1. Marriage Proposal
"Papa? Are you going into town? Will you bring me a present?"
Wolfram turned, startled by the young girl's voice behind him. When his eyes settled on Greta's smiling face he chuckled and bent down to give her a quick hug. He noted with some interest that she wasn't quite as small as she used to be. She was going to be thirteen soon, and somehow she had sprouted up nearly two inches since her last birthday. Humans age so quickly, he thought with wonder. Especially a human daughter. For just a moment, he allowed himself a wistful smile.
"Ah, sure I'll bring you something, Greta. You know how I dote on you," he chuckled, ruffling her brown curls. "What would you like? A new book? A dress?"
Greta turned her head and furrowed her brow thoughtfully. "Well... I don't really need anything, but... how about a barrette for my hair?" She looked up and gave him a bright smile. "Since it's getting longer!"
Wolfram nodded enthusiastically. "That's a good idea! Actually, I was going to stop at the jewelry shop anyway, so it's also convenient."
"Really?" Her eyes twinkled. "Are you getting something for your hair too, Papa?"
"For my - hey!" Wolfram twisted his face into a mock scowl and scooped Greta up into his arms, tickling her mercilessly. She squealed and dissolved into laughter, kicking and flailing with her still-a-bit-too-short legs. "Oof," he moaned, struggling to hold her off the floor. "What have you been eating, child? Granite?"
"Hardly!" Greta snorted, finally freeing herself from his long arms and landing on her feet. She crossed her arms and stuck her nose in the air haughtily. "It's like you always say, I'm a lady. If I was gonna eat rocks, it would be marble."
At that, Wolfram pushed up one of his sleeves and gave her a menacing look, sending her running from the room in a fit of giggles. He watched her go and sighed, chuckling to himself. Only thirteen and already talking back, he thought with amusement. I guess some of me is rubbing off on her after all. For a while I thought she'd turn out to be a wimp like Yuuri.
He shook his head at that, lost in thought as he finished preparing for the day trip. He shrugged into a pale blue jacket and secured his scabbard at his side. His clothes were casual - no need to attract undue attention to himself. He also doubted very much that his sword would be necessary, but that was just habit. He felt naked without its familiar weight on his hip.
The weather was cool and crisp when the noble strode out to the front gate. It was only early autumn, so the sun still felt hot on his skin even though a cool breeze ruffled his hair. He stretched his arms out and took a deep breath, briefly mourning the passage of summer before welcoming the milder season. He then placed two fingers between his teeth and whistled for his white horse. It came instantly and Wolfram patted its neck affectionately before mounting it in one swift, well-practiced motion.
He waved at the gate guards on his way out, smiling to himself at their confused reaction to his unusual sociability. He was in a better mood than usual, he had to admit. But it was because he had a good feeling about that day. Even though by all rights he should have been quaking with nervous anxiety, he felt calm and assured in a way that surprised even himself.
Have I changed that much? he wondered, looking up at the bright, cloudless sky as he rode. Or am I just getting older? Greta has grown so much...
Now, that thought was just ridiculous. He had hundreds of years to go before he had to start worrying about old age. "And they say having children makes you feel young," he said incredulously, to no one in particular. Only a passing traveler heard him, and she just nodded knowingly, chuckling softly to herself.
He rode at a leisurely pace, so it took him about a hour to actually get to the town proper. Everyone there recognized him, even in casual dress, but thankfully most people knew not to bother him too much. Being known as a skilled swordsman and majutsu user had its advantages when one was a headstrong noble who liked to travel alone. Well, alone or with a rather wimpy trouble-magnet, either way.
The jewelry shop was a somewhat seedy affair located in the artisan's district. Wolfram had been there before, so when he pushed aside the beaded curtain that hung over the entryway, he was greeted immediately by the shopkeeper.
"Your Excellence!" the man purred, knowing the scent of money and smelling it all over this customer. "I'm so glad you have returned to my humble -"
"Save it," Wolfram said in a bored tone. "Were you able to find what I asked for?"
