This little one-shot has been dancing in my head since I started the last multi-chapter work I wrote for Gunter. As is my preference, this is a ConYuu bit of fluffy snuggleness. By the way, I really do have a recipe that my room-mate now calls "Conrad's Curry" and it's what we eat when I have to clean out the refrigerator before the groceries are delivered. Usually it's pretty good, too. I'm about to start another multi-chapter fic, but I wanted to get this one posted first. As usual, I don't own the Maou, I don't own the pairings, but, dammit, the recipe for curry is mine! Reviews and criticism are always appreciated, but never demanded. I just hope you enjoy it. Cheers! SN.

A Thorn in the Paw

Of all the questionable decisions he'd ever made, the slight miscalculations and the just, plain stupid ideas he'd ever had—this absolutely had to be the worst idea Conrad Weller had ever concocted in what he now considered to be his own feeble brain. As he stood in the kitchen of Blood Pledge Castle, regarding the slimy mess in the pot he'd been stirring, he really, really wished the trumpets would blast—sounding the call to assemble against an enemy.

Swords, strategy, fighting, violence, cunning deception, cruel mastery over a vanquished foe—hell, even baseball—those were the things he was good at. It was in those directions his skills lay. His talents, most definitely, did not include cooking. And, really, was it fair? He glared at the table, now piled over with perfect little cookies, thanks to Gwendal's skill. They would be delicious. They would melt in your mouth if you took even a single bite. They were addictive, and Conrad himself had never been able to stop at less than a dozen. He looked at the smaller table to the side. Towering high was a beautiful cake, fashioned after a gazebo—the king's favorite reading spot—complete with spun sugar cobwebs affixed to the tiny, chocolate straw rafters. Thanks, Gunter, he thought. No, really, thanks. Like I needed any help to look like more of an idiot.

And, quite possibly worst of all, was the cart holding the perfectly molded family of bearbees, made of chocolate, carved by his youngest brother. All the sweet things Yuuri loved, and bearbees, which he adored.

Conrad sighed, and stared into his slime pot again. Sometimes, really, life just wasn't fair.

So what if he'd traveled all the way to earth to get Miko-san's exact recipe for curry, and then only after promising Ulrike-sama that he'd repair the interior sluiceway that allowed the shrine-maidens to water the ornamentals and ritual plants. That little task had taken him two days to complete. And for what? Disgusted, Conrad tossed the contents of the pot into the garbage and started over.

For the fifth time.

By the time he'd finished chopping vegetables, and how Miko-san got them all to stay still on the cutting board and obey her commands to fall into perfectly uniform pieces he would never understand, and started the stock—there was only an hour left until Yuuri's birthday celebration. Conrad added the spices, though he wasn't sure if he should add one teaspoon or one tablespoon of the reddish powder she'd given him, something she'd called Cayenne—the instructions he'd so carefully written down were now smudged over by his own messy hands and globs of past curry failures. For a moment, a brief, brilliant moment, everything in the pot bubbled along with happiness. He could actually feel himself becoming…happy…as the vegetables winked up at him, their jewel-bright colors as appetizing as anything he'd ever seen. Conrad felt a bubble of love and hopefulness rise in his chest. This was something he could do—he could cook a meal for the Maou he loved with all his heart and it didn't have to be a failure. As he watched the pot, he began, perhaps foolishly, to associate the curry with a hope for the future. Maybe, just maybe, if this turned out right, Yuuri would look at him and finally understand just what Conrad had been trying to tell him without words all this time.

Food prepared with love is a balm to the soul, Miko-san had said.

Pleased with himself, Conrad left the pot to go into the storage closet, searching out the large tureen, with the ladle that had a carved kohi in the handle, knowing it always made Yuuri smile. He didn't know how long he'd been away from the stove, but it couldn't have been longer than five minutes…could it? Still, when he came back, the pot burbled ominously, the lid dancing against the rim, and when he looked inside, his perfect curry was…sludge.

"Conrad? Are you still playing around in here? Come on, it's time to set the sideboard for Yuuri-heika's party." Anissina said, strolling into the kitchen and taking the plate of perfectly shaped Maou dumplings she had made with her evil, cruel, damnably talented hands…

Taking a deep breath, Conrad forced himself to stop cursing everyone else in the castle. There was nothing for it. He tipped the contents of the pot into the tureen, and spooned the rice (which was a toasty brown rather than white, thanks to his burning it) into another serving bowl. He slammed a serving spoon into the rice, and glowered, daring another living soul to say a word to him as he stalked from the kitchens toward the dining room.

