Disclaimer: I do not own Kyou Kara Maou and its characters. I wrote this story just for fun and no profit whatsoever. Also, the title of the story is taken from the Bible. Jermiah 31:16 (or is it 17...?), to be exact...
Author's Note: Sorry for spelling or grammatical errors, English is not my native language. Plus, there might be some errors I missed when I checked the story for mistakes...
"And he went to the battle at sunrise,
And did not return for so many days,
And she knows that he will not return forever,
And still she prays that he simply forgot."
"On the Trail to the Pools"- Chava Alberstein
And Thy Sons Shall Return to Their Border
At eighteen, Shibuya Yuuri should have graduated high school with his friends, he should have been trying to get accepted into a university, he should have enjoyed a newfound freedom.
He definitely should have not led a war.
But, as the Maou, the king of Shin-Makoku, this was his current situation, as much as he hated it.
Even with all the alliances, the humans were still very untrusting. They started to move their troops and reinforce their walls. Yuuri didn't want that situation to escalate into a war, but unfortunately for him, it did. The humans refused to listen or to negotiate, and before long a few blasts tore Shin-Makoku's market and all hell broke loose.
The castle felt lonely with so many people fighting in the front lines. Gunter and Gwendal stayed in the castle to advise the king, who knew nothing of wars (having been raised in that peaceful country of his) while Conrad was fighting with his soldiers, including Yozak, in far-off lands.
Wolfram was there, too.
He wanted to fight, as well, but everyone were against it. "You'll just turn into your Maou state again and act recklessly, like you always do. And on such large-scale battles, that momentarily mode will only do damage," Murata told him. And so, he remained in the castle, doomed to restless nights and nerve-wrecking days.
Yuuri hated to admit it, but a little part of him hoped that Wolfram would be injured, badly even, but not fatally. Then he would return to the castle and stay there until the battles were over. Conrad was more experienced in battles, and he had Yozak with him. Wolfram… Wolfram was as much as an immature in fighting a war as Yuuri was in leading one, and every day he was worried and agitated, apprehensive when carrier pigeons came with long lists of the fallen. From a time to time he recognized a name from the list; this was a soldier he spoke to once, this was a soldier who used to guard him at this time or another, this was a soldier of whom he heard a lot about…
His heart clenched in his chest at every such a name, for even if he didn't get to know them as much as he'd like to, they were still his people. But the painful clench was always a short one that had to be ignored when Gwendal showered him with maps and Gunter suggested courses of action.
Yuuri tried to remember his History lessons, tried to remember an ingenious move this country made to win over another, but it was of no use. He felt like Gwendal, Murata and Gunter were leading that war. He couldn't help it, though! He wasn't the Great Sage, he knew almost nothing about this world! Gwendal was a very experienced soldier, and Gunter knew a lot about the states they were fighting against and was of great help, even if his sword was never stained with blood.
All Shibuya Yuuri could do, all the twenty-seventh Maou could do, was watch them quarrel over strategies and attacks and sign the commands and papers.
"I don't want anyone hurt!" he said during the first days of battle. He saw Gwendal's face twitching as he wanted to scream, but kept silent in the presence of the King. He saw Gunter's features darken, and he saw Murata's glasses fog up mysteriously as the three of them hid important information from him yet again..
"Shibuya," Murata said then, holding his shoulder firmly. "We have no choice… this is a war, Shibuya. A war. Even on Earth when there is a fight, there are dead."
"But this is not Earth!" he tried to argue. "This is Shin-Makoku, I make the decisions here, and I decided that I do not want anyone dead! Not for as long as I'm the king!"
"We'll do our best, your Majesty," Gunter said. "But please understand that there isn't much we can do. You saw it yourself; the humans refuse to negotiate. To try and talk to them now would be almost suicidal. Someone needs to gain the upper hand before we'd be able to do that."
"That's tight, Shibuya," Murata continued, his hold on his friend's shoulder tightening. "Even on Earth, when the UN decides on a truce, it takes awhile before it' takes effect."
Yuuri frowned, his teeth gritting. "Fine," he seethed, more angry at himself and his uselessness than at his advisors. "Do what you think is right, but do all that you can to avoid unnecessary killings!"
"Of course," Gwendal said, turning and walking away to resume planning their next course of action, closely followed by Gunter.
Murata stayed by his side a minute longer, giving his shoulder a final, reassuring squeeze before heading off in their direction as well.
