"Cheater!" Greta shouted, running after the black haired Mazoku who had just darted into the rose garden. Had he been human, Raven's younger cousin would have appeared to have been no older than fifteen. Instead, he was much, much older and was a perfect scaled down copy of his somewhat grim-faced relative.
As with the family traditions, Connor was an expert strategist, too, and sensed a short cut through some hedge roses was in order.
He zoomed past a table where Raven and Anissina were enjoying their morning tea. Seeing the black blur streak past, Raven half stood and was about to say something when his companion touched his arm and smirked with a shake of the head "no."
Connor kept going, almost smacking into Yozak who was having a private word with Conrad. Almost instantly, his ears picked up the sound of feet and the spy easily stepped aside, but then stomped down on a boot-clad foot, lost his balance, and found himself playing Twister on the ground with his brown haired companion on top. Conrad, of course, had no complaints.
The young, black haired Mazoku ran a few more steps before he stopped and rested his hands on his thighs, breathing hard. "Which way should I go now?" Connor gasped. He really didn't know the castle grounds all that well and his terrified eyes caught the distant form of Greta.
A tap on the shoulder.
Gwendal, who had been walking back to the castle while browsing through a few new documents, made a sharp nod to the left with a muttered "Get used to it, kid."
Arms pumping, Connor ran on with relief. There were flowering pear trees up ahead. He'd follow the flagstone path to freedom.
Greta stopped and folded her arms, breathing hard as she sent a death glare to Gwendal for interfering. She was barely a teen now and her creamy chocolate curls had blond highlights up front. She also wore peach lip gloss and a little mascara—much to Yuuri's annoyance and Wolfram's silent approval.
Greta frowned to herself. That Connor was such a jerk—saying such nice things to her at dinner and then, just a minute ago, flirting with the whole kitchen staff. ALL OF THEM! What was he thinking?
A black uniform appeared at her shoulder. "A problem, Greta?"
She looked to her left and noticed Murata Ken. "Oh," Greta said and almost instantly lost her anger. "No…it's nothing," she lied and brushed the broken bits of stems and leaves from her royal blue dress.
"I thought I heard the word 'cheater.' But, I could be mistaken," the sage said teasingly. "But, now that I think about it, it has been awhile since I heard von Bielefeld utter the word."
Greta grinned knowingly. For the past eleven months, her fathers' "relationship" was the worst kept secret in the castle. At first, the official story was that they were 'courting'—which annoyed Gwendal to no end because he didn't want his little brother's heart broken again. But, after Yozak had caught Yuuri sneaking out of Wolfram's bedroom at 2 AM, the news was quickly whispered to Conrad—who did his best to let the relationship blossom. Others, including the staff and castle guards, got wise when Yuuri "disappeared" from the king's chambers each night and the gossip began to spread once again.
"So, you were chasing…Connor… I believe?" Murata teased. He nudged his glasses up higher on his face with a knuckle.
"I let him go." Greta glanced at the direction where the young Mazoku had run off.
"Then, I take it that he wasn't worth it?" Another smile grew on his face.
With the intent of a challenge, Greta whipped her head and glared up into Murata's ebony eyes. Her chocolate eyes changed from one of annoyance to something else—as though she couldn't decide right now but that it was okay.
"Something?" Murata teased.
Her face tilted low—staring at the ground because it was easier for some reason, and she could feel her cheeks burn a little. "He wasn't worth it. That's all," she said.
"Don't worry, princess. You'll find someone else. You won't die an old maid, I'm sure," the sage said with a wide grin coming to him. He folded his arms with a "I know more than you do" expression on his face. "Ah…young love…" He joked.
"Wait! You think this is funny, don't you?" Greta's face twisted into an adorable anger-pout that would have done Wolfram proud. Then, she pushed her shoulders back. "When I find someone…the right one for me…he won't run away like a coward. And no stupid men… Just like Anissina says. They'll have to be smart to keep up with me." She gave a curt nod to that statement to show determination. "And, speaking of Anissina, I'd better go. She's teaching me about circuits today in the lab."
