XEOHE's Note: I do not own Kyou Kara Maou.
XEOHE's Other Note: Ahh… I have to redeem myself. Pardon the length, I wasn't able to chop it up. I couldn't see it as anything else but a oneshot.
Dedication: For my sweet, strong and caring Freya-neesan, because I simply love her so. :)
And my ever unfaltering gratitude for: chris'cut! She's like, the best! And the reason this story was even posted. Y'all have her to thank. She sure knows how to kick my butt (in the best possible way; like my personal Aikawa-san). Hope I didn't disappoint.
Because sometimes, love can go beyond 'till death do us part.'
"Come here, Wolf…" Yuuri flicked his hands eagerly.
"What is it?"
"Just follow me." They crept across the hall, meeting no one as they moved. It was suspicious to Wolfram, who was used to so many maids and soldiers and people roaming about everywhere.
"Where are you taking us? Just tell me," Wolfram countered.
"Then it wouldn't be a surprise."
Wolfram looked stunned, and Yuuri couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry. I guess I don't give you enough of these do I?" He gave Wolfram an apologetic smile.
Yuuri was presented a good long look, and for a while their pace slowed down. Wolfram formed a soft smirk, and an even softer, "Wimp…"
There was something wrong with Wolfram.
As Yuuri stepped out of the fountain and let himself drip, he gave the other one a stare.
Aside from the fact that he was barefoot, which was weird enough all in itself, Wolfram was still in the old set of white pajamas he had been wearing when he was in the healing ward before Yuuri left for earth, ailing terribly. He was still pale, quite grayish if that was the term, toeing the ground with his bare foot, head hung. He was a couple of feet away, leaning against one of the pillars that supported the arch of the courtyard's entrance. And he seemed to be ignoring the commotion of the king's return.
Beside him, Conrad handed Yuuri a towel and promptly he rubbed his head and face with it. Lifting the fluffy material and opening his mouth to ask Wolfram why he wouldn't come any closer, Yuuri was surprised to find that he had already gone.
"Yes your Majesty?" Yuuri raised an eyebrow at him. Conrad chuckled. "Yes Yuuri?"
"Your Highnesss!" Günter exclaimed, coming in at top speed in a flash of white and lavender, effectively ending Yuuri's oncoming question. It remained unsaid until they went inside, until Yuuri had had a change of clothes, until he played with Greta, until he signed a few documents and until he headed off to dinner.
After that he wished he had never asked at all.
"Get a move on, Yuuri."
Yuuri sighed and scratched some wobbly kanji on the document, regretting that he hadn't made his signature any shorter. "You said we would go today. Today. Not tomorrow, or the day after that. You promised. Look, we're running out of sun." He peeped mournfully out of the window where the day's light looked a few inches away from kissing the mountains.
Wolfram looked hesitant. He crossed his arms. "Whose fault do you think that is? And anyway, I really don't see any point in coming to the grave."
"But you promised. You did." He whined like a little child.
"It's getting dark, and…"
"Your pro-o-omised," Yuuri persisted, prolonging the vowel.
"Why didn't you ask anybody else? Why didn't you ask Conrart?" Wolfram asked suddenly, as if to test him.
"I don't want to make them sad… and it's you I want to spend time with."
"Yuuri…" Wolfram sighed, almost irritably. "You do know I hate it when you do that? It's not your fault you had to go back. If you're spending time with me just because you feel guilty about something that's already over and done wi—"
"Please Wolf? It's not about that. I just… I want to be a part of what happened. No matter how painful." Yuuri didn't look at Wolfram anymore. Instead he doodled some squiggles on a spare scrap of parchment paper, awaiting judgment.
He heard a huff and a defeated, "Nine more documents and we're going."
Yuuri leant down and sat in front of the tombstone. It was made of some complicated type of rock, probably marble-or-other, and stood around four to maybe five feet high. A statuette of a small winged lion sat on top, calling elegance.
Shuffling, he placed the bouquet of flowers he had arranged himself earlier on the loose earth.
Behind him, Wolfram snorted. "Why the adornment?"
"Of course I wanted to give them to you personally, but… since I can't, then maybe this is the next best thing." He thought for a moment, then rearranged the flowers so that it lay directly beneath the tombstone on its side, like a baby left on somebody else's front door.
"I'm flattered," Wolfram said flatly.
Yuuri didn't reply. He skimmed over the carvings of the headstone, skipped the titles and dates and instead whispered the name, "Wolfram von Bielefeld."
He looked behind him, where Wolfram—Wolfram's ghost—was too busy looking at everything else but him. The sun broke through multiple canopies of trees and hit the now transparent body that mingled with the bright rays, further proving that he wasn't solid anymore.
Too late… so there's nothing you can do.
It seemed like such a long time ago. Wolfram had been terribly sick for days, and during that time Yuuri had to leave for home to finish his final exams, with a final promise that he'd read to him every night once he got back to help him sleep and have a ride with him, just the two of them, the moment he got better. He never got back in time.
The cause was unknown. Whether it had been a natural disease or a planned attack, the result was the same: night after night of painful, fitful sleep, vomiting, nausea, endless coughing and dizzy spells that led to hallucinations. Wolfram's body thinned, his skin paled to gray and the eyes dimmed dark until they could no longer see.
Three words spun in his head, again and again, as Conrad had explained woefully just two days before during dinner on the eve of his return: Wolfram is dead.
He had died in his sleep, fifteen days before Yuuri stepped out of that fountain.
Nobody else but Yuuri knew he was still lurking amongst them. They tried asking the Great One, but he wouldn't make an appearance. It was something they had to figure out on their own.
Yuuri moved to a more bountiful patch of grass to the right of the fresh mound. He looked up; Wolfram was still staring elsewhere. "Be with me, Wolf?" he called softly.
Wordlessly, Wolfram turned around and sat next to him. It had been a useless thing to request. Wolfram would always be with him if he could help it, alive or otherwise. He was still here, wasn't he?
There was this bittersweet feeling mixing in the pit of Yuuri's stomach, confusing him to no end, telling him how lucky he was that Wolfram hadn't Crossed Over the moment his time had ended, then contradicting the thought by telling him that there wouldn't be anything to mull over if Wolfram wasn't dead in the first place. Could he have done anything? Should he have stayed? Wracking his brain for a way out, Yuuri remained deep in contemplation, thoughts and emotions all in a flurry. Wolfram was there, and yet… he wasn't there.
Yesterday his mind was bombarded by difficult thoughts and so much guilt. Innumerable words ran through his head, scolding him, mocking him, numerous it's my fault… I should have… if only… if only… if only…!
Secretly, he had wept into his pillow, making sure he didn't sob and that his face was pressed full against the cushion. If Wolfram had been watching, then he didn't want him to see.
"Do you have any idea why you're still here?"
"Well, if you want me so badly to disappea—"
"No! Wolfram, please, can't we just talk normally?"
As he spoke, Yuuri was given a critical eye. "Don't do that."
"You're doing this because you feel guilty for leaving, aren't you?"
Yuuri chewed on his lip, eyebrows furrowed. He was tired of explaining, but he knew it wasn't because Wolfram was just being stubborn: he wanted reassurance. His spirit was restless, confused, not knowing which way to go or how to go there. "This isn't about that, okay? I know you hate it, but this isn't about that. I'm not doing this only because I feel guilty, even though I am still sorry, Wolfram."
Wolfram looked away, feigning irritation. "…There was nothing else you could do anyway."
Yuuri chose not to reply to that. Instead, "I'm the only one you can talk to now. Neither of us knows why, but I'm here for you, alright? Like you always have been for me. Still are, actually." He attempted a smile, and was relieved when he at least got a positive reaction. "I'll be here, okay?"
Wolfram could only nod, wondering how long those words would hold. Break that promise and there's nobody else I can talk to… tough luck.
After a while of silence and twittering birds, Wolfram spoke up once more with a clearer head. "Sorry Yuuri… I seem so bitter and irritable, it's…"
"Don't." Yuuri waved the apology away. What else could he say? That it wasn't his fault? That didn't seem too appropriate. So what came out instead was, "If it were me, I'd be pestering Murata and shouting at the Great One. You're stronger than I ever could be. I'd go nuts." Wolfram almost smiled. Spurred on by the reaction, Yuuri continued, "I'll always listen to you, 'kay?"
Wolfram made a soft sound that was something between a snort and a chuckle. "Do I have a choice of people who can listen to me?"
"Aw, come on, I'm not that bad."
"Yes, Yuuri, most times you are," Wolfram replied, although there was no malice in the words. It looked like a mix between a joke and the truth.
