ranchelle, you're next, because I'm going to write you innocent!seme!Luke and clueless!uke!Asch
And raethes drew REALLY REALLY CUTE young!Asch art here. And there is this PRICELESS Asch artwork here. And I am reading her LJ going XD XD XD YESS!!!! I AM NOT THE ONLY PERSON WHO THOUGHT OF ASCH IN LUKE'S COSTUME!!! And in that link up there there is also a link to a LukeXAsch artwork that had me STUPID WITH HAPPY THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU ♥ And the Asch+Luke ORLY + YA RLY here MADE ME LAUGH SO HARD. ALSO thank you maiki for requesting this oekaki BECAUSE IT MADE ME EXPLODE WITH LAUGHTER AND ♥.
Also, little_ribbon, YOU'RE STILL THE PRETTIEST AND THAT IS ALL. And also, thanks to farfello, I declare that Tenimyu's Aiba is the first individual I have ever seen whose neck I wish to
wordcount: 9,150. not kidding. it's kinda like the fic I promised shaorankun and siew, and I said it'd be 5,000 words, but it got way beyond that.
a/n: I am so sorry that there is no transition between the... plot, and the ... uh.... well. um. Er. Those who've been reading the parts of this fic I've been spamming on little_ribbon's LJ, start reading from the 3th lj-cut tag on, 'cause the ones above you've seen already.
the rules of engagement
Yuuri’s mother told him, once, that when you meet the love of your life, time stops. And that you look into their eyes, and you just know.
It’s his first day in Shin Makoku, and he’s just fallen off his horse at the feet of a golden-haired boy who looks as if he’s just walked out of one of those comics his mother’s always reading.
“So,” the shockingly good-looking prince says, when his eyes find the Maou, “A pretty boy.” His voice betrays no hint of emotion whatsoever, and neither do his eyes.
Yuuri Shibuya has just met Wolfram von Bielefeld, and he has no clue at all.
It was only his first day at the castle, and its layout confounded him. He’d escaped an interminable lecture from Gunter by the simple expedient of slipping out of the door while his advisor was engrossed in a particularly dusty book. He vaguely remembered needing to be present at a dinner later in the evening, and it occurred to him that he should perhaps take a look at the banquet hall lest its grandeur overwhelm him when he first entered it. It wouldn’t do to be struck dumb by one’s own castle (he couldn’t quite believe it was meant to be his).
Wandering out took him to a courtyard occupied by the blond Mazoku prince who had seemed so displeased at his arrival. He searched his memory and remembered the name. Wolfram, he thought to himself, pleased to not have forgotten. Perhaps he would know the way.
Wolfram seemed to be engaged in some form of swordplay, he noticed. He watched, impressed, as the prince duelled with some unseen enemy, raining down blows almost faster than his eyes could see. At length, Wolfram seemed to notice his presence, and looked up, irritably, in his direction.
Yuuri approached him, feeling more than a little nervous. Wolfram’s opinion of him didn’t seem to have improved since they’d first met. “Er. . . I’m sorry,” he said uncertainly, beginning to regret his decision to stop and ask for directions. “But which way is the banquet hall?”
“There,” said Wolfram irritably, with a curt wave in the direction of the castle.
That could have been anywhere, thought Yuuri, as he turned to where Wolfram had indicated and saw a corridor branch into three.
“Um, which one?” he asked, as politely as he could.
“The one on the left!” snapped Wolfram, as he whirled around, pointing.
Unfortunately, Yuuri had chosen just that moment to take a step towards the castle, and as it happened, the left side of Yuuri’s face connected with Wolfram’s open palm.
“Ow,” said Yuuri good-naturedly, rubbing his cheek where he’d been slapped. “Sorry.”
“Your Majesty,” said Wolfram, all the colour draining from his face, “I take that back.”
“You don’t have to,” said Yuuri, smiling. “That’ll teach me to look where I’m walking.”
Wolfram was beginning to look strangely desperate. “Your Majesty, I insist I be allowed to take it back.”
“You don’t have to – ”
“I beg you to let me take it back, your Majesty.” It was surprisingly how Wolfram could make a plea sound like an order.
“Wolfram,” Yuuri says, quietly, but with great intensity, “When I came to this country, I met so many people – adults and children, humans and Mazoku alike, who were afraid of me. Afraid of the Maou. Afraid of someone they’d never even met.”
He rests his hands on Wolfram’s shoulders, and refuses to let the prince leave.
“I don’t want you to be afraid of me, Wolfram.” He lets the words sink in, and smiles. “Besides, what would it look like if I made you take it back?” he asks. “All my subjects would be afraid of making mistakes. And of accidents. And –” He runs a hand through his hair.
“I don’t want you to be afraid of me, Wolfram.” He lets the words sink in, and smiles.
“So I order you not to take it back.”
Wolfram closed his eyes and appeared to be in great pain.
“What’s wrong?” asked Yuuri.
“We’re engaged, you twit.”
You could have knocked Yuuri over with a flick of a bearbee’s wings.
“But - it can't be! You can't be my - my fiancé - ”
“Fiancé? Is that what they call it in your country?”
“Yes, but – ”
“I’m your betrothed,” said Wolfram, pointedly. “Not your fiancé. ‘Fiancé’ would imply that I had some kind of choice in the matter.”
“Look, I’m sorry –”
“So you’ve said. But that isn’t going to change anything now, is it?”
“But we if are – betrothed – ” Yuuri says, almost as he can’t believe it himself, “Then we are - to be married?”
Wolfram grits his teeth. “I assure you that that unfortunate situation hasn’t escaped my attention.” He turned on his heel and stalked away.
“If you want to revoke the engagement, I don’t see why it can’t be done,” said his accidental fiancé, later that night, after dinner. The prince made no secret of his unhappiness with the proposal, let alone the circumstances in which it had taken place. The other Mazoku, however, had reacted with comparative equanimity to the news of the engagement – well, if you left out Gunter bursting into hysterical tears - and they’d been expressly left in each other’s company to “get to know each other better”, as the previous Maou had said, with a mischievous grin in her eyes. Yuuri couldn’t help but note the resemblance between Wolfram and his mother, and wondered how a mother like Cheri-sama could have raised a child as unforgiving and stubborn as Wolfram von Bielefeld.
