It was the screaming that Wolfram remembered first when he woke up. The sound of women—maids, servants, Gissela, his daughter—all shrieking in a single voice. An intermix of male voices had joined them, shouting orders and demanding compliance. Someone turned the dining table over. Sporks clattered. China broke and shattered into a million sharp, white pieces. But the women bothered him the most because it was in his nature to protect them—them and Yuuri.
There was a fuzzy image in his head that stayed with him through the blackness. Before his eyes had closed that final time. Wolfram tried to push it away, but it came back. It always came back. He was bleeding. He'd dropped his sword and covered his right hand with his left. Fire coursing through him—a different kind of fire than magic—racing towards his heart, and all he could manage was to tilt his head up as his knees met the white marble floor painfully.
Yuuri was standing only a few feet away. Not close enough to touch. Just standing. No, more than that. He was comforting Lady Catherine Whitmore—a second cousin of Anissina's who was visiting. She was a classic beauty who stood only slightly taller than Wolfram with chestnut hair mixed with bold, red strands, and unusually stern, violet eyes. Her cream and peach dress was filthy from her being cast to the floor as the soldiers, Wolfram included, had rushed past. Lady Catherine was crying softly into his chest and Yuuri was there, holding her protectively as his soldiers and guards rushed at the five armed intruders in the dining hall.
Wolfram ran as fast as he could, unsheathing his sword in a single, fluid movement as the enemy, wrapped from head to foot in black hoods and clothes, did the same.
Wolfram's battle instincts took over.
They had to save the maou.
They had to save Yuuri.
My Yuuri. That was the single thought which drove him on.
Swords clashed. Again. Again. Grunting with the shock of force as metal impacted metal.
The invaders fell back, regrouping. It was bold to do this, and they knew that the initial plan was a failure. So, there was nothing to lose by attacking anything that moved.
Conrad struck at an enemy just inside Wolfram's peripheral vision.
Is he okay? Is he protected? Wolfram glanced at Yuuri. Yuuri. How could he hold that woman so close to his heart? In front of everyone? That defiant look in his eyes at the enemy… He'd never seen it before on Yuuri's innocent face. But The Maou's eyes were like that. What if he turned into The Maou? What if…?
A green tinged sword was raised.
The blond bishonen turned back, emerald eyes impossibly wide.
And, then, pain.
Groaning slightly, Wolfram opened his eyes and blinked sleepily at the faces surrounding his bed. There was Gwendal, knitting something that looked like a mouse but would later on turn out to be a puppy, and Conrad, stopped in mid-stride, now at the foot of his bed. Surprise melted away and he leaned inward expectantly. Wolfram's eyes went to his mother sitting on the edge of the bed who, upon seeing her youngest awake, grabbed him up in her arms and hugged him tightly.
Wolfram let her, his body little more than a rag doll.
Next, Greta jumped into the bed on her knees, much to Wolfram's surprise, and added to the massive hug he was receiving.
Wolfram tried to place his right arm around Greta only to discover that his right hand was bandaged from fingertip to wrist.
His eyes stared at it, taking it in. "How did I…?" he asked before the flash of memory returned. He saw it again in his mind's eye. Yuuri had distracted him and it had come down to this. I should have stayed focused. But I didn't. I let my guard down. He glared at the bandaged hand. I deserved this.
"That's not important now, sweetheart," Lady Cheri chirped too happily, lowering Wolfram's bandaged hand. "The important part is that you woke up. It's been two days!" She hugged him again with the words "I was so worried."
"I'm sure you were, Mother," Wolfram said faintly, feeling like a failure.
"Yes, worried! The same way you'd worry about me, huh, Wolfram?" Greta chimed in.
Wolfram gave her a nod. "I'll worry about you throughout your entire life. It could never be otherwise."
"Really?" She beamed at him. It felt good to be loved.
"Always." He cocked his head to the side.
"Well, I need to check out some books," Gissela said as she left. "But, I'll be back to look at that hand again," she promised and the blond sighed at that.
"Ummm…Yuuri is…" Conrad began, looking at the door.
"I don't really care," Wolfram said evenly, much to the surprise of the whole room.
"B-But Wolfram…" Greta pouted at his side. He was supposed to care about Yuuri—to love him. They were a family after all.
Wolfram put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. "I'm so tired right now. Forgive me, okay?"
"Sure," she said, diving in for another hug around his neck. Greta could forgive anything as long as they stayed together—the three of them.
Wolfram spent a great deal of time sleeping after that. He ate little, drank water as though it were going out of style, and shivered into the blankets whenever Gissela touched him.
The intruders, Wolfram later learned after a visit from Conrad, were from a private army owned and operated by the noble class in Small Shimaron. After the initial incident, Yuuri and Gwendal had a "short but sweet" debate about whether or not King Saralegui knew of it beforehand. Yuuri, in his typical way, urged Gwendal to "trust first" and "speak with Sara." Gwendal told Yuuri to be realistic and stick to facts.
Wolfram had listened to Conrad calmly—watching the shadows playing across the ceiling. After a moment, he realized that his older brother had stopped talking. He turned his head to the side to look at him and noticed that Conrad had a peculiar expression on his face.
"Something?" Wolfram asked quietly.
"No…" Then, he thought about it. "Well…maybe…'yes' would be more accurate?"
A blond eyebrow raised. "Which is it? No or yes?"
"Wolfram, is something wrong?"
With a frown, the young man sat up in the infirmary bed. "Wrong?" He used a tone bordering on anger. "I'm sitting here…in this place…" He gestured to the empty room—only his bed was occupied. All the others were empty and neatly made.
"No, that's not what I mean." Conrad's bland smile returned. "I mean…is something else wrong."
Wolfram's hand began stinging and he looked down at the bandage. It was soaking red and his palm was into a tight fist now. "Damn," he muttered as he looked down at it. Warm rills of blood began to soak through and drip onto the white blanket that covered him.
