We danced for a long time last night. In the privacy of the garden without any music, our waltz was very intimate. It's a waltz that'll be treasured in my heart always, no matter what the intent of the dance might've been.
I did make a promise to myself, after all. To stay by Yuuri's side, no matter what.
This morning I woke up earlier than Yuuri, surprised to see that I was on the same side of the bed as him. Then I remembered what took place last night after our waltz. Hand in hand, we had returned to our room, and changed into our sleepwear with our backs facing one another.
My heart pounded at the memory. My whole body had been aware of his presence behind me, and the sound of him discarding his clothes made the feeling that much more intense.
After I slipped on my pink nightgown, I coughed in order to clear my throat, and tried to push down the overwhelming feeling as best as I could. Then, without looking at Yuuri, I made my way over to the bed, and was about to go under the covers on my side of the bed when Yuuri stopped me.
"Why don't you sleep by my side tonight?" He asked.
I couldn't say no.
He didn't put that much distance between us. If anything, he seemed to want to get closer than he already was. It was new and frightening to be like this with him, and most of all, for him to be like this with me.
I didn't know how to react.
"Uh, where's Greta?" I asked, not knowing what else to say.
"She's staying with Anissina tonight." He replied, not breaking eye contact with me.
"Oh," I said, blushing. Then I thought of something. "Wait. You asked me why I was dancing with Elizabeth." My eyebrows narrowed. "So why were you dancing with Lady Flynn?"
He actually laughed.
"Hey," I pushed at his arm. "This is no laughing matter."
"Sorry, sorry." He said, his laughter dying down. "I should've explained this to you sooner. I was, uh, asking her for some advice."
"Advice?" I echoed. "On what?"
"You'll see soon enough."
"What? I have every right to know what you were speaking to her about."
He took my hand, and his smile widened. "You'll like it. Trust me."
I wonder what he meant by that. Could he have been asking her advice about me? Hope swells up within me, and I try my best to shove the feeling down. I can't get carried away, thinking more of this than I should.
I decide that I won't like whatever Yuuri has planned.
"Your Excellency," one of Gwendal's men approaches me and salutes. "Lord von Voltaire has requested your presence in his office."
I nod in acknowledgment.
I head to Gwendal's office, anxious about what he wishes to tell me. Perhaps he has decided to permanently relieve me of my duties? I would understand if he did, but I want another chance to prove myself; to prove that I'm fit to continue leading my private army.
I release a sigh before rapping my knuckles on the door.
"Come in," Gwendal calls.
I enter the room and proceed to stand before his desk where he's seated with his fingers threaded together.
"You called for me, brother?" I ask, bracing myself for whatever he has to say.
"Yes," he nods. "I've noticed that you seem to be in higher spirits lately, and that you have regained your focus. So I'm permitting you to resume your duty."
I allow a small smile. "Thank you so much, Gwendal. You won't regret it, I promise you." I give a slight bow and I'm about to turn and leave when Gwendal speaks.
"Losing a soldier is difficult, I know. It's a harsh reality, but the blame for any fallen soldier shouldn't lay on you. The blame lies with the enemy who caused their death." He says, resolutely.
He doesn't use the most comforting tone, but I know that his words are meant to make me feel better. That's the kind of man my brother is. Tough on the outside yet so soft on the inside.
I let my smile grow, conveying my gratitude and appreciation through my eyes.
I'm about to exit the room when Anissina enters, bursting the doors open with a flair all her own, holding a small device under one arm. "Gwendal! Oh, and Wolfram." She addresses us with a predatory glint in her eyes that'd make even the fiercest warrior want to run for the hills. "I'm so glad that I found the two of you. I need assistance with testing out my new invention called Mr. Truth or Lie. It works when I place two of these pulse readers to your temples, and the machine flashes green when you're being truthful and red when you're lying. Now, who will be the one to test it?"
