Sacrifices and Gains

"Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life…"

~ The Fray

"Conrad, no!"

A desperate hand reached out.

Yuuri was about to dive into the portal of black and gold flames before anybody could stop him.

But someone did.

This hand was the same as his own. More callused and stronger, true. But, it was the same size and it was pinching down hard into his flesh, making it ache instantly. His knees almost buckled under the sudden pressure.

"Hurts!" The double black turned in the direction of a face framed with sunny blond hair. "Wolfram!" he shouted in anger. "What are you doing? That's your brother in there! You can't tell me that we're going to just let him stay trapped! We've got to do something!"

An unnatural roar came at them, startling them. The primeval rage promised death--as though a long haired Oni or savage beast had been set loose on the other side of the flame portal. Based on what Yuuri had seen, it was a bit of both.

No one moved.

Deep and threatening, it erupted once more in animalistic tones.

A spray of blood shot forth through the portal and left a crimson line on the ground.

The slim fingers around Yuuri's arm tensed up. Nails bit in.

"Look, Wolfram!" Yuuri shouted again, but, this time, he could feel his eyes starting to tear up—and his face turning pink. Why would Wolfram stop him? The brothers had become closer lately. This just couldn't be. Wolfram von Bielefeld had his moments when he was both a brat and selfish, but it was impossible for Yuuri to accept the fact that the blond had written Conrad off like that without even trying. "That's your brother in there!" he raged when the hand let him go. He took a step back and brushed his cheek against a rough tree branch. It was growing dark and the flickering black and gold light of the portal was ruining his night vision.

Now, Yuuri felt cold all over and was greeted with faint shadows that shifted, he knew, when no one was looking.

Determined green eyes stared back. They spoke of strength, misery and failure, but also need. His devotion to his king came first—even if that meant the double black despising him for the rest of their lives. "Yuuri…"

A rustling of the branches ushered in Yozak and Wolfram immediately shoved Yuuri aside. The bold soldier went forward with a purposeful gait. "Conrad…" with a gesture towards the magical flames was all that the double black could make out. The conspiring pair spoke in urgent, low tones very briefly and Yozak handed something to Wolfram before a sound made them all whip their heads in the direction of the portal of fire once more.

A cry of pain. There was no mistaking the voice.

Onyx eyes widened. "Conrad!" Yuuri shouted again, not knowing what to do. Maybe, he could shift into his "maou" form. But, for some reason, the spirit inside stubbornly refused to act. Conrad. It was Conrad. His godfather. Something had to be done. Now. Why weren't they doing something? Conrad was on the other side. He was dragged in by the right leg by that hulking, misshapen monster wearing blood-soaked rags. Yuuri'd seen it happen but was unable to help, too far away.

With a nod to Wolfram, Yozak disappeared through bushy greenery. From the sound of it, he was running as fast as his legs would carry him.

"Where is he going?!" Yuuri panicked, motioning to the place where the orange haired spy had been just seconds ago. "Couldn't you hear it? That's Conrad! He's still alive."

Wolfram nodded to himself. He'd heard his older brother's scream.

"Yozak and some of the men are trying to circle around to see if there's another entrance to the fortress."

Yuuri wiped his eyes on his black sleeve and then glared at Wolfram incredulously with ire mixed into it. "It's a hole—a doorway of fire, Wolfram! We can get through if we try. I can wield water, remember?"

The blond shook his head at that. "It's a fortress that can't be seen unless you're a full blooded Mazoku. That's why it was so easy to capture Conrad. And, inside, there's probably more than one of them." Then his face narrowed as it neared Yuuri. "And that's no ordinary fire. Add to the fact that you're no soldier. You'll never fight with your whole heart—like a dragon—to win back…" He stopped himself before he could finish. It was too much to say and too damn honest. Instead, he continued with "To save him… You'll be too merciful and someone will die. I hate to say it, but it's true."

Yuuri grabbed Wolfram's blue clad shoulder. He could feel his face growing wet with tears. He told himself that it was from the smoke and flames from the black and gold fire. "They're doing something to him. We've got to help. Wolfram…please…" He was begging now.

The blond said lowly, almost to himself. "I promise…"

To Yuuri's surprise, two arms encircled his waist. The blond leaned in and grazed his cheek with a kiss, light and with a touch of velvet. The warmth of the body was unexpected and he just froze—arms spread comically wide and body riveted through his shoes to the earth beneath his feet. "Wolfram" was all he could whisper back as an exhale. But this was not the time and this was not the moment. There was something inappropriate about it all with his heart beating wildly and some part of him demanding Conrad back.

Something thin and hard encircled his wrist and strung it up high.

Onyx eyes turned to see it. Wolfram had just handcuffed him to the tree branch.

Yuuri couldn't comprehend it. Why? I don't understand this.

Wolfram stepped away several paces and looked at the handcuff keys sadly. "You are my priority, you know…beyond my brother…beyond my hopes or my dreams… You were always it, and you never understood that."

