Title: Pride and Prejudice
Pairings: YuuriWolfram, brotherly GwenConWolf.
Warnings and Disclaimer: Standard warning, see previous chapters for disclaimers.
A/N: Happy holiday and belated New Year, everyone! XD I wish you all the best. Thank you so much for everyone who had reviewed the last chapter—it really means a lot to me. I'm really sorry for the late update (again), and I really shouldn't give you any reasons of my late-ness, but here is chapter 16, and I hope you'd enjoy it. =]
Thousands of hugs again for Az-sama, who always gives me her time to beta and listens to me even when she's really busy. –hugs- And of course, for Rizu, pandawolf, and ThiA-LieN, for our late night conference. They're so much fun we should do it again! XD XD XD
No further ado, then. Enjoy.
Pride and Prejudice
Chapter 16: What They Faced
The atmosphere felt like it was choking him.
"Stop joking." Gwendal nearly growled in impatience, expecting the-kid-who-was-supposedly-his-youngest-brother to nod and apologize at once, just like when he was a kid. "Wolfram, we need to go."
He tried walking a step forward, avoiding the scattered toys on the floor. Brilliant green eyes looked up, following every movement he made, curious and confused and scared—causing Gwendal to falter. The look on his brother's eyes was enough to raise bile in his throat.
"I told you, I am not Wolfram."
Gwendal stared at him in exasperated disbelief. "You said yourself you don't know who you are."
"Yes. But I'm not Wolfram." Little Brat, Gwendal thought despite himself, almost amused. This was exactly how Wolfram had always acted towards him. Stubborn and a bit bratty, but never losing the tone of respect. It brought back memories—and somehow it gave him hope: His brother was still alive, and he could be brought back. It was Wolfram before him, just in the form of a kid.
Raking the gray strands of his hair, he decided to try another way. He was speaking with a child, he reminded himself. No matter how old actually Wolfram was, his brother was in front of him as a child. So, he would try dealing with him like he did years ago.
"Do you know me?" He ventured, not quite sure on how the kid perceived him as; enemy or friends.
Confusion was clear on the kid's face. "I—no, sir. I don't think so. I'm sorry."
Gwendal didn't know which made his heart constrict in the first place—the fact that Wolfram had completely forgotten him, or the fact that his little brother's tone indicated no sign of wanting to know who he was.
"You shouldn't be here, sir. It gets dangerous at night around here."
For once, Gwendal was reminded of the reprimanding tone he use to hear from Wolfram's nannies years ago—how did it go again? "Young Prince, you should not be here. Your brothers are busy, and you should not bother them. Come, we will play in your room instead."
He didn't know what to make of that.
"If it's dangerous around here at night, the why are you still here?"
The blond kid cocked his head. The night wind breezed into the room, and that was when Gwendal noticed the opened-window behind Wolfram's figure. It was getting darker out with each passing second, and Gwendal had to suppress a shudder as the chilly wind hit him.
"Well—that's because I'm not supposed to play around too much and bother everybody. I have to behave—I'm a prince, you know."
The older man raised his eyebrows. It had been such a long time since he last heard Wolfram talk that way. "Who told you that?"
"The Nannies." The boy replied, now drawing his legs up the chair and hugged them, almost curling into them. He had an unreadable expression on his face as he continued, "I want to go out to the villages, but they say it's dangerous to go there right now by myself. Everyone's always busy, sometimes it makes me mad."
"Who is everyone?" Gwendal's tone dropped drastically. He had never really listened to his brother back then. Everything was so jumbled—the Kingdom, his mother, his stupid uncle, the lessons, the paperwork, the upcoming war, the criminals. There was only so much a young prince like he could do. There had bound to be something he missed to keep an eye on in his life—and shamefully, that thing just happened to be his brother.
The boy blinked. Once. Twice.
"I don't know. Just—everyone."
The word was almost like a cue. The chilly wind suddenly rushed in, flinging open the window and making it banged against the stone wall. The wind hit him hard on the face and he had to look away, shielding himself with his hand—and then there was a terrified shriek, and the sound of something big flapping—
Against the rush of the wind, Gwendal opened his eyes and shouted. "Wolfram!"
His eyes widened. There, on the window, was a huge black bird—with wings almost as huge as his own office, and yet it seemed to creep into the room easily, looming before a terrified Wolfram; red, blank eyes examining the kid hungrily.
