Author's note: Yes, you voted… and here's the results!

STORY 3 wins by just 4 votes!!!


The Illusion

"Okay, Wolf-chan," Jennifer said cheerily, "next, we add the salt." She had her pink apron on with the adorably cut little frills and lace all over it.

"Hm…" Wolfram said, handing the container over to her. The blond was wearing an even frillier apron with the words "Kiss the Cook" embroidered on the front.

"Now, the secret to baking Yuu-chan's favorite cookies is having them bake on parchment paper." Then, thinking about the lack of such things in Shin Makoku, she added, "Or…maybe the secret is 'love'…?"

Wolfram turned a dark pink at that and grinned openly.

"Next, we add the oatmeal."

Wolfram rifled through the shopping bags until he found the right one. "Is this it?" he asked, not being able to read Japanese.

"Yes, yes!" she chirped happily, giving her son's fiancé a wooden spoon. "You stir and I'll get the rest out of the bags."

Wolfram gave a serious nod to that. He could certainly stir. But, as he did so, he wondered how Yuuri could take his mother so much for granted. The woman was amazing. She was thoughtful, cheerful, and kind. If her family was happy, there was nothing else left for her to wish for. Wolfram had to admit that his own mother had much more sex appeal, practically every man's fantasy, but that was…it.

The front door opened and closed with a vague, "I'm back" followed by the heavy thumping of socked feet. Shori came by, glanced at the two, and walked away before Jennifer could say anything. She stared at his back curiously, dusted her hands off with a shrug, and went back to work with a contented smile at Wolfram. He returned it.

The blond could hear her humming a happy tune as she preheated the oven.

Yes, Yuuri's mother actually wanted to spend time with him to teach him how to make his fiancé's favorite cookies. But, Wolfram suspected that it was more than just about baking. As they worked, she would ask how Yuuri was doing, feeling… "Does he eat regularly?" and "Were the other monarchs nice to him?" Wolfram had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing about that last one. Of course, Jennifer knew that Wolfram looked out for Yuuri. But, there was more to it than that. Wolfram knew she could sense his feelings, too. And, deep down inside, that felt…good. Best of all, he could call her "Mama," even though he preferred something slightly more formal to show respect.

Yuuri, weary from reviewing his test notes, walked to the kitchen to get a drink. He stopped suddenly to see his accidental fiancé and his mother in the kitchen.

The double black noticed that Wolfram's blond hair was pulled back, just like his mother's, with a white scarf. And both of them were wearing aprons. Wolfram's "Kiss the Cook," which he knew that Wolfram couldn't read, just had to be a mistake. Then, behind Wolfram, his mother pointed to the words and clasped her hands together hopefully. Okay, on the part of one person, it was a mistake. Wolfram was, blissfully, ignorant of it all—doing his best to stir the mixture in the clear glass bowl.

"What are you doing?" Yuuri said, but knew full well what it was.

Wolfram rolled his eyes. "Aren't these your favorite cookies?"

Yuuri stepped into the kitchen and saw what Wolfram was stirring. "Oh, I love these!" he said.

Jennifer smiled to herself and quietly tip-toed away from the kitchen. "I need to check on the laundry for a second. Please watch everything for me, Wolf-chan."

Yuuri noticed Wolfram's redoubled effort to stir. It was cute how one little request from his mother got more effort out of the blond Mazoku than anyone else he knew of—himself included.

"It…um…looks good," Yuuri said, eyeing the bowl owlishly. The raisins were in now. And it seemed very tasty even though nothing was baked just yet.

Wolfram stopped, dipped his finger in the sweet-smelling mix and offered it to Yuuri. Before the double black could say anything, the finger was dabbed against his lips. And, involuntarily, Yuuri's lips pecked at the delicate finger, wanting more.

"You taste good…" Then his eyes widened with terror. What had he just said? "I-I mean, the dough tastes good."

