Ok, we're back online and cooking. Here's chapter 8…lots of snuggling and a confused but pretty brave Gwendal. I have to run out of the house now, but I'll be back for mail this afternoon, after work, now that I can see it all again! Yay! Bear with me, I promise I'm not the slug I appear to be! So, without further ado…the chapter of confessions, Chapter 8, and I'll see you at the bottom of the page. P.S. The little separator bar is not working for me now...don't know why, but sorry about the formatting!


Chapter 8: Love me, love me…say that you love me

In the whirlwind of the morning, Yuuri had forgotten to be nervous. From the moment he woke in the early hours, before daylight, he had been surrounded by Gwendal's strong presence. In fact, waking had presented its own challenge, since it seemed his dour, reserved General was a close-sleeper—a snuggler without compare. Yuuri discovered this when he opened his eyes and found himself not only wrapped in Gwendal's arms, but his legs were trapped by one of Gwendal's heavy thighs such that Yuuri was half-buried beneath his sleeping lover. He squirmed a bit, which had brought Gwendal to instant alertness, and the look of sleepy satisfaction on the normally grim demon's face made Yuuri's heart pound painfully in his chest. The kisses they shared were just as slow, just as languorous as the caresses Gwendal smoothed over Yuuri's chest and stomach. Yes, the Maou would have been very happy to spend many days in that particular spot with that particular demon reveling in the best wake-up method ever to be invented.

However, a sharp knock on Gwendal's door finally roused them both, and Yuuri met the day with breathless anticipation and a heavy, aching erection. Gwendal had been careful, he thought, not to brush against that part of his anatomy, but if things continued in this vein, Yuuri was pretty sure he was going to die an early death—of thwarted sexual desire—before any assassin had the chance to attack. Wolfram's words had come back, with chilling intensity, reminding Yuuri that Gwendal didn't share his feelings. Well, maybe that wasn't completely true. He remembered Gwendal's voice, warm and pleased, when he whispered that it felt good to be wanted. Yuuri had smiled, ruefully, to himself. Oh, yes, the General was wanted—more than he could possibly imagine.

The early morning had flown by, therefore, and after dressing, a quick meal, and hurried goodbyes, Yuuri found himself, at present, riding in a creaking, fully outfitted carriage, speeding toward his first journey with Gwendal. He was nervous, certainly, and kept staring out the window for any signs of trouble, but he was also anxious and excited for another reason. He was alone, with Gwendal, and felt as though he could breathe for the first time in several days. He reminded himself that Conrad was close by, even if he was out of sight, and he often caught glimpses of Gunter as his adjutant rode up and down the column of soldiers that were guarding the carriage. Knowing they were there relieved his mind greatly, freeing him up to think more pleasurable thoughts…like how handsome the man accompanying him happened to be, and how well he looked in the morning light that streaked through the open windows of the carriage.

"Heika," Gwendal said softly, not lifting his eyes from the pages of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. "You are staring at me again."

"Sorry," Yuuri replied, blushing.

"Is there something wrong…something you wanted to say?" Gwendal's question seemed innocent enough, even gruff, but Yuuri was quick to notice that the General accompanied the question by a shift of his tall frame—stretching his legs out so that his calf brushed against Yuuri's leg since the young king was sitting opposite him.

"Nothing's wrong," Yuuri said, quickly.

"Mmmm." Gwendal stretched again, used one hand to unfasten his coat, and let his legs fall open in a casual pose that riveted Yuuri's attention to his General's broad chest and narrow hips. "Are you sure? Maybe you're a little…bored?"

"Well…" Yuuri began, his brain quickly supplying any number of scenarios through which Gwendal could alleviate his boredom.

"I can help you with that," Gwendal said, turning the page of his small book, his lips curling into the merest hint of a smile.

"I'd…like that," Yuuri said.

"See that little gold handle there, to your left? Pull it open…I think the rest should be self-explanatory."

Excited now at the potential surprise, Yuuri hurried to pull the handle. A small, cunningly crafted writing top slid out of the wood and flipped down to make a work surface. Yuuri lifted the lid and saw…a sheaf of papers, all with small notes written in Gwendal's bold hand. He stared, rubbed his eyes, and stared again.

"Really, Gwendal? Are you serious?" Yuuri squeaked. "You want me to work while we're on holiday?"

"Unfortunately, those cannot be delayed. Your duties as Maou come before any recreation or holiday."

"Great," Yuuri muttered. "Some romantic holiday this is shaping up to be."

"I beg your pardon, Heika?" Gwendal asked, coolly polite.

"Nothing," Yuuri said, and turned his attention to the papers before him.

It was tedious work, taking several hours of his time. Time when he could have been watching the beautiful scenery, admiring the brilliant colors of Shin Makoku in the late summer. Soon, the leaves would change again, and the autumn flowers would come in. He wondered, absently, what this fall would bring. Last year, he had enjoyed the festivals but he and Wolfram had fought almost without ceasing. Thinking on his own behavior, Yuuri regretted the harsh words he'd spoken to his fiancé, but…he wanted so much to be free of that particular commitment. Glancing at Gwendal, he wondered if somewhere deep in his heart, he'd wanted the tall, sexy demon—even then.

"Did you have a question, Heika?" Gwendal asked, now ensconced in The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.

"No," Yuuri sighed, returning to his work. He signed off on the second to last sheet of parchment, then added it to the pile of completed work inside the desk. He took a deep breath and began to read the final page. He frowned, his initially cheerful mood having soured…until he realized what was written on the page.

'You've done well,' he read. 'And I apologize for misleading you. If you are in a forgiving frame of mind, let me make it up to you.'