Like a shadow.
"No!" the shriek echoed in the chamber, buzzing in his ears as it blended with the sound of the wind and the flapping of the creature's wings. He watched little Wolfram scrambled off the chair, snatching a wooden sword and upheld it clumsily—his grip tight, his posture trembled, emerald eyes determinedly looking up towards the creature, filled with fear and yet so much courage. "Don't come any closer!"
Gwendal's hand flew to the hilt of his sword, and pulling it out, he charged towards the creature. His protective instinct flared up as he slashed the creature, who merely gave a groan, and suddenly, it was gone.
No. It moved.
In a flash, Wolfram was grabbed by that huge beak—and Gwendal only had the time to gasp as the creature flew out of the window, up, up, up—
Gritting his teeth, Gwendal swung his body up the window and jumped down. Eyes fixed at the flying black bird, he set off to chase it.
The young blond soldier was definitely irritated.
"Stop following me!" he snapped, eyeing a worried-looking Conrad and a clearly-amused Murata. "Who the hell are you two, anyway?"
Before Conrad could even open his mouth to answer, Murata had quickly laughed boyishly, scratching his head. "We just happened to be going in the same direction. You don't mind if we tag along, do you?" Trust only Murata to act like nothing was wrong when nothing was right at all.
The blond looked at them with a raised eyebrow, before saying quietly. "You're a soukoku. Who are you?"
"No, I'm not." Murata grinned carelessly. Countless of lives he had lived down had perfected his acting, and it came in handy most of the times. "I dyed my hair so I could pass the border without a passport. You see, our belongings were stolen."
The look on Wolfram's eyes was incredulous. Deep green eyes scrutinizing both Conrad and Murata's figures critically, trying to spot anything suspicious about them. Aside from the sword on Conrad's side, he seemed to found nothing potentially harmful from them. The double-black didn't even have any weapons with him.
Not that he'd lower his guard so easily, though. "I suppose, yes..." he said deliberately. "But I'm going into the forest. Just a warning—it's dangerous in there."
"It's safer to go together, then." Conrad cut in, seemingly a bit restless. He looked long past Wolfram's figure, into the entrance of the forest, as if expecting any creature to jump out and attack them. There was nothing positive he could catch from this forest—it actually emanated a negative feeling that chilled him to the bone. Almost like a warning. And he didn't like the idea of his brother going in there, alone.
Wolfram shrugged carelessly, before making his way towards the forest entrance. Almost immediately, Conrad followed—and so did Murata, this time closing their distance because of the danger they knew lurking before them. Cautiously, Conrad positioned himself on Wolfram's right side, and kept his distance of a step behind him, keeping an eye for the Daikenja walking close to his right.
They walked in silence for several moments, following a small, uneven dirt path that stretched and seemingly had no end. The silence reigned over them until Wolfram suddenly said—almost in a whisper—to Conrad, "You're human."
"No, he's half-human." Murata was the one who answered airily, and the young soldier muttered something that sounded like "That's what I meant," and sped up a little.
Allowing a piece of hope slipping into his heart, Conrad dared asking, "How do you know I'm half-human?"
"I just know." The snap came too readily. "Don't ask me how, I don't know. And don't get too close to me!"
Conrad's shoulders visibly sagged a little. "I… see." He forced a calm smile to appear on his face, as he heard the vague humming sound coming from the Daikenja. He turned to regard the soukoku with a questioning look, but Murata only winked cheekily.
It was almost five minutes later when Wolfram suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. Conrad immediately halted, and caution flashed in his eyes as he saw Wolfram kneeling, checking something on the ground. "What is it?" he asked.
The young soldier rose back to his feet; his right hand ready on the hilt of his sword. "The shadows have just passed here. The soil here is damp and smells bad."
"Shadows?" Conrad repeated in a questioning tone—but Wolfram had drawn out his sword and fell into a fighting stance, exclaiming, "They're coming!"
And four black, huge creatures flashed—Conrad only had time to draw his sword and put on a defensive stance as his sword clashed with something hard and the impact sent him a good three feet backwards. Landing on his feet gracefully, he looked up to see the creature—a huge, black, tiger-looking creature—looming before the alarmed Daikenja.
