OK, this is just a series of ConYuu one shots and short fics. I'm writing these in between chapters of Return to Me, and they are just a little bit of fun, really. If you'd like to comment or review, I'll be sure to answer as soon as I can, but bear with me as the semester is really becoming tedious! I think that each ficlet will begin with an excerpt from this fictional handbook, and hopefully many will be funny, though, somehow, this one turned out a little darker than I thought it would. Anyway…hope you like it! See you at the bottom of the page…
Loving the Maou: A Soldier's Handbook
…If you've ever dared to love above your station in life, if you've ever longed for the affection of one man in secret, devoted your life to him, and promised you would never leave his side, then this handbook is for you. Falling in love is simple, staying there and claiming your rightful place? That takes a little more effort. However, if you follow the guidelines in this book, you may just find yourself on the receiving end of that slap you've been dreaming about. Just remember, it takes more than a heart to love, it takes dedication, forgiveness, and if you have an awful sense of humor…well, it might just work to your advantage…
Taken from the forward to Loving the Maou: A Soldier's Handbook.
Part One: The Inscrutable Smile, or, Every Maou Loves a Mysterious Man
Yuuri had no idea where it was that Conrad went every night. For months, though, his dashing knight worked with him in his office until it was time to retire, walked him to his room, and parted from him leaving the Maou with the image of his quixotic smile and a gentle touch on the arm. Surreptitious inquiry had yielded nothing from the man himself, so, Yuuri had interrogated his advisors, instead.
Gwendal had nothing substantive to offer considering the situation. He merely looked at the Maou and blinked, twice, when Yuuri asked him if he knew of Conrad's nocturnal habits. "I do not make it a habit to follow my younger siblings, Heika."
"Well, it's not like I'm a stalker," Yuuri had muttered, then turned back to his work. Gwendal, obviously, was not a fountain of information on this subject.
His investigation took him to Gunter next. His beautiful adjutant, though he had smiled and vowed to wait for a thousand nights if necessary to discover the information Yuuri required, proved to be just as lacking in information as his general. Still, behind those lovely violet eyes, Yuuri thought he saw a spark of humor.
Asking Wolfram…? Well, Yuuri was certain that idea would net him nothing more than a bruise or two—and quite possibly an elbow to the head.
Yuuri couldn't ask any of the maids, or else the information would go straight back to Conrad. Yozak was out of the castle on assignment, and Anissina would probably want his assistance with an experiment in return for any information she might have to offer. So, the young king determined he would follow Conrad himself.
One summer evening, long after Wolfram was asleep, Yuuri slipped out of bed and padded, barefooted, through the halls of Blood Pledge Castle. When he came to the main staircase, he regretted his decision. Second thoughts lay heavy on his heart—after all, following someone really was pretty sneaky and what if whatever it was that Conrad was doing was private and personal? He had nearly decided to return to his own room, almost vowing to drop his curious investigation, until he caught sight of his Nazukeoya. Conrad was walking through the courtyard—Yuuri could see him through the great windows flanking the doors. Conrad was strolling, casually, and nothing about his posture seemed furtive, so, Yuuri hurried down the steps and tried, as cautiously as possible, to shadow his soldier.
The Maou had no idea what he would find once he actually saw Conrad's final destination. Jealousy bubbled in his heart as he considered the possibilities. What if his knight was going to meet a lover? What if he was indulging in some activity that he judged too adult to share with the young king? Would there be kissing involved? Yuuri shook his head. It was no use allowing his thoughts to take that path. He had committed himself now, and even thought a slight sense of guilt nibbled at the edges of his conscience, he was still going to go through with it. Maybe I've been hanging around with Wolfram a little too much, he thought.
Still, he followed, even when he saw, in the distance, Murata appear from the shadows at the edge of the orchard. Murata…? What did the Great Sage have to do with any of this, Yuuri wondered.
Yuuri crept closer still, as the two men sat down on a bench beneath the spreading fruit trees.
"Were you able to get them?" Conrad asked.
"Yeah, it wasn't hard. I hope it's what you want?" The Sage replied.
He handed a small bundle to the soldier. Conrad opened the cloth and inspected the contents, but Yuuri was too far away to see what it was.
"These are perfect," Conrad said, taking Murata's hand and squeezing it. "I'll never really be able to thank you. Do you…I mean…would you like to…come with me?"
"I thought you'd never ask!"