"Ah, the stone? But of course, milord. If it has a price, I can find it," he boasted, bending down to retrieve a small brown box from a locked case. He straightened and set the box on the counter in front of Wolfram. "Of course, this one came at quite a price. Open it," he urged.
Wolfram caught his breath in anticipation as his long fingers caressed the smooth lacquered surface of the box. He found the catch and pressed it lightly, causing the lid to pop open and reveal a plush purple velvet lining. On the lining was a simple loop of white gold topped by a flawless crystal gem. Inside the gem, tiny flecks of gold and silver glittered until the stone seemed to glow with a light of its own.
"A sunstone," he breathed. "It's perfect..."
"It wasn't easy to find," the shopkeeper murmured conspiratorially. "Glows night or day, no matter what. I had to call in a lot of favors, so..." He trailed off and eyed the fair-haired noble.
"You'll be well paid," Wolfram assured him, snapping the box closed. "Of course, even I don't dare to carry that much money on me." He produced a small token with his family crest and name etched on it. "Send for it at the castle. Use that token to redeem your price."
The shopkeeper accepted the token with open, greedy hands. "Why thank you, Your Excellence. That will do nicely," he fawned, before putting it carefully into his purse. "Can I help you with anything else today?"
Wolfram snapped his fingers. "Ah! I almost forgot! Do you have anything like a barrette for girls?"
"Oh, I have several pieces that I think would suit milord quite nicely..."
Even passers-by on the street outside could hear Wolfram shriek, "It's not for me, you imbecile! ...Geez, maybe I should cut my hair or something..."
It wasn't until later, when Wolfram was riding back to the castle with his new treasures, that he began to feel nervous.
This is a ridiculous idea, he scorned himself, his knuckles whitening from his grip on the reins. He won't accept it. And then Greta will hear about it and she'll be disappointed too... and the others... He sighed and tried to force the thought from his mind. He knew that a defeatist attitude would get him nowhere. That was what had driven him to go to the village and spend an inordinate amount of money on a piece of jewelry. Wolfram von Bielefeld, who was always so rash and quick to action, had waited patiently for quite some time. Maybe now it was time to stick with what he knew.
He looked down, the small box weighing heavily against his leg, and wondered if it wasn't too soon. Naturally, certain things should not be rushed, but it is really rushing things if you're certain? And he was certain... wasn't he?
He didn't have to think about that for more than a moment. He'd known for a long time. Almost as long as he'd known Yuuri. Accidental or not, their engagement was the best thing that ever happened to him. He squared his jaw and tried to wash the pensive expression from his face. The wimp is wearing off on you, he chided silently. Come on Wolfram, be strong for this.
Show him what you're made of.
Yuuri had returned from Earth rather unceremoniously that morning, so he was in the bath rinsing seaweed out of his hair when Wolfram rode through the castle gates. "Has King Yuuri arrived yet?" he inquired of one of the guards, who confirmed that he had, but was not to be disturbed in his bath.
Wolfram smirked. "And who gave you that order?"
The soldier blinked as though it were a ridiculous question. "Why, Sir Günter of course."
"Oh, of course." He sighed and handed the reins to the stable boy, who blushed furiously when his hand brushed against the young noble's. Wolfram noticed it with mild surprise. Is he that age already?
Well, if Yuuri wasn't to be disturbed (and he would let Günter get away with it this time), then that gave him some time to change and clean up. He made his way into the castle, stopping to deliver Greta's barrette to her. The child was in her room, poring over some homework thatGünter had put aside for her. She was progressing well in her studies, and Günter was admittedly a good teacher. Wolfram marveled that she never once complained about his lessons.
"Surprise," Wolfram said lightly, sneaking up behind her and covering her eyes with both hands. "Guess who?"
"Daddy!" she squealed in delight.
"Ah... which Daddy do you mean?" he asked with an embarrassed grin. "Me or Yuu- aah, curses."
