Belated Christmas Gift for... (you know who you are, darling).
Warnings: very mild citrus content.
"Come on! Give me a break already! This is why I didn't tell you," Yozak complained, rubbing the back of his neck, which, like his cheeks and ears, was tainted a pretty shade of rose uncommon for the spy.
"I didn't say anything," Conrad replied with a calm smile.
"You didn't have to. You're eyes are twinkling," Yozak groaned into his ale.
Conrad chuckled and reached across the table to pat his friend on the shoulder. "It's not such a bad thing."
"It's horrible," Yozak hiccuped, knocked back his drink, and buried his face against his muscular forearms on the tabletop.
Conrad gestured to the tavern wench to bring around two more. He didn't normally encourage a drinking habit, but Yozak had been containing his crush for so long, and with a few days off to nurse a minor injury – on Gisela's strict orders - there was no time like the present to nurse the more painful wound on his heart. The spy had always excelled at hiding his feelings, but not from Conrad. Conrad had known him too long to not know him too well.
"It's horrible," Yozak repeated forlornly. "Even if I talk to His Grace all the time, the gap between us is too huge. Someone like that is a hundred – a thousand – times too good for a lowly soldier like me," he sulked.
"Mmhmm..." Conrad answered just to convince his friend he was still listening. It didn't matter that matters of caste were quickly losing their relevance with Yuri and Ken at the helm. Yozak just needed a friendly ear tonight. There had been a rumor of The Great Sage paying undue attention to a visiting princess, and the redhead was gutted over it.
"I know all that already, but even so, when he smiled at her so warmly like that and helped her down from her carriage, I..." Yozak finished his sentence with a groan.
A few tables away, a young traveler in a large cloak and turban used his finger to adjust a pair of mirrored sunglasses, closed the book he'd been perusing over dinner, and left the tavern. While the spy was, uncommonly, too intoxicated and far too miserable to quite put it all together for the time being, there was an evil little smirk that Conrad didn't quite miss, which was too familiar to ignore. The brunette smiled, unseen by his companion, and pat his shoulder again. "There, there, my friend. There's no need to make such a fuss. I'm sure it will all work itself out quite nicely."
Ken Murata quickly hid his turban and sunglasses in the saddlebag of his horse. He pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head, and rode at a gallop back to the shrine, so he would be safely ensconced in bed before anyone came to check up on him. Ken Murata. The Great Sage. To be honest, there were days when even he wasn't sure where one ended, and the other began. He did wish, however, that a certain amazingly sexy spy could tell the difference. It seemed like Yozak understood, most of the time, but Ken sometimes wondered if the lines he was drawing in the parts of his personality were only an illusion; it was easy to lose one's sense of identity, when everyone was always labeling who you were. But, it wasn't the Great Sage that was standing between them. It was rank, and it was stupid. It was stupid enough that he was still irritated about it when he flopped into bed with a thud that was louder than it ought to have been. If Yozak honestly thought he cared about rank, than he had a bigger obstacle to overcome than whether or not Yozak liked him.
'The poisonous glance he gave that princess implied that well enough, and the fact he's run off to the tavern when he's supposed to be taking it easy...' Ken had been about to start gushing about the confirmation that Yozak did, in fact, like him, but the reminder of Yozak's injury soured his mood. 'What is he thinking?! He's supposed to be resting and he's down in the village making a big fuss over some buck-toothed princess! He's not even supposed to be walking without a cane, so someone needs to explain to me how he can ride a horse right now?!' Murata let out a huff, then a sigh, then a soft laugh. "Well, at least I know I make him as crazy as he makes me. And, Conrad was with him, so I'm sure it's alright." Saying it aloud almost convinced him, but not quite.
"Your leg?" Gwendal asked, not looking up from his paperwork. No matter how much he did, it seemed like the piles only got bigger. When was that irresponsible Maoh going to stop goofing off and start working?!
"It's totally fine!" Yozak waved it off. "Everyone's making a big deal out of nothing. Really!"