Conrad stood from his chair. "I'll get Gissela." His tone told Wolfram that it would be useless to argue. The blond watched his back disappear and he closed his eyes—falling backwards into the bed, head on a rock hard pillow.
Gissela wasn't looking forward to dinner. She knew that fish wasn't the only thing that would be grilled tonight. She nibbled on her lower lip. If they were so concerned, why couldn't they all meet with her in her office to discuss Wolfram? Why were they always like this?
The green-haired healer took her usual spot at the table and noticed, immediately, all eyes on her.
Here it goes… She sighed mentally.
"Ah, Gissela," Yuuri brightened while he passed a goblet of wine to Lady Catherine who had been offered Wolfram's chair, much to the dismay of the young healer, "I wanted to talk to you about Wolfram."
Gissela's eyes flicked to the visitor and Anissina sitting next to her. "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but I can't speak of him unless it's with family only." She glanced down at her food, not really wanting the plate set before her. "You understand, right?" She gave a sweet smile.
"Oh," Yuuri said, "I see.."
Lady Cheri, Gwendal, and Conrad stared at her. If there was "nothing," then she simply would have said so and be done with it. The trio eyed each other and made a silent agreement to meet with Gissela later.
Yuuri watched this, not being as clueless as people often thought, and decided that he would either speak to Conrad about this situation with Wolfram or he would talk to Wolfram himself. Yuuri had tried on several occasions since the incident the previous week. But, each time, his accidental fiancé was asleep.
Gissela dug into her meal lifelessly. Sometimes, she hated being a healer.
"So, what is it?" Gwendal demanded now that dinner was over and they were gathered in Gissela's office. "What's wrong with Wolfram?"
Gissela ran her fingers through her green hair. Around her small table sat Lady Cheri in a sexy black dress cut high in all the right places, Conrad in his usual khaki uniform, and Gwendal, dressed impeccably in his own dark green uniform.
"Well, as you know," the healer said, "the assailants forced their way into the castle dining hall with the intent to kill Yuuri Heika and anyone who would try to get in their way."
"Agreed," Gwendal stated with a nod.
"And, as you also know," Gissela went on, "their swords were coated with green spider poison. Luckily, the vile stuff has a distinct odor like rotting tomatoes."
"Poor Wolfie," Lady Cheri sniffed, pulling out a black lace hankie. "We almost lost him."
There was a sad, vague hum of agreement from Gissela. She had to work hard to keep him alive. It exhausted three of her assistant healers while she tested the swords and looked up the poison in her father's old texts. Gissela remembered running down the hallway towards Günter who, only so gladly, gave her the books she needed. Yes, it was frightening for a time. But, they had done it and Wolfram had pulled through.
"So, what do we not know?" Conrad asked gently.
"It took hours to bring him out of danger. It was two days before he woke up." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "But, the problem now is blood poisoning. He has red streaks going up his arm. And we have to keep healing them away."
A pink-haired novice healer knocked twice, entered the room with some herbal tea, and left quickly. She didn't like the looks of the royal family. They seemed so worried—especially Lord Conrad Weller.
Everyone took a cup of something that smelled like apple spice.
"The wound doesn't want to heal," Gissela added. "And, when it does, it will scar. There's nothing I can do about that. I'm truly sorry."
"What do you mean…doesn't want to heal?" Gwendal asked, putting his cup down.
"Just that." There was no good way of phrasing it. "We need to be patient and see how the healing process goes. But your brother needs to go a lot easier on that hand. Apparently, making a tight fist with it when he's angry is a habit I've never noticed before."
"We'll ask him not to," Lady Cheri said diplomatically.
A green eyebrow raised at that one.
"We'll make him stop," Conrad said with a hard glint in his eyes. There were times when Wolfram could have his way. And there were times when his brothers would make him see reason.
"Also," Gissela added, "I'll do more research on the antidote we used. At the time, I was so thankful to have something that would work, I never researched the possible side effects of long-term and short-term use."
"Do you think there will be a problem?" Gwendal eyed her owlishly.
She shrugged back. "It's impossible to say until I dive into my father's books. I know that we didn't use anything that could be addictive…a combination of healing magic and an unusual mix of rare, dried herbs. But, that's not to say that he couldn't be in danger from a side effect that we hadn't bargained on." She took a sip of her tea. "He's had significant doses already."
"We'll just keep an eye on him," Gwendal said, looking deeply into his cup. "And support him."
Wolfram wasn't entirely sure when the thought had come to him. It was probably the day he was released. Gissela had shooed him out the door and told him to break the good news of his release to his family and friends. She would have done it herself, but was too busy. It was followed by a wink.
The blond, a bit wide-eyed at being shoved playfully, went along with it.
As Wolfram walked down the hall with his hands in his pockets, he thought about his life. He was alive in spite of it all. He'd overheard the healers whispering about the green spider poison that had been rubbed onto the swords of the enemy. And Wolfram was no fool. Had the sword that sliced the back of his hand actually hit a vital organ, his family would be placing flowers on his grave about now.
He was spared. Spared…for what? he asked himself.
Wolfram passed people in the hallway who gave him greeting. Tiredly, he answered back with brief waves or nods.
There was something on the edge of his mind—something that needed sorting out. And, once he did, he was certain that his life would get easier. But this was a task that only he could do, he felt, because he'd gotten to this place in life on his own. He would be the one to get himself out of it.
Wolfram stared at the closed door and took a breath.
"Yes?" Gwendal barked on the other side.
Ignoring the concerned looks of the green clad guards on either side of the door, for they were always jumpy where his brother was concerned, Wolfram let himself in.
Gwendal's face melted into a relieved smile as his blond baby brother entered the office. "You're looking much better," he commented (to which, he got a nod).
"I have a favor to ask," Wolfram said abruptly, and, at the same time, taking a seat somewhat shakily. He still wasn't one hundred percent back to normal—which was frustrating—but he'd get over that soon enough.
"What do you want?" Gwendal asked, eyebrow raised.
The blond bishonen looked up at him expectantly.
