In Places of Despair.

It's late when he gets to Conrad's room. Not too late but almost: he's half done with packing and Gwendal has to stay a moment to long by the door's side as he watches his brother ready his things to go to fight and die.

Conrad looks up when he's picking up a small bearbee charm Gwendal gifted him years ago and then he smiles, closes his fingers around it as if to hide it, puts it away.

"Brother."

Gwendal doesn't know what to say. 'Don't go', of course, and he can feel the words forming in his tongue, ready to be said. He has no right to say them, of course, not with his blood, not with him also going to fight but this is different: the infantry goes to die.

And Wolfram stays behind, the same words inside his mouth but never saying them, their little brother too proud and Gwendal knows for certain that it'll be him the one to tell his mother, their queen, she has lost a son.

"I was thinking... remember that summer, when Wolfram was about ten years old? When Lord von Krehnikov had us all in his summer chateau? "

By then, Wolfram's father rarely came by, and there was talk about him marrying a distant cousin of the Roshvall family: the fact that Waltorana's had granted full name to Wolfram with no hesitation little comfort by then to the gossip that they knew Wolfram would have to go through.

Conrad keeps on going and he walks to the window. Gwendal accepts the silent invitation and closes the door behind, looks at his brother tainted by the yellows and oranges of the late spring sunset and he gets close, too close, until he could wrap his arms around Conrad and keep him there.

"You spent so many hours teaching me how to dance, remember? Because Mother wanted us to. And then Wolfram wanted to learn, too, so you put him on your shoulders."

"He threw up on my hair," Gwendal mutters, and he wishes his voice showed more distaste than fondness, but nostalgia makes even bitter memories sweet with fondness.

None of them are children anymore: it's only because Wolfram is shy of sixty that he's not joining this war, too. Gwendal knows – for he feels it too – that this is as much a comfort for Conrad as it is for their mother, knowing that no matter what, her little boy will be safe with her.

"And then I broke my leg," Conrad muses. "Because I fell from that tree."

"I told you not to climb it."

"You did!" Conrad laughs and then he leans against him, his body a warm line over his chest, his head against his shoulder. His eyes remain outside, where the soldiers that have sworn loyalty to him await for the sunrise to leave this land and fight and die for it. "And then you spent half of the summer carrying me everywhere because I couldn't walk."

"Carrying you and Wolfram," slowly, he wraps his arms around Conrad and Gwendal hugs him tightly. "He wouldn't leave you alone."

If Conrad was a full bloodied mazoku, he'd still be considered a teenager and chance are he wouldn't reach his shoulder yet. As it is, Conrad turns his head, mouths at the side of his neck and smiles softly. Gwendal wishes he could close his eyes to the day ending and stealing his precious brother away, even as Conrad moves his hands to touch his own.

"Such a good brother," Conrad whispers, and Gwendal wishes he could say no. No, he's not: too many silences and too many opportunities missed. Too much hatred, too many obligations, too much want and need for this.

"Conrad..."

"I have no regrets," Conrad says, and his hands are rough on the skin of his, similar to his own. Conrad speaks against his neck and his voice is as certain as a dagger. "I will fight for my country and the people I love. I would have done it anyway. This changes nothing. Please, believe me."

But it changes things, this, the person his brother has decided to be, the tasks he has taken upon his shoulders and there's nothing Gwendal can do to help him. He bows his head, brushes a kiss against Conrad's forehead, and then over his lips as Conrad shifts in his embrace.

He can't carry his brother over this, he can't make it better for Conrad nor for Wolfram, can't make it better even for himself. Conrad breathes in and out before he opens his mouth, as he wraps his arms around his neck and Gwendal presses him against the window, holding him tight. He should feel something more than just despair as he and Conrad kiss, but the only thing he can be sure is the way it hurts as he keeps on doing it, even as the day ends.