I wanted to get at least one more fic out for the year - and as I've been craving ConYuu lately and have possibly read every ConYuu fic publicly in existence, I ran with this little plot-bunny. The plot isn't exactly complex, but Hurt/Comfort is definitely my bag, so I hope you all enjoy. And keep writing, guys - I read every single ConYuu fic I can get my hands on.
Yuuri came to with a stifled moan – stifled, because even in a semi-conscious state he did not want his captors to know that he was awake, and didn't want to give them the satisfaction of his pain in any case. And it did hurt. Quite a lot if he allowed himself to dwell on it, but he did his best not to do so. He fixed his mind instead on what he had been dreaming about only moments ago. Julia was beautiful in his mind, in a way that Yuuri knew she had also been when she had been alive. Her eyes, as clear a blue as his pendant, saw him and smiled at him. She had not spoken, but Yuuri had heard her voice inside his head. Just a little longer, she had encouraged him. Just a little longer, and he will come for you. How could he not? He wished he could hear her again now, but her voice had disappeared as soon as his eyes had opened. He did not even have the necklace anymore to remind him of her; he had thrown it to the ground in an attempt to lead Conrad and the others in the right direction. The slight weight of the pendent against his skin had been a comfort in many situations before, and he felt the absence of it keenly now, when he was in one of the worst fixes he had put himself in yet. But perhaps, he reminded himself, perhaps even now Conrad held it in his hand. Perhaps even now Conrad was making his way here, having used the necklace as a clue to Yuuri's whereabouts. Perhaps-
The door to his cell opened with a high-pitched grating sound, and Yuuri tried not to move, not to flinch. I'm not afraid, he said in his head. I'm not afraid at all. You can hurt me all you want, but I won't be afraid.
He only wished it were true.
"Let her go!" Yuuri was angry – he could feel the Maou seething beneath his skin, and knew that all hell would break loose if he gave into it too hastily. So he repressed his other self as best as he could, and did his best to remain calm. This was no easy task when a group of men stood before him, one of whom held a knife up to a screaming child's neck. Yuuri had never been able to bear the sound of a child crying out of fear. He only had to picture his own daughter's face in the place of this human child's for the Maou to threaten to overwhelm him again. Quickly, feeling the Maou snarling once again somewhere in his chest at this thought, he took a deep breath.
"If you harm her in any way, you must know what will happen."
The man holding the knife grinned repulsively, showing broken and yellowed teeth, and Yuuri's fists clenched painfully.
"Sure I do. You'll transform into that monster, and no doubt kill every man, woman and child standing here. But maybe a few of your own, too, hmm? And before you even get your way over here, this child will be dead. Even if you kill me, it won't save her."
"… Tell me what you want." Behind him, Conrad took a compulsive step forward, sword drawn. Yuuri shook his head. "Wait", he said softly, and Conrad stilled instantly.
"Want? It's simple. You. In exchange for her."
"No!" Five voices sounded at once. Conrad, Wolfram, Gwendal, Gunter and Josak had all spoken as one.
The man shrugged carelessly, and pushed the knife a little deeper into the child's skin. The small girl tried to flinch away, but her neck was being held so that there was nowhere for her to go. A tiny drop of blood, vivid red against her ashen skin, dribbled down and disappeared beneath her clothing. She gave a sob and closed her eyes tightly, afraid to look.
"I won't wait all day. You have a few seconds left to choose. Her life for yours."
Yuuri looked at him square in the eye, resolutely avoiding anyone else's' gaze. "You'll let her go if I give myself up, without harming her at all?"
Yuuri ignored the cries that came from behind, and the man in front of him licked his lips, sensing victory.
"Nor anyone else here?"
"That's the deal."
Yuuri took a step forward. He dropped his sword, but made sure not to break eye contact with the child's captor. He registered, vaguely, a woman weeping from somewhere close by, and knew it was the child's mother. What choice did he really have?
