Yuuri was hiding something, and Conrad did not like it one bit.
Of course, neither did anyone else.
Yuuri hiding something could mean a lot of different things, none of which were particularly good. There was the 'hiding-that-I-haven't-been-doing-my-paperwork' Yuuri for a start. That was one of the more harmless so-called secrets. There was also the 'I've-been-sneaking-away-from-my-lessons' Yuuri; again, while distressing in the extreme to one specific person, it was not especially a cause for alarm. From there, Yuuri hiding something could progress to an 'I'm-smuggling-a-fugitive-in-the-cellar-and-have-been-feeding-him-my-dinner-leftovers' kind of level, which was slightly more disquieting (and would also explain why Yuuri hadn't been eating anywhere near as much recently). But somehow, Conrad did not think that this was the case, either. Finally, there were the entirely too serious scenarios: 'I'm-planning-a-lone-rescue-mission-of-a-human-village', for example, or even something like, 'I've-actually-come-down-with-a-fatal-disease-but-don't-want-to-tell-anyone.' Out of all of these, the final two were, judging by Yuuri's expression of late, by far the likeliest. However, various interrogation methods by almost every concerned castle inhabitant had thrown up nothing. Conrad, who knew Yuuri and the way his mind worked better than anyone, was completely stumped.
Meanwhile, whatever secret Yuuri was hiding was beginning to take its toll.
He looked tired, all the time, despite a lessening of work of late. He ate when he was expected to, but merely picked at his food and constantly excused himself early from the table. When Conrad made a discreet enquiry about how His Majesty was sleeping, Yuuri only shrugged and evaded the question. Josak, who Conrad had turned to in sheer desperation after watching Yuuri seemingly waste away in front of his very eyes, could report only that Yuuri often paced his room at night, but that nothing drastic was visibly amiss.
When Yuuri had progressed to the point of fidgeting nervously whenever he was in one place for too long, jumping a mile in the air whenever he was startled by a loud noise or someone coming up behind him, and outright avoiding others to the point of reclusiveness, Conrad came to the decision that it was time to step in himself.
He felt only slightly guilty, following Yuuri in the morning. It not his place to interfere in His Majesty's business, particularly if that business was private… but the simple sight of Yuuri walking like that; head down, shoulders tensed, a despondent expression that suited him not at all… Conrad found that he did not care if he was caught after all, if only he could find out what was troubling his King so.
So he observed, without really appearing to, as Yuuri forced himself to partake of one of two mouthfuls of the morning meal. He listened outside Yuuri's office and heard only the familiar sounds of paper being shuffled and sorted, the low scratching of quill against parchment. He came in personally later on with the usual tray of assorted snacks, having already had a quiet word to the maid whose duty this normally was. He then watched, with sinking heart, as Yuuri murmured his thanks while all the while avoiding eye contact, and ate one of the cookies thoughtfully baked by Greta purely for appearances sake. It was plainly obvious that, had Conrad not been in the room, Yuuri would not have touched the food. When Conrad, getting more apprehensive by the second, excused himself with a slight bow, he could not help but immediately note that Yuuri did not correct him for the formality. Did not even look up, in fact, when Conrad left the room.
At lunchtime, Yuuri did not appear at all.
Conrad tracked him down to a secluded spot in the library, where Yuuri leaned against a back window and had curled himself up into a tight ball of abject misery. Conrad did not disturb him, but stayed unobtrusively close until Yuuri roused himself, almost an hour later, to go outside for some fresh air. Here, Conrad lost Yuuri for a few minutes; he could not have continued to follow Yuuri without being seen if he did not go a separate way. By the time he had caught up with his wayward King, several more minutes had passed. The soldier made a point of ensuring that Yuuri saw and heard his approach in plenty of time, but Yuuri looked uneasy even so. He still would not meet Conrad's eyes.
Even here, in the warming comfort of the sun and sitting beside by the well-kept garden that he had always seemed so fond of, Yuuri appeared almost fragile. Conrad took a chance.
"Are you well, Heika?"
They both heard the lie in his voice, and Yuuri was already getting shifty.
"Can I assist you with anything? You seem a little… distracted, of late."
"No, there's nothing." His reply came out too rushed, too eager to divert Conrad's attention.
Conrad felt another stab of guilt, but played his card anyway. "Yuuri… are you certain there's nothing on your mind? I've been… that is, everyone is worried about you."
