Disclaimer: Good grief, it's fanfiction. Of course it's Not Mine.
Obligatory stupid summary:Gwendal handles Yuuri's paperwork when Yuuri isn't around, which turns out to be more interesting than you might think.
Beta'd by Sayoko_Bizen
Whenever Yuuri went back to Japan, Gwendal handled the paperwork. He scanned the reports and declarations and proclamations, sorting them briskly into piles to be signed, to be reviewed more carefully, to be rejected, and to bring to the Maoh's attention when he returned. He prided himself on keeping that last pile to a minimum, though it often meant late nights catching up on his own work.
Yes, Gwendal had everything down to a system, and the fact that the Maoh had departed in the middle of some very tricky negotiations should have made no difference. Of course it had taken more time than usual to handle the ambassadors, and the nights had been later than normal because of the assassination plot Yozak had uncovered (and foiled, but that had taken a while). No matter what else was going on, though, the paperwork still had to be processed. And Gwendal processed it, steadily and efficiently.
That is, until the eighth day after Yuuri's departure. Gwendal was seven hours into the day and three-quarters of the way through sorting the current stack of documents when he realized he'd been staring at one for a good five minutes, unable to determine which stack it belonged in. His eyebrows drew together, and he looked at it more closely.
The first half-page was standard Shin Makoku legalese: "...property from the northeast corner thirty paces east, then south by I bet you are so tired you can't even read this properly. Go take a nap."
Gwendal closed his eyes. He opened them. The words stayed the same. He glanced further down the page, and realized it was a request to have a scientific laboratory built in the middle of the military training field. Shaking his head, he tossed it on the pile of rejects and reached for the next document. His hand hovered over the pile for a moment, then withdrew, still empty. It wasn't actually bad advice, and he wouldn't have to tell anyone...
And it really did help, though he'd never admit as much in public.
The Maoh had been gone for two full weeks. The ambassadors were still in Shin Makoku, and Shinou, did they talk! Just thinking about it made Gwendal's head ache. At least his office was quiet, though despite his best efforts the papers were piling up.
Halfway down the stack of documents, he found a report on the progress of the Women's Movement for Equal Educational Opportunity, which read in part "...making steady progress due to His Majesty's generous Gunter keeps a bottle of aspirin in the back of the third file drawer on the left. Take some before you roar at the wrong person and start a war or something."
The aspirin was right where the report said it would be, along with Gunter's stash of special dark chocolate. Gwendal took three aspirin and, after a moment's hesitation, two chocolates, and felt much better. He would replace the chocolates later, of course.
He dropped the report on the stack of documents to be reviewed more carefully. Once that miscopied page got fixed, naturally.
The ambassadors had departed in a general air of goodwill, and Gwendal had been up all night with Gunter, consolidating their notes on the discussions into a draft treaty. After sending Gunter off to bed, Gwendal trudged wearily to his office to tackle the morning build-up.
He paused in the doorway, staring at his desk. No one touched his desk, ever, but there, right in the middle, an enormous mug of coffee steamed gently next to a plate of his favorite spiced meat rolls. The scent drew him forward. As he swallowed the welcome, bitter liquid—black, just the way he liked it—he saw the document sitting next to the plate.
"If you don't want to burn yourself out, you need an assistant," the note at the top read. "Honestly, sometimes you're as thick as a board."
The form below was a requisition for a new position—aide to the Commander of the Armies. It was filled out neatly and with careful attention, though he did think that putting "Able to take being roared at for no reason" under "Required skills and abilities" was a bit much.
Gwendal frowned, then took another bite of meat roll. It was a good idea, but if he approved it himself, it would look as if he were taking advantage of his position. He picked up the papers and started to put them in the pile of rejects, then hesitated. If things had gotten so bad that even...other people...had noticed, there was really only one thing to do. He moved his hand six inches and dropped the requisition on the stack of documents for the Maoh to review when he returned.
For the rest of the morning, his eyes kept straying to the requisition, and though he scowled each time, there was more speculation than disapproval in his expression.
The Maoh returned with little warning, late in the afternoon. Gwendal hadn't even had time to straighten the piles of paper on his desk before he rode up to the Shinou Temple with his brothers to welcome Yuuri home. The kitchen staff rose to the occasion with a magnificent dinner, and it wasn't until nearly midnight that Gwendal finally stumbled back to his office to set things in order so the Maoh could get right to work the next morning.
As he approached the door, he saw to his surprise that light was glimmering through the crack at the bottom of the door. He slowed and put a hand to his sword before easing the door quietly open.
The intruder was facing away from the door, bent over Gwendal's desk. Gwendal paused for a moment to savor the view, and to mentally thank everyone who had not pointed out to Anissina that wearing pants so tight they appeared to have been sprayed on was perhaps not as much of an advancement in the cause of female equality as she seemed to think. Then he cleared his throat noisily, knowing that he'd never hear the end of it if Anissina caught him ogling her rear end.
Anissina whirled, but by then Gwendal was frowning innocently at the stack of paper on the right. "Gwendal!" Hastily, she put one hand behind her back.
Gwendal's eyes snapped to the paper she was holding and his frown deepened. "Anissina, what are you doing?" he demanded.
"I was just—I was—Oh, hell." She slumped against the desk. "And the system has been working so well, too."
"System?" Visions of strangely-named maryoku-powered machinery swam through his tired brain.
"That His Majesty and I worked out," Anissina said a trifle impatiently. "You weren't intended to know anything about it."
Yuuri and Anissina, collaborating on something? Something he wasn't supposed to know about? That was even worse than Anissina's mechanical experiments. "Well, I know now," he growled. "You had better let me see." He held out his hand.
