That Which Makes Life Divine (1/?)

It had been many a year since Shin Makoku was able to celebrate a royal wedding, the previous Maou having been too fickle with her men to ever wed any of them. The city below the castle thronged with visitors from across the country who hoped to partake of the festivities and, if they were lucky, catch a glimpse of the royal procession itself. The town buzzed with excitement as the days and then the hours preceding the ceremony crept slowly by.

Atop the hill at Blood Pledge Castle servants bustled to and fro, completing last-minute preparations with practiced precision and surprising calm; they were, after all, professionals. In the middle of all this ordered chaos was Cheri, the former Maou, giving instructions and exclaiming over this-and-that and generally causing more problems than she solved. At her side was her eldest son and commander of Shin Makoku’s army, Gwendal von Walde. If it was Cheri’s self-appointed task to muck about with everything she could lay her hands on, it was Gwendal’s to make certain to remedy all the damage his mother caused before it could escalate into catastrophe. This was not a day he could let fall victim to his mother’s wild fancies, he thought grimly to himself as he replaced a ghastly pile of multicoloured roses with the tasteful orchids his brother had selected. It would be a nearly insurmountable task, but Gwendal was up to the challenge.

In another wing of the castle the bride adjusted the sash on his dress uniform. A white gown, rife with lace and flounces, hung on the door behind him courtesy of his ever-hopeful mother. Wolfram made a face at it in the mirror, though in truth he rather admired the fine embroidery about the neck. His brother laughed and smoothed a flyaway at the back of Wolfram’s head.

In a room down the hall the Maou looked desperately to his own brother as his mother wept in his arms. Together they lavished assurances that Yuuri would still be her little boy even after he wed, that she was not losing a son but gaining a son-in-law, and other such typical things one tells a distraught mother to keep her from ruining a wedding with her hysterics. Jennifer, however, soon revealed that she was far more upset that both Yuuri and Wolfram had refused to wear the lovely wedding gown she and Cheri had picked out. Shori rolled his eyes and escorted his mother outside to wait with her husband, safely away from the exasperated Maou.

The ceremony was scheduled to begin at noon, and very nearly started on time. Cheri realized at the last moment that she’d forgotten to change, and Yuuri, nervous as anything, got lost in some back passages often used by servants to run about unseen (and once used by Gwendal for much the same purpose when Anissina was in a particularly creative mood), but in short order the cast, as were, was assembled.

It was not entirely unlike a standard western wedding ceremony, with the slow walks and elaborate outfits, cluster of loved ones at the front and acquaintances at the back. Murata and Ulrike, the highest of Shin Makoku’s theological order (such as it was), presided. Murata was nervous, fidgeting in gold-trimmed black silk, but he said all the right lines and didn’t laugh when Morgif let out a low wail of approval over the proceedings, though he wanted to.

When Yuuri placed the circlet on Wolfram’s head that declared him to be Yuuri’s queen, Cheri and Jennifer wailed and collapsed into each other’s arms. The twin grooms flushed red, but they still smiled.

* * *

Yuuri and Wolfram lay naked together in the cool dark of their bedroom. Bits of brightly colored confetti, tracked in from the reception hall, stuck to the sheets and the bedspread. A piece glimmered in Wolfram’s hair; Yuuri brushed tenderly away.

“We don’t have to do this tonight,” Wolfram said. “I don’t care. You’re probably too tired, aren’t you?”

“I’m fine.” Yuuri propped himself up, leaned over his husband and smiled timidly. “This is what you want, right?”

There was something in the uneven tone of his voice that made Wolfram hesitate. They were both nervous, and tired, and after all these years still so terribly unsure. But they loved each other, that much Wolfram knew, and so he clung tightly to Yuuri and nodded. “Yes,” he choked out, “it is.”

Wolfram had expected it to be awkward, and he’d expected Yuuri to blush and stammer and touch him like he’d crumble to dust, and he’d even expected the hot sear of pain as Yuuri entered him, but he hadn’t expected the elation. He dug his fingers tight into the tense muscles of Yuuri’s back and breathed in deep, deep, shallow, quick, and he cried and cried and cried.