"Geika, get down!" He dashed forward, but not as fast as a fire lion that suddenly burst out and vanquished the creature before Murata into black particles. Catching his breath, Conrad dodged another similar creature—his sword connected onto the neck of the creature and he slashed through what felt like thick, empty air. The creature exploded into black particles with a quiet ringing voice.
Regaining his position next to Murata, Conrad once again fell into a defensive stance. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Wolfram edging closer to them, green eyes fixed on the last two similar-looking creatures now circling them with a predatory growl.
"These shadows are really annoying..." he heard Wolfram murmur behind him, followed by Murata's breathless chuckle. His eyes moved to Murata for a second, quickly scanning the Daikenja's appearance for any visible wound.
"Here they come." Wolfram grunted, and he snapped into attention as his brother charged forward to attack one of the so-called shadows. He couldn't watch what happened next, though, as the other shadow decided to attack and dashed towards him at an unbelievable speed. Conrad pushed Murata away further as he raised his sword in a defensive stance, clashing with the creature's black fangs. Black saliva dripped onto his face and uniform as he struggled to maintain his balance and pushed the creature forward, slashing at the creature while doing so.
The creature evaded smartly. It circled him for a second before charging towards him again, its sharp fangs dangerously closed in towards his shoulder. Conrad jumped back and thrust his sword forward, only to find one huge paw hit him on the stomach before the sword even reached its target. Losing his balance, Conrad felt himself being thrown backwards several feet, and then suddenly, the creature leapt over him and charged—
Dread filled his existence almost like hearing amused chuckles of a God of Death.
"Wolfram, look out!"
The young soldier was still engaged in a clash between his sword and the creature's fangs as the other one rushed towards him. Stumbling back a little, Wolfram gritted his teeth as he swiveled his body around and changed his sword's position, twisting his sword and thrusting it upwards through the creature's mouth. A fang sank down his upper arm, drawing blood, and Wolfram bit his lips as he summoned his element to hurl it down the creature's body, listening to the howl it emitted as it was vanquished.
He only had a split-second before a flash of black hit him on the chest, knocking him backwards as he gasped, feeling all oxygen escaping him. He managed to raise his sword in time to defend but the creature growled as it pushed him down onto the ground. Wolfram gritted his teeth, pushing back with no avail, and was about to try raising his foot to kick, when suddenly the shadow blasted into black particles.
He blinked up to see Conrad standing there, sword in hand, breathing hard.
Conrad let out a relieved sigh, as he sheathed back his sword. Bending slightly to offer his hand, he asked softly, "Are you alright, Wolfram?"
The hand was swatted roughly as Wolfram rose to his feet; his expression indignant. There was fire blazing on his eyes as he answered coldly. "I'm not Wolfram. And what you were doing was unnecessary."
"A thank you would be proper, though." Murata said lightly; his glasses glinting under the scarce sunlight streaming through the trees. He smirked when Wolfram threw him an angry glare, but the attention he got was quickly given back to Conrad.
"I did not ask you to help me. I didn't need your help. Especially not from a half-human like you."
Conrad opened his mouth, but words seemed to have left him completely. His gaze hardened. It had been so long since the last time Wolfram regarded him so disdainfully, and he had forgotten how to force a smile after the hateful tone. So he sighed inaudibly instead, setting his face into an unreadable expression, fully aware of the amused Daikenja watching him close by.
"Don't get too close to me." The young soldier bit again, before turning around and stomped off.
Murata chuckled, following Wolfram in long steps and motioned for Conrad to get going before they lost sight of the blond.
Morgif moaned in victory as once again it slashed another weird-looking shadow that stood on his way. It swung forward in excitement, making weird noises and snorts that could be interpreted as a victory hail; while the young Maou tried his hardest to handle the excited sword.
"Morgif, stop that!"
"I said stop making that weird noises! It's creeping me out..." Yuuri sheathed the sword with much difficulty, praying to Shinou—no, scratch that, Shinou would only make everything worse—to every God possible that Morgif would shut up for once.
It had been hours since he set out of the forest, deciding to follow the path that crossed the grass field. He'd come upon an abrupt end of the grass field, and before him was a vast area of mountainous land. Shocking, of course, but Yuuri was determined to see where this ended. To find his fiancé, and to apologize. Apologize for not realizing what he had done. What he had thrown away numerous times. Or easier, just for being a complete wimp that he was.