They were out in the balustrade before the castle gardens, and Yuuri could barely see beyond the circle of illumination that the palace lights cast. All he could see of the land he was to rule was the moon above shadowy hills, and darkness from here to the horizon.
Wolfram was still talking, more to himself than to Yuuri. “But what would it look like if a King could take away his promise as easily as he gave it? Although I can’t see why the best course of action would be to go ahead with it, I can see why revoking the engagement wouldn’t bode well for the kingdom, or for the Maou’s trustworthiness. . . Especially not now.” He turned towards the Maou and snapped, “Are you even listening to me, Yuuri?”
Yuuri tore his eyes away from an eagle soaring past the moonlit skies, and tried to remember what Wolfram had been saying. “Um. . . ” he began, “Wouldn’t it be easier just to say it was an accident?”
Wolfram sighed. “It’s not that simple, Yuuri. I wish it were. But there are laws and customs which have to be observed, and these things aren’t as easily broken as they are made. And,” he says, looking years older, “The people need a distraction more than ever, now.”
At this, he glared at the Maou. “Next time, watch where you’re walking! I don’t want to hear of any more proposals like this!”
Unexpectedly, a slight girl – one of the maids Yuuri had seen around the castle earlier that day – stepped shyly onto the balustrade, and curtsied deeply before the two of them. She offered Wolfram a neatly folded parchment. “We found these being distributed in town, Your Excellency,” she said. “Sir von Walde tried to stop them, but it was too late. He –”
“I understand, Doria,” Wolfram says, calmly, taking the parchment from her. “You may go.”
“Congratulations to you and Your Majesty,” she says in reply, dropping a curtsey even deeper than the last, before she takes her leave. Yuuri thinks he hears muffled laughter from the shadows into which she vanishes, but when he turns to take a closer look, a flicker of starched apron is all he sees.
Wolfram had unfolded the parchment and was gazing at it, his brow furrowing in consternation. Then a short, sharp bark of laughter escapes him, and he hands it over to Yuuri. “Look,” he says, by way of explanation. “Seems like they’ve started, and quickly. Your distraction is already working.”
Yuuri frowned, and meant to ask Wolfram what he meant by that, but his attention was caught up by the parchment. Crudely sketched figures beamed up at them, and Yuuri squinted at them for a long moment before daring to voice his opinion.
“Is that meant to be me?” he asked, pointing at what looked like a child’s drawing of a boy in a dark suit.
“It is,” Wolfram said.
“And is that meant to be you?” he asked, indicating the figure next to him.
“It is,” Wolfram said, rather shortly.
“Is that a pink dress?” he asked, indicating the attire of the figure who was meant to be Wolfram.
“I do believe it’s a nightgown, actually.”
Yuuri paused. “Are you in the habit of –”
“I assure you, no,” snapped Wolfram. He snatched the parchment from Yuuri, and muttered a vicious-sounding incantation that Yuuri could barely hear. All of a sudden, the parchment burst into flames, and the Maou yelped in surprise, leaping back as if he’d been stung.
Within seconds, the parchment was reduced to ashes, and Wolfram was looking at his fiancé as if he’d never seen a human before.
“You’re not used to Maryoku?” he asked.
Yuuri shook his head, not even knowing what it meant.
Wolfram looked away. “Shinou help us all,” he says, and it didn't sound as if he was joking.
Only he could have done it. From the moment he unwittingly accepted a Mazoku prince’s proposal, his life in Shin Makoku seemed to have been an uninterrupted and distressing series of unfortunate events. Not only was he mistakenly engaged, he had also called Gwendal’s toy rabbit a lion, consistently fallen asleep in the middle of Gunter’s history lessons, been disarmed six consecutive times by Wolfram during a single training session, but in the most recent and undoubtedly the most significant of all his mistakes, had also managed to get himself kidnapped by one Adalbert von Grantz, no less than several minutes ride out of the castle gates.
Granted, Adalbert had paralysed Wolfram and his men with his magic, and Wolfram had told him to go with Adalbert, but it was no excuse that for ending up on the wrong side of a fortress with humans who hated Mazoku. He hated the thought that Wolfram might have been right, but he was forced to admit that his fiancé might well have been correct. He was a wimp, after all. Shouldn’t a Maou be able to save himself from a predicament like this one?
A sharp rap on the door shook him out of his reverie, and he looked up as the guards opened it. His breath caught as he recognised the one standing before the guardsmen’s crossed spears.
The golden hair was dyed a particularly revolting shade of orange-brown, and the eyes that he remembered as being green were now blue. Those clothes looked as if they’d been ripped apart at the seams, hastily patched together, and then dragged through the mud. To see the slouch on that slender frame, one would never think it capable of its customary aristocratic bearing. But Yuuri could never mistake that face.
“I got mistaken for that Mazoku brat on my way in,” complained Wolfram. “What is wrong with you people? Do you see Mazoku everywhere you go?”
The guardsman raised an eyebrow. “You do bear an uncanny resemblance to the von Bielefeld prince,” he said, cautiously.
“Why am I not surprised that you make mistakes of this magnitude?” Wolfram asked, folding his arms across his chest. “Well, if you think that a Mazoku prince, unarmed and powerless, would walk into a castle full of soldiers to save a street urchin from the likes of you lot, you’re wrong. Especially that Mazoku prince. Even the Mazoku themselves say he’s the most spoilt and arrogant creature to walk the face of this earth.” He shrugged. “Besides, everyone knows that Mazoku only look out for their own kind.”
Yuuri watched, breathless, as the guardsmen’s faces relaxed. This boy was clearly no threat to them. He was just like them – just as eager to mock the Mazoku as they were.
The head guardsman lowered his spear, and motioned for his comrades to do the same. “I’ve heard it said that the youngest Mazoku prince takes to wearing dresses like a girl.”