Yuuri fiddled with his hands in the typical Yuuri-manner. After letting the last comment slide a few, cautiously, he asked, "What was it like…?"
Yuuri nodded solemnly.
Wolfram stared ahead. As a child he had adopted the habit of plucking grass whenever he was playing for time, but that wasn't even an option anymore.
"I just woke up… feeling so much better. The pain was gone. And when I turned around, I found myself still lying on the bed. Didn't take me long to figure out that I was dead already. The worst part was probably when nobody could see me, not even feel me. I had expected Greta to, but… guess it was too much to hope for."
Wolfram played around with his fingers, because there was nothing else he could touch. He shrugged. "Days went past; I watched my own funeral and junk. It was so stuffy and uppity, you know, I think you would have been glad to have missed it. I found I could rattle teacups for fun and make things move, like papers, if I concentrated hard enough but it lost its edge. I got bored." He frowned then. "I stopped remembering. Who the three maids were, Greta's birthday, my element, my name… then you came back. It made things… different."
After that, Wolfram's mouth shut like a box, and Yuuri decided not to break the silence, at least for a while. "So… do you know why you're still here?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't be so calm right now, spending time as if I'm still alive. All I know is that it has something to do with you, since you brought most of my memories back when you returned. Stupid… I'm not sure if this is a curse or a blessing. It's like everyone's ignoring you. As if I've had enough of that already."
"Not everyone, right…? You have me… is it really that bad for me to be the only person who can talk to you now?" Yuuri tried to joke.
Ever so slowly, Wolfram looked at him. He didn't answer the question. Seriously, he asked, "Did you really mean what you said?"
Thinking quickly to whatever important declaration he had said a while ago, Yuuri thought of the right thing. "Yes." He looked Wolfram right in the eyes and squared his shoulders. "I can't help but feel that this is some sort of second chance. I know I haven't been that good to you Wolf. I'll make up for everything this time. And… I'm sorry. I'm a real wimp…"
"…Huh. Stop apologizing so much. It's unbecoming for a king."
Yuuri tried to read Wolfram's expression: the rest was as hard as stone, but the eyes; there was a shimmer of hope, a shard of sadness, a flash of… what was that…?
"If it's you then… maybe it's a blessing after all," Wolfram whispered.
They managed to return to Blood Pledge before the skies got much too dark, and wearily Yuuri rested his head on the pillow by the end of the day. Beside him, Wolfram was confronted by his own troubles, trying his best to remember why he had held himself back from the Gate.
"Still can't remember…?" Yuuri asked, face half-squashed into his pillow.
"No…" Wolfram muttered, huffing.
Yuuri chuckled slightly. "It's good to still have you here, Wolf," he managed to say before a yawn took over his face and threatened to split it in two.
Wolfram sighed. "Go to sleep Yuuri, you tired yourself out."
"Goodnight." A breath of wind whooshed around the room and the candles were extinguished.
A dream, he was sure it was a dream, hearing Wolfram's voice, soft and placid next to his pillow, slow and barely more than a whisper.
"I love you still."
"How do I look…?"
Wolfram thought for a while, perched on top of a chest of drawers, and finally said, "Extremely flustered."
"Noo…!" Yuuri pouted, tugging anxiously at his clothes. "Seriously! How do I look?"
"Yuuri…" Wolfram began, floating towards him and reaching out, then pulling his hands back in time to remember that they would just go right through Yuuri. "You have to stop being so nervous. Look, your clothes are half-crumpled already, and I can't even fix them. You should be used to this by now, such a wimp."
Yuuri sighed, faced the mirror, and tried his best to smoothen his clothes. "But it was so sudden! I didn't even know they could finish building so fast! I'm not very good at speeches when I have to do it with no time to prepare and have no idea what to say!"
"Oh for crying out loud, compose yourself." Wolfram crossed his arms. "I'll help you, alright?"
Yuuri immediately stopped fidgeting and snapped to attention. "You… will…?" His face shone hopefully. "How—…?"
"No one else can see me, remember? I'll tell you what you need to say if you pause too much. Sound good?"
"Oh Wolf!" Yuuri ceased fiddling with his garment, eyes lighting up considerably. "That would be great!" He made a move to go near him, but checked himself. He grinned instead. "Thanks."
"Unbelievable." Wolfram floated away to hide his deteriorating composure. "Hurry up, let's go."
The ride to the village wasn't too far, and took them less than an hour. Sandwiched between Conrad and a handful of other bodyguards, Yuuri couldn't talk to Wolfram so openly and was reduced to just listening to his advice. By the time they were halfway through their journey Conrad was left wondering if the reason for Yuuri's self-muttering and several nods was because of the sudden speech he would soon be saying for the inauguration of the new school, something he had approved of in one of the many documents he had had to sign a few months back.
The Easte Hive was one of the small, thirteen villages that clustered in a main community called the Nordern Hive, each one just a couple of minutes' walk from each other. The main gate led them in through the southernmost village, and as they passed each house the crowd grew and grew around them, excited at the king's arrival. The going was slow, and as the spectators and excited voices increased, Conrad had to focus on maneuvering themselves safely through, and Yuuri found that he could whisper to Wolfram easily without necessarily being caught.
"You got all that wimp?" Wolfram asked for the second time.
"I—I think so…" Yuuri mumbled, pinching his fingers and trying to remember everything at once, concentrating so hard that he forgot to reply 'I'm not a wimp.' "So I have to mention the mayor, and the school's name, and the mayor's daughter who suggested the idea… what was her name again…?"
"Polyhymnia!" Wolfram hissed for the umpteenth time.
"Right, right… oh don't look at me like that, it's hard to remember!" Yuuri whispered back. A small girl reaching up to give him flowers instantly gave him an odd look, and Yuuri had to smile wide to convince the child he wasn't crazy.
"Funny you should forget, she's been eyeing you ever since you started visiting Easte Hive to see how the schoo—!" Wolfram stopped in mid-rant.
No, no, it wouldn't do to get jealous now. He could accept Yuuri's affections, yes, but jealousy should no longer be entertained. He was dead. Yuuri was free of their engagement.
Suddenly the whole fact of the matter came crashing down on him like a heavy blow, and Wolfram faltered. Yuuri was free of any ties. Any time he could, wanted, he could go ahead and choose another partner, propose to anyone he loved. And Wolfram would be watching all these events that would surely come to pass, helpless. He had died without Yuuri's love. And he would spend the afterlife with reminders rubbing it in his face, as long as he was still here, as soon as Yuuri would choose another.
He hung back, floating in suspension above the heads of many animated villagers. Yuuri looked back and gave him a worried look, mouthing his name as discreetly as he could. Wolfram only shook his head.
"Go ahead, I'll meet you at the podium," he said over the din of the flowing crowd, and he flew away in the opposite direction, passing through the nearest building.
Immediately worried, Yuuri thought of turning Ao around and pursuing him, but he hadn't the slightest idea were Wolfram could have gone and making a U-turn amongst all the villagers could hurt somebody. Biting his lip and wishing he knew what was wrong, he urged Ao on, unable to do anything but wait for Wolfram to make his reappearance. The crowd followed and jostled, chanting happily, but Yuuri could have been deaf in their wake, so preoccupied was his mind. Fervently he wished he knew what had gone wrong.
They left the first village and passed two more, until the new school came into view. In front of it was a makeshift wooden stage surrounded by more villagers. Yuuri checked around him once more, but no trace of Wolfram was to be found.
"Your Majesty, it's time for you to get up there." Conrad's voice to his left made him jump.
"It's Yuuri," he replied half-heartedly. He got off Ao and the crowd parted for him. The podium wasn't far, and Yuuri wished it hadn't been so, because there was less time to stall. He walked to the center and everyone quieted down. He danced on the balls of his feet and took a deep breath. He opened his mouth but his heart wasn't in it.
Had Wolfram abandoned him…? Had he gone home to Blood Pledge Castle? Had he…
Had he Crossed Over already? And he didn't even tell him?
Eyes widening in irrational panic before a waiting crowd, Yuuri started to fidget and was about to make a run for it when a low voice whispered in his ear, "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Afterwards the villagers could only wonder if the demon king had squeaked because of an insect bite or a nasty cough.
Yuuri looked sideways at Wolfram, who stared at him equally back. He looked fine, at least, but Yuuri really couldn't tell unless all this was over and he had the time to ask.
