December 1

"It's an advent calendar!" Murata explained cheerfully, carefully piecing together the box with Gisela's help. Gwendal, who had made the mistake of stepping in at the wrong time and having an explanation shot at him without request, looked unimpressed.

"Meaning?" he questioned, confused.

"It counts down the days until Christmas - one door opened each day until the holiday. Depending on the calendar, some have pictures drawn inside, others have ornaments to put on a tree. The one we're making is going to have presents in it - candy, pictures, and some other things. Yuuri asked us to make it for Greta," he finished explaining.

"It is an interesting tradition," Gwendal said shortly. Murata wasn't quite sure whether the gruff man was truly interested, or was merely being polite. However, he went on with his work, unconcerned, tucking small goodies behind each door.

After a moment, he noticed Gwendal had disappeared, but shrugged, figuring the older man had become bored. However, that theory was dispelled when Gwendal reappeared in the doorway, carrying something small and fuzzy - clearly a stuffed animal he'd created. "Here," he said shortly, thrusting it at Murata with no further explanation. Murata simply smiled and tucked it behind one of the doors.

"It's an adorable puppy," Gisela offered with a smile.

"It's a sheep!"

December 2

Yuuri wanted a Christmas tree. And when Yuuri wanted something within reason, he generally got it. Conrad and Yozak had been convinced with relatively little fuss to go out to the woods and cut down a tree, dragging it back on a sled drawn between their two horses, as their choice had been the most magnificent tree they could find. They both silently agreed without speaking that it would be only the best for their king. Then it had been a matter of finding people to create ornaments as well as hunting down suitable objects within town as well as the palace's treasure room.

Yuuri, in his sweet way, had gotten everyone to help with the decorations - even Gwendal had been found hanging at least one ornament on the tree. Greta had thought it was the greatest thing ever, and Yuuri had given her the star to place on top of the tree. She had scaled the ladder, beaming, and placed it on top, several "awws" echoing around her.

Yuuri was now nestled in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a warm blanket with a mug of tea and a sleeping Wolfram resting his head in Yuuri's lap. Yuuri wasn't quite ready to go to bed yet; while the tree didn't have the electric lights he was used to, it still looked magnificent as it twinkled in the firelight.

"It's lovely," a rather high-pitched voice came from near his ear, and Yuuri tried not to jump and disturb Wolfram. Cheri moved into the light. "We've never had anything like this before, but what a lovely idea! Especially during this dreary time of year."

Cheri was right - it was quite magnificent. Yuuri had never had a tree quite as - well - sparkly as this one. He supposed that was an advantage of being a king - you had all kinds of shiny baubles tucked away that you could use to decorate a tree. Previous owners were probably rolling in their graves.

He nodded, and put his finger to his lips, and gently feathered his other hand through Wolfram's hair, glancing down at him, indicating that Cheri should be quiet because her son was asleep. Cheri looked as though she was holding back a squeal, but managed to keep it in. "The reason I came out," she whispered, and then pressed something into Yuuri's hand. He glanced down to discover a an ornament that was obviously a piece of converted jewelry. It looked well-worn, and Yuuri surmised that Cheri was paying an unusual respect to him in giving it to him. He smiled, and bobbed her a courteous bow as well as he could with Wolfram still on his lap.

"I'll hang it later, thank you," Yuuri whispered back. Cheri smiled, bending to peck Wolfram on the forehead. Then she covered a smile with a delicate hand and mischeviously repeated the gesture on Yuuri.

Yuuri smiled after her as she left, amused.

December 3

Annissina, Wolfram, stockings

"Remind me again why we're hanging socks from the fireplace?" Wolfram asked, poking at them suspiciously. "And why we stuck beads and sequins and things all over them?"

"Apparently an earth tradition," Anissina, the other person on 'hang the socks over the fireplace' duty, replied.

"Well, obviously," Wolfram snapped. "But it makes no sense. Remind me again - gifts go in the socks?"

Anissina's eyes twinkled. "That's right. Ooooh, I should make them so they sing and light up every time someone puts their hands inside..."

"NO," Wolfram asserted, snatching the stocking she was holding from her and hanging it up. "Leave them alone, they're fine the way they are. Mostly he didn't want to see what she'd come up with if she started tinkering. Best case scenario, she would end up creating something that played really annoying music every time someone entered the room.

"Well, you don't have to get all huffy," Anissina replied, puffing out her cheeks. "Besides, just because you don't want them to play music doesn't mean that heika doesn't."

Ignoring her, Wolfram mumbled, "And isn't it kind of gross to put gifts in old socks? There are many nicer places to put them..."

Anissina, giving better than she got, paid no attention to what Wolfram had just said. "Maybe I'll ask heika and see what he wants." The gleam was back into her eye, and she dashed off, leaving a little trail of dust behind her in a way that Yuuri had once dubbed "Roadrunner style". It had then taken him the better part of an hour trying to explain to Wolfram what he'd been talking about.

Wolfram just shook his head and sighed. Yuuri was being so weird this month, with trees and calendars and other festivities...but he supposed if it made Yuuri happy, he'd go along with it. He gave an affectionate smile, knowing there was no one around to see it, and hung the last stocking.

December 4

It had definitely been a mistake to walk so close to the four loons (aka Yuuri, Greta, Conrad, and Wolfram) and their snow forts and snow war, Gwendal reflected. While Wolfram had originally insisted on siding with Yuuri against Conrad, all four members of the snowball fight would pause when anyone walked by to pelt the passerby with snow.

Gwendal had thought that they'd leave him alone. After all, he was Gwendal. No one throwed snow at him.

Apparently he'd been mistaken. Greta and Yuuri certainly wouldn't have, and Wolfram seemed to have a minimal respect for his other brother, but Conrad evidently harbored no such reservations. The snowball had hit him on the side of his face with a sting (all that baseball meant that Conrad threw hard) and then the trickle of cold as snow slid below his collar. He brushed the snow of his face and glared at Conrad, two more wrinkles than normal appearing on his forehead.

Greta's eyes were wide and Yuuri looked as though he was trying to hide a smile, but Wolfram was rolling around on the ground, laughing like a lunatic. Gwendal continued to glare as he stomped off to get a towel and dry off.

Oh, but this meant war.

The four conspirators had eventually gotten cold and wet and had trooped inside the castle, sitting down at the table in a room adjacent to the kitchen with mugs of tea. Gwendal wandered in, his hands appearing to be clasped casually behind his back, though in truth they were both full of snow.

"Oh, Gwendal," Yuuri said tentatively. "Are you still angry about the snow?"

Gwendal shook his head silently, sidling up behind Yuuri, as Conrad and Wolfram were sitting on either side of him. Conrad had thrown the snowball, and Wolfram had laughed. Gwendal, therefore, took a handful of snow in each hand and dumped it down the collars of both of his brothers.