The words were unmistakably Gwendal's, written in his distinctive script. Yuuri smiled, folded the note and tucked it into his pocket. It wasn't a love letter, but, it was the first personal note he'd ever received from the stoic demon, so if he counted it as a love-note, he didn't think he could be blamed. As he did so, Gwendal closed his book, still not looking at Yuuri, and turned so that he was sitting sideways on the bench seat, one leg propped against the back cushions. Yuuri put the writing desk back in its hidden position and slipped off his seat and into the curve of Gwendal's body. The General resettled Yuuri so that his back was against the taller demon's chest and Yuuri stifled a satisfied purr as he felt Gwendal's strong fingers begin to massage his cramped shoulders. It wasn't easy to write in a moving carriage.

"Then you're not angry with me for bringing along work?" Gwendal asked, nuzzling the side of Yuuri's neck.

"I suppose I should have guessed," Yuuri said, relaxing under the massage. "But…I don't think I've ever been able to stay angry with you."

"I could wish that would always be the case," Gwendal replied. "The truth is, of course, that you will, from time to time, be very angry with me, Yuuri. I am…not skilled with relationships. I won't intend to upset you…but I will."

"Then I'll forgive you," Yuuri said, sincerely. "I just hope you'll do the same."

"It would be impossible for me to remain upset with you. Believe me. I've tried."

"Hey!" Yuuri objected, and was rewarded with a soft rumble that he was stunned to recognize as Gwendal's laughter.

"You are too…sweet for anyone to deny, Yuuri. I've seen it countless times…the way you turn an enemy into an ally. You've changed the spirit of the country."

"I used to think things were changing," Yuuri said, snuggling a little closer to Gwendal's chest. "Now, I'm not so sure. I still find it unbelievable that someone out there wants us both gone. Maybe it is just too much change all at once?"

"No matter what you did, do, or will do, these scenarios will surface. It is the nature of the populace to be discontent and when they are they search for a cause. The King is the easiest target upon which to lay blame. If you are right, and this current trouble is based on the idea that you and I united will become something too powerful to contain, well, I believe you will find a way to show by your actions that it isn't true. As for the culprits, however, I will show by my actions that such treason will not be tolerated."

"It's so hard to imagine having to punish my subjects," Yuuri whispered. "I…really just want everyone to be safe and happy."

"You needn't, Heika. I will take on that responsibility for you."

"Gwendal," Yuuri sighed, overwhelmed by sadness. "How many times, though? How many times are you going to have to do the hard work, the thankless work?"

"As many times as it takes for you to achieve your goals, Yuuri. You are my king, and I will perform whatever tasks are necessary to further your dreams and plans. So long as you continue to act in the best interest of Shin Makoku—and I have come to realize that is what's important to you."

"Still…I wish I could do something more for you. You're restless, too, aren't you?"

"I will admit, traveling by carriage is not my first choice."

"I'm sorry you're cooped up inside," Yuuri said.

"The company is pleasant," Gwendal replied, his lips ghosting over the sensitive skin of Yuuri's neck, leaving goose bumps in their wake. "I've no objections."

Yuuri melted under Gwendal's large hands, quickly becoming breathless as Gwendal stroked and caressed him. The jostling of the carriage threw them together, rocking them in a rhythm that made Yuuri blush deeper than before. He didn't want to do anything to ruin the moment, to overstep the hazy boundaries between them, but he ached, literally ached, to touch Gwendal and to be touched. He wanted to be lovers—not in the eyes of the court, but for real, and…he didn't know what to do to make that happen. In his heart, he feared the rejection he thought would come and struggled to remind himself that Gwendal was on here, with him, because of his social faux-pas. This hadn't happened because they both had pursued a relationship. Still, he realized he was helplessly in love with the most unlikely of demons, and the frustration of holding himself back was starting to make his stomach burn.

"What's the matter, Yuuri?" Gwendal mouthed against his ear. "You were relaxed before, but now you're as taut as a drawn bow strong. Do you want me to stop? Just tell me, and I will."

"No," Yuuri gasped. "No, I don't want you to stop. I just…please, don't make me say it, Gwendal. Please."

"I'd never force you to do anything you didn't want to do," the tall man replied, resuming his teasing, taunting caresses along the inside of Yuuri's thighs. "If you don't like what I do, ever, just…tell me."

"It's not that," Yuuri said on a half moan. "I love the way you touch me. I just want…more."

What Yuuri feared most came to pass as Gwendal's hands froze, turning to stone against his legs. He knew he shouldn't have said anything. He knew it. But it had felt so good, and how was he not supposed to want to go further? He felt cold and shivered as Gwendal moved away from him, carefully easing himself from behind Yuuri and shifting them until they were seated side by side but not touching.

"Heika…" Gwendal said softly. "Maybe…we should have a talk about what your expectations are."

"Oh, God," Yuuri moaned, this time without any benefit of sexual desire. "You…you've…you've been touching me like this, being with me, because you think I expect you to?" He could have died from shame right there.

"No!" Gwendal said, his voice sharp and harsh. "No, I didn't mean that. You see? I told you I'm not good with words."

Yuuri dared to peek over at his General. The demon was sitting straight as an arrow, his back stiff, regardless of the motion of the carriage, with his arms folded over his chest and his lips turned down into the deep frown that Yuuri had come to recognize as his embarrassed expression. The merest hint of blush stood on Gwendal's cheeks.

"Heika…I have to confess something to you."

Yuuri's heart sank at Gwendal's solemn tone. This couldn't be good news. "You don't have to Gwendal…not if you don't want to."

The General shook his head. "No. I don't…I don't want there to be secrets between us, at least, I don't want to have such misunderstandings. This situation isn't easy, at least, it wasn't expected, and the more there lies between us, the more problems will surface. So, I must confess."

"All…all right," Yuuri whispered, bracing himself for the worst.

