"You can close your eyes to the things
you do not want to see,
but you cannot close your heart to the things
you do not want to feel."
- Chester Bennington
Two new recruits, with shovels raised, began to dig in. Down. In. Scoop. Toss. With the humidity of the day quickly setting in on them and their military uniforms feeling hot and stuffy in this unusually warm weather, Dolf and Richard muttered brief curses each time they struck rocks—jarring them and slowing down progress.
The carcass of The Gaki, lying a few feet beyond, produced a rotting smell that was a mixture of burnt hair and decomposing cabbage.
When the wind blew the wrong way, the men fought back gags.
Dolf, the taller of the two with light green hair and eyes to match, scowled as he worked. "I hope the wind changes direction and blows past the garbage dump. At least, it will smell a bit better."
Richard laughed at that. "Yes, or the latrines." He wiped sweat off of his face and added, "My toddler's teething diapers smell better."
"After all the mess that Lady Anissina von Karbelnikoff shot into the air last night, I think the whole castle grounds make up one, big latrine."
Richard nodded, his brown pageboy haircut bobbing lightly. "Yes, I heard that people's shoes tracked in some of it and the maids threw a fit. They were up all night cleaning, so they got the morning off today."
Dolf rubbed his nose against his sleeve. "Let's bury the beast and get back before the flies get too thick." He swatted at a few that were gathering.
"Let's just make this a little deeper, Dolf, and we'll be done with it."
A green head nodded as he tossed another scoop of dry earth into the pile he was making. "Yeah…and good riddance, I say."
Yuuri stirred in bed and stretched a little. It was morning. He could tell that much at least. But, that was all. Not that it mattered.
The double black turned onto his side and draped an arm across a certain blond's lithe form. Instead of the frilly night gown, it was a pair of his pajamas wrapped around ivory skin.
"Wolfram." It felt so right to be sleeping side by side. He rubbed his face into soft, blond locks and a piggy little snore from his bedmate followed.
Wolfram muttered something incomprehensible, clutched his pillow to his chest, and hugged it.
"Muh…wa…mmmmwah…" Snort. "…wimp."
The double black smirked inwardly to himself, remembering the events of the previous night as he toyed with a wayward strand of blond hair.
The door closed.
Wolfram's shoulders were curved inward as he stood there. His body was now feeling the effects of the drafty room and his wet hair stuck to his neck and temple. The only warmth came from Yuuri's gentle palm returning to the flat of his lower back. The blond moved a bit slower than necessary to keep that contact on his skin. Wearing only a wet towel around his hips was getting to his lower extremities also.
"This way," Yuuri said, guiding Wolfram along.
The oversized bed loomed.
"Oh…um…" Emerald eyes shot back to the door. Now that he'd returned to the royal bed chambers, he realized what people—including his mother and brothers—probably thought…something. He'd made quite a spectacle of himself back there—most likely, the worst in a long time—and, now, he was alone with his king.
Just the two of them.
On their own.
Walking this way. In here.
Wolfram worried his lower lip between his teeth and wondered what to do now. He shivered again as the towel clung to him, colder and damper than ever.
A pair of blue striped pajamas appeared before him, being offered with both hands by Yuuri. "I really doubt that pink, frilly thing is what you need right now…unless you'd rather have another bath and warm up?"
What? Parade past those people again?
Wolfram simply shook his head and accepted the spare pair of Yuuri's pajamas. The towel dropped to the floor and he threw the pajama top on first with a chill running up his back, forearms freezing.
"How's your foot?"
The ex-prince blinked curiously. "Foot?"
"It was bleeding…remember?"
"Oh, it stopped. I'm fine." He quirked a grin. "I'm made of stronger stuff, you know." He flexed an arm to prove his point.
Yuuri cocked his head to the side with a small grin coming to him as Wolfram reached to the floor to retrieve the pajama bottoms he'd dropped. "No, this won't do at all…" He scratched his chin in thought but enjoyed another moment of "Wolfram off balance" because the blond was looking at him with confusion written all over him.
Grinning to himself, Yuuri took the blanket off the bed and said, "Hold this corner" while he wrapped the long cloth around the blond like a cocoon.
"Yuuri!" Wolfram protested.
"I agree with you," the double black murmured as he stepped into the spiral of cloth and bound himself up in it, too.