Gwendal looked up, piercing Yozak with his stare. Even though Yozak had convinced himself that such a minor injury wouldn't stop him, Gwendal had a way of staring at him that made even the spy question his abilities and resolve.
Greta entered, carefully carrying a tray of tea and some of the most adorable bearbee cookies the demon kingdom had ever seen, that she was just sure Gwendal would love. Behind her, Murata held open the door with a smile. "Yo!" he said cheerfully as the little girl shifted from foot to foot and worried her lip, trying to find an empty spot on Gwendal's desk for them.
Gwendal sighed dramatically, and moved his current stack of work aside for her, trying very hard not to let his distraction at the adorable treat show on his stoic features.
Yozak tried not to laugh at the adorable uncle and niece pair, as Gwendal stoically prepared tea, and Greta painstakingly dragged a chair close enough to the desk so she could reach it. Apparently, afternoon tea was a custom of theirs, because Gwendal didn't find this the least bit odd, or if he did, offered nothing to imply otherwise; the spy thought it was rather cute.
"So, how's our patient?" Murata asked cheerfully.
"I'm completely fine!" Yozak declared. Murata thought he saw the tension rise in the soldier's shoulders.
"He says he's completely fine," Gwendal droned. "A matter we were just discussing. Greta was going to check for me."
Greta startled a little, but smiled and declared, "Yes!" happily enough, hopping down off her chair and running over to Yozak. She looked at Yozak, then at Gwendal, who nodded. The little girl poked at the site of the injury on his thigh, and Yozak jumped. 'Damn it! She always catches me off guard. That hurt! Some spy I am, if I'm thwarted by a little girl,' he thought.
"Fine, indeed," Gwendal said. "You will remain off of active duty until Gisela tells me otherwise."
Yozak deflated. He needed something to do! Anything! He was so bored! And his mind was overwhelmed with Murata's flirting with that ugly little princess, and it made him want another drink even though he still had a headache from last night's excursion.
"Well, if you're not using him, perhaps I can borrow him to help with a little research project?" Murata asked. "It was actually the reason I came. Nothing too strenuous, of course."
Gwendal grunted and waved them off as Greta scooted back into her chair for tea time.
Yozak was torn between cheer at being able to spend time with his beloved Sage, and the horrors of sleep deprivation that Murata's research projects generally entailed. Unless... "Are we going somewhere, Your Grace?" he asked as they walked up the hall.
Ken didn't miss the limp Yozak was so skillfully attempting to conceal. He smiled, "That sounds a bit too hopeful, I think," he replied. "I see how it is, I'm the booorrring Sage, and you don't want to help with my boring project."
"No, I! I didn't mean it that way, Your Grace!" Yozak stumbled. He knew he was being teased. He didn't know why he instinctively reacted in such an outlandish way. 'Damn love bug has one hell of a bite, is why,' Yozak told himself.
"Well, it is a rather boring sort of project, in truth, but I still think it will prove enlightening. We'll just be locked up in the castle library for a few days. I'm afraid you won't be getting back on a horse to worsen your injury further any time soon," Ken replied. He realized his slip only belatedly when he saw the way Yozak's eyebrow quirked.
"Were you spying on me, Your Grace?"
"Only out of friendly concern," Ken responded defensively, irked at being caught at the spy game only by his own slip of the tongue.
"I'm flattered," Yozak replied cheerfully, regaining his usual demeanor after the awkward stutter.
"You should be," Ken quipped. "Now, here were are," he pushed open the library doors. "You go sit down and get off your injured leg – which Gisela has told me you are supposed to be using a cane for. I will get the ledgers that we'll need."
Yozak sighed, unable to argue with Ken when he'd gone out of the way to talk to Gisela about his health. This was stupid. It had only been ten or twelve stitches, and everyone was making such a fuss over it, just because the cursed blade that got him meant the injury would take a little longer to heal. "As you wish, Your Grace," Yozak said, not afraid to let the complaint at being treated like an invalid into his tone.