Yuuri stayed rooted in his spot as his two friends stood and walked away, not toward the castle, but toward the old guest quarters. He didn't want to think about that. He didn't want to know why they would go there—a place screaming privacy and secrets. Turning on his bare heel, Yuuri fled back to the castle, tears streaming from his eyes. He didn't stop, even when he cut his foot on a rock. Instead, he simply slowed, until he was limping, leaving small, bloody prints on the ground and hallways. He went directly to his private bath and cleaned up as best he could, then wrapped his foot in a makeshift bandage—a towel pressed into service in place of gauze. Before he went to his office, where he later fell asleep in his chair, he carefully went through the castle with a damp rag and wiped away the crimson evidence of his nocturnal observations, not so much because he was afraid of being discovered, but more because he felt guilty that anyone should have to clean up after his own blazing stupidity.
The next days passed slowly as Yuuri tried to adjust to what he now understood was his own breaking heart. He hadn't noticed before, probably because he was stuck in some private paradise in his mind, but Conrad and the Great Sage were often together. He wondered when that happened and why he hadn't noticed it before. He shouldn't be so upset, he reasoned. He had no right to be jealous when it came to either Murata or Conrad and the choices they made. He was, after all, an engaged young man—regardless of his own feelings about the matter. If his hesitancy and ambivalence had cost him the chance at happiness he so wanted with one tall, incredibly handsome, absolutely perfect soldier then…he had justly reaped what he had sown.
The Maou's limp, physical proof of what rewards await a sneaking man, worsened before the week was out. The day after his starlit sojourn, Yuuri had only been slightly bothered by the injury—even going for his morning run with Conrad, though he hadn't said anything of substance to the clearly concerned soldier. The day following, he put less pressure on his foot, and the swelling had increased. On the third day, he remained in his room. Honestly, he had stayed more because he really didn't want to see any more cautious looks sent his way, or, witness a tête-à-tête between Conrad and Murata—like the one he'd interrupted accidentally the day before. On the fourth day, Gunter had finally invaded his room and demanded to see the Maou's oozing pedal extremity.
"Heika!" Gunter had cried, his eyes filling with tears and concern in equal measure. "You're injured and this gash is infected. When did this happen?"
"I didn't want to trouble anyone," Yuuri had replied, and it was true. He also hadn't wanted to admit what he'd been doing to gain such an injury in the first place.
Gunter's emotional reaction to the King's purulent wound set the castle in motion. Gwendal arrived first, taking one look at the situation, and promptly sent for Gisela. He crossed his arms over his chest and proceeded to lecture the Maou, in stern tones, about the young ruler's responsibility to maintain his personal health for the good of then country. Murata and Gisela were the next to enter the room. Apparently the Sage had been consulting the healer for a tiny puncture wound he'd suffered in the pad of his thumb. His face was carefully blank, and Yuuri noticed that his friend had taken a position near the windows—making the lenses of his spectacles reflect oddly so that his eyes, and therefore his expression, were hidden. Wolfram and Greta flew in after that, shouting and crying respectively, until Yuuri quietly reassured them that he was fine, and asking Gisela to confirm for Greta that his foot wouldn't have to be amputated. Anissina turned up, offering the king solace in the form of a maryoku-powered foot bath, which Gunter immediately offered to power—regardless of how much of the adjutant's personal power would be lost. Yuuri gave up, then, and turned his face into the pillow, trying not to cry out as his wound was lanced and the accumulated pus and blood began to drain out.
"I wish you had come to me sooner, Heika," Gisela said, her voice gentle. "This must have caused you great pain."
"You have no idea," he whispered, his voice muffled by goose-feathers.
After the small procedure was finished, and the incident discussed until everyone had had his or her say, Yuuri finally made a small request for privacy. The tears he tried to hold in, for Greta's sake, were burning the backs of his eyes, and he just wanted a few minutes to collect himself. Still debating the issue, the other occupants of the room filed out, Murata stopping long enough to give Yuuri a measuring look, before he, too, left. As the door shut, Yuuri let out the pent up breath he'd been holding and allowed the tears to fall.
"Heika. What can I do?"
Yuuri looked up, furiously wiping his eyes. He hadn't even seen Conrad arrive, much less realized the knight was still in the room. The soldier was standing, half-eclipsed by the large bookcase on the far wall. His expression was somber, and obviously pained. Yuuri felt the guilt wash over him again.
"I'm all right, Conrad," he said, mustering a smile. "It did hurt a bit more than I thought it would."
"How did you injure yourself, Heika?" Conrad's voice was devoid of any reproach. He only sounded slightly curious, and very concerned.
"I just stepped on something, that's all. I ignored it. My fault entirely. However, nothing to worry about."
"May I bring you anything, Heika?"
Yuuri hated the man's formal tone, but, he took a deep breath and made himself bite his tongue. He was no longer going to whine about the choices Conrad made—even if he chose Yuuri's title over his name, even if he…chose someone else to love. Yuuri closed his eyes. How many years had it been? How long had he kept the man tied to his side, demanding every ounce of his attention and time? Had he, Yuuri, been the cause of heartbreak or disappointment in Conrad's recent past? Had he, Yuuri, prevented the proud man from pursuing any personal goals because he had so selfishly demanded the soldier always be by his side? Well, no more. Shibuya Yuuri was a grown man and he wouldn't be a millstone around this wonderful man's neck anymore.