* * *

Yuuri preferred to take his breakfast in a small dining room near the kitchens. It was cozy, in its way, the furniture sturdy and worn in that comfortable way that suits those men who did not grow up as kings. Wolfram, consequently, disliked the plain and simple room almost at once, but deigned to join his husband there regardless.

Greta kicked happily at the air as she dug into something that resembled a grapefruit of the most violent shade of purple, and beamed at her newlywed parents; the idea was still a novel one to her, the glamour of it all still fresh in her mind months later. “When I marry,” she said, as though they’d been on the topic from the start, “I’m going to have a dress like the one grandma picked out for papa that he wouldn’t wear.”

“You can have that one if you like,” Yuuri laughed, “it’s never been worn.” He eyed his husband suspiciously. “Has it, Wolfram?”

“You know it hasn’t,” Wolfram huffed, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in your cast-offs.”

Greta frowned. “You should call each other married-names,” she decided, “like darling and sweetheart and things like that. Grandma Jennifer and Grandpa Shoma do, and so does Grandma Cheri to her boyfriends.”

Yuuri nearly choked on a grape.

“Your father gets embarrassed by that sort of thing,” Wolfram explained. “He’s too much of a wimp to show his affection for me in public.”

“I am not!” Yuuri clamped his hands over his daughter’s ears, presumably to keep out the allegations. “You just don’t look like a honey or a darling or anything. It would be weird.”

“Well, what do I look like?” Wolfram demanded.

The word ‘brat’ escaped Yuuri’s mouth almost before he realized he’d thought it. Wolfram yelled something that was definitely too obscene for a child’s ears whilst flinging half a loaf of bread across the table, but Greta shrugged it off. If this was all there was to being married, she reasoned as she dug out another spoonful of purple grapefruit, they’d certainly been practicing for a long while.

* * *

Yuuri woke to Wolfram twining around him in his sleep, his arms curled tight around Yuuri’s chest. Ever so cautiously, Yuuri wriggled free of his husband’s grip and, as was becoming routine for him in recent months, yawned and stretched and shuffled off towards the kitchens to self-medicate with warm milk and chamomile.

Yuuri tread barefoot down the hallways, too afraid of waking Wolfram to search for the fuzzy, duck-print slippers his mother had bought him for his last birthday. He cursed the lack of heated floors—hell, of covered floors, nary a throw rug or tatami mat easing his way along the cold stone floor. He cursed too the snuffed candles and curtained windows as he felt his way along blindly, aided only by slivers of moonlight and that strange ambient light that seeps into rooms that should be, by all logic, pitch dark; light that comes from nowhere and is discernable only by fully-dilated pupils.

A flicker of light spilled out from beneath the door to the kitchen.

Yuuri rubbed his eyes. In all his late-night runs for homeopathic sleep-aids he’d yet to encounter another reluctant insomniac, in the kitchen or elsewhere. Curious, he edged the door open.

Gisela peeked out from behind a pantry door and smiled. “Your majesty!” she beamed, “I thought I heard someone come down the hall.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Yuuri said, closing the door behind him. “What are you doing up?”

“I was assisting with a birth late into the evening, and I missed dinner,” Gisela explained, cradling a loaf of bread and some fruit in her hands as she kicked the pantry doors shut. “I’m too hungry to sleep. What about you? Are you certain you’re all right? Insomnia could be a sign of something serious, when was the last time you had a physical?” She peered into Yuuri’s pale, sleepy face, looking for phantom infection.

“I’m fine, really I’m fine!” Yuuri help Gisela set her makeshift dinner on the table and started absently peeling an orange. “I’m just not used to sleeping next to Wolfram, that’s all. He wakes me up and then I have trouble falling asleep again.”

“I was under the impression that you had been sharing a bed for quite some time, your Majesty. Could you pass the butter?”

