Rating: PG for slash content, R for general audience
Length: 1,931 words
all that can't be undone
Everyone underestimates Murata. It’s so easy to look at him and see the boy that Murata wants them to see.
Murata Ken has long known the value of appearances. Especially of appearing to know less than you really do, of seeming young and helpless. And Murata, naturally, was never any of these things, even when he seemed to be.
People let you get away with a lot more, if you look and act the way they want you to. They let slip with a lot more. They trust you a lot more. And that’s where you surprise them. That’s where you learn enough to decide on the best way to act. Much like Yozak, the Maou’s chameleon of a personal guard. He’s had to be, growing up the way he has. Being of both worlds and of neither, he’s learnt quickly that the world is kindest to those who can become like those around them, who can flow, like water, from one identity to another.
Murata has always known this.
It is Murata who makes the first move.
Just as he always does.
He remembers exactly how it happened. Evening in the corridors of the castle, the world closing down on them, making it seem as if they're the only two people in the world.
The kiss is an answer. A question. A challenge. A challenge, coming from the quiet boy who always seemed to fade into the background, who, Conrad was now realising, was not so much fading into the background as letting what he wanted to observe come to the forefront. Murata remembers the look in Conrad’s eyes, even now, as he realises Murata is not a child, and has never been a child.
This isn't supposed to happen. But so much isn't supposed to happen. Julia's dead, and that wasn't supposed to happen. This is just one more shouldn’t have happened in a world that’s alive with impossibility.
They understand each other, Murata and Conrad. They each see in the other what they have had to be.
And the ghost of what they might become.
In that way, they’re a warning to each other.
Sometimes, he wonders if Yuuri knows.
But he knows that the boy king can barely work out how to handle that fiancé of his, let alone discern what's happened between Conrad and him. Yuuri doesn't even begin to guess what Wolfram's feelings for him are, and Murata's quite happy to keep him oblivious. It works better that way, sometimes.
Sometimes, he wants to shake Yuuri. To tell him that being oblivious to the designs of others doesn't protect you any more than awareness does. To tell him that if he doesn't open his eyes, the world will soon meet him with a knife to his back. But the best teacher, Murata has learnt, through all his bitter years, is still experience, because it leaves scars that not even time can heal. And if it's the only way Yuuri will learn, then it has to be like this.
There isn’t a lot Murata Ken hasn’t had to do in all the lives he’s lived, but one of the things he’s hated the most is having to watch the innocence die in Yuuri’s eyes.
Murata tells himself that he’s furious at Conrad for all the trouble he’s caused. For defecting to Dai Shimaron and unintentionally being the indirect cause of all the chaos with the first Forbidden Box. But if he’s honest with himself, the real reason he’s furious at Conrad is because Murata has had to watch as the young Maou discovers how badly those you trust can hurt you, even with the best of intentions.
It’s not as if Murata doesn’t understand. It’s not as if he’s never had to do something like this before.
Nor is it as if he might never have to do this to Yuuri.
Sometimes he’s not sure he hasn’t, already.
But it felt, sometimes, as if Conrad hadn't just betrayed Yuuri. That he'd betrayed all of them, however pure his motives. Although Murata knows he can do nothing to help Yuuri, it doesn’t make him feel any better about the way things are.
But there is one thing he can do.
He knows where they’re keeping Conrad. Everyone knows. The location of a known traitor to Shin Makoku, especially if he’s also the Maou’s son, and half-human to boot, is invariably a secret that can never be kept.
Murata steals in, quick and quiet as a cat.
Trying not to talk about Yuuri is like trying to forget the sun in your sky. Or your reason for being.
Yuuri always comes first.
That’s their unspoken understanding. Yuuri is the Maou, and they will do anything to protect him. And so, Yuuri always comes first. Even before what is between the both of them. Anyone who holds their hearts knows that they own but what is left of these men after they have given what they are to duty and what has to be done, for they are men used to giving up what they want for what the world needs.
It was never going to be easy. Especially with a Maou like this one. Yuuri’s heart is as open as the sky, and every emotion he feels, he shows, with no regard for the need to keep one’s heart as much a mystery as one’s plans.
Murata and Conrad are men who understand that secrets are inevitable – even necessary – in the world they live in, and that some secrets must be kept to protect boy kings who can’t even stop themselves being bitten by their own living swords.
