The Haunting of Yuuri Shibuya Chapter 23
Hello, I had to break the final chapter in two because there were so many story points to tie up that it just went far too long and I didn't want your brains to explode from the text overload. So here is the real final chapter of THYS with a bonus epilogue scene at the end. Thank you for all your reviews and encouragement and support as I finish out this wonderful story that has been such a grand experience from beginning to end! I couldn't have done it without you!
Note: I counted this chapter at 15,307 words total….so I suggest you grab a snack, take a potty break and set aside enough time to enjoy this last installment.
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The Haunting of Yuuri Shibuya Chapter 23 – Let Me Help You
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"Yuuri, open wide!"
"Wolf, I can feed myself!" Yuuri protested half-heartedly as Wolfram shoved a spoon full of porridge in his face.
"You need to build your strength so you can get better!" Wolfram retorted, shoving the spoon in Yuuri's mouth when the bedridden king tried to reply.
Three weeks after Yuuri had returned to them, life was assuming some kind of normalcy. The repairs to the castle were progressing rapidly, or so Yuuri was told as the king had been ordered to stay in bed and to not leave his bedroom until Gilbert and Marko both deemed him strong enough to venture out into his own palace.
For the first week, Yuuri had spent most of his time in a dreamless sleep waking only to be fed some bland cream of wheat or porridge by his attentive fiancé. By the second week, he was strong enough to sit up in his own with the aid of a few fat pillows and read to past the time.
But now, Yuuri was bordering on restlessness. He wanted to get up and see for himself the physical state of his palace and his kingdom. Conrad and Wolfram, the only two that Yuuri had seen or spoken to since his return, were vague about the details, they only said that the castle and the capital had sustained severe damage because of the storm and that Gwendal and Gunter were overseeing the ins and outs of running the kingdom.
His memories were sparse and vague. The last clear memory he could recall was the night of the ball when he announced his upcoming wedding to Wolfram, after that everything was a mixture of images, negative emotions, and crippling fear that Yuuri couldn't really place except for when he was told the name and history of the one who tried to destroy everything he loved.
Now at the third week, Yuuri's mind was slowly beginning to fill in the blanks. Bits and pieces would come to him at odd times, usually when he was sleeping or just staring blankly into the distance during the rare times he was alone. Images of faces and strange voices punctuated his confusing memories, but over time they began to arrange themselves in the proper order with the help of his friends' testimonies.
Yuuri was broken out of his thoughts by Wolfram impatiently pressing the edge of the spoon to his lips. He grudgingly opened his mouth to swallow the hot porridge. He had to hand it to Wolfram, he made sure the cook put all of Yuuri's favorite fixings to flavor the bland soupy concoction – berries, sugar, and the like.
The blonde demon had rarely left Yuuri's side since he had awakened. Wolfram had become Yuuri's personal attendant, seeing to his every need with his usual overbearing nature. Be it helping him eat, dress or bathe, or even bringing him books to read to stave off boredom, Wolfram was always there to help Yuuri. At first, it was overwhelming to Yuuri, but now he had grown accustomed to the attention, as he was too weak to really care for himself.
The young king was grateful but also felt guilty as Wolfram would see to his needs above his own and it showed. Wolfram always looked wan and tired. Yuuri wondered if the other man ever really rested.
"Wolf, you really don't have to do all this," Yuuri said gently, trying not to seem ungrateful. "I can feed myself at the very least. I hate to have you fuss over me."
"Hush," Wolfram said, though it was void of any harshness. "I'm happy to do this for you, Yuuri. I'm supposed to. I'm your fiancé."
Yuuri could remember a time when he would cringe whenever Wolfram referred to himself as his fiancé. For a while, Yuuri had just learned to tune it out or brush it off whenever talk of their accidental engagement started. Now, it brought an odd feeling of comfort, because it asserted Wolfram's dedication and loyalty, two things that Yuuri vowed to appreciate more in his closest friend.
"I came so close to losing you….I don't want it to happen again,"
It was so quiet that Yuuri almost missed it. The sad, quiet whisper in an unusual moment of vulnerability. The normally stern and uptight Wolfram went quiet, looking at Yuuri with a scared and worried expression jolted Yuuri into action and he instinctively reached out to touch Wolfram's arm affectionately.
"You didn't," Yuuri said with an assuring smile. "I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere…I'm never leaving you."
"I know…" Wolfram sighed, setting aside the half-empty bowl to collect himself. "It still seems like a distant nightmare…..My mind isn't even sure it happened and yet I know it did and that makes it all the more…."
"…overwhelming?" Yuuri supplied.
"And surreal," Wolfram completed.
Yuuri could relate. He was still having difficulty finding the right words to describe their ordeal. Frightening, horrific, overwhelming, dangerous, deadly, confusing, hopeless, and yes, surreal.
"But I'm glad you're back," Wolfram said after a brief silence. "I'm glad you're alive,"
"Me too, Wolf," Yuuri said, bridging the gap and placing his clammy hands over Wolfram's warm ones.
"I thought I'd never see you again." Though his messy bangs hid his eyes, Yuuri could hear the tears in Wolfram's voice as the demon recalled the helplessness he had felt.
"Hey, it's alright…" Yuuri said quickly. He didn't like seeing Wolfram get emotional, it was so out of character for the demon that Yuuri immediately wanted to rectify it. Without hesitating, Yuuri beckoned Wolfram into his arms and the demon quickly leaned into the impromptu embrace.
"I'm sorry…" Wolfram muttered into Yuuri's shoulder, sniffling back his tears. "I hate being so sensitive! I'm just….I just….I just thought that everything was lost and….Yuuri, you don't know how convinced I was that Elberich had won!...a-and…"
"Shh…..I know, Wolfram," Yuuri said gently, hugging the blonde even tighter. "I don't know all the details yet, but I know I put you guys through a lot and I can't imagine what it was like for you."
"You had it the worst though," Wolfram said, lifting his head up to face Yuuri. "We had no idea what was wrong and we made it worse for you. We almost helped Elberich destroy the kingdom. And destroy you. I feel awful that we caused you so much pain because of our own ignorance."
"Hey, it's not anyone's fault," Yuuri assured him. And he truly believed that. The pain he had suffered for months culminating into a fight for their lives against an ancient evil was something that not a single one of them saw coming. It was over with and done, and now they could just go back to normal.
Wolfram pulled away from Yuuri, though reluctantly, when a sharp knock at the door interrupted them.
"Who is it?" Wolfram called out, irritably.
"Gilbert Cocteau," came the deep, quiet voice of the soothsayer. "I would like to have a word with his Majesty, if he is able."
Before Wolfram could answer, Yuuri called out. "Come in!"
The door creaked open and Gilbert smoothly stepped into the room and took one of the available seats left behind from when Yuri entertained multiple visitors.
Yuuri didn't know much about the strange man from the Christ territory. Wolfram had informed him that Gilbert was the one who had stopped them from exacerbating Yuuri's illness and correctly diagnosed the problem and then led the exorcism that helped save him. To Yuuri, he looked like one of the gypsy fortunetellers on TV, though his hair was platinum blonde and his eyes were an icy greyish blue that made Yuuri think of a cold winter morning.
"How are you feeling today, your Majesty?" Gilbert asked with a small smile.
"I'm feeling much better," Yuuri smiled back. "The herbal tea you gave me has been doing wonders. I haven't slept this well in ages."
"Wonderful, I will make more of that particular blend for you later today" Gilbert said happily, but then he became serious. "There's something I need to speak with you about, your Majesty."
"What is that?" Yuuri asked, becoming worried at the change in tone.
Gilbert seemed to struggle with his words for a moment, unsure of how to breach the subject with the king.
"I'm…unsure of how to approach this…so I guess I will ask you; what do you remember of your possession?"
It was the first time someone had referred to Yuuri's illness as a "possession." Disease, madness, sickness – but never "possession." In a world where dragons were a protected species and the temple maidens regularly communicated with the spirit of a dead king, the idea of possession seemed unheard of or made of fairy tales. Yuuri's retainers were loath to refer to the spiritual hijacking of Yuuri's mind and his power, perhaps they didn't want Yuuri to shoulder any of the blame, but they didn't give their king enough credit – he knew his magic had been used for evil.
"I don't remember much…" Yuuri started slowly. He could feel Wolfram's gaze drill into him. "I….remember the night of the ball...when I collapsed. The rest is just random images. I remember being told that my pain was due to some sort of transformation that would make me a full demon…"
"Not a full demon…" Gilbert amended. "Something else entirely – a verschmelzung, a being that occupies two planes of existence. You were possessed by an evil and powerful spirit out for revenge against Shinou. For a time, your soul had been cast out of your body and sent to another dimension. Through sheer force of will, you were able to reclaim your body and save us all."
"Elberich…" the name came suddenly to Yuuri from some hidden part of his memory. A rush of feelings came to him along with images of a man that was his near clone, only older and angrier. A powerful double-black inexplicably bound to Yuuri in ways that the young king didn't really understand.