Conrad yelped and leapt to his feet, doing a ridiculous shimmy to try to get the snow out of his shirt. Wolfram's mouth opened and closed several times, and he looked like he wanted to shriek but thought it a bit too undignified and was thus biting it back. He stood sharply after a moment and deliberately peeled his shirt out of his pants, carefully shaking out the snow and glaring at Gwendal. Gwendal graced both brothers with a rare smile, brushing off his hands before turning on his heel and trotting out of the room.

Greta, not as shocked as before, started giggling, while Yuuri hid another smile.

And was Christmas without a little sibling rivalry? Yuuri privately thought that sometimes, dumping snow down your brother's back was what Christmas was all about.

December 5

Murata hummed tunelessly to himself as he wrapped presents, carefully and neatly. He was quite pleased with the array of boxes before him. They all looked so pretty and meticulously wrapped, not one piece of paper, ribbon, or strip of tape out of place. In fact, he'd done such a good job with his own that all the palace people that were unfamiliar with earth customs and more specifically how to wrap presents had taken to popping in to either ask Murata how to wrap presents or to ask that the blonde wrap theirs for them.

It was lucky that Murata didn't mind wrapping them, as long as Yuuri didn't need him for anything.

A blonde head popped into the doorway, giggling softly as she eyed him. Murata stopped humming, blinking at her. After a moment, he recognized her as the former maou and the mother of the three brothers. He nodded politely and beckoned her inside, ignoring the fact that she appeared to be checking him out.

"I bought this present for heika," she said, "But alas, I have no idea how to wrap it, especially not as well as you." She clasped her hands to her cheeks in an overdramatic gesture of despair.

"Ah, they're nothing special," Murata said modestly, though he knew otherwise.

"Please, could you show me how?" she asked, plopping down in the chair next to him and scooting closer, looking over his shoulder.

Murata smiled and nodded, picking up the wrapping paper and setting the paper on top of it, demonstrating how to measure the paper and then letting Cheri cut it. With his help, she folded the paper and taped up the present. He showed her how to put the ribbon on, and then smiled, amused, as she insisted on gluing numerous shiny sequins and other small decorations he had sitting around onto the package. While Murata had been using them carefully and in moderation, Cheri seemed to want to make the package as gaudy as possible. Well, different strokes for different folks, Murata supposed.

"Thank youuuu!" she squealed, wrapping her arms around his neck enthusiastically. Murata flushed as his arm came in contact with a rather voluptuous breast.

"Aa, you're welcome," he said, clearing his throat and detaching her gently.

"I'm going to go put this under the tree," she said, and then smiled mischeviously. With her son being Yuuri's fiance, she wasn't allowed to flirt too much with the cutey, but this one was fair game. She bent over and gave him a smooch on the lips, and then off with her now-wrapped package, giggling, leaving Murata blushing behind her.

December 6th

"What are we doing again?" Wolfram asked, as Yuuri dragged him along. Yuuri had asked him to take a trip back to earth with him to go do something or other, and since it was Wolfram's first time here, he kept stopping to gawk while trying to look casual about it. He was also wearing human clothes, which normally might annoy him, but he had to admit - this particular thing Yuuri had called a "tuxedo" looked damn good on both of them.

"We're going to a ballet. It's a type of dancing," Yuuri explained, tugging on Wolfram's arm when he stopped to stare at a video board displaying an advertisement for something or other. "Come on, I'll take you to a movie later. It's like that, only better because there's a story. But right now you promised to go see the Nutcracker with me."

Wolfram sighed and allowed himself to be dragged along. He'd really only agreed to this after Yuuri had innocently suggested that he might ask Conrad, since Wolfram didn't want to go - not to mention the fact that Conrad would already know what it was about anyway.

Well, of course Wolfram couldn't allow that - which was probably exactly what Yuuri had intended. They arrived at the theatre with Wolfram still gawking around, and Yuuri dragging him inside. "Okay, so I don't know what sort of theatre Shinmakoku has - you'll have to show me sometime. But this is ballet, which is a story told through dance. I don't know a whole lot about the technicalities of it, but my mom takes me and my brother every year. But I wanted to take you, this year, too." He grabbed Wolfram's hand shyly, resting both of their hands on the armrest.

Wolfram smiled and leaned his head against Yuuri, watching as it began.

It was, he reflected, a rather odd art form, but then again, some of the drama concepts Shinmakoku had come up with were pretty odd in themselves. And the music was nice and he could tell that the dancing was difficult even though he didn't know much about it, so he settled more comfortably against Yuuri's shoulder, watching in silence. Every once in awhile, though, he'd glance over to make sure Yuuri wasn't staring too closely at any of the men in their tight outfits.

"So. You liked it, didn't you?" Yuuri said, smirking and poking Wolfram in the ribs as they left.

"I don't know," Wolfram said, raising an eyebrow and keeping a straight face. "That whole nutcracker coming to life thing? That was a little unbelievable."

"Maybe Anissina got to it," Yuuri said, lips twitching.

Wolfram laughed. "Yeah, maybe."

Yuuri reached over and hugged him. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for coming with me." His lips brushed briefly over Wolfram's in a way that promised more kisses - among other things- later.

Wolfram made a mental note to do things for Yuuri more often.

December 7

Ulrike had apparently decided to let Wolfram and Yuuri cool their heels on earth for a couple of days after the Nutcracker, so Wolfram had begged Yuuri to show him more of earth culture while they were there. He had a lot to catch up on to get to the point Conrad was at – that was for sure. He was often jealous of his older brother's ability to understand what Yuuri was talking about when he referred to Japanese culture things.

Yuuri had started off by having Wolfram listen to a few of his favorite CDs – Wolfram had a little bit of trouble appreciating them, since they were really different from the music he was used to, but he got into a couple of them.

Then Yuuri introduced him to movies and took him to a baseball game. Finally, he introduced Wolfram to the wonders of karaoke.

Unfortunately, he made the mistake of letting Yuuri pick all the songs.

"Though it's cold and lonely in the deep dark night, I can see paradise by the dashboard light," Yuuri sang, and cracked his eye open when Wolfram didn't pick up the next line. "Wooooolfram," he wheedled.

Wolfram sighed. "Because we were barely seventeen and we were barely dressed," he mumbled half-heartedly.

"Wolfraaaaam," Yuuri encouraged again, and Wolfram sighed, playing along for the rest of the song.

"This is stupid," Wolfram asserted, as Yuuri started another song, singing it solo this time.

"And bad mistakes, I've made a few, I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I've come through!"

Wolfram outwardly rolled his eyes at how into the singing Yuuri got, wiggling around like a moron and singing very enthusiastically.

"Okay, your turn!" Yuuri said, handing the mike off and picking a new song. Wolfram sighed again, deciding it was better to just play along with Yuuri.

…But he didn't have to like it, dammit. "Love is on the line, I ain't about to be kind – that's a promise and a threat, If I was you, I'd better cool it, or risk a night you will never forget." He really wasn't into this. Why had Yuuri picked it anyway? He grumbled internally.