Only minutes after he started down the path of mountainous area, weird-looking, black, shadowy creatures had popped out of nowhere and attacked him. He had no idea what those creatures were, mind you, and when he slashed them, it felt like slashing ghosts. Thick, empty air. And yet those creatures exploded still into tiny black particles, causing Morgif to whoop in victory.
Or at least that was what he interpreted. That sword never did make much sense to him.
"Wolfram's heart is sure confusing." He murmured as he trotted up the path on the side of the tall hill he'd picked to climb up. Smiling a little as he recalled how often he himself was confused on how to deal with Wolfram, he thought it was true that Wolfram had a complicated personality. But that was what probably made him fall for Wolfram in the first place. A complicacy appeared when something changed, and if Wolfram was complicated, that meant he was changing. Maturing. And perhaps, the change even confused Wolfram, and that was probably why his heart was like this.
His expression turned somber as he realized that his denial of their relationship was not helping at all. But he was changing himself, maturing in such a way since he had come to Shin Makoku. Everyone here had changed him. Wolfram had also changed him.
For the better, he hoped. And he wanted Wolfram to know that. It was the first step of his trying to make everything right again.
The hill was high, and the slope was not easy to climb. Yuuri halted, breathing heavily. He was no mountain-climber, not even a hiker. Chuckling a bit, he stretched his arms, deciding to rest for a moment. There was no need to rush. The better he could understand this place, the easier for him to understand Wolfram, right? Though, if Wolfram was here, the blond would probably have snickered and announced that Yuuri should train more. A Maou should not be a wimp, he'd say.
He stepped up, intending to reach the spot with a medium-sized tree looming over it, and the ground beneath his feet crumbled.
"Ehh?" was the only thing his throat could let out, before he felt his feet had nothing to step upon, and gravity pulled him mercilessly down, down to the abyssal darkness beneath.
A scream erupted from his throat, and everything went dark.
Her adoptive father's smile was superbly blinding.
To say that the smile was a rarity was a lie. Greta hadn't even known the perfectly happy smile actually existed before she saw this one. The way Wolfram's eyes were crinkled, and the way his corners of mouth were stretched so wide and how his face was almost sparkling with happiness—Greta had to admit she was speechless.
A pale hand waved, motioning her to come closer. Greta blinked—the sun seemed to be able to penetrate the thick canopy of the forest in this clearing, and its rays fell directly on Wolfram, illuminating his golden hair and pale figure. Her father—and she was not a girl who liked to exaggerate things, you know—looked almost like an angel.
The thought entered her mind almost instantly—How could anyone not love this person?
She broke away from the lady's tight grip and rushed towards Wolfram; arms stretched out widely and eyes brimming with happy tears, pushing away the children who surrounded her father, and buried herself into Wolfram's welcoming arms. She felt rather than heard the chuckle that made Wolfram's chest rumbled softly, and found herself chuckling, too. Oh, she missed Wolfram.
And so she said, with a naivety of a little girl, "I miss you, Wolfram."
"Hmm?" Wolfram's smile widened—if possible. "Silly girl." And his hand moved to ruffle her curly brown locks, making her laughed.
"Ne, Wolfram? Let's go home?" She looked up, gazing into those emerald orbs, ready to beg if Wolfram refused. The hand on her head fell to her side, and her eyes went wide when Wolfram blinked at her almost owlishly, confusion clear in his eyes. His expression turned uncertain, and the ex-prince laughed almost nervously, before replying, "But I am home."
It was her turn to blink owlishly.
A girl on her side suddenly piped up, "Hey, Wolfram, how about the continuation of the story? You haven't finished it, yet!"
"Right." The small laugh was gentle, but Greta found herself growing anxious by each second that passed. What did he meant by he was home? This was not their home! Another voice of the children rose up, asking Greta to sit next to Wolfram so they could continue with the story, but the dread coiling in her stomach made her clutch Wolfram's faded blue shirt tightly as she tried to get his attention again.
"But we're not—Greta thinks—oh, don't you want to meet Yuuri, Wolfram? Yuuri misses you—everybody does, and—"
But then a pair of emerald eyes regarded her with a confused, a bit curious, and penetrating gaze, while a sentence that came out of his mouth froze Greta's world completely.
"Yuuri? Who is Yuuri? Your friend?"
The voice—velvety, gentle and soft—was familiar. Too familiar.
