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Title: Where You Go, I Will Follow (1/3)
Series: Kyou Kara Maou!
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Yuuri/Conrad

Summary: "I kissed you because I love you. Because I’m in love with you."

Yuuri and Conrad take a trip together through Shin Makoku; neither of them will ever be the same again.


The time difference between worlds makes matters like birthdays very difficult to calculate. Yuuri knows when he turns 18 at home because his mother buys a cake that must barely have fit in the confectionary store’s display cabinet, all blue icing and marzipan frills, and his father claps him on the shoulder and tells him he’s a man now.

All this despite the fact that by his calculations, he must be more than 19 by now, and already the monarch of the most powerful kingdom in a parallel world. He certainly doesn’t feel any older, but perhaps he’s begun to grow into the curious agelessness of the Mazoku, to become like Wolfram who’s nearly 60 years his elder, and Conrad, who’s a century old in their years.

A century, and he doesn’t look a day over 25 – it’s hard to believe. Or it was, years ago. Now it’s just become one of those things, part of the ordinary workings of his day like attending banquets and riding a horse and bestowing honours on deserving citizens.

They throw him a party in Shin Makoku as well to celebrate his Earthly coming of age – it’s a far more elaborate affair than the one at his house, which had been just the family and Murata. This one includes dignitaries from around the globe, and exotic presents of animals and jewels and fabulous weapons. Gunter catalogues them all carefully; each gift will need to be carefully acknowledged afterwards, the resultant mound of paperwork in part negating the fun of it.

The gifts aren’t all from foreign diplomats vying for his favour, though. Gunter gives him an antique history book full of the battles and sieges that formed the modern alliances. Gwendal gifts him a writing set – beautifully silver-inlaid quills, designed for the fancy calligraphy he has yet to master. Wolfram presents him with a dagger set with jet stones – “Not that I can imagine you using it, you wimp.”

And Conrad? He’s been looking forward to that most of all. The anticipation thrills him as Conrad approaches the throne towards the end of the evening when the rest of the crowd is beginning to dwindle and those who are left have lost their interest in watching his every move. He’s smiling softly as always, and Yuuri’s struck as he often is by the fact that it’s Yuuri’s presence that brings him joy.

He’s known for years that it’s Conrad who holds his heart; he’s kept that knowledge buried deep inside him, afraid to show it in case it changes the way Conrad looks at him or the warmth of their relationship. He would rather have Conrad’s friendship than ruin it looking for love. But for once, he now lets anticipation set his heart pumping.

“I thought when the celebrations were finished, we could take a trip,” the swordsman says. “I can show you Shin Makoku – the real Shin Makoku. It’s less a gift from me than from the country,” he adds with a hint of self-deprecation.

“Yes,” answers Yuuri, “Thank you. I would love to.”

He’s been ruling the country for years, but in that time he’s seen more of the rest of the world than his own lands. There have always been urgent incidents to take him abroad, and occasionally the threat of civil unrest at home to keep him in Blood-Pledge Castle. He wants to get out, wants to know the land, to know the people.

“Let’s go as soon as the celebrations are done,” he adds, suddenly eager. Eager to be out, exploring his own country.

Eager to be with Conrad.

-----------------------------------------------------

He goes incognito, his hair dyed, his eyes a false hazel. Wolfram pitches a fit at not being allowed to come, but he’s far too ornamental to keep a low profile. Conrad, for all that he can call charisma and command to himself, easily steps into the shoes of an ordinary man. Yuuri thinks it’s less his human blood than the life he’s led because of it, the ostracisation he’s faced from Mazoku society. For all that he is a nobleman, he’s lived a large portion of his life below the salt, and it tells not in any lack of refinement but in his ease with all walks of life.

They take three horses with them on the journey, one each and a third loaded with their supplies; Conrad intends them to be gone for a month, and while there will be food and shelter on the road it’s best not to rely on it.

At the base of the wide, temperate valley that provides Blood-Pledge Castle with most of its food Yuuri pauses, looking back at the castle. From across the fields it’s already shrunken from an imposing behemoth to a scenic sight, its towers and crenellations cutting a crooked, uneven silhouette against the blue sky.