Yuuri watched fury flash across Wolfram’s eyes, but his fiancé never betrayed himself.
“Obviously, he’ll never be man enough,” rejoined Wolfram, smirking. "Good to hear he doesn't even try. Why, if I were a girl, I'd still be more of a man than he is."
“Well, young man, why are you here, then?” asked the guardsman, good-humouredly.
Wolfram grinned, and Yuuri had to keep himself from starting at that expression on his fiancé’s face, surprised that Wolfram hadn't cracked from the effort. “Ah, that,” Wolfram says, nonchalantly. “I was sent here to tell you that that isn’t the Maou you’ve got there.”
“Yes it is!” yelled the second guardsman. “It’s the Maou, all right! Sir von Grantz said so!”
“Really?” asked Wolfram, looking Yuuri up and down. “Seems like if that boy was the all-powerful demon king we’re so afraid of – shouldn’t he have freed himself by now?”
Yuuri fought to keep from turning a deep and unmitigated scarlet. He hated being unable to get himself free, but did Wolfram really have to rub it in?
The guardsmen were silent, looking at each other and then at Yuuri, clearly asking themselves the question Wolfram had just put in their minds.
“From what I’ve heard, the Maou can make it rain. Bring down buildings. Make sandstorms. Kill as easily as you take a breath. And I’m thinking that if all that boy has done is just sit there since you got him here, he can’t be the Maou. Look at him.” Wolfram made a sound of derision. “As much as I hear that the new Maou’s a real wimp, that doesn’t look like him.” He shook his head. “What you’ve got there isn’t the Maou. It’s a mistake.”
Yuuri could see the doubt coming alive in the guardsmen’s eyes. The one who had spoken out so loudly before spoke out again, but his voice was confused. “But. . . Sir von Grantz said. . . ”
“I believe it was an honest mistake on his part,” Wolfram said. “Sir von Grantz is on his way to Caloria, now. Apparently the Maou’s there, for real. He’s just keeping it quiet because he doesn’t want anyone to realise what a mistake he’s made. So he ordered me here to tell you to let this boy go.”
“We shouldn’t let him go,” said the guardsman. “I’d like to wait for Sir von Grantz to get back and give me the order in person.”
“Suits me,” said Wolfram, as he turns to leave.
Don’t leave me here, Wolfram! Yuuri thought, as his panicked mind saw an eternity of captivity in this fortress.
“But I don’t want to be the one explaining why he disregarded Sir von Grantz’s direct orders,” Wolfram continued. “But I’m sure it will be all right. I know he doesn’t suffer fools lightly, but I’m sure he’ll make an exception for you. I just don’t want to be here when he returns.” He shrugs. “Not my job to explain why you kept the wrong person here. His family’s probably raising a real fuss by now, seeing as how he’s been missing for half a day. And if they start looking around and find whose fortress he’s in. . . My father’s told me about the riots here during the last Mazoku war. Soldiers capturing people they thought were Mazoku?” Wolfram shook his head. “I'm not going to be here when that happens again.” He brushed past the last guardsman. “Good luck. You’re going to need it.”
The head guardsman laid a hand on his shoulder. “No one’s questioning you, boy.” He sent a scathing glare at the guardsman who’d refused to let Yuuri go, and the man had the sense to look cowed. “Take the boy and turn him loose. You’re right. None of us want to tell Sir von Grantz why we didn’t let him go.”
Yuuri stood up, and walked to Wolfram’s side, careful not to run. He began to smile when his eyes met his fiancé’s, but Wolfram glared at him and said, to the men, “Best of luck. Good riddance to that damned Maou and those accursed Mazoku.”
Yuuri’s heart was beating so loudly that he was surprised no one else could hear it, but no one stopped them, on their way out of the room. No one stopped them on the torturous walk to the fortress gates. And no one stopped them, as they walked out of the gates, and into the forests.
Once they were out of sight among the trees, and a safe distance from the fortress, Wolfram turned on Yuuri with breathtaking speed.
“You idiot!” yelled Wolfram. “Do you realise what they could have done to you? You could have gotten yourself killed, Yuuri! And I – and Shin Makoku cannot afford to lose you! What were you thinking?”
Yuuri allowed Wolfram to finish before he said, “I thought you were going to leave me there.”
“Idiot!” hissed Wolfram. “What kind of fiancé would I be if I let that happen to you?”
Warmth spreads through Yuuri at those words, and he can’t help but smile at his infuriated fiancé.
“Thank you, Wolfram,” he says, looking into the Mazoku prince’s eyes.
Wolfram looks away and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like henachoko, then says, grudgingly, “It was nothing, Yuuri. But don’t let it happen again.”
What feels like an hour of brisk walking later, they reach a pair of horses tethered under trees. After mounting Ao with some difficulty, Yuuri turns to look at Wolfram. A mischievous smile tugs at the corner of his mouth as he gathers Ao's reins, and sets his horse on the road towards the castle.
"What is it, Yuuri?"
"So you really do wear girls' dresses."
Wolfram goes livid with fury, but before he can begin his diatribe, Yuuri leans over and whispers to Ao, and they ride off to Shin Makoku with Wolfram in hot pursuit.
The afternoon sun slants across the Maou's long desk, illuminating the yards of paperwork that lie ahead of the young king. Yuuri’s just made an issue out of how many hours a week he’s required to spend in lessons, on top of the time he has to spend in his office, and Wolfram isn’t having any of it.
“Not all choices in life are ours to make, Yuuri,” says Wolfram, in a voice that seems to want no more to do with the subject. “All you have to do is look at this engagement and – ” He stops himself, before he says any more.
“You had a choice in the matter, didn’t you?” Yuuri asks, curiously. It seemed unimaginable that anyone could not have a choice when it came to whom they would spend the rest of their lives with.
Those guarded green eyes close momentarily, and open again to gaze wearily at him.
“You really are rather young,” he says, resignation in his voice. “And far too young to be married.”
“And you’re not?” Yuuri shot back.
Humourless laughter. “No, Yuuri. I am not. And I haven’t been for a long time.”
