the tips of his ears red.
In the carriage, as they traveled the short distance into the city, the conversation between them was sporadic, but not uncomfortable. The party was held at the new theatre that had been opened the year before. In order to celebrate the marriage of the two nobles, the Radford's had commissioned a play. After the performance, there was to be dancing and refreshments in the grand ball room. Gwendal stayed near the Maou's side during the performance of a play that was so boring, so grandiose, that even his practiced skills nearly failed him and he almost nodded off. When Yuuri-heika leaned over and whispered softly in his ear that he would really, all things being equal, rather listen to Morgif recite the names of every Maou and all their progeny, Gwendal had to smother a sudden laugh with a cough. When the performance finished, and the fact it finished at all caused the assembled nobles to spring to their feet with thunderous applause, which was led by the Maou, Gwendal escorted the young king to the ballroom.
It was there that the evening started to go wrong.
First, he was unable to stay close to Yuuri-heika, as the two were often in demand and seemingly never by the same people at the same time. Enough foreign dignitaries were in attendance that it seemed Gwendal was often cornered in a discussion centering on treaties and border disputes. So, he missed the first dance. While it was tradition for the King to dance the first dance as well as the last with his escort, the first was not as important. So, Gwendal shrugged it off—catching Yuuri-heika's eye from across the room, and the clear apology contained in the expression of the king's face was enough for him. The Maou had been sidetracked, as well, it seemed, for he was surrounded by several young noblewomen all vying for his attention. He was more vulnerable prey without Wolfram's usual jealous perimeter established.
As the evening progressed, and the heat from all the bodies packed into one room increased, Gwendal found himself increasingly uncomfortable in his formal attire. As his discomfort grew, his temper shortened, and the small details that might have rolled off his back before began to grate on his nerves. Yuuri-heika was often out of the room, his arm taken by one guest or another, and then the requests started to pour in. This lord wanted a meeting with the Maou, then that lord was extending a house party invitation, and this diplomat wanted concessions on that treaty, or that foreign ruler wanted rights to water their bloody damned sheep on Shin Makoku land. Everything conspired together to put Gwendal in a foul humor, and when the last dance, finally, was called, he stalked toward the balcony where he'd arranged to meet the Maou ready to finish the night and call the whole thing quits.
But there was no Yuuri-heika to be found.
Gwendal forced his face to remain blank and unconcerned, even though he was aware of every pair of eyes trained on him. His stomach twisted in his belly, and the sensation of doom fell heavy on his shoulders. Conrad, probably sensing his distress, eased through the crowd, the Lady Gilbit on his arm, and the three of them stood there, trying to make conversation as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening, but the whispers were already racing through the crowd, and Gwendal fought his deepening feeling of shame. The last time something like this had happened to him was seventy years ago, and it had taken him all this time to live it down…it couldn't possibly be happening again, right? Really, did lightning strike twice in the same demon's life? He shrugged, and the music began despite the delay. As the couples moved across the floor he reminded himself that this was not the same thing—he was not here as the Maou's intended. And seventy years ago, it hadn't been the king, but a noble woman that had stood him up, then later been found in the arms of another man. Still, the rumors would fly unless something intervened on his behalf.
Gwendal von Voltaire was never a man who believed in luck. He had never in his life, in fact, been a lucky demon. And this night was no different. The last dance was ending when Yuuri-heika came back into the room, flanked on one side by Lord Gyllenhaal and on the other side by the smug mazoku's eldest daughter. The entire group assembled seemed to take a collective breath. Gwendal closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again, but the picture before him was still the same. It didn't matter what the truth was, the end result was set: He had been formally snubbed, cut by the Maou, and his reputation that he'd worked so hard to build and maintain crumbled around him and lay ruined at his feet.
"Don't be angry, Gwendal," Conrad whispered, his eyes wide. "He didn't know. You know he didn't know. Look at Gyllenhaal. He was probably planning this from the start."
Gwendal made no reply. He merely squared his shoulders and stared at a point high above the door. What could he say, anyway? Yuuri-heika might not have understood the impact of his actions, but the outcome was still the same. By tradition, he was now deemed unacceptable in the eyes of the king, at least socially, and his ability to act as an advisor and general was now severely compromised. There was no way out of this now. Well, there was one way, but the likelihood of that happening was about the same was the likelihood that he was about to sprout wings and fly around the room like an hysterical kohi. The crowd was moving again, briefly blocking Yuuri-heika from his sight. Conrad's hand was clenched on the hilt of his sword, but his younger brother seemed at a loss as to how best to act, and for his part, Gwendal was rooted to his spot.
When the dancers shifted again, and he could see the king, the Maou's face was blank with what appeared to be shock. Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught a flash of orange, but it was gone before he could process it completely. His attention was on the young man that had caused, unwittingly or no, his humiliation. The young man was moving, breaking away from the Gyllenhaals and parting the crowd with a determined stride. He never took his eyes from Gwendal and a new knowledge was evident in his wide, sad black eyes. His entire frame seemed to shout his unhappiness, his regret, and Gwendal almost turned away as the Maou came to a stop in front of him.
"Gwendal," Yuuri-heika said. "Give me your hand."
No. No, this was not happening. Gwendal would rather live with the dishonor than see the Maou do something he knew he would regret. When he didn't immediately move, the king reached out and took his fingers. Lord von Voltaire had no idea why the muscles of his arm refused to obey his commands, but they remained limp and unresisting as the king lifted his hand and pressed his lips softly against his fingers. And, just like that, the room exploded into applause and happy shouts of congratulations.