Three days and seventeen hours later, Yozak wondered if this project would ever be over. Ken had him copying down all of the names of all of the nobles, and their spouses, and the fathers of their spouses, going back hundreds of years! He suspected the Sage intended to trace all the way back to the founding of the Great Demon Kingdom, if records going back that far still existed. And, the longer they looked, the more sullen Murata appeared to become.
"Your Grace," Yozak yawned. "What exactly are we looking for?"
Ken startled from his reverie. "What? Oh!"
Yozak couldn't help but find it adorable when he was startled out of his thoughts like that. He tilted his head, waiting for the answer.
"A precedent, Yozak. We are looking for a precedent of a very specific sort."
"Ah, a very specific sort that you don't want to tell me about, then? It might be more useful than my copying down names."
Ken worried his lip. He didn't know how much he should say. Yozak was a spy, after all, and Murata was so accustomed to subtlety and avoiding detection, that coming right out and saying what was on his mind seemed out of the question. Even so, the entire purpose of this project was for the spy's benefit. He adjusted his glasses, using the glare of the wall sconces to hide any expression that might be in his eyes. It always made him look a little evil – or so Yuri told him – but better that than have Yozak figure out his game so early. "To be precise, we are looking for a precedent of cross-class marriage. So far, we have found several courtesans, mistresses, and a handful of ill-fated love affairs, but I am certain there must be a precedent for it."
Yozak felt his heart skip a beat, but didn't let his hopes rise so high. Then, it sank like a stone. He wondered if this had to do with that ugly princess. Could the Great Sage really be concerned that he was not of a sufficient class to marry into royalty? He was the Great Sage! That was ludicrous! He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Can I ask why that matters?"
"Well, it doesn't, in and of itself. Obviously, I'm still too young to be worrying about marriage," he smiled, noting how uncomfortable the subject made Yozak. "But, I think it might help me win an argument with a certain solider."
'A soldier?' Yozak wondered. So, this wasn't about the princess, thank god. But wait! What soldier? There was a soldier!?
"Ah, I see," he effected cheer. "He's infatuated with someone of a higher station, and you're trying to give him some motivation that there's hope yet, then? That's very kind of you, your Grace, but it's dangerous ground, don't you think?"
"Is it?" Ken asked innocently. "Well, I won't pretend it is entirely altruistic. I stand to gain quite a lot if I can present a convincing argument."
Yozak pursed his lips. Just when he thought he knew what the Great Sage was thinking, Murata would say something that puzzled him. He was always like that. Yozak liked surprises – he'd seen so much in his work as a spy that not much could surprise him. Ken Murata surprised him all the time. The trouble was, with Ken, he was never so sure how these uncertainties were going to turn out for him. First, a princess, now a soldier? He wondered how he should respond. "A wager?" he asked after what he hoped didn't seem too much of a delay.
"Something a bit more engaging," Ken replied. He dragged his fingers over his lips. Should he just spit it out? Yozak was clearly unsettled, but it was for exactly that reason that Ken sort of wanted to tease him a bit.
"So, we're looking for...a precedent."
"And if we don't find one?"
"Well, I can't say I mind. With Yuri as Maoh, all sorts of unprecedented things are happening – one more would hardly be worth making a fuss over, but I think this soldier may have very traditional notions when it comes to romance. It will probably make it harder to convince him. I already know it's impossible to convince him that class assignments are completely arbitrary, because traditions still have meaning, even if they can be rather silly at times."
"Well, you're not being quite fair, you know. Class is far more visible to someone at the bottom of the heap than at the top. I know that better than anyone. My family was poor, just because a demon and a human fell in love. It may seem like a small thing from the balcony of a castle, but from the bottom of a valley it's almost insurmountable. A poor soldier like me, or this friend of yours, doesn't have far to fall, but that doesn't mean he'd be happy to make someone he loves miserable by letting that person fall from the lap of luxury just to be together. He'd be hurting the one he cares for the most! I think this other world of yours has skewed your perception of reality a bit, your Grace." Yozak bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying more. He hadn't meant to be so passionate about his answer, but Murata's words struck too close to home. He imagined what it would be like if this beautiful boy loved him. Even then, could he let him punish himself, just so they could be together? It couldn't possibly lead to happiness, right?