Despite his gentle appearance, and for all his self-deprecating laughter, Conrad Weller was a proud man. He had struggled to come to terms with himself, his anger and his resentments, for years. As a young man, he had forced himself to excel in every aspect of his life, except for swordsmanship, which had seemed to come naturally, but as he aged, he realized it had been his father's patient tutelage that had given him his skills. When he'd met Julia von Wincott, he had felt a respite, and he'd experienced a connection with another living soul who loved him not for what he was, or the family he'd been born into, but just for himself. Still, even Julia's regard, her steady affection and the fact that she'd been so very special to him did not compare with what he felt for Yuuri-heika. In his heart, Conrad was always honest, and he knew that he'd put too much faith in what amounted to nothing more than a bowl of ruined soup—one ruined meal would not destroy the affection Yuuri had for him anymore than had his curry been perfect, the Maou would have dropped his spoon after a single taste and declared his undying love for his soldier, smacking him across the left cheek. But, really, was it too much to ask that the others at least not…titter…about it. He KNEW it smelled awful. He KNEW it looked like the inside of a latrine. He KNEW that most everyone was shocked that the perfect, always put-together, Weller-kyo had actually come across something he couldn't do—cook. And what was worse than the laughter? The sympathetic looks directed his way. The expression of sad commiseration from the maids, and Gunter's pitying gaze were almost enough to send Conrad striding from the dining hall, out into the night, and back to Dai Shimaron. Of course, that would mean leaving Yuuri's side, and that was something he would never allow to happen. So, the proud man drew himself up to his full height, leaned against the wall, and waited for Yuuri-heika to arrive.

When Yuuri arrived, resplendent in his formal attire, he graciously accepted the well-wishes of his subjects and friends. The sideboards, filled to overflowing with the offerings made by the hands of those who loved him, were opened and the assembled guests began to fill their plates. Granted, most of the dishes were sweet—ranging from Gwendal's perfect cookies, to Gunter's architecturally significant cake—but the Maou had passed those by first.

"Is something not to your liking, Heika?" Gunter asked, his beautiful eyes filled with concern.

"Nope," Yuuri said, smiling. "Everything is beautiful. I just want to eat something first, you know, real food. Sweets are great, Gunter, but I'll get sick if I eat too many. Isn't there…anything else?"

The tall adjutant steered the king toward Anissina's plate of Maou dumplings, and Yozak's famous omelette. The Maou had a few bites, praising the two cooks.

"What's in the Kohi-bowl?" he asked, heading toward Conrad's foul concoction.

The soldier tried not to look, studying his own plate with careful interest, but he couldn't help taking a few peeks. Yuuri's expression of interest changed the moment he lifted the lid of the tureen—and the scent wafting from the bowl caused several people, including Gwendal, to politely cover their noses with their hand-embroidered napkins and take a few judicious steps further away. However, instead of looking disgusted, the king's eyes softened with an expression of…nostalgia?

"Ah, Gunter! Why didn't you tell me there was curry?"

The maou grabbed a bowl, heaping it with burnt rice, then slathering it with the mess in the tureen. Conrad thought the boy was very brave, the way he took his spork and drove it into the slop, stirring it and then shoving a heaping mound into his mouth. Then, the loyal soldier witnessed a miracle. Yuuri-heika smiled, his eyes squeezing closed in pleasure, and he took another bite, then another. How could such a thing really happen?

"This tastes like home," Yuuri said, looking around him. "Who made this?"

"I did, Heika," Conrad said quietly, still posted against the wall.

"You went to earth, didn't you? I can taste the curry powder and the cayenne! And that's Mama's cilantro, too, isn't it? I can tell because it's fresh."

The soldier nodded, not knowing what else to say. He knew very well that this…abomination he'd made was no where near what miko-san created on an almost daily basis.

As if the Maou's exuberance was a command, the rest of the company each took his or her turn in front of the tureen dishing up incredibly tiny portions of Conrad's curry. Although, whether it was out of devotion to his Yuuri-heika, or to Conrad himself, the soldier couldn't be sure, but Gunter took a bowl nearly as large as Yuuri's and bravely spooned up a tiny mountain of rice and curry. As the table filled, the mazoku taking their places and the conversations turning more joyous and entertaining, Conrad noticed that Gunter's zeal had cooled considerably, but Yuuri, who was seated next to his beautiful adjutant, kept stealing little bites of the lavender-haired mazoku's curry.

"Hey, Gunter," Yuuri asked suddenly. "Are you going to finish that?"

"I…I would like to, your majesty, but…it really is filling."

"Then can I have it? The tureen's empty."

