Set at some point in early season two. No spoilers past ep. 47
And many thanks to Wildelamassu, who needs to be worshiped for being the greatest beta. EVER.
In retrospect, Conrad had to admit that he was very grateful to Anissina for blowing up a good portion of the castle's eastern wing. It provided a momentary distraction from the unforeseen circumstances he had found himself in.
He had run towards the castle, very aware of the sound of another set of footsteps running behind him, but his mind had been stuck on the previous moment. Even as the frantic guards dashed and he gave fast orders to control the fire, there was a desire to go back in time and understand how it had all happened.
Hours later, when the flames had died and Gwendal was looking close to exploding himself, Gunter had approached and informed him in disheartened sighs that his majesty had been sucked back to his world by a bucket.
And now, Conrad had plenty of time to think.
- - - - - - - -
When he was young, life had been perfect, though he hadn't noticed. It was the way life had always been, and he had thought it was that way for everyone. Sometimes he heard whispered comments from some of the adults, or sometimes his older brother screamed angrily at his father, but those were normal inoffensive events. His father just laughed and his mother gave him one of her radiant smiles and everything was perfect again.
Then his father had started a long journey, and Conrad's perfect life had split in two: his mother at the palace and his father on the journey. Neither her smile nor his father's laughter was the same as before.
It was when things had started changing that Conrad had really noticed time.
During the journey he had learned that things weren't perfect and that for a lot of people they had never been in the first place. He no longer heard whispered comments, but saw the same hate directed at others and understood that being the child of a Mazoku and a human was considered wrong. For a while this discovery troubled him, but then Conrad saw his father draw his sword and fight against that hate and understood that they were mistaken.
Hate didn't stand a chance against Dan Hiri Weller's sword.
Conrad wanted to be just like his father: strong, loyal, and brave. He wanted to be just like the man who loved his mother deeply, no matter the distance or the differences between them. He learned to fight with a sword, to ride a horse, and to be loyal to those he loved. All he was missing was someone he could protect.
In the palace the time passed at a different pace, sometimes too fast and sometimes excruciatingly slowly as he waited for a letter from his father calling him to his side. Gwendal made hurtful comments about humans and grunted every time Dan Hiri Weller's name was mentioned, but the comments were never directed at Conrad and they all seemed to hide something underneath—some fire in his eyes that made his mother silent and melancholic for awhile.
His mother remarried, but it all ended quickly and Conrad never got to know the man very well. He didn't care, because suddenly he was an older brother and there was finally a person in his life he could guard. He held his little brother close to him—Wolfram, his mother said his name is Wolfram—and vowed he would always protect him.
It was almost perfect again, spending time with his father on the journey and then spending all of his hours with his little brother at the palace. And then, when he was willingly to admit that this not-perfect life was very good, it all came crumbling down. His little brother rejected him, his father died, and Conrad didn't know what to do. There was no villain to raise his sword against, no one to save but himself. Gwendal held him while he cried and told him his father had been a great man to the end. His older brother never made another hurtful comment again, and even if he still grunted, the fire seemed to have disappeared. All that was left was a strength that made his brother a hardened soldier, a brilliant tactician, and a man who took responsibilities to the very end.
Time passed, but there wasn't anything to measure it by. He joined the army and did his best to prove himself a worthy successor of his father's name, but it did nothing to silence the open mistrust that was directed against him and those alike. He watched as his mother tried to deal with growing responsibilities and finally surrendered most of her power to her older brother. He went on a journey, trying to remember the roads he and his father had traveled before, but now he walked old paths completely alone.
When he returned, things hadn't gotten better. Somehow every problem he had left at the castle had become graver. There was a war upon them and every single man in the army knew it, particularly those like Conrad. The distrust against half-Mazoku was evident and none of the nobles did anything to hide it. It was then that Conrad learned that sometimes it wasn't possible to draw a sword against hate.
And, in the midst of all things, he met Lady Susanna Julia von Wincott.