Greta cackled mischievously. "Welcome home, Papa," she said, turning to plant a wet kiss on his cheek. "How was town? Did you bring me a present?"
"You're so mercenary," he chuckled, holding out the small package to her. "Here you go."
The little girl dropped out of her chair and carried the box over to the mirror, quickly stripping off the wrappings. "Ah," she breathed, holding a small silver butterfly in both hands. "It's beautiful..."
Wolfram beamed. "I'm glad you like it. Here," he knelt beside her and took a brush off the table. "Let's see if we can put some order in these locks." He brushed the tangles out of her hair and set it into a loose braid before clipping it back with the butterfly. "There," he said. "It suits you."
Greta admired herself in the mirror. "You're pretty good with hair," she said.
"Ah, well..." Wolfram smiled awkwardly. "My mother used to make me do her hair all the time, so..."
"Lady Cecilie? Oh, her hair is so beautiful! I hope mine is that pretty someday."
"Well, I'm sure it will be," Wolfram said warmly, kissing her on the forehead. "You're a beautiful girl. And smart too. So smart that you're going to go finish your homework now, before GŸnter finds out I was distracting you."
The young girl beamed. "Thank you, Papa." She settled into her chair again, picking up the book she was reading. Wolfram was almost out of the door when she turned around again. "I heard my other daddy was back," she said conspiratorially.
Wolfram turned. "He is. He's in the bath right now, but I'm sure he'll come see you as soon as he's dressed," he said.
She smiled and shook her head from side to side. "I'll come see him later. It's an important day, right? If he wants to see me, tell him I am..." her face screwed up as she tried to remember the proper words. "...otherwise occupied. Is that right?"
Wolfram looked back at her with an expression of surprise. "Greta," he said carefully. "What do you know...?"
"Well, actually, I was just reading this book on Earth customs that Conrad brought me..."
His eyes widened as she held up the familiar cover. At his brother's suggestion, Wolfram had read the same book himself not a week he cursed silently. You two-timing...
"You bought jewelry for Yuuri, didn't you?" Greta's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Of course I figured it out! And I thought you said I was smart," she humphed, setting her face in a mock pout.
Wolfram's mouth opened and closed wordlessly for a moment before he crossed his arms and shook his head slowly. "You are," he said in a slightly annoyed tone. "Too smart for your own good sometimes, young lady."
She giggled. "It's okay. I just wanted to say good luck."
The young noble blinked, then a loving smile softened his face. "Thanks, Greta. I appreciate it."
They nodded to each other in silent understanding, and he turned and stepped out into the hall. For a moment he rested with his back to her door, and he knew that Yuuri was probably finishing up his bath by now. He closed his eyes, listening to the sound of his heartbeat slow and steady in his chest. After a few deep breaths, he stood and squared his shoulders. For better or worse, he was ready.
When he arrived back in their quarters, Wolfram found that there was yet no trace of Yuuri. He changed swiftly, shedding his dusty riding clothes for something with a bit more class. He mused over his wardrobe before finally settling on a gilded purple tunic and a pair of white linen pants. He was sitting on the bed and lacing up his boots when the door opened. He raised his eyes to see his fiancé's familiar face.
"Welcome home," he said warmly.
Yuuri smiled. "Hey, Wolfram." The noble stood and they embraced briefly. "Let me just put some real clothes on," he called over his shoulder, already shedding his robe as he approached the wardrobe. Wolfram glued his eyes to the floor and listened to Yuuri rummage through his clothes. "Geez," the young king sighed. "I never thought I'd be wearing this uniform for the rest of my life... maybe I can at least get it altered or something." There was a pause. "Uh, Wolf, you can look up now."
Wolfram blushed and his eyes glanced up to meet Yuuri's. "Ah, I was just..."
"No, it's okay." The boy waved one hand jovially. "I don't care. I don't have anything to hide." He eyed Wolfram suspiciously. "You sure look nice today, though. What's the occasion?"
