Length: 3,827 words
Continuation from Sword and Shield
For dorkodile and moonravencroft,
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. Because this isn't the first time we've been preoccupied with accidental marriages, half-demons, and firestarters. *smiles* It's nice to have the tables turned. 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.
And for moonravencroft, whose words of encouragement during a very difficult time was absolutely invaluable to this writer, and who pointed out vital issues I needed to resolve, and whose Yuuri/Wolfram stories never fail to lift me up out of the most frustrating days of my life. Thank you - I would never have finished this without you.
A/N: Part 2 (Apologies, I'm going to have to make this a four-parter, not a three-parter like I thought).
If anyone's interested, the previous version, before moonravencroft's help, is here. It is a real credit to her help that this one's better. XD
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, dinner together in the evenings, yelling at your son to stop with those computer games already, or giving your children 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 attempted to demonstrate your displeasure to a demon prince. Yuuri’s thought about it sometimes, when he isn’t figuring out who’s stolen priceless Mazoku gems, riding out to burning villages, or falling into a barrel of wine and being unexpectedly sent back to his world. Maybe the whole engagement thing is 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 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.
But Wolfram isn’t going down. Not without a fight. And even when wounded and suffering from Houjutsu sickness, Wolfram still has more fight in him than anyone Yuuri has ever known.
As Yuuri stands with his back to Wolfram, he hears his fiancé whisper the incantation that will summon his Maryoku. It is then that he wishes, with all his heart, that he was better trained. Wished that he’d listened to Wolfram when Wolfram was attempting to coach him in swordplay. At the time, all he could think about was getting away from Wolfram. He never thought he would one day want to protect Wolfram, or need to fight to defend his fiancé.
Then, it seemed as if Wolfram was trying to insinuate himself into every aspect of Yuuri’s life, and while he liked the blond prince well enough – he thinks, sometimes, that they could even have been friends, maybe really good friends, if the whole fiancé thing hadn’t happened – he just didn’t feel up to the constant attention. It was easier to push Wolfram away than to figure out how to deal with it.
And now he hopes it isn’t too late. He wishes he could go back to that time again, because things were simpler, then. Before, it seemed as if their only enemies were each other, and now, Yuuri understands what real enemies are.
Yuuri never thought that his interminable lessons with Gunter would ever pay off, but he finds himself remembering all he’s learnt about Houjutsu shadows. How they’re possessed of very basic animal intelligence, and that while they are powerful, they have extremely limited powers of perception. Motion most easily draws their attention, and is how they’ve earned the reputation of being one of the most fearsome spells a Houjutsu user can cast on a Mazoku. A Houjutsu shadow can follow a fleeing Mazoku for miles, and for as long as it has to.
And in that strength, Yuuri finds its weakness.
A desperate plan whispers to him, and he touches Wolfram’s shoulder.
“What is it, Yuuri?” hisses his fiancé, never taking his eyes off the shadow.
“Don’t move,” he orders, and steps forward and away from Wolfram, intent on drawing the Houjutsu shadow’s full attention to him, and him alone.
All feats are never as fearsome as they appear to be if one takes them in small steps. And so it is that Yuuri breaks down all that he knows he has to do. 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 his fiancé. And although a game with his daughter is nothing like trying to outwit a Houjutsu shadow, he knows that reducing it to such simplicity keeps the fear away.
Yuuri takes one careful step at a time towards the Houjutsu shadow. And then he feints to his right, and feels a surge of satisfaction when the shadow moves with him, surging with him as focuses its attention on him.
That’s when Yuuri gets ready to run for his life, knowing that it isn’t just his life at stake here, but Wolfram’s, as well. That’s where his plan gets a little shaky, because while he’s thinking of racing to the banquet hall to enlist the help of those who actually know what to do to dispel a Houjutsu shadow, he isn’t sure if he’ll actually be able to make it that far before the shadow catches up with him. But at least it won’t get Wolfram, he thinks, and that’s enough for him.
He darts around the Houjutsu shadow, and it follows, unmistakeably drawn to him.
Yuuri gets all the way down the corridor (fleeing his fiancé makes excellent practice) with the Houjutsu shadow close behind, before Wolfram loses his patience.
Yuuri feels the air around him flare to life as Wolfram releases his Maryoku.
And to combat this sudden threat, the shadow twists around on itself, abandoning Yuuri to go for Wolfram, instead.
“Wolfram, no!” Yuuri yells, but even as Wolfram twists to duck the shadow’s searing counterattack, they both knew it was too late. Even as fire enfolds the Houjutsu shadow, it seems to do nothing to dispel it. If anything, it seems to feed it, as the shadow twines itself around Wolfram with a singleminded ferocity and breathtaking speed.
There is no time to scream, no time to call for help, because it all happens too quickly for him to react. And yet, this time, he knows when his other self awakens within him.
Wild energy courses through him, and blue fire washes over everything he sees. Strength surges through his entire being, and yet he’s still there, still conscious, as cold fire gathers around his wrists and threads through his fingers. And then it surges forth, finding the spaces between Wolfram and the Houjutsu creature and twining itself securely around his fiancé.