The speech went fine. Wolfram had taught him to keep it short, but filled it with enough important words to make up for the length. Whenever he paused or stuttered, or would forget how to pronounce a word Wolfram would prompt him on with the most patient voice Yuuri could ever imagine him having. It reminded him of the times Wolfram would read bedtime stories to Greta from those flat little storybooks, and he got so inattentive at the past thoughts, confident with Wolfram's voice near him, that he suddenly wondered why everyone was clapping.
Yuuri risked a look to his right and whispered, "What…?"
"You're done! Wow wimp, even when you're the one delivering the speech, you're still inattentive."
To say the least, it had ended alright, even if Yuuri hadn't been that aware of it. The moment the ribbon cutting ceremony had ended Yuuri ran off to find a secluded area within the next town, and found himself in front of a bakery, the owner of which had opted to stay behind and look after the shop. He bought himself something to eat and asked the woman for a quiet place to stay to at least spare himself a few minutes of free time, the mass of the crowd having given him the feeling of near suffocation.
A few minutes later found a boy and a ghost sitting on a shady spot beside an abandoned mill, a stone's throw away from the far side of Easte Hive. The grass was fresh near the small river than ran under the millwheel, and for a while they were excused from the hustle of the new school and excited children.
"What happened? Why did you run away?"
Wolfram turned his head to the side, and muttered, "Nothing… just a whim of a spirit."
Yuuri frowned, unconvinced. He was about to prod some more, when Wolfram stated with a devilish grin, "That was some speech Yuuri. What did you say again?"
He groaned immediately, and Wolfram smirked at how easily his mind could be swayed. "Please don't remind me of that." Yuuri unwrapped his sweet meat and took a huge bite.
"Gee, slow down, what are you, a stress-eater?"
"No!" Yuuri replied with his mouth full. "But I do feel light-headed. This is the first time it's ever happened."
Wolfram only smirked. "Your fault."
Yuuri swallowed slowly and thought back. The only reason why he had said those words as if in a trance was because he had been too busy thinking how nice it was to have Wolfram there coaching him every step of the way, his presence so wonderfully solid despite reality that he had let himself be swept by the knowledge that there was someone beside him giving encouragement.
"Thank you Wolfram. You were wonderful," Yuuri said sincerely.
Wolfram blinked, as if surprised. "Your welcome…?" he said slowly, not at all expecting the sudden gratitude.
Smiling, Yuuri took another bite, and struck up conversation. In the mild open air far from any ears, he was free to talk to Wolfram out loud, and talk he did. He would have never thought he'd find common ground with Wolfram, at least not enough to be spending this much time with him, but as the shadows traveled he was proved sorely wrong. The moment was calm and leisurely, one to be stored and later reminisced, but it left Yuuri thinking if it could have been the same as when Wolfram was still alive, when he hadn't even given him the time of day.
If this is what true friendship with Wolfram is like… then I must have missed it entirely.
"Yuuri, there's a child behind us," Wolfram told him suddenly. Yuuri whipped around to see a young boy standing among the heather with a small bouquet of marigolds and chrysanthemums in one dirty hand.
"King Yuuri…?" He spoke softly.
"C'mere, little guy," Yuuri coaxed, and the child drew nearer. He presented the flowers shyly and before Yuuri's smile could fully grace his lips, the boy said, "For sir Wolfram." At the corner of his eyes, even Wolfram stopped moving.
"I'm… sorry…?" Yuuri rasped out, rigid.
"For your love's grave, sire…" the boy cleared out. "My sisters and our other neighbors and I picked some a while ago; we had wanted to attend the funeral and pay our respects, but maman deemed our best clothes too shabby for the occasion, so we waited for the days to pass and for the crowds to lessen, but the new school made us all busy. So we got some fresh ones today when we knew you were coming."
Yuuri didn't know why he breathed a sigh of relief, but he did. Next to him, Wolfram was looking peculiarly at the boy.
"Thank you," Yuuri finally managed as he accepted the quaint bouquet. The boy smiled sadly.
"I'm sorry if it brings you grief, sir Yuuri. You must miss him so."
Wolfram gave the boy a soft, unseen look. Here was one of the few children whose ears were not penetrated by rumors of the king's unwanted fiancé. He thought of floating away, not wanting to hear Yuuri's response to the child's remark, when the following words stopped him.
"I do…" Yuuri reached out and tousled the boy's hair. "I miss the way we used to eat together as family and even the way he sleeps in bed." Wolfram blushed furiously at the comment. "But he's still here."
Before Wolfram could open his mouth to ask if Yuuri was seriously considering telling the child that a spirit was hovering amongst them, a large, tanned hand had cradled the child's own and placed the small fingers over the black material covering Yuuri's heart.
"Yes. Right here."
"In mine too…?" the boy asked hopefully.
"Of course." Yuuri smiled. "What's your name little guy?"
"Thank you Ellis…" Yuuri glanced quickly at Wolfram, who gave him an uncertain look, and added, "I'm sure Wolfram is telling you his thanks right now too."
Ellis grinned happily, revealing two missing front teeth, and after a quick bow and many goodbyes, he ran off to join the rest of the crowd just barely audible from their spot near the river.
"You didn't have to lie to the kid, Yuuri. At least spare him that much," Wolfram grumbled stiffly.
"What? I wasn't lying," Yuuri replied, admiring the marigolds. Whether it had been about remaining in his heart or being missed, Wolfram didn't bother to ask. Their situation right now was light and affable; he didn't want to ruin the moment.
You're dead. You're dead Wolfram, you have no more right to be hurt.
"You're… not believing me, are you?" Yuuri asked with a helpless smile. Wolfram only gave him a dull look, and the answer was already there. "Sorry… I guess that's my fault. But really, I wasn't lying."
"Keep saying that Yuuri." Oh, but indeed he wanted so much to believe in those words. Wanted to believe so much. He sighed. "I'm sorry Yuuri, I'm doing it again…"
"It's okay." Yuuri smiled. The epitome of Wolfram wasn't really complete without his haughtiness, and Wolfram's ghost right now didn't seem much too complete—of course, which spirit would be?—but Yuuri was adamant in keeping things 'like the old days' as much as he was allowed to, at least for Wolfram's sake. "It's okay," he repeated. His words must have gotten through, because Wolfram calmed somewhat, at least on the surface, and Yuuri continued to eat. He started talking again, eager to make most of their peaceful time before Conrad would come looking for them—him—and usher them—him!—to some other kingly duty.
"Can you really get things to move?" Yuuri asked presently, and the question seemed to pose as a tricky one when Wolfram started thinking hard for a few given seconds.
"Hm… Haven't you ever wondered why, in ghost stories, things move or loud noises are made? Heck, the Great One himself is an example," Wolfram began.
Yuuri looked at him with awe, coaxing him to go on. "How do you do it then…?"
Wolfram rubbed his head. "It's hard to explain… it's like… we have a different kind of magic now. No, I guess I wouldn't call it that; it's more like energy. We somehow 'cause' things to happen. It's not that strong though, and it won't last very long. The wind is our channel. It's how we connect to everything else. Sometimes it's a pain to travel through, though."
Amused, Yuuri chuckled, then bit into his pastry. "What about your fire magic?"
"Well… some say that a portion of a person's prowess in magic will be carried on into ghosthood… and I guess it's somewhat true." He blew gently at their feet, and already the dead leaves lying on the ground were swirling in crazy fashion. "I can still control a small amount of fire, but I need a close source; I can't call it on a whim now. Heat is easy, however."
Yuuri nodded slowly. He finished the last of his sweet meat with one big bite and later protested and sputtered when Wolfram started laughing and told him he looked like a cow.
When Yuuri next found Wolfram, he was in Greta's bedroom. His daughter was taking her afternoon nap, and as she dreamed Wolfram sat by the edge of her bed. He sang to her the familiar lullaby, a favorite song of rubies and red-breasted robins, slow and quiet in his chirruping voice.
The door creaked as Yuuri entered, and Wolfram stopped singing and looked up. Almost immediately he turned away, face a concoction of misery and embarrassment from having been caught.
Yuuri neared him, and sadly Wolfram said, "I keep forgetting she can't hear me anymore." But even as he spoke, he let his hand trail along the contours of Greta's jaw, and continued singing, whispering, in his ghost's voice, "… jeweled robin fly away, sprung from rubies unearthed by men, lest the witch cage you again, fly, fly far away…"
Greta gasped, her eyes snapped open and she shot up, the covers ballooning around her waist. Wolfram gasped himself and swooped up a few inches.
Wide, innocent eyes moved madly around the room, looking. It was only Yuuri she saw. "Where is he?" she almost demanded.
"Greta?" Yuuri asked.