A frown came to the angelic face with very wet, blond bangs plastering themselves against pale skin. "What are you doing, Yuuri?" came the incredulous tone. "Such ludicrous behavior has to stop!" And, it would have worked except that the double black had a grip on them both and began to forcibly "hop" them in the direction of the bed.
They bounded over and landed on the bed with Wolfram on top and Yuuri chuckling from below.
Wolfram kicked his bare legs.
"This is ridiculous!"
"A bishonen burrito!" The double black laughed.
"What?!" Wolfram scrambled but found himself bound and the more he wiggled the more he blushed. "Y-Yuuri! Stop this nonsense right now!"
A raven head shook "no" and Wolfram squirmed in the blanket, but his face was turning tomato red. He furrowed his brows in concentration. Maybe if he shifted his hips just so…
"And your bare rump is still facing the door, Wolfram."
"EHHHH???" This brought on a whole new set of struggles, wiggles, and grunts that sent Yuuri into howls of laughter. He just couldn't stop! The blond was really giving it his all. Add to the fact, the laughing from beneath only made Wolfram's sudden "problem" worse. It was embarrassing and there was no way he'd discuss it with Yuuri—especially with him laughing so hard.
Wolfram was now red to the tips of his ears.
Breathing hard, the ex-prince let his head fall backwards in exasperation. All of this was getting him nowhere. He was warmer now, true. But, he was in a more "delicate" position—not to be easily explained away should someone barge in—and his flailing legs seemed down right crude. "Y-Yurri! Oh, be reasonable!"
A black eyebrow arched up. "Reasonable?" He pretended to think about it. "What would you call 'reasonable'? Or, should we make a deal or something?"
Wolfram eyed him owlishly. "…A…deal?"
"Yeah," he shrugged,"…something like…I'll let you go on one condition…"
Green eyes narrowed sharply. "And that would be…what?"
"You sleep in my arms all night."
"But, I kick…" He glanced at the door again. And people will think that…before marriage…and all…that we…tonight…together…
"True." Yuuri thought about it again. "So, I'll settle for… 'until you fall asleep'."
The frown remained between Wolfram's eyes. "This is blackmail, you know." He wiggled again for good measure. "There will, of course, be payback in the future."
Yuuri glanced up at him with a tinge of lust. The words "I'll look forward to it" were answered with a "humph" from above. "Well," the double black suggested, "we can sleep like this…no pants and your legs all spread out and stuff… Just wait till Günter sees in the morning." He chuckled at the still scrambling legs that were the color of mayo dancing all around them.
"Yes, Wolf?" Head cocked to one side.
How long had he waited to hear those words? How long? He flopped his head down onto Yuuri's shoulder. The blond muttered quietly, "I…agree."
He was just being stubborn after all.
The heavy, wooden door to the infirmary groaned with a slow swing inward and Wolfgang opened his eyes weakly. Yuu entered the all white room with a genuinely relieved smile on his face. He threaded his thin, ebony braid back and forth between his fingers as he shut the door.
"What's up?" Wolfgang asked curiously as he pushed himself into a seated position on the bed. There were only certain times when Yuu played with his braid like that. He just couldn't pick out which "time" it was now. This moment seemed so ordinary.
"Up?" Yuu said with a bit more stress in his voice than usual. The double black kicked off his shoes with "Who said anything was up?" He went around the bed and positioned himself directly behind Wolfgang—gripping his shoulders and pushing him into a more upright position.
Wolfgang suppressed a shiver as nimble fingers untied the back of his hospital gown and tugged down on the material until it was pooled at waist level. Broad, bare shoulders and a straight back met the double black's eyes and he smirked. Yuu hovered his hands over the lower back and a green glow began to spread out through his fingers.
"Gissela said that it was okay for me to do this again after yesterday went so well. I thought you could use a bit of relaxation after lying in the bed for so long." He hovered his hands a bit more to the right. "You have a tendency to lie stiff as a board without moving all night long. How do you do that?"
Brown eyes were half closed and Wolfgang hummed appreciatively as the glow moved across his bare skin. "Hmmm…. Nice…"
Yuu felt a surge of pride at that. "She also told me that she's been worried about blood clots. So, she's…"
"Pestered me and healed me over and over again until I think my blood is too thin," Wolfgang interrupted, tensing up in spite of the wonderful job Yuu was doing. The green haired healer had her moments when she could be like a drill sergeant. And nothing could sway her from her plans.
A black eyebrow arched at him. "Shut up and relax." He pounded a fist against the broad back and then set to work with strong fingers working out the stiffness "the old fashioned way," as Yuu thought of it.