Wolfram put the same finger into his mouth, much to a very embarrassed and blushing Yuuri, "You were right the first time," he purred.

Green eyes locked with black.

Yuuri could feel himself backing away. And he saw the disappointment on Wolfram's face. The blond returned to his task—mixing the dough. His face set in an unreadable expression.

"I think you need to get back to your studies," Wolfram said evenly as he worked. "You don't have much time…anymore."

There was something dark about the way Wolfram said that. Yuuri began to worry. He opened his mouth to say something, but got a stare. "Do I need to repeat myself, Wimp?" The glare was hard and Yuuri could feel the room positively blacken with dark vibes.

"Yeah, I guess, I'd better." He turned to walk away, but glanced back.

Wolfram sighed to himself, "I can't even play with you." It was followed by an awkward shrug. "Why do I bother…?"

All through dinner, Wolfram ate quietly—doing his best to be helpful to Jennifer when she needed something, which included passing the soy sauce, but also trying to keep his red tie out of his plate. He seemed to be a bit distracted, which was not like him at all, and one curl of blond hair was bent up at an odd angle due to the white cloth he had on his head earlier. Wolfram glanced at Yuuri for a second and then looked away.

Yuuri raised an eyebrow to all that, but went on eating anyway. He needed to study and his semester finals were tomorrow morning. Across from him, Shori sat with a sour expression and stabbed at his food. Wolfram was sitting in his usual spot. And it must have annoyed him. Yuuri shrugged mentally at that. His brother should be old enough to get over such petty things.

Yuuri put another bite of food in his mouth with his chopsticks and noticed Shori staring at Wolfram again. Sheesh! He really needs to get over this. Yuuri frowned with the next bite. I'll have a talk with him later.

"Don't you like it?" Jennifer asked, looking curious.

"Eh?" Yuri said, not understanding.

"Your dinner," Wolfram explained. "I helped to make it. Maybe, I did something wrong?"

Yuuri noticed his older brother's eyes shining behind his glasses with that last sentence.

Yes, I'm definitely going to say something to Shori tonight, he thought.

"Umm….Ha! Ha! No," he laughed nervously and ruffled his own hair, "I'm just thinking about exams." He stood up from the table. "In fact, I'd better get back right now."

Everyone at the table gave a nod to that.

"Wolf-chan?" Jennifer called, putting the last of the onigiri on the tray with a mug of green tea. "Can you take this up to Yuu-chan?"

Wolfram walked into the kitchen and noticed the three rice balls had cute little faces on them made of nori—so cute, in fact, it would have been almost impossible for him to eat them.

"Of course," he said with a smile, taking the tray.

The blond entered Yuuri's room with a gentle knock. The door was ajar anyway. And, not hearing anything, he entered—curious as to why his fiancé hadn't said a thing.

He was greeted with a snore. With arms folded, Yuuri was dozing quietly with his head in the middle of his science text—his chin resting on diagrams showing triple and quadruple carbon bonds. Wolfram placed the tray down at the far end of Yuuri's desk. He rested his hands on his hips and wrestled with the thought of waking the double black. Studying and coming back for the exams, wasn't that why they came in the first place? Well, that's why Yuuri came, anyway.

Wolfram frowned a little and dipped his slender fingers into raven hair, smoothing back the silky strands.

Yuuri came from a strange place full of carriages that moved without horses and lights that danced in the night without candles or magic. He could read and write in a language that had three symbol systems, and his "science" was the kind of thing that, maybe, Anissina would be able to comprehend on some level. In all the ways that Yuuri was "stupid" in the Mazoku world, he was practically a "genius" in this strange one, the blond decided.

Wolfram pulled a stray strand of black hair and tucked it behind Yuuri's ear. Sleepily, a small chuckle came from him. It tickled.

I can feel you slipping away from me, Wolfram thought with a sigh. And that's why I insisted that you bring me along. Maybe, it was selfish, but…

There was a soft knock at the door. Wolfram expected to see Jennifer, but Shori's tall form filled the doorway instead.

