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Title: Where You Go, I Will Follow (2/3)
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.


“Who are you?” asks Yuuri, realising that not only does he not have Morgif with him now, he didn’t bring the sword on this trip at all.

“We’re old friends of Sir Weller,” replies the foremost, a tall man with black hair and a missing eye covered by thick scar tissue.

Yuuri looks from him to the others, all three brandishing swords and looking hungrily pleased. “You’re the bandits,” he says, slowly.

“What a bright boy. Weller’s protégé, are you?”

“I’m his friend,” replies Yuuri, staunchly. “And I’m going to find him.”

“What a nice sentiment. But actually, you’ll be coming with us.” He lowers his sword and gestures at Yuuri with his free hand; the other two hurry forward. Yuuri turns to run, but his feet skid out on the muddy, gritty terrain and he falls. As his head hits the ground, he feels one of his contacts pop out.

The two bandits pull him to his feet, one grabbing his jaw and turning his neck painfully so he can consider Yuuri’s face. “He’s got one black eye, boss,” reports the goon.

“I hear our old friend Conrad’s become very chummy with the Maou of late. You wouldn’t know him, would you?” asks the one-eyed man. Yuuri says nothing. He comes closer and, before Yuuri can turn away, shoves his thumb in Yuuri’s eye, swiping it to the side. “Well what do you know? A young black-eyed Mazoku. Who’s to bet this isn’t your true hair colour?” he adds, grabbing Yuuri’s hair and dragging him forward by it.

“Let me go,” snaps Yuuri, trying and failing to break away.

The bandits laugh. “Or what?” sneers one of them.

“Or I’ll make you sorry!”

More laughter. The one-eyed man grabs Yuuri’s collar and hauls him forward. “You’re nothing without your guard dog. If he’s still alive, he’ll come after you. And we’ll take care of him then. Come on.”

The other two frame his sides, and together they drag him forward, towards the mountain-top.

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

The bandits are rough and contemptuous. They sheath their swords as they work their way up the mountain, striking and kicking Yuuri when he tries to fight back. After a few good blows to the head he’s too dizzy to make much headway in escaping, can barely keep struggling on as they drag him up the steep rocky slopes. They curse and laugh at him, threatening him constantly with worse to come once they arrive at their stronghold.

The stronghold turns out to be a deep cave in the mountainside with paths leading up to it in many directions. Yuuri is too befuddled to realise he’s there until one of them kicks his legs out from under him and he falls, cutting his palms open on the rough ground as he tries to catch himself. “Stay there like the good Maou you are,” laugh the bandits; one gives him a hard boot to the stomach and knocks the wind out of him.

For several minutes he lies on the stony ground trying to catch his breath and marshal his thoughts. Over the years he’s been training to master his magic, but despite Gwendal and Wolfram’s tutelage he can only control water, and then only when it’s already present. There’s no water here to bend to his bidding, and unless it rains that’s unlikely to change. He still after these three years has little to no control over the Maou’s more monstrous powers – they come and go when they please.

He lies there, beaten and dizzy, until it begins to grow dark outside. He gathers from the bandits’ quiet discussions that there’s to be no search; if Conrad’s out there they’ll wait for him to come to them.

If. The idea that Conrad might be dead is devouring him from the inside out, eating him up flesh and bones and all and leaving behind just a soul-destroying emptiness. He knows he should be positive – that he should believe in Conrad. But the destruction wrought by the rock slide was immense, and there had been no sign at all of Conrad in its aftermath. The knowledge that if their roles were reversed Conrad would already have defeated the bandits and would even now be searching for him makes him sick.

In the past when he’s been captured, he’s always known that he had nothing to fear. That come hell or high water Conrad would be along soon to save him. Now he feels no such faith. But still he can’t force his fickle powers to do his bidding. And without even a sword he has no chance of defeating the bandits. He concentrates on healing himself: whatever happens, he’ll need a clear head.

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

They post a guard at the mouth of the cave as the day turns to night, the one-eyed man and his colleague with blond hair and a scraggly beard coming inside and lighting a fire.

