"Do You Hate Me?"

"Why does brother hate father so much?" Celi sighed softly, leaving her quill to turn towards Conrad. Since Dan Hiri had left, their son was so much more quiet, obviously missing the father that he all but worshipped.

Celi knew that no matter what happened between them, Dan Hiri wasn't going to abandon his son and that Conrad was going to have him in his life… but meanwhile, the small boy missed his father terribly.

"Well, I think a part of it might be because Gwen misses his own father, Conrad." She explained softly, caressing her son's hair with a small smile. "And Gwen is still young: he doesn't like changes very much."

Conrad's brown eyes were still troubled as he frowned, deep in thought. Celi would have loved nothing more than taking off the day and spend it with her two boys, but a knock on the door reminded her that, sadly, there were other business in Shin Makoku that required her immediate attention. Keeping a sigh inside, she winked to Conrad before turning towards the door, her son still by her side.

"Come in!" she cheerfully said.

"Your Majesty…" Raven bowed his head carefully to her, keeping a hand to his chest. "Lord von Kleist has come as you requested and is waiting outside."

"That's wonderful news, Raven!" the queen clapped her hands once. "Please, do make him come inside!" Raven bowed again, closing the door behind him. Celi turned towards her now very bewildered son.

"Mother?"

"This is the man that hopefully will be your teacher, Conrad!"

Before her son could say another thing, the door was opening again, Raven bowing as a tall man with lavender hair walked in, a small, young girl of probably no more than just forty years clinging to his cream cape, shyly looking around her with equally jewel colored eyes.

Raven, head still bowing in respect, said in a calm, educated voice. "Lord Günther von Kleist and his daughter, Gisela von Kleist."

And Celi proceeded to ignore protocol as she bounced out of her sit and hugged the girl tightly before any of the two men there – plus her son – had even blinked.

"Günther! You didn't tell me you had a daughter! And she's soooo adorable!" The blonde queen squealed happily, while Gisela's eyes opened wide, obviously not knowing how to react to the woman who was supposed to be the ruler of all Shin Makoku proceeded to happily chatter about how pretty and lovely she was, somehow managing to pinch her cheeks, caress her hair and rub their cheeks together without letting go, all at the same time.

"Celi-sama! Please! Restrain yourself!" and both Günther and Raven tried to detach the queen from the young girl, their voices merging.

-…-…-…-

Being his father's son, Conrad couldn't stop himself when he heard the sounds of sword practice, peering over the corner at Gwendal's and his brother's cousin, Huber, practice with yearning clear on his face. His father had been gone for two weeks now and in that time there hadn't been anyone to practice with.

"Psst, Conrad." The boy blinked away from the practice to the side, finally noticing lady Anissina von Krenikov who seemed to be working on some kind of box with lots of wires inside, waving to him to get closer. Now, lady Anissina spend a lot of time at the castle, her mother being friend with Celi, so Conrad knew enough that whenever the redhead had that kind of smiles, the safest place to be was completely the opposite of where Anissina was.

His hesitation, however, was met by a sparkle of blue eyes and the cocking of an eyebrow.

"Conrad. Now. Please."

Wondering how a smile could show so many teeth and just how a smile could apparently hold so many sharp incisive, he moved towards the table, sitting opposite Anissina.

"Yes, lady Anissina?"

"Just Anissina, Conrad. I spend enough time here for you to continue calling me that!" the young prince blinked and the nodded, smiling more at ease. "You wanted something?"

"Um… big brother…"

"Of course, give me a second." At that, leaving her tools and the box at the side, Anissina turned towards the still sparring pair, cupping her hands around her mouth and shouting – very unlady like, of course.

"Gwendal! Huber! Give it a rest, would you?"

A last very loud, very audible 'CLANG', while Conrad watched Gwendal's sword fly out of his hand and Huber sheath his sword back, the both of them walking towards the table. Conrad tried not to flinch at the look his brother's cousin gave him for a moment before turning towards Anissina, raising an eyebrow.

"And what in Shinou's name is that?" he asked. Anissina pretty much sparkled.

"It's the Bringing-Out-Your-Stamina-kun Version 2.0! It'll help people with null or low maryoku develop more of it!"

And that was when Conrad understood why Anissina had requested him and he paled.

"Anissina." Gwendal, who was weeping his face with a voice, pretty much said with just the inventor's name what would happen if she'd as much as got that thing near Conrad.

"Spoilsport." The redheaded muttered, but at the next second she had brightened considerably. "Well, theeeeeeeeen…"

"No."

"Hmph." She looked at Huber, who only raised an eyebrow at her, arms crossed. Brischella was finally off age to get into the army, a fact that apparently made him very proud, but the soon to be soldier didn't manage to impress Anissina, who also rose one of her eyebrows to him. "I'm sure I can beat you, you know. You don't have a good enough grip when you swing towards the left."

"Please. As if any woman could win against a man."

Both Conrad and Gwendal took a step back at that statement.

Anissina hmphed, blue eyes flaming. "One day, Geigen Huber Brischella, I'm going to see you so in love with a woman that you'll do anything to keep her safe." Brischella rolled his eyes and, with a grin that made Conrad and Gwendal take another step back, turning her head just so to smirk, the redhead added. "AND you'll love your children so much that you'll even change their diapers AND when that happens I'm going to laugh so hard."

Huber, at this, huffed, somehow managing as much incredulity as he could in such a small sound (Conrad wondered if that was some kind of ability from the von Voltaire family), just walking away.