I pale, seeing her look at me. No, I can't be another victim of her experiments. I'm well aware of how her machines use magic in order to function. It's quite draining, even to the point of being painful.
"Ah, I have some duties to attend to." I say, slowly backing out of the room, seeing Gwendal flash a glare at me before I make a run for it.
Sorry, brother, but it's every man for himself. I think, being sure to put as much distance between Gwendal's office and myself.
I wind up training my troops in the courtyard afterwards. It's good to be in charge again and fall back into our routine. Most of all, I appreciate my men's professional behavior regarding the demise of 2nd Lieutenant Corey Grimm. Each and every one of them, including the new recruits, paid their respects for him at his funeral, and professed their sympathy towards his parents, assuring them that they can ask for our help with anything at any time, picking up the slack for me when I was much too out of sorts.
In the midst of training, I see that some soldiers have improved in areas where they were lacking before. Corporal Jonathon Saxon has bettered his skills with the sword, maintaining a firm grip on his sword, and making quick, decisive slices. Sergeant Quinn Palmer has managed to finally tame the elements to do his bidding. All in all, in one way or anyone, everyone's skills have improved, meaning they trained while I was on suspension.
I'm proud of them. So very proud to be their commanding officer.
I walk inside with a different energy than before. A week prior, I walked in here with a defeatist attitude. Now I feel successful, walking with my head held high. I'm confident and determined to be better than I ever was.
In the hall I run into a familiar face. "Hello, Mr. Heathcliff. How do you do?" I greet, politely.
He takes off his hat and hair to reveal his bald head, which glistens in the sunlight. Then he puts his hat and hair back onto his head, just as gracefully, giving me an amiable smile. "Greetings, Lord von Bielefeld. I'm doing quite well. How about yourself?"
"The same. What brings you here?"
"I felt bad that Beatrice and I were unable to attend the Ball yesterday. You see, we hired a new cook at the beginning of the week, and he served us a platter the day before that gave us a nasty case of food poisoning. We hadn't recovered until this morning and Beatrice wanted to see Greta so we came here."
"Well, I'm glad you can make it. Where are you headed?"
"I'm going to discuss some matters with His Highness. Do you know where I might find him?"
"He should be in Gwendal's office, working on some paperwork."
I nod, watching as he walks off.
I head over to Greta's room where I find her and Beatrice acting out one of Anissina's plays. Greta is dressed up as the main character's good friend Holly and Beatrice is the main character, Trixie. Currently, they're acting out a scene somewhere in the middle where Trixie is heartbroken over the loss of her mother and Holly is comforting her. I've only ever read Greta the play (it's one of her favorites), but I can see that they're truly bringing it to life.
"Sorry to interrupt," I smile at Greta, who runs up to me with Beatrice at her side.
"That's okay," Greta replies. "We wanted an audience. But you have to pay admission."
"Oh, do I?" I ask, amused.
She nods. "You have to give us both a kiss on the cheek." She taps the mentioned spot.
I'm more than happy to oblige.
The three of us spent most of the afternoon in that room. Greta and Beatrice acted out the play while I watched. For a couple of fourteen year old girls, they know how to act, and I applaud them once they've finished, and they give a curtsy in reply.
I was so happy to see how much closer Greta and Beatrice have become. They're so comfortable with one another, and I can tell that they have a bond that'll last until the end of time. It's certainly heartwarming to see that my daughter has made such a precious friend.
When it's time for supper, they sit next to one another with Mr. Heathcliff sitting beside his daughter, and I sit next to Greta. Then Yuuri comes into the dining hall, looking quite peeved until he meets my eye. He smiles and takes the seat across from mine. I feel myself stiffen up.
"Hi," he greets.
"Hey," I reply.
"Yuuri, you missed the performance that Beatrice and I made." Greta pouts.
He looks sheepish. "I'm sorry, Greta, but I had some paperwork to catch up on."
