Length: 2,080 words
Continuation from Sword and Shield
For dorkodile, who makes me laugh, and makes me cry. For all the smiles that I miss. And because when you live in two worlds, it's easier to leave when you know that there's a reason for you to come back. I tried writing this so many times, but I guess I'm just not as good with words as I'd like to be. But I'm glad, 'cause if I was, I wouldn't be your henachoko.
A/N: Part 2 (Apologies, I'm going to have to make this a four-parter, not a three-parter like I thought). This fic is missing a vital linking scene in the front, but I was afraid that I'd explode with frustration if I didn't post it now, so I'll work on it and put it up, hopefully, in short order.
colder than fire
Marriage. Not that Yuuri Shibuya’s ever had to think about it before he became involved in a series of unfortunate accidents with water which place him in an entirely different world altogether, but when he did, it was a Mom-and-Dad thing. His mother was clearly Something Else, but his father cared for her, and it was clear that they loved each other. Marriage was that sort of thing. Settling down and dinner together in the evenings and yelling at your son to stop with those computer games already, or giving them pigtails, putting them in dresses and taking photographs of them, even if they were boys. That was what marriage was like. Not the sort of trouble you got yourself into when you did the wrong thing to a demon prince. Yuuri’s thought about it sometimes, when he isn’t figuring out who’s stolen the priceless crown jewel, riding out to burning villages, or falling into a barrel of wine and being unexpectedly sent back to his world. Maybe it’s a punishment to stop people from slapping each other. Or a joke they’re playing on him.
It can’t be what Wolfram thinks it is. It can’t be real.
Marriage. It’s not something Yuuri Shibuya’s ever needed to discuss, prepare for, or do. But since finding himself on the other side of reality, he’s starting to realise that he now has to.
But now, standing here by Wolfram’s side, facing one of the most formidable enemies he has ever seen in all his time here in Shin Makoku, Yuuri is beginning to realise how seriously Wolfram takes this whole fiancé business. Even if he’s never seen it as more than a joke that’s gone on for a little too long, it’s always been clear that his accidental fiancé sees things very differently. And now, at the side of a wounded Mazoku prince barely able to stand under the effects of Houjutsu, Yuuri is finally beginning to realise just how far Wolfram will go to protect him, and it staggers him.
The attack had been a diversion all along.
He feinted, attempting to draw it away from Wolfram. This is like playing with Greta, he tells himself, much in the same way as he’d coached himself to think of a sword as a baseball bat, in the first duel he’d ever fought in Shin Makoku, with the Mazoku who was to become his fiancé. Although a game with his daughter is nothing like trying to outwit a Houjutsu shadow.
“Wolfram, no!” Yuuri yelled, but even as Wolfram twisted to duck the searing attack, they both knew it was too late.
Fire isn't supposed to feel like this.
Because fire burns so you know to pull yourself away from it as soon as possible, so you don't get hurt. It's only survival. And while fire can keep you warm, it can just as quickly consume you.
But the moment he saw Wolfram fall - something within him dies.
And when he’s holding Wolfram in his arms, colder than fire, Yuuri doesn't understand why this feels worse than the moment he looked into Conrad's face and knew he couldn't change his mind, why this feels worse than watching children snatced away by pirates, worse than anything that’s ever brought out the Maou in him.
And even though he doesn’t want to admit it, he knows. He knows that this is something even the Maou cannot change. This is why he's still here. There is nothing that can be done about the truth he's cradling to himself as if he could unmake reality if he could just hold Wolfram a little closer, for a little longer.
He feels as if his heart has stopped, but he doesn't actually care. All he can do is keep looking at that still, beautiful face before him and think of how much more beautiful it would be if those eyes were open and looking back at him.
And then, impossibly, those eyes do open.
"Yuuri?" asks the dazed Mazoku noble, blinking. "Is it raining?"
Yuuri doesn't realise what he means until he sees the tears falling onto Wolfram's upturned face.
"No," he chokes. "It's not." He blinks, because he doesn't understand why he should feel like this.
"I thought - " he says, but his voice closes up on the words, because he can't figure out why the thought of losing Wolfram, really losing Wolfram, should hurt so much. He doesn't understand why the thought of something so simple can be so awful, but that's okay, because when Wolfram is here, now, he doesn't understand how something so simple can make him feel as if all is right with the world again. He closes his eyes and rests his forehead against his fiancé's.
Wolfram's voice is unusually gentle when he replies. "You'll never get rid of me, henachoko," he says.
And then he smiles. It’s faint, and barely noticeable, touched with more pain than Yuuri would like, but it’s still a smile.
Sneaking a Houjutsu shadow into the castle would have been a good plan, if the Maou had been affected by human magic. Their assailants, however, didn’t know that the Maou was immune to the effects of Houryoku. As a plan to get to Yuuri, it was doomed to failure.
“The men were half-Mazoku,” said Conrad. “Like your daughter. That’s how they got into the castle – much the same way as she did. That was smart. Full humans would never have been able to get into the palace.”
He tousled Greta’s hair. The wide-eyed girl clung to Yuuri and refused to let go.
“They’re like you, Yuuri. Half-human, half-Mazoku. We always knew that they existed. On the edge of both societies, never a part of either world.”
They watch as the last of the men is tied up and hauled off for questioning. Yuuri offers to do the honours, which causes Gwendel’s brow to furrow instantly as he remembers Yuuri’s last attempt at interrogation. “I’ll do it,” Gwendel says. “You would take all night, and you still wouldn’t be finished with them.”
