“Good night, Greta.” Yuuri tucked the blankets around Greta and smoothed a hand over her hair. “I hope you have happy dreams.”
“I will,” Greta said and snuggled under the covers, closing her eyes. Abruptly, her eyes popped open again and she sat up, surprising Yuuri. “I forgot!”
“Forgot?” Yuuri watched as Greta scrambled past him, out of bed, and across the bedroom. She snatched a glass bottle from her dressing table and skipped back to Yuuri. “This is for you.”
Yuuri accepted the gift and held it up to the light. The bottle was about the size of his hand, with a starburst pattern, tapered at the top with a glass stopper. Dark pink liquid filled the bottle three-quarters of the way. He unstoppered the bottle and sniffed. It smelled fruity, like sweetened berries. “What is it?”
“It’s a love potion!” Greta chirped. “If you use it, Wolfram will love you enough to marry you finally and I’ll really have two fathers!”
Yuuri slammed the glass stopper back on the bottle. “Greta, where did you get this?”
“From the kitchen.” Greta climbed back into bed and arranged the covers around her. “Doria and Lasagna and Sangria said that if you spread what’s in that bottle on yourself, it would make Wolfram love you and they’ll win a lot of money.”
Yuuri gulped and stared at the bottle in repulsion. He would not be using it to seduce Wolfram anytime soon. Or at all. And he would be upping his wager through Gwendal with the three maids that he’d hold out for a girl.
“Do you like it Yuuri?” Greta said, snuggling under the blankets again.
“It’s wonderful,” Yuuri lied through his teeth. He bent and kissed Greta on the forehead. “Thank you.”
Greta smiled, closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
Yuuri left her bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He nodded to the guard standing outside her door and headed up the corridor to his own chambers. Alone in his room, he looked at the bottle once more, shuddered, and put it on the table beside the bed. He’d have to figure out a way to get rid of it without hurting Greta’s feelings.
“About time you got here.”
“Ah!” Yuuri jumped, startled, as the mound of blankets on the bed moved. Wolfram sat up, hair in slight disarray. His pink nightgown slipped off one shoulder.
“Where were you? Were you out cheating on me?” Wolfram demanded to know.
“I was tucking Greta into her own bed,” Yuuri said pointedly. He took off his school jacket and tossed it on the valet beside the wardrobe cabinet.
“Oh. That’s okay, then,” Wolfram said. “But if you even think about tucking anyone else in…”
Yuuri rolled his eyes, his back to Wolfram. He changed his uniform undershirt for his pajama top.
Yuuri turned as Wolfram picked up the glass bottle on the bedside table. His eyes bugged in horror and he leapt towards Wolfram. “No, wait!”
In what seemed like slow motion, Yuuri’s hand hit the bottom of the bottle right as Wolfram pulled the stopper free. The bottle upended, spilling its contents on Wolfram’s nightgown and splashing onto his bared collarbone and neck.
“Yuuri!” Wolfram righted the bottle, put the stopper on, and shoved the bottle at him. Yuuri clasped it with dread, staring at the darker pink splotches staining Wolfram’s pink nightgown.
Wolfram’s lips curled in disgust, pulling the nightgown away from his body. “What is this stuff? It smells like berries.”
“It’s… uh… it’s perfume.” Yuuri’s eyes grew huge as Wolfram drew the nightgown up and over his head, baring pale skin from neck to ankle. The bedcovers bunched at the vee of his legs, barely hiding his private bits. “What are you doing?!” Yuuri squealed.
“Preventing a mess.” Wolfram bundled the nightgown in a ball and slid out of bed.Yuuri spun around, face heating from what he’d seen. “Wolfram!”
“What?” Wolfram brushed past Yuuri, walking bare-bottomed over to the wardrobe cabinet. Yuuri froze, unable to tear his gaze from Wolfram’s backside until it was covered by a dressing gown.
“I’m going to bathe. This perfume is sticky,” Wolfram said. He gave Yuuri a warning look over his shoulder. “Don’t get kidnapped or killed while I’m gone.”