"I accept. Now let her go." He blocked out the sounds coming from behind him.
"You come forward first. And if I see any of your men taking one more step forward, I'll kill her. Don't think I'll hesitate."
Yuuri slowly took another few steps forward, closing the gap between the two of them. The enemy was outnumbered and outclassed, but the village was burning and the child could not be disregarded. This was his kingdom, Yuuri thought to himself. Every life counted. What kind of king would he be if he let a child die, who otherwise could have lived?
He turned around, only now seeing the faces of his friends, his family in this world. Their eyes begged him not to go. Even Josak looked uncharacteristically alarmed, his voice grim.
"Don't do it, kiddo."
And Yuuri smiled sadly. No. There was no other choice, and he knew it.
"Sorry", he said. "But I'll be okay. Please don't move."
He raised his hand and a shield appeared, keeping his retainers locked within. It was their duty to try and prevent him from sacrificing himself – this he understood well. So he did not feel too guilty about using his magic in this way; not if it meant he could keep a promise to a child.
The thought occurred to him that he could let the Maou form take over as soon as the child was free. It would be risky, but he was sure it could be done, and without putting anyone's life at risk. A few more unhesitant strides and he stood face to face with the man who held the girl. The others stood frozen in their places, swords drawn uselessly. They looked a ragged bunch, and Yuuri saw that they were acting out of hatred, but as equally out of desperation. Still, he made his voice firm.
"You have me. Now let her go."
The man hesitated. Had he perhaps not expected his plan to go so smoothly? For one horrible moment, Yuuri thought they would kill the girl anyway. But she was unceremoniously dropped to the ground, and given a rough shove out of the way.
Now. This voice of his other self resounded loudly in his mind. Yuuri felt the power course through his veins, and his eyes began to narrow dangerously. Desperate or not, this band of unruly men would pay dearly for having put in danger the innocent life of a child-
But it was too late. He felt the man spin him suddenly around so that he was facing his own men, and he sensed rather than saw the arm of his captor snake too swiftly up to his neck. There was an abrupt squeeze at a specific point there, and before Yuuri could think, before he could say or do anything more at all, his knees buckled of their own accord. The world spun sickeningly, and the last thing he was aware of before his eyes closed was Conrad's horrified expression, his voice screaming his name.
By the time Yuuri had woken from the sleep he had been dragged down into, he was already in a cell, dark and dank. Something was being held under his nose, and he gagged. His head was pounding already, and the smell of whatever it was only made it worse.
"Good, you're awake. Drink up."
He didn't have time to say anything else. A man – different from the one who had captured him – held him roughly as Yuuri tried to struggle. He didn't know what it was that the man held in the cup, but he knew that there was no way he was going to drink it. It smelt foul, and looked no less so. But there was still enough time, still just enough time to summon the Maou and rip this cell to pieces-
With one large, overpowering hand, the man yanked Yuuri's hair back with a jerk so that his eyes were made to face straight up towards the ceiling.
"Make him drink. And don't be gentle about it."
A second man, this one lean and scrawny-looking, took the cup and held Yuuri's nose. Yuuri could do nothing but open his mouth to breathe, and the liquid was poured down his throat without delay. A very little was spat rebelliously out, only to be replaced by more which Yuuri swallowed, choking as he did so, hating himself.
"That's enough. Too much of that and he won't be waking up at all." They turned to walk away.
"Wait! What did you give me?"
The first man kept walking, but the second turned around and smiled in a way that made Yuuri's flesh crawl.
"Just a little something that'll keep you good and quiet. Can't have you turning into that monster everyone's heard about and destroying the place, can we? No, you'll stay put until we're ready to hand you over to someone who'll take proper care of you."
"Shut up and keep walking", the first one growled. "He doesn't need to hear anything he doesn't already know."