The look in those eyes, then, suddenly makes Yuuri feel the truth of that statement, even if he doesn’t have any proof to back it up.
Wolfram doesn’t wait for his reply. “You need someone you can grow with. Someone younger. Or someone who’ll be able to take care of you. Protect you. Care for you. And I’m afraid I’m none of those things.” His eyes take on a distant look. “You might have slapped Weller,” he says, almost to himself. “Yes. Weller would have made a better choice, if you’d wanted to marry. Better than me, anyway.”
“Stop changing the subject!” Yuuri snaps, growing impatient. “You mean you didn’t have a choice when it came to this. . . engagement?”
Wolfram’s eyes flicker to his face. “You’re faster than I gave you credit for,” he says, grudgingly. “But as to that. There’s a reason that we have the saying, ‘Marry the man you love. Or love the man you marry.’ ”
“Not quite the same thing.”
“So what were you intending to do?” asked Yuuri, genuinely curious.
Wolfram sighs and looks away. “Until you? Neither.”
To Yuuri’s startled gaze, he snaps, “No engagement is final, Yuuri. No marriage is, for that matter. And this is only until we find a way to get us both out of this.”
Wolfram’s eyes meet his, and it seems as if the prince doesn’t like what he sees there. Yuuri, who was about to open his mouth to speak, stays silent.
“Yuuri,” says Wolfram, very quietly, “I don’t think you understand. I’ve seen more marriages that you know of disintegrate – even when they start off with so much promise. And you and I barely know each other. Nor do we have the time for this.” He moves to leave.
At the door, he pauses. “Not that we have the time to. Isn’t Weller expecting you for your baseball lessons?”
Without waiting for an answer, he left.
But he was wrong. Or at least, Yuuri thought he was. Not about the baseball lessons, he thought, as he races for the courtyard, but about the time they had to find out about each other.
“Yuuri! Are you even paying attention?”
In a single, fluid move, Wolfram locks blades with Yuuri and disarms the boy-king with practiced ease. He glares at his fiancé. “That was too easy,” he snaps. “We’re doing this again.” The Maou sighs and stops to retrieve his sword.
“Idiot,” says his exasperated fiancé. “This is how you hold a sword.” Strong, sure fingers take hold of his and reposition them into a grip that feels all at once more natural and far more effective. “It’s a sword, not a. . . what does Weller call it. . . baseball bat!”
“Yes, Wolfram,” answers Yuuri, who has, after a week of lessons, finally come to realise that obedience is the only easy way out of any confrontation with Wolfram.
“And your stance,” mutters Wolfram. “Stand with your feet apart so that they’re in line with your shoulders. That makes for stability, so your opponent won’t be able to knock you off balance.”
Over the course of uncountable afternoons, Wolfram taught Yuuri how to disarm an opponent, how to counter a blow, and how to stay on guard. Yuuri had proved to be one of the slowest students he’d ever had (or so he claimed, preferably to the entire courtyard).
Wolfram might have said that there was no time for them to get to know each other, but with every moment they spent together, Yuuri was finding out more and more about his unwilling fiancé. Every day he learnt more and more about the man – the Mazoku – he’d accidentally proposed to. Every moment of the time they spent together was an opportunity for Yuuri to find out more about the man he was bound to marry, even if Wolfram didn’t see it that way. And even when they were apart, there were ways enough to find out about Wolfram without having to speak to the prince himself. Conrad was surprisingly well-informed when it came to Wolfram, considering their estrangement, and was a delightfully candid when it came to recounting stories about his youngest brother. Gunter could be persuaded to impart anecdotes about the Mazoku prince’s time as his student, and of his achievements on the battlefield. Yuuri didn’t see Cheri-sama as often as he thought he would, but when he did, she proved immensely forthcoming on the subject of her beloved son. Even if Yuuri still had trouble believing some of her stories, such as the one where Wolfram caused a stampede through the streets of Shin Makoku simply by walking down the city's thoroughfare.
For all of Wolfram’s protests, Yuuri had time and reason enough to find out the measure of the Mazoku Wolfram was. To his surprise, the young Maou was finding that he was beginning to care, very much, for his prickly fiancé. He still refused to think of Wolfram as his betrothed – the address still seemed far too formal to him.
Wolfram might rain scorn upon his head if he ever said this to him, but the Mazoku prince was, under his vocal disapproval and frequent complaints, a patient and remarkably thorough teacher. He refused to let Yuuri get away with anything less than his best, and was willing to give Yuuri all the time it took for him to practice, and perfect, what Wolfram was teaching him. Yuuri heard that Wolfram had initially attempted to foist swordplay lessons off on Gwendal, then Conrad, stating that it would be better for Yuuri to spend more time with them than with him. But both his brothers had been insistent that Wolfram should be the one to teach Yuuri, and so it was that the youngest Mazoku who become Yuuri’s reluctant teacher.
The Mazoku prince looks up from his reading as the door to his bedroom inches open slowly to reveal a tousled Maou peering at him from the other side of the door.
Wolfram sighs, and closes the book he’s reading. “Have you any idea how late it is, Yuuri?” he asks. “Why are you here?”
Yuuri runs his fingers through his hair. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Uh. . . I can’t sleep.”
“And what,” came the annoyed reply, “Do you expect me to do about that?”
“. . . Talk. . . to me?” At the swift and incredulous rise of those eyebrows, Yuuri stumbles, “It’s late. . . you’re the only one awake. And. . . you tell me interesting things? Er, you could always. . . read to me?”
“You don’t want a fiancé,” said Wolfram, sharply. “You want a father.” But he grudgingly makes room for Yuuri in the massive pile of books, scrolls and parchment that makes up his bed. It looks as if Wolfram is setting up a second library in his own bedroom, Yuuri thinks, as he climbs gingerly into Wolfram’s bed, mindful of the papers and books that are scattered all over the cover.
“I’ve heard of people who make their tables their beds,” said Yuuri, thinking of the times he’d fallen asleep on his, “But why do you make your bed a table?”
“Do shut up, Yuuri,” said Wolfram, testily. “You interrupted me while I was researching the defences of our kingdom.”