Gilbert nodded. "Yes…the first verschmelzung and the most powerful. But you, your Majesty, are a powerful fused being in your own right."
"How so?" Yuuri asked, though something in him dreaded the answer.
Gilbert paused for a while, he stared down at the floor before coming up with a way to explain Yuuri's new existence to him.
"Marko was wrong when he said that there were only five cases of verschmelzungs known," Gilbert began. "There are several more of us. We are in hiding for different reasons. Some are hidden because they don't wish to be a danger to those around them, and others hide because they don't want to be exploited for their powers."
Yuuri did remember the conversation he had with Marko weeks ago about the existence of other fused beings. He felt a sense of relief as well as shock that he wasn't the only one who had gone through this terrible ordeal.
"Due to the nature of your possession, your Majesty, I believe that you are a type of verschmelzung called a channeler. All verschmelzungs have the ability to communicate with the dead because we occupy the space between worlds. Each verschmelzung's spiritual ability is different. Mine is the ability to communicate with the spirit world through divination and exorcism."
"What does a channeler do?" Yuuri turned to Wolfram, who posted the question that had been hanging at the edge of Yuuri's mind.
Gilbert answered the question, but kept his gaze fixed on Yuuri. "A channeler communicates with the dead by allowing the spirit to possess him, though the channeler still has control. It requires an iron will to ensure that the spirit does not overpower the channeler….that is what happened to you, your Majesty."
"To me?" Yuuri whispered, unable to really believe what he was being told. The read building inside him continued to grow as his mind reconciled the implication of Gilbert's explanation.
He didn't have to contemplate for long because Gilbert confirmed his fears.
"This could happen again…."
"No…." Wolfram rasped in disbelief before Yuuri could even respond. Though he would have had the same sentiment as his fiancé. "Elberich is gone. You just said so!"
Gilbert shook his head. "You can't destroy a spirit. You can only send it somewhere else and hope that the twin death gods bestow a harsh judgment upon it. Elberich's spirit was only sent to Purgatory where it will receive its divine punishment from the death gods."
"What does that mean for me?" Yuuri asked, voice trembling with fear.
"When you were going through the transformation, your new powers were flowering. In your weakness, the vengeful spirit of Elberich sensed your channeling powers and took over your body and thus was able to take over your magic to wreak his vengeance. Without proper training and meditation, you could become possessed again and lose yourself."
That was the last thing Yuuri needed to hear. He was sure that this was the last time he would have to endure the torment of an evil entity and he could focus on recovering and helping his kingdom. He slowly shook his head in disbelief as Gilbert continued.
"I know this is difficult," Gilbert said sympathetically. "When I went through the change, it was as if my hold on reality was broken. I honestly thought I was insane. It took me years before I was able to control my powers enough that I could function as a normal adult."
"As a normal adult?" Yuuri echoed. The more Gilbert spoke the worse Yuuri felt.
"My goal is to not frighten you, but tell you the truth so that you may know how to cope," Gilbert said. "Because of your already strong magical abilities, your channeling is even more sensitive. And the more sensitive you are as a psychic, the more drawn the spirits will be to you. That's why you have not been allowed to leave this room."
Gilbert gestured towards the space beyond Yuuri's bed. When he had awoken, Yuuri had noticed several red rectangular pieces of paper pinned up around the windows, door, and around his bed, along with strategically placed red candles on the tables.
"These talismans block spirits from entering certain spaces- like a bedroom," Gilbert explained. "If you were to leave this space as you are now – with now preparation or training in the spiritual arts – you will be overwhelmed by the multitudes of geists vying for your attention. They are drawn to our ilk like moths to a flame. We are their one connection to the living world and they will consume you, if you don't know how to protect yourself."
"So...I can never leave my own bedroom?" Yuuri swallowed the sore lump in his throat that had built the more Gilbert spoke. Things were beginning to look dire to Yuuri and the small bit of optimism he had left was quickly dissipating.
"For the time being," Gilbert said. "I don't want you to feel disheartened, your Majesty. I just want you to know what lies ahead for you now that you have completed the transformation."
"There's no way to make it stop?" Yuuri had to ask.
Gilbert shook his head sadly. " I am sorry, your Majesty. But this power will stay with you for the rest of your life. You can never not see or hear the dead. They will follow you wherever you go. The only thing you can do is learn how to control your powers and protect your own soul from corruption."
Yuuri collapsed back into the pile of pillows in shock and dismay. Every word that came from Gilbert cut into his psyche and destroyed his resolve. Him, a channeler – and arguably one so powerful that it made him a walking target for evil spirits bent on destruction – he never felt so vulnerable and so trapped in the bedroom. He imagined stepping outside his bedroom and being assaulted by a horde of angry ghosts. What would that look like to a normal person? He would be seen as a lunatic….and unfit to be king. It was too much.
Wolfram must have seen the distressed look on Yuuri's face as he ran his fingers gently through the king's messy dark hair and turned to the soothsayer.
"This is too much for him right now," Wolfram said curtly. "He needs to rest and not be worried by such revelations. If he really is some sort of extrasensory being then he will learn to control it like his water magic…"
Wolfram and Gilbert stared at Yuuri.
"I never had control over my magic, Wolf….it was always the Maou…" Yuuri whispered brokenly as a grave realization came to him. "Don't you remember, Wolf? I can never recall anything after I use my water magic because I change into the Maou."
Gilbert's eyes widened in surprise. The true nature of Yuuri's magic was a well kept secret by his retainers and the aristocracy. No one knew exactly what kind of magic had been bestowed upon the king, all they knew was that it was beyond their understanding and their place to question the nature of Yuuri's divinely given magic.
"If that is so, then you have been using your channeling for a while now," Gilbert reckoned. "Something must have made you lose control or become weak in order for Elberich to possess you and even take control of you water magic."
Yuuri cringed inwardly. He didn't want to reveal the years of resentment and bitterness that had been growing inside him as the years rolled by. The stress and reality of ruling a kingdom had worn through Yuuri's cheerful resolve and left him a shell of what he once was. But he had always been careful to never reveal those feelings to his friends…he didn't think they would understand.
"This is too much…" Yuuri breathed, sinking further into the pillows, willing them to swallow him whole and take him anywhere else that wasn't here.
Wolfram picked up immediately on Yuuri's distress. "Maybe we should discuss this at a later time. His Majesty is still recovering and in need of rest."
Gilbert moved as if to speak again, but a stern stare from the king's protective fiancé silenced him. He stood and gave a curt bow.
"I didn't mean to cause you distress, your Majesty," Gilbert said evenly. "We will discuss this at a later time…when you are feeling better."
"Thank you," Yuuri whispered, just barely audible, his mind was a thousand miles away.
Without another word, Gilbert gave another short bow and showed himself out of the bedroom. The door closed with a strong thud, leaving the two men alone once again in the sanctuary of Yuuri's bedroom.
They both watched the shut door for a long while, each lost in their own thoughts before Wolfram chose to end the uncomfortable silence.
"What are you thinking?" Wolfram said, turning to his fiancé.
'That I'm still trapped in a nightmare…' Yuuri thought.
"I don't know, Wolfram. I really don't."
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A week later and Gwendal, Gunter, Conrad, Murata, Marko, and Gilbert were all gathered around the dining table.
Conrad shifted uncomfortably in his seat and for the twelfth time, found himself stewing over the fate of his godson.
Conrad hadn't seen much of Yuuri since he had awoken from Elberich's spell. After a brief and joyous reunion, Conrad, Gwendal and Gunter were immediately thrown into the recovery. Now there were large, neat piles of debris lying about the castle grounds waiting to be broken down into smaller piles and either recycled into fuel or building materials or thrown away. The castle was beginning to look somewhat like its old self and the damage wasn't as bad as they thought it would be. There were still refugees to care for and many assessments to review, but they were on the right track to recovery.
That left the issue of their king's health and his new "existence" as Gilbert kept calling it.
Conrad had visited Yuuri everyday to see to his health. Wolfram was always by the king's side and Conrad couldn't help but smile at his younger brother's devotion and the fact that Yuuri was embracing Wolframs affection, rather than ignoring or discouraging it. As a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite as Yuuri would subconsciously lean into every touch or caress the blond demon gave him, willingly, though putting up his same half-hearted protests. It was all for show and Conrad could see the relationship between his brother and godson deepening after surviving such a crisis.
Though weak and still his usual normal cheery self, Conrad – and the rest of them – could sense the subtle change in their king. He wondered if it had anything to do with Yuuri's transformation. Yuuri looked exactly as he had before, but there was something different about him. An odd awareness of something beyond the material realm in which they occupied that only Yuuri could see. It was the same awareness that hung around gilbert whenever he spoke of the spirit world.
After the customary formalities, Gilbert cleared his throat and began.
"With your Excellences'' permission, I would like to discuss the nature of the king's transformation and propose a course of action," Gilbert paused for Gwendal to give him a cursory nod and he continued.
