The Price

Today is indescribable. It's very important, as he has an urgent diplomatic meeting later on, one that he and his aides have been preparing for quite some time. It's one that he looks forward to, and wants to hide from, and dreads, and anticipates.

Damn that man, he thinks. Only he could make the self-possessed, confident king of Shin Makoku feel so conflicted.

But Yuuri is not a naïve teenager anymore. He's seen too much of death and politics. He's felt too much despair. It doesn't matter if he closes his eyes or his ears now. He will always remember the first time he saw a man bleed to death before him, or the first time he saw one of his own soldiers cut down in battle, throat slit deep enough to expose the gaping trachea. He will always remember the screams of innocent children caught in the crossfire.

It's precisely because so many lives rest upon his decisions that he clenches his trembling hands and marches back into the castle with his eyes cold and mouth set in a firm line. The Maou greets Gunter, who helps him into his formal robes and crown, and then it's almost time for their guests to arrive.

Yuuri and his small entourage make their way to the reception hall. His throat closes up when he hears the bugles announcing the approach from outside the castle walls. When the double doors open, he stares at them, seeing but unseeing.

He doesn't know how much time passes as the foreign dignitaries settle into their seats, since he's only snapped out of his reverie when he hears that voice.

"Greetings from Dai Shimaron, Yuuri Heika."

With great difficulty, forcing the words to rasp out of his throat against their will, he responds as Gunter has taught him to.

"Shin Makoku welcomes you… Weller Heika."

And Yuuri finally brings himself to look at that man. The name felt thick and wrong on his tongue, but the face is still familiar, even down to the scar on his eyebrow. He has to admit that Conrad looks good. Healthy. Perhaps not happy, but calm and determined.

It still doesn't seem right, though.

Before he can think too much on this, the meeting commences. They hash out new trade agreements and border regulations. They talk about possible joint projects that will change the whole world as they know it.

This is what he's always wanted, isn't it? Peace with Dai Shimaron? With the two largest nations entering into an alliance, there should be far less trouble in the future. Dai Shimaron has so much influence over the other human nations. Having them openly support the Mazoku would greatly lower racial tensions.

In fact, the issue is already being addressed, with the human king being half Mazoku, and the Mazoku king being half human. And King Weller! He's loads better than Belal ever was. Weller Heika is fair and just – all his people say so. He's a warrior king, like in the times of old, personally leading charges when the army moves to put down insurrections. They just haven't had an official meeting with Shin Makoku until now because Dai Shimaron has been so busy with peacekeeping in their corner of the world.

But now? The newly drafted treaty passes into his hands and he holds it reverently, letting out a shaky breath. Yuuri carefully sets it down and signs his name as Shibuya Yuuri Harajuku Furi, for old time's sake. He passes the parchment to Conrad, who chuckles just a little bit upon seeing the signature, and then adds his own name to seal the deal.

There. It's done. In a few years, war will be unthinkable. Yuuri's dream has been realized. He has brought lasting peace to Shin Makoku.

So why does he feel like crying?

Because this is wrong, all wrong! Yuuri forces a diplomatic smile on his face as they conclude their business. Weller does the same, he can tell. Oh, he can tell. On one hand, they don't know each other anymore, but on the other they will always know each other. That smile is definitely a fake; he knows this because long ago, he used to be on the receiving end of the real ones, and they were a hundred times more beautiful for being genuine. Similarly, Weller must know that his is an affected smile, too. Weller must have sensed the wrongness.

And in fact, the other king chooses just that moment to say, "Could you lead me on a tour of the grounds? We can talk along the way. I'd like to hear your opinions on Shin Makoku's wildlife conservation policies."

It's quite a good excuse, for all that Weller must have pulled it out of his ass at the last minute. Yuuri is impressed, and for a moment he thinks that Conrad is the most diplomatic soldier he's ever met, probably because he grew up as the middle child, having to navigate the delicate channel between those two moody brothers. He almost laughs until he remembers that Shin Makoku only has two princely brothers left after Gwendal disowned the third.

