A/N: Here, Wolfram discovers that Conrad was half-human during the war twenty years ago. Written before I watched the episode where we discover that Wolfram learnt that Conrad was half-human long before the war.
in these arms
Conrad still remembers the look on Wolfram’s face the day he rode off at the head of the Rutenberg division. He still remembers the look in Wolfram’s eyes as he realised that his brothers were entering a world he could not know.
Conrad held his youngest brother to him before he went to war, tousling the golden hair, sick with the thought that this might be the last time he held Wolfram to him. Wolfram’s eyes were wide with confusion as he looked from Conrad to Gwendal, not understanding what had happened to turn his brothers into these stern, unsmiling men, not understanding why he hadn’t seen his mother for days, not understanding why he had woken up one morning to a world that would never be the same again.
All through the war, through the screams of the dying, through the roar of the flames, his memories were his strength. Memories of Wolfram at his knee, of teaching his brother to read when all the Mazoku tutors had despaired of ever educating the recalcitrant child, of the look on Wolfram’s face as he saw Conrad the end of a long day, of the way it felt to have Wolfram run into his arms and gaze at him as if he was the only thing in the world that mattered.
He remembers so much about Wolfram, and he remembers a lot of moments that way.
He remembers the day Wolfram’s Maryoku first manifested itself. It had happened at a state dinner, when Wolfram was very young. He’d set the tablecloth on fire, and in his panic, had run to hide under the very table he had set ablaze. Where everyone else had run out of the room, or run for water (no one then had been able to control water), Conrad had headed straight for the heart of the blaze. Ducking under the table, he found Wolfram curled up on himself. Conrad remembered cradling his terrified brother in his arms, determined that Wolfram would not grow up afraid of what he was, even if it meant that the castle would burn to the ground. Holding the trembling Wolfram in his arms, he whispered to his brother that this was normal, that the destructive power he was capable of was nothing to be afraid of, and that there would always be help if he needed it, that Conrad would always be there for him, no matter what he’d done. An exhausted Wolfram had fallen asleep in his arms under the banquet table, and Conrad had kept all others at bay until Wolfram was able to handle them.
He remembers Wolfram interrupting his lessons with Gunter to show him his paintings, demanding Conrad’s approval. Remembers going to bed at the end of a long day to find a tiny golden-haired child nestled deep within the folds of his blankets. He remembers untangling Wolfram and carrying him off to his room, where Wolfram would stubbornly refuse to fall asleep without Conrad by his side, almost as if Wolfram needed to reassure himself that Conrad wouldn’t leave him.
That’s why Wolfram’s bedroom antics with Yuuri amuse Conrad so, not that he’d ever tell either of them. Yuuri had as much to learn about Wolfram as Wolfram had to learn about Yuuri, and the one thing about Wolfram that Conrad felt Yuuri should have learnt by now was that when Wolfram set his heart on something, he’d never give up.
And of all these memories, Conrad will never forget the look in Wolfram’s eyes the day his brother learnt what he was, the day Wolfram learnt that the difference between Mazoku and human was something the memories of their years together could not conquer.
In that moment, Conrad knew that Wolfram would never run into his arms again.
That single revelation had done more to make Wolfram grow up than all those years of war.
That day, Conrad felt what was between them die, and a new future born in the fury with which Wolfram now looked upon him.
Wolfram never let Conrad touch him again.
He felt as if he’d failed Wolfram, then, as if it was his fault that his brother could not look past what he was, that all the memories they’d shared weren’t strong enough to bridge the age-old Mazoku contempt for humankind. He’d always known that they would grow apart some day, but never thought it would be this soon, or that it would happen like this.
Julia was a loss he would remember all his life, but Wolfram was a loss he had to face every day, every time his younger brother recoiled from his touch, every time Wolfram looked at him as though all the years they’d shared had never happened.
As if Conrad had never held him in his arms.
The day Conrad first held Wolfram in his arms, he hadn’t known, then, how much his life would change.
A child is a full-time occupation, and a child like Wolfram was an all-consuming one. He’d taught Wolfram to fight. Taught him to read. Just as Wolfram had taught him that he was never too busy for his youngest brother. Just as he’d learnt, from the start, that someone so small could make so much noise. That he could feel so much for someone who hadn’t even begun to talk yet. That he could forgive the worst temper tantrum the moment Wolfram looked at him and smiled. That even the worst day melted away when his brother ran into his arms.