After a few hours of Yuuri's enthusiastic and loud karaoke singing, interspersed with his fiancé managing to talk (and occasionally bribe) him into singing a few as well, Wolfram was starting to feel quite sleepy. It was pretty late, but Yuuri said they had the room for another hour. Still, he left the player off for the moment and sat down on the couch, patting the spot next to him. Wolfram sat down and rested his head against Yuuri's shoulder, dropping almost immediately into a light doze, not really paying much attention to what Yuuri was doing. He barely stirred as Yuuri pressed backwards slightly so that Wolfram's head flopped into his lap, only mumbled something that might have been "wimp" and curled up a little further.

Yuuri smiled and turned the player down a ways, selecting a much quieter song, happy to sing by himself to a dozing Wolfram.

"When you're soarin' through the air, I'll be your solid ground…take every chance you dare, I'll still be there, when you come back down…"

Yuuri wasn't sure, but he thought there was a faint smile on the sleeping Wolfram's face.

December 8

Being cooped up in the palace due to overly large snowfalls had its downsides. Well, it was mostly one giant downside, Gwendal decided. Wolfram got grumpy (well, grumpier). Yuuri got stir crazy. And Greta – well, being cooped up was definitely not the best thing for a young girl who wanted to go play and, no doubt, get as dirty as possible.

Also, it tended to give Yuuri Ideas.

"Hey, pay attention," Yuuri asserted, tapping the staff he was holding against the floor as though he was a herald trying to get everyone's attention. "We don't have a dowel, so I guess this will do as the pole."

"And we do what with it again?" Gwendal asked, brow furrowed.

"It's limbo. You have to try to go under it without touching the bar. Each time everyone goes through, the bar gets lower." He thought for a moment. "The rules are you can't bend forward, and only your feet can touch the ground."

Gwendal shook his head. No way was he going to be part of this. Wolfram looked somewhat as though he agreed, but Greta clapped her hands. "Me first, me first!" she exclaimed. Wolfram sighed, realizing that she'd get him to play whether he liked it or not.

"Gwendal, would you mind holding the pole on this side?" Yuuri requested sweetly.

Oh. Well. He supposed if all he had to do was hold the pole… he gave a sharp nod.

"And Gunter, the other side," he said, handing the pole to the two of them. "Thanks." He considered. "This requires music…"

"Traveling Bard-kun!" Anissina exclaimed, dashing out and reappearing in record time with what was more or less a music box. She wound it up and, amazingly enough, it started playing.

"What do you know, it works," Gwendal muttered to Gunter.

"Gwendal!" Anissina exclaimed cheerfully. "Did I just hear you volunteer to help me test something later? I did, didn't I? Wonderful!" She clapped her hands.

Gwendal groaned internally, but he kept his mouth shut this time.

"Better start with it pretty high," Yuuri instructed, and then gestured for Gwendal and Gunter to put the bar at about his neck level.

"Go ahead, Greta," he smiled, pushing the young girl forward.

She giggled and ran under the bar. "Too easy," she informed him cheerfully, clinging to his leg momentarily.

Yuuri smiled, and took his turn, only having to tilt his head back slightly, followed by the other participants – Gisela, Anissina, Wolfram, and Murata.

Anissina, the tallest, lost first. Gisela lost next when her breasts got caught on the bar, which sent Anissina into a giggling fit and caused Gisela to glare at her.

It really came down to Murata, Wolfram, and Yuuri. Greta had the advantage, but then it was pretty much a given that she was going to win, so the other three were competing for second place.

Gwendal's lips twitched when he noticed that Yuuri's shirt was starting to ride up every time he bent backwards to take his turn, and Gunter, Murata, and Wolfram were all gawking when they thought no one was looking.

The things people did when they thought no one was looking could be quite entertaining.

Come to think of it, Yuuri looked like he was doing the same thing to Wolfram, only he was a lot shyer about it.

His younger brother really was quite flexible, he reflected, and he had a feeling that Wolfram knew that Yuuri was watching. It was amusing all around, but Gwendal refused to let that amusement show.

In the end, Yuuri had a clumsy moment and fell backwards, and Murata accidentally brushed the pole with an elbow while trying to maneuver under it. Gwendal and Gunter lowered the pole a good several inches after that, quickly eliminating Wolfram as well. Yuuri laughed and picked Greta up, letting her have a victory piggy back around the room.

December 9

The snow hadn't stopped, so Yuuri had stooped to new levels of creativity. After an hour or so of work, he'd managed to make a makeshift Pictionary board, and then had gotten someone not interested in actually playing who was also unlikely to be bribed or forced into it to make up cards with different words on them. That person happened to be Gwendal, who cooperated, though not without his brow furrowing in many new and different ways.

Yuuri gathered up the people around the campus he knew who were interested in playing; the teams ended up being Gisela and Anissina, himself and Wolfram (partly because Wolfram had assisted, but partly because – well- he wasn't complaining, that was all) and Conrad and Yozak.

Wolfram, it turned out, couldn't draw. Which, in retrospect, made sense considering he couldn't paint.

"Uh…a face," Yuuri guessed. "A disguise." Wolfram shook his head and glared, as though it were Yuuri's fault he couldn't draw. "An alien?"

"No! – What's an alien?"

"Never mind," Yuuri said. "We're running out of time. Uh – I don't know, what the hell is that?"

"It looks like female reproductive organs to me," Gisela said helpfully.

"No!" Wolfram said, tossing his pad down in frustration as the time ran out. "It's a t-bone steak, see!"

"Uhhhh…no," Yuuri said. Wolfram glared. Yuuri started thinking that playing this game with Wolfram might be hazardous to his health.

Yuuri couldn't draw much better than Wolfram, which led to them getting their butts kicked. Gisela and Anissina, it turned out, were both excellent artists, easily sweeping the other two teams.

"It's your fault we lost!" Wolfram accused as they cleaned up the game. The competitive blonde didn't take all that well to losing.

"Sorry, Wolfram," Yuuri said, not wanting to tell Wolfram that he was a terrible artist. "I'm a bad guesser." He rubbed the back of his head, acting sheepish. "But it's just a game."

Wolfram grumbled some more, tapping the cards back into a neat stack and tying them up. "You owe me."

Yuuri sweatdropped. "Okay, you can pick the game tomorrow."

Wolfram smirked, and grabbed Yuuri's collar, tugging him closer and brushing his lips lightly over the other's.

"Oh. You want me to – oh." Yuuri blushed. Wolfram kissed him again. "Wolfram, someone could walk in-"

"Then let's go somewhere else," Wolfram smirked some more. "And I can draw on you in chocolate and lick it off…"

Yuuri flushed. "Um, yeah, that sounds good." He tossed the pads of paper haphazardly into a box, and half-dragged Wolfram back to his room.

December 10

When it finally stopped snowing, Yuuri bundled Greta up and then coaxed Wolfram into his coat as well, dragging them outside. It turned out that neither of them had ever tried sledding (Wolfram protested that only humans did that) and Yuuri insisted that they both had to try it immediately. He coaxed Anissina into making something like a sled and then bounced up and down eagerly as they sought a hill with appropriate size and slope.