Only now does Yuuri notice the yellowing parchment spread out before Wolfram, marked heavily in scarlet and black. “That’s a map of Caloria’s defenses,” Wolfram informs him, following the Maou’s wondering gaze. “I’m trying to determine Shimaron’s likeliest plans of attack. Their generals seem to prefer aggressive tactics over all else.” He indicated the cluster of barbed triangles that represented the northern mountain ranges of Caloria. “In the last great war, the Shimaron army crossed these mountains in a matter of days. They’re a force to be reckoned with, Yuuri.”
He watches Yuuri’s eyes unfocusing and says, wryly, “Enough strategy for one day, I think.” He picks up the book he had been reading. “I think it’s time for something else.”
Yuuri’s eyes flicker shut, and open again, just as quickly. “ ‘m not sleepy yet,” he protests. Wolfram glances at him. “I’m sure you aren’t, Yuuri,” he says, evenly. “ ‘An Annotated History of Shin Makoku’,” he reads, as Yuuri feels the first slow stirrings of sleep uncoil within him at the sound of his fiancé’s voice. He begins to think he’d feel much more comfortable if he was just able to rest his head, and before he knows it, his cheek is touching the pillow closest to him.
He curls up, drowsily, and gazes at his fiancé. “In the beginning, there was the Land,” Wolfram says, his measured voice somehow soothing Yuuri more than any silence ever could. “And at the End of the Land, there was the Sea. . . ”
Yuuri closes his eyes, as Wolfram’s voice follows him down into the darkness.
Yuuri turned, and Wolfram’s unguarded expression, his unrestrained joy – made something turn over in his chest. Wolfram looked years younger, his open face revealing the person he once had been – could still be, hope whispered – the person that was still there, underneath the anger and the silence, underneath all the walls he’d built up against the world.
“Not at me, henachoko!” Wolfram laughed. “Over there!”
Yuuri followed Wolfram’s outstretched arm and saw, under the moonlight, a trio of wolf pups playing in the snow. The shadows of the forest glade slid and flowed under their restless paws. A sharp yip pierced the air as the smallest pup tumbled his brother over and into the snow. A flurry ensued as the cub writhed its way out of the snow and set off in hot pursuit of its sibling.
Wolfram chuckled, his gaze never leaving the cubs.
Yuuri watched, entranced, although Wolfram captivated him as much as the cubs did. That smile on his fiance’s face was something he hadn’t known he wanted to see until he saw it, and seeing it, never wanted to lose it again. He never knew Wolfram could be like this, and now that he knew, he never wanted to forget.
When Yuuri makes it clear, for the tenth time (he’s been counting, with some annoyance), that he refuses to formally end the engagement, or even consider dispatching a committee to research Mazoku law and custom to see if there’s a way around it, Wolfram is stunned, to say the least.
“But I don’t see why not, Yuuri,” he says, finally, as a note of uncertainty creeps into his voice, as if he is at last aware of the delicate subject he’s just breached. Choosing his words carefully, he says, “You were given no choice in this matter, and neither was I. It is not. . . right. . . that you should be held to this. . . engagement.”
He waits, patiently, so sure that Yuuri will see what he means.
Yuuri feels an unidentifiable emotion awaken in his chest and rise up to his throat. It is a while before he is able to speak.
Wolfram glances at him and takes a breath. “No one will hold it against you.” He pats Yuuri’s shoulder awkwardly. “Everyone knows it was an accident.”
“But I don’t – what’s wrong with things are they are?”
Wolfram looks startled. “Your Highness – ” he says, as the shock surprises the formality out of him, “I don’t –”
Then a customary scowl spreads across his face. “Yuuri!” he snaps, “You idiot! Just get it over with!”
“But what if I don’t want to?” demands Yuuri.
“But you’re a boy!” yells Wolfram.
Then he realises what he’s said, and makes a valiant attempt to calm down. “What I meant was – it’s not right, Yuuri. You’re too young. You should be given the chance to meet other girls. Other women.” His eyes flicker away from Yuuri’s. “Other boys and men, too, if you so choose.”
“Do you like me, Wolfram?”
The prince drew back as if he’d been stung instead of questioned, even as a faint blush began to steal over his face.
“What does that have to do with –”
“Just answer the question!”
“I – I don’t hate you, Yuuri.” This last was offered quietly, in a voice that was little more than a whisper.
“Then what are you fighting for?” Yuuri asks, just as softly. “Why can’t we take things as they come and see what happens?”
Wolfram seemed genuinely stunned. Then he shook his head and glared at Yuuri. “Have you been listening to my mother again?” he demands. “I’ve told you before, Yuuri – Your experience will not necessarily mirror hers. Just because she thinks that your being engaged will help discourage potential suitors and save you unnecessary distractions – and protect you from equally unnecessary alliances – it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to her. Think for yourself!”
At this, Yuuri stood up and closed the distance between them.
“What if I am?” he asks, looking Wolfram in the eye. “What if this is what I want to do? You’re the one who won’t believe me.”
Wolfram glanced aside, then back at Yuuri, the disbelief growing in his eyes. “I don’t understand,” he says. “I’ve given you a way out. Why won’t you take it?”
“Because I don’t want to!” snaps Yuuri, growing impatient.
Wolfram’s retort is silenced before it even begins by the doors slamming open and admitting Conrad and Gunter.
“You heard his Majesty, Wolfram,” observes Conrad.
“I submit to your decision,” mutters Wolfram, not looking at Yuuri.
“Questioning his Majesty in such a manner –”
“Enough,” growls Wolfram, as he pushes past them and out of the door. “I don’t see how you’re going to crown a king who’s as stupid as this one. You’d better watch him to see he doesn’t sign the country over to a swarm of bearbees.”
Still, despite Wolfram’s reservations, preparations for the coronation ceremony continued unabated. And less than a week after Wolfram’s acrimonious declaration, Yuuri was formally recognised as the Maou of Shin Makoku.
