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The Black Barrens

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Wolfram’s eyes glinted with fury, one cheek red with the imprint of a palm.

The blond soldier advanced towards him steadily, managing to look far bigger and impressive despite Yuuri’s height advantage.

“You think...you think...after all this time, after what happened…” Wolfram’s voice was only a little louder than normal, but his words were clear and concise. This was not the yelling or blustering that Yuuri always associated with Wolf when he was angry. “You think,” Wolfram enunciated carefully and then continued, “that I’d say yes?”

“Well I’d hoped-“

Wolfram interrupted (though, to be honest, Yuuri really didn’t have much of an idea of what he was going to say anyway) with cheerless, derisive laughter. The laugh echoed off the ochre cliff walls and startled a rabbit-like creature that sprinted along the rocks in the wide ravine, scattering stones as it went for cover. A mare snorted, tied up next to a tent, the war horse unfazed by the sudden noise.

“You hope? Your Majesty, do I look like a fool?” Wolfram’s eyes were hard. The sun was low behind him and it gave Wolfram’s hair a strange, reddish shade. Alien. His best friend had become a stranger.

There was a cough from behind where Wolf was standing, reminding him that he’d done this in front of all of his squad. They were watching the proceedings with poorly disguised restlessness, all of them ranged on Wolfram’s side. Sir Michael Wagner, Wolfram’s vice-captain, was giving him a look of ill-concealed disdain. The only people on his side were Conrad and Murata. And he didn’t dare look to see what their reaction was.

Yuuri gave Wolf a pleading look.

“No, Wolf-“

“Good,” Wolfram said sharply, slicing short whatever he wanted to say to placate his best friend, the one he loved. “Because, I had been one for too many years, Sire!” Wolfram’s use of his title cut through him like a knife. Then, Wolfram’s shoulders slumped and he exhaled, the anger disappearing, leaving only misery behind. Yuuri couldn’t tell which look was worse, the cold hostility or this sad tiredness. Lord Wolfram von Bielefeld rubbed one eye and stood up straight and looked at him sadly. “Go home. The kingdom needs you. Now, if I can take your leave, Sire?”

It was a formal dismissal. Right in front of him, Yuuri could see Wolfram distancing himself. The Captain of the ‘Bielefeld Inferno Squad’ inclined his head and waited for his release.

“No,” he said softly, only loud enough for Wolfram to hear.

Wolfram closed his eyes as if in pain and looked up at him. There was a pleading look in his eyes that he ignored.

“No,” Yuuri repeated loudly and firmly. “It’s your birthday, Wolf. I want to give you a gift.”

Hoping he would not fumble he pulled the item out of his pocket.

~***~

Earlier

Wolfram fell back on the bed with a sad groan.

“It can’t be that bad,” his fiancé, his best friend, and the one he loved for many years said with amusement.

Wolfram cracked one eye open and then got up on his elbow to give Yuuri a glare.

“You have no idea, Yuuri.”

And the young king didn’t...not really. Yuuri buttoned up the top of his nightwear, still the same type of outlandish, and in Wolfram’s opinion, uncomfortable blue nightwear called ‘pyjamas’ and walked around to the other side of the bed.

Flouncing the pillows once, Yuuri crawled under the covers.

He rolled over and buried his head in pillows and groaned once more. His mother was relentless. He’d sooner go up against a horde of feral mazoku-eating humans.

A hand buried itself in his hair in an almost-caress and he allowed himself a moment to enjoy it. Lately, Yuuri had become much touchier. Wolfram couldn’t help but enjoy the attentions. Though, he tried to suppress any hope. In a month’s time, he’d be ninety years old, which meant he’d been engaged to Yuuri officially for almost eight years. Long engagements weren’t unusual in Shin Makoku but they usually involved a lot more physical affection than he’d received. The hand in his hair, stroking him in a calming manner was about as affectionate as their relationship got, apart from a few hugs.

Wolfram was tired of it. Weary.

“Tell me, then?” Yuuri asked, sitting up against the headboard.

With a sigh, Wolfram raised his head and gave Yuuri an exasperated look. Black eyes looked at him with worry.

And, once again, he was struck with how beautiful the young king was. Now, over twenty, for a half-breed he had reached adulthood. The hair and eyes still the same, his face still friendly and approachable when he wasn’t channelling the Maou, but all youthful softness had disappeared. Instead, his face was more angular, the cheekbones highset, and his eyes slanted slightly in a pleasing way, beautiful for a mazoku. The fool had no idea just what that did to him, with those wide shoulders well muscled by daily sword practice. He’d seen what was under those clothes while bathing and it was fuel for his fantasies.

It had been nearly eight years now.

At least, before, he’d gotten kisses from potential beaus. What consolation Wolfram took was that they had become close friends. They still quarrelled and Yuuri still irritated him with his disregard for etiquette and the way he smiled at pretty girls. But, the early days of weekly screaming matches, slamming doors, and Conrad’s long-suffering mediation were over. He’d like to think that it was because Yuuri had become more mature. But he knew, though he would never admit it to anyone, that it was just as much because he’d grown up as well. Yuuri had taught him patience. Yuuri had changed him.