The second man shrugged and obeyed, and the gate crashed closed behind them. Yuuri tried to stand as he heard their echoing footsteps die away, and found that he couldn't. In fact, he couldn't even seem to see straight ahead, let alone walk. The room wavered before his eyes, looking for all the world as if it was leaning to and fro. Could he perhaps be on a boat? But no, he couldn't be, this was not the same feeling he got while at sea. And the floor underneath him was not wood, not even stone, but hard, unyielding earth. But his balance was definitely off, because whatever was in that concoction couldn't have been good for him-
The Maou. He needed the Maou, now, before his energy ran out altogether. He could still feel him, somewhere below the tumult of his other thoughts, not too far away to summon. If he could just manage to reach him-
But the Maou slid from his grasp, like water slipping through his fingers, and Yuuri's eyes closed. He heard a muffled thump as his body fell to the side, but felt nothing more than the vague coolness of the earth beneath him. At least, he thought, there was no pain. And when he woke up- yes, as soon as he woke up again, he could summon the Maou, and bring this place crashing down, and nobody would stop him-
He slept for a time, and did not dream.
When Yuuri opened his eyes again, he was alone, and all appeared quiet. His head continued to throb unmercifully, but the cold was worse-
He looked down, and saw that he was naked. His breath hitched in his throat. Surely not- they would never- No.
"Calm down, just calm down", Yuuri told himself under his breath, and made himself stop shivering by drawing his knees up to his chin and winding his arms tightly around his legs, fingers gripping his upper arms as hard as they could. No. He would've known, he told himself, if something had happened. They were just trying to scare him. Intimidate him. It wouldn't work, he wasn't scared, he wouldn't tell them anything-
But what did they want? This wasn't some spy movie, where some guy was captured in order for secrets to be spilled. He didn't know anything – nothing that others didn't already know. But he was worth something. Was there still some kind of bounty out there for capturing a double-black? And yes, he knew, if they demanded money for Yuuri's safe return, then of course they would be given whatever amount they could ask for. Shin Makoku was not a poor kingdom. But then, one of the men from before had mentioned that he would be handed over to someone else, before his superior had ordered him not to speak. Which meant that someone else wanted him for something, and the group that had captured him would be paid for doing so. But who wanted him so badly?
Well. Yuuri supposed that was a no-brainer. Dai Shimaron was hardly a stretch of the imagination, and Yuuri was sure that they would pay for him every bit as handsomely as Shin Makoku would pay for his safe return.
So they wouldn't kill him, then. Nor harm him too badly – not if they wanted him handed over without risking his death. So. He was uncomfortable, but perfectly safe for the moment.
Somehow, the thought wasn't as reassuring as Yuuri had intended it to be. His hand stole up to his collarbone before he realized that the pendent was no longer there. Somehow, he had managed to drag it forcefully from his body in the one moment that he had regained consciousness during the ride here, wherever 'here' was. He remembered only the sound of horse hooves thundering about him, and the creak of leather, and the dust in his eyes from the speed at which they had been travelling.
But perhaps it was for the best. They had taken his clothes – it was likely they would have taken his necklace away as well if he had still been in possession of it, and destroyed it for all he knew. No, he had done what was best. Conrad was a skilled tracker. So was Josak. If they followed in his tracks, if they passed by where he had been taken, he was sure they would spot the necklace, and would know they were on the right path no matter how convoluted the trail was.
His back was getting stiff from curling forward. Yuuri forced himself to get up despite the cold, and stretch his legs a little. His shivering was back in full force now that there was so much less body heat to draw from, but it couldn't be helped. And he really needed to pee.
There was nothing in his cell – no blanket, let alone some container for use as a chamber pot. He sat again, in the same position as before, and waited. And waited.
Nothing. Not even a lone footstep from anywhere in the building. Not a whisper to confirm that anyone was around for miles. And perhaps there wasn't, he thought with a sudden jolt. Perhaps they meant to leave him here until whoever it was would come for him.
No. They would have guards, somewhere. They wouldn't risk letting him being rescued by abandoning him. This was, perhaps, some other kind of scare tactic. He wouldn't fall for it.