The ceremony was surprisingly short – shorter than Yuuri had expected, at least. All he’d had to do was place his hand in a surging waterfall, before the carefully selected representatives of Shin Makoku. He couldn’t help but wonder if the simplicity of the ceremony had to do with his fiancé, who stood in rank glowering at him, as if daring him to mess this up.
A small knot of Mazoku gathered around him at the close of the ceremony, and after they took their leave, Wolfram came up to him. “Well, I guess now that you’re officially my king, I can’t call you my henachoko anymore,” he says, lightly. “What would your people say…”
He started at the unfamiliar touch of Yuuri’s hand on his face.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” his king says, gently. “If you don’t call me your henachoko, who will?” He lets his hand fall, but continues meeting Wolfram’s gaze. “I don’t care what the kingdom thinks. Not on this, at least.”
“. . . I’m not being ridiculous. Henachoko.”
But they both smiled.
Yuuri fell silent.
“It must be really terrible,” he said, at length. “I don’t know what it feels like to die for your country.” He looked up, once again, at the paintings on the walls.
“No, Yuuri.” There is a savage smile on Wolfram’s face. “War isn’t about dying for your country. It’s about making your enemy die for theirs.”
It was when Wolfram talked like this that he made Yuuri feel sad for him. Living through so much war must have made Wolfram the way he was. “Shin Makoku. . . hasn’t really seen much peace in your lifetime, has it?” he asked.
“Humans don’t live long enough, Yuuri,” Wolfram answered. “They can’t understand peace because they won’t live to see it in their lifetimes.”
“And Mazoku can’t understand peace because they know they’ll live through anything, and don’t want to change the way things are because nothing lasts?” muttered Yuuri.
But Wolfram was lost in his thoughts, and spoke as if he hadn’t heard Yuuri. “Humans are never in this world for long. Why should they care about anything at all?” He shakes himself and turns to Yuuri.
“You’re uniquely placed, Yuuri. You must understand that. Half-human, and half-Mazoku. You’re in the best position to do something about the way things are.”
“And what about you?” Yuuri asks.
A smile lifts a corner of Wolfram’s mouth. “Do you even need to ask, henachoko? I’m with you. Always.”
Yuuri was finding out more and more about the curious customs of his new nation, and one of them was that of celebrating no sightings of bad-omen birds for two months. This seemed to involve an undue amount of alcohol, which, in Shin Makoku, didn’t taste like the alcohol he was accustomed to. As a result of far too many cups of what had tasted like fruit juice, Yuuri was hopelessly drunk. Wolfram, who had been giving him dirty looks all night every time he downed a cup, finally had enough of watching Yuuri drink himself into a higher state of stupidity, and dragged his fiancé off to his bedroom before he made any more of a fool of himself.
It hadn’t been easy getting Yuuri back to his bedroom. The Maou had insisted on giving Wolfram a detailed explanation of every thought he had ever had about him, which were by turns utterly insulting, highly complimentary, and downright embarrassing.
Wolfram had finally gotten Yuuri to sit on the bed, and was wondering whether it would be better to just leave him there, or to knock him out to prevent him getting up to any more mischief. He had the beginnings of a pounding headache, and was beginning to understand why his eldest brother wore the expression he did all the time. Yet, Wolfram thought, dealing with Yuuri was ten times worse than dealing with Gunter.
But Yuuri wasn’t quite done yet.
“You’re so pretty,” he told Wolfram. “Prettier than a girl. Than any girl. It’s no wonder that that whole. . . two men thing. . . isn’t uncommon in this country.”
“Yuuri!” snapped Wolfram, even as he blushed, “You’re drunk!”
“Yes, but I’ll be sober in the morning. And you’ll still be pretty.”
Wolfram’s subsequent protest was unceremoniously cut off by the warmth of his fiance’s mouth on his. His eyes went wide, and he permitted the kiss for all of the second it took him to pull his mind together and shove Yuuri away.
“Don’t try that again,” he warned Yuuri, through clenched teeth.
Yuuri smirked. “That wasn’t long enough,” he said, and gleefully ignored the warning.
Wolfram didn’t take kindly to the second kiss, and even less kindly to Yuuri’s casual disregard of what he’d said, but both of them were spared from dealing with the consequences that night, for, as soon as Wolfram pulled away, the inebriated Maou promptly fell asleep.
Wolfram gazed at his sleeping fiancé, and his mouth shaped itself into an unwilling smile.
Morning found the Maou with a very sore head and a seething fiancé at the foot of his bed. A hazy recollection of his behaviour last night promoted Yuuri to speak up.
“I’m. . . sorry, Wolfram.”
“Sorry you kissed me, or sorry you got drunk?” asked Wolfram, without looking at him.
Yuuri paused. “Sorry I got drunk,” he said, at length. “But not sorry I kissed you. And. . . not really sorry I got drunk, either, because I wouldn’t have kissed you if I hadn’t been drunk and I’ll never be sorry I kissed you.”
Wolfram was silent. Yuuri was beginning to wonder if he’d done something irreparably wrong when Wolfram spoke up. “You don’t have to be drunk to kiss me, you know. I’d prefer it if you weren’t.”
Yuuri smiled. He just couldn’t help it. “Is that an invitation, Wolfram?”
Wolfram went scarlet. “It is not.”
But Yuuri couldn’t help noticing how Wolfram was imperceptibly different around him, after that. Nor did it escape his attention when, nowadays, he would turn around and find Wolfram gazing at him, as if trying to figure him out. Or, on occasion, catch an uncharacteristically gentle look on his fiancé’s face when Wolfram watched over him training with Conrad, or over the books they studied together.
“I’ll have to be gone for – at least two weeks.”
“Well,” said Wolfram, after a short silence, “It’ll be good to have you away for a while. You do need to see beyond the borders of your kingdom, and Shinou knows I need the peace. It will be a pleasant change to remember a time when you weren’t in my life.” But his voice sounded strained on the last sentence, and Yuuri felt compelled to say, “It’s just two weeks.”