"As you all know, his Majesty has gone through the transformation from a half-breed to a Verschmelzung," Gilbert began. "Because of his already powerful magic, the transformation manifested itself much more severely than in previous known cases. Because of this, Yuuri's soul was left vulnerable to malevolent spirits. Also, because of the nature of Yuuri's existence, his contract with the element of water inadvertently created an avenue for the spirit of Elberich to possess him."
Everyone visibly tensed at the mention of Elberich. Though the spirit of Shinou's forgotten brother had been banished to the afterlife, the fear of the spectre's power was still fresh on their minds.
"I have already explained to his majesty what he has now become," Gilbert continued. "It goes without saying that King Yuuri is….a very unique individual."
Gilbert leaned forward, lacing his fingers together in contemplation. "I have thought of this for a while now and just be blunt. There is a possibility that this could happen again…"
Everyone's faces simultaneously went pale. Gunter protested loudly. Gwendal's frown deepened. Conrad felt the color drain from his face. Murata remained silent and blank.
"We can't go through this again!" Conrad heard Gunter protest.
Gilbert patted the air with both hands to calm them. "With proper training – and support from you, Yuuri will be able to protect himself against another possession. Also, I doubt that there are any spirits that have the power and self-awareness of Elberich."
"What needs to be done to prevent this from happening again?" Gwendal said, getting straight to the point.
Gilbert thought for a moment. "If….I can be Yuuri's teacher, I can train him in the art of spirituality. However, due to the nature of his powers, it would be safer for him and everyone if he and I go into the wilderness where he can learn to control his new powers without the risk of causing harm."
"That cannot be done," Gwendal stated. "We are already in a precarious position with the kingdom in this current state. If King Yuuri were to disappear it would ruin the morale of our people and encourage resentment among the aristocracy."
"The Aristocrats will want answers from us…" Gunter added. "We've kept this secret –though poorly – to prevent the nobility from questioning his right to the throne. They already distrust him because of him being a half-breed."
"I'm sorry….my lords," Gilbert said empathetically. "But with his Majesty's powers being what they are. It is too dangerous for him to be around so many people while his grasp on his new abilities is so volatile. The power to bridge the gap between the living and the dead is a dangerous and unpredictable power. There is a reason that the king has not been allowed to leave his bedroom. King Yuuri is a magnet for spirits and being a channeler, he is particularly vulnerable."
Conrad remembered Gilbert explaining to them what a channeler was. To Conrad, they sounded like witches that invited spirits to possess them and thus take on the spirit's knowledge and in some cases, their magic. An untrained channeler ran the risk of doing the exact opposite and being taken over any a spirit that would take their powers and knowledge – a very dangerous situation especially for someone gifted with the god-like powers of the demon king.
"What say you to this, your Eminence?"
All heads turned to the silent Great Sage. Murata continued to stare at the table before him, fingers woven together on the polished wood. The Great Sage had been diminished in their eyes, he was no longer the omnipotent and wise being they remembered. He was now just a man with remarkable spiritual powers but with all the vices and faults of any other person. Murata alone knew the potential for destruction someone like Yuuri could inflict if the necessary precautions weren't taken. Only he could tell them how to protect their kingdom from its monarch.
"When Elberich became a verschmelzung," Murata began, staring at the table and into the past. "He had no one. We had soothsayers and fortunetellers, but they were parlor tricksters. The witches couldn't communicate with the dead, only invoke their power to a certain degree. But, Elberich…" Murata shook his head. "Elberich could actually talk with them, see them and sometimes even touch them. His interactions with them became so frequent that he lost touch. He stopped distinguishing between the living and the dead."
Murata looked up from the table and gave a bitter scoff. "It's like reliving the past. I remember Elberich confined to his bed, I remember the scratches, the nightmares and the convulsions as he fought every single day for control of his mind and body. What happened to him, can and will happen to Yuuri, if he isn't taught how to manage his powers."
"But Elberich was alone! And those around him forced him to use his powers for their own gain and eventually betrayed him!" Gunter stated and if he was looking for a reaction from Murata, he didn't get one. The sage simply kept that blank mask. "We would never do that to King Yuuri. We will help him!"
"The road to recovery will be a difficult one," Gilbert said, appearing unmoved by Gunter's proclamation. "Marko didn't lie when he said that many families of verschmelzungs terminated the change or abandoned their loved one when it became too much…It's a common occurrence."
For the first time, Marko spoke up. "As the king's immediate family, you have to look forward to suicidal thoughts, unpredictable mood swings, violent outbursts, disconnection with reality, - and that's just the start."
"That doesn't change anything!" Gunter argued. "He's still our king!"
Murata looked sadly upon the determined faces of Yuuri's retainers. "The Yuuri that became king of Shin Makoku three years ago is no more. What we have is a new king, who will retain some of his previous traits, but in reality, might as well be a different person."
"Whatever he may be, he will always be our King Yuuri."
Everyone turned to the previously silent Gwendal, who had opted to listen to the exchange with his mouth pressed against his folded hands, propped on his elbows. He fixed Marko, Gilbert and Murata with a piercing grey stare.
"What you are telling us about the king, though grave, is irrelevant. Shinou chose Yuuri Shibuya to be our king and sovereign, nothing will change that. If Yuuri has to go through these changes and learn to control these new powers, then that is what he will do for the sake of the country. And as members of his cabinet, we are bound to serve him by helping him through these challenges because insane or not, he is and always will be our king."
Gwendal lowered his hands from his face to set them upon the table as he leaned forward staring at the three naysayers intensely.
"Instead of telling us what a horrid state King Yuuri will be in, tell us what must be done to ensure his recovery, protect our kingdom and, most importantly, protect his right to the throne."
Conrad nodded. "Whatever the case may be, we will always remain loyal to Yuuri. Do not lump us in with those from the past. You don't understand what King Yuuri means to us."
Marko still looked skeptical, But Gilbert simply nodded his assent. "Very well. The best advice I can give you is to simply be there for him. The king will need anchors to keep him bond to this ream and strengthen his hold on reality. You have to remain constant because nothing else in his life for the next couple of years will be consistent. Routine is key, repetition is key, and normalcy is key. You have to remember that because he won't always be able to."
"Anything else?" Gwendal asked.
"Yes," Gilbert added. "I pray you reconsider letting me take him into the wilderness to train him. I assure you it is the best course of action."
"We can't have you whisking the king away for an indefinite period of time," Gwendal replied. "The country is in a state of instability. He needs to be a presence for the people and the nobility."
"Perhaps, we can find a compromise then?" Gilbert insisted. "Mayhap a few days out of the month I can take him to train and bring him back with instructions on how to navigate his daily activities?"
"That is more doable," Gwendal agreed. "But for now, King Yuuri must remain here in Blood Pledge."
Gilbert nodded solemnly. "Very well. He is not strong enough to travel anyways. For the next few weeks, I recommend bed rest and no strenuous activity and then, we will move on to his rehabilitation."
"That will do," Gwendal stated. "Now if there is nothing more to discuss, we must see to stabilizing the kingdom and examining our losses if we are to restore normality to the kingdom."
Seeing his exit, Gilbert gave a short bow. "Thank you for your time."
Gwendal gave a short nod. "You are excused."
The group began to dissipate. Murata, Conrad, Gunter, and Gwendal stayed behind to discuss other matters concerning the state of their home.
Before he left them for good, Gilbert turned to say one last thing to the generals.
"My Lords, his Majesty is very fortunate to have you at his side. I don't doubt that he will make a strong recovery as long as you continue to stand by him."
His statement earned small smiles from Conrad and Gunter. Murata and Gwendal looked grateful.
"Thank you," Gwendal whispered.
Gilbert and Marko exited the room in silence and made their way down the empty halls to their respective quarters.
"They are taking this well…"
Gilbert nearly started at the barely audible comment from Dr. Marko. The old man walked in time with the soothsayer, staring blankly ahead as they walked to their rooms.
"You don't give people enough credit," Gilbert replied.
Marko gave a bitter bark of a laugh. "You know very well why that is…and you also know that you are the same."
Gilbert couldn't argue that. He had been ostracized, beaten, hunted, and driven to the farthest reaches of the kingdom because of what he was. It was only after ten years of solitude that he was able to carve out a niche for himself in the underbelly of society and remain hidden for his own safety. The cruelty he had suffered at the hands of the everyday folk had left Gilbert bitter and angry…it wasn't until he met Serge that his view on humanity began to change and he answered the higher calling of using his curse to help others.
Marko for his part, had witnessed what happened when people went mad and their families could no longer handle the burden of caring for them. Be it trauma from battle, torture or demonic possession, families would crumble under the responsibility of dealing with a mentally unhinged relative. The existence of the verschmelzungs coupled with the already existing prejudice of half-breeds made people more likely to terminate or cast out unwanted charges. Marko had grown tired and impatient with the unnecessary histrionics and emotion that came after the bleak diagnosis of mental disease.
Because that's what it was. Mental illness in a person gifted with extraordinary powers. King Yuuri was no different though he was definitely the most dangerous. If the king's retainers did not stand their ground in the face of a mad king, then they would not be able to save the poor young man from his own curse.