Wolfram had taken dinner in his room. He glanced around at it. The ornately decorated bed, armoire, oak desk, and carpet reflected his mother's tastes. But, they should considering the fact that this was a guest room that she used when her "friends" came to visit the castle. While moving in, Wolfram found a pair of scuffed-up, brown men's knee high boots in the back corner of the armoire and he sighed impatiently. Who was she dating? A pirate?
Gwendal had not liked the change in sleeping arrangements—especially since Yuuri didn't know anything about it. But Wolfram simply shrugged it off and said that he'd move into the barracks with his men if he didn't get his way about this. Wolfram smiled as he thought about his excuse to Gwendal. "I need to recover in peace." It was a good excuse and he was proud of it. The truth was that he needed peace and quiet from not only Yuuri but everyone else, too. There were things he had to ponder. He just had to. And the thought of his daily, scheduled trips to Gissela to have his hand tended to made him feel weak—impossibly weak.
Wolfram crawled in between the sheets wearing a short, white nightshirt and his black underwear. Now that he didn't have to worry about Yuuri's "modesty" and Günter bursting into the room unannounced, he could do as he wished. Maybe, tomorrow night, he'd sleep naked like he did in the days before the double black came to their world. Yes, Wolfram could call the shots in his life once more and not have to compromise.
It felt good.
He put his left hand behind his head—propping his head up a little off the pillow.
Maybe, there were other things he could do, now. Maybe, he was trapped in his old life because he simply allowed himself to be. He'd made too many compromises to fulfill Yuuri's life and desires but thought nothing of his own.
The image of Yuuri comforting Lady Catherine again came to him. He was holding her so protectively, like she was precious. She, crying, held his whole attention and she was, for that moment, the only thing in his world. Wolfram thought it over. Had he died on that night, this image of Yuuri would be his last memory of him.
The final one.
How many times had Yuuri pushed him away no matter how much devotion and attention he gave.
And he did give. And give.
Was there anything left?
Gwendal ran the country for Yuuri. Gunther taught Yuuri, advised him, and gushed at his every word. Conrad was his godfather one minute and guardian the next.
They each had a role. They each had a purpose. A design.
Wolfram stared at the canopy, dressed in blues and creams, above his bed. The rich fabrics draped off the sides with fine gold thread glittering with the flickering candlelight.
And, then, the epiphany came.
The problem wasn't them. It never was.
Gwendal moaned inwardly when Wolfram came to see him again. His blond brother wasn't wearing his typical, blue uniform. It was something he practically lived in because he was so proud of his military service. Today, though, Wolfram was wearing a pair of black, skin tight breeches tucked into boots, a long sleeved white shirt, and a midnight blue vest with rich embroidery. The outfit was a gift from his mother. Her latest travels had taken her to the von Christ lands where the clothing was all the rage. To humor her, Wolfram put it on even though it made the bandaged hand stand out in glaring detail. It didn't really matter what he wore anymore anyway. At least, that's what he told himself.
"I have something to say to you," Wolfram began, approaching the desk.
Gwendal pinched the bridge of his nose to delay the migraine he knew was coming. Why did his little brother have to add to his bad day? He released a breath and stated evenly, or as evenly as he could, "What is it this time?"
Another wrinkle appeared on his brow.
Wolfram tilted his head to one side with the knowledge that he was right. That, at least, was reassuring.
"I came to apologize."
"What?" He narrowed his eyes as Wolfram sat down shakily—but doing his best to hide it this time by using the armrest to steady himself. "What do you have to apologize for?" Then, he bent forward in his brother's direction from across the ornate, wooden desk. "What have you done this time?"
The blond almost laughed at that.
"What have I…done?" His face softened into something almost nostalgic. "I came to say I'm sorry for all that I've done. I've made your life very hard, haven't I? You have to run the country without a thought to yourself, your health, or your own goals. Surely, you must want more than this?" He gestured to the room filled with reports, half written responses, and maps. "You have a selfish, immature baby brother who only spends his days chasing after an equally immature, clueless king who needs your constant supervision." Wolfram finally managed a bitter chuckle, seeing how ridiculous it all was. "You're not an administrator. You're a babysitter."
Gwendal frowned deeply and Wolfram ignored it.
"You deserve a better life than this one. And all I've managed to do is complicate things—forcing Yuuri to stay in an engagement that he doesn't want and forcing you into an impossible situation politically and socially." He stood from the chair, putting his hands behind his back. "I know you care about me, Gwendal. But, to be honest, the country really does come first." He stood and made his way for the door. "There are just too many lives depending on us." He turned to face his brother and then bowed to him.
"I'm sorry. I truly am."
And, with that, Wolfram disappeared out the door with a stunned Gwendal plopping down into his seat.
It was the sound of footsteps that made Yozak pause and then smile in that secretive way.
He knew. But that was the nature of being a spy. The little clues… like a person's hair, or clothes, or the way they walked down a particularly lonely hallway…
But Conrad had been focusing on his cards and was in the middle of explaining how Yuuri had confused the Mazoku word for "smoking" with "chicken" when the visitor arrived.
With the door ajar, Wolfram had simply pushed back the plain wooden door and knocked politely on it. Turning slightly, Conrad tossed down the cards he was holding onto the desk as Yozak quietly excused himself.
"We'll meet up later," Conrad said distractedly to the spy's quick wave as he disappeared out the door.
Yozak always knew when to make an exit. That was also part of being a spy.
"So…Wolfram…" Conrad eyed the curious change in costume. It didn't suit him at all. Wolfram wasn't a perfect, beautiful doll. "I see that Mother has been at work."
Wolfram glanced down at himself with an impatient sigh. "It's obvious, huh?"
Wolfram shrugged at that. Yes, his mother had some taste.
"I came here to say something," Wolfram began and took the chair that Yozak had just occupied. It was still warm and that sensation made the blond squirm a little.
"Was it something important?" Then, his older brother smiled knowingly. "Or, does it have to do with Yuuri? Hmmm?"