With the one gesture, the work of a heartbeat, the King had transformed Gwendal's status from pariah to privileged. Openly, before most of the kingdom's nobility, Yuuri-heika had openly acknowledged Gwendal von Voltaire as his lover, and as such, in their first formal appearance, it would be completely inappropriate for them to dance together.
"Why…?" he whispered in a voice low enough that only Yuuri-heika could hear.
"Because Yozak told me what I did. I couldn't let you pay for my mistake."
Gwendal didn't have time to say anything else. Already, a line had formed and he turned to accept the congratulations of Lord Radford himself. Yuuri-heika stood beside him, his face unreadable throughout the interminable wishes for their happiness. It seemed like years before they could leave, though it was probably only an hour, but the carriage ride back to Blood Pledge Castle was anything but silent.
Driven by his anger and his shame, Gwendal started his lecture the minute the door closed. He railed against the boy, ticking off his transgressions on his fingers as he made his objections to every one of the king's actions during the course of the evening. He was particularly harsh when it came to the Maou making promises to foreigners without even discussing it with his advisors first, and he was in such a temper that he didn't stop when the boy's shoulders slumped, and the king began to stare, determinedly, out the window.
"I'm really sorry, Gwendal." The Maou whispered. "I know I've always been a disappointment to you—a bad Maou. I didn't mean to make you this angry."
"I'm not angry!" Gwendal shouted.
Then he clamped his teeth together, finally catching the glint of something on Yuuri-heika's cheek, something illuminated by the moonlight. Tears. A single track of silent tears snaked their way from the corner of the Maou's eye, the one that Gwendal could see, over his cheek, and dripped from the sharp line of his jaw.
As he opened his mouth, to apologize, a sudden jolt threw Gwendal across the carriage and into Yuuri-heika's chest. There was a moment of suspension, when everything seemed to stop, then a sound of splintering wood as the world tilted at a crazy angle and everything began to turn. Gwendal tried not to crush the Maou as the carriage rolled, but he still landed heavily on the young man when the carriage frame finally came to a stop.
Anxious and concerned, he started to run his hands over Yuuri-heika, checking for injuries. "Are you all right?" he ground out.
"I'm fine," the Maou replied, shoving at his shoulders. "Please get off me, Gwendal. Just get off!"
Gwendal scrambled backwards, shocked by the sharp tone of his Maou's voice. He'd never heard him sound so…hurt. Shoving wreckage out of the way, Gwendal pulled himself out of the broken carriage. He balanced on top, then reached down, offering a hand to the Maou, but he felt the sharp sting of a smack against his fingers. He drew back and the young man scrambled out by himself.
"What happened?" Gwendal snapped as the soldiers accompanying them tried to help him down. He jumped, landing lightly on his feet, and stood, hands on hips, glaring at them, his displeasure evident even in the dark.
"A broken axle, Sir," one of the young soldiers answered, his voice shaking. "The horses…well, they bolted."
"A broken axle? An accident?" Yuuri asked, accepting the help of the second soldier as he carefully picked his way across the sheared wood.
"Probably, Heika," the soldier answered, looking at Gwendal. "But, we won't know for sure until we can see the wreckage at daylight."
"You, stay here with the carriage," Gwendal said to the young man that had helped Yuuri. "And you go after the horses," he said to the other.
"Well, what do we do now?" The Maou asked. "Conrad's carriage left before us and went in the other direction anyway."
"It is unlikely that we'll meet anyone else before daylight," Gwendal replied, looking toward the sky, trying to hold his temper in check. "We'll be stuck here all night, it seems."
"How far are we from home?"
"About five miles, maybe a little less." Gwendal looked at the Maou. "I'll build a fire and we can wait out the night here. I think we should get away from the wreckage, though, just in case it wasn't an accident, and someone comes to inspect the fruits of his labor."
"No way," Yuuri-heika said, turning on his heel. "I don't want to stay here. There's enough moonlight to see by, and home isn't far. We just stay on this road, I think, right?"
Gwendal nodded, unsure what to say.
"Fine. I'm walking."
"You can't go by yourself, Heika." Gwendal reached out to take the Maou's hand and guide him from the roadside, but the boy shook him off.
"Then you stay with the carriage. I'll send some of your soldiers back for you. The Captain can escort me."
Gwendal was going to object, but the Maou had already turned his back. He shut his mouth, feeling increasingly guilty with every step the king took. He'd hurt the boy's feelings, that was plain. Still, he was so reckless, so thoughtless. But he sacrificed his own honor to replace yours, his conscience reminded him sternly.
"I'm sorry…Yuuri," Gwendal said. But he knew it was too late. The Maou was already gone.
Ok, so…there's chapter one. I have a lot of mail to answer, and that's on my plate for the morning. I had to work an extra shift today. I loooooove flu season, oh yes, I do. Anyway…I wanted to start this one off with some awkward obstacles, just to see what the silent and stoic Gwendal might do when faced with them. So, Yuuri's upset, Gwendal's ashamed, and I reckon in Chapter two, we might find out a little more about what happened to Gwendal seventy years ago. And, I also suppose that Wolfram might be a little upset when he hears about Gwendal's new title as Lover of the Maou. Anyway, let me know what you think…Gwendal's a complicated demon (in my mind at least) and this one may turn out to be a long one, but if you bear with me, I promise there will be some laughs as well as romance in this one. I'll be seeing you…