"What do you plan to do now, Marko?"
Marko gave Gilbert a sideways glance, but found only genuine curiosity.
"Who knows? They might want me to stick around, but I doubt it. As soon as the king's primary physician returns, they will probably want me gone. They don't really like me very much." Marko shrugged. "No one ever likes me."
"You've been told to improve your social skills," Gilbert pointed out.
"Pff! Like I have that sort of time," Marko scoffed. "I am a doctor and a scientist. I cannot waste precious time catering to people's insecurities when lives are at stake. I became Head of the Shin Makoku Medical Corps for my skills, not my ability to empathize."
Gilbert resisted the urge to roll his eyes. That was Marko and that was how he would always be. Marko was a brilliant doctor and researcher, but he was a terrible person to get along with and sometimes, Gilbert suspected that the old doctor was proud of that.
They reached the hall where they were both staying. Marko's door came up first and the doctor roughly yanked the aging door open.
"If it means anything to you, I think there is still a need for your expertise now that the king has completed the change. It will be great for your research," Gilbert said.
Dr. Marko sighed. "It definitely would be. But unless the king is particularly merciful, I should start to pack my bags."
Gilbert gave Marko a sympathetic smile and began to head towards his own rooms.
Gilbert turned around at his name being called. Marko regarded him with an odd expression.
"If it means anything to you, I do think that King Yuuri has a good chance of getting his life back and that his servants will stand by him…I honestly think that."
Gilbert didn't stop the wide smile stretching across his face. "I think that as well."
Marko looked down. "I can only hope that they prove my pessimism wrong for once." And with that, Marko disappeared inside his room, the old door thudding shut behind him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * THYS * * * * * * * * * * * *
Alphonse had been in hiding for the past three weeks. Well, not really, it was more of him simply staying out of the way as chaos erupted around the return of their king.
Alphonse had watched them carry the unconscious king again and he had staggered to the infirmary behind Lord Weller and Bielefeld and patiently waited his turn to be seen by the overwhelmed healers.
After he had been released from the healers' care, Alphonse took to aimlessly wandering the great halls of the castle, taking in the damage done by Yuuri's chaotic power.
The worst of the damage had been removed. Tarps and sheets covered broken windows and rooms with no doors, all along the passageways piles of wood, glass and stone dotted the corridors. Alphonse carefully sidestepped the piles of garbage and the workers as they tried to clean up the overwhelming mess left behind.
Alphonse wanted to see King Yuuri very badly. He hadn't seen or heard anything of the young monarch since he was whisked away to the royal bedchambers. Alphonse had melted into the background as the retainers and Lord Bielefeld were preoccupied with helping the king and restoring the kingdom.
Alphonse didn't mind being sent to the back burner. His deeds in the exorcism of Elberich were small in the grand scheme of things and his magic had helped defend the others, but he didn't seek recognition or reward – he only wanted to make sure that the king was alive and well.
The few remaining haggard servants scampered bout the palace as Alphonse made his way to the royal wing. He hadn't heard many rumours, which went to show how preoccupied the staff was when they couldn't spare a few second to share a tidbit of juicy gossip between chores. Though, he was sure they would get back to their gossiping ways soon enough, especially after what had transpired.
Alphonse came to the large doors of the royal bedchamber. He was surprised to find no guards stood vigil outside the king's bedroom – which could mean that either Lord Bielefeld or Lord Weller was inside, that was the only time when no guards present wouldn't be a huge issue.
Alphonse suddenly lost his nerve. If the king were with one of his retainers then he probably wasn't taking visitors. The king hadn't left his room since he was carried away from the fight. Only the generals and the Great Sage had been in and out of the room as well as Gilbert and Marko.
Alphonse shook off his nervousness. He wouldn't know unless he tried. Surely, his aid would be noted and they would let him see the king – at the very worst they would tell him to come back when the king was in better health.
The guilt that had been his only companion for ten years bade Alphonse ot knick anyway. Timidly, Alphonse raised his fist and gave a firm knock and waited nervously for an answer.
It almost seemed like forever before a quiet voice from inside finally acknowledged his presence.
"Come in….I think the door is unlocked…"
Alphonse slowly turned the handle and entered the room.
The royal bedroom looked untouched from the chaos. The room smelled of teas and medicinal herbs, the curtains were pulled back to let in the sorely missed sunlight. Various jars and knickknacks littered every available counter space while some random clothes were laid before a dying fire.
Seated on the bed, propped up by a huge pile of pillows was the king, who watched Alphonse with a confused, but amicable expression.
"Hello…..um….were you sent to give me a message?" King Yuuri asked with his usual lightness that the castle had missed terribly.
Alphonse was wordless for a moment. King Yuuri looked so different from what he did only a few days ago. Where he once looked haggard and depressed, the king now looked a little brighter. Though he still looked tired and weak, there was some spark returning to the king's dark gazed the small smile he offered Alphonse was a wonderful improvement from the downtrodden expression that the king had previously worn constantly.
"Good afternoon, your Majesty," Alphonse said with a brief bow. "No, I don't have a message for you….I…have come to see how you were faring."
The king regarded Alphonse curiously, before recognition dawned on him.
"Oh!..." The King breathed, siting up a little straighter and then beckoned Alphonse t come closer. "You're Alphonse! I remember you!"
"You do?" Alphonse asked. The king's mental state was understandably a closely guarded secret, but Alphonse sure the king would remember him.
The king smiled. "Yeah….I mean…my memory is still a little off, but it's been coming back to me these past few days and I remember you….you played the guitar for me, right?"
Alphonse remembered that moment clearly, when he tried music to calm the tormented king when his possession had him in tis grips. That moment seemed so far away now. Alphonse could even recall the song he had played – a pretty sonata that was popular in the Bielefeld territory. He hadn't played that song in years, the last time was just a couple of days before Niklas' death.
Alphonse slowly approached the bed and paused when he noticed the king wasn't alone. Lying beside the king was Lord Bielefeld, passed out cold and cured up at the king's side, dressed in his blue uniform trousers and white undershirt and barefoot.
It was surprising to see his captain in such a state. As long as Alphonse could remember, Lord Bielefeld had always been dressed to the nines and not a single thread out of place. Bielefeld was the iconic image of a well-dressed and pristine young lord, seeing him like this threw Alphonse off a little.
King Yuuri noticed Alphonse's hesitation and followed his gaze to where Bielefeld lay. He looked at the sleeping lord with an affectionate smile and casually tucked a piece of hair behind Bielefeld's ear. It was here that Alphonse also noticed that the king's free hand was intertwined with one of Bielefeld's and it seemed it had been that way for a while.
"He's been constantly fusing over me so much he wore himself out, finally," the king explained. "I kept telling him to slow down and rest but if I so much as make a peep he's all over it."
Alphonse couldn't help but smile at his captain. "He cares very deeply for you."
"I know…" The king said. "Sometimes too much…"
A silence fell upon the two men. Alphonse was unsure of how to proceed with the king. Seeing the king and Lord Bielefeld in such an intimate setting made him feel as if he was intruding on something precious.
"I remember you now…"
Alphonse wasn't sure how to proceed with that statement. "I'm…glad that you do…"
The king nodded. "My memory has been….spotty since I recovered…I recall sounds, colors, images, and feelings, but I don't always know where they come from. However, I've been steadily making sense of it all and I remember you being there."
"Yes, I was present to aid the generals in the…exorcism-"
"No," The king shook his head. "That's not what I remember you from. I remember meeting you in my office, then in the hallway and then, you played the guitar for me when I was sick…"
Alphonse remembered those days very clearly, and found himself glad that the king remembered them as well. Though the situation had been dire and there was much confusion regarding King Yuuri's future, those moments had given Alphonse something he hadn't felt in a long time – purpose.
"Yes, I remember as well," Alphonse couldn't help but smile a little. "I saw your distress and couldn't help but offer you some comfort."
King Yuuri nodded and then smiled widely at Alphonse. "Thank you…for being there. I feel like you were the only one who understood."
"I did my best, your Majesty," Alphonse said quietly.
King Yuuri nodded and then looked down at his lap, deep in thought. Alphonse had understood the king's predicament because he had experienced it himself. King Yuuri had made Alphonse understand, finally, exactly what had happened to Niklas and that had enabled him to try to prevent the generals from making the same mistakes that cost him the love of his life. He would never wish the kind of pain that losing someone so dear could cause on his own enemies. It was a sharp pain that dulled into a constant ache flavored with anger, and self-loathing that had haunted the young lieutenant for years. No, he wouldn't wish that an anyone, and he definitely wouldn't allow for his captain to experience that kind of suffering if he could have helped it.