Yuuri declared that Greta got to try it first, but the little girl looked somewhat nervous, so he ended up climbing on behind her and wrapping his arms around her, pushing off. She squealed from nervousness as they started, but the sound quickly turned into a delighted shriek. When they reached the bottom, Greta didn't even wait for Yuuri before hopping off and dragging the sled back up the hill while Yuuri followed at a more sedate pace.

Greta insisted that Wolfram join her the second time around, and the blonde obliged with a slight sigh. However, Yuuri spotted a slight smile tugging at his lips as he followed Greta back up, which meant that he'd enjoyed himself.

She then insisted that it was Yuuri and Wolfram's turn, which made Yuuri sweatdrop and wonder if she was secretly trying to play matchmaker. Which, he supposed, was kind of cute. And also, he wasn't about to complain about having Wolfram nestled up close to his back as they sped down the hill.

After a few rides, Greta got impatient with Yuuri and Wolfram, who were too slow climbing the hill, and started taking all the rides for herself, which Yuuri found adorable. He wrapped an arm around Wolfram's waist, watching her. "She's gonna sleep like a log tonight," he said affectionately. "My mom used to love taking me sledding because I'd be quiet for the rest of the night."

Wolfram snickered. "I like you loud," he said quietly, so Greta wouldn't pick up on it.

"W-wolfram," Yuuri half-laughed, half-choked. "There are children around."

"And she'll be sleeping like the dead tonight, you said so yourself…"

Yuuri gave into the laughter, as it bubbled up softly. "All right," he agreed.

December 11

Yuuri's next "Christmas Mission" (as Wolfram had taken to calling them) involved a lot of flour. Wolfram sneezed as Yuuri dumped flour into a bowl and stirred vigorously, causing the flour to puff out and cover both of them in a thin, white blanket.

"Yuuri," Wolfram grumbled, sneezing again. "Could you stir gently?"

Yuuri just grinned and wiped the flour off of one of Wolfram's cheeks with a thumb, earning a glare. "It's too bad no one here knows what gingerbread is," he said a little woefully. "And there was no way I could memorize a recipe at home."

Wolfram patted Yuuri on the head teasingly. "There there," he replied. "This type of cookie will work just as well. Gisela said it hardens up nicely and should make a great…uh…house." He scratched the back of his head, not completely clear on the concept of a gingerbread house.

Several hours and explosions later, Wolfram and Yuuri had managed to piece together the non-gingerbread house, which they then dragged to the dining room, spreading out candy dishes and icing before Yuuri called Greta into the room. Yuuri explained the concept of decorating the house to her and then helped her add the first few round candies to make the stepping stone walkway and then letting her go at it.

Yuuri wasn't quite sure how it happened – he thought it might have been when Greta somehow managed to accidentally splash Wolfram with some frosting, and Wolfram blamed Yuuri – and an all-out food fight between the two boys started, while Greta watched with round eyes.

The fight was stopped as quickly as it started when an unwitting Gwendal walked in, took a handful of icing to the face, and muttered something about wasting food, making messes, and setting terrible examples. Wolfram and Yuuri looked rather sheepish, and Gwendal glared and then instructed them to at least clean up some of the mess. It wasn't really fair to make the maids do it.

Yuuri could have argued if he'd wanted to; after all, he was the Maou. But he knew Gwendal had a point, so after a pointed glare at Wolfram, he got a rag from the kitchen and started wiping up the icing while Wolfram gathered up the broken candy pieces. Greta timidly offered to help, but Yuuri patted her on the head and told her that since she hadn't made the mess, she didn't have to clean it. Not about to be told twice, she smiled cheerfully and went back to constructing her house.

A mostly clean dining room later, Wolfram and Yuuri regarded Greta's rather…creatively decorated gingerbread house. "Have you been giving her art lessons?" Yuuri mumbled in Wolfram's ear. Wolfram smacked him.

December 12

"Didn't we already decorate a tree?" Conrad murmured to Yozak, while everyone looked generally confused.

"You're the one who's supposed to know about this stuff," Yozak muttered back.

"Yes, we already decorated a tree," Yuuri declared, apparently having overheard. "But in my family, we have a tradition of feeding the birds popcorn and cranberry strings. Plus it looks pretty. Now string!" he ordered, pointing at the general populace of Blood Pledge Castle, whom he had recruited to help string the popcorn and cranberries.

Many pricked and bleeding fingers later, a spruce tree outside the castle had been decorated with the strands of food, and a rather large and oddly shaped bird was the first customer, perched precariously on a branch and apparently not minding the humans gathering around.

"It's pretty," Greta said finally – perhaps for all of them.

December 13

"Why did he give him a partridge? And, for that matter, a pear tree? What is a pear anyway?"

"You know, I don't know. I never really thought about it."

"And the gift giver seems to have a fowl fetish. There's the calling birds, the hens, the doves, the swans, the geese…"

"Yeah, okay, it is kind of a weird song. I think the point is that he's buying her really extravagant gifts…"

"Him. He's buying him really extravagant gifts."

"Sure, Wolfram. Whatever you say."

"Well…the rings are nice at least."

December 14

"This world doesn't have hot chocolate?" Murata looked ready to hyperventilate. "How can it not have hot chocolate? What sort of barbarian nation is this?"

Wolfram bristled. "We are not barbarians," he snarled.

"Ah- Murata- it's okay, we can figure out how to make some," Yuuri said, sweatdropping and waving his hands, trying to get his friend to calm down. "And we'll make enough for everyone, and then Shin Makoku won't be…er…hot-chocolateless any longer.

"Oh, that's a good idea!" Murata said, brightening right up. The two charged off to the kitchen, followed by Wolfram who was clearly keeping an eye on Yuuri.

Shin Makoku was, luckily, not completely absent of chocolate, so they bought a whole store out of its chocolate, offering a bulk payment that Yuuri knew was too much. They left the storekeeper looking very happy.

The chocolate they melted all in one pot while they slowly warmed a large quantity of milk in another, and then stirred the melted chocolate in. Murata, tasting it, declared it "not quite like earth hot chocolate, but close enough!" They then distributed it to various people in the castle.

The servants came quickly to the conclusion that they could, indeed, make this on a fairly regular basis (or whenever Murata demanded it) which made him very happy. He bounced off to his room to read a history book and drink his hot chocolate, leaving Yuuri somewhat bemused.

What really got him, though, was Gwendal. The man decided that he loved hot chocolate and became more or less married to his mug. Yuuri was pretty sure he found rings from the mug on at least one of the papers Gwendal asked him to sign.

December 15

"Who on earth names their child 'Fanny'?"

"Wolfram? Why do I bother trying to sing Christmas carols with you?"

"I don't know. Are they all as ridiculous as these two? And how can the people in this song 'laugh all the way'? I mean, I can understand laughing a little bit, but sleigh rides are not that hilarious."

"Quit taking the lyrics so seriously. The author probably wrote what would fit."