Yuuri dropped onto the edge of the bed as soon as the door closed behind Wolfram and tugged at the collar of his pajama shirt. The odd feeling in his stomach had to be revulsion caused by the excited feeling he had a bit lower down his body. He’d seen Wolfram unclothed before and didn’t have a reaction, so why did it happen now?
The light glinted off the side of the glass bottle in Yuuri’s hand. The love potion! Greta had said the potion would make Wolfram love him if he smeared it on his body. But the potion had been accidentally smeared on Wolfram, which meant…
Yuuri dropped the potion as if it burned him. The bottle bounced off his foot, clinked on the floor without breaking, and rolled under the bed, but Yuuri paid it no attention as he ran over and bolted the door lock. He leaned back against the door and sunk slowly to the ground. Wolfram was washing the potion off, but Yuuri was taking no chances. He refused to fall in love.
Yuuri scrunched his eyes at the sudden brightness behind his closed lids and turned his head to bury his face against the warm, hard pillow.
“Good morning, Your Majesty!” Günter’s voice rang out and Yuuri groaned. “Günter has come to assist you in dressing. I have your underwear all ready for you to step into.”
“Drop that underwear before I chop off your hands.” Yuuri’s pillow vibrated with Wolfram’s order and he grumbled unhappily. Wolfram had sneaked into his room again—
Wait – Wolfram!
Yuuri pushed up with his hands and was jolted to a stop by something wrapped around his head. He gurgled in distress when he found he was eyeball-to-navel with Wolfram. His lower half hung off the bed.
“Oh!” Günter gasped suddenly. Yuuri shoved back from under Wolfram’s pajamas and tumbled off the bed. He caught of glimpse of Günter with his hands covering his nose as he fled abruptly from the room.
Wolfram sat up and stretched his arms, exposing a strip of skin under the hem of the familiar-looking pajama shirt he wore. His blonde hair stuck up at odd-angles and he blinked sleepily as he looked at Yuuri. “Why are you on the floor?”
“How did you get in my bed?” Yuuri squeaked. “I locked the door.”
Wolfram made a derisive sound. “As if that would keep me out.”
“It’s supposed to! That’s what locks are for!”
“For everyone but your fiancé.” Wolfram climbed out of bed and bent over to pick something off the floor. The pajama bottoms drooped revealingly in the back. “How am I going to protect you otherwise, wimp?”
“It’s you I need protection from,” Yuuri muttered, slamming his eyelids shut when he realized he was staring at Wolfram’s backside. Again. “Are you wearing my pajamas?”
“Yes. Some clumsy oaf spilled sticky perfume all over mine. I believe this is yours, too.”
Yuuri cracked open an eye and saw his black Shin Makoku underwear dangling from Wolfram’s fingers. The sight shouldn’t have excited him.
“Goingtotakeabathnowbye,” Yuuri’s words trailed behind him in his breakneck dash from the bedroom.
He belly-flopped into the Maou’s private bath, sinking to the bottom in his full pajamas. Obviously, Wolfram’s bath the night before hadn’t erased all traces of the love potion. Yuuri must have breathed it in when his head was under Wolfram’s pajama shirt. The love potion had caused him to put his head under Wolfram’s shirt, too. His awareness of Wolfram physically couldn’t be explained by anything else. It wasn’t as if he actually liked Wolfram in that way.
Hopefully, after his own bath, his senses would be clear and he could go back to seeing Wolfram as nothing more than an annoying friend.
It hadn’t worked. Yuuri shifted back on the saddle, away from the curve of Wolfram’s rear, and adjusted the tightness of his trousers. Days had passed and Yuuri had only grown more captivated by Wolfram’s appearance because of the love potion. The flick of his hair caused Yuuri’s breath catch and his rare smile made Yuuri weak in the knees. A flush on Wolfram’s cheeks brought ideas into Yuuri’s thoughts on how else to cause it. A flash of skin triggered improper reactions that made it difficult to walk, or ride as the case may be.