Yuuri gathers as he listens to them that the three of them have come back intending to start up their old gang again and begin terrorizing the villages in the valley below. Conrad’s passing by offered an ideal opportunity for revenge, and to prevent a repeat of their previous defeat. The unexpected prize of the Maou has assured their success: they can random him for his weight in gold.

His head grows clearer and clearer as he focuses on healing the concussion caused by the blows, eyes closed in concentration. Although he has no chance of defeating the bandits it might be possible to slip out under the cover of darkness. Although what he would do then, alone in the mountains without a guide or any food or equipment, is a pertinent question.

Find Conrad, he thinks, with certainty. I would find Conrad.

“Sleeping already?” asks a voice suddenly nearby; Yuuri’s eyes flash open to see the blond man towering over him. “What a pity; the fun’s just about to start.” He grabs Yuuri by the hair and hauls him into a sitting position. He stinks of sweat and campfire smoke, his clothes aged and unwashed. “It was the previous Maou that ordered Weller to roust us out. So I think it’s only appropriate we pay you back for all the pain and suffering she caused us.” He pulls back his fist.

From the cave entrance comes a sudden scuffling. Then, in the darkness, a very curt voice: “Let him go.

Conrad.

Yuuri struggles up and is slammed into the wall. In an instant there’s a knife at his throat, his hair held eye-wateringly tight by the blond bandit. The other – the one-eyed man – draws his sword and steps forward. “It’s two to one, Weller. Reuben’ll slit his throat before you can cut me down.”

“Let him go, and no harm will come to you,” says Conrad, still in the shadows.

“Surrender yourself, and no harm will come to him,” replies the one-eyed man. The blond – Reuben – pulls the blade up against Yuuri’s neck; he can feel the coldness of the steel, feel the edge cutting into his skin.

“Don’t Conrad – they’ll kill you!” Reuben slams his head up against the stone wall, hard, keeping the knife at his throat.

“Alright,” says Conrad. There’s a leathery slithering, and then he throws his sword and sheath into the firelight. Reuben relaxes his hold on Yuuri momentarily.

The next instant something flies through the air like a missile; Reuben gurgles and drops Yuuri who falls to the floor with the blond Mazoku’s weight on top of him and something hot and red streaming over his neck.

By the time he pushes Reuben off, Conrad has knocked down the other man. “Come back, and I will kill you,” Conrad says, and then kicks him in the head, hard, knocking him unconscious.

Yuuri can smell blood now and scrambles to pull himself free from Reuben’s weight. He does so and catches sight of the bandit’s neck with Conrad’s knife buried hilt-deep in it; his stomach turns sharply and he gasps.

Then Conrad has grabbed him about the chest and is pulling him free, pulling him away, embracing him and holding him safe and sound.

He feels cold and dizzy, recognizes suddenly that he’s soaked in the dead Mazoku’s blood, and feels his knees give out under him.

“Yuuri? Are you alright? Yuuri?!” Conrad is hovering over him – Conrad who’s not dead.

He nods, but in truth he can’t stop shivering, and the world seems to be fading to black at the edges. Conrad runs a careful hand over his head; it comes away bloody. From being bashed into the wall, thinks Yuuri dully.

“Come on. We need to go. Come with me,” coaxes Conrad gently, helping him up to his feet. He stops and picks up his sword, hooks it through his belt and turns back to Yuuri who’s staring down at the third man – also dead, his neck bent unnaturally sideways. For a moment the world blacks out; when he blinks it back into existence Conrad’s holding him up from behind. “You’re alright. You’re alright,” soothes Conrad. “Come on, Yuuri.” He leads him out of the cave and down the mountainside.

Tethered nearby is one of the horses – in the dark, Yuuri can’t tell which one. Conrad helps him up onto it and then swings himself up behind, and they’re off down the steep trail, Yuuri leaning back against Conrad.

“Please don’t leave,” he says, head spinning and body aching.

“I won’t, Yuuri.”