Murata chuckled to himself as he watched Greta storm off in a huff. It was so cute.
"Ahem!" came the voice from the hedge behind him. Murata turned to see that Shinou had shrunk himself down to a miniature form and had made himself quite comfortable on top of the hedge. He sat cross-legged and stared at the sage with arms folded against his chest. He was little, fire-eyed, and ticked off for some reason that the sage couldn't begin to guess about.
"And what's your problem?" Murata asked, taking the bench closest to the shrub. He had to tilt his face up a bit to look at Shinou.
"You seem to be enjoying yourself."
"Oh, that?" He glanced at the shrinking image of Greta. "I was just teasing her a little about love." He gave a shrug. "It's fun to do that now."
"Hm?" was Shinou's response, mouth still turned down. "Love? Well, I wouldn't tease her about that…marriage, either, come to think of it." He eyed the sage through and through.
Murata folded his hands behind his head casually and decided to ignore the chibi king spirit. He was just in one of his moods. That was all. Murata was certain that in the next minute, The Original King would be hitting on him—again—which was embarrassing in that diminutive form.
"Oh, don't tell me that you know who Greta's going to marry when she grows up." Disbelieving, the sage rolled his eyes. "I doubt you'd go into that kind of detail with everybody. From what I recall, you only bothered to learn about the major players in this world." Then, he smiled and turned his chin up to look at the terrace connected to the king's chambers. Murata had a petty good idea of the two figures lying contentedly in the over-sized bed with the curtains drawn and the door locked. He snickered to himself.
"Well, you'll be mine for a few more years anyway," Shinou grumbled under his breath at Murata but glowered at the distant image of Greta as she turned the corner. He turned back. "Regardless, your soul still belongs by my side."
Murata narrowed his eyebrows and turned his attention to the blond. "What did you say to me? Sorry…wasn't listening…" He almost never did with Shinou these days—except when the moon was full. He had a choice now. He could "play" with Shinou on Shinou's terms (which could be very satisfying when he was in the mood) or he could travel a bit and visit Tra'va (which also had its pleasures and annoyed the hell out of Shinou--which was also a pleasure).
Murata, The Great Sage of Shin Makoku, gave a "cat has a bowl of cream" smirk to Shinou. And The Original King simply raised a slightly amused eyebrow to that. Yes, he knew Murata's future in this life. After all, he was a "major player."
"Yuuri?" Wolfram called over his shoulder, slightly distracted. "Y-u-u-r-i…"
With a simple gesture, the blond shooed off the stable boy who had saddled up his horse and was still standing there, picking his nose with his little finger. The kid probably did a good job. However, the blond never trusted his saddle to anyone. The stable boy probably didn't know that. So, now, he'd have to satisfy himself by doing a thorough inspection of the work himself. Wolfram leaned over and tested one of the buckles. He ran a critical eye over everything else, looking for something out of place. Satisfied, Wolfram turned from his white steed to see if Yuuri was ready, too. He placed a hand on his hip. For some reason, the double black was eager to go riding. And doing so at this time of day was unusual. This was the "Conrad and Yuuri go jogging" time of day while "Wolfram trains soldiers and pretends not to fantasize about Yuuri's ass" time.
Wolfram tried to focus on the task at hand, looking for Yuuri—not his amusing memories of his first few weeks with the double black. From the very beginning, the blond knew that Yuuri had been careless. And, as a result, people had caught on to them doing more than just officially "courting"—being alone in his room at night, to be more specific. And, once Yuuri got over his embarrassment, (which involved a lot of Wolfram explicatives that also included such famous lines as "Don't I look desirable?" and "Are you afraid that people will think you're no longer a virgin?") the two of them actually laughed at their little secret. They weren't having sex.