Alphonse silently watched King Yuuri absently stroke Lord Bielefeld's hair as the captain continued to sleep, totally oblivious to his surroundings. Alphonse couldn't recall a time when he had seen either man outwardly show such affection, especially in front of others. King Yuuri in his early days had started out avoiding the young lord and the two constantly bickered. However, as years went past their initial animosity had turned into a friendship and eventually, a supposedly one-sided romance. Now, Alphonse could see the deep bond the two shared and it would only grow stronger as King Yuuri regained his former strength.
A sudden pang of jealousy reared itself inside the soldier as he looked upon what he used to have and what he could have had if he hadn't been so ignorant.
'I miss you so much, Nikki.'
King Yuuri suddenly paused and looked straight at Alphonse – or really, straight past him into the far corner of the room.
Alphonse followed the king's line of vision, but found the corner to be empty, save for a small table with a vase full of dying flowers on top of it.
Without breaking his stare, King Yuuri began to talk in an airy, hesitant tone.
"Do you….know of someone named Niklas?" Yuuri asked.
Alphonse froze. He had never mentioned his tragic lover to anyone, definitely not the king, by name.
"Niklas was a comrade of mine and Lord Bielefeld's when we are students at the military academy," Alphonse explained hesitantly.
The King gave Alphonse a sharp look. "No…he was more than that to you…"
Yes, he had been. The atmosphere in the room shifted. Alphonse couldn't help but feel the presence of someone else in the room, but he only saw the king and the unconscious Lord Bielefeld. The air became cold and heavy, but it was without the feeling of dread and helplessness. It was….pleasant.
"He was your fiancé,"
Alphonse was shocked. "I…had meant to ask for his hand…but I never got to…"
King Yuuri gave a sad nod, and continued to watch the corner. "He died….he fell…"
Alphonse had to physically shove down the sudden wave of emotions that brought him back to that fateful night so many years ago. The multitude of swimming feelings and memories threatened to overwhelm him and make him break down in front of his monarch. But more than any other emotion, the guilt crushed down on his psyche and made his chest ache unbearably.'
"Yes…" he managed to choke out past the lump in his throat.
"Tell me about him…"
The command was soft and coaxing, but Alphonse couldn't find the right words at first. He didn't know where he could possibly start. The mental strain of the past few days coupled with this bizarre turn made it near impossible for Alphonse to organize his thoughts enough for speech. However, he found a way.
"He was…a student at the academy…we had the same introductory class. He was studying to be a healer. He was very shy and reserved. We didn't talk much at all for a while. But I pursued him eventually…"
The corners of the king's mouth twitched in a brief smile. "There's more…"
"We were together for a while…" Alphonse struggled to continue. Confusion over where this was coming from and reliving those vivid memories was slowly getting the best of him. "Then he became ill and - "
"He was a half-breed like me…but he could use magic…that's why they let him into the academy." King Yuuri interjected.
Alphonse nodded, trying to control his thoughts. "His parents were wealthy, so they were able to buy his way in, despite him being a half-blood."
"He was a verschmelzung like me…" Yuuri said in wonder.
Alphonse choked. "Yes…"
The soldier felt the presence shift. The air became still. A sudden familiarity came over him and he turned once again to the point where the king stared so intently, but found nothing.
"He didn't make it…" The king said sadly. "He was chased by the dead up to one of the towers…You tried to get him down."
It would forever be a memory burned into Alphonse's psyche until the day he died. He could remember the cold wind blowing around them, he could see Niklas' nightshirt billowing around him as he clung to the rail, ready to jump to his death. He remember reaching out to take Niklas' hand and being so happy wen the other man slowly reached or him, only for Niklas to lose his balance and topple over to the cold pavement. He could even remember the sounds of bone cracking and blood splattering when Niklas' body made impact.
"I- I did!" Alphonse tried and failed to hold back the sob, he refused to cry in front of his king, but it was increasingly difficult to not do so. He nervously dragged a hand through his hair. "He was…crazed. He had escaped from the infirmary and I was trying to get him back to his bed. The doctors – Marko – had confined him to his room and they even tied him up and I let them!"
"Niklas wasn't sick…" The King continued, though it seemed like he too was trying to remain composed.
'I'm not sick!' How many times had that phrase repeated itself over and over again in his mind. That one statement the only clue to what was really happening to Niklas and he was so foolish as to not heed it, even then with his lover teetering on the edge of certain death. Still, he had disregarded it.
"No, no, he wasn't" Alphonse said, head bowed in shame. "He wasn't mad. But they – I didn't know what was going on with him. I just…wanted him to get better."
"He tried to tell you…."
Yes, he had. But Alphonse had so stupidly chosen not to listen. He had taken the words of a callous doctor over his own lover and administered those powerful drugs himself that made Niklas tired and disoriented. He had rushed off the nightmares and tantrums as part of the transformation – but he never equated it with actual ghosts that were drawn to Niklas' heightened sensitivity. He had just ignored them.
"I didn't listen…" Alphonse whispered.
"You didn't know…" The king tried to comfort him, but it was of no use.
"That's no excuse!" Alphonse suddenly cried. "I should have paid attention. I should have listened more. I just went with what everyone else said and believed he was slowly going insane…but I still loved him! I really did…I just….I just wanted to help him and I messed everything up!"
Alphonse was openly crying now. Tears trickled down his face, dignity and propriety be damned. It was too much. Just too much.
"There's nothing you could have done…" King Yuuri replied, but his speech seemed stilted and distant – like he was repeating something already said.
"How do you know?" Alphonse exclaimed. "How do you know all this?"
King Yuuri pointed to the empty corner. "Niklas told me. He's explaining everything to me."
Startled, Alphonse spun on his heel to face the corner. His eyes strained against the corner table, vase and wall, but found nothing out of the ordinary. But his mind bade him look deeper.
"He wants you to know that…you did the best you could…" King Yuuri said with a gentle smile. "You did everything that you thought was right. You didn't know what was really going on."
Alphonse registered what the king was saying, though he was looking frantically around the room desperate to see what the king was seeing. He remembered what Gilbert told them about the king's new powers. "Can you see him? Is he here now?"
King Yuuri nodded. "It's time to stop punishing yourself," he continued. "He forgave you a long time ago when he entered Paradise. He's happy now and he wants you to know that you can be happy now too."
"I…don't think I can..." Alphonse whimpered. The feelings were too much for him and he was becoming dizzy from looking around the room so quickly. If Niklas was there then he so badly wanted to see him for himself. He had to.
"You never tried," King Yuuri said. "But he says you can't go on like this. He wants you to be happy."
"Why can't I see him?" Alphonse asked desperately.
"He's not strong enough to take form," the king explained. "He's just a presence and since he moved on, there's no need for him to appear. He has no connection to this world anymore."
That was a hard truth to take. No connection. "What about me, then?"
'Please tell him I love him…'
The king smiled sadly. "He loves you more than anything, that's why it pained him to see you be so sad and angry all the time. He wants and needs you to move on so you can be happy."
"I can't be happy without him!" Alphonse sobbed. "He made me happy!"
"You made him happy, too," Yuuri said. "But he doesn't want you to waste away because of him. You deserve better."
"What else does he tell you?" Alphonse asked.
The king paused for a moment. "He tells me that no one is truly at fault. You, especially. And he doesn't know how to get that through to you because you're stubborn."
In spite of himself, Alphonse let out a small cough of a chuckle. "That sounds like him. But I could never forget him."
The king chuckled a bit, too. "He says you don't have to forget him in fact, if you try to forget him, he says he'll haunt you in your sleep. He wants you to allow yourself to find happiness and live your life that way the two of you wanted."
"I don't know how…"
"He says try it one day at a time and go from there," King Yuuri said. "He also says you have me, your king. I'd be happy to help you, Alphonse."
It was such a small gesture. An offer of help. But it came from the most powerful man in the world…a man who considered himself more of a friend rather than a monarch. That was something so uniquely King Yuuri. That he could surpass class and status and reach out to a lowly lieutenant such as himself. It meant a lot to Alphonse.
"I…guess then I could try…for his sake…" Alphonse said finally. He suddenly felt lighter and freer than he had in a very long time.
King Yuuri broke into a wide grin. "That's all he can ask of you…"
Unable to hold back the sudden wave of tears, Alphonse had to excuse himself before he caused further embarrassment. "May I be excused, your Majesty?"
The king nodded his permission and with a short bow, Alphonse made to exit the bedroom to make sense of what had just occurred
Alphonse turned to face the king, who still had his hand tangled in Bielefeld's long blonde hair. Alphonse would forever wonder how his captain had managed to sleep through all that. He guessed it just showed the exhaustion his lord had suffered the past few weeks.
"Yes, your Majesty?"
The king collected his thoughts and then spoke. "I really am here for you, should you ever need me. My memory is shot, but I do remember you being there to help me and if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have made it."
"Your Majesty is very kind," Alphonse said. "I….to be honest…I just didn't want to see the same mistakes that cost Niklas his life happen again. I just couldn't."
"And they didn't. I'm in your debt," The king said with a short bow of his head.
"You are not indebted to me, your Majesty," Alphonse replied. "Seeing you well is reward enough."
"I thank you, Alphonse von Weber. You are a good man and I'm happy you are in my service."
