Walking has gotten easier with each passing day. I insisted that I regain my footing by myself, but Gisela had none of that. She showed up at the chamber Yuuri and I share, and personally escorted me to a room where Anissina set up some rehabilitation equipment. And by personally escorted, I mean that she dragged me there as I dug my heels into the floor, trying my best to stop her. Fortunately, though, the equipment wasn't harmful in the least. It was a bar that I had to hold in order to keep myself upright. Attached to it was what Anissina referred to as Mr. Give Me Energy. It was a devise that Gisela used to transfer me some healing power whenever the pain in my legs became unbearable and doubled that power so it wouldn't exhaust Gisela too much.
I still experience few slip ups here and there, but I can manage walking on my own without a windpipe, or what Yuuri refers to as a cane. Several times, Yuuri has helped me walk by linking our arms together in wrapping an arm around my back.
I enter our room and sit at my desk, feeling some remnants of Yuuri's touch on my skin. Lately, he has been very attentive of me, but that doesn't do anything to quell me of my apprehension. It's as if it's been easier for me to sit on the sidelines and see him attempt to court others than be the one who he's courting.
I sigh and pull out a sketchpad. At first, I'm not sure what to draw, but then my pencil hits the pad, like it has a mind of its own. I wind up drawing a sun and a young boy shielding himself from its bright rays from inside of a tree trunk.
You're afraid that his love for you will fade. Lady Eileen says.
I smile, bitterly. It doesn't even matter anymore.
Don't say that. Of course it matters. Otherwise, you wouldn't have created such a sad drawing.
I grew up seeing Mother fall in and out of love dozens of times. Who knows? Yuuri might even be going through the same thing.
Yes, it's what you grew up with, but that doesn't make it true. That doesn't mean that other people will go through what your Mother did. If you don't mind me saying, she seems the type who falls in love with the idea of love. As for you, Lord Wolfram, you know what love is. You're experiencing it right now. However, you've been jaded, and that has affected your view on love.
Have you ever been in love, Lady Eileen?
…Yes. I have. He was an astute man with a quick temper. In some ways, he reminds me of you. His name was Zachary Cattarick. She sighs, forlorn, and a bout of misery passes through me. It might be faster to just show you.
A duel for her takes place between a wicked man and Cattarick. Good versus evil. A man who kills needlessly against a lone wolf who has pure intentions. This battle ends in bloodshed and mixed feelings that Cattarick harbors towards the end result of the duel. Misery. Regret. Self-righteousness.
These emotions are quelled when Lady Eileen offers him comforting words, saying that it was either the wicked man or him. And the outcome was something that she's wanted for a long time.
Many heartwarming memories follow. Days spent at rivers and meadows. So many affectionate words had been exchanged. I see a bond that slowly develops into love.
Then those happy days are gone, and Sir Cattarick grows old and weary. He spends the rest of his life in a homey cottage where he shares his deepest feeling with her.
"Throughout my life, I never met a woman like you, Eileen. You understand me like no one else, and you've made me the happiest that I've ever been. I only wish that I could've been able to hold you, kiss you, love you…." He says, hugging Eileen closer to him.
She weeps, knowing full well that this is the last time that they'd speak. "In another life…when my mission is accomplished, we'll be reunited. I'm sure of it."
He smiles, weakly. "If anyone can help bring peace to this kingdom…it's you…" His eyes – the hazel ones that Eileen absolutely adored – slide shut.
"Zachary," She says, her desperate need to be closer to him consuming her. That need makes her able to temporarily separate from her sword. In his last moments, she kisses him, and embraces him, tightly. "I love you," she whispers against his still lips.
Tears spill down my face as I feel Lady Eileen's devastation at her loss. A piece of her heart had been torn out when she lost Sir Cattarick. The same went for me when my Father was killed. The both of us lost someone we loved dearly, and knowing that makes me feel that much more connected to her.
You see, Lord Wolfram, even after a few decades, my love for Zachary is still strong. Our love is true, and that kind of love lasts forever.
I take out my handkerchief and wipe at my eyes.
I know that my love for Yuuri is true. I know that I'll love him for the rest of my life. I just don't know if he feels the same way.
She doesn't say anything, but I do feel arms wind around my neck, as if she's standing behind me. It's a brief embrace, but it does help me feel better.