Yuuri took a deep breath. "I know it seems a strange time, but I just want you to know…if there's something you want—anything you want to do, or anyplace you want to go, anything at all—I'll grant your request. No matter what it is. You've devoted your life to me, without respect to your own life at all. I just want you to know that you don't have to look after me anymore, Conrad. You can have your own life."
"Heika!" The older man gasped, the expression of shock plain on his handsome features. "Are you…dismissing me?"
Yuuri shook his head. "No, I don't mean it like that. I just want you to be happy."
"Heika," Conrad's voice cracked. He cleared his throat and began again. "Yuuri, I assure you I am very content right here. Please, don't worry for me. I am right where I want to be."
The Maou nodded, hesitating to press the issue further. Besides, he reasoned, Murata was here, so why wouldn't Conrad want to be close by.
"Heika," Conrad whispered, taking a few steps closer to the bed. "Please, is there nothing I can do?"
"Unfortunately, you can't snap your fingers and solve my stupidity, Conrad." Yuuri laughed, the sound bitter even in his own ears. "Don't worry about it, I'll be fine. I'm just tired and my foot hurts."
"Would you like to rest?"
Yuuri settled down in his bed. "Yes, I guess that would be a good idea. Gisela said I have to stay off my foot for a few days now."
The soldier nodded. "Well, if there's nothing else, then…Heika?"
"No, I'm fine, Conrad. Go on. I'm sure there are places you need to be."
Yuuri kept his head still, refusing to allow himself the masochistic pleasure of watching Conrad leave the room. He had a pretty good idea what would happen now: Conrad would go to Murata and discuss just how Yuuri had managed to injure himself, and, once again, he would be selfishly inserting himself into Conrad's life. Really, he just had to grow up.
It was a week before Gisela allowed Yuuri to leave his room. It took another three days before Gunter could be convinced that he really did NOT have to carry the Maou everywhere from morning til night. And it took exactly one day after that for Conrad to arrive in his office—when Yuuri was, blessedly, alone.
"Is there something I can do for you, Conrad?" Yuuri asked, welcoming his soldier into the room. The week alone had given him a lot of time, alone, to consider what was happening, and while he couldn't be described as anything close to indifferent to the situation, Yuuri's heart wouldn't allow him to remain so self-centered that he would risk losing Conrad's friendship.
"Yes, Heika. I would like to ask you a question if I may?"
Yuuri nodded, doing his best not to see how very well Conrad looked, standing as he was, in the morning light that streamed through the windows. He made sure not to stare at the soldier's beautiful eyes, his handsome lips. He tried not to blush as he felt the magnetic pull of Conrad's very being that never failed to set his heart pounding. This man, this brave, valiant…sexy man was not meant for him, so it was best to keep his eyes trained on a point just above the man's right shoulder.
"Have I done something to displease you?"
Yuuri opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. Displease? What a thing to ask. Of course he was displeased, now that he finally understood how he felt about the older man, but none of it was Conrad's fault.
"Why would you ask me that? Of course not."
"I have the sense that you're avoiding me, Heika."
The boy shook his head quickly and stood up. Limping still, he hobbled around his desk until he was face to face with the now hesitant man. Yuuri put his arms around Conrad's waist and rested his cheek against his chest. "I am not avoiding you and I'm not angry. I'm trying to be an adult here, Conrad, and you're not helping me, you know?"
He felt the twitch of his soldier's arms as Conrad carefully embraced him, his touch respectful but not…intimate. Yuuri knew he shouldn't want that, but he couldn't help it.
"I don't understand what you mean," Conrad said, his voice hushed. "What do you mean by adult?"
Yuuri couldn't help it. The tears just began to slip across his lashes, even if slowly. "I…I have been so stupid and selfish. I just hope you'll forgive me."
"Yuuri!" Conrad's breath huffed against his hair. "What are you talking about?"
"You know how I cut my foot? I was following you!" Yuuri pulled back and stared up into Conrad's eyes. The soldier's expression was easy to read—complete bewilderment. "You've been disappearing every night for months, and I was curious, so I followed you. I know it was wrong, and I'm really sorry. I saw when you met Murata, and I felt like such an idiot. You two walked toward the guest house and I ran back here before I could make a giant fool of myself, and ended up cutting my foot on a rock. So, it's not you, all right? It's me! I'm the idiot and you're the one who should be displeased."
Silence stretched between them until Conrad made a sound in his throat that Yuuri thought might have been from frustration, then he found himself pressed tightly against his knight's chest.