Murata sighed as if he was talking to a child. "This is exactly the problem. This is why a precedent is necessary to prove my point."
"Your point that rank doesn't matter," Yozak said, though he didn't sound at all convinced.
"My point that happiness has nothing to do with tradition, or rules, or preconceptions, and that if you'd pull your head out of your ass for ten seconds you might be able to see that," Murata snipped in spite of his plan to torment Yozak for putting him through all the trouble and worry. The moment he did it, he regretted it. 'Some sage I am. I just completely botched my own plan,' he thought. He'd had a plan. It was a good one. He was going to find a precedent, and make sure Yozak would be the one to notice it first, let him stew on it for a few days, and connive the burly beauty into making the first move. It had been brilliant. And, he'd just ruined it with one stupid tantrum.
"Your Eminence?" Yozak asked hesitantly.
Murata sighed heavily again. "You are a soldier, Yozak."
"I am." Yozak hesitated. His heart pounded in his ears. If he were watching this scene unfold as a spy, it would seem an obvious love story, but with himself in the middle of it, he couldn't bring himself to believe it.
"The only one I speak to regularly," Murata pressed.
Yozak found his heart in his throat. "That's not true," he managed to choke out.
"Conrad doesn't count," Murata retorted. "With his rank and relations he can hardly be called a mere 'soldier', even if he likes to play the part, and we both know it."
Yozak opened his mouth, but before he could differ again, Murata added, "Or Dacoscos, as we do not typically have extensive conversations."
Yozak couldn't find words around the reptile crawling about in his throat, and forgot to breathe lest he disrupt the butterflies flitting about his chest cavity.
Murata, seeing he would not get the words past Yozak's lips, and certainly not while sober, relented at last. He got up from his seat and pushed the books in front of Yozak away so he might sit on the table in front of him. "I suppose I've developed a certain habit of not being entirely clear on things that are important to me, both as the Great Sage, and also as Ken Murata. It became necessary to not talk about every little thing, if I didn't want people to think I was crazy."
Yozak blinked. "It's..."
Ken leaned forward and pressed his finger to the redhead's lips. His pulse raced like a hummingbird's. "Since you're so stubborn, and ruining all my grand plans, I'll have to be frank – just this once. And, frankly, I really hate it when you call me 'Your Eminence' and 'Your Grace' because you're putting unnecessary space between us. How am I supposed to bridge the gap between us when you insist on constantly making it wider."
"Your Em...I...I mean..." Yozak struggled. What was he supposed to call this perfect young man, then?
"Ken," Murata prodded. "Murata, if you must, but I'd rather you call me Ken."
Even the Maoh was not on such intimate terms with the Great Sage! It left little room for misunderstanding. "That's a bit..."
"Unprecedented?" Ken offered.
"To say the least," Yozak answered flatly.
"Maybe, but maybe when a precedent can't be found in the past, it has to be made in the present." Ken's smile was far more confident than his pulse, which fluttered madly with hope. He knew Yozak cared for him, but he could be so stubborn.
Yozak was not quick to answer, clearly deliberating between what he knew to be true, and what he thought was probably true. A fierce battle between desire and propriety clearly waged in his pale eyes. Since Yozak hesitated to answer, Ken continued to push. "Well, precedents aside, there is another side to the argument you're not considering. Really, I'm shocked, because I would think you're smart enough to have figured it out on your own."
Yozak wasn't sure how to answer that, but he looked mildly insulted, which amused the bespectacled young man.
"You see, you claim, regardless of your feelings, that mutual affection between those of different social standings can only cause the person of the higher standing to descend, and thus breed misery. This can sometimes be the case. On the other hand, being apart from the one you love always breeds misery. In that case, don't you think the possibility of despair is a better choice than despair that is guaranteed?"