Sadly, incidents kept cropping up that only added fuel to the "gossip fire." One time, Wolfram had opened a bottle of wine that Yozak had given him only to have ditzy Yuuri spill some of it in the middle of the bed while they were trying to pour their goblets full. The stain was set in the white sheets forever and, the next day, the blushing maids quickly balled up the sheets and put on fresh ones. Another time, Yuuri had a muscle cramp in his leg while in the bath. He was trying to massage it out when Wolfram offered to help. Well, in Yuuri's opinion, he wasn't given the chance to give a "yes" or "no" to that—which put him in a slightly cranky mood. Yuuri's moans and protests of "Ouch!" and "That's a little too hard, Wolf!" could be heard outside the door and into the hallway. Even the guards blushed at that. During their morning jogs, Conrad dropped vague hints and prodded a bit about the two of them "courting" and "maybe something more than that…?" Yes, sleeping together. But, Yuuri remained cheerful and tight lipped giving the "What are you talking about, Conrad?" lines and puppy dog eyes when he'd had enough and wanted to drop the conversation. Of course, minutes after that, Yuuri would always find his favorite blond, would pull him into an alcove and whisper about what just happened. Boyish snickers echoed at that.
Not long afterwards, everyone became used to the "nightly visits" and subtle glances over dinner. It was fine. And, with the pressure off, Yuuri was comfortable enough to take his relationship with Wolfram to the next level. The Maou followed the night after. And Wolfram had the best of both worlds: two passionate lovers.
Two months ago, Lady Cheri held a party for the nobles and their families. Yuuri had just negotiated a treaty that brought humans and Mazoku a step closer in international trade alliances. So, to celebrate, she held a "modest affair" that lasted until 3 AM. Wolfram, entering with his brothers, got a mixture of looks from the nobles and their families—everything from "loser" and "slut" to "The Maou's plaything." The blond didn't care even though his brothers did. Gwendal frowned at anyone who didn't meet his approval, and even Conrad gave a narrow look at one of the guests while, at the same time, giving the blond's shoulder a gentle pat. Wolfram thought briefly that Tra'va would have loved that small touch of affection. At the drinks table, he picked up a glass of wine and made a silent toast to her.
Yuuri entered last with Greta on his arm. And, after thanking as politely as he could the swarms of beautiful, single butterflies who circled around him—wanting his attention and the social climbing that went with it, Yuuri excused himself and waded through the crowd—barely giving anyone or anything notice. He saw what he was looking for and his eyes were locked. He approached Wolfram, still sipping his drink.
"Wolf…" He extended his hand—mimicking the exact way Wolfram had done with Trouble—and said the words "dance with me…please?"
The expression on Wolfram's face was something Yuuri would carry with him for the rest of his life. It was perfect: surprised emeralds, chin dropped, face dusted pink, blond hair tied at the back of the neck with a black ribbon suddenly coming undone and falling softly against his shoulders in a rush of sunshine gold.
They danced all night long.
Wolfram looked around again and sighed. Typical… The white steed was ready and pranced a little. "Yuuri?" Wolfram called again, much louder this time. He felt huffy and impatient. Where was his wimp? After all, it was Yuuri who wanted to go on this ride together in the first place.
Blond eyebrows pushed together. He turned at that with a slightly confused pout. The voice seemed wrong somehow. It was Yuuri, surely enough, but—off. "You're getting a cold, aren't you?" Wolfram frowned with slight worry and turned to examine the double black carefully.
He took a sharp breath. "What… happened to you?" Wolfram said, his voice breaking instantly. He rushed to Yuuri's side and placed his hands on the handsome face.
The double black's eyes had black slits. The face was wider and more angular than the youthful Yuuri that Wolfram knew. The hair had grown long and almost touched broader shoulders than what was the norm.
"Yuuri," Wolfram worried, "what happened? It looks like you tried to transform into The Maou and you got stuck in between…somehow…" Emerald green eyes shined with tears. He could feel himself starting to panic, not knowing what to do. Then, his soldier's training kicked in. Panic was no good to anybody. The time to act was now.
Wolfram grabbed Yuuri roughly by the wrist and pulled him forward toward the white steed. It felt strange because Yuuri was bigger now and his stride was different. The double black was also holding an oversized bag carefully wrapped up in tape. "Drop the bag, Yuuri. We're going to the temple where Murata and Shinou are. Hopefully, they will be able to figure out what happened to you, and Ulrike will chant a spell or something."