He couldn't exactly tell when it had begun, or what had been the cause. Maybe it had all begun in that first moment, or maybe it was something that had developed after long conversations and walks. Whenever it had been, Conrad couldn't remember the last time he had felt so happy just being next to someone. She was a noble, but didn't act like most did; she didn't fear getting her hands dirty with the blood of soldiers and was—for all that people revered her beauty—a rather practical woman with no inflated opinion of herself.
He knew they couldn't be more than friends: she was engaged and he was a man with more enemies than friends, only his mother's puppet authority keeping him from being exiled under the suspicion of treason. Nevertheless, the circumstances didn't sadden him: his father had taught him it was possible to love someone from a distance without diminishing the worth of that love. It was enough.
He never said anything, but it didn't help to stop rumors from circulating. Silly things that held no true venom—or at least none compared to some things he had heard before, but enough to make Adalbert von Grantz a silent enemy. It all came to an abrupt stop when a much larger crisis occupied everyone's minds.
Suddenly, he went from being considered untrustworthy to being considered a spy and traitor. Thus, he did the only thing he could—marched straight ahead to the front lines and to an almost certain death. His mother had tried her best to convince him that there were other ways, but he knew well enough that it wouldn't be enough for everyone else.
He remembered, beyond the burnings remains of the battle and Yozak's frantic screams turning more distant, that dying felt very strange. He was very warm. Afterwards, he had wished things had ended at that point. To die in battle was a preferable option to what had come next.
Dead. Yozak had to repeat it a few times before he would even believe it. She was dead. He had asked questions and gotten answers, and yet it hadn't been enough. Even this time there was no villain he could exercise his revenge upon, the only possible candidate already exiled and sentenced to an impossible search in hostile lands.
He wished he had said anything. He should have ignored the duties given by a country that despised him and concentrated on protecting her. He should have been the one turning his back on Shin Makoku. He was more jealous of Adalbert than he had ever been when she was alive.
He would go to the shrine, finish whatever task the maiden had for him, and that would be it.
- - - - - - - -
Conrad had been waiting for fifteen years, and yet Yuuri had still surprised him.
It had been little details at first, like a phrase that sounded more like gratitude than a reprimand for using his title, to the point that it had become a tradition of sorts between them. It had also been the way Yuuri gave his trust freely, only asking for Conrad to believe him in return, as if he didn't already have his loyalty. Conrad could do something as simple as just listening to him, or recognize one of the many references the young king made to his world, and Yuuri would smile as if he had been granted a rare gift. Conrad took every single one of these smiles and guarded them as his most prized possessions.
Yuuri was young, unprepared, and still very naive in the ways this world worked; yet he was the best Maou Shin Makoku had seen in centuries. It was even amusing how he was completely unaware of the significance of his actions, not understanding why a young girl had been so happy that the Maou had thanked her for giving him flowers, or why it meant so much if he treated everyone alike.
Of course, Yuuri's nature was a dangerous one to have for the ruler of a country: enemies saw the king's gentleness as a weakness and had no problem using it for their purposes. For Conrad, though, this was another thing he had lost and Yuuri had given him: purpose. Now, raising his sword had a meaning. Every danger he faced was a risk Yuuri wouldn't have to face. He had felt worthy protecting him.
It had, of course, taken life crashing on him again to realize how wrong he had been. While he may have endured years only because of loyalty or hope, it had been truly Yuuri to make him strong. It had been Yuuri, and not the past Yuuri represented, that had separated Conrad from the man who had lost his will to live twenty years ago. He had been the one protected and if he ever raised his sword, it was because Yuuri gave him the strength to do so.
For his conscience, it had been too late for that particular epiphany. He had betrayed his king and if in the end he had come back, it was not because it was his will, but because even then he wasn't able to deny Yuuri anything.
Come back, Yuuri had pleaded silently.
And he had obeyed.
He had thought things would change, because nothing could ever erase his betrayal and not even the gentlest soul could ignore it. If life had taught him anything, it was that he couldn't go back to the past. But Yuuri had once again surprised him by trusting, not blindly as he had thought, but willingly.