"Papa Wolfram! He was here!" she insisted, on the brink of breaking apart. "I felt his hand on my face. He just sang to me. The jeweled robin…" Yuuri just gave her a sad look, unable to tell her. It would only hurt.
Then she cried, because she knew she was wrong, although she necessarily wasn't.
And even if Wolfram wanted nothing more in the world to hug her, comfort her, dry her tears and comb her hair, it was Yuuri who gathered her up in his arms, patted her back and rocked her, and tucked the sheets under the chin when she had no more strength left to cry.
Hurt and feeling useless, Wolfram fled the room before Greta's head hit the pillow, before Yuuri could utter a word in protest.
An hour later, Yuuri's search brought him to a rickety wooden door in one far corner of the north wing. Wolfram was sitting on the floor in one of the smallest rooms in the castle, a room for brooms and buckets and mops. In the middle of that desolate closet he sat, in a puddle of sunlight that streamed in through the closest bare window. The dying daylight of the sinking sun turned the grey stones yellow, and as the walls half-glowed, Wolfram blended into them. It made him hard to see, and maybe that was what he was striving for.
Wordlessly, Yuuri walked in and sat right next to him, their shoulders touching, and yet not touching, at the same time.
"You look like sunlight, you know," Yuuri ventured.
Wolfram only snorted. But it was true.
Yuuri shifted uncomfortably.
The desire to touch, to hold Wolfram, was there now, but he missed all the chances he could have gotten. His mother once said that sometimes just a simple, caring touch was all you needed to let someone know you cared. But Wolfram was barred from that sensation. To touch was an easy thing… but words were more difficult to handle, slipping and being interpreted in ways that could not be expected.
"Wolf, please say something."
Wolfram shook his head. Then he shook his head some more. When he next spoke his voice sounded wet.
"I always tell myself to be strong but when there's nothing to distract me it's so hard Yuuri. I thought I was okay, I thought I was fine the way things were, but I'm still not! I keep thinking about things that could have been if I hadn't… I… She's right there…! Everyone else is right there. I see my mother crying when she's alone, Gwendal hasn't stopped frowning and… Conrart. He's beginning to look like Brother! And I can't… I can't… not even a single breath to let them know I can see them, know that I'm still here, tell them how much I—…" He trailed off, unable to continue, and for the longest time the room was filled with difficult silence.
Yuuri had never felt so helpless in his life.
After a while, Wolfram whispered, "It's okay Yuuri. It's no use. I'm just being stupid. You don't have to be here; I'm only keeping you. You can leave. Just please leave." He bore holes into the floor.
"No…" Yuuri pressed his lips, having none of it. "I think I've done enough of that already." Wolfram lifted his head wearily and gave him a confused look. "And I'm sorry, I know there's not much I can do to cheer you up, Wolf, but… well, I hope to do some good just by… well, you know, being here." He fidgeted for something more important to say, but found nothing. "I'm not good with words… but if I can offer any comfort by being with you… then can I stay?"
Wolfram as of yet couldn't think of a proper retort, still burdened with persistent thoughts, but somehow his heart—or the ghost of his heart—felt lighter. Then immediately afterward he inwardly berated himself for being so stupid. Why now? Why couldn't Yuuri have brought himself to care when he was still breathing?
He closed his eyes and tried to think. Or tried not to. It was useless. Feelings were no longer a debatable issue. In the first place, Yuuri wasn't even supposed to be looking after him. He was dead. But now that Yuuri was the only person who could see him he was torn between turning away and relishing the attention he was finally getting.
The mind told him to disappear from Yuuri's eyes.
The heart told him to accept what was currently given him.
The mind said there were more important things the king had to take care of; like people, for instance.
The heart said Wolfram wasn't bothering anyone anyway. All he needed were a few kind words his way…
Did he even still have a heart?
Trying desperately to think on the brighter side of things, Wolfram told himself that he wouldn't have to succumb to castle gossip anymore, wouldn't have to look perfect to every single eye out there just waiting for him to make a wrong move. No duties, no fatigue, no deadlines, no disapproving whispers, no rumors…
It was a small shred of happiness compared to all the bleakness that surrounded him that moment, but Wolfram would take what he could get.
His mouth didn't move, but his eyes said thank you, and Yuuri understood. Wolfram closed his eyes, and hoped that he was doing the right thing. He would stay. He was dead anyway, right? He wasn't a soldier anymore, but his feelings… no matter how disagreeable they sometimes were, they remained. Wolfram wrapped his hands around his arms, hugging himself, because no one else could.
"Come here, Wolf…" Yuuri flicked his hands eagerly.
"What is it?"
"Just follow me." They crept across the hall, meeting no one as they moved. It was suspicious to Wolfram, who was used to so many maids and soldiers and people roaming about everywhere.
"Where are you taking us? Just tell me," Wolfram countered.
"Then it wouldn't be a surprise."
Wolfram looked stunned, and Yuuri couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry. I guess I don't give you enough of these do I?" He gave Wolfram an apologetic smile.
Yuuri was presented a good long look, and for a while their pace slowed down. Wolfram formed a soft smirk, and an even softer, "Wimp…"
"Here…" Yuuri murmured, pushing against lightly-colored double doors, feeling more confident after hearing his pet name after such a long while.
"Here?" Wolfram parroted as he wafted inside. One of the few things he liked as a ghost (next to walking through walls, probably) was flight. He was useless on a boat, and that time on earth in the—what was it called? air-play? he felt too much of the serious matters at hand and hadn't been able to decide whether that ride on the giant grey bird had been something he disliked or not.
But he was weightless now, and it was him, just him, who was floating around, not some contraption he had to be encased in or a boat that rocked him every which way the sea wanted. It felt wonderful.
He took a look around. "It's just an empty ballroom, Yuuri. One of the older ones. Why here?"
Yuuri said nothing as he strode over to the middle of the room. It was, indeed, one of the older ones used for parties and gatherings many moons ago, but after the bigger ballroom had been built on the east side, it was rarely used. Floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows decorated opposite walls, and through one side of them streamed chunks of late afternoon light, coloring the plain tiles and walls softly as if a handful of jewelry had been scattered across the floor.
"Could you… uh… come down for a bit, please, Wolf?"
Wolfram eyed Yuuri curiously, the request sounding a little lopsided seeing as he was only an inch above ground. Consenting, he floated down lightly and concentrated on anchoring himself to the solid world. Phasing through walls and floors always felt like dipping himself in water, feeling that line where everything else ended and the water began. He felt like a bug balancing on surface tension.
Suddenly there was the soft and yet piercing sound of a flute. The note reverberated around the hall and it so startled Wolfram that he jerked up for a couple of seconds in midair. The flute was followed by a violin, cello, harp and he thought he could even hear the notes of a baby grand piano until the hall was filled with soft-flowing music, although it sounded slightly muffled.
"Where…?" Wolfram began. Yuuri grinned and jerked his head towards a dark red cloth hanging at the far end of the hall.
Behind that dusty tapestry, Wolfram remembered with much ado, was a small hollow of sorts, a plan for a sitting room—in case nobles needed a quieter place to talk—which was never finished. Instead of sealing the opening up, someone had instead thought of covering the gaping hole with a large drapery. Many a visitor back in the day found themselves falling back after leaning on the velvet curtain, thinking there was solid wall on the other side.
Wolfram still eyed it curiously, gracefully floating back down, until he heard Yuuri's voice whisper, "Would you dance with me Wolfram?"
Whipping his head back at the wimp, Wolfram said, "…You planned this…?"
Sheepishly toeing the tiles with his foot, Yuuri nodded and meekly put forth a hand.
"Umm… you do know you can't touch me, right?"
Yuuri just shrugged, his hand still outstretched, face now donning such a hopeful look that Wolfram consented with a bite on his otherwise insubstantial lip. He reached out, the feel of Yuuri's hand now gone, gone, replaced, as if he was just dipping his hand in a pool and holding onto nothing else.
Yuuri, for his part, was trying his best to keep his fingers in sync with Wolfram's, careful not to phase through the pale hand. Swallowing hard, he took the first step and led the dance.
A few steps in and Wolfram noticed Yuuri's brow furrowed in deliberation, a frown on his mouth, not even looking him in the eyes, but at their feet. He allowed himself a small laugh and said, "Wimp, there's nothing to step on down there, you know. My face is up here, however transparent." He couldn't help but be happy about Yuuri's sudden gift.
Quickly, Yuuri brought his head up. "Sorry, it's a habit…" he mumbled with a shy smile. "You're not that transparent, y'know…"
Wolfram only grinned and teased instead, seeing as how concentrated Yuuri still seemed. "Did you practice for this?"