The summer equinox festival is near, but I don't feel like celebrating. In my opinion, it's hardly time for that, not with the trouble we've been getting from Big Cimaron's soldiers. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one thinking this. Mother says that it'll be a great way to put our nation at ease after such a serious attack on the castle. Conrart agrees with her, claiming that it would boost morale. Even Gwendal backs her up.
The last person I decide to discuss this with is Yuuri. When I approach him, he's about to take Ao out for a ride.
"Yuuri," I say, and he turns to me with a bright smile on his face. My heart threatens to break through my chest.
"Hey, Wolf, what's up?" He asks.
"I need to talk to you about something."
"Oh, ok. How about we go for a ride on Ao and talk about it?"
I'm taken aback by the request. Yuuri has never offered to take me on a ride on Ao. In the past, I've been the one to give him a lift on Freda whenever something serious came up. At that time, Yuuri had barely been able to ride a horse, let alone get on one.
"All right," I blush.
He mounts Ao so effortlessly that it takes my breath away. Once he's settled on top of the black horse, he holds out his hand. In that moment, I fall even more in love with him. I don't need his assistance, but I take his hand anyway, and let him help me up.
He reaches around me to grip the reins, and quietly urges Ao forward. Ao trots about the castle grounds. Wandering maids and soldiers warmly greet Yuuri, and he returns their greetings with the same amount of warmth. At this point, I feel like I shouldn't be here, as if I don't belong here.
"So what did you wanna talk about?" Yuuri asks.
My muscles tighten. I wish that I hadn't approached him. It was obtuse of me, really, to assume that he'd be able to hear me out, and agree with my concerns. As much as he has changed, he still has that easygoing attitude. He'll side with Mother and the others, which makes me queasy.
"I just wanted to tell you to keep your guard up at the upcoming festival. I'll be guarding you most of the day, but I'll be unable to do so when the troops and I do our yearly ode to the summer equinox."
"An ode?" Yuuri wonders.
I roll my eyes. That's hardly relevant right now. Besides, it's not like this is new. Yuuri has attended some of these festivals where my squadron and I have done our routine to celebrate the season of summer; a season that enhances our fire magic exponentially. When he asks me this, I know that he didn't pay our tribute to summer any mind.
"Each year, my men and I perform a routine to honor the summer," I reply.
"Oh, I see. I remember you doing this a few times. I thought you meant that you were going to sing or something to implement something new. Not like I'd have a problem with that." He stops short and I find myself relaxing against him. I misunderstood what he meant and that makes me feel ashamed. I'm reminded of what my reflection at Mirror Lake told me. That I have a tendency to fall back on the negative, and that affects the people around me. I have to stop doing that, closing my mind to what Yuuri has told me, and using my fear as a shield to repel him.
"I can sing if you want." I say, quietly.
"I…uh…" I tilt my head back to see him all flustered. This is new to him like it is to me, but he doesn't back away just because of the untouched territory that we're heading to. He's doing his best because he wants this to work, despite the fact that he's afraid that he might mess up. Ever since he made his interest in me clear, I've been expecting him to screw up, and revert back to his old self.
"No, I don't want you to sing." Yuuri says, and I'm taken aback. "I mean, I don't want you to sing at the festival. I just want you to sing to me." His possessive tone gains a tinge of insecurity.
I put my hand over his. "I'll sing to you and only you. Tonight."
His chin rests on my shoulder and in the next moment, a kiss is planted on the side of my neck. That's the spark that spreads throughout my body. I smile as I melt. That's when I decide that I'll trust him with my heart, body, and soul.
The weeks that follow are peaceful. There are no incidents like the one in Vernon or what had happened to Arietta. I know that this is supposed to make me feel at ease, but it doesn't. I feel as if this is the calm before the storm. After all, the attacks from Big Cimaron aren't to be taken lightly.
Yuuri and Conrart had told me that those soldiers in the dungeon have been interrogated. They hadn't revealed much, only that they attacked us because we are abominations and other such nonsense. This isn't much to go by. They didn't tell who had sent them. Conrart said that this is most likely because King Belar sent them, and they didn't want to expose their leader to the repercussions that'd happen if they did.
Briefly, I thought of interrogating them myself, but then I changed my mind. Gwendal had questioned each and every one of them, and if he couldn't get answers from them, I wouldn't be able to either.
Perhaps, it's worth a shot though.