“It’s just...” Wolfram spread his hands out to try to express his dismay, “...everyone will be there.”

Every single eligible noble in the entire realm.

“Your mother just wants your birthday to be special. And it is, Wolf. Ninety is a big deal,” Yuuri said this with a note of amazement. Having accepted his place as king, he was also facing a life of a few centuries. Wolfram knew Yuuri still found it a bit weird. As weird as the thought that humans, like Greta and Murata, only had six or seven decades left, barely reaching adulthood by mazoku standards. Wolfram tried not to think about it too much. It was too sad to contemplate.

He looked Yuuri in the eye and said in a dry voice. “Only because she’ll want to find a new partner for me, Yuuri.”

Yuuri gave him an almost comical look of surprise, eyes big. How could he be so naive after so long?

Wolfram could see it now. The richly adorned ballroom full of young (and not so young) guests. Most of them would have eyes set on the king, which would not stop his mother from introducing him to a dozen young men and women. With a look of cheery artlessness, Lady Cecilie would manoeuvre things so he’d end up dancing with people he cared little for, other than Elizabeth or the Great Sage. And Yuuri, Yuuri, would stand by and not say a word of protest. The idiot would probably cheer him on, saying something about fun and making new friends (Yuuri never quite understood why Wolfram had only a handful of people he trusted, most close family), while the aristocrats watched and judged. There would be fresh gossip, more proof to show that the king had little interest in his fiancé, more lurid speculation of what went on, or what didn’t go on in the royal bed chamber, and far more incentive for those young ladies who were vying for the king’s attention.

Balls in the royal court were anything but fun. Every smile hid nothing but ambition and social scheming, at best, and at worst, well...there were those who were always looking for an opening for sedition.

A special birthday, indeed.

But...you’re engaged to me?” Yuuri said after a moment, a question and statement. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. Then, with a stifled sigh, lay back on the bed, facing away from him. The wimp could be so infuriating.

“Wolfram?”

“I’m tired. Go to sleep.”

“Wolf?” There was a strange pensive quality in Yuuri’s voice.

He got up on his elbows and turned to Yuuri. Wolfram felt irritated and made sure his fiancé would see it.

“What is it?”

Yuuri looked a little self-conscious, his dark eyes flickered down to the hands that were twisted in their bed’s red coverlet. “Do you want to end the engagement? It’s been a long time.”

Now he noticed. Invisible fingers gripped his heart and squeezed. Wolfram blinked and said in a small voice.

“No.”

“Wolf...I...” Yuuri made a noise which sounded like a mixture of frustration and misery and leaned forward and kissed him on the lips, innocent. Wolfram’s heart skipped several beats in shocked surprise.

It was that action which broke his resolve. Starved of affection, desperate for any contact and tormented by many erotic dreams over the years. Worn down and exhausted by so many years of sheer, desperate want and desire for the man he shared his bed with. It was a wonder he’d waited this long before acting.

Clasping his hands behind Yuuri’s neck he pulled him in to deepen the kiss, a proper kiss, nothing brotherly or chaste about it. For a second, Yuuri froze, but then, as Wolfram secured entrance with his tongue, he relaxed and they were both kissing.

Hands fluttered down his back, shivery sweet and timid and Yuuri whimpered. It was that small whimper which prompted Wolfram to surge forward.

He ended up in Yuuri’s lap, his legs straddling and pushing the king, his love, up against the headboard. Their kiss deepened, and they only stopped briefly for oxygen before continuing.

Oh, oh, at last. A giddy voice started at the back of his mind.

Wolfram was so hot. Yuuri’s skin was warm underneath the thin material of his pyjamas. At last, he thought.

He moaned into Yuuri’s mouth as trembling dark hands pushed under his nightgown and upwards, one hand stroking his back which sent tiny little shivers rippling straight up his spine. Yuuri’s other hand was against his chest and brushed upward, a thumb pad rubbing against an aroused nipple. Wolfram pushed forward once more as the hand on his back ghosted down and squeezed one buttock. He could feel unmistakable evidence of Yuuri’s arousal trapped between them.

Yuuri broke away, nuzzling the spot under Wolfram’s right ear and then started kissing and sucking his neck and then both hands were on his arse pushing him forward. And, with a few stops and starts, they developed an awkward rhythm. Yuuri’s arousal was covered by his pyjama pants. He could feel the dampness from it, or was that from his cock which was rubbing bare against the material? He didn’t care. The friction was wonderful, need spiralling down his spine. But it wasn’t quite enough.

At last... that same giddy voice in the back of his mind kept chanting...but...

Wolfram wanted more.

Pulling back, he pushed his hands into Yuuri’s pants with the aim to free that hardness when, with an unexpected jolt, he found himself shoved roughly back onto the middle of the bed. He looked up at the bottom of the bed’s canopy stupidly. What in Shinou’s name?

Drawing himself up on his elbows, he found Yuuri on the other side of the room in front of the window, looking bewildered.

“Yuuri?” he asked.

With an almost frenzied rush, Yuuri yanked the bathrobe he kept draped over their divan and pulled it on, tying the robe belt tightly and then crossing his hands tightly against his chest before looking up at him, his face afraid.