"Oh, no, I'm quite enjoying this. Go on, sing me another."

"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows-"

"What's a reindeer? Some earth animal whose nose lights up?"

"No, no, their noses don't really light up. It's just a silly song. The reindeer supposedly fly and pull Santa's sleigh- they really don't, of course. It's sort of how you guys have the legend about weasels that jump really high and eat the stars."

"Ohhh. Okay. I see. So what happens in the song?"

"Well, none of the reindeer like Rudolph until one Christmas when it's really foggy and he has to lead the sleigh. And that's about it."

"Okay, sing the end for me."

"Then how the reindeer loved him (loved him) as they shouted out with glee (yippee). Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (reindeer), you'll go down in history! (Like George Washington.)"

"Who's George Washington?"

"He was the first president of the United States."

"What's a president?"

"It's where the people all cast a vote and decide who's going to be in charge of a country."

"…That's stupid."

"Never mind."

December 16

Not that I'd ever tell him (he doesn't need the ego inflation), but Wolfram is absolutely beautiful when he sleeps. I even think the slight snores he makes are cute, but that may have something more to do with how far gone I am than anything. However, I doubt anyone could enter the room and not find him to be the most beautiful thing they've ever seen, if only in an aesthetic sense. If anyone tried to tell me that he wasn't, I'd be certain they were lying. Hell, the first thing I thought when I saw him was that he was a 'bishounen'.

It's odd to remember that I hated him at first. And he was quite rude to me, so I had every right to dislike him, though I'm also certain the fact that I secretly found him attractive didn't help in the slightest. I'm not sure when our mutual dislike turned to something very different. Hell, I don't even know when my feelings changed, much less his. I think I finally realized it when he traveled so far to find me. There's really no way a guy can not be flattered by that. And at that point, I realized how much I'd missed him. I'd gotten so used to sleeping with him at my side that I felt naked without him. (Though sometimes, the way he looks at me, I feel naked with him here. But that's all right.)

His feelings are even harder to understand. I think they changed a lot more quickly than did my own. It seemed like one moment he was tricking me into accepting a duel with him, and the next, he was getting jealous over me and crawling into my bed when I wasn't looking. I'll have to ask him about that sometime.

But I'm so glad they changed. It's hard to imagine a life without him, and I'm thankful he pushed me until I accepted him. Staring at him, buried under the festive green-and-red plaid comforter he secretly had made up for me, with just one pale shoulder peeking out, and his body curled up against my side, I hate to imagine that space as empty, and hope he'll always be there.

December 17

Another trip to earth, this time with Greta, rather than Wolfram. It was to be a very short trip, this time, but Yuuri wanted to show the girl Christmas lights.

The little girl was quite excited, and maybe a bit overwhelmed – she did cling to Yuuri's hand quite tightly, as he gently coaxed her along, with eyes wide. After a little while, she stopped clinging quite so tightly and stood up a little straighter, starting to admire the lights as they walked. "That one's really neat!" or "Ooh, look, it's so pretty!" and other such phrases came out of her mouth, about nearly every house they past.

Walking and looking at lights as well as dealing with a strange world was very tiring for a little girl, though, and after a while, Yuuri picked her up and carried her on his back, while she continued to ooh and ahh. When the delighted noises tapered and then stopped altogether, Yuuri glanced back to see that he was now carrying a fast-asleep girl on his back. He smiled and headed back for the place where Ulrike had told him to go to be taken back to Shinmakoku, Greta dozing happily on his back and dreaming of twinkling lights.

December 18

"Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul."

"With a corncob pipe-
"- and a button nose-"

"And two eyes made out of coal!"

"For the twentieth time, would you two stop?" Wolfram said, glaring at Conrad and Yuuri. Ever since they'd started building a snowman, the two had been humming and singing the song on and off, and they'd gotten to the point where they were trading off lines in what was, in Wolfram's opinion, a rather ridiculous manner. "Can we just finish the stupid snowman and go in? I'm freezing."

Yuuri laughed and wrapped his arms around Wolfram. "Too cold for the fire elemental?" he said with a chuckle, as Greta thoroughly decorated the snowman with as many buttons and shiny rocks as they'd been able to dig up from her.

"Look, he's got a coat now!" she announced, having outlined a short coat in stones.

"Lucky him," Wolfram muttered, jumping up and down slightly and rubbing his hands together.

Yuuri eyed Wolfram. "Greta? Are you ready to go in?" he asked softly, starting to feel a bit chilled himself. Greta insisted that she wanted to do it herself, which meant that the other three were standing around unless she needed a boost to the top of the rather large snowman.

Greta shook her head and pouted.

"I'll stay out with her," Conrad offered with a smile. Greta beamed.

"Greta, what do you say?" Yuuri reminded her.

"Thank you, Conrad oji-san," she said happily, as he gave her a boost to give the snowman hair made out of yarn.

"Anytime," he replied, as Yuuri and Wolfram made their way back into the castle.

December 19

"May I come in?" Yuuri said quietly, bowing to the person who had come to the door. He was in disguise and accompanied by Conrad, since he was not allowed to leave alone as far as they were concerned.

The woman who had answered the door looked puzzled, but opened the door and ushered them in. "How can I help you gentlemen?" she asked, eyes lowered to the ground, not used to entertaining guests of any stature. "May I get you some tea?"

"No, I'm fine," Yuuri declined politely, and Conrad took Yuuri's lead and waved her off. "I'm only here to give you something."

She looked puzzled. "…Sir?"

Yuuri smiled and pressed a small bag of money into her hand. Despite the size, the coins inside were worth a fair amount. Enough to keep the orphanage running well for a full year. The matron quickly deduced that. "Sir- how can I thank you?"

Yuuri shook his head. "I don't need thanks. My friend Gisela mentioned that you were having trouble, and I wanted to help." He bowed again. "There's good food outside with our horses. Let the kids have a good meal tonight." She teared up slightly and hugged him. Yuuri smiled slightly and hugged her back, glad that Wolfram wasn't there to have a fit.

"Merry Christmas," he said. "I'll be back in a year."

December 20

"This is a tradition from where I was born," Yuuri explained. With some help, he'd had a simple piñata created, and then had invited Greta and several other children who lived in the castle for various reasons to come and try their hand at it.

Greta, of course, thought it was great. Admittedly, she thought anything Yuuri did was great, but this seemed to really catch her attention. "Can we go?" she begged, tugging on his sleeve. Yuuri laughed and handed her the wooden stick they'd picked out for the occasion and then blindfolded her, letting her take several whacks at the fairly sturdy construction before he made her give the stick to the next kid.

After a couple of rounds, Yuuri gave up on the blindfolds. The kids were getting pretty enthusiastic with it, and were threatening to hurt each other on accident.

After about another round, the piñata was finally shattered by a kid of one of the servants, and the kids dived on the candy as it spilled out, and squealing and flailing elbows ensued until Conrad, Yuuri, and Wolfram waded in and separated them, making sure that the piles of candy and small toys each child had was roughly equal.