But he really needed to go.
It was humiliating, peeing in the far corner like an animal. And it was probably meant to be humiliating. They wouldn't hurt him, but they meant to have as much fun with him as they could before the end. Yuuri resolved not to let it get to him, and resolutely turned his face away from the puddle on the floor. The cell was small enough that he could already smell the waste, but he would put up with it. What else was there to do? But he wished he at least had something to cover himself with. And his head was still pounding.
An almighty crash dragged Yuuri out of a doze. Yet another man stood before him, glaring. Yuuri glared right back, in an attempt to cover the fact that he felt too exhausted to really speak.
"You. Drink this."
The man sighed. "Its water. Your body needs this."
Suspicious, Yuuri peered up at him. "You're lying."
"I'm not. Please drink it, or-"
Yuuri's eyes widened. "'Please'?"
A grimace. "Look, if you don't hurry up and drink this, I get in trouble, and you end up getting it forced down your throat anyway. Just do this the easy way and let me get back upstairs."
"So we're downstairs now? Where else are we?"
"Nowhere." He sounded angry now, and Yuuri gave up.
"Fine, I'll drink it. In exchange for a blanket. Or for my clothes."
They stared at each other, the man's frustration evident. "I'm not the boss around here. I can't say what I can and can't give you."
Yuuri looked at him, noticing for the first time the details of the man's appearance. His clothes were tattered and worn, and roughly patched in more than a few places. His face looked just as worn, and altogether too thin. Not really angry, though. Just tired, and exasperated. His body language told Yuuri that he didn't want to be here – not really. Did he want to be somewhere else? Maybe at home, where he could be away from a lifestyle that he did not wish to be involved in?
"Do you have a family?" Yuuri asked.
Now the man just looked surprised, and… yes, and even slightly ashamed.
"… I have a wife, and two young sons."
Yuuri nodded, and rested his chin on his knees. "I have a daughter. I want her to know I'm okay."
Silence, stretching out between them. They understood each other, at least a little.
The man put the cup down between them. "Drink it. I'll see what I can do about that blanket."
He left, then, and shut the door behind him. Yuuri heard it lock into place, and hoped he hadn't gotten the man into any trouble. He drank the water – it was, after all only water as he had said – and settled back down to wait.
Time passed. Yuuri didn't know how long, but he hadn't quite fallen back asleep again when the same man returned, clutching a blanket in one hand which he twisted nervously with his fingers as he unlocked the door.
"I told them you might die if you didn't keep warm enough. Here."
Yuuri reached out gratefully, murmuring his thanks. His voice wasn't working right now; it was weak and croaky, like he had been yelling for hours. Maybe he was just getting sick. The conditions weren't exactly great for his health, he supposed. Even the air around him felt stale and stuffy.
"I don't have any food, sorry. They said let you go hungry, in case you have enough strength to do something."
Yuuri nodded his understanding. "And what they made me drink?"
"A drug to make you sleep. And…"
The man looked away, ashamed again. "And I heard someone say it represses power. Demon power."
"I see." That explained something, at least. "Who are they handing me over to? Dai Shimaron?"
"I didn't ask."
Yuuri looked at him, eyes devoid of judgment. "You didn't want to know."
The man didn't argue.
"I don't have the strength to summon the Maou anyway. Why make me sleep?"
"Guess they didn't want to take the risk."
"They're afraid of me."
"Shouldn't they be?"
Yuuri wondered if this man – this human man, with a family to protect – had been raised to fear demons as if they were hell-spawn. Did he fear they would come in the night, burn his village, kill his sons, steal away his wife? The very thought made him feel ill.
"No. I don't think so. At least, not in the way you're thinking."
There was a thump from somewhere down the corridor, and an authoritative yell a moment afterwards.
"I have to go."