Alphonse bowed again. "You are most welcome, your Majesty."
Alphonse turned to leave again, but a question popped up in his mind.
"If I may ask, your Majesty. Why did you say Niklas was my fiancé?"
The smile on the king's face was bittersweet. "He knows you were going to propose to him. He wants you to know that he would have said yes."
Another sob choked its way out of Alphonse. He had to leave before he completely lost all dignity. Unable to form words, he simply nodded and quickly left the room, shutting the door behind him and heading back to his own room to be alone.
Yuuri watched the closed door for a long time. He didn't know what had come over him. One minute he had been speaking to Alphonse and then a pretty young man just appeared in the corner behind the young lieutenant. Even though he had never seen the young man before, Yuuri felt nothing but peace from the entity and when the entity begged him to relay his words to the jaded young solider, he had to comply. As the ghost of Niklas von Weber – as the ghost introduced itself - explained the truth behind Alphonse's actions, Yuuri understood the gravity of the situation and attempted to bring closure to a very beautiful romance that ended in tragedy.
Despite previously being against homosexuality, Yuuri had grown to accept that part of his new home over time and he couldn't deny the depth of the love Alphonse and Niklas had for each other, even beyond death.
A statement from Gilbert only a day prior echoed in Yuuri's tired mind.
'This is only a curse if you let it become that. For every evil spirit there are more who mean no harm and simply want their message to be heard. Often, they have witnessed the chaos that unfolded after their passing and they want to guide their surviving loved ones back onto the right path. It is our mission to bridge the gap between the living and the dead and bring everyone to peace."
Yuuri had just used his new powers to bring closure to Alphonse, a soldier he barely knew but had inadvertently played a vital role in saving his life. AS his memories returned, Yuuri saw the pain and need to compensate for past sins that lay just behind Alphonse's kind light eyes and he was able to ease that pain, if only a little. That was the first time his new powers showed themselves to be more than just a burden he would have to live with.
That would be his new life; bring closure and mend the bonds between the living and the dead and protect himself from evil spirits that sought to use his powers for their own dark purposes.
But if this new skill could be good in the end, maybe he could survive.
* * * * * * * * * * * * THYS * * * * * * * * * * * *
It had been four weeks since Yuuri had won back his body and life, and four weeks since Yuuri had assessed the extent of the damage he had done to his kingdom.
Despite the assurances from his cabinet, after four weeks of bedrest, Yuuri was eager to get back to work and see for himself what had happened during his "illness."
Yuuri slumped against the railing of the walkway that surrounded the central gardens. Yuuri had found a precious moment to himself to process the immense amount of information that had been dumped on him the second he returned to work.
The extent of what Yuuri's out of control powers had wreaked on the kingdom was beginning to sink in. The sheet of paper in his hand was the latest report from the dozens of sub-territories hit by the storm.
"….the surrounding crops have been drowned in flood water, eight of the sixteen farmhouses have been destroyed or damaged by the constant rain and hail. Twenty people reported missing, fourteen confirmed dead, one hundred injured or displaced…."
This sub-territory was one of the better off regions. Territories closest to the capital – Bielefeld, Christ, Karbelnikoff and Grantz – were the hardest hit with nearly a third of the farmland rendered useless from the mudslides and torrential rain. Those further away sustained less damage but where in just as desperate need for aid as the others.
Yuuri absently stared at the document. It was a request for aid in the form of food, and medicine as well as military back up. There was dozens more like it, and Yuuri would have to decide which territories received aid first and how much to give them. The demand would stretch Shin Makoku's resources to their very limit.
Yuuri was unsure if he should cry or run and hide. A part of him wished to be back in a coma. At least he wouldn't have to see what his own incompetence had done to his people.
He had heard it several times from several people: this wasn't his fault. He wasn't to blame, he had no control over what happened. And yet, it was his magic that single-handedly ruined his kingdom and had every noble sending angrily worded letters demanding answers he wasn't sure he would ever have.
The immensity of Yuuri's powers was shocking. His entire life had been spent allowing his alter ego – now known as a manifestation of Elberich's soul – to defeat his enemies and return order to the kingdom, but it had never occurred to him just how destructive that power could be until it had turned against his family and subjects. It was terrifying.
'I've failed as a king…..I've failed to protect my people. I let myself fail.' Yuuri thought bitterly. 'I don't deserve to be king after this."
The mountains of reports that were currently weighing down Yuuri's desk were a testament to the warning Gilbert had given him during their last meeting.
"I…cannot think of any other way to say this to you, your Majesty. But currently, you are a danger to everyone around you, including yourself. You were gifted with great power, but none of the skill required to wield such power. I beg that you consider a leave of absence and come with me to the wilderness and I can teach you how to control you new gifts without the worry of harming others."
A danger to others. Awkward Yuuri Shibuya of Japan was a danger to others. It was almost laughable. Yuuri Shibuya, the target of school bullies, had been a menace to his own kingdom, Feared and probably now hated, by the masses and definitely the nobility, who were bombarding Gwendal and Yuuri with letters demanding answers.
The last thing Yuuri needed to do was disappear. It would be seen as abandonment. Yuuri had worked hard to prove his loyalty to his new home, mostly by limiting his visits to earth to only twice a year, but even when his trips to then other dimension were planned and his return were punctual, the nobles still saw it as an act of disloyalty.
Murata had been present at the same meeting and he suggested an idea that would make things easier, but at the same time ruin one of the most tumultuous and meaningful relationships Yuuri had. And he couldn't ruin that. He just couldn't. It was that suggestion that had hung above Yuuri's mind for the past few days. Not the reports of death and destruction, but the idea of robbing his best friend of any autonomy he had.
'I can't do this…'
"I thought I'd find you here…"
Yuuri glanced briefly over his shoulder at Wolfram, who stood with his arms crossed in a huff after searching for him for who knows how long.
"Sorry…" Yuuri muttered and then turned back to staring into the large fountain in the courtyard of the castle. The fountain was still filled with various branches, twigs, leaves and other debris from the torrential rain that had plagued the kingdom for a month. Yuuri was still muddy on the details, but according to Conrad, ever since he fell under Elberich's possession, a terrible storm had ravaged the country. Gilbert theorized that it was a side effect of Yuuri's water magic being out of control. The thought added to Yuuri's already overwhelming guilt at yet again being an inept ruler.
"Have you been here all morning? Everyone was looking for you. You shouldn't be out alone in your condition," Wolfram said, taking a seat beside the king.
"I'm just fine," Yuuri mumbled somewhat irritably. The constant attention from his retainers was overwhelming at times. They alternated between showering Yuuri with attention and recoiling from him in fear if he showed even the slightest bit of tension. However, he didn't blame them. He had been little more than an animal the past few days and Elberich's aura still permeated the atmosphere.
"Even if you are, it still worries us when you disappear without notice," Wolfram scolded, though it was half-hearted.
Wolfram tried to offer Yuuri a comforting smile, but the king simply turned his gaze back to the desolated fountain. Wolfram sighed and silently watched his fiancé lose himself in his thoughts.
Wolfram wanted more than anything to see Yuuri smile again. It felt like it had been decades since he had seen that classic Yuuri smile where Yuuri's eyes would light up, his cheeks would puff up and his lips pulled into that goofy looking grin. Wolfram could remember a time when he found that smile so annoying and unbefitting of a monarch, especially when Yuuri flashed it in front of visiting dignitaries. But now, Wolfram missed it.
Yuuri's health had been steadily improving since he had eradicated Elberich once and for all. While he was still very weak, Yuuri was getting better physically – however, mentally and emotionally, Yuuri's well being was ambiguous.
Gilbert had informed them all that with Elberich's spirit gone, Yuuri's transformation into a Verschmelzung could complete without interruption. He had told them that when he awoke, Yuuri would be a new person and have new powers that would need to be controlled lest he fall into madness. He had also told them that the psychological damage inflicted by Elberich's malice was deep and likely irreversible. Yuuri would need their strength and support if he would ever be able to recover.
Which reminded Wolfram…
"How did your meeting with Gilbert and Marko go?"
Yuuri let out a long sigh, not looking up from the fountain. After a long pause, he finally, slowly, answered.
"Well, Marko says my injuries are healing nicely," Yuuri began quietly, picking invisible dirt off his pants. "My two halves have merged fully and I should be back to health in a few weeks."
"That's great, Yuuri," Wolfram smiled. Any positive news of Yuuri's recovery made Wolfram want to grin. "Did he say anything else?"
"Just to keep drinking this potion he gave me to help me sleep and stop any pain I might feel," Yuuri answered, though Wolfram didn't miss the slight crack in his voice at the end and the glassy look Yuuri's eyes had taken on as he repeated what the doctor had said.
"Yuuri," Wolfram said gently, reaching out and turning Yuuri to face him with his hand. Wolfram's heart broke a little bit at the heavy sadness and exhaustion on Yuuri's face. "What's wrong? What did Marko really say?"