“Umm...I’m sorry...I shouldn’t-“

“Don’t you dare!” Wolfram said, his voice shrill. His brief confusion turning to understanding and with it came burning hot anger and humiliation. “You wanted this...you...you...you...” He faltered, wrenching his nightgown down, needing to cover himself up as much as Yuuri apparently needed to keep his distance.

He closed his eyes and took a few shaky breaths, channelling his anger outward safely in the way he’d been trained to do so many years ago when he’d developed his kinship for fire. The urge to set something ablaze was intense.

Yuuri thought he had a quick temper, but had never realised how much effort it took him to keep in control. A fire user, even a weak one, could cause havoc as even a small fire, in the right conditions, could burn a village and wipe out a forest. All children who were found gifted with the affinity were told the tale of Miranda’s blaze, the girl who, in a fit of vengeance against her abusive uncle, burnt half of the capital to the ground two thousand years ago, killing hundreds. Fire wielders were rare compared to other elemental wielders. Fortunately, the aristocrats took training in their provinces seriously and most peasant children with the affinity were fostered into noble homes. It would have been harder if the trait had been more common.

Any fire user who abused their power was a danger to all, and Wolfram dare not lose control.

Taking another breath, he opened his eyes and Yuuri shied away from his gaze, nervous. He stood some distance from the bed as if Wolfram would hurt him. He wouldn’t, but he was sorely tempted to set the curtains on fire just to frighten the brainless wimp.

“I know. I’m sorry, but...I-I like girls, Wolf. I don’t know why...You’re pretty...so...” Yuuri gave him a beseeching look.

Another deep breath. Oh, for the love of House Bielefeld’s honour. Wolf opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again once more, trying and failing to find words to express how he felt.

There was an awful moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Wolf?” Yuuri asked as he took a few steps forward, his hand out as if to calm a rabid animal. “I’m sorry?”

Breathe, Wolf, breathe. Why did it feel as if his heart was stuck in his throat? He squeezed his fingers into fists and found his voice.

“So am I.” Decision made. Wolfram got up and stalked towards the wardrobe and opened the door so violently the hinges creaked and pulled out the clothes and boots he needed and then slammed it shut with a bang.

He should have done this a long time ago.

“Wolf...please don’t go.” Yuuri’s voice was unsteady.

As if his pride had a choice. Wolfram headed towards the door and resisted the urge to rub his stinging eyes. Hands full of clothing he turned to the king. “I want to end it.”

“What?” Those dark eyes widened.

“You asked before. I changed my mind. Yes, I want to end the engagement.” Standing straight, he looked Yuuri in the eye and said with as much calm as he could muster. “I reject you, Yuuri Shibuya.”

Without waiting for a response, he walked out the door.

~***~

“....He’s like a girl, with the pretty hair and the skin and his eyes. So, I thought it was that. For so long, I convinced myself that was why I felt that way. Last night, after, I really thought about it and realised that it didn’t matter. And, I know he’s a guy. I’ve known for years.” Yuuri’s laughter was a touch hysterical. “When we were...umm kissing, it’s not like I couldn’t notice, but it didn’t matter and it was that realisation which freaked me out and why I panicked and...Murata.” Yuuri stopped his pacing and faced him with an almost comical look (at least, as far as Murata was concerned) of grave importance. “I think I’m gay.”

Murata was quite proud of himself for keeping a straight face.

He had been sitting behind his desk, quill hovering over parchment in the same place as it was now, about to sign a document granting permission for another garish shrine when his friend had burst in and started rambling disjointedly about his identity crisis while pacing back and forth along the colourful mosaic carpet of his office at the temple.

“Shibuya-“

“I should have known.” The king raked his hands through his dark hair and continued his agitated pacing while wringing one hand. “I hadn’t even looked for anyone else, not seriously. Earth doesn’t feel right to me anymore and the women here… they are nice but it never feels.... And then, just when I worked it out, I thought I’d screwed things up. That I’d lost my chance when Conrad told me he’d taken his squad up north to the Black Barrens, that place he went last year to capture those bandits. It’s his birthday soon! Why did he do that?”

Yuuri stopped his pacing once more and gave him an exasperated look.

“I can’t imagine,” Murata said dryly and placed the quill in the inkwell with a plop. For Wolfram to stick around while Yuuri, the poster child for denial, fumbled about in the matters of love and desire, it either had to be ambition or true love. He thought it was the latter. Lord von Bielefeld was incapable of subterfuge and took loyalty to a whole new obsessive level.

For years now, Murata had had front row seats to this relationship. At first, it had been quite amusing. But, now, it was just plain tedious. He mentally snorted. If anyone deserved each other, with their emotional dysfunctions, it had to be these two. But still, to be rejected, in the way that Yuuri haltingly and briefly described, must have hurt Lord von Bielefeld dearly and hurt his pride more.

Shibuya kept talking over him. “But, I guess I can understand.” He smacked his head dramatically. “I can’t believe how oblivious I’ve been.” Murata wasn’t going to argue. “But the Maou knows exactly where he is, so I’m going to go to him and I’m going to make him realise.”

“Realise what, Shibuya?”