Yuuri takes a deep breath; here, away from the castle town’s peat and wood fires, the air is clean and fresh. “Ah, it’s so wonderful,” he exclaims, spreading his arms wide. Conrad smiles.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Yuuri, Nazukeoya. Besides, I’m supposed to be incognito on this trip. We’re just two friends, journeying across Shin Makoku. It’s going to be great!” He pumps his fist into the air, grinning. Conrad’s smile widens, his eyes gentle.

“Yes, Yuuri.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

He knows from Gwendal’s maps and Gunther’s history books that Shin Makoku stretches across vast plains and over frigid mountain ranges until it reaches the natural boundary of the sea. He’s been to all those places – has fended off a civil war on the planes and sought out medicine in the forgotten mountains and launched diplomatic journeys at Shin Makoku’s ports. But his trips have always been with a purpose never related to the land or its people, but rather entangled in politics.

Ultimately for all the magic and wonder of this world, it is a medieval society. As they journey across the plains they meet farmers ploughing their land and shepherds tending their flocks. In the villages they see the women weaving and dyeing and the men shoeing horses and brewing beer. And for all that they seem cheerful Yuuri realises for the first time how close to poverty his subjects live, and how close to starvation. They’re one bad winter’s width away from disaster, from deprivation and death.

“We need to do better,” he tells Conrad one afternoon in a small village, sitting beside an ancient granny and helping her move the shuttle along her weaving. The wool is rough and grey, its coarseness reflecting the scraggly nature of the local sheep. “This isn’t good enough. These people deserve more.”

“Wars have been fought for freedom and politics, for royalty and religion. Never for the common people,” says Conrad. He’s perched on a bench beside them peeling potatoes with his knife. Yuuri’s eyes keep turning to Conrad’s hands, to his dextrous fingers skillfully slicing the skin from the potatoes. Conrad excels at every task he turns his mind to; it would make Yuuri jealous if he wasn’t so in awe of it.

“I don’t want to fight wars,” replies Yuuri. “It’s peace that brings prosperity.”

Conrad raises his eyebrows. “That’s not the way things have been approached in the past.”

“Well, it’s the way they will be in the future,” says Yuuri grimly.

Conrad smiles. “Yes, Your – Yuuri.”

---------------------------------------------

They sleep in haylofts and on hillsides and stretched out on stone floors in front of wide hearths. Yuuri insists from the first that he doesn’t want Conrad using his charisma, or wealth, to find them beds. The people they’re visiting sleep on the floor or thin straw mattresses – why should Yuuri have better?

Often times they lie close together, sharing blankets and straw pallets, Conrad freely giving his warmth and the protection of his body. Yuuri’s dreams are filled with the swordsman, with a soft tenderness and an aching want that lingers when he wakes up in the mornings to find Conrad already up and dressed.

-----------------------------------------------

Although it’s summer now, when they journey up to the foot of the mountains the air grows brisk and the ground harder with occasional frosts. The village homes turn from wood to stone, their walls thick and their roofs sharply slanted to withstand deep snowdrifts. The animals here are larger and covered with thicker wool, closer to yaks than sheep. Conrad shows Yuuri what greens to feed them and they lick his hands with their immense, rough tongues.

“You’ve seen dragons and sand bears and giant koalas, but ordinary beasts can be just as rewarding,” says Conrad. “They’re in many ways the backbone of our economy, and the people here consider them part of their family. A shepherd will search for days in a blizzard to find a lost animal.”

Yuuri laughs as the yak-beast pulls the greens from his hand with its tongue. He pats its shaggy head and it gives a contented snort. “I’m glad they’re so well looked-after,” he says. “But I’m just as lucky. You would search for days in a blizzard for me.”

“I would search until I found you,” replies Conrad, smiling, but beneath his pleasant expression Yuuri senses the gravity of his tone and knows the words to be true. They leave him feeling torn inside, wanting to somehow reach out to Conrad, to hold him, to return his loyalty with love.

“I know,” he says instead, and turns to mount his horse.