Of course, Conrad would ask the "Yuuri" question. That was all he ever seemed to think about. Wolfram's green eyes looked away. He felt tired. His mind would drift off in the next second if he wasn't careful. Or, maybe, he was just trying to delay the inevitable.
"I came," Wolfram muttered quietly, "to apologize."
"Excuse me?" Conrad said, not understanding it. Wolfram only said "sorry" when it was something monumental. Half of the time, it was due entirely to Yuuri's urging. And, as far as he knew, nothing important like that had been going on. "I don't understand."
Wolfram stood from his chair. "Oh, yes…yes, you do." He bit his lower lip in thought, wondering how he was going to say this. It had been so long in coming.
"I want to apologize to you for the way I've treated you for so long…for hurting you and ruining everything."
He watched his brother's face change from curiosity to surprise.
"I said that I hated you for being half human. And, it's true that my father despised them. Later, he died when his carriage was attacked by a band of them…" Wolfram looked into brown eyes. "I was afraid, yes, but what frightened me more was that you were going to leave for war and…maybe…never come back." With his left hand, Wolfram ran his fingers through his hair absently. "People go away, Conrad. They go and they never come back." His voice shook slightly. "So, I just got it into my head that if I hated you, it would be easier to part with you. If you were a half-barbarian, then it wouldn't hurt so much if you disappeared." He looked up to brown eyes, filling with tears as Conrad stood.
"I was lying to myself." He glanced away. "Apparently, I'm terribly good at doing that." Wolfram tilted back his head and closed his eyes. "I know it's a lot to ask, but… Please forgive me…someday?"
The question hung in the air for only a short time before two strong arms found him and held him close.
Wolfram, emerald eyes suddenly wide, wanted to struggle—to pull away from Conrad. Hating him had become second nature. Instinct, even. But, then, he forced himself to relax into it. If he was truly sorry, he was going to have to change no matter how hard that was. And now was as good a time as any to start.
Besides, he had one more person to visit.
Two guards outside of Yuuri's office were sweating profusely at the sight of Lord Wolfram von Bielefeld approaching. They knew what his reputation was and, sadly, what the real Lord von Bielefeld was really like—which was far worse than the politely downplayed stories the court told. The blond had a temper and a jealous streak a mile wide. So, at the moment, their concerns were entirely justified.
He felt it. The auras. Once again, his battle instinct kicked in. Wolfram could smell their fear long before making out their faces. So, he knew. Or, some part of him did in the back of his mind.
Wolfram ignored the men to the right and left of him. Three sharp knocks and, without waiting for Yuuri's typical "dozo," (which he interpreted as "come in") he entered the room.
With a bright smile on his face, Yuuri was standing at the window with Lady Catherine next to him. She had on a pale blue morning dress with ribbons and a fan in one dainty hand.
She wants him to take a break and go on a stroll with her, Wolfram thought wryly. She even has her hand on his arm.
Abruptly, Yuuri turned to him and all the color drained from his face. "Eaten alive with guilt" was the expression that came to mind as Wolfram tried to decide what to do. Maybe, he should leave. But that was not the kind of thing a noble should do and Lady Catherine would have quite a story to tell when she gossiped with Anissina later on over tea.
"Ah, Lord Wolfram!" she cooed, walking in his direction now with purpose and poise. She fanned herself prettily. "I haven't seen you since the incident." Then, she pulled out her embroidered handkerchief and clutched it to her bosom. "Oh, and what a horrible, horrible moment that was." Turning, she continued, "But, Yuuri Heika…being there for me…shielding me…"
Wolfram also turned to Yuuri who seemed as though he wanted to jump out of his skin. The double black kept looking back and forth between the two of them. One eye twitched, as though expecting his accidental fiancé to start throwing fireballs out of jealousy any moment now.
"He certainly is…something," Wolfram agreed quietly, only to notice a frown forming between Yuuri's eyes. "What?" the blond went on. "I was only agreeing with the lady."
Lady Catherine smiled widely. She loved the attentions of both men and she could feel something in the room—some kind of electricity. And adored it.
Wolfram, on the other hand, could feel his energy draining away. He'd been on his feet too long and his bandaged hand was beginning to pain him. He still hadn't paid a visit to Gissela, either. She'd fuss about that. But, he could just as easily ignore her, too.
"Well…I see that you and Yuuri Heika are in conference," Wolfram said diplomatically and noticed the strange look he got for the 'Yuuri Heika' part—not that he cared. He gave a polite bow worthy of the noble class. "So, I will take my leave."
Wolfram made it as far as the door when Yuuri called "Wait."
The blond closed his eyes briefly and released an angry breath. Why couldn't Yuuri just leave things as they were? Why? Why make things so complicated?
"Yes?" he answered, trying not to turn around.
"I'd like to speak with you."
Wolfram, seeing no other option, turned back—only to notice that Lady Catherine had moved to her previous position by Yuuri's side.
She was a fetching contrast against Yuuri's black uniform. Her blue dress was lovely, dipped low in the front, and accentuated her fat, wide breasts. Hair done up with perfectly spiraled red strands falling away at the temples. The closed fan made of ivory and satin had white ribbons which dangled down in a little shower of shimmer.
Wolfram struggled with bitterness and told himself that this was the way it should have been. Should have been…from the start…
"We could, but you have a guest." Wolfram tried to sound politely bored. He'd had all of those years attending parties to get his practice in. "It would be rude of me to intrude."
He had hoped that Yuuri would catch the drift. But, for whatever reason, it didn't work because Yuuri turned to her and asked, "You don't mind, do you?"
Lady Catherine's eyes widened in surprise. The Demon King was telling her to leave? Then, she smoothed out her features and murmured a "not at all" with a well-practiced curtsey. And, with even strides, the noble lady left the room without so much as a glance at Wolfram.
Oblivious to the faux pas, Yuuri smiled at the closed door and his attention returned to his accidental fiancé. "It's been awhile, huh?"