Wolfgang's body sagged slightly with the chopping and the rubbing—feeling relaxed and sleepy.
"Feels good, huh?" the double black self-praised.
"Oi, maybe…" He glanced at Yuu with a sheepish grin. "Maybe…I should lie down for this, huh?"
Yes, teasing could be fun. It was the way they always were together. However, instead of flustered speech, blushes, and Yuu speeding out of the room in "marathon runner mode," the smile he got from Yuu seemed as though he'd accepted something. The double black seemed calmer, more at ease even though his hand was slightly shaking as he searched one of his breast pockets.
"Yeah, we'll get to that in a minute." His face brightened. "Oh, found them!"
"Eh?" Wolfgang peered over his shoulder as Yuu grabbed his hand, opened the palm, and spread the fingers wide. He placed a single gold ring inside and curled the fingers up.
"Kenneth brought these back from the temple a few minutes ago. Ulrike and Shinou had them made and blessed with holy water." Yuu was now holding his own wedding band. "Beautiful, huh? When we got back to the castle, I measured your finger with a string while you were sleeping."
The soldier looked at the rings and noticed that they were identical—wide gold bands with Shinou's motto—"Strength, Insight, Fidelity"—repeated in a continuous circle. "Matching rings. That's kind of…nice." A noncommittal shrug followed.
Yuu grinned, wrapped his arms around Wolfgang, and took the ring from Wolfgang's hand. Peeking to the left side,"You don't understand the tradition of wedding rings, do you?"
The look he received was "Whoa…wedding rings?"
As the ring slid onto the appropriate finger on the left hand, Yuu explained, "This is a token of our bond…a symbol to the kingdom…of our intimacy." He pressed his cheek against a bare shoulder. "I am your mate and you are mine…accepting no other lovers…until we are parted by death."
Yuu held out a ring and offered his hand to Wolfgang—who wasn't sure which finger it was until his husband showed him by wiggling it. "And even after death," Wolfgang promised as the gold band slid back, "I'll still follow you and protect you."
"I don't doubt it a bit," the double black chuckled, hugging his husband from behind like he was a giant teddy bear.
"So, ummm…what do we do next?"
"Good question…Hmmm…" He scratched his chin.
Yuu scrambled to a spot to Wolfgang's right and stretched out in the bed. Wolfgang quickly copied it, placing a bent arm behind his head to prop it up a bit more with the single pillow they were using being so low and flat.
Yuu counted on his fingers: "You change your last name to mine, throw out everything that I owned before I married you, buy new sheets for the bedroom, and plan our honeymoon."
Wolfgang rolled over onto his side and pressed himself up against his new husband. "So, while I'm doing all of that, what will you do?"
Yuu gave a sidelong glance followed by a sheepish grin. "Start saying 'Yes, Dear' for the rest of my life?"
"Uh…oh, really?" A disbelieving stare followed.
"But, you're the maou."
"And you're my consort."
He folded his arms against his chest with a huff—allowing his head to fall heavily onto the pillow. The bed springs squeaked with the weight. "I have to do what you say…Yuu Heika." He made sure to put an emphasis upon the name. Maybe, the "clueless one" would catch the hint.
"And I have to keep you happy…Shibuya Wolfgang." He leaned in closer, faces almost touching. "Two can play this game, huh?"
There was a pause between them and two sets of eyes sparkled.
"Then, shut up and kiss me, Wolfgang."
"As you command."
The bed springs squeaked.
Their honeymoon would begin right now.
"Wolfram lived," Yuuri said simply. He glanced up at Shinou who was sitting on one of the boxes and buffing his nails. Yuuri thought it ridiculous considering that the spirit of the Original King was very much dead. And, as far as he knew, dead people did not have cuticle issues.
"Is that why you've come for an audience with me this early in the morning?" the blond king asked, tilting his head to the right cutely the way Wolfram often did when he woke up each morning. All that was missing was rubbing the eyes and muttering "Damn it, Yuuri. Morning comes too early in the day. And forget that morning running that you do. I'm staying here. Only idiots run away for no reason."
Plucking up courage, Yuuri pushed his shoulders back and stared at playful, blue eyes that were regarding him from above. "Wolfram didn't die. He's still very much alive and sleeping back at the castle." He made a gesture in the appropriate direction. "So, no matter what your mirror showed him, it was all a lie." The double black began to pace. "There will be no 'death by Gaki'…no need to play the hero and die by sacrificing himself for the greater good…which is his nature because protecting people comes as naturally to him as breathing."