Yuuri stopped and looked at him earnestly, tall, face solemn. Mature. A vision of the king he was still yet to be, regardless of how much he had grown now. “That I want to marry him. That I want him and that I love him.”

Murata leaned back in his chair, rested his chin on his steepled hands, and watched his friend carefully.

“And you think he’s going to welcome you back with open arms?”

Shibuya nodded. “Yes.” Murata raised one eyebrow and gave his friend a significant look and Shibuya’s face fell. That momentary glimpse of the future vanished, replaced by the boy he grew up with. “No, but that’s why I need you.”

Yuuri took out a small jewellery box from his pocket and placed it on the desk in front of him.

Slowly, Murata opened it and looked up at his friend.

Shibuya gave him a hopeful smile.

“So, you’ll have to come with us? We need to leave by lunchtime to reach Wolf by his birthday.” Yuuri gave him one of those beautiful big eyed looks that he could never resist. Few people could. If he continued like this, Shibuya would be one of the most devastatingly successful Maous in history. And part of that, a large part of it, if Murata was to be honest with himself, was because Shibuya Yuuri was completely oblivious to his own charisma and so earnestly genuine. “Please?”

Even if Murata didn’t have his own personal reasons for tagging along, he would have agreed.

“Okay, but on this little adventure, you’ll be doing the camp chores.”

~***~

The sun was barely peeking over the hills, giving their afternoon campsite a green golden glow. Yuuri sat on the banks of the lake they had camped near, randomly throwing pebbles against the surface and watching the golden ripples as they circled outward. The lake frogs, or what passed for frogs here, began their nocturnal chorus, almost like they were objecting to the splashes on the smooth lake surface disturbing the peace.

They had been travelling now for ten days and he was anxious to get to Wolfram as soon as he could. For in two days time, it would be his birthday. He wished he could have brought Greta. Shin Makoku’s countryside was always so beautiful and he knew she was a little tired from all her studies and needed a break, and Wolf would have loved to have seen her. But Murata had talked him out of it, just in case things didn’t work out. He threw another stone into the lake with force, fuelled by frustration and misery. It skidded across the surface before sinking and the frogs’ trill stopped suddenly.

Conrad came up behind him.

“How’s the stew going?”

Yuuri sighed, though he wasn’t really that put out by cooking. He’d promised he’d do the camp chores. Despite Gwendal’s disapproval, he didn’t want an honour guard. It wasn’t that type of trip, so there was only the three of them. It wasn’t that hard to keep them fed. And, with fewer people, it made for a faster trip, even factoring in Murata’s unhurried, docile mare.

“Better than last night. Murata is keeping an eye on it now.”

He'd burnt stew twice so far this trip. But, in his defence, he was pretty good at getting the tents up and collecting firewood.

Conrad sat down on a log close by and, for a few moments, they watched the sunset.

"We move into the barrens tomorrow," Conrad commented casually.

Yuuri shut his eyes for a moment and focused his will. "They have stopped. We should catch up to them in the next two days." How he knew he couldn't say. Yuuri would always be able to know where Wolfram is. For a long time, he had a shining beacon, like a fire in his mind’s eye. Just like he could also see where Greta was, a bright blue-green light, and others he was close to. He couldn't even say when he'd picked up that ability. It came so naturally it seemed as if it had always been there. Just like his feelings for Wolfram. "I've been thinking about him this entire time. I feel terrible..." He trailed off.

Conrad said with a gentle tone in his voice. "I remember it took me at least until I was in my thirties before I noticed anyone romantically. It's common with half-breeds. I don't know if many mazoku know this. I don’t think even the Great Sage knows."

Yuuri very much doubted that.

"No," Yuuri shook his head. "I noticed Wolfram. I noticed how attractive he was the day I met him and it grew from that moment. I just wasn't able to accept my feelings. I've been blind and afraid.” Afraid of change, afraid of being different. He picked up another pebble and rubbed his thumb over the smooth surface. “Do you think he'll give me a chance?" He asked Conrad forlornly.

"I don't know," Conrad answered slowly. "All I can say is that Wolfram has a big heart. He feels more intensely than most mazoku I know. Some say it's because of his affinity with fire...but, even amongst those users, I've never known any with such intensity. Sometimes, that can be a curse." Conrad sighed with a strange half-smile. "But he loves you. Whether he accepts you again as fiancé or no, he always will."

It wasn't really an answer that Yuuri wanted to hear. But it was honest and that was far more valuable. He needed those around him to be that.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "For being a friend, for helping me get Wolfram back." For helping me try.

Conrad smiled. "I'll always be there for you, Your Majesty."

"Yuuri," he corrected automatically.

"Yuuri." Conrad dipped his head.

"Oi, Shibuya. I think the stew is starting to boil over," Murata called out, lounging back right next to said bubbling stew against a tree. His friend had his nose buried in a thick Earth paperback, some lurid sword fantasy with a buxom girl on the cover wearing a really uncomfortable looking bronze-plated bra. Sometimes, Yuuri couldn’t understand Murata’s tastes.

"Shinou's balls," Yuuri complained under his breath and stood up.

"Well, no matter how the stew turns out, he'll eat it," Conrad commented deadpan, his eyes filled with laughter. It was true; Murata had not even minded the burnt stew.