“We were, but that was more like a sleepover. Now that we’re married,” Yuuri blushed and followed the table’s wood grain with his eyes, “he snuggles.”

Gisela nearly choked as she giggled through a mouthful of stale bread. “Snuggles?” she exclaimed once her throat was clear. “He doesn’t seem the type, does he?”

“After the nightgown,” Yuuri deadpanned, “I don’t rule anything out with him.”

At that, Gisela burst out in exhausted laughter, doubled over at the table with a half-eaten apple clutched in one hand. And Yuuri, to his surprise, laughed with her.

“I have some tea,” Gisela said, wiping the tears away from her eyes, “that I use when I have trouble sleeping. You’re welcome to it, your Majesty.”

“Yuuri,” the king of Mazoku corrected almost automatically. And, “I’d love some.”

* * *

Greta panted as she leaned on her wooden practice sword. She pushed her sweaty bangs out of her eyes and squinted at her uncle, shifting around to get the hot summer sun off her face. “Do you think I’ll be a proper warrior princess soon?”

Conrad handed a flask of water to his niece. “It’s going to be awhile yet,” he admitted, “but you’re doing very well.”

“You didn’t have to bother Weller for this,” Wolfram admonished his daughter as he sulked outside the practice ring, “I could have taught you.”

“No you couldn’t have,” Greta explained, “because warrior princesses have to learn from legendary swordsmasters.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Conrad put a hand in front of his mouth and cleared his throat, though it did little to hide the telltale crinkling of his eyes when he smiled. “Greta,” he said, “go change out of your practice clothes, it’s almost dinner.”

“You’re coming too, right? You’d better! Papa says that if you don’t come over soon he’s going to think you stopped liking him!”

“Hey, wait a minute!” Wolfram called as his daughter ran off to the castle. “Wait!” He glared at his brother. “She thinks you’re better than me. You’re not you know.”

“I know.” Conrad looked at his brother. “You’re happy?”

“What?” Wolfram dusted the back of his trousers where he’d leaned against a low wall. “Don’t be an idiot. Are you coming?”

* * *

Yuuri didn’t know why he’d never thought of it before, but the infirmary was the perfect place to hide when he needed a few hours away from his kingly and/or husbandly duties. It was easily accessible, even from his study (which seemed, at times, to be cut off from the rest of the universe), and afforded so much seclusion within its walls as to make him difficult to find even if one were to look in the right place. No one ever did go looking for him there, though, because it was a well-known fact that if one were to hang about the infirmary Gisela would examine you or put you to work or, more often than not, both. Yuuri was perfectly fine with this, as it still beat the stacks and stacks of parchment at his desk, all with a dotted line desperately in need of his signature.

Gisela rubbed Yuuri’s knuckles and clucked disapprovingly at his fingers. “Have you been stretching them regularly like I told you? And using that salve I gave you?”

“Yes.” Yuuri wriggled his tired, cramped fingers. “It helps, but they’re still like this by the end of the day.”

“Well, you’ve got to take longer breaks, that’s all. And see if you can’t get your workload reduced a little, you’ll start having things go seriously wrong with your hand at this rate. Oh,” Gisela peered over Yuuri’s shoulder, towards the door, “hello.”

A young woman, straw-colored hair and mottled hazel eyes, stood meekly in the doorway. “Hello,” she replied. “I’m here to see my husband.”

“Of course.” Gisela stood and strode brusquely to greet the woman, though her voice was all gentle compassion. “Same room, he’s doing much better today. He’ll be home before you know it. Do you need me to show you the way?”

“No, thank you, I’ll be fine. Soon, you say?” The woman brightened, stood a little straighter, and Yuuri realized with a start that she was beautiful. She smiled. “Thank you, doctor.”

Gisela smiled back and waved and then sat down next Yuuri and took his hand again. “Is there aching in the joints, or just muscle cramps?”

“Cramps, mostly. Who was that?”