As much as Yuuri has changed, he's still quite elusive when it comes to paperwork.
I scoff. "That's an understatement. Ever since you got back here, you've been avoiding paperwork like the plague."
"I know I have, but it's so boring, and I swear if I write any more than I already have, my hand is gonna fall off."
"Oh, quit whining. It's your duty as king to do the paperwork, and that's not even the hardest part. Honestly. You're more than willing to risk your neck on some arbitrary adventure, but when it comes to the simple and easy act of signing your name, you complain."
"Oh, I see that the lovebirds are at it already." His Eminence says as he saunters over to the table with that damned smirk of his.
"Murata," Yuuri says, peeved.
I stiffen up that much more when I recognize his tone. It's the same one he uses when he doesn't want someone to misunderstand, and I can read in between the lines. Basically, he's saying that we're not lovebirds at all, and that it annoys him when we're referred to as such.
"It's not like that." I retort. "I was merely pointing out one of the many shortcomings that Yuuri has as king."
His Eminence lowers himself onto the seat next to Yuuri with his hands up in mock surrender. "Okay, okay. No need to bite my head off." Then he turns to Yuuri. "Oh, and by the way, we should head back to Earth sometime soon if we want to make it back in time for our finals."
"That's right." Yuuri replies, suddenly troubled. "I almost forgot about that. Oh, man, and I haven't even studied anything yet."
"Finals?" I ask. "What are those?"
"They're written assessments taken at the end of a school year." His Eminence replies.
"Huh," I say, still not quite understanding. ((His Eminence has a knack for not being able to explain anything about his own world in much detail)). Either that or he simply doesn't wish to explain anything to me.
"They're tests," Yuuri says. "Uh, like Murata said, they're handwritten tests that are sometimes multiple choice or short answer. It's kinda hard to explain, strangely enough, but basically these tests are taken at the end of a school year. And we have to take these tests in certain subjects like history and mathematics."
"Oh," I reply. I don't get the whole picture, but his explanation is a lot better than His Eminence's.
Conrart, Gwendal, and Gunter enter the room and take their seats.
"Where's Mother?" I wonder.
"She went on one of her love cruises." Conrart answers.
"What? So suddenly?" Yuuri asks.
Conrart nods. "Sometimes she leaves without making a big spectacle of it. That's mostly when she's much too impatient to wait. Now is one of those times."
"I see," Yuuri responds.
"I suppose that Lord von Bielefeld is not the only one who can get impatient." His Eminence remarks, amused.
I simply glower at him as the maids Doria, Lasagna, and Sangria serve us our dinner, consisting of fresh meat and vegetables with wine (for Conrart, Gwendal, Mr. Heathcliff, and I), and water for everyone else.
"Please, enjoy your meal." The maids say in unison.
"Thank you," Yuuri smiles at them before turning to his food.
I don't miss the way that his smile causes the maids to swoon.
I stab at a piece of meat.
"Something wrong, Wolfram?" Conrart asks.
"No," I say, cutting up my meat properly before chewing it. The meat is nicely cooked, but a part of me wants to claim otherwise so that I can send the plate back.
"My, I'd say!" Mr. Heathcliff exclaims after taking the first bite. "This meat is beautifully cooked."
"You're right, Papa." Beatrice agrees. "It's really delicious."
"Everything tastes really good." Yuuri adds. "Doria, Lasagna, and Sangria always cook really good meals."
I feel another knot form in my stomach and take a sip of wine in order to calm my frayed nerves. While it's true that the maids are experts in cooking, I can't help but feel ill feelings towards them because of it. Mostly, it's jealously, but then anger always comes in that territory for me.
I've never been that skilled in the culinary arts. I have tried to make meals and treats before, but I always wind up burning them, much to my embarrassment. In turn, I'm not allowed to practice cooking so as to avoid wasting more food, which I always felt foolish for doing.