I go down to the dungeon, hearing the cages being rattled as well as some screaming and cussing. To be truthful, it's scary to go into this kind of situation. I haven't been in a position to be down here. Usually, Gwendal, Gunter, and Conrart would take care of interrogations, which they did. It's not like I don't trust them to do their job, and I'm rather befuddled that their methods haven't worked. I figure that I can do something.
I pass each cell, receiving dirty looks and nasty words. I refuse to let any of them get to me as I seek out the sisters that I battled.
Are you sure about this? Lady Eileen asks, concerned.
I want to do this. I reply, determined.
All right. Just know that I have your back.
The older yet shorter sister – Ingrid, I recall – shoots to her feet, and stands in front of her younger sibling. I know that they are the enemy, but the older sister's need to act as a bulwark for the younger sister is quite touching. I can understand that because I feel the same way about my precious daughter, Greta.
"You will not get an answer out of me." Ingrid grounds out.
"Guards!" I call, and I see her steel herself as both guards shuffle over. Without breaking eye contact with her, I demand. "Open this cell."
"What?" One guard asks. "My lord, I wouldn't advise you to…"
Lord Wolfram, please don't do this. Lady Eileen pleads.
"Just do it." I say.
The guard holding the circle of keys for this side of the dungeon locates the key for this cell and opens the door. He calls for a set of soldiers to join me inside of the cell and locks it shut afterwards. Then he stands guard in front of the cell.
Ingrid slowly sits next to her sister, glowering up at me all the while.
"Lady Ingrid, is it?" I ask, and receive no answer. It's to be expected from someone who's on enemy territory. I can't get angry and impatient. Otherwise, I'm going to get the same attitude back. So I take a deep breath and try again. "I'm not here to bring harm to you or your sister. I only want answers."
"You can torture me all you like. I won't say anything." Ingrid says, adamantly.
"I won't torture you. I promise."
She's about to launch off the ground when her sister stops her by grabbing her by the waist. "Big sister, no!"
The soldiers that accompanied me inside of the cell reach for their swords, but I stop them before they can unsheathe them.
"You're trying to trick me into speaking, but I won't say a damned word!" Ingrid yells, slackening in her sister's arms. "Demon scum!"
"Let me ask you something, Lady Ingrid." I start, kneeling before her, so that we can be at eye level. "What would your king do if I were to be captured by him for the same crimes you and your sister have done?"
She crosses her arms and looks away, refusing to say a word.
"Well?" I ask, looking at her sister, who appears to be confused and scared. "You know the answer, don't you?"
She peers down at the fall, her face pallid. "Death."
"Rilla!" Ingrid barks, causing her sister to lower her head in shame.
"That's not what our king does." I say, earning a shocked stare from Rilla. "This is the worst thing that he'll do to you." I regard the prison. "And even then, despite the uncomfortable floor, you still get food and water. You might be thinking that he's playing mind games with you by doing this, but he's not. He believes in peace, and he wishes to stop the cycle of hatred. It's a naïve notion, but it's worked before."
I stand up. "The last thing I ask of the both of you is this: wouldn't you rather live a peaceful life, free from fighting, free from prejudice rather than hurt people and become a monster?"
Ingrid puts the walls up and Rilla stinks further into her shell. I can tell that I won't get any answers now. So I leave them be, and hope that they'll put some thought into what I have said.
That was brave of you, Lord Wolfram. Very impressive, too. Lady Eileen praises, and I smile as I amble out of the dungeon.
It's funny. The old me wouldn't have handled the situation like that at all. I'd be just like Belar and sentence them all to death.
Love has changed you.
The smile slips off my face when I catch the tinge of sadness in her voice. She must be thinking about Sir Cattarick. I want to comfort her because I know how agonizing it is to lose someone that you love dearly.
I run through what I can say in my head. Are you ok? Are you going to be ok? Do you want to talk about it? You're thinking about him, aren't you? None of these inquiries are helpful enough, only pestering and nosy.
Then I think of something better.
A joyful laugh reaches my ears.
I slip on my salmon colored nightgown, and go outside on the balcony. There don't appear to be any anomalies below. Only some of Conrart's as well as Gwendal's men standing guard. I feel as if I should be down there instead of up here, preparing for bed.
"Hey," Yuuri greets, coming over to stand behind me. My body is lit on fire when he hugs my waist and settles his chin on the crook of my neck. "What are you doing out here?"
I place my hands on his arms. "I can't help but think that something bad is going to happen." I tell him.