The blond nodded coldly. "It has."
He approached Wolfram, stopping just two feet in front of him, and said in a friendly way, "You know, once you were out of danger, I came to see you in the infirmary. But, each time, you were sound asleep." He ruffled his own hair in the back childishly. "Um…it was tough, though, because you were sleeping so soundly…not like you usually do at all. Really…kind of…still."
Yuuri felt himself getting nervous. He was working his way to the question he wanted to ask. Wolfram hadn't slept in the same bed with him since the incident. And, he wondered if Wolfram blamed him for something. For getting injured, maybe? Yuuri had waited for Wolfram to come to bed the first night he'd been released from the infirmary. But, that didn't happen. The blond didn't show, didn't sneak in. It was Conrad who mentioned, too casually for his tastes, that Wolfram was recuperating in another room. But, he never told him where that was. Other people had seen Wolfram in the castle—reading in the library, taking a snack in the kitchen, visiting with his mother. But, each time Yuuri managed to dodge Günter, and his lessons, Wolfram was long gone. He was certain, now, that the blond Mazoku was avoiding him. And, being in the same room with Lady Catherine—knowing how jealous Wolfram was on most days—was not the way he wanted them to meet up.
"I actually came for a purpose," Wolfram explained, wanting to have his say and get it over with.
"Really?" Yuuri perked up. "Is it something fun…like a trip in town with Greta or would you like to go riding together? I think I can get Günter to let me off from a day's lessons or, if I can, Gwendal from paperwork." He gestured to the stack of papers on his desk.
"No," Wolfram answered quietly, putting his hands behind his back. The bandaged hand was starting to sting. He could feel his heart beating hard, too. This next part was going to be rough on him. But, he'd been thinking about what he'd say and what he'd do over the last three days. It was eating at him, unlike the meetings that he'd had with his brothers that morning, because these words would change everything.
"Then…what?" Yuuri smiled at him with the grin that usually melted Wolfram's heart. The smile that would make every pain, every agonizing moment of jealousy, every sorrow fade. But, it was never a solution, only a reprieve.
This time was different.
And Yuuri noticed it, too.
I have to let go. Wolfram leaned his head to the side, beautiful blond hair spilling against his right shoulder as he began. "I came here to apologize."
"What?" Yuuri couldn't understand it. "Why would you need to apologize? Have you done something I haven't heard about?"
Wolfram quirked a grin. That was just like Yuuri.
"You know, when we first met…it was no secret that I hated you."
At the word "hated," Yuuri's face fell.
The blond went on. "I felt that you weren't strong enough to be maou and you weren't wise enough. All I could see was a weak king ruling our land…risking all of our lives with pathetic decisions while our enemies…ruthless as they still are…would take advantage and come after us." Emerald eyes looked far away into the past. No longer was he talking to Yuuri, but to himself. "But, little by little…I came to see that your choices were good ones and that peace was possible. You were still lost in our world, but, for once, I had someone to look after…someone to care for." His eyes drifted to the map of Shin Makoku on the wall where the castle was marked with an X. "The slap was a mistake…and I knew it." His voice grew sad, hollow. "We were a mistake. But I thought that if I just tried hard enough… it would work out. I thought I could love you enough for the both of us and that, someday, you'd love me in return."
Emerald eyes met onyx ones.
"I thought you an idiot. But, the real idiot in this whole situation was…me."
Opening his mouth to speak, Yuuri took a step in Wolfram's direction and, just as quickly, the blond stepped backwards twice with distrust.
He bowed deeply to his king. "I apologize…for making your life a misery."
"Wolf…I uh…" he stammered.
"I regret the day we met."
Yuuri stared back in shock.
"I'm sorry for insulting your mother. I'm sorry for the slap that you did not know was a marriage proposal among the Mazoku…"
Wolfram smiled. It was a sad, almost tragic smile. But, it was the first real one he'd given in years. It was so pained that Yuuri found it hard to breathe.
"I'm sorry for pursuing you, for forcing myself into your life, and calling it love. It was weak and stupid of me…to place my trust in another person. And, how you've had to tolerate me being by your side when you clearly didn't want me."
Yuuri shook his head. "Wolfram…wait!"
Wolfram took another step backwards. "You deserved a better life than that. And, if I truly loved you, I would have made your happiness come before my own."
It was remarkable how it came to him. He knew it. He finally understood the truth. "Please forgive me… I tried to turn you into the person I needed…"
Yuuri reached out a hand to Wolfram. But, he saw the movement and ducked away as though Yuuri's touch was diseased. He shook his head "no." "I don't want that…anymore."
"Wolfram!" Yuuri barked. "You're scaring me. You talk about love as though it's not necessary. But, I know you. I…"
"You don't understand!" Wolfram spoke harshly over his words. "I woke up…finally…and took a hard look at life and came to realize that love is anguish…its face is sweet but it never gives as much as it takes away." He pointed to the closed door with his left hand because the right hand was aching badly. That was why he had tears in his eyes, he decided. His hand was hurting that much. "That woman is absolutely in love with you, and you're blind if you don't recognize it." He forced a thin smile. "And, you know, she wouldn't be a bad match. Regardless, I wish you luck…with whoever you end up with. But don't count on bliss lasting for very long. It never does."
"Wolfram!" Yuuri said roughly "Your hand." He pointed to the bandaged hand that was tightly fisted and soaked through with blood. It dripped blood onto the carpet and wood floor.
Wolfram lifted the hand, inspected it. "My apologies for bleeding on your floor."
"That's not the point, Wolfram!" He reached a hand out to grab Wolfram, but the blond Mazoku, once again, dodged him. Sword practice had its purpose outside of battle as well.
Wolfram threw the door open and then slammed it once on the other side, leaving the double black on his own.
In the empty room, Yuuri was breathing hard—angry. This had to be the most impossible, the most infuriating thing that Wolfram had ever done. Yuuri, too, threw the door open and glared daggers in the direction he expected the blond to have gone. But Wolfram was nowhere in sight, the hall empty.