Yozak pursed his lips. Ken was right. He should have been smart enough to see that logic for himself. Instead, he was running around in circles, trying to keep his feelings tightly locked away. Feelings, it now seemed, that this beautiful double black shared. "You're too young to be so smart," Yozak complained warmly. "Alright, Your...Em-uh..." he took a deep breath and moistened his lips. "Ken." Oh, he liked the way that felt on his lips. "...you win. I see your point."
"I knew you would eventually, but you certainly made me jump through several hoops to show it to you. Now, which was the bad leg, the right, was it?" Ken scooted off the table.
"Is this why you were spying on us in the tavern?" Yozak asked, then nodded at the question about his leg.
"I didn't think you'd noticed," Ken complained, carefully seating himself on Yozak's left thigh. "You were so drunk."
Yozak's stomach tumbled over itself as the Sage, his Sage, made himself comfortable there. "I'm a spy. I'm never that drunk."
"You were drunk enough to confess your feelings right in front of me," Ken reminded him.
"Alright, fine. I was that drunk. Conrad told me afterward." Yozak sulked. He hated being caught unaware, and he hated admitting to it even more. "I was upset," he said to defend himself.
"Yes, I imagine you were," Ken answered knowingly.
"You set me up," Yozak complained.
"I would argue that it was a test," Ken replied, sliding his hand along Yozak's jaw. At the heart of things, he was just a teenage boy, after all, and while he enjoyed talking with Yozak, now that their mutual infatuation was properly established, he just wanted to get to the kissing.
"A test," Yozak made a show of being insulted. "And here you're always saying that you trust me."
"With my life, a thousand times over, but the heart is a much more fragile thing, you understand. I needed to be certain before taking any gambles that might only make us both uncomfortable, to put my mind at ease. Are you terribly angry?"
"No," Yozak admitted. "Nervous," he also admitted, instinctively glancing at the library door. Anyone could walk in, and having Ken seated in his lap, touching him so tenderly, was making him a little too excited for there to be any question as to just what was going on if they were interrupted. "People are going to say I seduced you, and that you're not in your right mind."
"They'll be right," Ken chriped. "I'm utterly seduced. My mind is so filled with you that it's almost impossible to get anything productive done, and when I dream, well, if my daydreams are distracting, the ones I have at night are at least thrice as bad."
The suggestive comment forced Yozak to shift uncomfortably beneath the young man. He, too, had had such 'distracting' dreams. He didn't care to admit how often.
"Maybe humoring a dream or two will help us return to being productive members of society?" Ken offered suggestively, dragging his finger across Yozak's lips. Damn this man! How much louder did he have to scream, 'take me!' before Yozak would kiss him?!
Not much, it seemed, as Yozak's hand – calloused with years of swordplay and hard labor – caressed Murata's smooth cheek, and was slightly less gentle than he'd intended, given the current atmosphere of dreams becoming reality. Ken could scarcely bring himself to mind; the gruff parts of Yozak were part of what charmed him. And, the muscles, the die hard loyalty, and the beautiful, expressive eyes. The man was also a knockout in a dress, and had the confidence to wear one with such panache.
Their lips crushed together, and Ken added them to the list of reasons Yozak was so utterly lovable. He curled his arms around the soldier's neck, laced his fingers into his hair, and felt his spine melt. When he parted his lips, Yozak continued the momentum, and the tongue sliding against his own tasted like molasses – thick and dark as sin, but sweet, oh so very sweet. Ken tightened his embrace. Why had they danced around this for so long?
As for Yozak, much like when he was drunk, he lost all sense of decorum. Ken's kisses where tender, eager, and inexperienced. People sometimes forgot that the Great Sage was also a very young man. Yozak was also guilty of that, to an extent. Visually, he could be no more poignantly aware of it – Ken was stunning even before he'd returned his hair to its beautiful, natural black. But, intellectually? No, Yozak could not claim to be so wise as to realize that no amount of past life experience could give a young man experience with kisses, with caresses, or with love. It was no wonder they'd bungled about it so – and Yozak admitted he was at least mostly to blame for the fact it had taken so long. He pulled back, and his caresses became gentler. Ken was clearly inexperienced, but there was a charm in that. "No need to rush, yeah?"