Wolfram dropped one hand to his side, where he fingered the box nervously through the fabric of his tunic. "Actually, Yuuri... would you do me a favor?" he asked. His voice sounded strangely hollow and thin in his ears. There was that nervousness again. "Can you close the curtains?"
"Close the curtains? Well, alright..." Yuuri tilted his head curiously, but complied, tugging on a fringed tassel to bring two heavy curtains down over the window. Darkness fell over the room, which was now only illuminated by a single line of sunlight that forced its way in between the curtains. Wolfram made his way over to Yuuri and took him by the hand.
"Hey, what -" the king objected mutely, but he was stilled the intense look on Wolfram's face and did not resist. He allowed himself to be guided to stand by the window, where Wolfram stopped and turned to face him.
"Yuuri," he murmured, his eyes never leaving the other boy's face. "There's something I want to ask you."
Yuuri just looked back at him. "What is it?"
Wolfram looked down briefly, his eyes narrowing. "Do you love me?"
He thought he could hear his heart thudding in the dark emptiness between them as he waited for a reply. "Do I..." Yuuri finally said, his voice soft. "That's a complicated question, Wolfram."
"So give me a complicated answer," the fairer boy pleaded. "Please."
"Wolfram..." he started, then stopped himself and furrowed his brow in thought. "You're... loyal and brave... you're also stubborn and jealous. You follow me everywhere, but I don't want to be separated from you. You've saved my life many times, and I... well, if you needed it I'd look out for you too..." He sighed, he shoulders rising and falling in the dim light. "Do I love you? Yes. I suppose I do. But I love the others too, Wolfram. I love Greta and Conrad andGünter and Anissina and Yozak and even Gwendel. I love Murata and my family... and I can't just..."
"Ssh," Wolfram said, stepping forward to close the space between them. "I'm not asking you to give that up, Yuuri." The darker boy's head snapped up, his ebony eyes narrowing.
"But you..." he started to say.
Wolfram just shook his head and placed his hands on Yuuri's shoulders. "No one understands love better than you do, Yuuri. Do you really think I could live with you for three years and not learn a few things about it myself?"
A light flush touched Yuuri's cheeks. "Was that a compliment?" he asked, a small smile touching his lips.
Wolfram smiled warmly. "I think so. You know that I love you, right?"
Yuuri just swallowed and nodded.
"And that I'm dedicated to you, forever?"
"And you're dedicated to me too, right?"
"Wolfram, what are you..."
"Yuuri," Wolfram said, dropping to one knee. Yuuri just stared down at him, his mouth hanging agape. He produced the small box from his pocket and held it up, releasing the latch with one gentle touch.
When the box snapped open, the dark room flooded with light. The sunstone shone radiantly, and Wolfram heard Yuuri murmur in awe. "Wolfram," he finally said, reaching out with one hand but afraid to touch the stone. "What... is this?"
"It's a sunstone. It will always glow, no matter where you are. Something Murata said once... that you are the sun that lights up everyone's lives... it stuck with me." Wolfram reached in and picked up the ring, sending beams of light skittering around the room. "If you wear this, I can always find you, even on the darkest of nights." Yuuri just gazed down, thousands of tiny stars glittering in his eyes. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want you to be a part of my family, forever. Yuuri," he paused, looking up with an expression of unbridled love and devotion. "Will you marry me?"
It was a long time before Yuuri could say anything at all. "Wolfram," he finally said, his voice thick and husky, as though he were speaking around tears. "Aren't we already engaged?"
Wolfram smiled. "This is different," he said softly. "I'm asking you to marry me. Not just get engaged, not just live in the same room together. I want... well, you, Yuuri... if you're ready..."
The young king's eyes filled with tears as he reached down to brush the surface of the gemstone. "It's... perfect..."
"I know," Wolfram said softly. He stood then, taking Yuuri by the hand and slipping the ring over his finger. When it was on, their fingers entwined and they just gazed back at each other, knowing now that nothing would ever be the same again.
In the very best of ways.