A/N: The "love" in the title is not only romantic love, though it can be extended to include Conrad's feelings for Julia and how he acted toward her. This, however, is mostly about Wolfram and Conrad and my interpretation of some questions I had about their characters and actions.
In canon, it's said that 16 is when Mazoku come of age, but that doesn't match up with their extremely slow aging, so I interpreted that to mean "when they have the human appearance of 16".
There were some memories Wolfram could never forget, and this was one of them.
He had been playing in the gardens with Little Big Brother, the two of them chasing each other with their wooden practice swords. Wolfram tried to slice his brother, but was blocked every time. Then Conrart blew a raspberry at him and led him on a chase through the bushes. Just as Wolfram thought he'd lost track of Conrart, he felt arms hug him from behind and he was suddenly lifted up, legs kicking as he squealed in surprised happiness.
He struggled and kicked at his brother, laughing all the while. When they calmed down, they rested together in a field of flowers, watching butterflies. Wolfram had really liked butterflies at the time. When he played with his friend Elizabeth, they always went hunting for the pretty insects.
Grinning, Little Big Brother said, "I'll show you how to catch them!" The older boy snuck up to one – a bright yellow one – and had it trapped in his cupped hands with one swift movement.
"Peek inside. See it?" He held his hands up to Wolfram's eyes.
"It's pretty! Can I keep it?"
Conrart just smiled and let the butterfly go.
"Huh? Why'd you do that for?"
"Because, Wolf, butterflies need to fly. They die when you put them in cages."
"This one wouldn't have! I would have loved it! I would've taken good care of it and watched over it all the time!"
"That's silly, Wolf. You'd just smother it and end up killing it with your love, and wouldn't that hurt even more than letting it go?"
He pouted at that. It was hard to argue with Little Big Brother sometimes. "Hmm… But mom says you have to be persistent about love."
"Well, my dad says if you love something, you should set it free, and if it comes back to you, then it's yours."
Wolfram huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't get it."
At this point, Conrart laughed and put on the annoying 'brother knows best' face. "That's okay. Maybe you'll understand when you're older," he said. He even had the gall to pat Wolfram's head as if he thought Wolfram was a baby.
"You're not much older than me, Little Big Brother!" Wolfram was about to throw a tantrum, but he didn't because Little Big Brother picked him up again and tickled him until he was a squealing mess.
"Come on, let's go get lunch."
They left for the kitchens, hand in hand.
Everything changed shortly after.
Wolfram knew something was wrong because his little-big-brother never smiled or laughed anymore. That is, his laughter was never happy anymore. There were times when Conrart would sneer back at someone who was looking down on him, but those were ugly smiles full of resentment. There were times when Conrart would chuckle darkly, which made his face twist up like he hated the whole world.
And then he would notice that Wolfram was there, and the scary Conrart would disappear. In his place was Wolfram's gentle Little Big Brother, who was tired and sad all the time now.
Then, one day, Little Big Brother's father came to visit again. Wolfram had seen him before, a few years back, though he didn't remember much of that visit. He had been an older man, with lines on his face and hair graying at the temples, but he had been strong and vibrant. Now, however, the man that came riding up to the castle with Little Big Brother behind him was very old, and his lank hair had gone entirely gray.
He stayed for a few days, and it always made Wolfram uneasy when they were in close proximity. Lord Weller was weak and trembling. He looked like a walking skeleton.
When the man left, Wolfram sat with Mother and Little Big Brother and watched him go with their eldest brother Gwendal in tow. That was the day he learned that his Little Big Brother was half human. That was the day he learned that the reason Lord Weller smelled like death when he was still so young was because humans had extremely short lives.
Wolfram didn't know what to make of this. On one hand, there was Little Big Brother, who was the greatest person in the whole wide world. On the other, there was Lord Weller, who kept leaving and making Mother cry, and who was human and would die very soon and leave her forever. Little Big Brother said he wanted to be just like his father. Mother said that Little Big Brother was going to grow up to be just like his father.
But Wolfram didn't want his Little Big Brother to be human and leave them forever and make Mother cry.
He pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind for the moment, though he started calling his brother 'Conrart' just in case Conrart was going to leave them.
The years passed, and his relationship with Conrart grew more and more strained.
Uncle Waltorana, who was in charge of Wolfram's education in the legacy of their lineage and the customs specific to the von Bielefelts, said that humans were ugly creatures. They had neither the beauty nor the grace of Mazoku. A proud Mazoku noble of the von Bielefelt line would never dare soil himself by fraternizing with the worms.
Uncle Stoffel, who Mother trusted with many of the duties pertaining to the everyday ruling of the country, said that humans were vile beasts. They encroached upon Mazoku lands and slaughtered innocent Mazoku civilians. There was no reasoning with those mindless slugs – they had no intelligence! The only answer was to crush them beneath our boots.
Mother, who was Queen of the Mazoku, did not know what to say. Wolfram would always love her, but as he approached manhood, he discovered that she was a powerless figurehead. She was conflicted about humans. She told Wolfram not to tar them all with the same brush, but admitted that the majority of humans hated the Mazoku. The rumors that surrounded Mother, however, said that she was a no good human-lover. She had borne a son from that man, Lord Weller, the first and only human Royal Consort in their nation's history. As such, her reputation was stained. Wolfram did not know how he felt about that.
Gwendal, who Wolfram looked up to as a role model, as the perfect example of stoicism and leadership, only sighed. He had just been elevated to head of von Voltaire province, and, though only a few years behind his friend Densham von Karbelnikoff, was the youngest representative of the Ten Aristocratic Houses at this time. As such, he was now swamped with military and civic duties. When the subject of humans came up, his eyes would harden, and though he would never call them "worms" or "beasts", his lips would tighten as he grimly said, "It looks like there will be war."
Lord von Karbelnikoff, when he visited his younger sister, the castle's newly appointed Chief Magical Researcher, would grin and flounce about like a fool. But Wolfram, having one day accidentally peeked into Gwendal's study while they were conferencing, saw the obnoxiously cheerful man's mask drop. His voice was cold and sharp as steel as he listed the atrocities the human pirates had committed on the coasts of his seaside territory.
Tensions were definitely on the rise. Though he had been subjected to Uncle Waltorana and Uncle Stoffel's anti-human rhetoric since as far back as he could remember, it was the attitudes of the moderates that convinced him that his uncles were right. No one among the Ten Aristocratic Houses stepped forward to defend the humans, not even the most logical ones, such as Gwendal, or the most carefree and liberal ones, such as Lord von Karbelnikoff. Even his tutor, Lady von Wincott, could not deny the looming presence of war.
It was Conrart's sixteenth birthday, and in the days leading up to it, Wolfram had been filled with a gnawing anxiety. Conrart had, upon graduating from the military academy, left on an adventure in human lands. "To see both options," their mother had said. There had been the very real possibility that he would never come back, but he had.
Still, there was always the slight chance that Conrart would leave them to be human, and these morbid thoughts hovered at the forefront of Wolfram's mind. Birthdays should be happy events – Wolfram's birthdays had always been great. Where Mother and Gwendal were usually too busy for him, they were all together on his birthday.
But no one ever celebrated Conrart's birthday until now. They threw a small banquet to commemorate the second prince's choice to live his life as a Mazoku. Wolfram felt somewhat relieved when he heard Conrart's choice, but he still couldn't put his mind entirely at ease.
He decided to approach Conrart as the guests were mingling, and talk to him about it. Conrart was still Wolfram's Little Big Brother somewhere deep inside, and Little Big Brother had always been good at soothing Wolfram's worries.
However, as he stepped close, he saw that Conrart was engaged in a falsely polite conversation with a noblewoman.
"Prince Conrart, as you are half-Mazoku, the time has come for you to make your choice. I'm surprised that no one has asked you yet. Will you live as human or Mazoku?"
"I am still here, am I not? Of course I chose to live as a Mazoku, as I will continue to serve Shin Makoku."
"Very well. And will you also take the name of your mother, von Spitzweg?"