"Do all that you can..." Yuuri murmured quietly to himself, his fist clenching and unclenching along with the gritting of his teeth. He did not doubt them, he knew that they will do all that in their power in order to end this crisis. That was one of the reasons they were still in the castle, after all.
Yet the bodies kept on piling…
For some reason, he thought that only Conrad and Yozak will go into battle, but was surprised to find himself one night waking up to the sight of Wolfram putting on a set of uniform that was very similar to the one he always wore, but less fancy.
"Where are you going?" Yuuri asked him then, lifting himself on the mattress with one arm, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "It's the middle of night, go back to bed. It's dangerous to walk outside these days…"
"Wimp," Wolfram replied, but the taunt sounded too forced. "I'm needed at the front. I must set out now, my troops are ready."
"What!" Yuuri exclaimed, now fully awake, and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "No! You can't go!" he said, tears of worry welling up in his eyes at the thought of putting Wolfram in danger along with Conrad and Yozak. "Conrad and Yozak can handle things!" he said in accord to that thought. "They always do! There is no need for you to go as well!"
Wolfram turned to face him, a small and sad smile forming on his lips. "With skirmishes they can. A war… this war… it cannot be fought only with the two of them," he replied bitterly, looking away.
"They have their troops!" Yuuri tried to argue, but his argument fell upon deaf, perhaps more experienced, ears, as Wolfram stood up and walked to his side of the bed. He pushed him down slowly until Yuuri was lying on his back and staring straight at his blond fiancé with wide eyes. "You can't go!" he tried again, his voice cracking as his resolve broke.
"I must," the blond replied, looking at him, his face mere inches from Yuuri's. He lowered his head a bit more, hesitantly, seeming to contemplate something, before closing his eyes briefly and sighing, a small, sad, smile playing on his lips.
"Wolf…ram?" Yuuri asked weakly, his eyes are yet to blink as his fists clenched the white sheets beneath him in fearful anticipation. Then Wolfram straightened up, leaving a puzzled and a bit shaken king on the bed.
"Goo- I'll see you later, wimp," he said quickly, trying to cover his small slip up, but Yuuri caught it.
"No!" he cried. "You can't leave! What will I… as you say, I'm a wimp! How can I lead the troops? Who will tell me what to do? I need you to stay!"
"That's why my brother and Gunter are staying behind. The Great Sage, too. I was not taught to give advices, Yuuri. I trained hard so I could fight the next war, and now it's here. I have a duty to protect this Kingdom and its king, and in order to do that, I have to go now." He turned around and started to walk in the direction of the door. His right hand was already on the doorknob when he felt his left wrist being held and pulled back.
"No!" Yuuri cried again, trying to pull him back to the safety of his bed, but Wolfram yanked his hand away, making his fiancé stumble backwards.
"Enough of that wimpy attitude!" Wolfram said, glaring at him. "Don't make it harder than it's already is…" he then said, lowering his voice and averting his gaze.
At a loss of words, all Yuuri could manage to utter was his fiancé's name before the door was opened quickly, said fiancé stepping out of the room. "Promise me you'll come back!"
Wolfram stopped dead in his tracks, his hand inches from the doorknob on the other side of the door. "You know I can't promise that…" he whispered bitterly.
"You have to!" Yuuri said. "Greta and Cheri-sama would be very sad if you died! You don't want to make your daughter cry, do you?" It was a futile attempt and he knew it.
He saw Wolfram's back tense and thought that maybe he got to the stubborn Mazoku's head, when the doorknob was gripped and the door slammed behind him, the echoing noise covering Wolfram's parting words.
And Yuuri was left standing there, dumbfounded and pale, the echo ricocheting from the walls to his ears. He tried to search for them with all his might, but no words were in it. Just the sound of violent departure.
"Shibuya!" To say that he woke up when Murata entered his room would be a lie. To say that he couldn't sleep in the first place would be an understatement.
"What's going on?" he asked, sitting up in his bed, looking tired. He didn't get an answer. Instead, Murata ran over and yanked him out of his bed. "Hey, wait a minute! Tell me what's going on!" Yuuri pleaded, but received no answer as he ran, or rather, was dragged, after his friend down the hall.
They came out to the yard, where several guards surrounded something on the ground. Some of Gisela's apprentices were there, attending the wounded, as she herself moved from one battlefield to another.
