Hello again, friends...Striped Neko here.
So, you thought I died, right? C'mon...you know you did. Would it surprise you to know, though, that I have been out of the country for over a year in places where there is little to no internet? Well, I have been...and it was awesome...truly awe-inspiring. Anyway, I had left a completed Return to Me text and several ficlets for this piece with a friend who faithfully promised to upload them...then didn't...and then says he lost the files. Some friend, right? Anyway...as they say, "Hi Honey...I'm home." I'll try to finish these over the next month. To any readers left...I can't wait to hear from you and read your stories too! To new readers....welcome aboard. And now, without further delay...chapter 10.
"When negotiating the technological triumphs of a culture different than your own, it would behoove the wise soldier to leave no trace of his electronic activity."…taken from the third chapter of Loving the Maou, A soldier's handbook.
Conrad paused in the doorway leading to his beloved Heika's room—the room the Maou occupied when he was in residence on Earth. The steaming bowl of Jennifer-san's homemade curry forgotten, he stared steadily at the brilliantly blonde, bent head of his younger brother as the demon made clumsy motions with the mouse of Yuuri's computer. Conrad was first tempted to assist his sibling, knowing that Yuuri had no objections to any of his courtiers using his toys and tools while they were visiting his homeworld, but as a cloud passed over the sun, and the glare on the computer screen faded, Conrad saw that Wolfram was studying Yuuri's Facebook page.
It painfully clear that Wolfram did not like what he saw.
"I do not understand these…images," Wolfram murmured, his voice uncharacteristically soft. "There are an amazing number of photographs here…of me, of Yuuri's family, Greta, Gwendal, and many more Gunter than I care for, but…why are there none of you, Conrad?"
Calling upon every ounce of stoicism that his countless days as a faithful knight had given him, Conrad summoned his most placid smile. "I took most of those photos, brother. It's difficult to be both photographer and subject."
Wolfram shook his head. "No, I don't think that's it."
A few more jilted mouse-movements and a few more clicks passed before the younger demon spoke again. "It is amazing what these humans have wrought with their technology, but I don't think, in the end, that I care for it much. Have you seen this…? He has, literally, hundreds of "friends," which I find very suspicious. He can't possible even know that many people."
"The way Yuuri-Heika has explained it to me seems to indicate that this particular site serves as a vehicle for what is termed Social Networking. Consider it…consider it rather like our winter ball. I doubt I know one in ten of the participants, yet every year new people are introduced and old acquaintances are renewed."
"At least he had the decency to point out in his profile that he is in a relationship…though he does not specify with whom. I will have to address that oversight with him."
"Mmm." Conrad kept his voice as neutral as possible. Now was not the time to make a scene.
Wolfram abruptly shoved the chair back and away from Yuuri's desk and stalked past his brother—clearly on a mission to right this latest in perceived wrongs. Conrad waited long minutes before he finally entered Yuuri's room and closed the door behind him. He sat in the chair recently vacated, and with a few deft clicks of the mouse brought up another Facebook page.
He had, initially, been hesitant when Yuuri-Heika suggested he create a Facebook profile. After all, what need had he for "friends" on earth? But, the young Maou had insisted, so, of course, Conrad complied. It was not long after that Jose sent him a friend request, then Jennifer-san, and even, to his half-amused, half-frightened shock, Shiori sent him a request. The only one that mattered, however, was the request that came from Yuuri-Heika himself. He blushed, and smiled ruefully to himself, when he remembered how his heart had pounded when he clicked the tiny, blue "accept" button.
But he'd never regretted his decision.
Scanning through his photo album, Conrad gazed at the pictures he'd collected—the ones so conspicuous by their absence according to his brother. Yuuri and he at the beach. Yuuri and he pressed together on the front porch swing at a small hotel called a Bed and Breakfast. Conrad smiled, remembering it had been mostly bed and very little breakfast during that week. There were pictures of them together at the foot of Mount Fuji, holding hands in front of the Empire State Building in New York City…and hundreds more.
Conrad had never been a demonstrative demon. He as much more quiet, introspective than his brother realized. He had also never intended to embark on a clandestine affair with his Maou, but somehow…over the years…gentle affection had gained momentum and become unrelenting passion. He could no more do without Yuuri and his love than he could the very air that he breathed. Still, no matter how many times Yuuri asked, whispering his plea into Conrad's devoted ear, the soldier had not yet been able to allow himself the unfettered joy of a public relationship with the Maou. Yuuri's engagement to Wolfram had been broken years before, not that his brother paid that fact the least bit of attention—hope springs eternal after all—and the young king made his desire to share his love with the world very clear to Conrad. It was, in fact, all Conrad's dreams come true.
Yet, he hesitated.
Once he had tried to explain to the Maou. The way they were now, at this moment, meant that they alone knew of their love and it belonged solely to them. As soon as the general public were made aware, then, of course, would come the speculation, the betting, and the active plots to interfere. The idea of it all, all the spectacle gave the soldier a headache. Still, he knew he would eventually give in. It wasn't as though he had the heart to deny Yuuri anything he wanted for very long.
In his heart of hearts, where he was assiduously honest with himself, Conrad heaved a sigh and turned over his real fear, the fear he was unable to express to Yuuri-Heika. He was afraid that their relationship, strong and solid as it seemed at this moment, would not last under the glare of so much public scrutiny and attention.
He glanced at the photos again…his favorite…the one at a strange angle, showing his and Yuuri's heads bent together, black hair and brown mingled on a white pillowcase…taken right here in this very room, the same afternoon he'd finally told Yuuri how he really felt about him. He hadn't thought he could be happier than he was at that very moment.
He'd been wrong.
Yuuri had been giving him happiness in untold measure since that moment forward, and Conrad knew he had never been so loved. And everything in his own past had faded in the light of Yuuri's ecstatic smile.
As he stared at his own status on the screen which read: It's Complicated, an alert sounded to indicate he had a new message.
It was from Yuuri. No doubt sent from his small, handheld telephone.
It read: I know you're online. Get down here. Your brother and my mother are talking about wedding dresses again.
Conrad felt something inside his chest snap. He almost heard it, the sensation was so distinct. Suddenly he knew that he was finished sitting idly by while his younger brother plotted to get himself re-engaged to the man Conrad loved. As he pushed back the chair, he also swept his hand over the mouse. He changed his status to In a relationship…with Yuuri, then closed the window and started the shut down process for Yuuri's PC.
Squaring his shoulders, Conrad prepared himself for the descent of the stairs so that he might come to his beloved's rescue…one more time.