Yuuri turns his thoughts away from this and replies, equally polite, "It would be my pleasure."

They dismiss their guards and walk to the gardens side by side. Part of him expects Conrad to fall in step behind him, but as they are of equal status now, that would be inappropriate.

"What's that over there? Is it new?" Weller asks, pointing to a fenced-in area quite a ways off the garden path.

"Th-that? Oh, uh, it's…just…y'know… It's the new baseball field…" His voice trails off into a whisper. Damn that man, he thinks. Only he could make the Maou stutter when talking about Shin Makoku's official sport. Yuuri doesn't have to look over to know that there's sorrow in the other man's eyes, because baseball! Baseball was theirs.

Yuuri stops walking when they reach a secluded fountain. He stands there and looks, really looks at Conrad. It's not that Conrad doesn't look good in white, but even after all these years, Yuuri can't help but think that the man standing before him doesn't belong in those colors.

His eyes are stinging now, and he turns away, swiping at them furiously.

"Wow. Allergy season's really strong this year!" he says as his cheeks burn hot and wet. The laugh that follows sounds a little choked, too.

This is the fountain that they used to sit by. Off to the left side is the clearing where they used to play catch. Further up ahead is the start of the path they used to run around the castle every morning. Suddenly, Yuuri feels like he's suffocating on memories. It was just like on that day, so many years ago now, that he had turned around and held out his hand, only to find that he couldn't breathe because there was too much air behind him.

It comes as a surprise when warm arms wrap around him and his head is cradled to that familiar chest. It's even more of a surprise when he feels a foreign wetness drop onto his forehead, but by the time he blinks through the haze and looks up, Conrad is completely dry-eyed.

When they pull apart and sit by the fountain, their conversation is stilted and laced with bittersweet longing. Somewhere along the line, their hands twine together; it's the only part of them that's normal. Everything else is just plain awkward, but at least… at least by the time the sun has completely set, Yuuri thinks they can build a good working relationship. Good diplomatic relations for the sake of their respective countries.

Yuuri shuffles and cracks his back, stretching out sore muscles as he gets up. During one particularly loud rustle of his cape, he thinks he hears Weller whisper, "I love you, Yuuri."

"Hmm? What was that?" Was it his imagination?

"Nothing. Thank you for speaking with me."

"Oh, all right, then. You're welcome. And…um, would you like me to escort you to the guest quarters?"

"That's all right. I think I can find them," Conrad says ruefully.

Weller Heika sets off; Yuuri lags behind him just a little bit, pausing as they round a corner and are about to go their separate ways. Staring at the back of that white coat getting farther and farther from him is like déjà vu.

He whispers, "I love you, Conrad," and watches as Weller's back stiffens, and turns around before Weller can turn around, and leaves first so that, for once, he's not the one watching a retreating back.

Yuuri reaches his own room, falls into a fitful sleep, and dreams of laughter, baseball, and bad puns.

Then he wakes.

And he's sixteen years old again.

The room is pitch black except for small tendrils of moonlight seeping in through the windows. He kicks off the blankets and runs barefoot into the courtyard, to the gardens, to the fountain. The dream flashes over and over and he rushes to empty his stomach into the nearby bushes.

Yuuri is still dry heaving when he finds himself pulled into a tight embrace, gentle hands brushing the hair from his sweat-slicked face.

In the midst of the soothing nonsense words, he's able to make out, "What's wrong? Talk to me, Heika," and Yuuri laughs at that even as he's crying.

"It's Yuuri, Nazukeoya!" he says when he's slightly less hysterical, "I just had a bad dream, is all."

"Really? Would you care to tell me what it was about?"

He sighs, trying to find the words. "I dreamed of an alternate reality. I dreamed…of world peace."

Conrad looks entirely confused, and Yuuri chuckles morbidly. He buries his wet face into the comfortable chest as his hands clutch tightly at the sleeves of the military uniform that looks right on Conrad, and then he softly mumbles about his horrid nightmare.

"I dreamed of world peace, but the price was you."