-----------------------------------------

Yuuri’s often wondered how Conrad feels about him. Superficially, of course, he is aware that Conrad loves him better than he loves himself – that he would give life or limb without question to protect Yuuri. His absolute loyalty is the rock on which Yuuri has built his life here in Shin Makoku – at every turn, every threat, every moment of need, Conrad has been there for him. But beyond that, he can’t read the swordsman’s feelings. Certainly he’s never signalled any hint of desire. But for a mere captain to court a king – or, to look at it another way, for a man to court a boy – would be beyond the bounds of acceptability.

Yuuri’s no longer a boy, but his adulthood hasn’t evinced any noticeable changes in Conrad. Except, he thinks, for this trip. Conrad’s never before taken him on a solo journey simply for the experience of it, has never forbidden others to join them – notably Wolfram. Yuuri’s just not sure whether it means anything.

------------------------------------------

They stay one night in a village at the foot of the mountains and then move on, their horses treading through rough heather. Conrad has another village in mind for them to visit, but it’s two days away and necessitates a night of camping.

As night draws in, the sun setting early behind the mountains towering above, they find a campsite used by local shepherds, provided with two logs and a fire pit. Conrad looks for wood while Yuuri tends to the horses, hobbling them and then grooming and feeding them. He’s unpacking the food and blankets when Conrad returns bearing mostly sticks and twigs – the trees here are small and mean.

“I’m afraid it won’t be much of a fire,” he says apologetically, dumping the wood down beside the ash-filled pit and then beginning to build a fire.

“It’s still warm out,” replies Yuuri easily.

Conrad looks up. “The sky is clear; it will be cold tonight.” He lights the wood on fire and spends a few minutes poking sticks into it until it catches in earnest.

They eat dried meat and raw vegetables for their dinner; not for the first time Yuuri imagines Wolfram’s face if given such a meal and smiles.

“Yuuri?” asks Conrad. He’s becoming more used to abandoning the formality of the court, more comfortable addressing Yuuri by his name, although he still does slip up occasionally.

“It’s nothing,” Yuuri says, shaking his head.

They sit shoulder to shoulder on the same log, the horses behind their backs blocking some of the wind slicing down the valley.

Here, sitting beside Conrad so close that he can feel the other man’s warmth, he suddenly feels emboldened. He straightens, eyes carefully on the fire. “Conrad?”

“Mm?”

“When I was younger… that is… Do you remember when Stoffel tried to marry me to Raven’s niece?”

“Certainly. One of my uncle’s more memorable schemes.”

Short of civil war, thinks Yuuri. But he continues: “Do you think… could that happen again? People just deciding to try to marry me off?”

Conrad rests his hands on his knees, his high well-polished boots shining in the firelight. “Arranged marriages are a reality of noble life. An alliance with a king would advance a country’s status immeasurably. There are many of your allies who would – and have – contemplated such a thing. For the time being, you’ve been protected by your well-known engagement to Wolfram.”

“Oh,” says Yuuri, in a small voice. For all of Wolfram’s possessiveness, he knows it’s no secret to the blond Mazoku that Yuuri’s heart resides elsewhere. But Wolfram takes so much pleasure in their engagement, and it provides a stable family for Greta. He’s been unwilling to break off their arrangement with nothing to replace it with. “So Wolfram’s been protecting me?”

Conrad looks over at him. “Wolfram loves you, Yuuri. He would happily spend the rest of his life with you. But I think…” he trails off, clearly reluctant to suggest Yuuri might not reciprocate his brother’s feelings.

“Wolfram knows it’s not mutual. He has for a long time. I love him – just not like that. But I always thought he just liked being close to me, and Greta. I never imagined he might keep it up to protect me.” He feels suddenly deeply guilty, a sense of shame dragging at the pit of his stomach. He pushes it away – now’s not the time for it. That’s what 2am is for, when he’s lying sleepless and alone in bed.

“Wolfram is more thoughtful than he’s given credit for,” says Conrad, tactfully not calling out Yuuri directly. “And he’s personally aware how much pressure can be brought to bear on a young noble without attachments.”

You’re a young noble without attachments, Conrad,” points out Yuuri, in a spurt of bravery. He glances over and catches Conrad’s eye; the swordsman smiles.

“Well observed, Your Majesty. But Mother understands what she calls free love very well. She has never tried to force any of us into a relationship. She has always felt that we will find our own betrothed when we’re ready.”