"Rushing is okay," Ken breathed harshly. "In some circumstances."
Yozak laughed and embraced him tightly. No, there was no need to rush at all, as long as Ken Murata, aka-the Great Sage – was his. He kissed Ken's temple tenderly. "We'll save the main course for when my leg has healed," he whispered in Murata's ear.
Ken shivered. Right. His leg. The only reason Yozak was such a constant presence at the castle these days. He dropped his head on the spy's shoulder. "Once your leg is healed, you'll be running off to acquire new injuries, and who knows when I'll see you."
Yozak laughed heartily. "I'm at the castle often enough."
"And away just as often," Ken pouted, attempting to convince Yozak not to put a halt on their feelings when they'd finally admitted to them. He was a teenager after all, and it was cruel of Yozak to get him all riled up and then stop so suddenly!
"Just often enough to make sure you miss me," Yozak answered, kissing Ken's temple, and again, his lips.
Ken returned the kiss eagerly, and it was several minutes before Yozak remembered his resolve not to move too quickly. His lips journeyed back up to Murata's cheek, to his temple. "Would a bit of romance be such a bad thing?" he asked.
"We can save that for the honeymoon," Ken returned, grinning, and pulled Yozak to him for another eager kiss.
It pulled at the wound on Yozak's thigh, but the soldier couldn't bring himself to protest a little pain, or an impending lecture from Gisela, if that was the cost of holding his beloved in his arms. It was easy to forget the world, when such unprecedented happiness was threatening to overwhelm one's senses.
It was a blessing, or perhaps a curse, that at that moment that the voice of a certain irritable young blond broke the spell between them.
"Yuri! What the hell are you doing standing there like a ninny come to dinn-!?"
The new couple startled and turned their gaze quickly toward the large doors. Yuri was still in the midst of them, hand glued to the knob, jaw placed rather firmly toward the floor. Behind him, Wolfram's eyes had gone comically wide, his face red to the roots of his pale hair. "Y-yo...Yuri! Give them some privacy you pervert!" Wolfram declared, seemingly perplexed and aghast as he dragged Yuri, stuttering awkwardly, away from the door, which slammed behind them.
A moment of shock, and on Yozak's part – horror, passed in the deafening silence, before Ken dropped his head on the spy's shoulder and started laughing. "Okay, alright, I see your point. You win. We'll settle for romance, and save the fun things for more private venues."
Yozak spent another moment utterly speechless before muttering, "It's not funny, Your Grace."
"Ken!" Murata declared, poking two fingers against the man's muscular chest. "And, it's hilarous. And, for that matter, has entirely proved my point. We've just been caught in the act, and what did Wolfram have to whine about? Privacy. Unprecedented or not, there's nothing stopping us, my beautiful spy."
Yozak's cheeks colored at the flattery. "Even so, a little caution is never a bad idea," he replied.
"And a little daring is...?" Murata encouraged.
Yozak sighed. "Also not a bad idea, under certain circumstances."
"Good, then. We're in agreement!" Ken slipped off of Yozak's lap, straightened his clothes, and said, "Well, I'll tidy up and go to dinner, I suppose."
"Yeah, I have a few things to tend to."
Murata smirked behind his hand, imagining what those 'few things' probably were. They wouldn't have to 'settle for romance' very long, if his suspicions were correct.
"I'll stay in my room here in the castle tonight. I'm going to be very preoccupied with work, and it will be too dark for me to travel back to the temple by the time I'm done," the devious young man said conversationally. "You might want to be a dear and bring me a midnight cup of tea, since the maids, of course, will all be in bed and it would be a pity to disturb them," he offered suggestively.
Yozak wondered whether his resolve would outlast his injury, when he answered, holding the door open for the young man, "Of course, Your Eminence," unable to keep the bright smile from his features as the young man slid past as if all was right with the world, which, of course, it was.