His fiancé. He’s never been conscious when his Maryoku manifests itself, but he’s never felt anything as strongly as he feels this, the way he feels that Wolfram belongs to him and only to him, this cold fury for anyone and anything who ever dares hurt his fiancé, this unshakeable sense of conviction that he will do anything he has to, to protect Wolfram.
But even as the Houjutsu shadow flickers and fades under the onslaught of his Maryoku, he can’t sustain the presence within him, as it fades out of his consciousness as the shadow fades from existence.
And there is no time for anything when Wolfram collapses at his feet, and Yuuri realises that his fiancé doesn’t seem to be breathing.
Fire isn't supposed to feel like this, Yuuri thinks, as he cradles Wolfram in his arms.
Fire burns and makes you 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.
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 pirates tearing children from their parents, 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 in his arms, 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 still can’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 no), 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. And because Conrad is the one to whom he brings his questions, he shares this one with him.
“Why didn’t the Maou take over completely?” he asks Conrad.
Conrad is silent for a moment as he considers the question.
“When your emotions become too strongly involved, it appears that the Maou presence is stilled. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. If you remember, you’ve already experienced this once, when you faced me in the Dai Shimaron tournament.”
Yuuri nods, slowly. That was when Conrad betrayed him. Betrayed all of Shin Makoku.
Not that Yuuri truly believed it in his heart.
“You couldn’t sustain the Maou presence, either. Not then. I believed it was because you cared too much to let him take over completely. As much as you may believe that Maou controls you, Yuuri – you are the Maou. He will not – can not - do anything that you would not do. And it seems that when people you care deeply about are involved, you refuse to let him intervene.”
A long silence falls while Yuuri deliberates on Conrad’s words. After thinking long and hard, Yuuri finally delivers his opinion.
“I don’t understand.”
Conrad smiles, and patiently explains. “I think that whenever you care too much, whenever your emotions are intensely involved, you become unable to sustain the Maou’s presence.”
Yuuri thinks back to that fateful tournament in Dai Shimaron. He remembers coming to consciousness, the only thought in his mind that he wanted Conrad safe, because Conrad hadn’t done anything wrong. Not to Yuuri. Yuuri was absolutely certain that it would all be alright if only Conrad would just speak to him, if Conrad would tell him why he’d done what he’d done. Yuuri knew that Conrad was a man who wouldn’t do this for just any reason, and for whatever reason it was that Conrad had betrayed them all, Yuuri knew that he could forgive Conrad.
He shakes his head. That’s not quite right. Yuuri’s never needed to forgive Conrad that, because he was never furious with Conrad for leaving. He just wanted Conrad back. What is between them has never needed forgiveness, because everything they are is beyond this.
More than anything else, Yuuri didn’t want the Maou to hurt Conrad, and feared that the Maou would do just that, when hewasn’t in control. And when he opened his eyes to find Conrad alive, safe, still standing, relief flooded through him, fiercer than any anger he could ever feel for Conrad.
He’d felt as strongly about Conrad as – as for that moment there, he had about Wolfram.
“Do you know what the Maou is, Yuuri?”
Yuuri looks up at Conrad, and slowly shakes his head. He’s never afraid of admitting what he doesn’t know to Conrad, because Conrad has always been a safe person for him to confide in. He could always bring his fears to Conrad, because Conrad always makes him feel better. So it is no great difficulty, admitting to Conrad that he doesn’t really know what the other side of him truly is. When he wakes to the devastation that the presence sleeping within him causes, he wonders, sometimes, what it can be.
“He is you, Yuuri. He is everything you are. And everything you can be. The only difference is that he has full control of the powers the Shinou granted you. But the justice he brings us is yours, Yuuri. Those are your thoughts he speaks. Those are your beliefs he voices. He is not separate from you, any more than you are separate from him, although it may seem otherwise to you.”
Yuuri nods, halfway to comprehension, as Conrad’s words echo a truth within himself that he has always known, but never known the words with which to speak it.
“You already know that your soul is Julia’s. But you are not Julia. Any more than those
powers are the Maou. You are the Maou, Yuuri.”
Conrad smiles. “I think the Maou knows things you already know, even if you won’t admit them. I know he feels what you feel.”
“And he loves who you love. He protects what you protect. And yet, he also knows that you must learn to do this on your own. Sometimes, he knows that you already know how to do this on your own. He knows that he must trust you, just as you must trust him.”
Yuuri closes his eyes as he tries to absorb everything that Conrad’s telling him. It seems that as much as he has yet to learn about Shin Makoku and the people he is to rule, he has more to learn about himself, and what he is.
“He is uniquely you,” Conrad continues. “I don’t think any Maou before you – and there have been twenty-six of them – has ever proclaimed himself a Magistrate of Love before.”
Yuuri’s eyes widen in shock. “I did that?”
Conrad’s eyes spark with amusement. “Yes, when you became the Maou to save Wolfram from Elisabeth.”
Not for the first time, Yuuri 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. “If you had really needed him, he would have come. As he has before.”
“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 Houjutsu. 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. Drowsily, he wonders why he needs to move, because this is where he should be.
"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.