"When you were in the bath…with Conrad and Yozak…I was…on the other side of the screen." Gwendal bent his head so his bangs covered his eyes, but Yuuri could see the blush more clearly on his face. "It was not my intention to eavesdrop, but I couldn't find a way to leave without drawing attention to myself."

"I…I see," Yuuri said, ready to sink into the carriage seat and just disappear.

"So…I know you don't…want me in that way. You were very clear about not wanting to be…physically intimate with me. I understand that and accept your limitations, but now…I…" Gwendal broke off and sighed deeply. "Now I don't know what you want."

"And…you want to clarify?" Yuuri asked, really wishing the ground would just open and swallow him whole.

"Yes."

"Well, I can tell you that what I DON'T want is you acting on what you think are my desires. I…I don't even know what to say about that, but the idea that you'd kiss me and touch me because you think it's expected is…mortifying." Yuuri said, staring at his hands. "I don't want your pity."

"When you first came to Shin Makoku, Heika, you were a boy." Gwendal turned his face to the window, so Yuuri couldn't see his expression, but his voice was rough, as though he were swallowing back his emotions. "Then, you were almost immediately engaged to my younger brother, and while I have always been stern in my expectations of Wolfram, he is dear to me. You and I have often been at odds, but, we eventually found a workable solution, I think, and we have been more colleagues recently rather than adversaries. Through it all, however, you have been my King and I have been loyal. Whatever…feelings…I have, Heika, I have done my best to keep contained, as you are spoken for and have never…shown any interest in me in that way. However, this change has been…troublesome for me. I find that my emotions are not as easily controlled as they have been in the past. I do not have that easy way that Conrad has—able to say the right thing at the right time, and neither do I have that ability to simply adore without any concern for what others think, like Gunter. I cannot be other than I am. I can assure you, however, that I've never touched you out of pity, or duty. You've grown up, Heika, into a charming man and I…desire you."

"You do?" Yuuri asked, dumbfounded. "But…how? I mean, I'm not complaining, Gwendal, but…I'm hardly anything special. I'm not sexy like you, or experienced, or sophisticated. I'm just doing the best that I can."

"I think if you were any of those things…sophisticated, false, full of experience, then maybe I wouldn't…want you as I do. I…like you just as you are." Gwendal's voice was quiet and sincere. "I deal with the court more often than you do, and I can tell when I'm being flattered, or someone is pandering to me. Even when we have argued, you've always been honest, forthright. That is why this is so confusing…I…don't know exactly where I stand with you…what you want from me."

"I don't really want anything from you," Yuuri said, scratching the back of his neck, still embarrassed, but hope beginning to return to his heart. "I don't know how else to say it…I just want to be with you. You know? It's you that I want Gwendal. Hard as you are to understand sometimes, I wouldn't change you, because then you wouldn't be you…does that make sense?"

"It does." The tall demon conceded. "Still, when you were talking to Conrad and Yozak…"

"I was embarrassed, and I never thought in a million years someone as perfect as you could ever want someone as foolish as me." Yuuri said, forcing himself to make his own confession.

Gwendal looked at him then, his indigo blue eyes darkening further still with an emotion that took Yuuri's breath away. Slowly, he uncrossed his arms and shifted so that he was almost facing Yuuri again. It seemed to take forever, and Yuuri held his breath the entire time, afraid that if he moved or said anything he'd ruin the moment…again. He sighed with relief when Gwendal's hands finally settled on his waist and he went willingly into his General's lap when his hands urged him forward.

"I am many things...Yuuri," Gwendal said, his voice turning Yuuri's name into a caress. "But I am far from perfect—as you see. And how you could miss the signals I've sent, my very real desire for you…? That I can't explain, so I will just say this…I don't think I've ever wanted anything more than I want you. Despite everything that is happening now, and as much as my mind tells me this could yet bring pain to us both, my heart…has settled on you. So, please, don't doubt me."

"Gwen," Yuuri whispered, using the diminutive of his General's name for the first time ever. "I want you so much, please believe me."

"I do," Gwendal replied, then sealed his lips to Yuuri's in a kiss that curled the Maou's toes.

Yuuri wasn't sure what he was doing at all, and could barely remember his own name as he responded to Gwendal's passionate kisses, matching him touch for touch. He'd been excited before, of course, and had intimate knowledge of his own body, but how Gwendal seemed to know exactly where to touch him to make him sigh, or shiver, or gasp was amazing. It was no wonder, he thought dimly, that Gwendal was such a gifted military strategist. In no time at all, Yuuri was a bundle of screaming nerves, his body begging for more and the jostling of the carriage serving only to force him back against the one he loved. Finally, unable to stand anymore of Gwendal's teasing, Yuuri dragged his mouth down to the small triangle of exposed flesh at Gwendal's open collar and latched his teeth gently on his skin, tugging lightly. Gwendal stilled beneath him for the space of a heart beat, and before Yuuri realized what was happening, he was on his back, pressed into the cushion of the seat, his legs wrapped around Gwendal's waist and the heavier demon's hips grinding into his.

"Yuuri," Gwendal growled in his ear. "You're sure…?"

Yuuri tried to answer, he really did, but his brain wouldn't connect to his mouth and all he could do was make a needy whimper in the back of his throat. That, apparently, was enough to communicate his desire because Gwendal's fingers moved to his jacket, whipping through the buttons and buckles with quick, sharp motions. Yuuri arched up, helping to shed his jacket, then he reached up and practically tore the tie restraining Gwendal's long, steely hair. When the warm mass tumbled over his now bare chest, Yuuri didn't try to hold in his happy sigh. It was like he could feel Gwendal's hands and lips everywhere at once. Tearing his trusted General's clothes off in a rolling carriage had not been Yuuri's idea of his first real sexual encounter, but now that it was happening, he thought it was the most erotic location in the world. His half-groan, half-angry shout was understandable, he thought, as the carriage came grinding to a halt.