Yuuri, young, impulsive and all artless charm, possesses a distressing tendency to speak his mind, to forget the consequences, and to throw caution to the wind. He also demonstrates the near-fatal instinct of trusting his heart over his head, and most dangerously, the tendency that is any ruler’s downfall – to believe the best of people. His first instinct is to trust, because the world he lives in has given him no reason to believe otherwise, no reason for him to draw back to protect himself.
Murata and Conrad don’t have that luxury. Both of them know no world is that simple.
Yuuri has had spectacular luck so far, even when it comes disguised as accidents. Notably, in acquiring a fierce champion and protector in the youngest son of the former Maou, one bound by more than loyalty, unshakeable in his dedication to keep the Maou safe.
But however fortunate a ruler is, there are always lessons waiting to be learnt by him. And one of the most painful lessons is this:
There is no shield that can guard against betrayal.
The next most painful lesson is this:
The first betrayal is the hardest.
And the rest get no easier.
But Murata and Conrad know this, have always known this. For, unlike Yuuri, they know how dangerous it is to let your heart look out of your eyes.
There’s a shadow of guardedness in Yuuri’s eyes, now, of knowledge that's come too soon for the boy he is, and not a second too early for the Maou he is to be.
Conrad doesn’t want this. Not if he’s the reason for it.
But even as he regrets what he’s had to do, he knows that he would change nothing of what he’s done. Because some things have to be done, no matter how much you hate them.
And if his duty to the Shinou requires him to betray Yuuri, then he will do it.
Conrad looks up at his newest visitor, and isn’t surprised. He knew that this moment would come, sooner or later.
“How do you like it here?” Murata asks, tightly.
If Murata thought that speaking to Conrad would make him feel any better, or help him understand why the man had done what he’d done, he was wrong.
It isn’t long before Conrad’s words drive Murata to speak what he really feels.
"Don't you dare," Murata hisses, "Don't you dare give me something like that. Don't you think I already know what you think you're doing?"
Conrad closes his eyes. He's surprised, to say that least, that he's managed to provoke such a reaction from the Daikenja. Murata was so very mild-mannered and calm - much like him - most of the time, that he forgot that the Great Sage had emotions like his own, too. The way they are – calm, reserved, almost always smiling - is a survival tactic. Volatility never survived long in the world which the both of them knew.
“It isn’t what you did,” Murata says, “It’s the way you think of it.”
He comes so close to Conrad, then, closer than the control which governs their lives would allow.
“You are always in control,” says Murata, implacably. “Even if you think that choice is an illusion, it is always there before you.” His eyes hold Conrad’s in their unflinching gaze. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have no choice. That’s the coward’s way out.”
Conrad had never thought that he would be on the receiving end of Murata's cold fury, but he hadn't really thought Murata capable of it to begin with. Ridiculous assumption, really. He knew that the Daikenja cared for the young Maou, but he hadn't known how deeply.
“Never make the mistake,” Murata says, quietly, but with great intensity, “Of thinking that this was not a choice you made. That you did not do this to yourself.”
Murata is unforgiving even as he understands. He didn’t become the Daikenja for nothing. He knows that some things are important enough to disobey orders for, even if they’re the Shinou’s. He thought Yuuri was important enough to Conrad for the man to understand this. But he also knows that Conrad would never dream of going against the Shinou’s wishes, even if Murata thinks he should have.
Then again, he would. He knew the Shinou. Remembers him, in those early days, as a hot-tempered youth not all that different from the one Yuuri Shibuya struck across the face during the first formal dinner he’d ever attended in Shin Makoku. There are times when Murata doubts the Shinou’s wisdom, but that’s what he’s for. He can question the Shinou when the Mazoku have been raised since birth to offer him their unquestioning obedience.
"You're in Yuuri's hands now," he says, not that the both of them don't know what Yuuri would do. What the Maou will do is a different thing altogether, though. The Maou doesn't forgive treachery easily, and it will remain to be seen if Yuuri can keep him in check long enough to let mercy prevail.
Murata’s gaze burns as he meets Conrad’s eyes, as uncompromising as the boy himself can be.
He doesn’t cry. Tears don't solve or stop anything, he's learned. And in all the years that he’s lived, through all the names, faces and lives all his own and now beyond his reach, he knows what it is to let go.
Still, there’s something as sad as it is inevitable about loving someone who has always belonged to someone else, and part of everything he feels for Conrad is that Conrad understands this better than anyone else.
And then Murata’s mouth meets his, quiet with resignation and hot with frustration all at once.
And Conrad closes his eyes and loses himself in the feel of Murata's mouth on his, sweet and bitter all at once with the past and all that can't be undone.