"I don't think there is any food Murata doesn't like," Yuuri commented wryly. And he couldn't imagine where Murata put it. He was taller but just as lean as when they were fifteen.

“Especially sea food.”

Yuuri gave Conrad a confused look.

“See food! See food and eat it!” Conrad looked particularly pleased with his pun.

Yuuri shook his head and suppressed a groan.

~***~

Almost two days from where Yuuri was camping was the Bielefeld Inferno Squad. They were camped out in the wide gorge at the heart of the Black Barrens. After setting a hard pace, they were resting for a few days. Tomorrow, they would return to the capital. All and all, it had been a rather uneventful patrol. The best kind, Wolfram now knew after having seen his share of bloody clashes with bandits over the years.

Wolfram was fastidiously sharpening his sword, purposely distant from his men. Gwendal had advised him years ago to keep a certain detachment. Familiarity bred contempt. “You aren’t going to be their friend, remember that.”

Despite that, over the years he had developed a good rapport with his squad. But being captain could still be lonely, especially at this moment when he wasn’t so busy and his mind was free to drift, to think about Yuuri, to miss him, to worry about him. The memory of Yuuri’s lips on his flashed through his mind and he tamped it down harshly.

It was silly; he was silly. He’d broken up with the idiot by choice. It was now time to move on, to focus on the practicalities of his life afterwards instead of being weepy about the past.

Wagner, his second, sat down next to him and handed him some watered-down ale. Laying his sword against a log carefully, he took the ale gratefully. “Thanks.”

After a few moments Wagner asked, his voice even. “I believe we’ll be based out of the Bielefeld barracks after we report back at the capital?”

It hadn’t taken long before the news of the broken engagement had spread around the castle. And as much as Wolfram had wanted to leave without delay, he had to give his men time to prepare – they had not been scheduled for any patrol for another week.

He sipped from the mug and answered shortly. “Yes.” It would make sense; all his men were from Bielefeld province– they had only been stationed out of the capital because of Wolfram’s relationship with the king.

“It’s been a while. A lot of the men have formed ties in the capital.”

Wolfram looked at Wagner. His mild-mannered second gave him a neutral look.

“It can’t be helped,” he offered regretfully, as close to an apology as he could give. Wagner, too, had found a lover in their time based at the castle. It wasn’t fair, but without being engaged to the king, there was no way Wolfram could keep on using the castle barracks. His uncle would call him back just as soon as the news reached him. He felt bad, knowing his decision would impact on others. It wasn’t just for his own sake that he should have made this decision years before. He thought of Greta, studying diplomacy with Gwendal. He had let down everyone he cared for because of his weakness, his inability to let go.

“But we should visit the capital at least once a year, possibly more.” Definitely more. He would make sure of it to spend time with Greta. And it was custom amongst all the provincial squads to check in with the military chief, which happened to be his eldest brother.

Wagner shrugged and gave him a small smile. “We’re soldiers. It’s part of our duty, Sir. I’ve only pointed this out because there will be some disgruntlement at first and you’ll need to know. Their loyalty will always be to you, but it won’t be without some problems and it will likely be the Maou who they will hold responsible.”

Wolfram nodded. Wagner was a valuable second and adviser. His even temperament was supposedly rare in a fire user. In his head, he could hear Anissina reject such theories as ‘ludicrous stereotypes.’ Ironically, as far as Wolfram thought, the quick-tempered witch also wielded fire. At any rate, Wagner had worked well with Wolfram over the years, diligent with his duty and not afraid to speak up with concerns he had with the men or with Wolfram’s decisions.

“The Maou is who we all serve. If I hear any insolence regarding the king, there will be an account. You will be sure to bring any such insubordination to my attention,” he ordered curtly. And then, softly, he repeated looking into his ale, “It’s the way it is, Wagner. It cannot be helped.”

He wished desperately it was otherwise.

Wagner, amber eyes glowing in the firelight, nodded without comment.

~***~

Wolfram stared at the ring. Created from rare, black silver from the Western Province. It was shiny onyx-black and filigreed in a twisting style, like a vine. It was quite lovely, the same colour as Yuuri’s eyes.

“What is this?” He looked at Yuuri in disbelief. The king had ridden into camp and oh so casually disrupted his life, again. Wolfram didn’t know what to think or feel.

Yuuri didn’t immediately reply, now looking uncertain.

With impatience, he gave Conrad a look, hoping to see an answer there. Conrad’s eyes quirked and looked to Yuuri as if to say ‘ask him?’.

“Happy birthday, Wolf,” Yuuri said softly after a short moment with a tentative smile, which only gave him half an answer. He resisted the urge to touch his cheek, still stinging from when Yuuri had slapped him.

Despite himself, he found his hand reaching out to touch that ring, wondering what the feel of it would be like. Sense came to him abruptly and he withdrew his hand as if scorched.

“I can’t wear black, Your Majesty.”

Yuuri’s smile faltered but then he said simply. “You can when you’re Prince Consort, after you marry me. Umm...please marry me, Wolf? I’m sorry for being an idiot, for taking so long to work things out. Marry me?”