"What the hell is it now?" He ground out.

Gwendal moved, bringing Yuuri up with him. There was a small, rueful smile on his General's lips as the tall mazoku tore a hand through his loose hair.

"Stay here, Heika," Gwendal commanded. "I'll return soon."

"Your coat, Gwendal," Yuuri whispered, feeling a frisson of fear travel his spine. Gwendal was back in his coat before the wood of the carriage stopped creaking. Sword in hand, he burst from the door, leaving Yuuri confused—concern dampening his rampant libido.

--O.o.O—

Gwendal burst of out of the carriage, ready to meet the danger currently facing them, and secretly welcoming the chance to take out his frustrations on whoever had been stupid enough to interrupt his time with the Maou. Firmly locking his swirling emotions away, he concentrated on surveying the scene…but there was a decided lack of scrambling by the soldiers, and there were no shouts or hints of an attack. There was only Gunter, seated atop his horse, staring at Gwendal with an amused smile on his lips.

"We are merely stopping to water and rest the horses," his beautiful friend said brightly. "Is something wrong, Gwendal? Did you not hear the driver's alert?"

"I…was distracted," the General replied, after a long moment.

"I see."

Gwendal was certain Gunter was laughing—not out loud of course, but he could see the mirth dancing in his colleague's amethyst eyes.

"We are not far from our destination. There is, perhaps, another two hours to go before we arrive at the Inn. We will spend the night there, as planned, then arrive at the Gyllenhaal estate for the house party in the morning."

"Fine," Gwendal said through gritted teeth.

"Are you hungry? Or Heika? I packed a lunch basket in the carriage, it's stowed beneath the rear seat."

"Thank you," Gwendal bit out, sheathing his sword. "If there's nothing else?"

"Nothing at all," Gunter said, still smiling much too brightly.

Gwendal turned and had almost made back inside of the carriage when Gunter's cheerful voice followed him.

"And Gwendal, the next time you emerge ready to do battle in the King's name…maybe you should button your shirt and coat first?"

"I will take it under advisement," Gwendal growled.

If he released a small amount of his maryoku, perhaps just enough to make the ground shake near the carriage, which caused Gunter's horse to shy away, nearly upsetting the adjutant's seat, well, it was purely accidental. More important to him now was returning to the Maou and reassuring the younger man that there was no danger.

"Is everything all right?" Yuuri asked when he closed the door to the carriage.

"Yes. We have merely stopped to water the horses and to rest them. Apparently, I did not hear the driver's warning."

As he watched the young king smile, the look of relief evident on his face, Gewndal marveled at how the slightest gesture on the Maou's part could change his own emotions. If Yuuri smiled, he was happy. If Yuuri frowned or became afraid, all Gwendal wanted to do was fix whatever the problem was so that the young man would smile again. A stab of fearful unease, wholly unexpected, almost took his breath. He wasn't used to such tender feelings and wasn't sure what action he could take to forestall them. He felt…vulnerable. He was too old, too experienced in the ways of the world to become so deeply attached to another person. He should have walked away from this when he had the chance. He should have thanked the King for saving his reputation and then gracefully bowed out. It was too confusing, this shifting of roles. It had been easier when he was Gwendal the Grouchy, Gwendal the Irritated, Gwendal the…easily ignored. Now he stood in the center of the bright spotlight of the Maou's attention, and while he was warmed through because of it, he also felt exposed. It was becoming harder to maintain his expressionless mask—for every time the young man smiled, Gwendal wanted to smile in return. Even now, his hands were itching, wanting to reach for the King and hold him again. He'd thought he could do this…be the King's lover without the messy entanglement of emotional attachment. After all, he'd spent long years carefully crafting his tangle-free life and it had worked brilliantly. There had been…physical encounters over the years, a mere mechanical coupling that had served to assuage any demands of his adult, healthy body, but it had been a long time since he'd allowed himself close to another person. His head felt a little muzzy—had it only been a few days, really? It was hard for Gwendal to remember, and maybe it had been coming on so gradually that he'd not been able to see the danger and avoid it. Like a thief in the night, skulking through the shadows, Yuuri had crept inside of him, past all his rigid defenses, and stolen his heart.

"Is everything all right?" Yuuri asked, his beautiful eyes clouding with gentle confusion.

"No," Gwendal answered honestly. He didn't know how to lie to the King and he really didn't want to.

"What's the matter, Gwen?" The Maou leaned forward on the seat, his face serious. "Are we in danger?"

"Yes. But not in the way you're thinking."

Gwendal closed his lips and turned his attention to the rear seat, finding and removing the basket that Gunter had previously packed.

"There's food in here," he said, handing the basket to Yuuri. "You should eat, if you're hungry. I need…to take a walk."

"Do…do you want me to come?"

He hated the slight note of fear in Yuuri's voice. He hated that the young man was still so unsure, so hesitant when it came to him—and it only made his mood darken. Gwendal von Voltaire was a patient man, but long days filled with near-misses and sexual frustration had pushed him to his limit. He had been so close…so close to something he couldn't exactly describe, but he knew had he been allowed a few more minutes in the passionate embrace he'd shared with Yuuri that they'd both be a lot happier at this moment.

"No. Stay here. Gunter will watch over you. I need…a moment."

"All right," the King said, the contents of the basket seeming to take on a huge importance, since he wouldn't look at Gwendal at all. "I'll just…be here."

Gwendal nodded, then left the carriage, careful this time to button his shirt and coat, and strode through the assembled soldiers without so much as a word of explanation. He ignored Gunter's curious questions and headed into the depth of the woods. He needed to be alone. He needed to pull himself together. He needed to be in command of himself again, to feel safe again, before he did something incredibly stupid like confessing his love for the Maou…

Gwendal stopped dead in his tracks, appalled, and leaned his forehead against the nearest tree. "Great Shinou, what have you done to me, Yuuri?" He muttered.