Yuuri's eyes widened for a moment, and his cheeks burned. Then, just as quickly, he paled again, and shook his head, casting his eyes downward. "I didn't mean to make anyone worry about me", he whispered to the ground. "But there really is nothing."
Conrad left him there, Yuuri's body language practically screaming at him that Conrad's presence only made him doubly uncomfortable. The soldier retreated to the castle balcony, looking on from the shadows as Yuuri slowly stood and began to walk away, no doubt in search of a more private spot.
Conrad would have admitted defeat for the time being and gone to catch up on his own missed duties if something about Yuuri's form in the distance had not held his attention.
It was nearing an early sunset, and Yuuri was silhouetted against the landscape for a moment, his black clothing distinct against a golden-red glow. From behind, Yuuri's figure looked both striking and timeless, bathed as it was in the final burst of light of the day. His head was tilted upwards to the sky, as if Yuuri might take wing at any moment and escape whatever inner torment he was trapped within.
But something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Conrad stood tersely, staring after Yuuri, some deeper instinct warning him of the fact that not all was as quite as it seemed. Something about Yuuri walking away from him, his figure now wavering from the heat of the sun's rays-
And then Conrad was running, desperately sprinting, before his mind had even caught up with how his body was reacting. Yuuri was still wavering back and forth in front of his eyes, the sun no longer the culprit. The world narrowed in Conrad's awareness: the heat, the ever-present sound of crickets, his own breath – none of it existed anymore. There was only himself, the rhythmic thumping of his sturdy boots upon the ground and the straining of his body as it attempted to get there in time, the faltering Yuuri now just out of arms length-
Yuuri's knees were already buckling beneath him by the time Conrad was close enough to reach out and save his fall, head-first. The young ruler made not a sound, did not even move as Conrad gently lowered him to the ground and turned him over.
Even as a part of his mind was still scrambling to recover its composure, another part was already instructing Conrad quite detachedly to check Yuuri's breathing, his pulse, his temperature.
Yuuri could have simply been asleep for all any of this gave away. His breathing was peaceful enough, his pulse perhaps only slightly faster against Conrad's fingertips than was normal. There was no fever; Yuuri's skin felt mildly warm against his hand, but that was only to be expected from the natural heat of the day. There was no indication that Yuuri was in any pain, and a brisk check showed that there was no injury that Conrad could discern.
"Yuuri." He did not stir at his name being called. Conrad picked him up and strode back, as quickly as he could without jostling his charge. Yuuri remained a dead weight in his arms.
The noise and bustle of the castle – not inconsiderable as soon as Yuuri's condition was discovered – did not rouse him either. Gisela was on hand to give him a more thorough examination, and Conrad did not like the frown he saw on her face as her hand moved over Yuuri's unconscious form. For several moments, all was silent. The castle itself held its breath as Gisela worked, a greenish glow emitting from her hands.
At last, Gisela stood from where she had been kneeling. "There's nothing wrong with him." Waiting edgily for the sudden hubbub of voices to recede, she went on, "Nothing that I can see. Yuuri-heika's body seems to have simply shut down, but there is nothing I am able to see or feel that would explain why. No injury, either external or internal. No medical illness, nor poison, nor anything else I can find. This is…" She trailed off. 'Strange' seemed too insignificant a word to describe the general sentiment of the room's occupants. The visible worry of even the stalwart Gwendal was palpable.
It was as a second loud eruption of questions and opinions was raised that Yuuri finally shifted slightly. All attention was instantly diverted to the young man on the bed, who was evidently in the midst of finally waking. His hands clenched and unclenched several times, and he frowned slightly before opening his eyes.
In the third outbreak of simultaneous voices, Gisela sent nearly everyone aside from her patient from the room with a glare that nobody dared disobey. Only Wolfram, Gunter, Gwendal, and Conrad remained within. Her attention now undivided, she gazed at Yuuri frankly. "How do you feel, Heika? Please be honest."
"… I'm fine. I feel fine."
"Hmm." Her hand stole up to his forehead again, and she shook her head in consternation. "Can you recall what happened?"
Yuuri turned his head to the window, away from everyone else. "I… I think I was too tired. Or too hot. But I couldn't see all of a sudden- my vision went funny, and I suddenly felt dizzy- and I thought if I closed my eyes for a second then they would clear." His voice was halting, a note of panic discernable in his voice to anyone who listened well enough. "I guess not though."