The corners of Yuuri's mouth quivered as if he was holding back tears. Yuuri looked everywhere but at Wolfram before landing back onto that blasted fountain in a vain attempt to hide his distress.
"Gilbert said," Yuuri started and then cursed in his native language when his voice broke again. When he gathered himself he tried again. "Gilbert said that while Elberich was destroyed, it didn't change the fact that I can communicate with the dead. He even said that may be why Elberich was able to possess me. Like all ghosts, Elberich was drawn to me and the fact that I was made from his soul just sealed my fate."
"I remember that," Wolfram said quietly.
Yuuri nodded sadly. "I'm a channeler. Like, I communicate with spirits by letting them possess me and that's how they share their memories. Their feelings, and memories literally become mine. To make it even better, channeling puts me at a higher risk of being possessed again. It's just too much!"
Wolfram suppressed a shudder.
"That would…not be good at all," was all Wolfram could really think to say. They had already seen firsthand what an angry ghost would do with Yuuri's immense power.
Yuuri continued. "Should I ever lose control of a spirit during a 'channeling', then that spirit could gain control of my water magic. With training and meditation, I can learn to control my psychic powers and my water magic as one entity, but it would mean leaving you all behind for months. I can't do that!"
"Surely, there has ot be some way? You have to learn how to control your powers," Wolfram said.
"I'm the king of Shin Makoku," Yuuri replied as if it were a surprise revelation. "I can't just disappear into the wilderness for months, maybe even years, when I have a kingdom to run!" Yuuri scoffed. "That is if anyone wants me to be king. I'd doubt it."
"But, you should learn to control your powers," Wolfram stated. "I would rather you go into the wilderness and learn to manage your powers than stay here and struggle! That would only make things worse!"
"I know," Yuuri replied. "And I told Gilbert as much….then I spoke with Murata about it and he suggested that I…" Yuuri gulped and regarded Wolfram with a conflicted expression.
"That you what?" Wolfram leaned in closer in anticipation.
Yuuri answered in a voice so small and timid that Wolfram had to strain to hear him.
"I….could go ahead and marry you and then you could rule while I go off with Gilbert and master my powers until I'm strong enough to return."
"Oh…." Wolfram felt his heart drop. He was aware of a law that said the spouse of the king could rule in his stead should he go off to war or fall ill. But if they acted on that law, it would drastically alter the dynamic of his and Yuuri's already tumultuous relationship.
But if it meant that Yuuri would recover better and learn to control his powers then Wolfram would be willing to give himself over to a loveless marriage if it meant helping Yuuri. He could care for the kingdom while Yuuri got better.
Wolfram steeled himself. "Well, we had planned to marry anyway, so in a couple of months, you can go off with Gilbert for training while I - "
The sharp look Yuuri gave him silenced the blond.
"I'm not going to marry you for that, Wolfram," Yuuri said deliberately.
Wolfram said nothing but looked down sadly at the ground. Deep down, he knew this would happen. It might not have been an angry 4000-year-old spirit, but he knew that something or someone would stop him from marrying Yuuri. He knew it and yet kept a tiny spark of hope that had now been crushed by his fiancé.
"I have no right to ask you to marry me…"
Wolfram looked up at him, confused. "What do you mean by that?"
"I have no right to ask anything of you anymore, Wolfram," Yuuri said, in disgust of himself. "I have done nothing but cause you trouble and suffering for so long. I can't with good conscience ask you to marry me. Not when I'm like this."
"Yuuri," Wolfram started carefully. "None of that was your fault. You had no control over what happened. You are just as much a victim as anyone. You suffered more than any of us. We're here to help you get better. I'm here."
"And that's the problem!" Yuuri cried out angrily, standing up to glare down at Wolfram. "You're always helping me! You're always protecting me and look what happened! You almost died. I almost killed you because I was too weak to fight off Elberich! Not only was I weak, I was too jaded and miserable to really put up a fight!"
Yuuri ran shaky hands through his messy hair, making the black locks stick out at every angle. The sight would have been comical if it weren't for the distraught expression on Yuuri's face that struck Wolfram to his core.
"I've always let you, Conrad or Gwendal handle my problems for me! I treated everything like it was some kind of role-playing game. It wasn't until I was older that I realized this was real, you were real, and me actually being in charge of an entire country was real! I couldn't handle it!"
Yuuri slumped forward hopelessly. "So I just let things slide by, I went through the motions all the while growing more tired, resentful, and angry. That's how Elberich possessed me. The negativity I had inside was what let him in."
Wolfram wanted to argue that what Yuuri was saying wasn't true. But he knew it was. They had seen the gradual change in their king from sweet, cheerful teen to sullen and sometimes even bitter young man. While Yuuri maintained his personable manner, there was that underlying sense that it was for show. The light had gone from Yuuri, though none of them knew how to address it. Wolfram wished they had confronted it earlier, but hindsight was always perfect.
"It's because of me that Shin Makoku was basically destroyed," Yuuri said guiltily. "I wasn't strong enough to fight because I didn't care. I was selfish."
"You had no way of knowing this would happen, Yuuri!" Wolfram protested. "Yes, you had your problems, but everyone does! We all go through times of feeling like nothing matters. Conrad went through that during the war. I went through it with my father! We all know the pain of failure, and disenchantment. It is not more your fault than it is ours! You didn't know this would happen!"
"But I should've done something when I saw what was happening!" Yuuri cried.
"You didn't know what was happening!" Wolfram refused to budge. "You were ill, Yuuri! You didn't know what was going on and neither did we! We were in way over our heads and yet, we survived! And we will help you rebuild the kingdom. All will be well, I promise you."
"Not with me," Yuuri choked, blinking back tears. "Not with me as king. I'm some "fused being" that no one believed existed who is able to talk to dead people and could probably flatten an entire city with no problem – oh, and let's not forget my new powers leave me mentally unstable!"
The self-hatred coming from Yuuri took Wolfram aback. He tried to reach out to comfort Yuuri but his hand was angrily slapped away as Yuuri lost himself in his own misery.
"I'm a freak!" Yuuri cried. "A schizophrenic freak! Even if I can learn to control my powers and protect myself, I could still lose control and hurt others. I could hurt you! And I would rather die than hurt you again, Wolfram!"
Yuuri paused and regarded Wolfram for a long time as if contemplating some huge decision. The dreaded feeling inside Wolfram grew when Yuuri spoke again.
"And that's why I can't ask you to marry me, Wolfram. I can't let you stay. You deserve so much better than me. You deserve someone normal." Yuuri stated with bitter resolve.
"And who decided that was your decision to make?"
Yuuri started when Wolfram suddenly went from sad and pleading to angry and confrontational. It had been a while since Yuuri had seen Wolfram lose his temper and it was just as intimidating as before.
Wolfram stood to face Yuuri head on. "You cannot just toss me aside saying that I deserve better. How dare you insult me like that? You're basically calling me stupid for caring about you! Are you going to use those new-fangled powers of yours to give me back the last three years of my life that were spent with you?"
Yuuri said nothing, he only looked down at his feet in shame. Wolfram glared at him, silently demanding answers and wondering how Yuuri could be so ludicrous and so intentionally dense to the feelings of the people who cared for him.
That was selfishness. That was a display of unwarranted, misdirected martyrdom that only made to enrage Wolfram even more as he tried desperately to reach out to his damaged love and best friend. Yuuri and the kingdom may have been saved, but there was still a desperate battle for the salvation of his heart. A heart that Yuuri apparently didn't want saved.
"You're a callous bastard," Wolfram growled under his breath, causing Yuuri to flinch. "To belittle my feelings because you can't allow yourself to believe that you are worth sacrificing for. You are worth loving, Yuuri."
"Th-that's not what I'm trying to do at all!" Yuuri protested, albeit somewhat weakly.
"Then what is it?" Wolfram demanded, unmoved.
Yuuri started a sentence a few times, and stumbled over his words quite horribly before he was able to create a clear explanation. Then he straightened himself and made his statement. One that he had been contemplating the entire morning.
"I don't think I should be king anymore," he said, though he was frustrated that instead of a solemn, even delivery, it came out as a broken whisper. "I'm….unfit. I should resign."
Wolfram stared blankly at Yuuri for a long time. Yuuri tried not to squirm under the burning gaze that dared him to repeat what he had just said. Wolfram's eyes flickered across Yuuri's face, searching for any indication that Yuuri had gone truly mad or was serious about giving up his God-given role as king of the Demon Kingdom.
"Why?" it was a single word that came out as a growl. Every muscle in Wolfram's body tensed, much like how Yuuri had seen him do when he was about to yell at someone, usually him. Wolfram didn't scream or raise his voice as much as he used to, but his wrath was still very potent and could be felt to the bone when he lost his temper.
"Why would you ever say that now?" Wolfram hissed lowly, a much scarier tone than his loud yelling. This was a tone reserved for when Wolfram had reached the very end of his tolerance for stupidity and was trying very hard not to strangle the object of his ire.