Yes, Yuuri reflected, he did so love the month of December.

December 21

"I want to teach you to dance," Wolfram said abruptly over breakfast, pinning Yuuri with a gaze that suggested he cooperate.

"Erm, all right," Yuuri agreed, and glanced over to Conrad. "Is it much different from Earth dance? Because, you know, I can dance, a little."

"Well, Earth dance is pretty varied," Conrad replied. "I'll assume you mean popular dance, in which case, no. It's a bit like Irish dance from what I remember."

Yuuri slumped. He'd been hoping to get out of it by showing Wolfram that he knew how to dance just fine. This thought, however, lead to thoughts of Wolfram dirty dancing, which lead to Yuuri trying to hide a blush over the thought.

Wolfram dragged him into a room with hardwood floors and mirrors. He nodded to Gisela, who was holding what looked to Yuuri to be something vaguely like a violin. Gisela started playing something upbeat, but kept her volume down so that Yuuri could hear Wolfram's instructions as he clasped Yuuri's hands.

They had to start out simply, Wolfram explained, though it turned out Wolfram's idea of simple was pretty damn complex. The dance consisted largely of jumps and kicks and Yuuri was tired after about an hour, though he reminded himself that this would be good exercise for baseball.

Yuuri had to admit that Wolfram was a good teacher, though. He wasn't all that patient with Yuuri, but he was quite good at explaining things, which meant that Wolfram didn't have much opportunity to get irritated.

After the second hour, Yuuri was ready to fall over. Wolfram was more used to this, but even he looked rather tired. Wolfram pronounced, "well, you'll do for now," and dragged him off for a nap.

December 22 – Midwinter in Shinmakoku

"You've been showing us so many of your traditions, but now we want to share with you one of ours," Conrad said. "Today is midwinter, and I hope you don't mind that we've made up a few celebrations."

Yuuri shook his head. "I'd love to learn about the traditions here," he said beaming.

"I hoped you'd say that," Conrad said. "The events will start at sundown- I suggest you take a nap before then. You're going to need it. This is a bit like your New Years and it will involve staying up all night."

Yuuri blinked at him. "But I'm not tired."

"At least lie down and rest for a little while," Conrad said, pushing him towards his room. "Everyone else will likely be doing the same."

Sure enough, Wolfram was already in his room, and Yuuri climbed onto the bed next to him. Wolfram smacked his lips slightly in his sleep and gravitated towards the center of warmth, rolling over into Yuuri's arms. Despite his words of not being able to sleep, Yuuri quickly fell into a light doze.

He was awoken a little bit before what his internal clock identified as "dinnertime" by Wolfram poking him in the ribs and telling him to get up and eat, handing him a roll with meat stuffed into it. Yuuri obeyed, and then Wolfram excused himself to get ready in his own room. Conrad appeared with a velvet, rather warm-looking cloak, which he draped over his mock school uniform and fastened with an opal clasp. He followed Conrad down to the foyer were a rather interesting procession was gathering.

Shinmakoku people didn't often wear overly bright colors, but right now Yuuri thought they were trying to blind him. "This is the festival of the sun," Conrad said from his right hand. The man had foregone his usual tan military garb for a forest green outfit, complete with a cloak similar to Yuuri's. He also spotted Gisela wearing a forest green dress of velvet that matched her eyes. Anissina was dressed in her usual fuscia, though she had something that looked both warmer and fancier.

"On the longest night of the year, we stay up all night," Conrad explained, taking his arm and pressing him forward. "And you have to lead the procession to the town square. I'll explain further as we walk." Yuuri obeyed, stepping outside where his breath showed up as mist in the dim lights shining through the castle windows.

They moved slowly and carefully down from the castle, Conrad continuing to explain as they went. "We want to make sure that summer wins its battle over winter, and to do this, we must please the sun so that it comes up again. It is said that the sun loves dance, so this is how we choose to please her." Yuuri nodded, to show that he was listening. "There's a ceremony before the dancing – and don't worry, you don't have to dance all night. It's said that only one couple has to be dancing at one time, though there are prizes to anyone who is able to dance all night without taking a break."

Yuuri nodded again, as they entered the square. It was odd to sense the whole palace procession following him. There were numerous townspeople already gathered there, and what looked like an impromptu dance contest had already begun, with enthusiastic fiddlers and drummers that clearly weren't professional but looked like they were having a lot of fun. The dancers were doing moves that were quite complex and reminded Yuuri of some of the American swing dances he'd seen on TV.

"Bravo," he applauded when they finished, barely looking winded. Ranges of emotions from embarrassed to pleased to smug ran over their faces at having his praise. He tugged Conrad towards him and murmured a suggestion that perhaps the best dancers here deserved a prize of the monetary sort as well, and Conrad nodded, promising to get on it later. "By the way…" he questioned. "Why is everyone wearing such bright colors? It's unusual, though quite nice for a chance."

"I agree fully," Anissina said, giving him what she probably thought to be a friendly pat on the back, though it really amounted to a stinging slap. "People around here are so dreary."

"A-aa," Yuuri said nervously, resisting the urge to rub at his shoulder where she'd hit him.

"Well, on the longest day of the year when you're welcoming back the summer, it makes sense to wear the colors of the flowers and grass and sun rather than those of ice and snow and dark winter skies."

"Hmmm, makes sense," Yuuri agreed. "Now what happens?"

"We wait a few minutes until it's getting close to sunset. Then the ceremony takes place and the dancing begins."

Yuuri nodded, and watched the dancers, who were doing a more stately dance now, that looked more like the waltzes he was familiar with.

"A foreign dance to us, and fairly new. The one Wolfram taught you is native to our country."

Oh, so that's why Wolfram had taught him to dance. It was all clear now.

"Oh, it's starting," Conrad said, and led Yuuri to the center of the square where a firepit was located, with a pile of wood ready to be lit in the center.

Yuuri was quite surprised to see Greta, dressed in a white dress trimmed with gold and white wings. He thought she looked rather like an angel, though the halo behind her head resembled the sun, and he quickly deduced that she was supposed to be the sun.

"A young girl is always chosen to be the sun," Conrad explained. "She escorts the young man chosen to be summer, while the man chosen to be winter has no escort, and is always older than summer." On cue, Greta turned around, and tugged Wolfram out from around a corner, her small hand wrapped around two of his fingers. In her other hand, she carried a blazing, cream-colored candle.

Yuuri's fiancé was gorgeous, in a light cotton tunic and shorts that almost looked like they were made from clouds. It was trimmed in flower patterns around the collar, with bright greens on the sleeves and bottom and was belted with a cranberry sash. An evergreen wreath perched in his hair as a crown. Yuuri wondered how he wasn't freezing, but perhaps he was using his fire magic to keep himself warm. Greta escorted him to the center of the open ring that was marked off on the opposite side of the firepit from where Yuuri was standing. Greta then scampered over to stand right in front of the firepit.