Yuuri chose to trust him and, in a way, that was a thousand times braver than any swordsman could be.
- - - - - - - -
"Whoa! It's nearly finished! This is so great!"
It was infrequent that he could have a moment alone with Yuuri these days, the young king growingly busy as he took more responsibilities. Even when he wasn't occupied by paperwork, Yuuri still had to continue his lessons with Gunter, and other personal concerns, like Greta, filled most of his time. Conrad himself had duties that required his time and care, but he was happy to indulge for occasions such as this.
The baseball park had continued being built while he wasn't there to direct it, even if the progress had been slow and sometimes on the wrong track (there had been a small argument as he had explained to Dorcas why there couldn't be a statue of the Maou in the middle of the field). One of the first things he had done on his return had been to tend to it and correct all the well-meant mistakes that had been made. Looking at Yuuri's face as he took in all the details, Conrad was sure every second spent on it had been worth it.
His king was already enthusiastically making plans as they walked through the stands. "Wolfram and Gunter could play first and second base. Gwendal has strong arms, so he would be perfect for third base and then...well, Murata never plays much, but I'm sure I could convince him to play at least left field this time..."
"I'm sure everyone will play, if it's you who asks them, Your Majesty." He turned for a moment to admire the first stars of the evening and allowed himself to admit a private thought. "Personally, I will miss our games of catch."
Yuuri appeared to be almost scandalized by it. "But we'll keep playing! It would be terrible of me to ignore the battery now, man-who-named-me. Practice makes perfect... You don't think Gunter would mind if I skipped a few lessons to teach people how to play right? It's no fun playing without a visitor's team."
"Well, I don't think the idea is completely…out of the ballpark, Your Majesty."
"Conrad!" Maybe this time it had been obvious that he used the title on purpose, but Yuuri's laugh was infectious and he found himself laughing too.
And then, suddenly, Yuuri had leaned forward. Conrad automatic response had been to put his left hand on Yuuri's cheek, the other one on his shoulder and be extremely gentle, because this was Yuuri and he wouldn't treat him with anything but the utmost care.
He couldn't be sure if it had been seconds or more until he had grasped the fact that they were kissing.
He had immediately pulled away.
Yuuri's face was a mixture of confusion and surprise. Conrad had opened his mouth to apologize—for what exactly, he wasn't even sure—but the sound had not left his throat before the castle had exploded with a deafening boom.
- - - - - - - -
He wanted to feel guilty about it, or at least angry at himself because of his lack of self-control, but it simply wasn't possible. This did not mean that everything was perfectly normal; in fact, it was far from it. He fulfilled his duties, at least, in a passable way, but he knew his face had let something slip: Gwendal, Yozak and—even more strangely—Anissina had all asked at some point if there was something on his mind. In Anissina's case, it hadn't even sounded like a question. The inventor had grinned and quickly run after Gunter to "enlist" his help in a new experiment. No wonder his brother was terrified of that woman.
He hoped he hadn't been grinning like an idiot.
He couldn't feel guilty because it had been Yuuri to initiate it. It had been he who had pressed lips softly against his and erased the line between them, just as he had done with every single unchangeable truth ever since he had become the Maou. Still, Conrad was not free of blame: no matter how gentle he had tried to be he knew he had to hold on to Yuuri as a man did to water after wandering in the desert for days—so much that he wondered how much of the kiss had been intentional and how much had been young curiosity enhanced by his own desire.
When Yuuri had first come in this world, Conrad had sworn he would do anything to protect him. He had failed that promise. When Yuuri had asked him to come back, he had sworn in his hearth that he would do anything to make Yuuri happy. He had never expected to be happy as well.
Truly, it was the intensity of what he felt, and the way it could alter his perception, that worried him. He always knew that he would, if necessary, sacrifice his life for Yuuri's, but loyalty wasn't the issue here. It was the fact that, faced with something he hadn't been aware of wanting so much, he felt at a loss. There was a deep distinction between loving from afar and facing that love and its consequences: consequences that extended beyond him and would surely reach Yuuri. While his king may have forgiven his betrayal, others had surely not, and, even if that wasn't an issue, there was no way he could forget Yuuri had other…official…attachments.
