Slip Away.

Wolfram and Conrad breaking apart so badly had probably been a little bit his fault. It wasn't that Gwendal was actively blaming himself; it was a whole mix of things that managed not only to cure Wolfram's hero-worship towards Conrad, but also made him angry towards his brother, so angry that, in just a couple of months, that devotion turned towards apparent hatred.

Gwendal knew that he had a bit to do with it, if only because he didn't do anything to avoid it.

When Wolfram started enquiring, in just whispers, small hand clutching to the door's handle, if he could read a book in his room; or perhaps big brother could help him with his homework, Gwendal had been almost thrilled. Seventy years was a big gap between brothers, and when Wolfram had been born, he had already been in the army. Being the Maou's first born, he had to prepare himself in case something happened to his mother, so he could step to the throne if it was necessary. The first years of Wolfram's life he spent them away.

He did feel guilty about it, especially when, after he came back, the blonde boy had been scared of him, clinging to Conrad as much as possible. It had taken months for Wolfram to stop shrinking away from his presence.

So yes, when Wolfram had seemed interested on spending time with him, he had been happy to let him, to help the boy with his homework, barely wondering about the change of heart until Conrad went to him, asking if Wolfram was alright.

That was also partially his fault. In the years he had been focused into defeating Dan Hiri, Conrad had kept a distance that he had tried his best to ignore. In a strange way, although Conrad was his brother, he never thought of him as Dan Hiri's son. Only too late, when his brother also answered him with that polite, secret smile of his he noticed the breech.

He always understood Conrad and Wolfram's bond better. Neither of them had ever been as busy as he had been while growing up and, with only twenty years between them, it was much easier for them to talk between kids, not with an almost grown up. He always knew that it wasn't that his brothers didn't care about him, just that they didn't need him as much as they needed each other. Wolfram always ran first towards Conrad: let it be because he was scared or happy, and Conrad always tried to solve any problem he had by himself.

And then, suddenly, both his brothers were going towards him. Soon after Wolfram started asking if he could stay in his studio, the young prince started asking him questions about his studies, about his father, about his life; Conrad was going to formally go to the army, and he was worried about Wolfram still being angry at him, and if everything was okay.

He knew it then, he realized that he should have done something to make things as they were. He knew that if Conrad went away with Wolfram still hurt by the lies-by-omission that had been directed towards his person, the proud boy wouldn't forgive him.

And still, he thought about Wolfram's questions about the toys over his room, and about his books, and about the young boy's enthusiasm when he had invited him to go horse-riding. And Conrad's worried eyes were, for once, asking for his help as an older brother.

Gwendal nodded.

"I'll write to inform you about how he's doing." He told Conrad, noticed how his brother sighed in relief and then smiled warmly towards him.

"Thank you, big brother. Goodnight." Conrad told him, bowing his head a bit before turning towards his room.

Wolfram was there, still trying to read one of his books. He mouthed the words slowly, probably thinking that in that way the words would have meaning. Shaking his head, he moved towards the young boy, taking the book and leaving it over his desk.

"That book is still too complicated for you, Wolfram."

"If big brother reads it, I will too!" The young boy replied with a firm nod of his head. Gwendal's lips tugged a bit upwards, patting Wolfram's hair before sitting down in front of him, blinking big green eyes towards him. "Big brother?"

"Wolfram… you do know that Conrad will go tomorrow, right?"

Immediately, Wolfram's eyes were focused over his lap, hands clenching a bit. Gwendal took notice of this.

"He won't be back for several months."

"He always goes. And he lies. I don't care."

"Wolfram… he didn't lie."

"He did!" replied the blonde boy, hands tightening over his lap. Gwendal could tell by Wolfram's voice how hurt he was and he wondered what kind of things had the boy heard; some of them perhaps even from him. "I don't care. He's not my brother anymore."

"He will always be your brother, Wolfram." He replied, frown deepening. Wolfram seemed on the verge of tears.

"No, he's not! Big brother is my only brother now!" With that, Wolfram rubbed his eyes with his forearm quickly, looking up towards him with a bright smile, some tears still clinging to his eyelashes. "And big brother won't lie to me… right?"

There was such a raw need on Wolfram's voice that Gwendal couldn't do anything else other than nod.

The next day, while Celi hugged Conrad within an inch of his life, making him promise to write three parchments a week, Gwendal stood behind his mother. Wolfram had refused to come down, and Celi had told Conrad that he knew how the young boy got when he had to go away. Conrad had looked at him for a moment, before smiling to his mother, telling her that he did knew.

His only defense is that he never thought that breech would grow so much.

Wolfram was starting to tremble, the same way he had had when he had been nothing more than a kid. Gwendal closed his eyes just a moment when he saw Conrad's arm over that tray, forcing his breath to stay calm.

Conrad was dead.

When he opened his eyes, he moved to take a button of Conrad's uniform. Over the years, Conrad had told him on several occasions that he knew that, even if Wolfram said that he hated him, their little brother cared about him, even a bit and that he could wait.

He took the button, dropping it over Wolfram's trembling hand.

"Don't be like me, Wolfram." Gwendal murmured before turning away, giving his youngest – and now only – brother the space he needed to break down.

They all had waited too long.