A smile curled onto Shinou's face. Murata entered the chamber quietly and stood by the door holding a carved, wooden box.
Yuuri continued, "What I don't understand is why you'd show him something that wasn't true."
Shinou kicked his legs playfully. "Oh, but it was true…" He jumped down and landed not far from Yuuri. "It's that wonderful thing called 'free will' again." He shrugged and then tossed his cape over one shoulder dramatically. "Some particular things in life are fated. Call them 'life lessons' or 'major arcana' or whatever you choose to name them. But everyone goes through them and everyone takes away a different meaning."
He leaned into Yuuri's face. The older version of Wolfram's features smiled back at him. And, for a brief second, the double black was afraid he'd forget himself and maybe, possibly, try to kiss him. Yuuri froze at the thought. The only person he truly wanted was asleep right now back in his bed at Blood Pledge Castle.
"Other things," Shinou went on, "are 'day-to-day lessons'…life's little 'ups and downs'…bumps in the road… But they are things we totally control because they are within our power to do so." He grinned widely at Yuuri, placing a hand on his own hip for emphasis. "The moment you chose to follow Wolfram to my meeting place with him changed some events." The grin turned sexy. "The moment you felt something akin to jealousy for an alternate version of yourself named 'Yuu'…who was being the person Wolfram needed in his life…you changed events." There was a strut in Shinou's walk now. He was right. He knew it. "And when you kept your pledge that Wolfram von Bielefeld would never face the monster alone…and you changed your future."
Yuuri nodded at that.
"Then," he said in a determined tone in Shinou's direction, "why did you dissolve my engagement to Wolf but you married Yuu and Wolfgang." He put a hand to his head. "Come to think of it, you even saved Wolfgang!"
Shinou laughed and ran his fingers through his blond hair. "Well, three individuals came through the black portal to our world. And three had to go back."
"Oh," Yuuri said with a little understanding at that part. "You had to keep balance in both worlds."
"And, as for the marriage…" Shinou grinned to himself. "It was…"
"Meant to be?" Yuuri offered. "…But, they're both so stubborn?"
Blue eyes smiled at him. Well, actually, it was a whim on my part because I was bored. But, we'll just leave it at 'Meant to be.' A serious sigh followed with the words, "Of course."
Then, black eyes turned to him with set determination. "I choose free will."
Both Shinou and Murata shared confused looks.
"Oh, Murata," Yuuri said, following Shinou's gaze, "you're here, too."
"I am," he replied, entering with the box held reverently in his hands.
"Good," Yuuri went on, "you'll be my witness."
The sage pushed his glasses up further on his face with a finger. "Witness? Why, Shibuya, whatever do you mean?" He loved adding sarcasm to that sentence. He could guess that his friend was about to be stubborn regarding something he saw as important. Murata could be certain of that much at least."
Yuuri turned back to Shinou with a business-like air about him—a typically Japanese way of facing things that would be tough, go against the flow, but he would do it because it was right.
"Wolfram and I will be getting married."
Both Shinou and Murata seemed surprised at the sudden mention of marriage and the bluntness with which it was said.
"I understand why you decided to dissolve the engagement. And I'm sure I probably deserved it." He bit his lower lip in thought. There was no "probably" about it. He had hurt Wolfram with the way he'd treated the engagement—something that was important, precious even, to his blond bishonen. "But I won't let him go. And, at this point in my life, I can't stand the thought of him being with anyone other than me. I know it's selfish and unfair to feel this way…but I do. And, if you disagree with that…" He looked around the dank chamber. "If anyone disagrees with it…then, too bad. Because, he's sharing my bed, my life…and will be a part of my family until the end of my days."
With that, Yuuri bowed respectfully to Shinou and strode out.
"Difficult, isn't he?" Shinou laughed.
"Shibuya has his moments when he's like that." Then, the sage glanced at the box in his hands, "But his doppelganger shares similar traits—both the good and the bad." He opened the wooden box and revealed the contents to Shinou.
"Ah, the other cuff," the Original King said with a pleased look. "I had wondered what had happened to it."
"It's a gift from Yuu Heika. He's offering it as a 'thank you' for saving Wolfgang's life and, of course, the marriage that followed."
Shinou's smile turned sexy and the not-so-subtle look didn't go unnoticed by Murata.