With a pout and a look to one side, Yuuri muttered, "So what if I did…?"
The smile didn't come until a few seconds later, but what made Yuuri look back was the light. He couldn't call it a glow, but there was a faint sheen of brightness around Wolfram's form that made Yuuri think he was really happy at that moment, smile or no smile.
"So… you stuck a full orchestra behind that dusty drapery just for this?" Wolfram asked, a grin now fully forming on his face, saying the words in a teasing tone so that it wouldn't be such a big letdown if Yuuri said no.
"Well… just for you," Yuuri started slowly. "D'ya like it…?"
Wolfram nodded heartily. "I love it Yuuri." Then he smirked. "Took you long enough, wimp."
After finishing one song, they danced to the next one, and Yuuri felt right for the first time in days, knowing he had been able to do something.
"…It's… my way of saying sorry. For all the dances I wasn't able to give you," Yuuri whispered. He flexed his fingers, thinking he could actually have a chance to hold him more, but it was as hard as grabbing on to a soap bubble; no, maybe he had a better chance of touching a bubble.
Wolfram didn't reply anymore.
"Can you feel my hand, Wolf?" Yuuri whispered slowly. He dared hope.
"No…" Wolfram answered just as sluggishly. He blinked, as if fighting off a dream. "Not your hand… just you. More of you than I've ever felt in my whole life."
Yuuri's hands trembled slightly, wishing for nothing more than a break in the solemn atmosphere. The wish having been granted, as he raised his hand to spin Wolfram around, he found that he hadn't quite lifted it high enough and the crown of that sun-kissed head whooshed through Yuuri's arm. The strangest sensation washed over him.
They stopped for a bit, and the musicians strained their ears to the king's laughter, unknowing of the other musical voice laughing along with him, slow and uncertain at first, but growing louder a few seconds later.
They danced. Their echoing footsteps mingled with the slow-paced music, and as the room's golden colors faded to a calm blue, Yuuri could have sworn Wolfram was glowing again, the remains of his laughter watered down to a smile—a smile!—lingering on the corners of those lips.
"I'll make things right Wolf… as much as I can. I won't slip up this time, please?" Yuuri vowed, asking for—the last time, he told himself—a second chance.
Wolfram eyed him for a minute, clearly thinking, straining. Then, "Fine. Make it up to me, wimp."
Don't dwell on the past. Stop looking back. Think of the now. Now is wonderful.
Yuuri beamed, exquisitely pleased. Afterwards, he was given a droll look, which meant that Wolfram probably thought he looked ridiculously too happy, but Yuuri didn't care, as long as there was a smile on that face.
Like sunlight in his fingertips, was the gentle, happy thought, the thought that kept Yuuri going for the many days that followed.
Wolfram was living the dream, just when there was no more life left to be living it with.
Despite it all, he was extremely confused, wondering if it was still right to love Yuuri even as a ghost, and get flustered with every single affectionate thing given him. The fact that Yuuri did this more everyday was not helping: he spent every waking moment with him and left no place of Wolfram to be alone, talked to him whenever he felt left out, always finished his paperwork and kept still in his studies (to the amazement of both Gwendal and Gunter) along with the words, "You know, so you won't have to worry so much anymore," and every afternoon, when the castle was at peace and general work stilled, he surprised Wolfram by daily coaxing him, asking him to tell more about himself, saying Wolfram knew most things about him but he didn't know much about Wolfram in turn, and he wanted to fix that.
And it felt good, knowing there was someone listening, even encouraging him to do the talking. Within a short span of days, he had revealed himself to Yuuri more than to anyone else in his entire life. Most people would have had to spend years with Wolfram to learn what he told Yuuri in only a couple of days. Granted it took quite some time to actually remember more about himself, his days in the living realm having dulled his memories, but with each recalled piece of himself his old life seemed much easier to remember. With every word that spilled he felt much lighter.
In some way, a part of one of his deepest wishes was granted: he was always with Yuuri, if it wasn't the other way around. Nobody was there, rather, nobody could see him to tell him otherwise, drag him away for some other military duty and keep him from his king.
He believed in the idea that he had already convinced himself to just accept Yuuri's fondness, now that it was suddenly being given, and forget about the fact that he was much too dead to be doing anything about said affections. But it was hard to suddenly up and start drinking everything in. A part of him that lived and died and stayed with him in his spirit life, the part that rested on tense springs for rejection, kept bobbing up and down on the surface, and it was so hard to suppress.
However, there was one thing that surprised him the most: it was the fact that Yuuri never looked at any women the way he dreaded Yuuri would look, now that he was dead. He mulled over the thought that Yuuri might just be doing it to keep him happy now, then would turn tables once (or if?) Wolfram Crossed Over, but unless he was incorrect, Yuuri's dedication seemed to be genuine…
There was a slight breeze in the air that brushed through most of the tall grass and posed as a bit of a challenge for Wolfram, who had never gone farther than the palace gardens, and even the place of his burial was decorated with festoons of trees that made the trip easy. Currently he was focusing on keeping his direction straight, and was getting the hang of it.
If only the same could be said for his King.
"Yuuri wait, think this through! You didn't bring anyone else with you, anything could happen," Wolfram declared as he struggled to fly right next to Ao. Maybe he should have been practicing flight at home, but how was he supposed to know that Yuuri had suddenly planned another surprise for them? This time it was a horse ride. Rather, to onlookers if there happened to be any, the king was practicing his riding. By himself.
And it had to be windy.
"But I promised you didn't I? We'd go on a ride, just the two of us, once… well you know…"
"That could only have applied if I had lived. I'm dead now, who's supposed to protect you when something happens?" Wolfram exclaimed, determined to make Yuuri see reason. Although the offer was sweet enough in itself, he could never bear it if he would be the one to endanger the king.
"Relax Wolf, we've gone here hundreds of times and nothing's ever happened."
"I can't remember everything yet, you know that. You could probably be pulling my leg and I wouldn't know." By this time Wolfram had complete control over the wind and tested his new prowess by shooting ahead of Ao. The charger, suddenly conscious of another presence, halted with an upset snort, stamping his foot and tossing his head. Yuuri could have just as easily passed through Wolfram, but he pulled on his steed's reins out of respect, patting Ao on the neck.
"Come on, Wolfram, please?"
"You wimp! What if something happens to you?"
"That's okay, isn't it?" Yuuri smiled. "Then… I'd be with you."
The reply caught Wolfram off guard and for a while, he remained floating there, stunned. Almost as soon as the shock came, a look of pure outrage overtook his face, and his cheeks took on an indignant shade of pink as much as his transparency could allow.
"You… you…" he spluttered. "Horrible, selfish, stupid wimp! Pig!" Wolfram screeched, playing it safe, giving Yuuri the chance to deny his current claim as well as allowing himself a small escape from rejection. Yes, even as a spirit, there was still such a thing. Nevertheless, he was still truly worried and scared for Yuuri to the point that he raised his arms at the other's direction and sent a gale of dirt and dead leaves at him. Yuuri shielded his eyes. Ao nickered reproachfully.
"What? What?" Yuuri asked, bewildered.
"Do you really think… hell, Yuuri! I'd blame myself forever if something happened to you! Don't go around taking death so lightly either! It's not a joke!" he spat. "Stupid… stupid… won't even think twice…! Stupid king!" Not only was Yuuri going around declaring that he would gladly welcome death with open arms, but he had…
He said it was okay… because Wolfram would be there at the other end.
Wolfram shook his head. No, he might be reading into things too seriously. Yuuri could just be joking. To accept his affections was one thing, but to even nurse the thought that Yuuri might lo—
Muttering and cursing under his breath, he floated around, to and fro, like a large piece of confetti. "I'm sorry Wolfram…" Yuuri said. "I didn't mean to make you upset."
"Well, you did Yuuri, I'm upset." And he crossed his arms and pouted in the typical Wolfram way. "Do you even know what you're saying?"
Yuuri scratched his head and tried to calm down the worried whirlwind that was Wolfram. "Wolf… I'm sorry. Don't be so worried, I didn't mean to cause you trouble. I just meant that… if ever that happens, it'd be okay, because you would be there, wouldn't you?"
Wolfram sighed, not unlike Gwendal. He felt like he was being spun around in circles. After years of waiting, finally getting a positive reaction from Yuuri was suddenly… incredible. As in, hardly credible at all. He wasn't even something Yuuri should consider anymore. His purpose, as either protector or the unwanted fiancé, was no longer applicable.