The man left without looking back, and Yuuri drew the blanket more closely around himself, breathing out slowly. He told himself Conrad would be coming soon, along with the others. He would tell Greta he was safe, he would see her soon…
The water had not gone very far, because his throat still ached along with his head, but he knew he would need to pee again soon. Perhaps the drugs-
He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes, feeling defeated. But when he eventually opened them again – he supposed he had fallen asleep at some point without realizing it – his blanket was tucked more securely around his shoulders, and there was a piece of bread and an only slightly dried out apple sitting at his feet.
Yuuri had no way of telling how much time had passed since he was first brought here. There was no window to let in sunlight, nor really any air at all, and by what he had been told, he thought he was probably underground anyway. That would account for the eerie lack of sound at most times, Yuuri guessed. One more guard had appeared since he had been left the food, and he had not spoken – just forced more liquid down Yuuri's throat. It hadn't been water. He had peed twice more, both times in the same corner. The smell made Yuuri want to retch, but there was nothing he could do about it. Several times he made himself get up and walk around, easing the cramps from his legs and back. There seemed little else to be done, other than to sleep and to wait. He had already examined the door. A heavy, rusted padlock rested behind the bars on the metal gate. The corridor beyond was dim, lit up by a single torch. He could see nothing more than this, however much he angled his head and peered into the shadows.
To take his mind off darker thoughts, Yuuri often pictured his friends in his mind. He knew they would not rest until he was rescued. And who better to trust for such a rescue than his friends? They were more capable than he was by far, and knew the land well. They could not be so very far away. And Greta would be waiting for him, once he got back to the castle. He couldn't give up hope now – not when his friends could be so close. Even now, they could be approaching this dungeon of his. He just had to keep believing.
"Keep hoping." His own voice spoke faintly into the darkness.
But it was sometimes not so easy to do so; not when he felt so weak. Yuuri wasn't sure if it was whatever he had been given to drink again, or if it was simply lack of food. Realistically, he reasoned, he had probably been here for a couple of days, and in that time he had been given only one drink of water, along with what the guard had managed to steal for him. And the cold sapped his energy, along with his will, so that it was difficult to stand again after he had woken up that last time. He had used the wall to support himself as he had walked around.
But he must have been in worse condition than he thought, because he didn't even hear the gate clang as it was opened again, and only woke when he was nudged roughly with a boot. Or perhaps he had only fallen asleep again. Blearily, he looked up, recognizing the man who had been his original captor. His mouth moved, but Yuuri shook his head, not understanding.
"I said, get up."
Yuuri saw no particular reason to co-operate, so the guard was obliged to haul Yuuri bodily to his feet. The blanket was taken away from him, and Yuuri was too proud to protest. He did his best to look his captor straight in the eye, lifting up his chin.
"In another couple of days", said the man, "you'll be off my hands. Until then, you'll just have to do with what you've been given."
"That would be the blanket you've just taken back from me."
Without warning, the guard snarled, and Yuuri reeled as he was struck across the face.
"Even that was too good for you! What did you expect – you, a filthy demon who uses your disgusting magic to get your own way and kill our own!"
"I haven't killed anybody-"
Yuuri was hit again for his trouble, this time in the side of his stomach. He doubled over, hands and knees on the floor.
"Not yet you haven't, but you will. Just like the rest of your kind!" He spat, looking down on Yuuri from above. "And don't think I don't know what you were trying to do with that guard. I know he stole food to give to you. What did you do – make some empty promise to help feed his family? Well, guess what? We've all got families. And we don't accept charity from any dammed monster like you, even if we thought for a second that you'd keep to your word!"
His boot was atop one of Yuuri's hands, crushing down on his fingers. Yuuri kept his teeth firmly clenched.
"I can't even stand the sight of you. Or the smell. You disgust me, you hear? You disgust me."
He spat again, and pressed down harder with his boot for another moment before turning to leave, the blanket in his hands.
"Oh. And don't expect to see that other guard again. He's been taken care of. Thanks to you."