"Okay, Shinou…what do you have planned?" He glanced at the metal cuff with the dingy stones set into it. "It's not like you never wore magic cuffs in the past to increase your powers. We both know that." Even now, in his ghostly form, Shinou had on a modest pair that matched his outfit perfectly—right down to the boots. "So, what good is one cuff?"
"Do you remember how strong this one is?"
They both eyed the box.
"Yes…?" Murata blinked.
"And, when the next full moon comes, I can take a solid form and touch this…toy…"
Murata's throat became parched. Shinou calling it a "toy" worried him—deeply. "Y-Yes…"
He approached the sage. "What fun we can have…just you and I…? Alone…" He tilted his head to the side seductively.
The lid to the box closed with a snap. Murata turned on his heel and made for the door. "In that case, you won't mind me giving it to Ulrike to destroy."
"What?!" Shinou's mouth fell open. "Destroy? Whatever for?!"
"Because," he said without turning back, "with you wearing this cuff, I can't—very well—force you to sleep on the couch for being a bad boy! You'll be too powerful for your own good."
And, with that, the door closed with an annoyed bang.
Not tonight, Dear, I have a headache…huh?
Yuuri entered the castle with a pleased smile. He knew where he was going and what his life held in store for him—finally. And, for once, it felt good. Maybe, it came from confronting Shinou. Maybe, it came from standing up for himself and behaving like he was the true ruler of Shin Makoku.
Someone Wolfram can be proud of.
The double black eyed Sage Kenneth as he sneaked another bottle of wine from the kitchen. Seeing Yuuri, he took on the look of total innocence and hid the bottle behind his back clumsily. Yuuri sighed inwardly and kept going.
There are things that I have discovered along the way. And, because I could do that, be open to what's out there, I was able to grow up. I learned to see beyond myself and to see who I was…what I was doing.
He passed Günter and Gwendal in the hallway and gave a brief wave.
Lesson one was "talk to him." Wolfram and I have spent hours, days… years together. But, we've never really talked. And, even now, there are things I don't know. I don't know his favorite color or what his favorite book is. I don't know his father's first name or the names of the men in his private guard. I can't even recall his birthday or favorite holiday… But I will…because I intend to talk to him and I want the chance to get to know him. It's only fair.
He knows everything about me.
Yuuri walked down another hallway. Soldiers saluted with him giving a nod in return.
Lesson two was "express concern when needed." It had always been a "one way street" with that. Wolfram would complain or bicker one minute and straighten my collar the next. He'd tell me the truth using a tone of voice that told me I meant something to him. But, it was always one sided. Wolfram kept "giving" and all I ever did was "take." I'd only express concern when he was injured trying to save me…and, even that was out of obligation. Not anymore, though. Wolfram deserves my concern and my attention. He deserves love, too.
Yuuri got to his chamber door. He opened it slowly so that it wouldn't make a sound.
Lesson three was "encourage him and back it up." I suppose, this one was the hardest because it was the closest to my heart. Saying kind, encouraging things to him seemed like leading him on…like giving him a reason to keep clinging to me when I wasn't sure how I felt. Wolfram was pushing me into a corner to help me find my feelings, but it didn't work. He kept pushing and I kept backing away. Now, though, I understand myself. I'm more mature and more understanding. Now, I would gladly encourage him to do whatever he wants to do and I'll back it up with a hug or a kiss or a caress. People need to be touched, not kept at arm's length.
How lonely Wolfram must have been all this time.
Yuuri approached the bed to find it empty. There was a frown between his eyes until he noticed that the window was open and Greta's laughter was drifting in from outside. Wolfram's voice had joined in with a melodious tone that was typically him—the doting parent. Yuuri pulled back the curtain and peeked out.
"Yuuri!" Greta called with a cheery wave.
Wolfram looked up towards the open window and a smile came to him—beautiful and bright. Things would be different between them, they both knew—in a good way, in a very good way.
Yuuri gave a brief wave. He'd slap Wolfram tonight at dinner. Hard, but not too hard.
And the final lesson, Yuuri thought as he returned Wolfram's smile, is "hope." Wolfram still doesn't believe in it. How many times has he given up…or been determined to go it alone…afraid to fight fate because the effort wouldn't change the outcome? But, I'll do my best to teach it to him.
Hope is real.
He's been through so much and I can see why he can't put his faith in something so simple. But, I can understand it…and him.
Because, life isn't fair. It's up to people to be fair.