“What do I care?” asked Wolfram, the strange note still in his voice. “Just be sure you don’t bring shame to Shin Makoku by doing anything ridiculous as our king!” He folded his arms across his chest. “And you’d better start packing. Knowing how long you take to read through a treaty – you’ll be taking even longer just thinking about packing.”
Wolfram was right - Yuuri was beginning to discover that he had an annoying habit of being right - but Yuuri didn’t truly feel as if he was going to be leaving Shin Makoku until the day he was seated in the carriage that would take him to the borders of his country. Wolfram stood among the well-wishers gathered to see their king off, a little apart from the rest. He looked no different from any other day, if a touch more reserved and distant than usual.
But as the final farewells were being said, Wolfram reached for Yuuri and touched his shoulder, briefly, and said, uncharacteristically, “Stay safe. And be always on your guard.”
Yuuri puzzled over this, and it was only after the carriage had passed through the castle gates that he realized that this was the first time Wolfram had voluntarily touched him for no obvious reason whatsoever. That realisation was enough to send him flinging open the carriage doors and racing back to throw his arms around his fiancé and say, “I’ll be back soon!”
Wolfram, in between attempting to push him off, and looking aghast at this sudden, rather public, display of affection, seemed rather pleased; and amazingly enough, held off the caustic comments.
It was a cold, clear day when a streak of white that was not a snowflake darted across the skies and deposited a tiny roll of parchment, tied in blue-gold ribbon, in the palm of Yuuri’s hand. The pigeon landed on Yuuri’s shoulder and cooed as Yuuri unfolded the crisp parchment, and a letter in his fiance’s small, neat hand unfurled.
“You idiot,” said the letter, without preamble, “What do you think you’re doing? You should be working on the treaty with Caloria, or focusing on the negotiations with the slave traders, or deciding where to stop for the night, rather than wasting your time writing to me!”
But Yuuri could almost hear Wolfram’s voice as he read those words, and the insult passed over him like a cloud shadow in high wind. The sentiment made him grin, and he continued reading the letter, unaware of the smile slowly spreading across his face.
“If you’ve forgotten all the things you should be doing, you should come right home and I’ll slap some sense back into you. If I don’t do it, who will? Henachoko.
Anyway, Gunter wants me to inform you that the Shimaron envoy has returned to report on the talks with King Belial. Hahahue wishes to inform you that you are mine. I am merely reporting her views, not stating my own, which are that you belong, always, to the people, as a good king should. Gwendal says that the fortifications on the city walls are almost complete, and he expects them to be ready within the week. Anissina’s newest disaster has made the tables talk.
Your daughter misses you. I’ve been reading to her.
I hope I don’t have to remind you that a king’s place is with his people, and only upon the high roads of adventure when absolutely necessary. Stop wasting time writing to me. The faster you are done with what you have to do, the faster you’ll be home.
Yuuri likes spending time with Conrad. The older man has a way about him that puts Yuuri instantly at ease, and, admittedly, it's nice to be around someone who won't yell at every second thing he says. And he can talk to Conrad about just about anything - Shin Makoku, Earth, baseball - and Conrad won't accuse him of wasting his time, or tell him that there are other things he'd be better off doing. Sometimes Yuuri forgets the time when he's with Conrad, and, of late, it's Wolfram who's been coming to find him and tell him that he should be at sword practice with Gunter, in the office combating the interminable flood of paperwork, or inspecting Gwendal's latest creations.
This time, he and Conrad were discussing the Boston Red Sox, and it seems like they've only just begun when they're interrupted.
“Yuuri,” comes an unusually annoyed voice, and Yuuri looks up to see his fiancé, arms folded across his chest, glowering at him from the doorway. “You’re already late.” Wolfram turns his scalding gaze on Conrad, who smiles at his youngest brother as if Wolfram had done the same.
Belatedly, Yuuri remembers. Sparring practice! Lost in conversation with Conrad, he’s almost forgotten all about it! He rises to his feet and apologises to Conrad for having to cut short their time together. Yet, all the while, he feels Wolfram’s gaze burning into his back, and an unidentifiable emotion begins to grow in the pit of his stomach.
Feeling a strange reluctance to leave the older man, he makes his way to Wolfram, who stands waiting at the door. Wolfram’s eyes narrow as Yuuri’s meet them, and the prince whirls on his feet, making for the courtyard without a word. Yuuri, feeling increasingly unsettled, trailed uncertainly after his fiancé.
Wolfram draws his sword before either of them even step into the courtyard. Yuuri, still wondering what could possibly have annoyed Wolfram so much, only becomes aware of the blade coming towards him seconds before it slices past his collar. He twists aside to avoid the thrust and yells, “What do you think you’re doing, Wolfram?”
Wolfram’s eyes meet his, blazing with fury. “Isn’t it obvious, henachoko?” he demands, and gestures towards Yuuri’s sword. “Draw it,” he orders, in a voice that brooks no refusal.
“Wolfram, I –”
“I don’t want to hear it, Yuuri!”
Sunlight glances along the sword as it makes a second attempt at him. Yuuri ducks, this time, narrowly escaping the point of the blade. Yet he refuses to draw his. He holds up both his hands, and begins walking slowly towards Wolfram.
“If this is about Conrad – ”
“What do you know, Yuuri?” explodes his fiancé, more angry than Yuuri has ever seen him. “Draw your sword!”
Yuuri’s eyes widen as he begins to realise that talk alone may not be enough to save this situation. His hands are steady as they grasp the hilt of his sword and draw it forth, and he holds it just as Wolfram has taught him to.
“If this is what you want, Wolfram,” he says, as he brings the sword up before his face.
“You don’t know what I want, Yuuri,” Wolfram says, bitterly, and his sword cuts forward and catches Yuuri’s sword at its hilt. With a forceful twist, he disarms his fiancé, and Yuuri’s sword clatters to the ground. Wolfram advances towards Yuuri and swiftly backs him up against the wall.
“If it’s Weller you want,” he snarls, his face almost unrecognisable under the mask of fury, “Then he will be more than happy to give you this!”