It was an order, not a request.
Yuuri chuckled under his breath. "It's coming along, Wolfram. Like it or not."
Damn it, you wimp! Wolfram grimaced, his heart beating hard. "Just get on the horse, Yuuri."
With a nod to his love, Yuuri got on the horse and Wolfram jumped on behind him. He took the reins in one hand and wrapped the other around the double black's waist—pulling them together. "Tell me if you feel dizzy. I'll stop." Then, he kicked his white steed, which took off at a quick trot and an indignant shake of the head. This must be an emergency, the battle horse decided, because his rider was never like this.
Half way there, Wolfram could feel his heart thundering in his chest. This had to be reversed. Wolfram glanced at the man before him. What if being stuck like this killed Yuuri? Wolfram cringed at the thought and rested his cheek against the shoulder in front of him. He'd followed Yuuri all over the castle for years. And, if need be, the blond decided, he'd follow Yuuri into death—whenever that came. But, he found himself bitterly angry at Tra'va who had suggested that he would die first. The idea was a comfort to the blond—knowing that he'd protect Yuuri all his life and that he would never live a day without Yuuri in it. And, in the past 11 months, his world revolved around Yuuri and The Maou—giving himself entirely without regrets.
Just when I'm finally happy…content… Maybe, by feeling secure, I tempted the fates… He chewed his lip at that thought.
Fingers dug into a black uniform around the waist. Wolfram's hand was shaking uncontrollably and he could feel everything that he'd held dear slowly slipping away from him.
"Wolfram?" Yuuri said, turning to look at the blond behind him. "It's not just concern anymore. You're scared, aren't you?"
Wolfram frowned deeply and blinked back tears. "Shut up." He raised his chin a little and saw the temple coming nearer.
"I think I should tell you something," Yuuri said, his voice, deeper than his usual and higher than The Maou's. It made Wolfram hold his breath. The blond gritted his teeth.
"Stop, Wolfram," he commanded.
The horse continued to trot.
"I said 'stop'."
Reluctantly, Wolfram did it but his eyes burned impatiently at the building in the distance. They had to get there. They just had to.
The horse, sensing Wolfram's emotions, danced in anticipation. Wolfram tugged back, frustrated. Yuuri had told him to stop. He had to have a good reason.
"Wolfram?" Yuuri turned slightly and put a hand on the blond's arm. "Listen to me…okay?"
"Okay." It sounded like a terrified child and Yuuri shook his head at that.
"I'm fine, Wolfram. Really…"
Wolfram nodded shakily. "Of course, you are…" He was lying. Now, he really hated himself. This was not what their relationship was about.
Yuuri turned a bit more in the saddle and placed an arm around Wolfram's shoulders, tugging him against him. "Seriously…"
"Sure," Wolfram said, his voice muffled a bit by the material. He wanted to cry so badly. Everything was out of control.
Yuuri smiled darkly at that. "It's because…The Maou and I decided that we wanted to become…one person. And I wanted you to be the first to see…"
"What?" Wolfram pulled away and looked at Yuuri again. "Why would you…both…?"
A hand went into Wolfram's blond locks, untied the black ribbon at the nape of the neck, and let the ribbon fall to the ground. Fingers threaded themselves into the wavy strands. "Inamorato, we both wanted to be with you. We didn't want to share anymore."
"You're fine…?" Wolfram whispered, "…really? Both of you?" Wolfram placed his hands against the sharply angled face and gazed.
The double black grinned. "Yeah, and you can still call us 'Yuuri,' if that's okay."
"Okay…Yuuri…" Wolfram said cautiously, doubled up his fist and punched his lover, The Demon King, in the arm as hard as he could. "YOU TOTAL ASS! I WAS WORRIED ABOUT YOU!" Wolfram closed his eyes tightly and tears streamed down. "And…I…was about to lose you…" He hiccoughed in between words. "My life…over…without you and The Maou…" Pale hands became fists again. Yuuri was punched, much harder this time, but with his eyes closed he didn't know where the fist connected. "…Nothing…the same…ever again!" Sobbing in an unmanly way ripped into his pride, but it was all Yuuri and The Maou's fault anyway. So, he went with the feeling because he couldn't stop.