"What's going on?" Yuuri tried again. The guards cleared the way for him as he approached, and he gasped and paled at what he saw.
Conrad was lying on the ground among other wounded soldiers, his face contorted in anguish. His uniform was scarcely recognizable and stained from blood in so many places…
"Conrad!" Yuuri screamed and fell to his knees next to his faithful guard and friend. "Are you alright?" he longed to touch him, to see for himself that he was in one piece, but kept his hands on the ground lest he'll worsen the wounds.
"It's alright, your Majesty," Conrad replied through gritted teeth, that one sentence seeming to take a lot from him.
"Stop calling me that, Conrad!" Yuuri said, then shook his head vigorously. "Never mind that now, save your strength!" He looked around frantically, searching for one of the more experienced doctors, but all of them were still beginners and non-experienced. He moaned in desperation, contemplating whether or not he should tear off his clothes and use them as bandages, when another doctor came and requested that the Captain shall be left alone so they could treat him. "Don't worry, your Majesty," they said. "He'll pull through."
Yuuri tried to protest when Murata pulled him up to his feet and started dragging him away. "Then why did you bring me here?" he asked, trying to dig his feet into the ground unsuccessfully.
"Just so you could see him," The Great Sage's reincarnation replied. "Don't worry, he'll be alright. Fortunately, he was fighting close enough to here so we could bring him over when he could fight no more."
"What do you mean?" Yuuri asked, paling. "What about those, who are fighting far away?"
"We have field hospitals in allied countries for that."
Yuuri tried to remember where Wolfram and Yozak were fighting, that distraction making it easier for his friend from Earth to drag him away.
Where Yozak would be taken to when hurt?
Where would Wolfram…?
When Conrad opened his eyes he was surrounded by his family and friends. Cheri looked at him with teary eyes while Gwendal leaned on the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. Yuuri was there, too, staring at him hopefully.
"Conrad…" Cheri said quietly, taking his hand in her own. "I'm so glad you're alright…"
"Mother…" he said, closing his fingers around hers.
"Conrad!" Yuuri said, leaning farther on the mattress the wounded soldier was lying on. "Was there anyone else?"
Conrad looked at him sadly. "Yozak is still there. I think I saw Dorcas among our troops…" he trailed off there, trying to remember anyone else.
"Wolfram!" Yuuri cried. "What about Wolfram? Did you see him?"
Conrad shook his head. "Wolfram is fighting with his troops someplace else, a sea away."
Cheri gasped and Yuuri paled, slumping backwards to his chair. "I won't allow anyone else to get hurt!" he cried. "Gwendal!" he turned his gaze to the older Mazoku, glowering at him. "You guys said that someone needs to gain the upper hand in order to start negotiations! It's been weeks! Isn't anyone gaining it already?"
Gwendal frowned, the wrinkles on his forehead deepening. "No," he said. "We are still equal."
"I've had enough!" Yuuri exclaimed, rising to his feet. "I want to talk to the humans' leaders! This can't go on!
"They won't come even if you begged," Murata told him from his spot by the door. "We need to have an advantage over them, something that will make them come to you so they won't lose their country."
"And when is that going to happen?" The Maou asked, glaring at his friends.
"When you'll realize that there must be sacrifices," Murata said. When he saw that Yuuri was about to argue again, he continued: "Remember what it took forour country to become such a peace advocate."
"Wha-" Yuuri started, but stopped in mid-sentence and paled when the realization hit him.
"Rest well, Sir Weller," Murata said as he opened the door. "We don't want to see you hurting yourself any further." Then he left, and Yuuri wished that his final words would have went unheard by the occupants of the room when the door slammed shut, just like when Wolfram left.
"Peace cannot be gained peacefully, Shibuya…"
Wolfram was right all along. He was a mere wimp, he could not lead a country, especially during a war. People were dying around him, towns burned to the ground, suffering was upon all… and he could do nothing, could not bring himself to decide to crush this or that army.
Yozak was brought to the castle about a week after Conrad had, in a much worse shape. He, too, knew nothing of his fiancé. Yuuri couldn't even ask Wolfram's soldiers, for according to Murata, they were being treated in some field hospital far away.
Where was he…?
After many weeks of ceaseless fighting, the Humans were retreating slowly as the Mazoku and their allies gained the upper hand. Negotiations started, Gunter handling most of them.