At his feet, he noticed the blood trail had abruptly stopped at the threshold, too.
"Which way?" Yuuri demanded of the guard on his right. He didn't need to explain more. This wasn't their first "almost-private" argument.
The brown haired Mazoku thumbed to his right and felt great relief when the Demon King stormed away with blue sparks bursting all around him.
It smelled of dust and tickled his nose. He rubbed. The narrow, winding staircase held only room enough for one person. Wolfram used to play here as a small child when he was mad at his mother for taking away his second dessert. Now, he had to smile at that. Life's troubles—the real ones—were so much bigger than sweets.
Stepping lively, he tried to make his way with the bleeding hand tilted at an angle. Maybe, he could get the blood to soak down to the fingertips where there was more gauze. He didn't want to get blood on his shirt. It would be rude to ruin the new clothes the first time he'd worn them.
Then, he stopped abruptly.
"Hurry up, Yozak," he called, "or you'll never catch up."
Silence fell and, then, an all too familiar laugh from down below echoed. The soft shuffling of boots against stone steps grew louder, too.
"How did you know?"
Wolfram almost wanted to snort at that. "You've been following me since I left Gwendal's office this morning. Then, you disappeared when I went to the toilet and reappeared in Conrad's quarters." He frowned to himself and added, "You certainly get around."
"I'm surprised you noticed." He wiggled an eyebrow at the blond.
"I kept seeing you out of the corner of my eye."
Yozak frowned at the hand as he approached. "I think that needs some looking after."
Wolfram nodded. "Agreed, but not right now." He resumed his march to the highest point where the staircase opened to a narrow room with a wide, open window. "You've heard of the princess in the tower? Well, this is the prince in the tower. Or, at least, I was when I was little. I never told Gwendal or Conrad about this place because I knew they'd worry I'd fall out of the window or something." He sat on the edge of the window and gestured for Yozak to do the same.
The two of them had an impressive view of Shin Makoku—rolling fields with farmers working, roads with old wagons traveling along at a sluggish pace, and, just below them, Greta learning to ride her new pony—a smaller version of Wolfram's white steed—in her new riding outfit.
Looking down, she seemed so frail.
"So, are you going to apologize to me, too?" Yozak teased. "You seem to be doing a lot of that lately."
"Do I need to apologize to you?" A thin, Wolframish smile followed it.
"Well, there were all of those times you yelled at me, tossed fireballs, and made an ass out of yourself by throwing tantrums. People stared. It was quite embarrassing."
"And, you feel you didn't deserve that?" It was a joke and Yozak grinned widely from relief.
There was a shrug and Wolfram brushed blond strands of hair from his face. "Then, I guess…you'll just have to deal with it."
"Have you seen Wolfram?" Yuuri asked worriedly.
The door had been opened unceremoniously and in the threshold stood Yuuri and Conrad, both concerned.
"S-Sorry?" Gissela said, looking up from her text. It was the third one she'd cracked open. And this one was particularly stale and stinky. It had to have been at the bottom of a pile of books in her father's personal archive. "What's going on?" The book wafted a scent in her direction. Now, her eyes itched. What was that smell coming from the book? Stale cheese?
Conrad stated sans his trademark smile, "It's Wolfram." "We've lost track of him somewhere in the castle. He's acting strangely and his hand is bleeding again."
The green haired healer narrowed her eyebrows. "Strange? How so?"
"He's apologizing to everybody," Yuuri explained as he entered. He pushed his hands in his back pockets, remembering his talk with the blond Mazoku. "And the things he says…just don't make sense."
"He's babbling? He can't form sentences?" Gissela asked, more confused than ever.
Conrad shook his head. "Wolfram believes that he's caused trouble for everyone… to the point that he's ruined their lives." He shrugged slightly. "At first, I was overjoyed that he'd apologized for being so…difficult…with me over the decades. But, now…"
"Well, I'm glad he apologized for that," Yuuri said. "Actually, I know that he's felt bad about that for awhile now." The double black placed a friendly hand on his godfather's arm. "Every once in awhile…he'd talk like he was…I dunno…kind of sorry but a little lost and defensive…like he didn't know how to fix things."
"But, looking at everything he's done today," Conrad went on, worry coming back to his handsome face.
"Well, this could explain it," Gissela stated evenly as her finger scanned the dusty page. "I've been researching the antidote to the green spider poison and I've come across something interesting."
They gathered around her.
Gissela read: "This green spider poison antidote is convenient to administer but relatively expensive to make due to the infusion of the following herbs and elixirs…" She ran her fingers over the list. "Blah, blah, blah….Okay, here we go." She straightened up in the chair and went on. "…Though it does have the potential for very serious side effects including an unbalance of humors in the body, melancholy, excessive thirst, inability to heal quickly, fatigue, and somnolence which may include sleepwalking."
"Melancholy?" Yuuri said absently. "You mean… 'the blues' or something?"
Gissela looked at him curiously. "If that's what you call it."
"They do," Conrad confirmed "back on Earth."
The healer went on. "The entry concludes with a list of minor, temporary side effects…everything from problems calling forth one's element to constipation."
"So, is it possible," Conrad asked, "for Wolfram's sudden apologies to be due to his body being out of balance?"
Gissela nodded. "It's possible." Then, she turned to look at Yuuri. "It's also possible that he, deep down, wanted to apologize." She smiled at him with an edge to it. Wolfram had been her friend for decades. She'd seen how much he went through and how much his devotion had been ignored on the best of days and taken for granted on the worst. "Can you think of a reason, Your Majesty, for your fiancé to act this way…other than medically speaking?"
Yuuri's memory flashed back to his office. To Lady Catherine. Wolfram had been surprised and, he could tell, hurt by how familiar she was with him. But, for some reason, the blond had accepted it. The woman was just overly friendly by nature, like Günter, and she meant nothing by it. At least, that's the way he saw it—endless flattery and all. Just like at the royal balls.