"Yuuri…did you think that the Great Sage and I…I can't even say it. But is that what you were trying to tell me when you told me I could have anything I want?"
"Sort of," Yuuri said, sniffling. "But it's not just that. I realized, too, that I've caused you to miss a lot. Maybe there are things you want to do, places you want to see, or people you want to be with. I've always assumed we'd be together, Conrad, and I never thought about anything else. I never thought of the future without seeing you right beside me. I've been really selfish and I'm sorry."
"Yuuri," Conrad whispered, stepping back and cradling Yuuri's cheeks in his hands. He turned the King's head until Yuuri was staring into his warm, cinnamon-colored eyes. "Yuuri, Yuuri! I am right where I want to be, I promise. I will never leave your side, I vowed that and I do not intend to break it. All I want to do is see you happy. The only place I want to go is wherever you are. The only person I want to be with is you. Do you…Do you want to see where I've been going and what I've been doing all these nights?"
Yuuri shook his head, still breathless from the passion he heard in Conrad's words. "I…I don't want you to feel like you have to explain yourself."
"Come with me, Yuuri," Conrad whispered, a new note in his voice. One that Yuuri didn't quite understand on the surface, but the pounding of his heart made him think he ought to know what it meant.
Unable to do anything but follow, Yuuri allowed Conrad to take his hand and lead him from his office. The Maou was surprised when they didn't head toward the Guest House, but turned to the right, and Yuuri soon found himself facing Conrad's door. When the soldier invited him into the room, Yuuri came in cautiously. The room looked the same as it always did, except for something new hanging on the usually bare walls.
"What is it…?" Yuuri murmured, stepping closer for a better look. "It's…a quilt?"
Conrad nodded. "I've been working on it for months. I intended to give it to you for Christmas this year."
"You made this!" Yuuri turned, staring at Conrad in wonder. "And…this fabric, and these are…pictures? Did Murata help you with this?"
The quilt was huge, large enough for Yuuri's bed in the royal chamber. The fabrics were familiar to him, and what was most surprising were the photographs. He recognized them. There were pictures from his childhood, and his family, as well as pictures of Shin Makoku—including shots of Gwendal, Gunter, and even Wolfram and Greta. There were others, too, and in the center, a photograph of all of them together, Conrad beside him, in the center. The photos had been transferred to fabric, and then lovingly made into this quilt.
"I had no idea you knew how to do this!" Yuuri said, amazed.
To his shock, Conrad was blushing, the pink on his cheeks brightening his eyes. "Gwendal knits, and Wolfram paints, but I learned to quilt when I was just a boy. I wasn't trying to be…duplicitous, Heika. I just wanted to surprise you."
"It's Yuuri," the Maou said, running his fingers over the large bed covering. "I can't believe you made this for me. I'm…I'm so embarrassed."
He wasn't sure when Conrad moved, but he felt the taller man's arms around his waist and could feel his breath warm against his ear. "Don't be embarrassed, Yuuri. I didn't mean to make you jealous."
Yuuri shivered, and opened his mouth to deny the statement, but…he couldn't. "I was jealous," he said softly. "I thought I'd lost you."
"Never going to happen," Conrad said, his mouth closer to Yuuri's ear. "You'll never lose me."
Yuuri closed his hands over Conrad's, his fingers brushing against the soldier's warm skin. "Promise?" he asked.
"Promise," Conrad replied. "Yuuri, did you mean what you said, though—in your chamber? Will you really grant me any request?"
The Maou nodded, leaning back against Conrad's chest, still admiring the beautiful quilt that must have taken the man countless hours to make.
"Then, please, Heika—never doubt my feelings for you. There is only one man in my heart, one person that I love."
Yuuri turned in Conrad's arms and stared up into the soldier's eyes. For a moment, a too brief moment, he saw emotions swirling in their amber depths—emotions he recognized and returned. Now wasn't the time for acknowledgements, or declarations. There was much to be settled before then. But, there was still the promise, and the patient understanding of the two that didn't need to be verbalized.
"I trust you, Conrad," The Maou said, softly. "I love your present. I could never ask for anything better, and I can't tell you how much it means to me."
"I'm very glad to hear it, Yuuri." Conrad squeezed him a little tighter.
Shibuya Yuuri, twenty-seventh Maou of Shin Makoku realized that they both knew they were no longer talking about the quilt.
…And life in Blood Pledge Castle was about to become just a bit more complicated…
So, this is the first one shot of this continuing project. I'll try to post these in between updates of Return to Me. This one, though, I wanted to put up first. The new fic starts tomorrow, Thursday. Thanks so much for reading, and reviews and comments are always welcome! Don't be surprised, though, if the scenes are disjointed in this one—they won't necessarily be in chronological order. I'll be seeing you…SN