"He does have a rare ability, that's true."

Gwendal looked up to see Conrad standing by a nearby tree.

"I don't know what you're talking about, and I came out here to be alone. So, if you have something of value to report, perhaps the capture of those after the king, then speak. If not, I would appreciate some privacy."

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Conrad replied, his easy stance and serene features indicating that he remained unconcerned with Gwendal's stern comments. "And, I wish I could tell you we've caught them, but I can't. As for your other, more pressing problem, I'm sorry to tell you, brother, you're sunk."

"How do you do this?" Gwendal growled, lashing out at the tree in front of him, reducing it to splinters in a burst of maryoku.

"Do what?" Conrad asked, sidestepping the falling debris and signaling to the advancing soldiers to retreat.

"How do you stand there, so easy and accepting, and just allow yourself to…" Gwendal broke off.

"Love him?" Conrad smiled. "Come walk with me, brother."

Gwendal didn't resist when Conrad nudged his shoulder, falling into step beside his younger brother and the one person in Shin Makoku who understood the Maou best.

"You suffer from a common complaint, Gwendal," Conrad said quietly, as they walked. "However, unlike everyone else that has tried to woo him, Yuuri returns your feelings."

"It is presumptuous of you to give a name to my feelings."

"Maybe so," Conrad said congenially. "Still, you're in love with him, Gwendal. I don't know for how long, of course, because you've always been the best out of all of us in hiding your emotions. You were probably successful as long as you could remain aloof, but that's impossible now. The problem, of course, stems from the fact that he doesn't just want you. He needs you."

"How do you know this?" Gwendal asked, shaking his head in wonder.

"I see a lot more than I ever let on, of course. And I know him better than you do, for all that you love him. You are very alike, the two of you, despite your differences. It surprises me that you can't see that."

"What are you talking about?" Gwendal scoffed. "I am nothing like the Maou."

"Of course not," Conrad agreed, smiling. "He is honorable, well-meaning, and completely committed to Shin Makoku. He is often hesitant to reveal how he feels because he fears rejection—yours most of all—and he sulks when he doesn't get his way. You're right, of course, you two are nothing alike."

"I don't appreciate your sarcasm, little brother."

Conrad laughed. "I suppose not. Still, I hate to see you twist yourself into knots over this. It's really very simple. You love him. Isn't that enough?"

Gwendal shook his head. "Even if I give credence to your words, he is still Wolfram's fiancé. That situation shows no signs of abating, and there are the other constraints as well."

"Really? Impediments you can't surmount? I'm very surprised to hear that you, the demon who stood up to the Maou, haven't the courage to face a few obstacles. You will break my Godson's heart."

Gwendal searched his brother's face for signs of his dry wit, that sarcasm he was so used to, but he saw nothing but honest sadness in Conrad's brown eyes.

"Probably," Gwendal whispered, sighing. "But I won't mean to. Truthfully, I'm not afraid of any obstacles between us, but…I am not…used to this."

"I don't know that anyone is ever ready to fall in love, and I'm not sure you can get used to it, per se. I do know this about Yuuri, though…whether or not he's said it, he's grown to love you deeply over the years. He may not even have the words for it. He tells me everything, and when it comes to discussing you, he's been turning red and stammering for far longer than these last days. Do you really mean to tell me that you didn't see it? That you missed the way he always ends up near you, no matter what happens? He is drawn to you, Gwendal. He can't control his feelings for you anymore than you can deny yours for him. He showed you mercy when you asked the Maou to withdraw—can't you give him a little of that back?"

"I don't want this." Gwendal ground out, his temper returning. "I don't want to feel like this—afraid of what will happen to him if he's out of my sight, reaching for him first thing in the morning, and being elated when I find him next to me. I don't want to long for him, or to feel so damned empty when he's not with me. When I kiss him, I feel alive again, and young. His scent calms me, his smile melts me, and I have been smiling back. I. Have. Been. Smiling."

"Brother—we're discussing my godson…these are mental images I can live without."

"You know what I mean," Gwendal muttered.

"Regardless of whether or not you want it, you have it. You hold the heart of the Maou in your hand and you're the only one who can decide what to do with it. You can nurture that affection and see what it matures into, or you can crush it and save the assassins the trouble of targeting him. If you leave him now, he will not be the same. He will go on, and he will still be Maou, and he will probably be just as successful, but he will not be the same. I would ask you, as both your brother and his Nazukeoya, not to succumb to your fear."

"I hate this," Gwendal sighed.

"Of course you do. You can't control it, and that's why. You're heart is finally making a stand, Gwendal, and there's nothing you can do about it. For a demon in charge of a nation's army, that has to be uncomfortable."

"Wolfram, Yuuri, Greta…even you and Gunter…this will change all of us."

"That was always going to happen," Conrad said, reaching out to lay a hand on Gwendal's shoulder. "Answer me this one question, honestly. I know you can step away now, releasing the both of you from this uncomfortable state of uncertainty. That's fine. But, be honest…when he falls in love again, no matter who with, what will you do?"

Gwendal paused, his mind supplying him with a series of fast moving images: The Maou's first arrival in Shin Makoku, his return with Morgif, chained together in desert, the bearbees, the dragons, and a million breakfasts, lunches and dinners shared together. He thought of the countless mornings working with Yuuri just across the room from him…dancing with the king, resting together under the willow, waking to find Yuuri in his arms, in his bed where everything felt right. He thought of Yuuri brushing his hair, adjusting his jacket, fingers laced together, their passionate kisses, and most especially the first, damp kiss shared at Shinou's temple. He gripped onto his little bando-kun tightly and closed his eyes, almost physically swaying against the rapid succession of mental images. Five years was nothing more than the blink of any eye to any demon, but there were more memories than he could handle—and all of them centered around Yuuri. From the moment he arrived until this very afternoon, and every moment after, Gwendal realized, finally, that he'd loved the Maou from the beginning and would, always.