It's a skill I have yet to master since I'm not a natural like the maids are. It's a skill I want to master because I want to be able to make delicious food for my family and receive praise for doing so. It's another way that I wish to express my love to my family.
"Oh, Gwendal, Gunter," Yuuri addresses, and he has their immediate attention. "Would you mind if I went back to Earth for a while? There's something that I have to do there that's really important."
Gwendal and Gunter exchange a look as if considering if that would be a good idea. After a moment, Gwendal says. "I don't see why not. Things have been quiet for a considerable amount of time."
"That's right," Gunter adds. "And we understand the difficulty you have in maintaining your double life, Your Majesty. You've done so much already. It'd be cruel to keep you from your duties on Earth."
"Wolfram," Yuuri addresses me, somewhat shyly. "Would you mind?"
This is a first. Yuuri doesn't ever ask me for permission to go back to Earth. Sure, it's something that I've wanted him to do for some time and now that he has, I feel uneasy and flustered.
"Just don't dilly-dally there. Do what you have to do and come back." I reply.
He smiles and my heart races. "Of course."
We allow Mr. Heathcliff and Beatrice to stay the night because it's been too long since the girls have seen one another. When asked for permission, Gwendal looked to Beatrice, and just couldn't say no. Yuuri and I shared a knowing smile, well aware of my older brother's affinity for things as well as people that are cute.
Gwendal is able to get Mr. Heathcliff a room and allows Beatrice and Greta to sleep in the same room. I know that that means Yuuri and I will be alone tonight, and that makes me nervous, but I do my best to mask the emotion.
"I could sleep in my own room if you want," I say from the edge of the bed, my back to him.
I hear him sigh before he rounds the bed to sit beside me. With the closer proximity comes a sense of foreboding, and I brace myself for the speech that I'm about to receive.
He puts his hand over mine, and my heart goes crazy. "I think now is a good time to have this talk. Let's go out on the balcony, okay?"
I nod and let him hold my hand as we step outside. Then I slip my hand out of his so that I can cross my arms over my chest, and over my lovesick heart.
"It's a nice night, isn't it?" He asks, leaning onto the railing, staring off into the distance.
"Yes, it is." I say, rooted to the spot.
There's a short silence before he says. "This land and its people have changed my life so much. It's funny…at first, I didn't want to have anything to do with this place. I feel like I didn't belong here because I was an outsider in a foreign land so it was easy for me to write off this place. Well, that is, until I was forced to come back."
He turns around, and leans his elbows on the banister. "I realize now that that was wrong of me. I mean, dismissing something that can be so important just because it's foreign. I didn't think it back then, but now I'm glad to have been brought here. Shin Makoku has given me so much purpose and inspiration; this place and its people have given me newfound confidence in myself too."
I think back to when Grimm's mother had thanked me for giving her son purpose and I understand her gratitude. Everyone in life needs a purpose; goals that they want to achieve. Without goals and purposes, there's no motivation, no spark, nothing. Life isn't worth living when it lacks such stimulation and excitement.
He closes the gap between us. "I have a lot of friends here, a godfather, a daughter, and least I forget a wonderful and loving fiancé."
I search his eyes and I see such tenderness there.
"Where is this coming from?" I ask, softly.
He takes my hand and places it over his heart. "Right here." He replies, warmly.
That sends a thrill through my hearth, and there's no mistaking his meaning. I can see it in how close he is to me and how he's caressing my hand and staring right into my eyes.
He wants to take a chance on us.
"I know that I've hurt you, and for that, I'm really sorry. Although I know that an apology won't be enough to make up for what I have done. So…" He wraps his arms around me, and holds me close. "Will you let me? Make it up to you, I mean."
Warmth blossoms in my chest.
I return his embrace. "Stupid. You don't have to make up anything."
"But I do."
"Just be yourself. That's all I want from you."
"Okay…then, let me hold you for a while longer."
As we continue to embrace, I gaze up at the sky.
The moon is full.