Anissina straightened and glared at him. "It's nothing to do with you!"
"My office, my desk—and it's my job to prepare His Majesty's paperwork," Gwendal shot back. "I'd say it has a lot to do with me, whatever it is." He stared at her, willing himself not to show any of the hurt and betrayal he was feeling. He'd always thought that underneath it all, Anissina trusted him, damn it!
Anissina bit her lip, then suddenly reached out and slapped a sheaf of papers into his waiting hand. "There! Happy?"
Feeling more hurt than ever, Gwendal looked down...and his brain seized up. He wasn't sure how long he stood staring before his mind unfroze enough for him to croak, "Anissina—a marriage contract?"
"Exactly. Now do you understand?"
Yes...no, not at all. Gwendal took a deep breath, trying to make the castle stop spinning around him by sheer force of will. It almost worked. "You...you want to marry this Lord Ludwig von Gyllenhaal?" Second cousin to the head of the family, if Gwendal remembered correctly. It would be quite a comedown in position for Anissina, whose brother was head of the von Karbelnikov family. The coldness traveled down Gwendal's spine and settled in a lump in his stomach. If Anissina cared enough for young Lord von Gyllenhaal to present a marriage contract to the Maoh for his approval, she must be—
"Of course not!" Anissina said vigorously, and the lump of ice in Gwendal's stomach thawed just a fraction. "Oh, I knew you wouldn't understand."
"Explain, then." He knew the words were abrupt and harsh-sounding, but it was taking every ounce of self-control he had to keep from ripping the contract to shreds and then strangling Anissina with her own hair for even thinking of such a marriage. There wasn't enough left over for niceties like politeness or a gentle tone of voice.
Anissina gave him a piercing look. "Really, Gwendal. Did you think my brother Densham would just give up on arranging a marriage for me, once he got the notion into his head? He's changed targets, that's all."
"He wants you to marry Lord von Gyllenhaal?"
"No, you idiot. After what he saw that time, he wants me to marry—" Anissina stopped short and blushed. Then she raised her eyes to Gwendal's and finished firmly, "He wants me to marry you."
Anissina's lips twitched into a small smile of genuine amusement. "Yes, you. And this was the only way I could think of to stop him pestering you."
"You're marrying Lord von Gyllenhaal to keep your brother from pestering me?"
"NO!" Anissina rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I'm not marrying anybody! But Densham can't come to you with a marriage offer for me while there's a contract proposal outstanding, and with him on the Karbelnikov estates it takes weeks just to get the papers there for him to look at. Then it has to come back here, and I object to some wording, and it goes back to him for approval. I can string out writing the contract for six months without even trying. That one—" she waved proudly at the sheaf of papers in Gwendal's hand "—took eleven months to get to this point."
"If it's final—" Gwendal started, but Anissina shook her head at him before he even finished speaking.
"No, no, no! You aren't thinking, Gwendal! For eleven months, we send the contract back and forth, and Densham can't bother you. And then I put it on the bottom of Yuuri's paperwork, and when he finally gets down to it, he marks it 'Disapproved, by order of the Maoh,' and the whole thing starts all over!"
"You've...done this before?"
"This is the third time," Anissina said, nodding.
"I...see." Gwendal looked down at the contract. The lump of ice in his stomach was thawing rapidly, and as it melted it was carrying away old angers and fears...and revealing new ones. He took a deep breath, and thought about naps and aspirin and assistants, and how no one else had watched him closely enough to see the things he needed, or known him well enough to chivvy him into getting them. He thought about Densham's obsession with getting his sister married, and the lengths to which Anissina had gone to keep her brother from driving him crazy. He considered the further lengths to which she might, just possibly, go. And he thought about the way love, for some people, had far more to do with actions than with passionate declarations.
He thought, perhaps, a little too long. Frowning impatiently, Anissina reached for the contract. Gwendal lifted it out of her reach. "Gwendal!" Anissina said. "What are you doing?"
"I should have guessed that you and Yuuri would cook up a scheme like this," Gwendal growled. "Wasting so much time and effort, when there is a simple and obvious solution right in front of you."
"Gwendal, you—" Anissina broke off, eyes widening as Gwendal leaned past her to pick up his quill and dip it in the ink pot. Placing the first page of the contract on the desk, he found the place where it said "...Lord Ludwig von Gyllenhaal, hereinafter known as The Groom..." With a single, satisfying stroke, he crossed out "Lord Ludwig von Gyllenhaal" and then wrote his own name just above it, between the lines.
Anissina was staring at the contract. "There," Gwendal said. "Simple and obvious." He paused, hoping that the hammering of his heart wasn't actually audible. "That is, if this change would be acceptable...?"
"Gwendal..." At long last, Anissina looked up at him, her eyes shining and something vulnerable in her expression that he couldn't remember ever seeing before. And then she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
A long time later, Gwendal straightened. "I take that as a yes," he said. "And as it is far too late at night to be waking everyone for announcements, we should retire so that we can present a united front tomorrow morning. My quarters, I think." His lips curved in the smallest of smiles when Anissina raised an eyebrow at him. "Your quarters are likely to contain far too many distractions..." and dangers! "...and I would prefer to have all of your attention for myself, however selfish that may sound."
He waited for her to smile and nod, and nevertheless felt deeply happy when she did. Backing off just far enough to extract one hand from...where it had been, Gwendal picked up the marriage contract and dropped it on the very top of the stack of papers for the Maoh to sign immediately in the morning. He kept the other arm wrapped around Anissina's waist as he steered her out of the office and closed the door on the neatly sorted stacks of paperwork.