"I really am a wimp," Yuuri muttered to him after one of those meetings where he, again, could contribute almost nothing to the conversation.
Gunter smiled reassuringly at him. "Nonsense, your Majesty. You're still young… and besides, your refusal to some ideas prevented the loss of life."
"Had I agreed," Yuuri replied, "The war would have ended already."
"But you didn't. And if you had, the humans would have probably started another war in a few years. They are moved easily by feelings of regret and shame, you know. A sort of a… tie is better than an overwhelming victory, in this case."
"It's not a tie, Gunter," Yuuri said. "They're here because we're winning. They're here because the loss is too great for them. No, it's not a tie. It's a war. Nobody wins a war. Everyone loses."
And it was all his fault.
The war ended about a month after that incident, final papers finally signed and new boundaries determined.
The troops were slowly returning. Yuuri spent hours each day by the windows, waiting for Wolfram's return along with his mother. Days passed, and still there was no sign of the blond.
"I saw him only once," one of his soldiers told them. "When he came to see us in the field hospital… I don't know if he was injured."
"I fought alongside him," another said. "But he disappeared from my sight… he moved forward… the enemy might have him."
Cheri fell ill with worry, but Yuuri couldn't allow himself such privileges. He had a country in crisis to lead, with towns and corps burnt to crisp and diseases from unburied bodies. He refused to believe that Wolfram was dead or being held in captivity, not after the way in which they parted ways, not when his adopted daughter was sad at his absence, after finding out about it when she returned from the safer countryside.
"It's all my fault," Yuuri said to Cheri during one of his visits to her bedside. "I could have ended it sooner, if only… then Wolfram would have been here."
"Don't blame yourself, your Majesty. You can't know for sure. You did what you thought was best, and I'm sure Wolfram fought knowing that in his heart. No one is blaming you," and seeing his dejected look, she continued: "Don't lose hope. He may still return… no, I'm sure he will." She caressed his cheek gently in a mother-like manner and smiled at him. He wanted to believe her, he truly did, but with each day that passed it became harder and harder.
He became insomniac, his nights filled with thoughts about his missing friend. Somehow, he knew that Wolfram was angry when he left. He had to make peace with him, he had to explain that he didn't mean whatever it was that he said.
"I'll do better next time, Wolfram. I promise," he said to no one in particular. "Now I know what I did wrong… I will be more decisive next time, I won't be a wimp. Just please, come back… your mother is sick with worry, and Greta… she cries everyday. Your brothers are worried, Gunter too..." tears welled up in his eyes at the whispered confession. "It's all because of me, because I couldn't end it sooner… they all suffer because you won't come back, because I didn't end it sooner…" he gripped the sheets, suddenly the image of Wolfram's face mere inches from his own invading his mind. "I'm so sorry, Wolfram…" he whispered, the tears no longer held back. "For whatever it is that I did to make you angry, I'm sorry, just please, please, come back…"
Could it be that Wolfram was alright, but chose not to return to his king? Could it be that he was so mad when they parted ways that he decided not to return? If only he could have heard his parting words, Yuuri thought. If only that door wasn't so damn heavy that its noise covered those last words… he could never forgive himself if Wolfram died without him knowing what his last words were. Where was he now? Was he holding up alright? He figured that Wolfram was never far away from home, and even when he was, Conrad was there, and Yozak, and Gwendal, and Gunter…
But now he disappeared for months, fought to protect what he held dear with no one but his troops and some allied armies that were unfamiliar to him to keep him company. Maybe he was injured somewhere, cold and shivering... or perhaps - and that particular thought made him blush with newfound anger - he fell in love with a soldier and they eloped.
How dare he? Throwing all those jealousy fits when Yuuri simply looked at another woman, and now he was probably being held by another man, whom Yuuri knew nothing of! Calling him a cheater when he was the one to blame! His grip on the sheets beneath him tightened and he gritted his teeth. "Is that how it is? Wolfram!" he was shouting now, tears of frustration streaming down his face. "Damn it…"
Conrad and Yozak got better by the day. They were still wrapped in bandages, Conrad still limped and Yozak still couldn't use his left arm, but they were able to walk and talk, and that's the most important. Fewer and fewer of Wolfram's soldiers returned, a few of them able to say that they saw the Mazoku prince, but only for a fleeting moment before he was swallowed by smoke. "Did he mention something about leaving the castle?" Yuuri asked them, hopeful and dreadful.