"I would…resign my position and leave Blood Pledge Castle." He whispered, answering Conrad's question.

"The Maou-Heika would not suffer the loss of his General, so, I suggest, brother, that you pull yourself together and simply accept the inevitable. He is relentless, even without trying, and you should know that better than anyone. Have you ever told him how you came by those scars on your back? Surely he's seen them by now."

"Yes, he's seen them before, but he has been careful not to ask. Sometimes he does show some restraint."

"Maybe if he knew the story behind them…maybe if you told him how you got them…he'd understand more about you, and what he means to you."

"If he ever asks me, Conrad, I will tell him the truth. I do not lie to the Maou." Gwendal said, still irritated, especially since Conrad was making so much sense.

"Might be nice if you treated yourself to the same courtesy, brother. Stop lying to yourself. I know from experience that it's just better to admit your affection, in my case, or passion in your case, for Yuuri. Why fight against fate?"

Gwendal nodded, stopping by the edge of a small stream that ran through the woods. He sat down, his back straight and stared at nothing in particular.

"I'll leave you to think on this further. Don't take too long. We need to get moving."

Gwendal took several deep breaths and struggled to control his temper. He still didn't quite understand how his brother could be so easy and comfortable carrying the affection of the Maou. It was one thing to carry professional responsibility, and he prided himself on his ability to provide for his family and personal obligations both financially and in terms of leadership. Still, opening his heart and allowing the Maou access…? That was something altogether different, and he wasn't sure if he was…qualified. Snorting, Gwendal dismissed the thought angrily. He was a grown demon, fully aged and experienced, and sitting on the bank of the stream moping like some lovesick cowherd was not how he lived his life!

Standing, he brushed the remnants of grass and soil from the back of his coat, and made his way back to the makeshift camp. He nodded to his soldiers, allowed Gunter's knowing smile to wash over him without any more immodest displays of temper, and returned to the carriage. He made sure the door was firmly closed and latched before he turned to the Maou. Yuuri-heika was watching him, his expression unreadable, and the lunch basket was perched on the seat next to him, untouched. Gwendal filed that detail away to be handled as soon as he addressed the first problem.

He sat across from the King and stared at the young ruler, taking in his handsome features. He loved Yuuri's eyes, their expressiveness and the open window they provided to his thoughts. He loved the younger man's hands, which were now clasped together in his lap. He loved his laughter, and his sighs, and most of all, his smile. Still, he was discomfited and would be until he got the current weight he was carrying off his chest.

"You make me happy," he growled, his voice accusing. "Being with you makes me happy, and I find that the more time I spend with you, the more time I want to spend with you."

"I…I'm…sorry?" Yuuri said, clearly puzzled and offering an apology.

Gwendal waved him off with a sharp hand gesture. "Just let me finish. I am not accustomed to happiness, Heika, and it unsettles me. But, I find that as much as it makes me…uncomfortable…I want more of it. You are handsome, and sweet, forgiving and just. You go out of your way to please everyone around you. I admire your ease with people, even if some of your habits still baffle me. But, being with you makes me…happy."

Yuuri sat on the seat, waiting patiently, his expression as serious as Gwendal's tone.

"I don't care what has happened in the past, or what will happen—your engagement, and my responsibilities, even these as yet unknown assailants currently moving against us—none of that matters to me now, as long as I have a place in your life. I thought I could do this without…becoming enamored of you. I thought I could fulfill the obligations of my position in your life without jealousy or concern." His voice deepened despite his best intentions, and he knew he sounded angry, but if he didn't say what was on his mind, Gwendal knew he never would. "It's all your fault, Heika. If you weren't who you are, then this would never have happened. And after I've finished speaking, I won't talk about this again. But, I care for you. And it's your fault."

Gwendal folded his arms over his chest and closed his mouth, feeling the lump settle in his throat.

"Have you finished?" The Maou asked quietly.

"Yes," he bit out.

"I see." The Maou scratched his head and blushed bright red—making Gwendal want to gather him in his arms and hold the young man close. "I…don't really remember what I said to you when the Maou took over in your office, but, whatever happened…whatever I said…whatever I told you that I feel…I probably feel more than I said. I care for you, too. A lot. I'm sorry if having feelings for me makes you angry. All I can say is that it makes me…happy."

"You want my affection?" Gwendal said, his question as harsh as any interrogation he'd ever conducted.

"Yeah," the King replied, looking at his hands. "More than you know."

"Done," Gwendal said, jerking his head in a sharp nod and opening his arms.

It took no time for the Maou to fill his arms and his lap. The kiss they shared belied all his gruff words and harsh gestures. He promised himself that for as long as he stood as the King's lover, then Yuuri would never feel anything but tender, solicitous adoration from him. Maybe he couldn't bring himself to speak in the way of a courtier, or a romantic man, but he could show the King what he felt, and he just hoped it was enough.

"You can be so harsh when you talk," Yuuri whispered when Gwendal finally pulled back from plundering the King's mouth. "But, you're gentle on the inside."

Gwendal shivered. It was strange to be read so completely. "I promise, Yuuri, to be attentive and caring in my actions. It is…the best I can do. It is…easier for me when it is just us, but this time…is rare. Mostly, we will be surrounded by others, and I would ask that you…trust me."

"I always have," Yuuri replied, winding his arms around Gwendal's neck. "I will try not to make you uncomfortable anymore. I won't apologize for you being happy, though."