"Yuuri—hey, wake up."
He knew that voice. Heck, he missed that voice.
"Wimp, wake up!"
His eyes flew open immediately as his brain registered the nickname. He scrambled reflexively, and instantly yowled as a sharp pain jolted his shoulders, hips and back. It didn't stop his eyes from quickly sweeping the place he was in—some kind of an extremely dark cave?—looking for the figure who owned the familiar voice.
"Wolfram?" he called out tentatively. Almost scared that it was all his imagination. That it was only a dream, or hallucination, or—
"Turn around, wimp." The voice held an amused tone in it. Slowly, as if bracing himself to confirm that the voice was only his hallucination, Yuuri turned his head, resisting the urge to close his eyes.
But he didn't need to worry.
Wolfram was there. Sitting, leaning on the cave wall, smiling widely at him. Clad in white shirt and trousers, his emerald eyes still holding the same loving gaze Yuuri was too familiar with. His figure was pale, but somewhat emitted a faint light surrounding him, a contrast with the darkness of this cave. So much alive, so very—beautiful. Ethereal. So… far away.
Yuuri didn't like the last fact. So he rose to his feet, almost losing his balance but managed to catch himself in time, and walked unsteadily towards the blond.
"Idiot! You just fell from somewhere up there, don't move around so fast!" Wolfram, being Wolfram, of course, quickly went over to him with that 'why-are-you-so-stupid' expression on his face, steadying him. Yuuri's breath hitched as the pale, cold hands gripped his arms, and something in his chest burst out, as he blindly grabbed onto Wolfram's shoulder, and pulled him into a tight embrace, ignoring the surprised yelp Wolfram emitted.
"I was so worried." Yuuri whispered, feeling overwhelmed. It felt like the burden weighing on his chest since forever had finally exploded. "I was so worried! I thought--I'm sorry… I'm sorry, Wolfram." His eyes stung, and he tried to fight the urge to cry. "Forgive me.."
"Forgive… you?" the voice was full of confusion, even as Yuuri felt a pair of arms tentatively creep up his back, winding themselves around him and turning the one-sided hug into a proper embrace. "What are you sorry for?"
"Everything." Yuuri breathed out, not finding the energy to actually use his voice now that relief had hit him full force. "Everything. Everything I have ever done—oh God, Wolfram. I'm—I'm so glad."
"But you've never done anything wrong." Wolfram's voice was soft, yet still sounded confused. "There's nothing to apologize—"
"Yes, there is. A lot. No, Wolfram, listen--" he tightened his embrace when the slender body in his arms started to break away. "I've thought about it. I've thought about everything, and I know—I understand now how much I've hurt you…I've been unfair, haven't I? And I'm sorry, I really am... Can we start all over again? Not worth it—me, I mean, but if you would—just a chance…"
"Yuuri," Wolfram still struggled, but Yuuri wouldn't budge. He knew he'd be speechless if he had to say everything right on Wolfram's face, and he didn't need that now. He needed himself to articulate everything he wanted to say—and even now he knew he was rambling, not making any sense, and the anxiety coiling in his stomach made his throat tightened up—but he wouldn't stop. He couldn't—
"Yuuri, let go. Please—what's gotten into you? You never did anything wrong!"
And then it hit him.
Something was wrong.
And it made the anxiety that rose in him instantly turned into fright.
Something was definitely wrong.
Wolfram would never say that. He wouldn't say 'never did anything wrong'. If any, he would say, 'haven't done anything wrong'. Because Wolfram, more than anyone else, should know that everyone has done something wrong at some point in their lives.
He released the figure in his arms—confused onyx eyes delved into emerald ones—and tentatively asked, "Wolf?"
Wearing that half-annoyed, half-blushing expression still, his fiancé replied, "What? What's gotten into you? Apologizing like mad—you've never done anything wrong to me, Yuuri. Not once. You've never hurt me. What are you apologizing for?"
Something was strange.
He just couldn't quite put his fingers on it.
A/N: Do I make people confused? No worries, explanation will be coming in later chapters. XD That aside, would you spare your time a little and review, just to tell me what you think? =] Con-crits and positive reviews are very welcomed, and I don't pay any attention to flames. Thank you so much for reading this far!
Next Chapter: When everyone deals with their own Wolfram.
-isumi'kivic' and Ilde-