Keeping Yuuri's previous comments lodged deep in his mind for further contemplation much later on, Wolfram pretended to brush away the thought and said, "Yes, Yuuri, I'd be there. In fact, I'm here already, even when I'm not supposed to be! You're another matter entirely! You shouldn't care about me anymore, Yuuri. What's the worst that could happen to me? It's your people you should think about." And before Yuuri could say another word, he added, "Now lead the way already, and keep your head down just in case."
"Fine…" Yuuri clicked his reins and Ao strode forward. He gave Wolfram beside him a knowing grin, cheeks coloring. "I'll still think about you Wolf," he said, innocently bold. Then he broke Ao into a gallop, leaving a very pink Wolfram in his wake.
By the time they had reached their destination Wolfram had had enough time to himself to regain some of his composure. He spotted Yuuri beside Ao, patting the animal on the neck and taking deep breaths, grinning happily.
"Isn't this nice, Wolfram?" he said, still beaming and spreading his arms wide. "I've always liked this place."
And indeed it was a place to be loved. The hill was high and huge, wide enough at the top to sport a few silver trees growing a few feet apart that turned part of the sky the color of a half-crown when you looked up through the foliage, and there was even a tiny pond in the middle where you could float paper boats in. Isolated from too many treading feet by yards of artemisia and tulip fields, it was a peaceful place where the air smelled fresh and where the wind never stopped blowing.
Wolfram himself had been there two times since they had found out about it, the other opportunities to go there with Yuuri and Conrad and Greta interrupted by patrols or unfinished soldier training. Now as the memories returned he wished he had skipped all of those in exchange for one more normal outing with family. Sighing, he willed himself not to think about anything regrettable during this present moment and told himself to think about the now, not for the first time. He joined Yuuri, who was sitting among the outer ring of trees that bordered the top of the hill, making sure to stay near his left and using him as a barricade from the oncoming wind.
When he chuckled suddenly, Wolfram gave Yuuri a queer look. "What's so funny?"
"I just remembered something…" Yuuri suppressed another laugh and looked sideways at Wolfram. "Remember when Greta was playing and she rolled down the hill just for fun?"
Wolfram blinked, trying to recall, and when the memory surfaced his flat-pressed lips turned into a smile. "Yes." He laughed softly. "I think she was doing that on purpose just to make Günter worry and make him do that 'dance' he usually does around you."
Yuuri laughed outright. "It was funny."
"You wimpy father!" Wolfram stopped himself just in time from elbowing Yuuri on the side. That would have been embarrassing. Nevertheless, he found himself grinning as well. "You told her to go faster!"
"Haha… You were at the bottom of the hill to catch her anyway if she rolled too far, right?"
Wolfram smiled. "It was way better than what you did."
Yuuri chuckled, fingering a blade of grass. A sudden thought struck him and he turned to look at Wolfram curiously, who was currently envious of his ability to pluck clover.
"Hey Wolf, what if…?"
Wolfram removed his eyes from the perforated blade. "Hn?"
"I…" Yuuri hesitated. His thoughts had abruptly been something rather bold to say.
"What?" Wolfram pressed on.
Yuuri scattered the tiny green confetti he had demoted the grass to, and inhaled. "I've… never really realized how much I've depended on you before." While Wolfram blushed in the background, Yuuri submerged himself in deep thought.
Telling someone else of Wolfram's presence had been a prominent urge for the last few days. It might have brought a little spark of joy into anyone else who would have known that Wolfram was not completely gone. But some part of him, some strange, selfish, irrational part, wanted Wolfram all for himself. And determined not to deem this want as something wrong on his part, he told himself that it might not just bring happiness, but sadness as well, if anyone else knew about Wolfram's spirit. A year had already passed, and to know that he had been there all along, and yet not even be able to speak to him, hear him or see him, was something he didn't want to burden on anyone else. So Wolfram remained a secret. Remained "his." And there was no denying the fact that he was truly happy things were just so.
"Sorry, if the reason you might still be here is because I keep needing you so much…" he said, and for that moment no truer words could have been spoken.
Wolfram stammered and blinked several times, at a loss for what to say. The initial retort would have been "Of course you should, I'm your fiancé," but… no. "You wimp… where else would I want to be?"
"It's not just about how you helped me back at the new school way back then, and several other occasions after that, but… everything. You help me keep up with all the paperwork, give me advice, you even manage to take care of me and Greta by telling me when to eat and how to watch over her in turn and… you keep me company all the time."
"You don't mind?" Wolfram asked incredulously at the grateful tone in which Yuuri said his words.
"No, of course not… you're even helping me more than I do you," Yuuri replied with a soft smile.
"Don't just disregard that, Yuuri. You've been… wonderful to me," Wolfram said shyly. Unable to take it, he looked away.
Yuuri chuckled and found the gesture cute, then afterwards realized that he didn't mind thinking of Wolfram that way. Actually, he didn't mind a lot of things now. Wolfram was as much a part of his everyday as everything else was. The morning wasn't even normal anymore if he didn't find himself waking up to the sight of Wolfram's extremely pale body hovering over one side of his bed, and anytime he disappeared from sight Yuuri would go into outmost panic.
"So… if this is the case…" Wolfram raised an eyebrow in question, but Yuuri continued anyway, "then you might be here for a long time then…?"
"Because now that I think about it… I don't think there will ever be a time when I won't need you."
Yuuri almost laughed when he felt the sudden heat next to him, as if Wolfram was steaming. Beneath his blushing ghostly form, the grass almost seemed to be smoldering.
They sat in their companionable atmosphere, once Wolfram had cooled down, talking about things past and things to come, laughing and telling and either would occasionally wrinkle his nose in disbelief or worry or excitement. Wolfram had never been more content in his afterlife. The sun moved its course as they spent their time until it made its journey towards the other end of the sky, behind their backs. And almost, Yuuri could imagine two shadows moving on the grass.
Yuuri slumped onto his four-poster bed face first, relishing the softness of the covers. "Ohhh am I tired…" he mumbled.
Almost immediately he felt Wolfram's presence drifting beside him. "Not dying there, are you wimp? It's your own birthday!"
"Günter went all out on this one." Yuuri rolled himself over and found Wolfram hovering above him a couple of feet away, chin on his hands, lying flat on his stomach as if he were peering at him from above an invisible rooftop. Yuuri grinned up at him tiredly, not minding it. Not minding at all. "I said I only wanted a few close friends and he invited…well, a lot."
Wolfram laughed. He flipped himself over and floated down easily next to Yuuri, who gladly welcomed the close company. "It's Günter after all." He turned his head sideways to look Yuuri in the eyes. "Are you happy?"
"Very much, Wolf," Yuuri replied truthfully enough. He rolled to his side to get a better look at Wolfram.
A few seconds later, Wolfram mimicked his actions, their bodies so close now that they were almost touching. He kept his ground, waiting for Yuuri to stutter and back away, but no such thing happened. Wolfram smiled. "Happy birthday Yuuri…" he whispered.
Yuuri beamed, the words suddenly sounding so much bigger after being said from Wolfram's lips. "Thanks, Wolf."
He sighed. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I can even get you anything…"
"It's fine!" Yuuri said immediately, reaching out then quickly retracting his hand. "I mean… it's alright. You've been with me through everything these past two years, more than anyone. It's more than enough."
Wolfram continued to peer at him, unsatisfied. Biting his lip, Yuuri inched his hand out once more, and silently urged Wolfram to do the same. As their fingers met, Yuuri felt nothing, and though he knew the matter was impossible it didn't stop him from becoming slightly disappointed… then a strange warmth brushed at his fingertips and embraced his whole body, filling his heart and mind with the strangest and most pleasant vibrations. Wolfram stared at him, eyes half-coated with an inexplicable glaze, before he pulled his white hand away a few seconds later. Yuuri closed his mouth and swallowed, curling his fingers. Then Wolfram's question seemed to pop out of nowhere.
"Why didn't you dance with anyone tonight?" he asked quietly, their close proximity no longer requiring a loud voice.
Yuuri blinked. "What do you mean?"
"You heard me, Yuuri."
"I danced with you, didn't I?"
Wolfram stared at him, long and hard. Their small moment in the balcony… Yuuri had requested for them to spend a few minutes outside and was surprised when a hand was suddenly presented before him the moment the orchestra struck their first chord. It was the first dance. And Yuuri had it with him.
Wolfram narrowed his eyes the slightest bit, but he wasn't annoyed as much as he was confused. "I'm dead, Yuuri. It doesn't apply. You didn't even have to dance with me at all."