Conrad hoped time would give him an answer.
- - - - - - - -
His first answer came soon enough, literally barging through his door.
"What the hell are you doing, Conrad!"
Wolfram had an explosive temper and a tendency to act impulsively, but he was also startlingly mature under some of his more childish habits. Conrad had long ago mastered the art of avoiding conflict, even when it meant stretching his self-control, but he knew better than to insult his brother's intelligence by dancing around the subject.
"What I will or won't do is, in the end, His Majesty's choice."
"Don't try to blame it on him!
"I'm not blam-"
"You had a choice, you knew I was his fiancé, you knew-"
You knew that I loved him, Wolfram didn't say, but Conrad heard it perfectly clearly. Yet, he couldn't avoid loving Yuuri, just as he couldn't help that his father was a human. It was a part of his nature now, and to deny it would be the one step backwards he wouldn't ever take. Still, long after Wolfram ran out of accusations and the door closed with a slam, he felt a familiar twinge of pain. Just as before, he wished he could make it all better, he wished he could run after his brother and say that he was sorry, that he didn't meant to do this to hurt him.
Instead, he sat at his desk and thought how time passes, but how little it matters.
- - - - - - - -
He had chosen to maintain a
certain distance, at least until he was sure what Yuuri wanted. It
would help both of them to clear their heads and, if his king had
merely acted on impulse, merely expressing affection, time would help
him to regain their previous balance.
The only problem with that plan was that a part of him wasn't cooperating.
For example, keeping his mind on a swordfight during training was becoming increasingly difficult. More often than not, Yuuri would stand in front of a window and timidly wave at him, so there wasn't really any choice but to smile and wave back. Behind Yuuri, Gunter would give him a dirty look and raise his voice a little higher while he went on and on about the reign of the twenty-third Maou and his numerous political achievements. Conrad would turn back to his training and if either Gwendal or Yozak ever noticed he had purposely changed his usual training courtyard to coincide with Gunter's study window, none of them mentioned it.
It was all truly ridiculous.
Even by Mazoku standards, he was well out of adolescence. There was no reason why he should be acting like this, contradictorily trying to give Yuuri space and yet willingly getting as close as possible. It only complicated things and created a tension that had never been present before between them, particularly when there weren't others near. Even a few words exchanged before dinner had the effect of throwing things out of balance, making him feel both elated and alarmed.
"Is Gunter's hair shorter or is it just me?"
"Anissina." Short answers were the key. Otherwise he might have been tempted to say Yuuri's name, so his king would at least look at him, instead of the obviously very interesting floor.
"Ah." He laughed, but his gaze kept fixed downwards. "I guess that's why he was a little grumpy."
And Conrad didn't want to explain that Gunter's irritation had other causes, and that even if nobody probably knew the real reason behind it, most could feel the way Yuuri was uncomfortable around him. Others began to fill the room, and the moment passed, but not the tension.
To his right, Gwendal twisted the cutlery in his hands as if it was knitting needles while Gunter focused his entire attention on Yuuri, the boy giving small but polite answers to the older man's attempts to ignore the pressure in the room. Yozak and the Great Sage seemed to be happy enough chatting among them. The last person on the room, though, took a much more direct approach to express his discomfort.
If looks could kill, Conrad would be have been scorched by flames before the smell of food could even reach him. Wolfram fixed him with a withering look for most of the dinner but Conrad held his gaze, conscious of deserving more hate than any his little brother could hold for him. Even when Wolfram lowered his eyes to poke angrily at his food, it felt only like a momentary break than anything else.
When Yuuri was suddenly transported back to his world—sucked by the soup and followed by an outraged Great Sage—Conrad wasn't sure if he felt saddened or relieved.