"Of course, Heika," Gunter replied, a little too quickly, Conrad noticed. "I would give you anything I have, the clothes from my back, my very life—"

"Nah, Gunter," Yuuri said, grinning and taking the bowl from his adjutant's fingers. "It's ok, you can keep your clothes—they look better on you anyway. I just want your curry."

"Yes, Heika," The adjutant whispered, blushing.

Conrad almost heaved an audible sigh of relief, but his iron-control would never allow that. Inside, though, he allowed himself a moment of perfect peace. He couldn't quite believe that Yuuri actually liked his offering, but, at least the pitying looks had turned into expressions of wonder, and in the case of his youngest sibling, something a little like jealousy. At ease again, Conrad relaxed in his chair and joined in the conversation.

Later, after Yuuri had taken several polite bites of the sweets on offer, and eaten three of Gwendal's cookies before he finally cried uncle and gave up on food for the night, Conrad excused himself and went to enjoy some fresh air and an after dinner walk. As he was passing the rose bushes, just before heading back to the castle, he heard voices. Never being one for eavesdropping, Conrad was about to go inside when Yuuri's unmistakable sigh caught his attention.

"How are you feeling now, Bocchan?" Yozak's voice was soft, concerned. "I've never seen anyone throw up quite that much before. I'll give it to you, kiddo—you're braver than I am. No way I was gonna touch that stuff."

"I'll be ok, Yozak…and it's not Conrad's curry that made me sick—it was all the sugar. I keep trying to tell everyone, the older I get, the more sweets disagree with me, especially chocolate. I'll feel awful for another hour or two, then I'll be ok."

"Are you sick, Heika?" Yozak asked, his worry now plainly evident to Conrad. The soldier listened as Yuuri explained to his loyal bodyguard and spy the finer points of something called diabetes.

"I'm actually really lucky," the king said, quietly, as he finished his lecture. "I don't have to take insulin, which you give yourself by injection, like a lot of diabetics—but if I'm not really careful, I might get there some day. My body still makes insulin, but, when I have a lot of sweets, it raises my blood sugar and my body makes way too much insulin to compensate, and then I get sick…I throw up sometimes, and I get a headache, and for the next couple of hours I'll be really sweaty and shaky. I'm sorry, Yozak, that you have to do this with me. I just don't want anyone to worry. I'm going to get really sleepy, too."

"It's ok, kiddo. You want to come back to my room and wait it out, maybe sleep it off?"

"Yeah, that'd be good. Thanks."

"Still…you're SURE it wasn't the captain's…curry, did you call it?"

The king gave a small, pained laugh. "No, it isn't the curry, though, yeah, sure I've had it that looked better. Once, a long time ago, on my parents' anniversary, my mother spent all day making one of her specialties—steaks American-style, she calls it. It's one of my father's favorite dishes. Anyway, she was so busy trying to get everything perfect, she burned the meat, ruined the potatoes, and the gravy looked like an oil slick. Shori and I made ugly faces and refused to eat it, but my father sat at the table and ate every bite on his plate and demanded second helpings. I asked him later, when I was older, why he did that. He just smiled at me and told me that part of loving someone is supporting them through their failed efforts with the same passion that you support their successes. Conrad did his best, and it tasted good anyway—it only looked horrible. Who cares about appearances, anyway? It's the love inside that counts, you know?"

"I hear you, Bocchan. I hear you. Are you ever going to tell the taichou how you feel?"

"One day, maybe…when he doesn't think I'm a kid, anymore. When I'm a little braver."

"Ah, hell." Yozak said, sighing. "You're green again. Let's get you inside. Is there anything else you need?"

"Just plenty of water and a pillow," Yuuri said.

Conrad waited until his king's and his best friend's footsteps retreated, and the echo died away. Processing everything he heard, he slumped against the rough wall of the castle entranceway. His emotions swirled within him, his heart beating a rough tattoo in his chest. He didn't know whether to be happy that Yuuri cared for him, or to be worried because his Maou had some sort of medical condition that he didn't really understand. There was just too much to think about, too many variables. So, Conrad did the only thing that made sense. Yuuri had said he needed water and a pillow. Well, the soldier knew where the pump was in the kitchen. He could put his hand right on a pitcher and a glass, and if the king wanted a pillow, then Conrad had a chest that would fit the bill. He paused in the kitchen long enough to get the water, then strode purposefully through the castle until he came to Yozak's door.

Conrad took a deep breath, holding it, and counted slowly, to twenty. In that space of time, he reminded himself of all the reasons why this was a bad idea—why this couldn't possibly turn out in the way he most wanted. Then, he remembered the curry.

The brave soldier gathered all his courage, lifted his hand, and knocked on the door.

Well, that's it. A little Sunday-love. Take care, everyone, and drop a review if you like, or...just go eat some curry!