Yuuri rested his forehead on the nape of Wolfram’s neck and inhaled deeply. Wolfram smelled like horse and sweat and a little of that spicy soap he favored. Maybe Yuuri’d get a stronger whiff of the spice if he slid his nose into Wolfram’s hair…
“Are you… sniffing me?” Wolfram said in a peculiar tone of voice.
Yuuri jerked his head back, face flaming. “N-no! Of course not!” He caught sight of Konrad’s lips twitching and wanted to throw himself in a sandbear hole. “Are we ever going to get there?”
Konrad urged his horse closer to Wolfram and Yuuri’s. The horse’s hooves kicked up dust as they clopped on the dirt road. “It’s not too much farther.”
“Thankfully,” Wolfram said. “I’m close to making Yuuri ride with you because he won’t stop shifting around. And he keeps poking me with his sword hilt.”
Konrad barked in laughter and slapped a hand over his mouth. Yuuri searched desperately for that sandbear hole. There could be one in a wooded area, right?
“What’s so funny, Weller?” Wolfram snapped.
Konrad cleared his throat and dropped his hand. He looked like he was having a difficult time keeping a straight face. “I’m merely amused by your desire to get rid of His Majesty, when you were the one to insist he ride with you after all his complaints about this trip.”
“He belongs with me,” Wolfram stated. “He’s my fiancé. He shouldn’t be riding anyone else’s horse.”
Konrad’s lips pressed tightly together suddenly and his shoulders shook. He nodded his head in acknowledgement and kicked his horse into a short trot, getting ahead of them. “Ooh-ooh-ooouuuh,” called Morgif from his cloth wrap, strapped to the back of Konrad’s saddle.
Wolfram turned his head to look back at Yuuri. “I thought you were wearing Morgif.”
“Here sandbear, sandbear, sandbear,” Yuuri said.
“Hello, kiddo. Is this seat taken?”
Yuuri dragged his eyes from Wolfram across the pub and half-smiled as Yozak dropped into the chair beside him. “I didn’t know you’d be here, Yozak.”
“Gwendal sent me ahead, to ensure a safe welcome for you,” Yozak said. He handed Yuuri the second cup of ale in his hand and tipped his chair back to rest on two legs. “I’m surprised to see you sitting alone.”
“Konrad’s meeting someone and told us to wait.” Yuuri’s gaze drifted back to Wolfram. Wearing his commoner’s disguise, Wolfram sat surrounded by Mazoku of similar age wearing the local soldier uniforms. They were playing a coin game of some sort, laughing and cheering each other on.
“Why aren’t you playing coins, too?” Yozak asked.
“I needed a break,” Yuuri murmured, dropping his gaze to stare into the depths of his cup. He saw his pink-haired reflection ripple in the ale.
“Ah, I see how it is.” Yozak tapped the side of his cup with his fingers. “Wolfram takes after Lady Cheri too much.”
Yozak’s tone made Yuuri look up and across the lightly crowded pub. Wolfram’s brow furrowed in concentration, the corners of his mouth turned down. He leaned over the table and flicked the coin. The coin clinked between cups of ale, ringing out with different tones each hit. A boisterous cheer rose from the other soldiers. Wolfram smiled smugly, as someone slung an arm around his shoulder.
The ale sloshed out of the cup as Yuuri shoved it at Yozak and stood. He stormed across the pub, a dark monster clawing at the inside of his gut. The soldiers fell quiet when Yuuri stopped in front of their table in his trader guise, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. Wolfram’s expression warred between a confused, concerned, and his usual scowl, but Yuuri daggered stare was aimed at the soldier beside him. “Get your arm off of my fiancé. Right. Now.”
The soldier gulped and moved his arm quickly. “Sorry, sir. I had thought he was just your servant.”
“Yuuri,” Wolfram said in a stunned voice.