Yuuri turned back to his wrist and pulled on the handcuff. So, that was what Yozak had given Wolfram. "Get this thing off, Wolfram! Now! Stop playing this stupid 'jealous fiancé game' so that we can rescue Conrad." The blond didn't move and Yuuri pressed on with "He's in pain. You could hear it for yourself."

Green eyes regarded him sadly. Pale fingers opened, and the keys fell onto the grass with a faint jingle, far out of reach for the young monarch.

"It's going to be okay, Yuuri," he soothed, turning away slowly. Wolfram unsheathed his sword with a smooth, metallic sound and then made strides for the dark magic flames. They were different. But, nonetheless, it was his element—fire. He could sync with it if he was lucky, maybe.

"No!" It wasn't working. He was leaving him behind. "Wolfram!" Yuuri shouted desperately. He struggled with the handcuffs and felt his wrist rubbing raw. "Please… don't do this," he beseeched as spasms traveled down his arm and into his chest from the efforts.

Turning back, Wolfram said, cocking his head beautifully to one side, "Just for the record…" A tear spilled from one emerald eye. "It was fun…while it lasted. You let me live again…just for a little while. You let me stay by your side and live with the illusion that I had someone in my life. And, thanks to you, I remember what hope is. Too bad 'love' never came with it." The smile was heartbroken.

"Wolf...ram…?"

The double black couldn't breathe. He was watching Wolfram go and he was powerless to stop it.

"Free me, Wolfram!" He pulled on his wrist as hard as he could, pain or no pain. Yuuri began to panic. "That's an order! Do it!" He shook his head angrily while sliding metal against wood and peeling up bark in little curls. "You're just…just doing… this because…!"

"I'm expendable," the voice said sadly.

From behind the portal, Conrad's shouts could be heard again. It was ordering someone to stay away.

"Goodbye" was on the wind.

He didn't look back. There would be no need.

With his sword at the ready, Wolfram ran for the black and gold inferno in true, heroic form. Tongues of fire licked at him. The wave of heat, even at that distance, was unbearable. It stung his eyes and, briefly, he shut them. Before he knew it, the blond was swinging his sword and using his own fire to create a barrier. He prayed it would hold just long enough.

Wolfram disappeared inside.

Yuuri stopped. Everything stopped. Nothing else existed except the blue haze of nightfall and the gaping hole in front of him that was belching flames and smoke. This was his world now and the two people closest to him were away, on the other side.

"Kiddo!" Yozak said as he pushed past a shrub to find Yuuri handcuffed to the tree. He didn't seem surprised at all to find the young king in his predicament. "Where are the keys?" he asked, trying to get Yuuri to respond in some way. The onyx eyes were full of tears and he stared dumbly at the orange haired spy.

"The keys," Yozak repeated.

"Somewhere…o-over there." He pointed to the grassy patch near some weeds.

Yozak went to the spot and stepped on something that felt like metal, not stone or grass. That had to be the key ring. Reaching down, he found the keys and quickly made his way to Yuuri.

With the small, silver key nearing the lock, Yuuri felt his heart race again. "I couldn't get out of this!" he complained, but it sounded more like a bitter apology.

"If you could stop struggling, I could unlock this," Yozak grumbled slightly.

Key. Lock. Opened.

Yuuri rubbed his aching wrist as the two made their way to the flaming portal.

More deafening roars met their ears, each one louder than the first. And, something else, too, that Yuuri's mind refused to accept.

"The portal," Yuuri said, pointing, "we need to…"

The flames sputtered slightly and then went out. Yuuri and Yozak's glowing faces merged with the midnight blue twilight.

"RUN!" Conrad stormed through with a bundle in his arms. It was smoldering and it had a charred, almost barbecued smell. They made for the horses and some of the soldiers, who had been with Yozak, suddenly appeared and followed behind quickly.

The spy had Yuuri by the forearm, got him on a horse, and they followed—hooves beating with muffled sounds upon soft grass.

"Conrad!" Yuuri protested, forcing his black steed to catch up with his godfather. "What about Wolfram? We can't just…" Onyx eyes drifted to the bundle resting in the crook of his godfather's left arm. It was Conrad's coat wrapped around a lithe form with blond hair and an ashen face. "Wolf…ram?"

Conrad said nothing and, when Yuuri looked past his godfather, he noticed that Yozak's face lost all of its boyishness—replaced with a stare that was empty and cold.

At the camp, Wolfram's body was placed on the simple cot that he'd slept on the night before. But it was clear that the young man would move no more. Half of his body, including the right side of his youthful face, was horribly burned. The crisp blue uniform was gone—fabric melted, now, into what was once pale skin.

"They had me cornered in the first corridor. He saved me, but his clothes had caught on fire…magic fire…and..." Conrad couldn't finish his thought. Instead he stroked hair that reeked of smoke and charred flesh. "I held him the moment he as born…and I held him the moment he…"

"No," Yuuri breathed, taking Conrad's place at Wolfram's side. He reached out for the blue uniform and it fell apart under his touch. His hand went to the blond hair, which was brittle in places, melted into clumps in others, and, on half of his head, gone entirely. The wispy, curled pieces broke apart and blackened his fingers with soot and ash. A sad little angel, marked by fire—blistered and scalded—to save the one Yuuri was so desperate for.