Yuuri looked about ready to cry and Wolfram realised abruptly that it would be unseemly for the king to act in such a manner in front of his men. It was embarrassing enough as it was. As if picking up his thoughts, Murata spoke quietly so only Wolfram, Conrad, and Yuuri could hear.

“Perhaps, the king should request a private audience with Lord von Bielefeld.”

Yuuri looked startled, but then said loudly. “I would request a private audience with you...Wolfram?” Yuuri ended uncertainly.

He sighed. Well, it was more or less kingly.

“Of course, if you would follow me, Sire?”

Wolfram looked to Wagner who, with a nod, started to disperse the men.

He led Yuuri towards one of the narrow ravines.

Part of him wanted to yell at Yuuri for putting him on the spot in front of his men.

“Where are we going?” Yuuri asked, subdued. Perhaps, he was realising how much embarrassment he had caused and that urge to scold Yuuri disappeared and he sighed.

“I’ll show you.”

Wolfram nodded to one of his men who was sentry and then continued on to a narrow opening in the rocks. They had found this secret passage when they had apprehended the bandits last year. It led to a rough trail, spiralling upwards. He led the way without a word and Yuuri, for once, stayed silent. After about fifteen minutes of following the narrow path hidden on both sides by boulders, it opened up to a bare and rather spacious plateau. It was a dead end; the western side had a sudden drop into a gorge. The only way they could be interrupted was from the path they took and none of his men would intrude unless it was an emergency.

“Oh wow. This is amazing.” Yuuri walked over to the edge and looked out towards the west.

At the edge of the cliff, the view was impressive. Wolfram had to admit it, even having seen a large part of the world. He had plans one day of bringing Greta to see this place now that it was free of bandits, perhaps on their way to the Voltaire estate for a visit.

The ravine was high set, and the trip up the narrow trail brought them up towards the view of a series of serrated cliffs, red rock formations only sparingly vegetated with tough, brush-like shrubbery as far as the eye could see. And through it all were seemingly solid black streaks in the soil’s strata, from close up, Wolfram knew they were only dark red. But, from this distance, the area lived up to its name. This was a barren country, desolate. It was the perfect place for a bandit hideaway, only a day away from the highway, the only road that traversed the area.

“They say,” Wolfram told Yuuri “that the colours were formed when the third Maou came to save her lover from a rebel house up north. On the highway, she found her lover’s broken body – and just ahead were the enemy’s men. In a rage, she used her power, streaking the cliffs with blackness and the blood of the army she defeated soaked into the soil and made it red.”

“Really?” Yuuri turned to him with big eyes. Wolfram wondered how someone so smart could be so naive.

He snorted. “Of course not. It’s just a story the folk around here tell. These barrens have been like this for millennia.”

“I mean the story about the third Maou?” Yuuri replied.

Oh. “Yes, that is true.”

“So sad,” Yuuri murmured. “I feel bad for appreciating it now that I know what happened here.”

“Wimp, it was a long time ago.” Though there was no bite in his words. He sighed. “Why did you come here, Yuuri?”

Yuuri turned to look at him.

“I want you to marry me, Wolf.” Bright, hopeful smile.

That again! Another hand squeezed his heart and his eyes stung. “What, in ten years ? In twenty?”

“Now. Tonight!” Yuuri’s voice was painfully enthusiastic. “Murata can marry us.” Yuuri’s smile faded for a moment and he continued rather timidly. “I-I know it took me a long time to realise how I felt about you and I should have...I feel wretched about that and what I did back in our rooms. But I do care, Wolf, so much it hurts. I want you to be my husband. Please.”

He gaped at Yuuri for a moment. His chest had tightened painfully at Yuuri’s admission and he tried unsuccessfully to suppress the small bubble of hope that was growing.

He moved forward until he could feel Yuuri’s breath on his brow. Slowly, he took Yuuri’s right hand, and Yuuri allowed him, passive.

“Here.”He placed Yuuri’s hand against his flat chest. “Do I feel like a woman?”

Yuuri shook his head. “No.”

He then placed Yuuri’s hand lower, so he could feel the bulge of his cock through his field pants. “Does this feel like a woman?” Like those pretty, soft young girls that flocked around the king in court, the ones he knew Yuuri noticed.

Wolfram expected Yuuri to pull away in unease, but, instead, Yuuri cupped his hands there. It felt nice and he could feel the first stirrings of arousal.

“No, Wolfram.” Yuuri still looked a bit tense, but he was able to look Wolfram in the eye as he said it, so certain it surprised him.

His next words were shaky, but he tried to get his intent across. “This is who I am, Yuuri. I’m not a woman.” He swallowed. “And you are a man.” Wolfram placed his hand on Yuuri’s cock and Yuuri didn’t falter, perhaps he wouldn’t regret that hope.

Nevertheless, Wolfram had to know. He had to be certain. If he was going to accept Yuuri back into his life, there could be no doubt. He placed his arms on Yuuri’s shoulder and he leaned forward and said against an ear, purposely crude. “If we were to marry, I would want to fuck you as a man.” It wasn’t one of his most favoured sexual fantasies when he had thought about such things, but he wanted to make Yuuri realise what he was asking. What it would mean.