"Presumptuous git" Anissina huffed again, before turning to look at Conrad, who began to wonder again if he should start running but the redheaded just smiled at him before standing, collecting her invention. "Conrad wanted a word with you."

Gwendal didn't say a thing until Anissina's ponytail disappeared after a corner, then turning towards him.

"Yes?"

Conrad realized that he didn't know what to say. Yes, he had meant to talk with his brother, but probably not then – he still didn't know how or what to say. As he realized this, he thought that he should just tell Gwendal about lord Günther's arrival and leave that other conversation for another day, so he opened his mouth…

"Brother, do you hate me?"

And said exactly what he hadn't wanted to say. He flinched at this, vowing to have more control of his emotions and mouth in the future, venturing to open one eye to look at Gwendal, who looked – surprisingly – perplexed by his question.

"Why do you ask that, Conrad?"

Gwendal's voice was low and barely kept from a murmur but not angry, so Conrad sat straight again, trying to refrain from kicking his legs over the chair, looking at the table surface.

"You hate my father…"

Gwendal couldn't help but let a small smile over his lips which Conrad missed. Sighing softly, he patted the boy's head, making Conrad look up, blinking. His brother just tilted his head slightly towards the courtyard.

"Do you want to practice for a little while before dinner?"

Conrad beamed. "Yes! But… brother?"

"I don't hate you." Gwendal simply said. "Now, go for your sword."

-…-…-…-

Conrad's quill slowed it's scratching over the parchment when he heard the soft squeaking of the doorknob which, he guessed, was trying to be careful and hopefully unheard. He smiled, letting his studies aside, wondering how much he should wait before saying anything.

Another creak and he refrained from chuckling, just shaking his head a little bit in amusement. "You can come in, Wolfram."

The twitching of the doorknob stopped completely for a moment. Then, the door was opened carefully, a head of messy blonde curls poking in, green eyes looking shyly towards him.

"Little big brother?"

He smiled towards Wolfram, pushing his chair back and turning, opening his arms towards the boy, who quite happily let go of his hold on the door to go towards him, dragging the (what Conrad thought was) cat that Gwendal had knitted for him on his last birthday before quite happily climbing over his lap. Conrad hugged him, sighing softly.

"What are you doing, Wolfram?" he asked, but try as he might, he just couldn't get to sound serious as he knew he should. "I put you to bed more than an hour ago!"

A pout and big, green eyes looking sadly at him. Conrad wondered if he would ever be able to get mad with his little brother. "It's cold!"

Conrad knew for a fact that it wasn't. Since he was the one who spent most of the time with Wolfram, even more than his nanny, their rooms were adjacent to each other with just a living-playing room in between them and both rooms were pretty much identical in size and form; besides the fact that, since Wolfram really disliked cold and, unless held, he tended to roll all over the bed, there were at least three blankets besides the quilt that Gwendal had made for the blonde.

"Do you want me to get you another blanket?" a soft whine. He sighed, wondering again if he'd ever stop being tied around Wolfram's pinkie "Wolfram, we've talked about this. You can't keep on sleeping with me."

A louder whimper.

"You need to start sleeping in your own bed."

"But little big brother…!" and he knew that when Wolfram's lower lip started to tremble, he was doomed.

Conrad sighed and conceded defeat. "Just tonight."

Wolfram cheered, throwing his small arms around Conrad's neck, Dubious Cat Toy squished between them while Conrad stood, holding Wolfram while he moved towards the bed, dimming the lights and letting the blonde boy over his bed, taking off his boots and letting Wolfram snuggle close to him.

"Now, go back to sleep, Wolfram." He asked softly, even though he knew that it wasn't needed. Wolfram could fall asleep anywhere if he was tired enough, and he could see, for the way his eyelids kept trembling, that he was. He ran his fingers through Wolfram's hair, knowing that the motion calmed his brother and put him to sleep faster than a goala when it found the perfect tree branch.

"Yes…" his voice was starting to mumble, but then he rubbed one eye open, looking at him. "… little big brother?"

"What is it?"

"Do you hate me?"

Conrad blinked, not understanding from where had that question came. Somehow, it seemed as if Wolfram's sleepiness had disappeared at his question, worried green eyes looking expectantly at him. He blinked again.

Hate him?

"What? Why do you ask that?"

Wolfram looked down then, hugging his stuffed toy.

"… because you hate my father…"

Déjà vu. Yes, Conrad hated Wolfram's father. He had made their mother and Wolfram cry, and he had never paid enough attention to the blonde boy. Not only that, Lord von Bielefelt had left his mother and Wolfram without any explanation… and yes, even before that, it only made him think of his father.

Suddenly understanding so much of Gwendal, Conrad smiled again, running his fingers through Wolfram's hair again with one hand, drawing the small boy's body closer with the other.

"Of course I don't." he all but whispered, smiling when his brother looked up, relief plain on his face. "I could never hate Wolfram. Do you want to know why?"

"Yes!"

"Because Wolfram is my precious little brother." Conrad said softly with a smile, before trying to put his best Gwendal's voice. "And he needs to go to bed. Now."

Wolfram giggled, small hand rubbing his eye again. "Yes, little big brother. Good night!"

And, barely a minute after that, Wolfram was deeply asleep. Conrad sighed a little bit, covering Wolfram again and laying down at his side, letting the warmth of his little brother to lull him to sleep.

Before completely falling asleep, Conrad wondered if Gwendal would have time in the morning for them to spar a little bit.