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

They ride for a long time that night, picking up one of the other horses further down the mountainside. He doesn’t realise where they’re going until they arrive back at Ethel’s village, Conrad waking up the village chief and helping Yuuri into his house. He’s put to bed – in an actual, proper bed, albeit with a straw-stuffed mattress – and sinks quickly into darkness.

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

When Yuuri wakes up the next morning he has a bad headache. He reaches up and finds his head and hands girt with bandages – someone obviously was tending to him in the night. He’s alone in a small stone room, a fireplace at one end of the room with a fire burning in it despite the warmth. He remembers suddenly his chill from last night, the way he felt cold to the bone. He gets up and feels aches and bruises all over his body; he shuffles over and warms his hands in front of the fire, a little of last night’s shock seeping back into him.

There’s a knock at the door and a moment later Conrad comes in. He has one arm in a sling and a dark bruise over his right eye; he’s wearing different clothes from yesterday, and Yuuri wonders what happened to his old clothes. But, looking down, he sees he too is dressed in a spare set of clothes.

Then he remembers the blood pouring over him hot and thick. Remembers the smell of smoke and sweat suffocating him, remembers the sharp pain of the knife against his throat.

It must show in his face because Conrad takes him by the shoulder. “You’re safe now, Yuuri.”

He takes a deep breath, tries to fight down his leftover fear. “I know. I’m sorry – I know.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for. It was my fault. I put you in danger. If anything had happened…”

Yuuri looks up at him, eyes wide. His memories are pouring in furiously now, crushing him with their weight. “I thought you were dead. I thought – I didn’t know – Conrad,” he says, heart suddenly overflowing with fear and relief and the remains of panic. The agony of separation and the thrill of finding each other surge through his veins like liquid fire, scorching him.

Completely overwhelmed by emotion, he leans forward and kisses Conrad.

It’s a brief, chaste kiss, his mouth pressed against the swordsman for fewer than five heartbeats. Sudden fear blossoms up in him and he jerks away, eyes wide and terrified. “I’m sorry – I’m sorry,” he stammers. “It was the adrenaline, I’m totally overwrought – with you and the bandits and the cave and –” he blabbers on, words spilling heedlessly out of his mouth, fast and furious, as if by digging further he could dig himself out of this hole.

“Yuuri,” cuts in Conrad gently, “Stop.”

He stops, breathing hard. Conrad is watching him, still holding his shoulder. “It’s alright. You experienced something very frightening; it’s perfectly normal to feel overcome by it. What matters is that you’re alright.” He’s speaking carefully, eyes watchful.

He’s flooded with things he wants to say, feelings he wants to express: It wasn’t just shock! I love you! Please don’t hate me! I’m so happy you’re alive! They all jumble up inside him, a complex web of fears and truths and desires that pinions him. He ducks his head, tongue-tied.

“We can talk later – for now you should eat something,” continues Conrad. He leads Yuuri out into the house’s main room where a battered wooden table sits beside another fireplace, this one with a heavy iron pot over it. Porridge is already served at the table; he sits down and takes up his spork wordlessly.

Conrad and the village chief talk about village gossip and the weather and this year’s harvest, a pleasant background chatter while he eats. The lady of the house fusses over him; her two children play with wooden horses at his feet. It’s as pleasant a domestic scene as he can imagine, and slowly the tension and the fear bleeds out of him. He doesn’t forget the earlier scene between him and Conrad, but for the moment it fades in importance.

He turns to look at Conrad when he’s finished his meal: “I should take a look at your arm.”

“You should heal yourself first,” replies Conrad.

Yuuri frowns. “I’m fine. Come here,” he points at the bench beside him. Conrad smiles and comes over, sitting down and pulling his arm carefully free from its sling. He’s wearing a dark blue shirt today that sets off his eyes; it reminds Yuuri of the uniform he wore in the past – of the Lion of Luttenburg. It could have been the Lion who came for him last night; for all that he hadn’t been able to see Conrad’s face in the shadows he had known that for once the swordsman wore no smile at all.