“All right, yeah,” Yuuri agreed breathlessly with a shudder. An erotic thrill went through Wolfram at Yuuri’s agreement and suddenly that idea became top of his ‘list’. A brief image of Yuuri spread out naked below him flickered into his mind’s eye and he closed his eyes to will it away. Not here, something he’d have to try for when they were back in the privacy of their bed chamber, in their large bed, behind the drawn velvet drapes of the canopy. But only if things worked out how he wanted, only if Yuuri could accept him as more than a friend.

Wolfram pulled back. At this angle, it was obvious that Yuuri was half a head taller, but that would change in a decade. Wolfram had finally reached his final growth. He had already outgrown two sets of clothing in the last few years.

Yuuri’s eyes were closed, his lips parted slightly.

“Yuuri?”

Dark eyes snapped open and then they were kissing. Hungry, their bodies and lips hard against each other and Wolfram’s lips would be swollen in the morning, but he didn’t care. He wanted this, so badly, with a fierce intensity, which, if he was capable of any thought, would have frightened him.

Yuuri broke the kiss breathing heavily and gave him a look of optimism.

“So, you’ll marry me, Wolf?”

He buried his head in the crook of Yuuri’s shoulder, enjoying his scent and then said quietly with surety. “No, Yuuri.” After everything, he couldn’t take such a chance. He was taking enough of a risk as it was.

“Oh Wolf...” Yuuri’s voice was broken.

“It’s too soon,” he said it gently while tracing his thumb along the back of Yuuri’s hand in apology. He looked up at him. “This is...we need to get to know each other.”

“I thought we knew each other well enough,” Yuuri protested.

“But not like this.” To emphasise his point he pushed his hips forward, rubbing his cock against Yuuri’s thigh. “But, I’ll be your betrothed once more, Yuuri.” He was silent a moment before he concluded simply. “I accept your proposal.”

Yuuri’s face broke into a smile and arms around him drew him into a tight hug. After a moment Yuuri asked.

“The ring?”

He leaned against Yuuri and they swayed a little, a tiny dance.

“You keep it,” he murmured against a dark clad shoulder “If I become Prince Consort, I will wear it.”

And when I can believe that you are sure about this, truly believe, I will wear it gladly and with pride.

“For when,” Yuuri said against his hair with assurance, but then sadly. “But it’s your birthday. I wanted to give you something special. What do you want? I don’t have anything at the moment, but back at the capital-”

Wolfram kissed his lips once to silence him and then said, “I want you to become my lover tonight.”

After all, it wasn’t unusual for engagements to go for so long, but not without some physical affection.

Yuuri smiled shyly. “Okay.”

~***~

The tent was small with a modest cot in one corner. With a wave of his hand, a few candles flickered to life on a small, portable stand, bathing them in yellow light.

Wolfram had made his formal acceptance to Yuuri in front of his men earlier when they were gathered around the campfire, sealed with a chaste kiss.

“The terrain isn’t so rough here, just dirt,” Wolfram explained as he pulled the bedding off the cot and spread it onto the ground. “It’s a pain when it’s rocky. It would have been nicer if we had a bath and some wine, but...” He realised he was prattling and shut his mouth. He spared a quick look up at Yuuri who was standing in the middle of the tent watching him with a nervous smile.

Wolfram spent a little longer than strictly necessary arranging the blankets just so. He stood up straight and looked at Yuuri holding his hand out, palm up. “Come lie with me?”

Yuuri hesitated for a moment but, then, he walked over and kissed Wolfram’s brow and brushed lips with his. It was just like the kiss up at the secret plateau but slower, gentler. “You’ll have to be patient with me,” Yuuri said softly at last. “I have never...” Yuuri dipped his head in a way that Wolfram couldn’t help but find a little appealing as he tugged at Wolfram’s hand shakily in an apologetic gesture.

“I would hope not,” Wolfram said somewhat possessively. He entwined his fingers with Yuuri’s trembling hands, squeezed in reassurance, and said far more gently, “But nor have I.” Yuuri looked at him in surprise. “Is that so hard to believe, Yuuri?”

“No, it’s just, you’re ninety. I thought you’d have been...have some experience.”

Wolfram shook his head and letting go of the hands drew Yuuri into his arms. Against the coolness of the barrens he was pleasantly warm. “Ninety isn’t that old, Yuuri.” He said against his ear, barely above a whisper, “Not for a mazoku, and...I found nobody I liked well enough before you. Nobody I loved as much as I love you.”

Yuuri pulled back, eyes wet as he cupped his cheek, looking both nervous and glad at what he had confessed

Slowly, gently, Wolfram pulled him down.

~***~

Wolfram took control and Yuuri allowed it, not passive, but a little shy, uncertain of what to do until the need conquered all.

With a flurry of clumsy disrobing, unbuckling, and unbuttoning, as well as some nervous giggling, that was him, and kisses which lead to whimpering, that was Wolfram, and they were finally naked together with skin sliding against skin.

Wolfram cocooned the blankets around them, keeping the chill of the barrens outside as they lay side by side. They kissed, lips sliding against lips and tongue and teeth, an exhilarating carnal sensation as Wolfram pushed one thigh in between his and built up a slow, steady rocking motion. There was rough friction along the underside of his erection which was sensual and incredibly exciting and he groaned. It felt so very good.