Gwendal followed him out, clearly dressed as the Shinmakoku version of Old Man Winter. There was no white beard, but his hair had been frosted silver and he wore a silver circlet with metal icicles that dipped from the crown around his head except on his face. His clothes were a midnight blue and gray pattern somewhat resembling storm clouds, and the robes were long and trimmed with snowy white cotton balls.

Gwendal marched in and stood across from Wolfram, and then both drew their swords. "The sword dance is ceremonial," Conrad explained softly into his ear. "It's all choreographed, so they're not really fighting." Nevertheless, it looked impressive to Yuuri, who watched with enjoyment.

Finally, after a flurry of clashes of steel on steel, Gwendal was disarmed, and Wolfram pointed his sword at his brother's throat. "And I win again until midsummer," he said. "Winter, begone." He sheathed his sword, and Gwendal stood and proceeded out of the ring.

Greta turned around and held a stick to the candle, and then proceeded to touch the burning stick to the fire that was built in the pit. Something had been added to it, because it caught almost instantly with a cheerful crackle. At that moment, the sun sunk over the horizon, and Yuuri marveled at the timing.

Wolfram walked around the fire and held his hand out to Yuuri, murmuring, "The ruler and the sun king always take the first dance. That's why I taught you to dance. And I wanted to be the sun king this year so you wouldn't dance with another, though I did it two years ago as well."

Of course, Yuuri thought, with his usual bemusement at Wolfram's jealous streak. "All right," he said a bit nervously.

"We jump over the bonfire to start," Wolfram said, a bit mischievously. "Don't catch on fire now. This ensures fertility for people as well as the earth in the coming year."

Yuuri flushed and mumbled, "I'm not sure you need the help." Wolfram just smiled, tugging Yuuri over as they jumped together over the fire (which had clearly been built well down in the ground for just this reason.

Music started up, clearly more professional this time, and Wolfram began the steps, followed half a beat later by the slightly nervous and stumbling Yuuri. He caught up quickly, though, and found that he was comfortable with the steps, thanks to Wolfram. He was pretty sure people like those who were dancing earlier wouldn't be all that impressed, but he was pretty impressed with himself.

The music changed into a different tune rather quickly, and the rest of the dancers began to dance.

"Those are the ones that are going to dance all night," Wolfram said, nudging Yuuri and pointing to a group that was split off from the others, presumably so the people keeping track would know who gave up and who didn't.

"There's food over there," Wolfram said, and pointed to where several tables of food and drink had appeared while he had been occupied in the ceremony and the dance, presumably brought by servants. Wolfram urged him over, and they grabbed some small snacks, devouring them quickly before Wolfram dragged Yuuri back to the dance for another half hour or so. At that point, Yuuri sought out Greta, telling her how good a job she'd done. She beamed at the praise and hugged Yuuri's leg.

Yuuri fluffed her hair and then sent her off to resume her dance with another little girl from the palace. They were really adorable, he reflected, and then paused, wondering if he was imagining her growing up and getting a girlfriend, and then wondering if it mattered. Well, as long as the girl would treat her right…

The hours dissolved together as Yuuri grew more and more tired. Wolfram kept pinching him not entirely gently to keep him awake and then shoving sugary things in his mouth to help prevent him from falling asleep.

By the end of the night, Yuuri was exhausted, was pretty sure he had at least four blisters on each foot, and was feeling slightly sick from all the goodies. But he couldn't help but feel joyous when the sun came up and the crowd of dancers let out an excited cheer.

December 23

Finally, it was Christmas Eve. Yuuri had pushed until he'd gotten agreement from Gwendal to have the palace produce a dinner for the holiday. Gwendal had sweatdropped when he'd heard what Yuuri wanted prepared ("turkey and ham, and leg of lamb would be nice, and mashed potatoes, oh, we've got to have cranberries and stuffing and candied yams, with pumpkin pie for dessert," and on for five minutes, scarcely pausing for breath) but he smiled and nodded, and decided to leave it up to the staff.

And said staff had apparently sensed their king's excitement – not that you could really miss it- and had really outdone themselves.

Even earth Christmas Eve dinner couldn't compare to a royal feast. It started at noon, and somehow, some way, they all managed to eat straight until four in the afternoon, at which point everyone felt rather ill. Wolfram dragged Yuuri outside for some fresh air and exercise, while everyone else scattered for similar pursuits.

Their walk over, Yuuri led Wolfram back to their room. It was time to give Wolfram his Christmas present.

December 24th

"Wolfram, I - uh - have a gift for you." Yuuri's voice was nervous as he stepped into his room after the feast, where a half-asleep Wolfram awaited him in what had become "their" bed.

"For - what did you call it?" Wolfram questioned. "Crispmas?" He'd started calling it that when Yuuri had first told him about the holiday on accident, but he'd grown fond of annoying his fiancé by purposely getting it wrong.

"Christmas," Yuuri corrected absently, his mind clearly elsewhere. Wolfram pouted at not getting a rise out of him.

"And you give people gifts on this holiday?" Wolfram frowned. "Is it improper that you have something for me and I don't have anything for you?"

Yuuri smiled gently. "Some people would be upset, but the spirit of the season is to give things to your family and friends, the people you care about. It's all right that you didn't get anything for me. It's an earth tradition anyway."

"Ah," Wolfram said. "So what did you want to give me?" he asked, rubbing his eyes and moving over to where Yuuri was standing in the doorway.

"Oh- well-" Yuuri took Wolfram's fist in his hand, uncurling it and pressing a small wrapped box into it. "Unwrap it," he urged, licking his lips. Wolfram was momenterily distracted, until Yuuri brought him back to earth by whining "Wooooolfram..."

Wolfram wasn't really sure what he was supposed to do with the wrappings, but after a moment, he pulled the wrapping paper off of the present, though he didn't rip it off. He rather meticulously pulled the tape loose, clearly finding the idea of ripping it off a bit savage.

The little box, when unwrapped, snapped open to reveal a slim ring, studded with emeralds. Wolfram glanced up to question Yuuri, to find his fiance kneeling before him. "Yuuri, what on earth are you doing?" he snapped.

"Well," Yuuri said softly, not quite meeting Wolfram's eyes. "This is how we propose on earth." His hands were twitching, looking as though they wanted something to do. "And it's a lot nicer than what you do here, I think. And this time you know that I'm certain of what I'm doing, so it's not a mistake, and please don't feel you have to say yes just because of your station-"

Wolfram cut off his babbling by grapping Yuuri by the wrists and tugging him to his feet. "Yuuri, shut up. Of course I accept."

"Y-you do?"

Wolfram's eyes softened in a way that was almost exclusively reserved for Yuuri. "Of course." He cupped Yuuri's cheek with one hand and kissed him gently.

"H-here," Yuuri fumbled for the box and pulled out the ring, sliding it carefully onto Wolfram's finger. "You're all the Christmas present I need."

December 25

They'd decided to have the wedding on the following Christmas, since the holiday now held special connotations for both of them. After a good deal of arguing over whether the wedding would be in Earth or Shinmakoku style, they finally agreed that the wedding would be like those on Earth and the reception would be Shinmakoku type.