“You’ve never been ready?”

“For love? Perhaps, once or twice in the past. But not for marriage,” answers Conrad easily. The idea that Conrad’s been in love before, been with others before, makes Yuuri’s heart lurch. But of course he has – he’s over one hundred, and more than that is handsome and charming and a renowned soldier. The perfect man, excepting perhaps his non-existent sense of humour.

Yuuri kicks at a stone; it rolls into the fire. “I don’t want to be married off for the sake of some alliance – I can make my own alliances. But if a king can only marry another member of royalty…” Then I’ll never marry, he thinks defiantly.

“No,” says Conrad gently. “There have been instances in the past where the Maou has married a commoner. Some have been long and happy marriages, others have not. But it is not forbidden.”

“Good!” Yuuri nods. “That’s how it should be. But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself – I’m not ready to marry anyone. I haven’t even kissed anyone. Ever,” he finishes, in a depressed tone.

Conrad smiles. “No one is judging you.”

“I just… I want my first kiss to be someone I love. Someone I love more than anything,” he adds. “Not just a… an experience.

“Very sensible, Your – Yuuri,” he amends, seeing Yuuri’s sharp look.

Yuuri is struck by Conrad’s closeness, of the press of his arm through the fabric of his sleeve. Of the heat of his body and his scent – sword polish and leather and sweat.

He suddenly, very badly, wants to kiss Conrad. His stomach is full of butterflies, his heart pounding in his throat. Conrad’s mouth is right there – all he had to do is lean in.

Yuuri stands suddenly, stumbling backwards over the log. “Goingtothebathroom,” he garbles and hurries away into the darkness, threshing through the heather.

He can’t confess to Conrad. Can’t show his true feelings. Just can’t bear to risk it. When he returns he changes the topic, and they spend the rest of the evening talking about their plans for the next day.

-----------------------------------------

The next village they stop in is one where Conrad is known to the locals and is welcomed into their homes. Yuuri he introduces as a friend, just as he has the whole journey; Yuuri hangs back while Conrad reforges old connections created who knows how long ago. With the Mazoku lifespan, it could have been decades.

They’re brought into the village’s one gathering place, a small tavern with dark beams hanging low overhead and narrow windows letting in thin streams of dusty light. It smells of smoke and beer; he sits off to one side while Conrad drinks with the village’s men and they talk about old times – from the sounds of it Conrad has fought with some of them.

Yuuri watches Conrad while he stands at the bar, the long line of his back straight, his smile easy-going and warm. Although he was born to a queen he has no trace of hauteur; he mingles easily with the villagers. After last night’s near miss, Yuuri still feels his heart speed when he looks at Conrad but he can’t turn away – he’s drawn to the swordsman like a moth to a flame. They’ve spent so much time together on this trip that he’s forgetting his boundaries.

“He’s very handsome, isn’t he?” says a quiet voice to his side.

Yuuri turns and sees a girl a few years younger than himself sitting on the bench beside him. He has no idea where she came from. She’s wearing a worn purple dress that’s too big for her, and an apron blotched with flour and dark smudges.

“Sir Weller, I mean,” she adds. Her face is pale with freckles, and is streaked with the same dark smudges as her apron; her dark hair is in two pleats. She smells faintly of peat, and he wonders if she’s been tending fires.

“Yes, he is,” agrees Yuuri, smiling. “What’s your name?”

“Ethel. I’ve heard stories about Sir Weller for years; I wondered if I would ever meet him. He saved our village, you know. It was before I was born.”

“I didn’t know. But that sounds like the kind of thing Conrad would do. I’m Yuuri, by the way.”

She tilts her head. “Nice to meet you, Yuuri. Are you in love with Sir Weller?” she asks, with startling frankness.

Yuuri sucks in a breath and chokes on his own saliva; she very politely pounds him on the back. “W-what makes you say that?”

“The way you look at him when he’s not watching you. You look lovesick. Just like my older sister pining after Hans the blacksmith’s boy.” She pauses. “Mama says I’m terribly forthright,” she adds, as if in apology.

“Conrad’s one of my best friends,” he replies, circling the issue warily.