I can be cruel to a man who threatens you, Conrad had said once. The words come back to him now.

Yuuri hovers his hand over Conrad’s arm, and feels his magic being drawn to a break near the elbow. He coats his magic over it like a stonemason spreading mortar, pouring more and more until he feels the bone begin to knit together.

He’s worked with Gisela these past years to improve his healing, and unlike his offensive magic it has made a noticeable difference. She’s even suggested he could train as a full-fledged healer if he wanted to; unfortunately his other commitments make that impossible.

Eventually he feels himself growing tired and finishes. “It will take another few days to heal it altogether, but that’s almost halfway there,” he says. “For now, though, you should keep it in the sling.”

“Thank you, Yuuri.” Conrad does as he’s told, slipping his arm through the length of fabric knotted around his neck. “The villagers have offered to let us stay as long as necessary. And to send a party up into the mountains to see that the bandits are laid to rest.”

Even in his cruelty, he’s decent, Yuuri thinks, and nods.

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

While Conrad gives a small group of men instructions about going up into the mountains, Yuuri slips out to get some air. He walks through the central square where women are doing their washing and men are sharpening tools. As he goes he sees Ethel hemming a skirt, and waves.

“Yuuri!” She smiles and sets down her sewing. Her eyes take in the bandages on his head and hands and her expression grows concerned. “Are you alright? I heard you were attacked by bandits – they didn’t say you were hurt.”

“I’m fine. It’s just scratches; they’ll heal soon.” He sits down beside her on the side of a stone retaining wall holding a central bed of flowers.

“They said Sir Weller took care of the bandits – is that true?”

His mind flashes briefly to Reuben’s weight atop him, crushing him; he shivers. “It’s true. They won’t bother you.”

“Thank goodness. No one here knows how to fight, you know. The men who served in the army stayed there and never came home.”

“I’m sure the Maou would make sure you’re protected,” says Yuuri, smiling.

“It’s funny – you have the same name. Were you born in July?”

“I was, as a matter of fact,” replies Yuuri. “But I’ve never met the Maou,” he adds. It’s not technically a lie: how could one meet oneself?

“Your eyes seem darker than when I saw you before.”

Yuuri laughs nervously. “It must just be the light.” And then, before she can become suspicious of his lame answer, he continues: “What do you think of the Maou?”

She considers, head tilting to the side and tongue caught between her teeth. “I think he must be very wise,” she says, after a minute. “When he was first crowned, everyone here thought he would be a pawn for Sir Stoffel, or one of the other 10 Nobles. But he’s done things they would never have, and succeeded. I don’t know if humans are as terrible as everyone says, but I don’t want another war. My older brother died in the last war – I never want us to have to fight again. The Maou has made peace with the humans, and kept it. Some of the older men grumble about it, but if it can work I want it to. And he defeated Soushu and saved Shin-Ou; he deserves our praise and gratitude for that.”

“Thank you,” says Yuuri, momentarily overcome by her kindness.

“For what?”

“Oh, just… you know. Answering my question.” He waves his hands, trying to distract from the fumble.

She giggles.

Yuuri changes the subject.

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

He walks around the village in the day talking to many of the villagers. He learns how to tell here when it’s going to rain, and if the summer will be a dry one, and which yak-beasts will have young in the spring and which won’t. He helps to sole shoes and wash clothes and mend a leaky roof. He senses Conrad’s constant presence, close and watchful, but apart. The swordsman is giving him his space.

Yuuri doesn’t blame him.

He doesn’t know how to explain what happened earlier today to Conrad. It would be easiest to say nothing and let him assume Yuuri acted out of shock or anguish. But he doesn’t want Conrad to think that. He wants more, wants truth and honesty and yes, Conrad’s heart. He’s starting to be less afraid of being rejected than of never sharing his feelings at all. Conrad could have been killed yesterday, and he would have died without knowing that Yuuri loves him more than anything.