“Anna, she’s a military wife,” Gisela said, releasing Yuuri’s hand again and going to the medical cabinet in the corner. “Her husband was injured in a training accident a few weeks ago. She’s in every day to see him, and she sneaks him in treats even though I told her not to. Well, they won’t really hurt him anyway, so I suppose it’s okay.” She rummaged around the bottom shelf and came out with a little jar of salve. “This might work better.”

Yuuri made a face; the ointment smelled a lot like the stuff his father used when he pulled a muscle trying to repair the door or move the couch or take Yuuri to the batting cages. He would lie stretched out on the couch and Yuuri’s mother would rub the ointment on his back and force-feed him bowls of her sad, lumpy curry while she cooed his name and kissed the top of his head. “I can only hope Wolfram’s that devoted to me if I ever get injured,” he said, “he’d probably call me a wimp and tell me to walk it off.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t. He loves you.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Yuuri glanced up. “Have you ever been in love?”

Gisela paused. Yuuri was on the verge of apologizing for asking such a personal question when Gisela finally spoke. “I think I was, once,” she said, “but he was in love with someone else, so I gave up on him.”

“What was it like?”

“I don’t know,” Gisela said. “It wasn’t like anything.”

* * *

When they sat together on opposite ends of the couch, all separate and quiet, Yuuri wondered if this was all there was. But he was happy, and Wolfram was happy, and he supposed that was more than enough.

* * *

Gisela looked up from her book and smiled at the sheepish king standing at her door. “Yuuri,” she said, “what brings you here?”

“I finished my paperwork early,” Yuuri explained, closing the door behind him, “and I needed somewhere to hide before your father found something else for me to do.” He sidled up to the couch where Gisela lay stretched out and peeked at the book she was reading. “A medical journal? On your day off? Wow!”

“Murata brought it back from your world for me,” Gisela explained, “I’m using one of Anissina’s new inventions,” and she tapped her oversized reading glasses, “to read it. It’s so fascinating! I wish I could visit one of your hospitals and see the procedures they describe.”

Yuuri settled into the comfy chair across from Gisela and rummaged around beneath it for the sports magazine he kept there. “Hospitals aren’t any fun unless you’re visiting babies,” he said.

Gisela laughed and went back to her book, and they sat together in comfortable silence until Yuuri left for dinner.

* * *

“Your uncle’s?” Yuuri snuggled under the blankets. “Why so sudden?”

Wolfram yawned and rolled over. “He fell ill a few days ago and my mother’s worried. We promised we’d go with her to visit him for a couple days.”

“Why didn’t you invite me?” Yuuri pouted a little. “He’s my family, too. We should all go.”

“He always ends up scheming something if you’re around. Besides,” and Wolfram poked his husband in the ribs, “you just want to get out of finishing those proclamations you weaseled out of this afternoon.”

“Am I that transparent?”

“I’m sure you’ll manage without me for a week. Greta will be here to keep you company, you love spending time with her. Play that baseball game you’re so fond of.”

“I will. We were going to teach Gisela how to play. Can we borrow your glove?”

Wolfram nodded and yawned again, pressed his cheek to his husband’s shoulder. Yuuri smiled, and ran his fingers through Wolfram’s soft blond hair. “I’ll miss you, too,” he said.

* * *

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Nothing a hot bath can’t cure,” Gisela reassured the king as she limped across the lawn, knees and elbows streaked with dirt and grass stains, “don’t you worry. I am a doctor, remember.”

“I know, I know.” Yuuri took Gisela’s arm and slung it across his shoulders, his arm hugging the curve of her waist as she leant against him. “You shouldn’t have tried sliding your first time out, you could hurt yourself doing that.”

“But it looked so fun!” Gisela laughed, clutched the stitch in her side, laughed again. “Thank you for showing me how to play,” she said. “Could you teach me how to pitch next time?” Yuuri nodded and Gisela beamed, dirt smudged across her face and hair all tangled frizz around her head, escaping her ponytail.

And Yuuri realized with a start that she was beautiful.

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