Wolfram, from his position on the floor, looks up, outraged. Yuuri’s fiancé is down, but far from out. “You cheater!” he yells. “And with the men who attacked us, too? You’ll betray both me and Shin Makoku? Have you no morals?”
To Yuuri, used to his fiancé accusing him of cheating on him with men, dragons and dolphins alike, this new condemnation comes as no surprise.
Gisela places a calming hand on Wolfram’s shoulder. “I’ll never finish with you if you don’t hold still,” she says. Wolfram subsides, breathing heavily from the exertion, and permits the healer to finish dressing his wounds, upon which she and Conrad bore the still-protesting Wolfram away. Yuuri accompanied Gwendel to ensure that the prisoners were treated properly (much to the older Mazoku’s annoyance). He made arrangements for the interrogation to begin the next day, when the men were conscious.
Leaving Greta’s room after putting his daughter to bed (some things will always be important, assassination attempts or not), Yuuri ran into Conrad, who had just come from attending to Wolfram. Falling into step with Conrad, Yuuri felt the comforting sense of warm familiarity he always felt when he was near this man. No one else in Shin Makoku, not even Wolfram, could make him feel at home like this.
Sometimes, Yuuri thinks that if he ever had to slap anybody, Conrad would have made a far better choice than Wolfram. Not that Conrad would have ever done anything that would warrant Yuuri slapping him. It just seems that the older Mazoku is so much more stable than his volatile fiancé. And he just seems to be able to talk to Conrad in a way that he wonders if he’ll ever be able to talk to Wolfram. The blond Mazoku usually spends so much time accusing Yuuri of infinite imagined infidelities that they never really – talk. Not the way he and Conrad do, anyway.
Where’s the Maou when you need him? Yuuri wonders. Not for the first time, he wishes he had more control over his darker counterpart. He says the same to Conrad, who smiles. “He knew you could handle this,” Conrad says.
“But – I put Wolfram in danger. And – I still needed your help.” Yuuri smiles, wryly. “I guess I’m still a newbie Maou after all.” He casts a glance in Wolfram’s direction. “And he’s going to call me a wimp again.”
Conrad smiles. “I think you’ll find that what Wolfram says isn’t always the best way of finding out what he thinks. Especially when it comes to you.”
Yuuri ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Sometimes I don’t know him, Conrad,” he admitted. “He isn’t easy to understand.”
“He isn’t,” Conrad agrees. “But he wants to be worthy of you, Yuuri. That’s why he tries so hard.”
Yuuri’s eyes widen in disbelief. “But he’s always calling me a wimp,” he protests. “It’s like I’m never good enough for him.”
Conrad shakes his head. “He makes it seem that way,” he says, “But only because he’s afraid that he isn’t enough for you.”
Yuuri’s silence betrays his utter inability to reconcile what Conrad is saying with what he knows of his fiancé, and Conrad laughs.
“If he could,” Conrad says, “He would be your army. But as it is, he can only be your sword and shield. He hates it because it isn’t enough for him.”
It was late when Yuuri returned to his bedroom for the second time that night. The guards at the door, there by Conrad’s order, saluted him. Nodding to them, Yuuri pushed the doors open, cautiously.
Wolfram was asleep in the centre of the vast bed (which never seemed quite as big as it should be when he and Wolfram were in it) his arm bound up in bandages. Other than that, his fiancé seemed to show no other injuries from the Hojutsu. Something eased in Yuuri’s chest when he saw Wolfram safe, even if he couldn’t quite explain why.
Wolfram looked so peaceful under the covers. Such a far cry from the incendiary Mazoku Yuuri was used to. Yuuri had never seen anyone fall asleep quite as fast as his fiancé, who could succumb to sleep in the middle of a conversation. He watched his sleeping fiancé, struck by how something so simple could make him feel as if all was right with the world again.
Wolfram stirred, and sleepily opened his eyes. The instant his gaze lit on Yuuri, he bolted upright, wincing belatedly.
"You really are a henachoko!" yells Wolfram, transforming exhaustion into pure fury within a heartbeat. Yuuri's surprised when he doesn't burst into flames. "Why didn't you listen to me? Why didn't you go and get Conrad?"
"Because you weren't safe!" Yuuri protests. "I couldn't leave you there alone!"
"You should have!" retorted Wolfram, crossing his arms over his chest. "That’s what I’m here for, Yuuri! To protect you! What if you'd gotten hurt?"
Yuuri remembers what Wolfram said before, and smiles. "It would have hurt worse if it'd been you," he offers, and is rewarded by the soldier's mouth turning up at the corners before Wolfram shakes himself and glares at Yuuri.
"That's a stupid excuse, henachoko," he grumbles, but he stops complaining.
"Don't call me a henachoko!" Yuuri retorts, but he's smiling, because he can't believe that he'd ever look forward to what has become Wolfram's customary insult. He moves to get up - or he would have, but it seems as if his body has decided that it's had enough excitement for the night, and refuses to budge. He settles against the headboard, thinking that he'll just close his eyes for a minute. And then I'll go back, he thinks, but his back slides down the headboard and he can't be bothered to sit up again.
"Are you falling asleep?" demands Wolfram. Yuuri murmurs and opens his eyes. "So are you," he counters, as he closes his eyes again.
Wolfram's fingers come to rest against his shoulder. "You are a henachoko after all," Wolfram says sleepily, as his eyes drift closed.
Ordinarily, Yuuri would angrily deny the insult, but he's so warm and as close as Wolfram is to sleep, so he murmurs a token protest and curls up closer to Wolfram. Before sleep takes him, his mind flickers to the thought, briefly, that maybe being married to Wolfram won’t be so bad after all.