- - - - - - - -
Wolfram was eerily serene as he entered the office, walking calmly towards the window and staring at the grounds outside the castle, as if he had merely stopped to admire the view. To Conrad this was more unnerving than the temper tantrums he had grown used to.
"Ulrike sent a message. The wimp should be returning soon."
"Greta misses him, so he better be."
"No, you do not... this is not... don't even dare apologize." Wolfram turned his gaze away from the window and paced across the room, maybe to gather strength or maybe to contain his anger. "He is an idiot. Such a weak, idiotic Maou. But I care if he is happy, because everyone who gets to know that wimp ends up loving him in some way. He has this extremely annoying habit of trusting everyone, no matter that they never give him reasons to be trusted in the first place. He makes decisions with his heart and not his mind and he is always getting into trouble."
"I also want Yuuri to be happy, Wolfram."
"I'm not finished." Conrad wondered at what point his brother had mastered their mother's deadly stare, the one she only used when she was very annoyed to make her brother and Raven run for cover.
"Go on." It was merely said as a polite response, because it was very clear Wolfram would get to his point with or without his cooperation.
"What I hate the most is not that he trusts or that he flirts... Not even the fact that he is so weak that in a few years Greta could beat him; because at least my daughter actually learns when she is taught properly. What I hate the most is the fact that he forgives. He will forgive even stupid people who make wrong choices and hurt him. He will even forgive those who make him cry. That's something I cannot tolerate."
Wolfram's stare was as deadly as the element under his command. Conrad was frozen on his seat by the sheer force of it; even more when Wolfram unsheathed his sword, the tip of it coming perilously close to Conrad's throat.
"If you make him cry again, then I will never forgive you." There was no doubt in his voice, but no hate either—just resolution. It was funny how, faced with it, things became clearer.
Gwendal's growing aggravation, Gunter's irritation, Wolfram's anger, and even the way Yozak had remained uncharacteristically silent about his behavior were suddenly very clear. He had grown so used to expecting the worst that the thought of the others being merely frustrated with him hadn't crossed his mind. The whole castle knows. Maybe this is how Yuuri had felt after being thrown into a world where he didn't know the rules.
They didn't hate him; they were waiting for him to act.
"Good. Because if you don't, then you'll have to answer to me" Wolfram sheathed his sword and walked towards the exit, pausing for a moment at the door. "And I won't care if you are my brother."
And, with the last word giving away more than everything else in the conversation had, he was gone. Wolfram would never outclass him in swordfight, but he was far a braver man than he.
- - - - - - - -
His king was on the other side of the door. Conrad contemplated stopping for awhile and meditating about what he was about to do, but he really had had enough time to think already.
He knocked once and opened the door to the library.
"Murata?" Yuuri asked and his face took a panicked expression when he saw Conrad. It quickly softened, although the nervousness remained. "Ah, Murata just went to the shrine. Apparently he has a few complaints about Shinou's methods of transport."
Conrad took a couple steps forward, watching how Yuuri's eyes widened while he kept talking at a growing speed. "I guess this time it was pretty weird, but with the whole toilet thing the first time I think I've seen...uh...toilets are worse…" and Conrad couldn't really blame Yuuri for the lack coherence, seeing as he was standing very, very close to the young king. "...and Gunter was pretty upset too, something...he said something about the soup being evil and...Conrad?"
He leaned to whisper into his ear. "Welcome home, Yuuri."
And this time it was he who pressed their lips together. Firmly. Confidently. If the first kiss had been instinct, this one was purposeful and planned. Or at least it had been, until Yuuri had separated briefly and murmured, "Wow."
Then the plans for 'slow' and 'chaste' could go and warp to Earth through the nearest horse trough for all he cared.
Yuuri appeared to agree with him, judging as how his hands latched at Conrad's shoulders and he leaned closer, leaning enthusiastically into the kiss. There were very few things that could best his king's smile, but feeling that smile spread against his own lips as he placed one of his hands in Yuuri's back was definitely one of them.
He hadn't expected to be happy, but it was very nice to be wrong.