He noticed with a frown that Wolfram's hand was smoothing Yuuri's hair as he slept. "Can I talk to you for a few minutes…in my room?"

Wolfram gave a shrug at that and followed, wondering vaguely what Yuuri's older brother wanted. He never wanted to speak with him before. Usually, it was quite the opposite—not that the blond cared.

Shori's room was slightly larger and fairly neat. Only the bed hadn't been made. But the rest seemed tidy with a large computer monitor dominating. On the screen was Shori's latest dating sim. The busty brunette with light blue eyes looked at him with the caption running, "Could you…umm…." *blush* "Could you help me pick out a new bathing suit? Answer: Y/N."

Wolfram couldn't read the words, but the character's low cut blouse, with breasts practically tumbling out, spoke volumes. With a disapproving expression, he turned away from it to face Shori.

"Have a seat," he said, gesturing to his bed. Shori took the computer chair and laced his long his fingers casually.

The blond sat down at the foot of the bed with curiosity etched into his features. It was a sweet, almost totally cute gesture—head cocked to one side with blond hair brushing against his face. The green eyes were sharp and his pink lips were opened slightly. The white, button down shirt with a thin, red tie and jeans fit him to a "T." Reluctantly, Shori had to admit it to himself. In every way possible, Wolfram embodied the perfect bishonen.

"It's about Yuu-chan…"

Wolfram's green eyes widened.

"…And you…"

Wolfram leaned forward. Now, he was totally confused. "Really? He didn't seem upset tonight. I can always tell when he is," the blond mumbled, mostly to himself. Though, that wimp may not have said anything specific… Could I have missed something?

"No, that's not it," Shori said and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "And I guess, there's no easy way to say it. So, I'll just come out with it."

Wolfram blinked at him.

In the hallway, Yuuri stretched a little. He had been snoozing on his book and, then, the smell of the green tea woke him up a bit. Of course, bumping his elbow into the tray itself, rattling it, probably had something to do with it as well.

"And I think it's about time that someone did…," Shori's voice said authoritatively.

"Eh?" Yuuri said. "Who is he talking to?"

"And that would be…?" came Wolfram's voice.

"Wolfram?" Yuuri said with a slight yawn. He scratched his head lightly as he padded his way to Shori's room. Late in the night as it was, he might as well go. Besides, he wanted to have a quick word with his brother about the strange way he was behaving at dinner.

Shori looked sternly at Wolfram. "I hate to say this…but…." He took a breath and just blurted the rest out. "My brother doesn't love you."

Wolfram's eyes widened.

"Look, the engagement was just an accident. Right? Besides, you're a guy and I know that Yuu-chan has never been…you know… interested …in guys." Not realizing it, he tugged at his collar when the blond began giving him glares, dangerous ones. He could now see why his baby brother put up with the engagement and the blond. When angered, the looks were, indeed, intimidating. Shori started to thank his lucky stars that Wolfram wasn't able to wield fire in this world.

"So," he said, clearing his throat a little, "let's just quit pretending here, shall we?"

In the hallway, Yuuri leaned against the wall with his right arm flung over his eyes. He could just imagine the next few minutes. Wolfram was going to attack him and then there would be a horrible fuss in the middle of the night. What would the neighbors say? What if someone called the police?

"Pretending?" Wolfram said the word with venom.

"Yeah, that's what I said. So, just leave my little brother alone," Shori shot back. He wasn't going to let this blond Mazoku push him around the way he did his brother on a daily basis. After all, Shori was bigger and brawnier—tougher.

Wolfram pointed to the dating sim on the computer. "I would call that 'pretending' if you ask me." Wolfram got up and walked over to the screen. "Your 'woman' is really just a pretty picture on a com-puu-taa."