He scratched his chin a little. Yuuri reflected again—from Wolfram's viewpoint this time—and sighed. Wolfram had called the two of them a good match. And, even if he hadn't, realistically, there was no way that the Wolfram he knew would just stand by while a woman gave her attentions to him—boldly even—without scowling, making some sort of deep growl, and uttering the word "fiancé."
The whole thing was too polite. Too formal. From the moment he stepped through the door, Wolfram had known what he was going to say. Lady Catherine's presence just confirmed the necessity of what he already planned to do.
The double black felt something cold run through him. "Maybe…I…" Yuuri couldn't look at the other two. Instead, he went to Gissela's window and looked out onto the grounds below.
And saw them.
Wolfram was taking the well worn path to the stables with Yozak following dutifully behind with his hands casually in his pockets. They were talking, obviously, with the blond's face impassive. The bandaged hand was soaked through and seemed more like a red glove.
"Wolf…ram?" Yuuri said vaguely only to have Conrad by his side in an instant.
"It is," he agreed.
Gissela stood from her seat and peeked out, too. "It seems to me that a ride in the country might do some good…after I see to his hand." She winked at them.
"Yeah, but…that's not what he's doing…" Yuuri recognized with growing alarm. He turned on his heel and ran for the door. "He's escaping!"
"What?!" Conrad followed Yuuri, arms pumping. "Escaping? Do you mean 'running away'?"
They didn't even shut the door after themselves.
Trampling footsteps died away.
Gissela settled down into her seat and closed the book. "Serves you both right for seeing everything…and nothing."
Yuuri, breathing hard, was glad that he took morning jogs with Conrad. The two of them made it out the nearest ground floor level door and onto the trail leading to the stables.
"This way!" Yuuri ordered, which he wasn't sure if it was for Conrad's benefit or his own.
Hearing his breathing in his ears and heart beating hard, Yuuri made it up to the whitewashed stable with Conrad by his side.
"And then…I…" Wolfram's voice continued.
"Wolfram!" Yuuri rounded on the startled Mazoku as he entered the stables.
In shock, green eyes just stared at him. Why was Yuuri here? He'd had his say, apologized, and they were through as a couple. Seeing the double black was no good right now. It would only give him hope. And hope wasn't something he could rely on.
"What are you doing?" Onyx eyes narrowed at him dangerously.
"Well…I…" He raised his left hand to point when Yuuri took it roughly. And, before he knew it, he was being dragged away in the direction of the castle.
"First," the double black ordered, "we're going to see Gissela about your hand. You're a mess! This bandage is soaked in blood." He stopped abruptly and glared at Wolfram. "Don't argue because I'll make it an order if you do."
Wolfram opened his mouth to say something but felt himself being reeled in like a fish. Words escaped him as he felt himself going forward once more.
"Second, we're getting some food into you and some rest."
Wolfram opened his mouth to say something—again—but the words, "Don't interrupt! You've had your say. Just go along with it…or I'll make it an order, too!" were shot at him.
Wolfram clamped his mouth shut and went along in almost a horrored fascination at the double black's behavior.
"Third!" the voice was even louder now, if that was even possible, and Conrad and Yozak chuckled at it. "I'm forbidding you to even go near the stables until you get better…and that's more than just your hand healing. HAVE I MADE MYSELF COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD?!"
Still inside the stables, Conrad leaned into Yozak, arms around each other now. "So, tell me…what were you guys really doing out here?"
The orange haired spy chuckled and rested his head temple against Conrad's. "We were about to brush his horse."
"Seriously? Yuuri thought Wolfram was running away."
"Like I'd let him with a bleeding hand. Oh, and I was the one who was going to do him a favor and brush the horse."
Conrad pulled Yozak closer. "That's what I was counting on. Thanks for looking out for him."
"Oh, we'll get to that later."
Once out of Gissela's, which Wolfram spent most of the time unusually solemn while she worked, the double black had the young Mazoku by his left hand again. Apparently, the blond wasn't going fast enough for him. So, he was leading him on down the hallways with a very determined expression. He tugged the blond past Anissina and Lady Catherine with a cheery, "So-sorry-no-time-to-talk-going-to-bed-now," with Wolfram giving them a disbelieving blush of embarrassment.
How could he?! This had to be a nightmare, Wolfram decided.
The door to the royal bedchamber was pushed open. Yuuri entered—alone, it seemed—and then pulled on the arm very hard. What most passersby saw in the hallway was a wide eyed, blond ex-prince's body being sprung forward full eagle with an undignified "Aaahhhhh!"
A splat followed.
"Uh, sorry about that, Wolfram."
A well-chosen curse answered that.
Then, the door closed.
On the other side, Wolfram picked himself up off of the carpet and took a seat on his side of the bed. Or, rather, what was formerly his side. He sat patiently nursing his aching knee with a hand on it and a rocking motion. It occurred to him that a determined Yuuri could pull him off balance when he really wanted to. But pride suggested that his new boots weren't broken in yet and the soles were slippery. That had to be it. And it was a wonder that nothing was broken.
"Here," Yuuri said, tossing the pink nightie at him. "Change into this and I'll get a tray of food sent up."
Wolfram shook his head and fingered the material of the nightie. "I'm not hungry. It would just be a waste of food if you did." He ran the negligee's material through his fingers absently. "This…is a waste of time, too."
Yuuri frowned. "Then, I'll undress you."
Wolfram sighed, looking down. "You're just scared, Yuuri. You want everything to stay the same because change is difficult and frightening."
Yuuri shrugged at it. "I guess…" He approached Wolfram, knelt down, and reached over to unbutton Wolfram's shirt. "I guess…it is scary…'change,' I mean. But, I'd like us…want us… to stay together."
Nimble fingers brushed against the silk shirt. One button popped free.
"Do you understand what I'm saying?" The double black sounded hopeful.
The material fell back loosely into soft folds and Wolfram shrugged out of it.