"Idiots! Both of you! I can't believe it!" He jumped from the horse and stormed off, back for Blood Pledge Castle. Yes, walking was stupid at this point, but he didn't care. He was that pissed.
A band of blue energy grabbed him around the waist, both cool to the skin and strong. And, before Wolfram knew it, he was picked up bridal style in black clothed arms and was being toted back to the horse.
"Beloved," Yuuri said, forcing the blond against him. "Forgive us…" There was a brief, angry struggle. But, soon enough, Wolfram found himself rubbing his tear-stained face against the dark clothed chest. "Back on your horse," Yuuri said, giving Wolfram a fleeting, velvet kiss on the lips.
Wolfram was seated first and Yuuri close behind him this time. "Please, don't leave me," Yuuri said quietly against his cheek. "But, after all we've been through together, maybe that's an unfair thing to ask," Yuuri reflected while Wolfram rubbed his eyes roughly against the back of his own hand.
The blond held his breath to keep from sobbing anymore.
"I think I should have done this part first," the double black murmured to himself, fishing around the breast pocket of his black jacket. "Here," Yuuri said, his palm opened and two rings appeared.
Wolfram stared at the rings curiously—not comprehending the meaning, only that the rings looked identical and that they were a gift from Yuuri. But giving twin rings to one person seemed somewhat strange. Wolfram blinked owlishly. Should he wear one on each hand?
Yuuri chuckled a little. "The silver looking metal is called 'platinum' and it's kind of rare on Earth. It took me awhile to save up the money for these." When the meaning still didn't dawn on his lover, the double black explained, "They're wedding rings, Wolfram." He took the ring engraved with the name "Yuuri" in Japanese. He placed it in the palm of his beloved's hand. "Marry me…?" he asked quietly. "And wear this ring to show that we belong to each other."
Immediately, Wolfram's hand curled into a fist. But this fist held something very precious inside. He held it to his heart. "I can't believe this."
"Is that a…yes?" Yuuri asked, grinning widely.
The blond gave an enthusiastic nod of the head with a face turning rosy pink. Words just wouldn't come to him. Yuuri asked! He asked! He means it!
Yuuri smiled and handed over the other ring. "Hold onto this one for me, too, until we get there?"
"Yes!" He took the ring engraved with the name "Wolfram." Then, just as quickly, the large bag was thrust into Wolfram's chest and the moment of magic was ruined. He scowled at it. "And just what is this…?" Damn it, Yuuri! I'm not your maid or something…hold your own luggage!
"This is…what?" Yuuri couldn't have just said what he thought he did. No way.
"You heard me."
Yuuri, with reins in one hand, nudged the steed forward and they resumed their ride to Shinou's Temple.
"C-Clothes?" the ex-prince choked out. "Wait! Are you saying that…?"
"We're eloping right now… Yes…" Yuuri pretended to be distracted but he was clearly enjoying himself. Eyes with black slits danced.
"But…But, Yuuri…!" Wolfram said, jaw hanging. "We can't just run off and get married! There's tons of wedding preparations, engagement parties, and then we've got the nobles to invite. They've never missed a royal wedding in centuries. It's a huge insult to not invite them! My family…and yours… And, then, the people will want to see our wedding, too."
Yuuri chuckled at that. "No, what the people want is to watch a royal wedding so that they can have a three day holiday to celebrate the event."
"Well…" Wolfram nodded a bit to that. It was true. Nobody loves a party more than a Mazoku. And most royal weddings were excuses to get drunk and eat a lot. He tucked some of his long blond hair behind his right ear. "I suppose, you're right about that point."
A hand snaked around Wolfram's waist and pulled the lithe body closer to him. A voice in his ear. "Marry me, Wolfram. Make an honest man out of me." Teeth nibbled on the curve of his ear. Wolfram shivered a little at that. He could feel his resolve slipping with the hand on his waist meandering up, toying with the material on his uniform and threatening to work the buttons loose. "Make legal what we've been doing for months…" Small, warm puffs of air tickled Wolfram's neck before lips pressed against it. Teeth sunk in very slowly and Wolfram's breath hitched. The blond head tilted back.