"No, my Lady. I choose to be known by the name of my father, Weller."
No, no, no! Wolfram thought. Why are you choosing to be human? The youngest prince felt his heart crack. Conrart had just said that he wanted to be Mazoku! Wolfram had thought, for a brief moment, that this meant they could start to go back to the way things used to be.
Why are you choosing to leave me?
He waited, tense and uneasy like there were lead weights in his chest and butterflies in his stomach at the same time, until all the guests had left. Then, as Conrart left the banquet hall, Wolfram ran to catch up to him. He rushed through the exit past Conrart, cornering him at the bend in the hallway.
"Why? Why didn't you choose von Spitzweg?"
"You know how much our uncle despises me. Stoffel would never have me sharing his name. As the head of the von Spitzweg family, he would prevent me from gaining entrance to the nobility."
"You don't know that! You're his nephew! You're a prince! Even if he didn't want to grant you that kind of status, you could still be Conrart Spitzweg! Even if you aren't made a noble, you could still have a Mazoku name! You could still be Mazoku!"
Though his voice was level, Conrart's face was sterner than Wolfram had ever seen. His eyes held a fire that burned with such ferocity and intensity that made Wolfram feel utterly inadequate.
"Wolfram, I am already Mazoku, and no names, ranks, or titles can take that away from me. Now I owe it to my father to take on his name. He was a great man."
"He was human."
"And so am I. You will not succeed in making me feel ashamed of myself. I'm still your brother, Wolfram. I still love you."
Conrart's expression softened again, but Wolfram would not be swayed.
"Don't you dare speak to me of your filthy human love, Lord Weller." He spat out the name like a curse. As soon as those words left his lips, an irreparable rift opened between them. Wolfram felt his Little Big Brother fall into the chasm, lost forever. On the other side of the scarred earth was Lord Weller, who stood his ground, wholly unrepentant of his human heritage, and sharply, defiantly proud of something Wolfram did not understand. How could one be proud of being having inferior blood?
Lord Weller was not Conrart. Lord Weller was not his brother. No, Lord Weller was only sixteen, but already had the bearing of an adult rather than a teenager. He was the skeletal man who smelled like death. When Lord Weller's hand lifted and reached out to touch Wolfram, he smacked it away like a fly, all the while seeing images of the ancient skin and bones of that arm disintegrating in his mind's eye.
Swiftly turning around before he could see the devastation on Lord Weller's face, Wolfram ran away. He fled down the corridors and barricaded himself in his room, where he flung himself into bed and smothered his cries into the pillows and sheets.
How needlessly tragic it was, he thought, that his beloved Little Big Brother had died on his sixteenth birthday.
He was Conrart Weller, sixteen years old and newly appointed captain in the army. The nobles in his uncle's circle laughed behind his back and called him Conrart von Nothing, Bastard Prince of Nothing, but he had long since gotten used to their jeering and paid them no mind. This, however, was different.
Conrart stood and watched as Wolfram ran away from him. His own brother, running away from him, golden hair streaming away into the distance in mocking imitation of a vague memory of a yellow butterfly. Was it hatred, or anger, or fear? Was it a combination of all of these things, or perhaps something completely different? He had no answers, and he didn't know where to find them. He had been trying to reach out to Wolfram these past few years, but Wolfram had not seemed to want anything Conrart could give. It seemed as if the only thing that could have appeased Wolfram was for Conrart to completely renounce his human heritage, but that was something he could never do, not when doing so meant betraying his father and Yozak and all the other half-Mazoku who relied on him to fight for their rights.
As much as it hurt to admit, Wolfram was no longer his darling baby brother. He was nearly a young man now, and would make a fine soldier one day. Wolfram was old enough to make his own decisions now, and he had chosen to betray his brother.
Conrart thought back on the times when Wolfram had said to him as they played, "Little Big Brother, I love you more than anyone in the world!"
Lies. They were all lies. With a heavy heart, eyes flashing with intense rage, and hands clenched, short nails digging into his palms until they bled, he obeyed the hardest lesson his late father had ever taught him. Conrart set his brother free.