“Does that mean you can’t love him?” she asks curiously.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “But I don’t think it matters. He doesn’t love me back.”

“Did he tell you so? That doesn’t sound very much like Sir Weller.” She frowns, rubbing at a smudge on her apron with her thumb. She succeeds only in turning her thumb black.

“He didn’t say. But he’s never… that is… I just don’t think he does,” says Yuuri, lamely.

“You shouldn’t make assumptions. They’re very often wrong.”

“You are forthright, aren’t you?” Yuuri smiles, and pulls out his handkerchief. “Here, you’ve got… whatever that is, all over your thumb. And your face.”

“Thanks.” She takes the handkerchief and wipes and her face and hands. “This is lovely cloth.”

It’s from a department store and cost 500 yen; to her it’s something she could never make or barter for. “Keep it,” he says. When she looks at him, shocked, he nods. “It’s payment. For your advice. You’re right: I shouldn’t make assumptions.”

She rubs the cloth softly against her face. “Thank you, Yuuri.”

------------------------------------------------

They stay overnight in the village and leave in the middle of the next day; Conrad wants them to make their way through a mountain pass and onto the plains on the other side. The side of the mountain is rocky and strewn with boulders; many of them are growing moss and lichen. The grass, such as it is, is short and weedy.

“I’m really glad you brought me on this trip,” Yuuri tells him, as they trot their horses along a narrow mountain path. “The people we’ve met have been great.”

He looks up at the mountain stretching tall above them; they’re riding beneath a cliff-face on the right side, while on the left the ground slopes downwards more gently. High above he can see the mountain’s snowy tip. Conrad had mentioned there being a glacier up there, frozen even in summer.

“You should know the kingdom you’ve worked so hard for. You’re a legend to them, but there’s no reason they should be an unknown to you.”

“Someone there said you saved the village a long time ago. What happened?”

Conrad shifts his reins to the left hand and stretches briefly before answering. “This valley used to be beset by bandits who lived high in the mountains. They would come down and raid the villages and then return to their stronghold. It was surrounded by unstable rock – near here, actually – which they would collapse onto anyone who came after them, making it difficult to drive them out. I led a group of men around from the other side of the mountains and took them by surprise; the bandits were captured or fled and did not return. Many of the Mazoku in the village today were part of that raid.”

“You’re a hero to them,” says Yuuri, smiling.

“I was doing my duty.”

From overhead there’s a sudden booming sound, like thunder echoing through the skies. Yuuri looks up, frowning. The sky is clear. “Thunder?” he says, turning back to Conrad.

Conrad’s face is terse. “Ride on,” he snaps out, tugging the pack horse’s lead. “Hurry.”

Yuuri urges his mount forward into a canter – the slope is too treacherous for a gallop. “Faster!” shouts Conrad from behind him.

Overhead, he sees the first boulder start to roll down, and realises what’s happening – a rockslide. Heedless of the danger he kicks his mount into a gallop. The horse is panicking now and takes off on its own accord, nearly throwing him. They fly forward together, the first head-sized rocks bouncing over their path. One strikes the horse’s flank; it grunts but continues its dash with Yuuri bent forward over its withers, holding on for dear life.

Somehow, they outride the rock slide. He doesn’t slow until they’re well clear of it, his whole body shaking with adrenaline.

He turns and looks back and sees nothing but heaps of rock strewn across the path.

No sign of Conrad.

For an instant his heart stops. Just shudders to a dead halt in his chest.

Then it jolts back to life, and he pulls so hard on the reins he turns the horse’s head forcefully. It whinnies, upset and still half-frantic, and shudders to an unwilling stop. He tries to urge it around; it refuses to turn. He throws himself off it and runs back, shouting, heedless of the danger: “Conrad? Conrad!

He sprints over crunching gravel and mud, past boulders the size of a car. They’re lying thrown about like a giant’s toys; he skids and stumbles between them, searching desperately. “CONRAD!”

“Well well well,” says a cold voice from behind him. Yuuri stops, turning. There are three men standing there dressed in dirty clothes, swords in hand. Their faces are scarred, their grins showing missing teeth. All three are staring at Yuuri like a trio of cats contemplating a mouse. “What have we here?”

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