The next argument was over who got Conrad as the best man. Wolfram won this time. As he'd effectively lost the argument over the wedding, he argued that he got first choice of best man. Yuuri gave in, though it helped that Wolfram bribed him well. Yuuri picked Yozak for his best man instead, while Murata was packed off to Earth to study up on weddings so he could officiate.

The day came with Yuuri and Wolfram pacing in separate rooms, neither aware of how nervous the other was feeling. Conrad soothed Wolfram by pointing out that Yuuri was honest and sincere, and that he wouldn't have proposed if he hadn't meant it and that he'd never do anything halfway. His full heart would be in the marriage, and that would make everything okay.

Yozak had a bit of a tougher time with Yuuri. The young man was pacing up and down the room, terrified Wolfram would back out, and didn't seem to want to listen to anything the carrot-top said. Finally Yozak got frustrated. "Heika- all you can do is go out there and wait for him. He'll come. He knows you'll be waiting."

Yuuri nodded, gulping, and Yozak rubbed his shoulders gently. "Relax. It'll all be okay."

Yuuri gulped air in again. "But what if I'm not ready? What if I screw things up somehow? I'm only seventeen-"

Yozak continued to rub his shoulders, working the tension out, though it seemed to spring back in. "Ask yourself this – if this wasn't happening right now, and if you'd never proposed to him – in ten years, in twenty, do you think you will have left his side, or he yours?"

Yuuri shook his head slowly. "I'd never leave. I have no reason to. And if I wanted to get rid of him, I think it would have to be with a crowbar."

"Then all you're doing is putting a name to it," Yozak said, and then turned his head to the door. "There's the music cue," he said, and tugged Yuuri upwards, so they could peek through the crack in the door at the procession.

Murata was already standing in front of the castle's ceremonial hall, and Yuuri could see Greta making her way up the aisle, scattering pretty flowers in her wake solemnly, taking her assigned role very seriously. Yuuri wasn't thrilled at the number of people in the hall, but he'd been informed by Gwendal that every last one of them must be invited so that no one felt slighted.

His musical cue came and he was frozen in place. Yozak linked his arm through Yuuri's and pulled him out a few beats late, dragging him the first few steps until he came to himself and was escorted up the aisle, before Yozak stepped off to the side.

The music changed and Wolfram stepped out of an adjacent room. Yuuri had been somewhat surprised when he'd insisted on wearing a wedding dress, but he supposed it was one of those idiosyncrasies of Shinmakoku. And also, the nightgown might have tipped him off. Wolfram's dress was a combination of the popular Earth styles and those of Shinmakoku, specially tailored for Wolfram. And, Yuuri admitted to himself, now that he saw the dress that had been kept secret from him until now, and more importantly saw Wolfram in the dress, he thought it was beautiful. But Wolfram would probably look radiant in a potato sack.

Yuuri was also biased.

Conrad escorted Wolfram to the front and stepped behind Wolfram in the mirror image of where Yozak was standing, and the two older men exchanged rather frazzled looks over their charges' heads. This went unnoticed by Wolfram and Yuuri, who were too busy staring at each other.

"…We need to get tuxedos here, really," Wolfram murmured lowly to Yuuri, trying to hide his nervousness. Yuuri sensed it and smiled gently, reaching out for Wolfram's hand, holding it loosely. It was a promise to himself and to Wolfram. They were here. They could see this through.

The vows were pretty standard, and Wolfram and Yuuri managed to get through them, though neither of them seemed to be paying much attention. Murata looked highly amused at the whole affair. "The rings, please?" he addressed Conrad and Yozak.

Wolfram accepted his ring from Conrad and fumbled it onto Yuuri's finger with slight difficulty. "With this ring, I thee wed," he murmured around dry lips.

Yuuri took his ring and slid it onto Wolfram's finger, looking more confident now. "With this ring, I thee wed." After a few speeches, his speaking voice was crisp and clear, and even those at the back of the large room had no problem hearing, though his words were truly only for Wolfram.

Murata couldn't help "awwwing" mentally. "You may now kiss each other," he said, his voice intentionally carrying to the whole audience.

Five minutes later, Conrad prodded tentatively at Wolfram's back. "C'mon, guys. You have to go to the reception now."

"Do we have to?" Yuuri muttered into Wolfram's neck.

"Yes," Conrad affirmed. "If you don't, some noble is sure to be offended that you didn't open his or her gift at the reception, and the next thing you know we'll have civil war on our hands. Though they'll all end up squabbling anyway after they realize that at least four of them gave you the exact same spit for roasting food over the fire."

Yuuri sighed, breaking away. Sadly, he knew that Conrad wasn't even exaggerating that much.

Wolfram and Yuuri headed off to change for the reception, coming back in outfits far more appropriate for the later activities, which included (much to Yuuri's bemusement) a pie fight and a mud-wrestling contest ("with the married couple to compete first").

It had somehow never occurred to Yuuri how many gifts there would be. Everyone who attended was expected to bring a gift, and many other well-wishers from around the kingdom, both rich and poor, had contributed. Yuuri had watched them trickle in slowly since their wedding date had been announced, but they made a far more impressive site piled high on a long table.

"Just think, we both get to sign a thank you note for every last one of those gifts," Wolfram muttered in his ear. "At least we'll have help writing them."

"Don't remind me," Yuuri muttered back, holding Wolfram's hand in his, before they tackled the pile of presents. No sooner was the paper ripped off of one and they oohed and ahhed politely over it then someone recorded what it was and who it was from and it was shuttled off somewhere.

After a number of rather ridiculous traditions that put the traditional proposal to shame in Yuuri's opinion, Wolfram and Yuuri were finally able to escape into the private wing of the castle.

Several hours later, they got around to opening their private presents, gifts from those who were close to them.

"My mom sent us condoms," Yuuri said, his eyebrow twitching heavily. "Apparently she's 'concerned' or something."

"What are they?" Wolfram questioned, poking at the box.

"You use them for safe sex," Yuuri explained. "And to make sure you don't get a girl pregnant."

"Sex is dangerous in your world?" Wolfram questioned, sounding confused.

Yuuri nodded. "Well, there are some really bad diseases that are spread mostly or entirely through sex…" he glanced at the box. "These are lubricated…hmm, might actually be worth trying. As long as no one ever tells my mother."

"Agreed," Wolfram said, trying not to think about his mother giving him something like that.

It turned out he had something nearly as embarrassing – Gwendal had, much to both Yuuri and Wolfram's amusement mixed with horror, given them a copy of "The Sword and the Saya" which turned out to be the local version of the Kama Sutra.

"I don't bend like that," Yuuri said, staring at one of the pictures while Wolfram set aside a nice sword belt from Conrad to lean over his shoulder and look. "Do you bend like that?"

Woflram considered. "I don't know. Do you want to find out?"

Yuuri pretended to think about it, and then nodded.

The presents were forgotten for several more hours.