Gingerly, he removed Wolfram's bandaged hand from the sleeve and tossed the shirt to the floor, much to the annoyance of the blond bishonen. Even after all this time, Yuuri still didn't know what a clothes hamper was for.
"You're just giving in. You'll regret this…in time." Wolfram's sad eyes watched as Yuuri removed his boots with some effort, almost falling backward, and with an awkward glance, unbuckled his belt.
"I doubt it," Yuuri returned with a quick motion for him to stand up. "Unbutton your trousers and put that on," indicating the nightie, "because we're going to sleep." He went over to fetch his pajamas. He'd had enough of this day and he was going to bed early.
"But the sun's still up," Wolfram complained, squinting at the window.
"Do I have to make it a command?"
Wolfram sighed again while unbuttoning his breeches. Sometimes, when motivated by guilt, Yuuri could be impossible.
Wolfram's breeches hit the floor and, nearly naked now, he shivered.
Now wearing his blue pajamas, Yuuri turned back to see that Wolfram had already slipped in between the sheets. He didn't seem happy about it, though. And the frown only deepened as Yuuri went over to the wrong side and said "scoot over."
"Eh?" Green eyes blinked.
"Just do it."
Looking put out, Wolfram moved to the middle of the bed and Yuuri got in next to him.
"Why are you on my side?"
"I'm glad you recognize that you have a side." A good-natured chuckle followed and Wolfram "humphed" boyishly to that.
"Lie back and be careful of that bandaged hand of yours. You're not one hundred percent, by the way. That antidote still has an effect on you, Gissela said."
Wolfram's mouth made a darling little "o" as he realized why Yuuri was concerned and why he was on the opposite side of the bed. "An effect?"
"Yeah, but you'll be over the blues soon enough."
"Blues? My skin's going to turn…blue?" Okay, now he was worried. He liked wearing blue, but not like that.
Yuuri grinned widely. "It will be fine, really."
The sheets and blankets shifted suddenly and tan arms shot out, grabbing Wolfram around the waist and pulling him inward against Yuuri's body, almost spooning. The blond gasped.
"S-Sorry, Wolfram…but I…uh…didn't think you'd mind." His face was crimson now. Wolfram couldn't believe the shade possible. "But, if you'd prefer…I'll let you go, Wolf."
For the first time since they'd met, Wolfram was at a loss. What was best for the both of them, he didn't know. He just didn't.
Taking silence as acceptance, Yuuri cuddled up against Wolfram's side and said, "You have no idea how terrified I was…how much we all were…when we discovered that those guys had coated their swords in poison." He chuckled a little at the memory of what came next even though it wasn't funny at the time. "Conrad questioned the prisoners with a sword pointed to their throats…demanding to know what kind of poison it was. He's quite persuasive when he wants to be." He scratched his ebony locks. "Gwendal threatened to bury them alive under a few tons of rock."
Wolfram chuckled at that.
"And your mother…once she got to the castle and found out this had happened…" Yuuri buried his face into Wolfram's warm neck and shivered. He whispered, "She can be really scary when angry."
"Did she blame you?" the blond asked with a smile coming to his voice.
"No, but I was so scared that she would. But after we both sat by your bedside for two days, I came to understand her a little bit better." He rested his head against Wolfram's chest and listened to his heartbeat. "She's a flirt most of the time, but she's devoted to you…truly."
"You were with me for two days, huh?"
That felt good.
"Yeah, Gissela sent me to bed about fifteen minutes before you woke up." He rubbed his black locks against Wolfram like a cat. "That was so frustrating…to wait for you… only to miss you." He sat up a little and rested his forehead against Wolfram's—much to the blond's shock. "And I have missed you…and, well, I've missed having you with me…here."
The double black relaxed again with his head against Wolfram's shoulder. "I'm not too heavy for you, am I?"
"No," Wolfram said quietly and then felt Yuuri half-roll on top of him. This sudden fondness and warmth was strange. He wasn't sure if he could trust himself or Yuuri. Were either one of them thinking clearly?
"Wolf, to be honest," he hugged the blond to him, "when it comes to affection…right now…the most I can offer is this." He clutched the blond tightly, closing his eyes as his soul drank in the feeling. "But, I need this."
Wolfram could feel himself bend, give in to what Yuuri wanted. Maybe, he'd regret this later. Maybe, not. But, for the moment, he could let go of sadness to reach out to him. Wolfram smiled, wrapped an arm around and toyed with a strand of thick, raven hair. "I'm quite content with this…and always would have been…had life been kinder."
Yuuri buried his face into Wolfram's warm neck again. "I'm sorry…so…sorry…"
"No more 'sorries,' okay?" he soothed.
He hesitated for a second, letting it sink in. "O-Okay…if you say so."
The door rattled, flung open, and tiny feet padded quickly, making way for the bed. Greta, in a longer and thicker version of Wolfram's pink nightie, ran for the bed and bounded onto it on her knees. Wolfram and Yuuri were practically bounced two feet up into the air and landed with a muffled "whump."
"SLUMBER-PARTY-NOW!" Greta shouted, diving under the covers.
"Oi!" Wolfram shouted. "Wait!" He threw his head back and squirmed. "Yuuri! Oi, her hands and feet are like ice! No, Greta! That's cold! DON'T TOUCH THERE!" He scrambled in the bed with Yuuri, now, firmly on top of him, pinning him to the sheets and afraid to move for fear of rolling onto Wolfram's injured hand.
Wolfram scrambled more as tiny hands pressed cold fingers into his side with rounds of elfin giggles.
"UGH!!! HELP, Yuuri! Get this child some socks! And gloves!"
The three of them, somehow, got tangled up into the sheets. And, by the time the guards, Günter, Conrad, and Gwendal had crowded into their room, they were a mass of mismatched arms and legs on the floor.
"And just what is going on here?" Gwendal demanded. This was so undignified.
Greta sat up in the ball of tangled bed clothes and slapped Yuuri's cheek with a freezing little right hand and Wolfram with an icy little left. "We're getting married."