They frowned at him. "All he did was shouting commands, he never mentioned anything that was unrelated to battle. He's a great soldier, you know!"
Of course he knew. He also knew that Wolfram would never hesitate to throw himself at a grenade if he knew that it would save his King's life. That was why he was so worried, and there was no one, who could relieve his fears.
"Shibuya," Murata approached him one time during daylight. He couldn't tell anymore than that, for hours and minutes were long ago lost to him. "I think that… taking the current circumstances into consideration… that maybe you need to get used to the idea that Wolfram isn't coming back."
"What do you mean?" Yuuri asked, refusing to believe what he just heard.
"What I mean is that… anyone who's alive returned. It's been weeks since the war ended, Shibuya. If someone isn't back by now then-"
Yuuri shook his head furiously, throwing his hands to his ears. "I won't believe you!" he said. "I know he's alive, somewhere! No friend of mine died if I could help it!"
The sunlight reflected from the Great Sage's lenses, hiding his eyes from the Maou's. "But you couldn't…" he mumbled under his breath and turned around. "Try to get some sleep, Shibuya."
As much as Yuuri hated to admit it, his friend was right. In everything he said. He lied in his bed, the covers reaching up to his chin but not relieving the horrible shakes of his body. When it will be final, how would he be able to face Cheri? And Conrad, and Gwendal? He killed Wolfram! "I'm sorry," he whispered to the air for the millionth time. "I'm so sorry, Wolfram…"
It pained him to realize that had they parted like they should have, he wouldn't be hurting so much right now. Wolfram probably had the same thoughts in mind before he-
The sound of the door opening cut Yuuri's train of thought, that would have been cut anyway after the latest, incomplete one. He assumed it was his friend from Earth again, or Conrad maybe, or even one of the maids, so he didn't bother to turn his head and look. When the mattress suddenly sunk under new weight, he whipped his head to witness his fiancé unbuttoning a very dirty and torn shirt. His hair was disheveled, his shoulders slumped, and even from behind it looked like he somehow got much older in the past weeks.
Yuuri blinked, wondering whether he fell asleep and was dreaming, or was hallucinating. "Wolfram?" he asked, his tired voice barely reaching his own ears.
The Mazoku said nothing as he lied down, and that was when Yuuri got a good look at him. His face was drenched in sweat, dirty from mud and dried blood. His naked torso looked like someone punched it over and over again, and his arms were shaking lightly. His breathing was irregular, and when Wolfram turned to look at him it seemed like his eyes lost every spark of life that was ever within them.
That was when Yuuri broke. He lifted a horribly shaking hand to lay it on Wolfram's neck, sobs wrecking his boy. "Y-you didn't c-come b-back! I-I… I th-thought…"
The blond returned the gesture and held Yuuri's shoulder gently.
"Have you let anyone know of your return?" Yuuri asked when his sobs died down to mere sniffles.
"No. I'll see them in the morning." The blond replied, closing his eyes.
"You have to see them now! Greta and your mother… they're both sick with worry! Gwendal doesn't show it, but I know he's worried sick! Conrad, too…"
Suddenly the air felt heavy, like it had been before Wolfram's departure. Even in the dark Yuuri could see his fiancé's features darken. "And what about you?" he asked eventually.
"How have you been holding up, Yuuri?"
"I was-" Yuuri started, his fingers burying themselves in the dirty hairs of his fiancé. The Mazoku opened his eyes again, and Yuuri couldn't tell if it was their blankness that caused him to break again, or that mixture of angry emotions that swam within them. The tears sled down silently from his black eyes and he struggled to say something, anything, but was left paralyzed in the emerald gaze.
That seemed to calm Wolfram down somewhat. He smiled that sad smile of his and rubbed the Maou's shoulder gently, his face was mere inches from his fiancé's, and again he seemed to have some kind of an inner argument with himself. Eventually, he settled for pecking Yuuri lightly on the forehead, squeezing his shoulder in the process. "It's okay. I know," he said, his breath warm and tickling, soothing the King's aching nerves.
"Welcome back," Yuuri managed to whisper back, shakily, before enveloping his arms around his fiancé's tired body, pulling him close and letting his tears fall freely on his naked shoulder.
"I'm home," came the muffled reply, before it, too, was overpowered by sobs.
Bah. The verse in the beginning sounds much better in Hebrew.