Yuuri knew a "yes" was coming soon.
"Come on, Wolfram," he pleaded. "Don't make me go back to the castle and do all of that paperwork. I'd rather have a honeymoon." He snuggled the blond, hand sliding down this time.
Wolfram chuckled a little and leaned back against Yuuri. "Actually, as Prince Consort, I can handle half of your paperwork each day."
He blinked. "Eh?"
Wolfram turned to look up at his love with sincere emerald eyes. "It's true." He gave a small shrug with it. "I can handle the domestic paperwork…like giving permission to buy twelve barrels of wine for the kitchens and the distribution of the staff salaries and bonuses each year." He tucked a blond strand of hair behind his ear again when the wind blew. "Thanks to working with Gwendal, I've got a lot of experience with paperwork and I've got a good understanding of budgetary requirements and the cost of inflation. So, I could handle the domestic issues around the castle and you can handle the foreign policy issues."
Yuuri could barely contain himself. "You're kidding!"
"No…entirely truthful… In fact, it's been done many times over the centuries with royal spouses." Wolfram gave a polite smile.
"Then, that settles it! We're definitely getting married today!" Yuuri spurred the steed in the sides to make it run at a gallop—which got a glare from the white horse that said "Oi! Only my master can do that! You're damn lucky he's right here."
The blond quirked a grin. "Now, you're making it sound like you're only marrying me to get out of paperwork."
A dark head nuzzled into Wolfram's neck. "Never," came the whisper.
It made Wolfram chuckle anyway.
As the walls of Shinou's Temple came into full view, Wolfram looked down at the over sized bag again. "Wedding clothes, huh?" he said happily. Yuuri really thought of everything. It was wonderful. Perfect, even.
"Yes, they are my parents' clothes." He smiled at the thought.
"Wedding clothes…kimonos—one black, which was my father's. And one white."
Green eyes widened with the sudden realization. "Oi! Then, that means that I'm wearing your mother's…wedding dress!"
"Kimono. It's the only traditional Japanese clothing that she owns. I think, years ago, her mother insisted."
"K-Kimono? A white one? But… I'm a guy!"
"I know! I've seen you naked."
The horse trotted up to the heavy, wooden doors and the shrine maidens working outside got a sudden ear-full of "I know you've seen me naked, Yuuri, but it's still your mother's clothes!"
The horse came to a stop and Yuuri looked at Wolfram seriously. He placed a hand on his beloved's shoulder. "If you don't want to go through with this, I'm fine with it. I just…wanted you all to myself…no fuss, no muss… We've always done better when we were alone…just the two of us. And, I promise, we'll have a grand reception for the kingdom later on." Then, it struck him as he heard himself say the words out loud. Maybe, he was too presumptuous. Too bold on this issue. After all, he was king and Wolfram might be feeling pressured to agree. "Then again, it might be better to forget about it. If I can have you by my side, I don't really care how it happens."
Emeralds narrowed at the words. Wolfram huffed at Yuuri and got down from the horse, a man on a mission. "Of course, we're getting married right now," he ordered, holding the wedding clothes against himself protectively, as though Yuuri would take them and the rings back. He looked up at Yuuri on the white horse and continued with, "I'll marry you…just as soon…as I can figure out how to tie one of these kimonos on." He scratched his head a little at the thought. Maybe, Murata knew how.
"Trust me, Wolfram," Yuuri said happily while he jumped down from the horse, "you're going to like it so much more…" he approached his favorite blond and whispered the rest in his ear, "…when I untie you after the ceremony."
"Yuuri?" Wolfram leaned into his fiancé and gave him a coy glance that was the epitome of "bishonen." Chin tilted up. Golden hair glistened in the sun. A background filled with yellow flowers.
Yuuri was taken aback but still managed, somehow, to mutter a "Wha-?"
"Shut up and kiss me."