Yuuri cupped one buttock, firm and soft and hastened the rhythm while Wolfram caressed his hips and his upper thigh. Then, Wolf pulled his cock in his hands and aligned it with his own and with uneven utter perfection stroked them together, the thumb of Wolfram hitting his sensitive gland and the feel of the underside of their wet cocks sliding against each other brought forth an unbelievable electrical feeling. He moaned against Wolfram’s lips.

Wolfram broke away from their kiss and started murmuring softly his name over and over. And, it was Wolfram’s voice, saying his name so frantically that put Yuuri over the edge. He shuddered for a moment, caught up in a sea of rapture, and just when awareness was returning felt Wolfram spill against his stomach. This would, he decided afterwards, be one of his favourite moments with lovemaking, kissing and caressing Wolfram as he cried out in pleasure in his arms, shuddering against him, so naked, open and unfettered. “Oh love, oh...oh...oh...Yuuri!”

Soon after, it was Wolfram, his lover, who pulled out the towel and cleaned them off and adjusted the covers around them again, safe in their own secret world.

Yuuri hugged him close.

Wolfram felt amazingly warm. “I’ve raised my body temperature slightly, so you shouldn’t be cold,” Wolfram said with a yawn and snuggled closer and pressed an affectionate kiss on his cheek.

Yuuri started to doze with Wolfram’s arm around him. He was startled awake when he heard a groan, unmistakably coming from outside. By the sounds of it, it was the tent behind theirs, and then a familiar voice murmuring. His flirtatious school friend had found a playmate. Yuuri wasn’t that surprised and, though a tiny bit mortified, was glad that Murata had found some consolation, having been dragged all this way for no reason.

“Was that how we sounded?” He asked, not knowing if he could face Conrad in the morning. The tent really wasn’t sound proofed.

“Most likely.” In the dim light, Wolfram looked at him with some amusement and Yuuri stifled a nervous laugh as there was another groan which ended in a high pitched whimper. “Is that?”

“Wagner,” Wolfram confirmed.

“Murata and Wagner?” Yuuri couldn’t believe it. He would never have imagined Wolfram’s thoughtful, quiet vice-captain would be Murata’s type.

“They have been lovers for years. Don’t feel bad. Few people know,” Wolfram added, rubbing his back. Yuuri closed his eyes and enjoyed the casual intimacy, heads close together under the warm blankets. Wolfram yawned and turned the other way on his side and slung Yuuri’s arm around him, his back warm against his chest. “They have kept it quiet,” Wolfram continued softy after he’d settled himself comfortably. “Wagner has no interest in marriage and an official relationship with the Sage would cause...complications. Out here, they can be a little more open. Everyone in my squad is discreet.” Wolfram sounded positive of that.

“Oh.” He didn’t really understand but he’d ask Murata later. There were no further sounds from the other tent and he was relieved. There were some things he didn’t really need to hear.

He kissed Wolf’s warm shoulder. It was nice, having him in his arms like this. For years now, they had talked before sleep. Yuuri had begun to enjoy having Wolf by his side – a friend he could trust and talk to about his day, a friend who he had fallen in love with.

In some ways, nothing had changed. Except now he’d be able to pepper that spot beneath Wolfram’s ear with kisses as they spoke, or place his hand against his bare chest and feel his heart beat...or...So many possibilities, so many things he wanted to do, and so many things he wanted Wolfram to do to him.

With that line of thought, he remembered what Wolf had said before, about fucking him. He shivered. Yuuri had been both relieved and disappointed that this wasn’t what Wolf had expected this night. But he hadn’t forgotten about it. He was planning on taking Wolfram home and then locking them away in their rooms for a week in that enormous soft bed they shared. Afterwards, he’d have that birthday ball for Wolf. (He did deserve that no matter what anyone said.) He’d make sure the first and the last dance (almost all of them, actually) were with his fiancé, making it clear to everyone there, aristocrats and family alike, that Wolfram was his.

There would be no matchmaking for Celi with Wolfram that night, or ever.

In some ways, nothing had changed but, in others, everything had. Wolfram’s silky hair smelt a little smoky from the camp fire, but still felt incredible against his lips as he nuzzled it. So soft. He knew this was a precious chance he couldn’t mess up. Wolfram had him on probation, of a sort, and he couldn’t blame him. But he’d prove to them both that he could make this work. This was just the start.

Drowsily, he reached up and pulled soft curls back from Wolfram’s face in a caress. Wolfram turned in his arms so he was facing him. He looked happy, sleepy, and content and he kissed the tip of his cute nose on impulse. “Did you like your birthday present, Wolf?” He couldn’t help but ask.

“Hmm,” Wolfram’s mischievous voice sent a delicious current straight to Yuuri’s groin. “I’m not certain. I think we’ll have to do it again before I can decide.”

Rolling onto his back, he pulled Wolfram‘s arms around him. And with one thumb, traced those lips gently. Giving up on a funny comeback he said plainly:

“I really do love you, Wolf.”

Wolfram’s beautiful expression was the perfect answer.

~***~

End - Comments are always appreciated.