That evening after dinner in the village chief’s house they sit out on the edge of the town watching the sky turn dark. They sit in silence for a long time as forget-me-knot blue turns purple streaked through with pink clouds. It has a confectionary prettiness to it, all soft pastel colours and fluffy shapes.

“Conrad?”

The swordsman looks over. They’re sitting side-by-side on the fence of a yak pen; Conrad’s injured arm is held tight to his chest, his other hangs by his side. With his booted feet hooked up on a lower rung of the fence below he looks perfectly at home here.

“This morning… I was scared – terrified, really – and at the same time so happy you were okay. But that’s not why I kissed you. I kissed you because I love you. Because I’m in love with you.” He’s repeated the words in his head a thousand times this afternoon, over and over while he was hammering nails and washing dirty shirts and chatting with Ethel. “If you don’t – don’t love me back, or feel anything, that’s okay,” he adds hurriedly, going sharply off the rails of his prepared speech. “I mean, we can just pretend this never happened. No one has to know. And I mean, why would you love me? You’re amazing and talented and handsome and noble-born, I’m just … me,” he finishes, pathetically, slumping.

“Committing myself to your service from the moment you were born brought me fulfilment I never dreamed I would have,” begins Conrad, slowly. Yuuri looks up. “In the years since you came to Shin Makoku, seeing you step fully into your role as Maou, bringing peace and prosperity to our people, has brought me pride. But in this last year being close to you has brought me a joy I never anticipated. And I’ve been selfish with it – because while I saw you watching me, I never once acknowledged it. I hoarded your glances and soft looks and never returned them. It wasn’t my place to fall in love with my master. That’s what I told myself. But I have – beyond any hope of recovery. And it’s no longer a secret my heart can keep.”

Yuuri stares, heart so full in his chest that it aches. “Are you saying…?”

Conrad reaches out with his good hand and rests in gently against Yuuri’s cheek. “If you’re willing to grant me your love, I will without question grant you mine.”

Their first kiss was awkward, a sudden one-sided outpouring of affection fed by shock and terror and relief. Their second, on the paddock fence behind the mountain village, is softer and warmer. Conrad places his mouth to Yuuri’s and Yuuri yields, unsure but following Conrad’s lead. The swordsman has dismounted the fence and is standing in front of Yuuri, encircled in the young Maou’s arms. His free hand strokes Yuuri’s hair at the nape of his neck as their mouths intertwine, Yuuri feeling a sedate warmth fill him from his core and seep outwards to envelope him.

He’s never felt this right, this at peace. As if every yearning he ever felt, every need he ever had, has just been fulfilled. The world beyond has slowed as though dipped in treacle; there is just him and Conrad, the two of them so close to being one.

Conrad breaks away to take a breath, resting his forehead against Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri buries his nose in the thick hair at the back of Conrad’s head, smelling the sweet soap he uses. He presses a kiss against Conrad’s neck with all the tenderness of a kitten.

They stay that way for a long while, just holding each other, two halves finally united into a perfect whole. The last rays of the sun disappear from the sky above and the early stars begin to come out, bats swooping low over the village gathering for the nightly feast.

“We should go in, or everyone will be asleep,” says Conrad quietly, to Yuuri’s shoulder. He raises his head and meets Yuuri’s eyes: ready.

“Okay,” says Yuuri, hopping down off the fence. “We’ll go together.”

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

They’re offered any number of beds in any number of homes; Conrad, sensing Yuuri’s desire for privacy, requests they be allowed to use the tavern floor provided with a pair of thin straw pallets. The tight, dark space is illuminated by a fire in the grate and a series of lanterns hanging from the rafters; Yuuri arranges the straw pallets beside each other, covering them with blankets while Conrad puts out all but one of the lanterns.

They sit up together for a long time, Yuuri tucked against Conrad’s chest, the two occasionally sharing soft kisses but also spending time simply basking in the other’s closeness.

When they eventually go to sleep it’s under the same blanket, Yuuri pressed close to Conrad’s good arm. Yuuri drifts off with Conrad’s scent surrounding him, utterly contented.

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