"I've completely failed!" Yuuri nearly sobbed breaking under Wolfram's intensity. He swung out his arm in a wide arc to show Wolfram the devastated courtyard and presumably the rest of the battered palace. "I destroyed the palace, and my influence on the weather destroyed villages and crops, and we're still trying to tally up the final number of how many people died from storm-related accidents! Because of me! God knows how much time and money will be needed to fix all this-"
Wolfram sighed harshly in exasperation. "These are things, Yuuri! Stone, wood and paint! Easily attainable!" Wolfram pointed to the northern wing of the palace. "This castle has been repaired countless times! Has Gunter not told you of the Great Earthquake of 1066? Or the fire that burned down my mother's apartments that I started when I was a child? Or better yet, the Siege of 2016, when enemies set off a bomb that completely obliterated the middle of the palace? Should I tell you of the dozens of times Shin Makoku has been invaded?"
Wolfram took a step closer, pinning Yuuri with his gaze. "Shin Makoku has survived much worse than what you've inflicted upon it and it will continue to do so as long as her king remains strong. So the worst thing you can do right now is say you're not good enough and step down and render everything that I, my brothers, and everyone in this castle who has stood behind you - when common sense would dictate the opposite - completely meaningless!"
Yuuri was silent. But the stoic mask he had put on during Wolfram's rant cracked and the troubled young man choked back a sob and buried his face in his hands to hide his breakdown. The sight caused Wolfram's own emotions to get the best of him as he too fought back tears.
"I've done so many things wrong," Yuuri cried, not bothering to really hide the tears anymore. "I-I can't see myself ruling this kingdom when I've done so much damage!"
"Then why would you leave us with this damage to fix and no king to lead us?" Wolfram said. "Why would you run away and leave us behind to pick up the pieces without you? You're doing exactly what you said you didn't want to! You're leaving us to fix the problems!"
Yuuri had thought about that. He knew it would be unfair to leave the kingdom in its current state and expect the others to undo the damage. However, at the same time, he had thought it would be best if he simply just left and let his retainers restore the kingdom without his blubbering interference. Yuuri simply didn't trust himself to undo the wrongs that had been done using his powers and mind. Gilbert's diagnosis had been blunt; Yuuri was a danger to himself and those around him if he didn't learn to control his powers. So to Yuuri, the logical thing would be to remove himself from the situation and allow his friends to repair their home without fear of it being destroyed again. He also didn't want to place anyone in a position of alienated loyalty because of their oaths to the crown.
"I don't want to leave….I don't trust that I can be a good ruler anymore, Wolfram," Yuuri whispered sadly. "I don't trust myself not to lose control and hurt those that I care about. I'm not fit to rule and I can't let you sacrifice your lives and reputations by following me. That's why it's best if I just go away."
"Why can't you accept that you are worth the sacrifices we make?" Wolfram whispered brokenly, all anger gone, leaving behind a quiet desperation to reach his fiancé. Wolfram affectionately brushed aside a stray piece of black hair. Yuuri dared to meet his eyes, looking dejected and ashamed.
"We follow you because we love you," Wolfram whispered. "You're Conrad's godson, Gunter's star pupil, Greta's father, Gwendal's king and…..and my beloved fiancé. Why is that hard to understand?"
"Why?" Yuuri finally dared to speak the question was quiet and husky from Yuuri's valiant efforts to suppress his crying. Wolfram could tell Yuuri was fighting him on this, though not outwardly, but the cracks in Yuuri's psyche were widening and falling apart. "Why do you love me, Wolfram?"
"I don't need a reason," Wolfram said with a gentle smile. "Love follows no such logic and neither do I."
Cupping Yuuri's tear stained cheeks in each hand, Wolfram touched his forehead to Yuuri's, bringing the other man close to him until their bodies were pressed flush against each other. Yuuri accepted Wolfram into his personal space, and the blonde prince felt all the tension and resistance melt away.
Yuuri wanted to say more. He wanted to protest against Wolfram's words. However, he found that no argument would come to him as he was tired of resisting, tired of fighting the inevitable even if it went against all logical thought. He couldn't bring himself to say that he had wanted to let Wolfram go for the same reason Wolfram wanted to stay. No words came to him as he simply surrendered himself to Wolfram's touch and to an uncertain future full of trials, failures and eventual successes as he, against his better judgment, didn't resign and instead would fix the problems he caused and restore his kingdom to her rightful glory.
"Let me help you heal, Yuuri," Wolfram whispered, his breath ghosting over Yuuri's face and closed eyes. "Let me love you."
* * * * * * * * * * * * THYS * * * * * * * * * * * *
Far away, deep in the dark old forest of the mountains, an old man sat straight up in his bed, ignoring the painful cracks in his tired bones.
"Elsa! Elsa!" His cracked voice called out into the early evening.
Moment later, a young woman stepped inside the large tent, the smell of firewood and roasted meat clung to her tattered dress.
The old man took in the vision of his young granddaughter. With great joy, he stood up, ignoring her protests and staggered toward the entrance of the tent.
"I have had a vision, Elsa!" He said unable to ccontain his excitement. "I have had the vision we've been waiting for!"
Realization dawned on Elsa. "No…no, it's impossible!"
"Yes! We can finally come out of hiding! We're no longer in exile!" The man shouted as he tore through the flaps to step into the center of their make shift camp.
Scattered around the great bonfire, people of various genders, and ages all went about their business. They paused when their elder stepped forward – something rare considering he was a cripple and lifted his arms and shouted to the tribe.
"My children! My children! I have had a vision. Samael has spoken to me in a dream and it is great news!"
"What is it, Father?" A young man said, walking to stand next to Elsa.
"Our savior has finally arrived!" The old man cried out, nearly dancing in place. "It is the new demon king! He has finally been realized!"
"But you said that the new king wasn't our Savior!" The young man said skeptically, but like the others he watched the old man intently.
The elder spun on his heel to face the cynical young man. "I said he might not be! I didn't want to spread false hope that the demon king was a double black and our Savior. After all, you know those wretched Aristocrats could've dyed some bloke's hair for their own deceitful purposes. But now, the Death Gods have confirmed the truth. The King is a true double black and even more importantly – he has been gifted with Second Sight!"
Everyone within the camp gave a collective gasp.
"There's no way…" said the young man. "It's been four thousand years. This can't be possible!"
"It is! It is!" The elder was nearly ecstatic. "My children! Our Savior has been awakened! The one who will deliver us from exile and avenge us! The True Demon King Elberich has been reborn!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * THYS * * * * * * * * * * * *
The 23rd and final chapter of The Haunting Of Yuuri Shibuya!
Thank you, grazie mille, gracias, danke, salamat, and ogromnoe spasibo!
Thank you everyone – old and new readers alike. You alone have made it possible for me to complete this story after a long and grueling three years! I can't believe you all stuck around this long, but I am truly grateful to all of you. I hope this story has lived up to the promises made in its earliest chapters. At the very least I hope you enjoyed this story.
Writing this was a challenge. When I first came up with the idea, I wasn't sure how it would be viewed in the KKM fandom. KKM is such a light-hearted and adventuresome anime, a horror/drama fic seemed out of place. I also didn't know how the readers would respond to a story, but I had never written a fic before and I wanted to create something truly unique that was also adherent to the KKM mythology. I am also happy that many of you liked my original characters. I'm always skeptical of OCs so I'm joyous that many of you lied Marko, Alphonse and Gilbert.
I've learned a lot on this adventure. I hope to improve more as I continue to write fan fiction and my own original works. I have not left the KKM fandom as it is one of my absolute favorite animes and I wish to explore the world of KKM and its lovable characters even more.
Even then, this story was incredibly difficult to pull off. Even now, having finished it, I feel like I introduced a bunch of points and sublots that didn't really come to fruition, or at least, not how I wanted them to be. I think that was a case of me biting off more than I could chew and being an amateur writer. I can only hope that I managed to tie everything up and leave my readers satisfied.
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter and the story. I took a different take with Yuuri and Wolfram instead of having them fall in love and confess, I instead wanted to introduce a new phase of their relationship that will eventually become love. Yuuri has accepted Wolfram's feelings, but it is still new. However, don't worry, I am a devoted Yuuram fangirl and will settle for nothing less than those two getting together. The beginning of Yuuri's new life and identity has started and we will see more developments and new characters and new conflicts that will test the sanity and strength of our very young monarch and his devoted fiancé.
I have decided to write a sequel – that was obvious from the last scene, lol! – but when I post the first chapter remains to be seen. I'm starting my first year of grad school and I will be a teacher's assistant for a course so my time will be pretty preoccupied. But one of these days, I will sit down and finish what I started. In the meantime, feel free to reread this chapter, your favorite scenes or some of my other shorter fics.
I would like to extend a special thank you to Asura-chan and Sweetbox – my beta readers for their help and encouragement.
As always, thank you for reading my story and sticking to it for so long. I look forward to hearing what your thoughts are and if you have any final questions that weren't answered in the story please let me know and I will answer them promptly.
Please review and thank you, thank you, thank you!