"Very well," Gwendal agreed. "Now, why haven't you eaten?"

Yuuri stared at him as though he'd just asked him why he hadn't sprouted wings and flown around the carriage. The young man slammed into his chest as the carriage lurched into motion again.

"I…I was too nervous to eat."

"Silly," Gwendal chided him, grazing his knuckles over the King's cheek. "You need to eat."

"So do you," the Maou returned.

"Then, we'll eat, Yuuri…and later, when we stop for the night, if you want, we'll pick up where we left off earlier."

"I'd like that," the King whispered, blushing again, but holding Gwendal's gaze.

"Me, too."

The rest of the day's journey passed without incident. As the miles ground away beneath the carriage wheels, Gwendal felt his mood ease again. He was…pleasantly surprised, as he had been at breakfast the previous morning, at how companionable the Maou was. They lounged together in the carriage, nibbling from the basket, which someone—Gunter he had suspected—had packed with care. Both his and the Maou's favorite treats were carefully wrapped and ready for them. There was even a small flask of scotch at the bottom of the basket, and Gwendal enjoyed two or three sips as he relaxed against the cushions, one arm around the Maou's slim shoulders and the The Tale of Samuel Whiskers in his other hand. Every so often, Yuuri held out another nibble for him—a bite of cheese or a piece of muffin—and waited for Gwendal to gingerly take the morsel from his fingers with his teeth. Every third bite or so, Gwendal remembered to press small kisses to the King's fingers which made the younger man snuggle closer to his side.

He smiled at the small pictures of the corpulent rat and his thin, beleaguered wife. Yuuri had said these books were written for children, but he found them to be utterly charming. It was a thoughtful gift, and one that told him that the Maou had taken care to choose presents that would not only be appreciated (because he would appreciate anything Yuuri chose to give him), but reflected a knowledge of Gwendal's tastes. That train of thought led him to think about what present he might choose for the Maou. He needed to know the King a bit better, of course, and there were already things that were tacitly understood to belong to the purview of others. Gunter, for example, gave Yuuri books and other more scholarly gifts. Wolfram gave him art. Conrad gave him presents that were sporting, or related to that baseball game they both loved so much. Geika always gifted the Maou with presents from their world—encompassing technology that Gwendal really didn't understand. All he tended to give the King were knitted stuffed animals of dubious origin, other knitted items, or weaponry. He stared at the page in front of him, wondering…what could he get the King that would show the young man what Gwendal really felt? He didn't know, but he filed it away and decided to think on it again when he had more time.

--O.o.O—

Yozak was waiting for the royal entourage when the carriage rolled into the Inn's courtyard. He waved to the soldiers and nodded to Gunter as they began the process of dismounting. However, when the carriage door opened and Gwendal appeared, looking more smug than he had even after the rebels in the north of Shin Makoku had been subdued (before Yuuri-heika had ever arrived), he allowed himself a tentative hope. His mood soared, though, when the Maou appeared, peeking over Gwendal's shoulder, then exiting the carriage and sliding his hand into the curve of the tall, grim General's elbow. It was looking very good for his bet.

"Yo!" He called out, waving at the Maou.

"Hi, Yozak!" Yuuri said, happily, as Gwendal steered him toward the door.

"I see you've arrived safely," the General said, looking him over. "Anything of interest to report?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary, Your Excellency," He said, grinning when Yuuri nuzzled his cheek against Gwendal's arm. "Bocchan, your rooms are ready and there's a hot bath waiting for you. Shall I assist Lord von Kleist with settling the soldiers?"

"Good idea," Gwendal replied, staring at him suspiciously. "I will accompany the Maou."

"Right, then. Your rooms are at the end of the hall, top floor. I'll see you later."

"OK," Yuuri said, smiling at him. "At dinner, right?"

"You bet, Heika."

Yozak sauntered off in the direction of the stables, knowing full well that Gwendal was staring at his back. He couldn't help his mirth, though…because it really was looking very good for his bet, and he had plans for all the money he intended to win.

"Ah, Yozak," Gunter said, as the red-haired spy entered the stable. "I trust Gwendal and Heika are safely inside the Inn?"

"Yes, indeed," he replied, smirking. "Attached at the hip, I'd say."

"I must admit, things seem to finally be moving in the right direction."

"Yuuri is happy. I'm no magician and I don't have a lick of maryoku, but even I can see that. I just hope his Excellency can seal the deal before too much time passes."

"Me, too. He's having a great deal of difficulty accepting his feelings, but I don't think he will be able to resist Yuuri too much longer." Conrad said as he stepped from the shadows.

"Taichou," Yozak said, nodding. He prided himself on being as silent as the shadows themselves, but it was still amazing how his friend and captain could seemingly appear from thin air.

"What news from your scouting forays?" Gunter asked.

"Well, people aren't talking about anything other than the exciting news that the Maou has taken a lover." Yozak said, taking a seat on a bale of hay. "Everyone I've run across has spoken of the event in excited tones, though there are many women who don't understand why the Maou would choose someone as frightening as Gwendal when he is already engaged to such a delicious blonde."

"About that," Gunter said, softly. "I had a pigeon mail during the journey today, which I will share with Gwendal later and allow him to decide whether or not to tell Yuuri. The details are unclear, but Wolfram has been injured back at the castle. However, the message, from my daughter, speculates that the injuries may well have been self-inflicted and made to look like an accident."

Yozak held his breath, looking to his taichou to gauge Conrad's reaction. The brown-haired soldier frowned. "I…find it hard to believe that Wolfram would do something so…dangerous. Still, it must be investigated either way—in case it was another attempt made against Yuuri and Gwendal that happened to catch Wolfram unaware. We should return messages to both Gisela and Anissina instructing them to be cautious. Also to my mother. It would be best if she was in charge while we are away."