When Conrad looked into Wolfram’s face, he knew he would do anything to protect him. Anything.
But the one thing he hadn’t been able to protect his brother from was himself.
Some things change.
And some things never do.
Even now, Wolfram recoils from his touch. Conrad smiles as he always does, before turning his attention keeping to the Maou to make sure he drops no knives at the state dinner function. In many ways, Yuuri slips in into the place in Conrad’s life which Wolfram left behind.
Conrad watches Wolfram with Yuuri, and wants to tell Wolfram that it is all too much, too soon, and that all he does only drives Yuuri away. That's not the way to get through to Yuuri. Sometimes, the more you try to pull someone to you, the further you push them away.
Sometimes, all you can do is wait and hope they come around.
He knows this because that's what he's waiting for.
If Conrad could teach Wolfram one final lesson, it would be that you can’t always make people do what you want them to do. You can’t make someone love you just by loving them.
Just as deciding to hate someone doesn’t mean they stop loving you.
It was deep in the heart of winter when Dai Shimaron decided to make its move.
King Belial was none too happy about Conrad’s return to Shin Makoku, and in an uncharacteristic display of patience, has waited this long to exact his vengeance.
While patrolling the kingdom’s northern borders, Conrad found himself in the center of an exceptionally well-planned ambush. He and his personal guard made short work of the assassins sent to dispatch him, but were caught off-guard by a second band of Belial’s henchmen. After sending men off for reinforcements, he and the remainder of the guard were driven to the edge of a frozen lake.
Fortunately, help chose that moment to arrive, although Conrad hadn’t expected Wolfram and his personal guard to be the nearest source of support.
Caught up in the heat of battle, Wolfram released his Maryoku. The winter forest came alive with fire, just as the heat weakened the ice Wolfram was standing upon so much so that it gave way, and he fell through to the lake below.
Conrad remembered, all too well, that his brother cannot swim.
The sight of his brother disappearing beneath the ice galvanised Conrad in a way nothing else could have. Conrad had followed Wolfram through the ice without a second thought, as his and Wolfram’s personal guard finished off their assailants. He hauled his shivering brother onto the banks, and set off for the castle as fast as he could.
The chill seeped through Conrad’s uniform as he strode through the castle, a trembling Wolfram in his arms. Wolfram weakly tried to push Conrad away, but gave in, lying quiescent in Conrad’s arms when exhaustion proved too much for him.
Gisela tended to Wolfram, and chased Conrad off to change out of his drenched clothes.
When he returns to Wolfram’s side, he’s greeted by the sight of his youngest brother, curled up by the fire in a nest of blankets. Conrad is sure to make no noise as he approaches the sleeping Wolfram, but Wolfram stirs, and sleepily, opens his eyes.
The whisper sent a jolt straight to his heart.
He settles down by Wolfram’s side, and Wolfram nestles against him, resting his head on Conrad's shoulder. His youngest brother must be beyond exhausted. Ordinarily, he'd never do anything like this.
Conrad fought the compulsion to tousle Wolfram’s hair. Wolfram was far past the time where that sort of contact would have been appropriate, or tolerated.
"You're safe?" Wolfram murmurs, against Conrad's neck.
Conrad nods, not trusting his voice. Wolfram slides his arms around Conrad's waist - What has Gisela given him? Conrad wonders - and the gradual shift in his breathing tells Conrad that he has fallen asleep.
Conrad knows Wolfram too well to think that this moment of reconciliation could survive the dawn. Wolfram murmurs and tightens his hold, and Conrad doesn't want to let go just yet. He gazes into the fire and remembers a wide-eyed boy racing into his arms, alive with laughter, as he holds the Mazoku that boy has now become.
And then, for a timeless moment, all the years melt away, and it is as if the world has never known Yuuri or Julia.
Conrad cradles Wolfram close and tucks the blond head under his chin. And even after all these years, this feeling has never changed, the way he feels when he holds Wolfram safe in these arms.
Some things change.
Then, as he looks down on Wolfram in his arms, he smiles.
And some things never do.