Yuuri thinks Wolfram really means to run him through, but Wolfram closes the distance between them and suddenly that furious mouth meets his. Yuuri barely registers shock that Wolfram’s kissing him, at last, before the vicious kiss inexplicably softens, and turns, all at once, tender and. . . unexpectedly. . . gentle. His fiancé’s arms come up around his back and draw him closer, and Yuuri doesn’t know what else he can do but kiss Wolfram back.
So he does.
And all of a sudden, he forgets all the worlds he’s ever known, forgets that he’s the Maou, forgets demon swords and dragons and who he once was, because right now, Wolfram is the only thing that matters, the only one who’s scorched his presence into Yuuri’s soul and left a mark neither of them will ever be able to forget. The kiss is just like fire, because it burns away everything that was unspoken, and remakes it into the reality of the here and now. Even as he begins to yearn like fire for air, Yuuri knows nothing will ever be the same again.
It is Wolfram who first breaks the kiss, tearing himself away from Yuuri and shoving the dazed Maou aside. Wild green eyes meet his, and Yuuri finds himself transfixed by their anger.
“I hate you, Yuuri!” hisses his fiancé, and he turns on his heel and storms off into the castle.
By the time Yuuri realises that he should be catching up with Wolfram, his fiancé is disappearing around the corridor. Once he hears Yuuri begin to run, Wolfram lengthens his stride so that Yuuri only manages to catch up with him as he bursts into his bedroom.
Wolfram almost slams the door shut on his fingers, but Yuuri is having none of it, and wrenches the door aside.
"Get out, Yuuri!" snarls Wolfram, bearing down on him with the fury of a firestorm.
"No," says Yuuri, so quietly and so calmly that Wolfram is left momentarily speechless. "I'm not leaving until I get some answers, because I'm tired of having to keep running after you if that's not what you want."
Wolfram recovers his composure and glares at Yuuri.
"I will admit that there was a time when I didn't want to marry you," said Yuuri. "There was a time when I couldn't wait for you to find out how to undo the proposal and set us both free. But the more I learnt about you, and the more time I spent with you, the more I began to think that our wedding day couldn't come soon enough."
He watches as every word stills the fury in Wolfram's face and slowly replaces it with a quiet confusion, and decides to speak before Wolfram gets a chance to think this through and object. "I... want to marry you, Wolfram. I've been through Shin Makoku, Caloria, Francshire and the human territories, and I can't think of - I've not met - I don't want - anyone else by my side."
With every word, he watches the anger drain out of his fiance's face. When he runs out of words he looks helplessly at Wolfram, because he can't think of anything more to say than he already has.
The terrifying fury that had Wolfram in its grip subsides, but something else comes into his eyes, and he begins to close the distance between himself and Yuuri with a slow, measured pace that Yuuri has only ever seen before when Wolfram approaches him in a duel.
"You're stupid, reckless, and the biggest wimp I've ever met. You're careless, inconsiderate, insensitive - " And here Wolfram's eyes flick upwards to meet his own, and Yuuri forgets how to breathe.
"And I've tried to hate you for it, Yuuri, but I can't."
"And I've tried to wait, but it looks like I can't, either." And with that easy admission, Wolfram trips him up, just as Yuuri had so many days ago, and tumbles him just so that he lands on the bed they've spent so many nights on. But unlike the last time he'd had Wolfram in this position, there's a look in Wolfram's eyes that says tonight won't be like every other night they've shared.
“Have you ever done this before?” Yuuri asks, hesitantly.
“Yes, but not like this,” Wolfram answers, easily, and then his eyes meet Yuuri’s. “Never like this,” he says and the stark intensity in that gaze goes right to Yuuri’s heart, just as the raw honesty in that voice makes Yuuri feel as if he wants to take Wolfram in his arms and never let him go.
Wolfram’s voice is so low that Yuuri can barely hear it. But he hears this.
“You won’t believe how many times I’ve dreamed of this.”
Yuuri’s eyes went wide.
“Yes, you ridiculous henachoko. Then again, knowing how little sense you have when it comes to staying out of my life, it stands to reason that you’d be just as good at staying out of my dreams.”
Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat. Wolfram looked. . . years younger, like this.
Then his fiancé opened his eyes and smiled.
That smile would have stolen Yuuri’s heart for good, if he hadn’t already handed it over, little by little, to the Mazoku prince before him.
And then Wolfram pulls him close and kisses him, and there is no holding back in that kiss. None.
Yuuri thinks that’s he’s going to learn about what this entails from Wolfram, but Wolfram reads the look in his eyes, shakes his head, and gently draws Yuuri atop him.
To his fiancé’s startled expression, he says, “Close your mouth, Yuuri. That makes you look even more like a henachoko.”
“But –” Yuuri says, struggling to find words for the utterly unexpected, “I thought-”
“Well, how will you learn if you never try?” asks Wolfram, with some asperity. “And I see no reason why you shouldn’t begin now.” He looks up at Yuuri. “In any event, I’m better able to bear pain than you are.”
Yuuri looks shocked. “Will it hurt you?”
Wolfram smiles, and traces the line of Yuuri’s jaw all the way down to his chin. He tips the Maou’s chin up and runs his thumb across Yuuri’s mouth. “Not much,” he says, gently. Then a spark of challenge ignites in his eyes. “Not if you do it right,” he says, and his smile turns dangerous. “Don’t you think we’ve wasted enough time talking, Yuuri?”
Wolfram is the first to speak, in the quiet of the afterwards.
“Yuuri,” Wolfram says, quietly, but very seriously, “This doesn’t mean you get to stop listening to me.”
Yuuri rolls over and moves closer to Wolfram, without opening his eyes.
“Yuuri,” sighed Wolfram, those drowsy green eyes opening ever-so-slowly, “Just because we. . . just because this happened doesn’t mean we have to get mar – ”
But what he was going to say was cut off by Yuuri’s mouth on his.
When Yuuri finally broke the kiss, his fiancé gazed up at him, outrage and delight at once evident on his face. Yuuri smiled at him, delight dancing in his eyes at his finally reaching the solution he’d never before thought of to get Wolfram to shut up.
Wolfram’s smile is blinding.