"You don't have a fever. It's possible you were just dehydrated, but…" Gisela looked like she might say something further, but appeared to settle for reaching for a small basin and washcloth that had been brought in. She had already dipped the cloth into the cool water there and placed it on Yuuri's forehead before Yuuri had been able to register what was going on.
"No!" He shot bolt upright in fright.
"Heika, what's wrong?!"
Gisela, for her part, ignored the cries of alarm and picked up the damp cloth from where it had fallen, turning it over to examine the underside. Her expression upon seeing it was an odd mixture of both satisfaction and deep concern. "Heika… how long?"
Yuuri seemed unable to tear his eyes away from the intensity of her gaze. "I… I don't…" He swallowed, seeing there was no way out of the question. "A couple of weeks. I borrowed it from Lady Celi but I didn't tell her why."
"Heika, what is-"
Gisela raised a hand for silence, and dipped the washcloth into the basin again, wetting it more thoroughly. Yuuri had turned his head to the window again, bearing with Gisela's ministrations as his face was wiped clean. Only when Gisela was sure that she was finished did she pass the washcloth back for Conrad to see.
The powder showed up starkly against the dark material, and as Yuuri closed his eyes in defeat and turned his face back towards them, the others immediately understood.
The deep circles under his eyes were made all the more apparent for the near-ghostly pallor of his skin. They stood out like bruises now that the cosmetic powder was no longer there to mask them. The too-sharp angles of his face, the hollows of his cheekbones, were all the more pronounced by these facts.
"I'm sorry", he said quietly, eyes still shut in defence of what he might see were he to open them. "I didn't mean for you to find out. But I couldn't tell you. I didn't know how."
There was a stunned silence, before Gisela turned around and looked at them. "I believe I need to talk with Yuuri-heika alone." There was no arguing with that tone of voice. Her eyes were a deadly, frozen calm in their resolve, but she levelled a quick glance towards Conrad before turning back to Yuuri. The soldier took the hint, and retreated to the dimmest corner of the room while Wolfram, Gunter and Gwendal left, closing the door quietly behind them. If any of them wondered why Conrad had been more or less ordered to remain unobtrusively behind, they said not a word.
"Yuuri." Gisela's voice was soft and non-accusing. There was a time to be aggressive in her line of work, but this was not it. "Won't you look at me?" After a moment, Yuuri obediently opened his eyes.
"I'm not going to ask for an explanation for now – I just want to ask a few simple questions. Alright?" Yuuri gave a nod, his expression still a mask of fear.
"You say you've been using Lady Celi's powder for around two weeks. Have you not been sleeping since then? Or perhaps longer than that?"
Yuuri's voice sounded like it was being forcibly ripped from his throat. "Longer. A month maybe. It started…" At Gisela's nod of encouragement, he continued. "It started a while ago actually. I just didn't know it. I thought I was just overtired, or coming down with a cold. But I had trouble sleeping at nights. It was only in the last month that it got bad. Some nights I wouldn't sleep at all."
"That's good, Yuuri. What else? Have you been eating?"
Conrad's stomach clenched as he watched Yuuri shake his head. "No."
"Also for a month?"
"I don't… maybe. Yes. I felt nervous all the time, like maybe there was something important I was forgetting every day, or something bad was going to happen. Nothing did, but the feeling just kept getting worse. When I try to eat, I can't-" His voice broke off. Ashamed, he looked away.
"You throw it back up?"
"Yes." Huskily, he added, "I try not to. I hate it, but- but after a while it was like my body just couldn't hold it. Sometimes not even for a few minutes. I couldn't… I couldn't tell anyone. Not when I didn't know the reason why myself."
There was another long silence, before Gisela stood back upright and nodded decisively, as if she had made up her mind about something at long last. "Alright. That's all for now, Heika." Yuuri sagged against the pillows in relief, drained of all energy. "Please rest for now, and drink some water if you think your stomach can handle it, or if you start to feel dizzy again. I will be back again later to check up on you, but right now you must sleep if you can, and just relax as much as possible if you cannot. Understand?"
Yuuri nodded, his sheer exhaustion evident. He exhaled sharply, perhaps in relief, as Gisela exited the room. She glanced at Conrad again as she passed, although she kept her silence. Her eyes seemed to challenge him: Now what? Conrad was at a loss himself, but could not bring himself to leave.
So he said nothing as Yuuri rolled over onto his side, away from the door and from Conrad's corner, and did not move from his spot until Yuuri had fallen into a fitful state of half-sleep, all the while wondering just what he was to do.