"I can dance with whomever I want…"
"Yuuri, please stop." Wolfram sat upright, and Yuuri followed, worried now. If things didn't turn out right then this would be their first argument in two years. "You've kept me company long enough. And you have no idea how grateful I am for every single minute you've spent with me. But if I'm the reason why you still can't find another partn—"
"I don't want another partner," Yuuri said, looking at him through serious eyes, throwing Wolfram off balance. Still he continued, however.
"Listen to yourself! This can't go on! You don't think I've noticed, Yuuri? No matter how much I adored it, loved it, you can't keep treating me like I'm the only thing in this castle. I'm strong enough on my own. You hardly even talk to anyone else anymore." Wolfram threw his hands up and sighed. "But I guess it's my fault. Even now I keep following you everywhere… so… maybe it's best if I—"
"Wolfram…" Yuuri said sharply, knowing no other way to fully get his attention. "I love my time with you. I wouldn't want it with anyone else. I can't imagine it with anyone else. It has to be you. You can't…" He tried again, the desperation striking a pitch in his voice and perplexing Wolfram even more. "You can't just up and leave. If you do I'd go mad thinking about what would have happened to you."
"Yuuri…!" Wolfram exclaimed despairingly, as if suddenly tired of it all, tired of trying to get through.
"Tomorrow," Yuuri declared suddenly. "We'll go to the hill and celebrate my birthday, just us two."
"Oh Yuuri there you go agai—"
"Tomorrow…" Yuuri repeated, his voice unsteady but his mind made up. He shifted around and stared at the opposite wall. Behind him he heard Wolfram heave a frustrated sigh, followed by the slight tickle of a wind that signalled his disappearance. Where Wolfram went during the night hours was the only time Yuuri didn't worry too much about his whereabouts.
How was he going to explain himself? First he had been troubled by the fact that he was engaged to a boy, and a boy was someone he couldn't picture himself loving. Now the matter seemed much simpler compared to his present predicament.
It had crept up on him unawares… softly.
He'd sometimes find himself just admiring Wolfram whenever he stared off into the distance, sorry to see him grounded to the living but ten times happier still knowing that he remained there. Yuuri had been blessed with a second chance to make things right again, but as moment after moment was spent to make up for his previous and many grievances with Wolfram, the words 'making it up to him' were discarded to the back of his mind and was replaced with simply having a good time with his late fiancé. Gone was the guilt, the striving force that urged him to 'take care of Wolfram.' Now it seemed they took care of each other instead.
He enjoyed himself as much as Wolfram did. Whenever something troubled him or good news was afoot, Wolfram was the first person that came into his mind to talk to, and he had even persuaded Conrad to let him run his morning jogs alone so he could do it with Wolfram and talk to him openly. Wolfram wasn't simply a boy anymore, wasn't a ghost either. He was just a person, just him.
He wouldn't name the phenomenon at first, letting it occur without ever giving it a label, but soon enough the emotions were too strong to ignore, and fear was driven away. He craved for Wolfram's presence more and more, irrationally, and the desire to touch, to even just feel his hand was so strong it burned and left his eyes stinging with tears for his own stupidity. He had had the opportunity long ago, and blatantly he had ignored it.
He didn't realize how strongly he had needed Wolfram before the night of the dying news, the night he had trembled and fled the dining room, away from Conrad's words, away from 'Wolfram is dead,' away from Greta's cries… the night he had found Wolfram, Wolfram's ghost, standing in the middle of his room, lost and confused… the night he had reached out to touch him and found his hand passing through Wolfram's garment as if it were nothing… the night he reminded Wolfram of his memories, the same night he was reminded in turn that Wolfram really wasn't alive anymore…
Night after sleepless night was spent battling with his internal self, scolding, mocking, telling him that Wolfram deserved much better. How could Yuuri confess anything now that the person of his affections was dead?
What was wrong with him?
Sleeping with Wolfram, allowing him in the baths, laughing with him, offering countless flowers to his grave, grooming his horse, doing anything, everything with him… Yuuri had hoped that it would get through, that Wolfram would realize why he had done so much, but what then?
Morning came much too soon, and Yuuri barely even remembered falling asleep. Wolfram was there beside him, greeting him like the usual, and Yuuri was relieved and troubled at the same time. He would tell him… he would tell him today. No matter what. He at least owed Wolfram this much truthfulness, even if it might hurt, even if it was completely stupid and useless on his part, even if it was too late. Even if it could severe their ties completely.
He didn't know how right he was.
They departed for the hill earlier than the usual, Yuuri escaping the castle's eyes and ears one more time with great success. They talked as they journeyed, but it was quiet and conserved, like a prelude to something much, much bigger. Sooner than Yuuri would have liked, the tulip field lay bare before them, and he urged Ao on, Wolfram following.
The grass swayed while Yuuri got off his mount, as if waiting in bated breath. He remained standing and let Ao do as he pleased.
"Yuuri… what's wrong? You've been acting like this ever since you woke up."
"Wolf, I…" Yuuri rocked on his feet, then immediately stopped himself. He blinked back the ridiculous wetness that seemed to be forming behind his eyelids. "I have something to tell you…"
"What is it?" Wolfram asked, genuinely worried.
He felt a pulse throbbing in his ears, his heart beating quickly in his chest; then he thought of Wolfram, to whom he was confessing to, where no heart did there beat.
He took three quick breaths. "Wolfram I—!"
A shock of white light burst from nowhere, shining strongly behind Wolfram and rendering him more angelic in appearance. Alarmed, Yuuri brought a hand up to shield his eyes from the brightness. Wolfram, however, seemed unperturbed by it all. There was a strange look playing on his face: his lips smiled, but his eyes resembled broken glass.
The cogs and wheels in Yuuri's head started turning more rapidly than it had ever had to before. Along with it was the quickly rising feeling of dread. Wolfram didn't get held back from the Gate because Yuuri needed him; this was about what Wolfram wanted, whatever he desired before Crossing Over… the timing was uncanny, and the only reason Yuuri could think of why he had chosen to stay was to wait for Yuuri, wait for Yuuri to…
"No…" he whispered, his voice steadily growing louder, "no, no, no! Wolfram no!"
Wolfram only gave him that same smile, the rest of his face clouded by his own silhouette as the glow continued to spread. Along with the brightness came a rush of wind that belonged to that world, and it ruffled Yuuri's hair and sent the fallen petals all around them flying helter-skelter, obscuring the white noise.
"I knew I was dying, Yuuri. And I was torn… to stay here and watch you grow and be a good king, love another partner and choose to be with her for always, watch everyone else live and still somehow be a part of it all, like the Great One… or let go of everything, Cross Over knowing that you had loved me back even the slightest bit imaginable, even if it was in a different way than how I would have wanted you to. In the end I chose to stay here after I died, but when you weren't there after I was rendered a spirit, I forgot the reason why I held myself back from Crossing Over."
He floated down like a discarded feather and Yuuri was able to see his face. "I didn't tell you that I knew already… I found out why I'm still here; so many days ago it just dawned on me like one of my forgotten memories. I didn't want to tell you because you might be afraid and leave me alone, but then maybe if you did, I'd get a chance to stay here… forever, even." He was smiling, smiling so much that his eyes were wet. "I'm still torn, up until now… but then you suddenly decided my fate for me."
Allow me this one moment of weakness. It is the last.
"Could you please say the words, Yuuri?" Wolfram asked, voice shaking, whether from happiness or sorrow, or both, Yuuri could no longer tell. He knew what Wolfram was asking for. He just couldn't bring himself to say it. If there was just one chance of keeping Wolfram there, with him, then Yuuri was willing to take it, even if it meant keeping his lips sealed for the rest of his days. But he knew there was no escaping it. Even if the words were never said, all his previous actions where there to say it for him.
"I…" Yuuri faltered. He'd be strong. He'd be strong for both of them. He blinked back the tears and it took every will power for him to keep them at bay. "Why didn't you tell me…?" he choked. "Why didn't you…?"
Yuuri stopped himself before he could come out as if he were blaming everything on Wolfram. It was no use. He knew now, when everything was too late, that even if Wolfram had told him what he wasn't supposed to do to keep him from Crossing Over…
…He would have still done it. He would have still loved Wolfram.
And he was foolish not to have done so sooner, when there was no one to lose, when Wolfram was still breathing and living and able to be touched. When he could have died knowing his love was welcomed and reciprocated, and saved from an afterlife of doubt and shadows.
"I… I'm sorry!"
Wolfram gave him a half-smile and a look that said 'wimp.' "Those aren't the words I'm talking about, Yuuri," he chided gently.
"No! I don't want you to go. You have to stay!" He took a step forwards and pressed himself as close as possible to Wolfram without going through him. "Please! Be with me!" he pleaded, not carrying anymore how unreasonable or childish he sounded.