He kisses the skin below my ear. "You're not the only one. There are a lot of prisoners in the dungeon from Big Cimaron. It's undetermined whether Belar sent them here or not and we can't take action until we find out. That's what Gwendal said anyway." He sighs and buries his face in my shoulder. "I don't want to go to war, Wolf."
I turn around and return his embrace. We hold each other for a long time before pulling away. It's in that moment when I notice that he's grown a few inches taller than me. When did that happen? I wonder as I stroke his shoulders, which have gotten wider. Then I trail my hands up to his face, which is lined with stress and fatigue. He closes his eyes as I cup his cheeks and leans into my touch and places his hands over mine.
"Yuuri, I'll try my best to ensure that that doesn't happen." I tell him, softly.
He smiles down at me, his black eyes tired. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
I smile back, take him by the hand, and lead him back inside. "You look tired. You should go to sleep." I say as we lower down on the bed. I'm about to let go of his hand when he squeezes mine.
"I really mean what I say, Wolf." He says, his face coming closer to mine.
My stomach flutters. "I know."
His fingers move up to trace my bottom lip, causing my jaw to slacken at the ticklish sensation. My heart pounds so hard when I see him glance at my lips. I can't help but do the same. I've wanted to kiss him for so long, and now it's going to happen.
"I love you so much." I whisper.
The next thing I know, he scoops me up in his arms and gently sets me down, putting his hands on either side of my head. My breath catches in my throat and my heart stops once I see the way he's looking at me. It's like I'm the only person in the world to him, the most important one too.
"You have my heart." He says, leaning down to kiss me.
My heart explodes and bits and pieces of that explosion spread throughout my body. His lips are so velvety and wet and they're finally on mine. He's all mine and I wrap him up in my arms and kiss him back.
It's slow and tentative at first as we twist and turn our heads. I run my hands through his hair, and I revel in the softness and the smell of it. A light scent of lavender with fresh fruit along with the essence of him.
I feel so safe here in his arms. I feel so good here too, truly at peace with our relationship for the first time since he confessed. And everything that he's done and said since then fall into place. He has meant what he said. He really does have feelings for me.
When the kiss ends, he burrows his face into the side of my neck and tightens his hold on my body. I'm melting in his arms, and I return the same pressure. We stay like that for a while. That is, until he gets off me, and moves to lie beside me.
"Wolf," he starts, running his hands through my hair. "When all of this is over, I…"
A loud knocking causes me to jump out of my skin.
"Your Majesty!" Conrart calls.
Yuuri groans in frustration and sits up. I smile and do the same, happy to see that he's disappointed at having our moment cut short.
"Come in!" He calls. "And for the last time, call me Yuuri!"
Conrart steps inside, and approaches our bed, seriousness etched on his face. This makes us sit up straighter.
"My apologies if I woke you two up, but King Saralegui is here to see you." Conrart reports, and my happy demeanor is instantly demolished. What the hell is he doing here at this late hour?
Yuuri is out of bed in a flash. "What? Sara's here?"
"Yes. He says that it's urgent." Conrart replies, gravely.
"Take me to him." Yuuri demands.
A/N: Here comes the plot. Finally. Hope everyone is doing well! The next chapter isn't done yet, but it's almost finished. The next update will take a little longer, and I suspect that I'll be updating next week.
Sawyer Fan: Thank you so much, sweetie! :D I'm so happy that you liked the previous chapter. I also want to thank you for telling me that Yuuri said Wolfram was cuter than any girl in the manga. That makes me really happy! Yeah, I can go on a whole rant about how they seem to appease to people who ship ConYuu, as well as Yuuri with Gunter, Gwendal, and Saralegui (gag). Stick to the true pairing, people. It won't stop the shipping.
Mofalle: Thank you so much! :) I have to say that these ideas were inspired by Kingdom Hearts. I've been playing the games a lot lately, and I'm absolutely in love with them.
ninadotran3: Oh, my God! :D That's, like, the best compliment ever! Much love to you, my dear!
luvdawinx: It must be annoying not being able to sleep. Do you take anything for it? You are smart. I wanted to make sure everyone knew just in case they were confused. Budding romance indeed, honey. For this chapter, can you say make-out session? ;)
Winry1021: I'm completely and utterly speechless by your kind words, babe. All I have to say is that you're absolutely right. I'm happy that you're enjoying my story, and I know that you'll love the rest of this story for sure! :D