Yuuri didn't look at him as he left. He didn't want the man to see his face, knowing that any concern he showed for his previous guard would only land both of them in more trouble. He only hoped that he had not inadvertently caused danger for a family who had acted simply out of survival.
Minutes passed. Or hours did. Yuuri only knew that, after a time, he managed to gather enough tattered strength to laboriously drag himself up from the floor and prop himself back against the wall. He fingered the bruise forming underneath his eye, and decided not to touch his stomach at all, which felt tender and raw even by breathing in too deeply.
Thrice more, guards – none of them the same – came in to make him drink. Once it was water. The other two times was the same liquid as before; cupfuls of it. It drained him utterly, made him groggy, and did nothing to ease his thirst or fill his stomach. He stumbled to the corner several more times to pee; as painful as it was to do so, Yuuri could not face urinating where he sat. But the smell grew quite terrible, and once, Yuuri could not stop himself from vomiting, gasping and heaving as he did so. Afterwards, he could only slump back in the corner furthest from the stench, and tell himself that it would surely be over soon. And if he had to wait days more, weeks more even, to be rescued, he would be in someone else's' hands. Even if it was in Dai Shimaron's, at the very least he could get away from this tiny cell that seemed, little by little, to be closing in on him.
By the time Yuuri was visited again, he was lying down. The ground wasn't comfortable or warm, but Yuuri was growing number to the sensation now, and in any case, he felt a little less dizzy when he felt the hard solidity of the earth beneath him. It even felt oddly reassuring after all this time of pressing against the wall.
Those same boots passed in front of his eyes.
"Look at me."
Yuuri stared straight ahead.
"I said look at me!"
Yuuri groaned and curled in on himself as he was kicked, purposefully in exactly the same spot as before. He had not cried out, at least.
"You're no better than a mangy, half-breed dog. You should be grateful that you've been spared. If it were up to me, I'd kill you and every single one of your kind."
Yuuri kept silent, following the boots with his eyes as they paced backwards and forwards before him.
"You can give up whatever notion you have about you being rescued. They aren't coming. Do you understand? Nobody's coming for you."
Yuuri's breath caught.
"That's right. Do you know how I know that? Here."
A scrap of cloth fluttered to the floor. It was dirty and a little faded, but the colour was easily recognizable.
"What was his name? The one who was so handy with a sword until recently? Conrad, was it?"
Yuuri couldn't breathe. He was suffocating, and paralyzed with a feeling that he could not name.
"We've taken care of him as well. He didn't go down easily, but in the end, he looked just like you do now. A half-breed weakling, who deserved far less than he ever got. I suppose I should at least be grateful that he didn't father any more of you filthy lot-"
"Conrad's not dead."
Laughter in his ears, in his head.
"You don't get much more dead than that, kid. And in an hour or two, none of this will be my problem. I hope I'll never have to set eyes on you again as long as I live. I'd as soon as slit your throat myself."
Yuuri closed his eyes, and ignored everything else but the man in front of him. He stood, bearing with the agony of most of his stiff and aching body as he did so.
"If Conrad is dead", he said, slowly and deliberately, unblinking, "then so are you. Along with every single person in this building."
His voice died away. Energy spent, he sagged against the wall, panting for air.
The guard reached out an arm, and his hand was large enough to fully encircle Yuuri's neck.
"You are dead. And your precious Conrad is waiting for you in hell."
He left, but not before dropping something else in front of Yuuri with a clink. "Here. You should save everyone the trouble."
Yuuri remained stubbornly upright until the door of his cell closed once more. He did not sit so much as collapse, and only took a cursory glimpse at the small knife that glinted on the ground in front of him. Obsidian eyes shut wearily, and did not open again. Yuuri did not have the spirit to weep, but he saw Conrad, wraith-like, pass before him, hand outstretched to help him up. Yet when Yuuri reached for that hand, Conrad disappeared, blown away as smoke scattered by the wind.