"Do you want to go and investigate for yourself?" Gunter asked.

"Yes," Conrad replied simply. "But, let's discuss it with Gwendal first and see what he says. The Maou and his safety must come first."

"Your journey was slowed today because of the sheer number of people traveling with you and the carriage," Yozak pointed out. "My horse is fresh and I can easily return to the castle and meet up with you again tomorrow. Why not let me go now, and see what has really happened."

"A good idea," Gunter agreed.

Conrad nodded and Yozak stood. "I'll be on my way in less than fifteen minutes."

As he left the Inn's courtyard, Yozak doubled back so that he made a quick tour of the perimeter. As he passed near the far side of the Inn, he looked up at the windows on the top floor just in time to see Lord von Voltaire lift the Maou into his arms and carry him out of sight. He sighed. It looks like his victory might be delayed just a little bit longer.

--O.o.O—

It was late by the time Yuuri and Gwendal finally had the private time they'd discussed earlier in the day. Sometimes, being the King really did have its disadvantages. First, there had been the obligatory reports from soldiers, Conrad and Gunter. He had been careful to maintain his physical distance from Gwendal, even though what he really wanted to do was snuggle into his General's lap and order every one else out of their small sitting room. Still, he knew his duties, so he made the best of the situation and quietly acquiesced to the interruptions.

There had been no attempts made by bandits or conspirators during the day, and that was a good thing, he supposed. Then dinner had been served in the large, common dining room of the Inn, and because this was supposed to be a pleasure trip, Yuuri had been expected to stay with everyone else and be social and cheerful. Glancing at Gwendal, as the evening had worn on, he could see the telltale signs of his General's headache—the pinched, wrinkled brow, and the dark circles beneath Gwendal's eyes. The demon he loved was tired, exhausted, and Yuuri didn't think he was faring much better.

Then, for a while, Gwendal and Conrad disappeared. Yuuri was used to that, of course, and he understood that sometimes brothers have things to discuss, because he had a brother of his own. Thinking of Shori made him think of Wolfram, and thinking of Wolfram chased away his hopeful feelings again. He knew he was upsetting his fiancé's world by taking this trip, by allowing himself to have such strong feelings for Wolfram's brother, but, there had to be way for it all to work out. There just had to be. So, Yuuri grabbed onto that hope and held onto it. He loved Gwendal—there was no denying it. And while Gwendal didn't love him, he had said that he cared for him, wanted him, and that Yuuri made him happy. Knowing that made the young King feel strangely…peaceful. He grinned to himself, delighted to be the source of Gwendal's happiness, because he knew that was something very rare, indeed. So, he'd find a way to work with Wolfram and he'd find a way to work it out for all of them. He was the Maou, right? That had to stand for something.

Consequently, however, it was extremely late when Gwendal finally returned and ushered Yuuri up the stairs and back toward their rooms. The moment they'd first arrived, they'd tried to take a nice, long bath—but that had been converted into a hurried wash and dry, thanks to the soldiers whom were anxious to report to their general. Now, it was too late and the water had been long drained. There was nothing to do, really, except change into pajamas and slide in between the sheets of the hired bed. Yuuri held his breath, waiting to see if Gwendal would want to hold him, or turn away from him and just sleep. He let it out in a relieved sigh when Gwendal gathered him in his arms and tucked him tightly against his side.

"Yuuri," He said, softly, against his ear. "I'm sorry we've had so little time alone."

"Don't apologize," Yuuri replied, nuzzling against Gwendal's chest. "Some nights are just like that. How's your headache? Would you like me to…ease your pain?"

"How did you know…?" Gwendal's voice, in the darkness, seemed surprised.

"I can tell by your expressions, and the circles under your eyes. Would you let me help?" Yuuri asked, trying to avoid being pushy. "You might sleep a little better."

"Very well," Gwendal said, kissing the shell of Yuuri's ear lightly. "I would appreciate it."

In the soft blue glow that marked the release of his healing majutsu, Yuuri could see Gwendal's tightly pinched features relax. "Is that better," he asked, when the glow had faded. He yawned, suddenly sleepy after that final burst of power.

"Much," Gwendal whispered, pulling Yuuri closer still. "Close your eyes, Yuuri, and go to sleep. We'll just have to see what tomorrow brings, all right?"

"All right, Gwen," Yuuri said, feeling almost drugged and drowsy. His heart beat heavily in his chest, and it felt so good to be near the one he loved. He wanted this every night, and even though he couldn't tell Gwendal everything in his heart, he was happy to know that at the very least what they had together was more than anything he ever hoped to have for his own."

"I love you, Yuuri. No matter what happens. Forever."

The soft confession in his ear—yes, that's what it would sound like if Gwendal said the words. Yuuri smiled, maybe one day…maybe. After all, he'd grown up without ever dreaming there was another world where he would one day be king—and that had happened. Was it so strange to hope that Gwendal might one day reciprocate his feelings? What would it be like, he wondered. What would he say?

"I love you, too, Gwen."

Yes, that's just what he'd say…and one day, he might have the chance.


And there is the end of Chapter 8. You know, as I write this, I keep thinking…ok, this will happen next, and then this will happen, and…Gwendal refuses to cooperate. He's more skittish than a virgin on Prom Night, and I suppose he just refuses to be rushed. Ok, wanted to get this chapter up, now I have to dash to work. I'll be back later this afternoon to catch up on mail and another chapter. Thanks a lot for your awesome reviews and your well-wishes. I'm really sorry for these delays…it bugs me when I can't be right on top of things. However, I suppose if I didn't work, then I couldn't pay the bills and that would be bad! So, next chapter…we should find out whether they actually said the words, or if Yuuri dreamed them. Savvy grammarians already know. I'll be seeing you…SN