Shori opened his mouth to debate that point, but Wolfram cut him off. "Will your pretty picture sleep next to you in the night? Want to hold you when she has a nightmare? Defend you to the death when your world becomes a nightmare?"

"But, Yuu-chan doesn't want you! Understand?" Shori said much louder than he intended. The blond was stubborn, and getting this idea across in simple terms was difficult.

Yuuri was about to walk in, break the scene up, when he heard the quiet words, "…And you think…I don't know that?"

The double black couldn't move.

Couldn't breathe.

He leaned against the wall again. "Wolfram?" This was something he was sure his blond would never have admitted to anyone—ever.

"What?" Shori said incredulously. He knows?

"I'm not as blind or naïve as you might think," Wolfram said sincerely. "I also know that my time with him will be short." Wolfram shrugged at that thought and told himself that it didn't hurt. "I intend to stay with Yuuri, by his side, until the day comes he no longer needs me." The blond took a step towards Shori. "But, until that day comes, I'll live with the illusion that I have him. The illusion that the three of us—Yuuri, Greta, and I—are a family. The illusion of 'happily ever after'."

Yuuri closed his eyes and slid down the wall. Damn. He sat there, staring at the floor.

"So, in a way," Wolfram said, "you and I are the same…I suppose…" He pointed to the computer one last time. "You live with your fantasies…and I'll live with mine." As he made for the door, he finished with, "So, don't worry, Shori… You and I will never share the same family name…but, she won't, either."

With that, Wolfram walked out of the room, down the stairs, and made his way to the couch. Luckily, the room was dark and Yuuri's parents were already in bed. He didn't want their company right now anyway. He just wanted to be alone.

Wolfram took off his tie and unbuttoned the shirt down. What he really wanted was to go to bed, to sleep. But, Yuuri was studying or sleeping.

It didn't matter.

So, for now, he could at least camp out here. He folded his arms on the arm of the couch and rested his head on top.

A lie, he thought. Maybe, that's all 'love' is anyway. It's a pretty little lie that we tell ourselves to keep from feeling so lonely. If it were real, my mother wouldn't be off on her "love cruises" and my brothers would be married. He snuggled into the fabric of the couch. It's okay, though. I can, at least, say that I once had a family of my own with Yuuri. That I had a purpose in protecting him… and our family… and the kingdom. Yes, I had a purpose…beyond being that "beautiful youth"…that selfish blond doll…that everyone thinks I am. Wolfram sighed as his eyes slid shut. I know you'll abandon me one day, Yuuri. Still, if love is a lie, I'll accept it humbly with both hands. Thank you, Yuuri, for at least giving me that.

After hiding in his room, Yuuri came down stairs quietly. The third step always squeaked. So, he had to be careful. Besides, he wasn't sure just what he'd find when he stumbled across Wolfram next.

Once at the bottom, he glared angrily at the top of the stairs. Yuuri was furious with Shori for interfering in his life—no matter what kind of "brother complex" that he had. There was no excuse for what he just did.

Yuuri's eyes scanned the darkened room and found Wolfram. He was asleep on the couch.

The double black sat next to his fiancé and frowned at him. "I had no idea you felt that way, you know."

Wolfram shifted a little. "Yuuri," he sighed. The blond head rested on the arm of the couch, but he pulled his knees to his chest. "So cold," he mumbled. A shiver followed.

Yuuri curled up next to the blond and wrapped him in his arms awkwardly. Having never done it before, he wasn't exactly an expert on it. "Tomorrow, after my tests, we're going home. Okay, Wolfram?" He snuggled in a little bit, smelling that sunny, summer scent that was typically Wolfram. "And, I think things are going to be different from now on. A little bit at a time, I mean… And I think…" His voice trailed off as he smoothed away a thin tear from Wolfram's face. Damn, that Shori! He rested his chin on the blond's shoulder. "And, you know…I think that Shibuya Wolfram really isn't such a bad name after all."