A final gift.

"Wolfram?" He could feel himself crying, sobbing.

Hands were grabbing his hands, arms, shoulders. He was being pulled back. Vision watery. Wolfram's body was fading away from his eyes. Darkness calling.

"Wolfram!"

"Your Majesty!" came the firm and exasperated tone. It was Conrad. "This is pointless!"

No! It's not pointless. It's over! My life is over. I can't imagine him not being with me.

Yuuri shook his dark head and fought against the strong arms holding him down.

"Wolfram!" Throaty. His teeth clenched. He sounded like an imitation of The Maou.

"Yuuri!" Conrad shouted this time and another voice joined it.

I want to be with him. Where ever he is, I need to be there.

The double black struggled and arched his back.

Onyx eyes shot open as he writhed down on the bed.

"It's just as I told you!" Gisela practically bellowed at the room, her grip on Yuuri's left arm was as tight as she could manage it, "I think it's that tea that Caloria's royal healer gave His Majesty a few minutes ago…" She struggled again with an "oof" when he struck at her, eyes wild. Gisela bit her lower lip and sent a dark look to everyone except Conrad, who had Yuri's other arm, that they needed to back off because she could handle this.

"I'm sorry," the old man apologized from the corner, "I didn't know that Passion Flower stems combined with cinnamon and Blue Angelica Root would…in Mazokus…"

Yuuri struggled again, much harder this time. Chin pointed to the ceiling. A death glare etched into his face.

The human healer got a frightened look from Lady Flynn as Yuuri bellowed, "NO!" at the top of his lungs.

His body collapsed. Hard breaths. The sound of blood rushing in his ears. Numb. He felt numb all over, pins and needles sinking in after that.

Breathing.

Breathing.

Breathing.

The hands let go of him.

Yuuri managed to push himself up into a sitting position, eyes scrunched tightly. Black hair wild. "Wolfram…" he whispered harshly.

With a sharp intake of breath, onyx eyes opened and he saw a white wall with a framed painting of a seascape. "Wolf…ram…" He was pressing the heel of his hand against his brow when it clicked. He realized what was going on. The double black continued to breathe, looking left and right—Conrad. Yes, it was him. Gisela. The green haired healer was there, too. Yuuri took in the others in the room. Gwendal seemed relieved that his monarch had snapped out of it. He folded his arms against his chest and threw an angry scowl at the human healer who had been dumb enough to treat a half Mazoku as though he were a full blooded human.

But none of it mattered. Yuuri was still breathing hard, chest heaving, but he was grinning at the incredible sight before his eyes. Wolfram was standing at the foot of his bed, leaning in with worry. The blond had no idea what to do or how to help. His only option was to look on in agony as his fiancé was being restrained, fighting them, crying out his name in desperation. They never quite managed to tie him to the bed when Yuuri started hallucinating.

"Yuu..ri…?" Wolfram said cautiously, not sure that the double black was really back to himself again. This trip to Caloria had been bad enough with Gisela needing to replenish her stock of medicinal herbs right away. And, now this.

"Wolfram." The smile was pure sunshine. Wolfram found himself blushing and needing to look away. It was too much.

A desperate hand reached out. It caught his wrist and the blond found himself being tipped into the bed, flying forward almost. "Y-Yuuri…" Wolfram stuttered, not knowing what to do and freezing in place. The new position was embarrassing! He was lying practically on top of Yuuri with the double black's arms around him like hugging a teddy bear. Yuuri closed his eyes and found himself memorizing every curve of the blond Mazoku's body with the palms of his hands.

In the meantime, everyone else slipped out of the room.

"You're alive," Yuuri whispered to him, fingers delved into silky, blond hair and slid down. It felt good, in more ways than one, Wolfram had to admit. "So glad… You have no idea…how much…I…" the double black went on.

The answer to that was a nod. "We were worried about you…for awhile, Yuuri." The words were simple, quiet. But, relief was there, too.

The blond made movements, shifting away to one side, that told Yuuri that he was getting up out of the bed. But, Yuuri would have none of it. He held on tighter, which made his bed partner's cheeks burn.

"Please…stay...." He rubbed his ebony locks against a pale cheek. "I need you."

"I understand," Wolfram said and managed to kick his boots off from a lying position. They clattered onto the floor carelessly.

The two of them were on top of the covers, for Yuuri had, earlier on, just stretched out to rest a little when the tea from the healer arrived—which was to relax him. The double black nestled Wolfram closer against his body, positioning him comfortably. Then, Yuuri reached out for the edge of the blanket, gripped it, draped it across them both, and snuggled in.

They were still wearing their street clothes. It didn't matter, though.

They slept in each other's arms all night long. And Wolfram, content with the knowledge that he truly meant something to Yuuri after all, didn't kick even once.