"Always, Yuuri…" Wolfram inched forward, ever so gracefully, and just when Yuuri prepared himself to pass through Wolfram, he felt a hand, a real hand, land on his chest, his heart. Another rested on his, by now, messy black locks. "Here… I'll trust you to keep me here, won't you? You said so yourself."
"That's not enough…" Yuuri sobbed, crying hysterically by now, desperate to keep everything from falling apart. The tears blurred his vision and angrily he blinked them away. "I know this is my fault, but…!" He trailed off. There were no more excuses to be said. All that talk about him being a good king, about having grown up already, they seemed untrue now. He was just a weeping little child in the face of a reality he had been too scared to face, too stupid to prevent.
"Then… find me in your next life." Wolfram smiled at him then, and with a surprisingly solid hand, warm and real and calloused, brushed away his grief. Grabbing the opportunity, Yuuri gripped at Wolfram's clothes and held on tighter than he had ever had to anyone else in his life. Even now as he threatened to fall apart, it was Wolfram who still kept everything in check, always the reasoning one, always the one with a level head. "Okay?"
Yuuri continued to cry, chest hurting with every sob. Then Wolfram, sweet Wolfram, honest, dependable Wolfram… he brushed his cheek against Yuuri's, smirked against his chin and…
It was not a hint, nor a dream, nor an essence, nor a memory that never really was; the kiss felt, was, a real thing, Wolfram's velvet lips against his own, wet and salty with his own tears… and just as Yuuri was committing the sensation to memory, Wolfram pulled away.
"I can't stay anymore." Then in an even more demanding tone, he added, "Be strong. No more sorries. And no more crying. And no backing out of paperwork, okay?"
Yuuri swallowed the tears back and with heavy consternation, replied a watery, "Yes Wolf."
"Good…" His look became gentler. "Promise me you won't follow too soon. You have to take care of everyone here… take care of Greta."
Not trusting himself to speak for fear of losing himself, Yuuri gave his solemn nod. He tried a smile, and came up with a tiny one. Wolfram returned it tenfold. He closed his eyes and backed away.
Then it was happening; slowly, Wolfram was being encompassed by the Gate. He was finally Crossing Over. Yuuri was turning frantic. He wanted to grab hold and never let go. The light shined so bright that it was threatening to blind him, but Yuuri kept his eyes open. He wanted to follow, break the promise he just kept. He darted forward and reached out a hand, expecting it to hold onto Wolfram's, but he could have grasped onto water and been given the same result.
"I love you!" he blurted out, shouting, pleading, sobbing, pouring heart and soul into each word. "I'm in love with you Wolfram!"
Wolfram was almost gone now. "Yuuri…" he whispered blissfully. When his long lashes lifted, his eyes were already white and glowing, and the rest of him was fading. Only the smile remained solid. His faint reply, four words, were carried out by the wind, and as soon as his lips finished forming Yuuri's name once more, the Gate created a final bright flash of goodbye, taking with it Yuuri's happiness, his Wolfram.
The gentle breeze that belonged to the world drifted in and out of the trees, caressing the silver leaves and making the soft clover sway in that hill where the wind never stopped blowing. Amidst all the tranquility Yuuri collapsed to the ground, broken and bleeding tears, drowning in turmoil.
It stopped there. The faint flow, pulsing just a few seconds before, now faded entirely.
Ulrike opened her eyes, a sheen of sadness in them. "The spirit… Lord Wolfram has Crossed Over."
Beside her, the Great One nodded his head, not surprised. Murata only looked on at the Original King.
Ulrike's troubled eyes stared up at them. "What had become of Lord Wolfram spirit…? I expected him to last longer in the Great Demon Kingdom… it was what he had wanted."
Murata sighed. "When Lord von Bielefeld was Held Back, yes, the only thing he had ever wanted for himself was to see Shibuya become a good king, continue to be one. That would have been his passage for the Cross Over. He would have remained here for a longer period of time because of that, at least as long as Shibuya's reign. But when he was being given hope again… his want unconsciously switched into that of being accepted by him, something he had desired since he was living. And so his passage was changed accordingly."
"Is that even possible?" Ulrike asked.
"Well, our dear little ghost has done it now, hasn't he?"
A sigh. It was the Great One who answered this time. "Shibuya Yuuri is a fool. He would have loved Lord von Bielefeld sooner or later. That much I know. I just never predicted that our king would wait until my descendant was dead before doing it."
"And you did nothing to help them…"
The Great One shrugged. "It cannot be forced. These, my dear, are matters of the heart. Or lack thereof."
Murata rolled his eyes at the pet name. "He could have stayed, couldn't he?" he asked. "Lord von Bielefeld is a strong character; he could have waited until it was Shibuya's time to go. Then they could have both Crossed together."
"While it is true that most spirits are strong enough to choose between the Gate and holding on to their old life," the Great One straightened up and looked ahead, "Wolfram's is a soul that is meant to live on through other bodies in other lives, in other times. He's too princely to only be content with one lifetime. The sooner the better."
Murata smiled sadly. "So…" he drawled, "will Shibuya have his happily ever after?"
"… No one should bring back the dead, my Sage. Or can, for that matter. A happy ending… that is something Shibuya Yuuri will have to work for now."
"Alone," Murata concluded.
The Great One could only nod, and Murata in turn could only look on and wonder how his friend would live through the grief.
He couldn't accept it.
The bedroom, the baths, the library, the study, the art studio, the music room, every single broom closet he'd come across: always he would expect Wolfram, Wolfram's ghost, to lurk behind those doors, catch him unawares and tell him he was joking, call him cheater, wimp, and everything else in between. Only silence greeted him, every single time.
He had even flirted with the new gardener, a short, tanned girl with cheeks always smudged dirty. All it did was make him guilty for something that didn't even exist anymore.
Yuuri cried. Every thought, every reminder, every memory of Wolfram made him cry so hard that each sob left him breathless and rasping, and each tear made his chest hurt. For days he looked no one in the eyes, turning away from any hand that offered consoling and going through all his duties as he promised Wolfram, yet looking forward to the time when he could once again hide in his bedchambers and shed tears without the worry of pitiful stares his way. The hurt stayed for days on end, and still stayed for the days that followed. He didn't know if he could ever get rid of it. If it was punishment for making Wolfram go through a different kind of pain before, then he gladly shouldered the load. He could not be consoled, not even by Greta, who was also still hurting.
The moon was one crescent away from being completely full, but it glowed bright and strong, hung low in the sky. It gave Yuuri enough light to see the carvings on his beloved's tombstone. Struggling to keep the tears back, he brushed a shaking hand across the smooth surface. With the other hand he placed gently on the ground a handful of flowers he had chosen earlier on.
"I'm sorry, Wolfram… I couldn't stop crying after all. It still hurts," he whispered with a tearful smile, still unable to stop the outflow even as he continued to speak, his words occasionally broken by sobs and great gulps of air. "I—I paid attention to Günter like I said I would, and—I tried to sign all the documents, I really did, but I had to go to the washroom because I—" He stopped, unable to say that he had to pause work because he had the sudden urge to cry. It wouldn't do. It didn't even matter that he knew no one was listening to him. Adamant in keeping his promise by even the tiniest degree, he struggled to compose himself.
With a sleeve he did his best to rub his face dry. "I remembered your voice… and how you used to tell me to get a move on and keep signing." He chuckled bitterly. "It keeps me going most of the time."
On he prattled, talking about Greta, Anissina's new creation and how it had turned Gwendal's hair purple for four days, how they repainted his—their—room a soft shade of pastel green and how good he was at controlling Ao already, how he won his first duel (he didn't mention that it was with Daucascos) and memorized all—rather, most—of Günter's dates. And even though he knew it was no use, he still kept his ears open for the tiniest allusion of a voice or laughter hidden in the slight breeze.
There was none.
"I have to go back now," Yuuri whispered hoarsely. "They'll never let me out anymore by myself, if I do it too much… I'll be a good king, Wolf. I'll be strong, like I promised. And when my time's up, I'll find you. You'll be the first one I'll find."
As Yuuri turned his back on the white face of the round lamp sitting among the stars, another form moved along with him, a flat grey figure that erupted from his toes and stretched across the ground. He made his way back, shoulders squared for this life ahead, a life without Wolfram, head too light, heart too heavy. And almost—almost—he could imagine two shadows moving on the grass.
XEOHE's Last Note: Ha! I finally managed this without a single 'blond' or 'double black' in it. :D Just a self-challenge.