Yuuri shifted his gaze to Wolfram, who stared back at him like he’d never seen Yuuri before. Reality returned swiftly, and Yuuri could feel the eyes of everyone in the pub on him. His stomach dropped to his feet. What was he doing?
Yuuri pivoted on his heel and fled.
“Yuuri!” Wolfram shouted from behind him, as Yuuri ran around the corner of the pub, outside. The narrow alleyway between buildings held garbage and sewage, and dead-ended at a pike fence.
Yuuri grasped the iron bars preventing his escape. He pressed his face between them. Maybe he could squeeze through.
“Yuuri!” Wolfram grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around. “What are you doing? It’s dangerous outside for a wimp like you.”
Yuuri quashed the urge to push past Wolfram and run again. He spotted Yozak standing at the other end of the alleyway. “Yozak’s here.”
“Yozak isn’t me,” Wolfram stated. He folded his arms and glowered at Yuuri.
“There’s no threats around,” Yuuri said.
Wolfram snorted. “Just wait. You can’t even breathe without attracting trouble.”
“I don’t need you to protect me.”
“You’re the one who said I was your fiancé in there,” Wolfram jerked a thumb at the wall of the pub, “and that’s what a fiancé is for.”
“That’s not what a fiancé is for!”
“Ha! Shows what you know.”
“I know, Yozak knows, Konrad knows, everyone knows that a fiancé is for kissing, not protecting!”
Wolfram’s cheeks pinked, but he appeared sad all of a sudden. He looked away. “I guess I’m not much of a fiancé, then.”
An ache bloomed in Yuuri’s chest and he had the sudden need to fix what caused Wolfram’s sadness and any sadness he may have in the future. He stepped closer and laid his hand on Wolfram’s shoulder. “Wolfram…”
Whatever he had been going to say died in his throat, when Wolfram’s gaze met his. There was no mistaking the longing barely hidden under a thin layer of anger in Wolfram’s eyes.
Wolfram shoved him abruptly. “I don’t want your pity, wimp.” He spun on his heel and stalked down the alleyway.
Yuuri watched Wolfram walk away and wondered why it felt like he’d been kicked off the baseball team. “Wait!”
Wolfram stopped, his shoulders taut.
Yuuri stepped forward hesitantly, then took another regular step, and another, and another, until he reached Wolfram’s side. The orange glow of the sunset tinted Wolfram’s hair gold, as Yuuri moved in front of him. Yuuri’s gaze roved over Wolfram’s face – the face he couldn’t stop seeing even when Wolfram wasn’t around. Yuuri knew it was just the love potion, but he didn’t want to fight the attraction anymore.
Yuuri lifted his hand and it hovered beside Wolfram’s cheek. He looked at Wolfram’s lips and then at his eyes, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest.
Wolfram brought his hand up and covered Yuuri’s, pressing it against his cheek. He licked his lips, drawing Yuuri’s focus back to them. Yuuri’s breath hitched as Wolfram leaned closer. His head tilted slightly and his eyelids fluttered shut. Their lips met.
Wolfram’s face flushed and Yuuri’s knees were weak when they parted. Yuuri couldn’t help the goofy grin that spread across his face. “You’re wrong. You make a great fiancé.”
“Yuuri,” Wolfram said, turning an even deeper shade of pink.
Yuuri laughed, grabbed Wolfram’s hand, and dragged him out of the alleyway.
“Good morning,” Yuuri said as he entered the small, family dining room. Gwendal, Konrad, Wolfram, and Greta sat around the table, their plates already filled with food. Günter’s chair was empty, as he’d fainted when Yuuri had accepted his offer of helping to dress, since Yuuri was running late.
“Good morning, Yuuri!” Greta greeted enthusiastically. Yuuri bussed her on the head as he passed her chair. He leaned down and gave Wolfram a kiss, too, making Wolfram’s cheeks pink.
“No kissing at the table,” Gwendal said with a frown. “I have to see you two do it enough around the castle without putting my meal off.”
Konrad chuckled softly. Yuuri blushed, though he was still pleased, and he took his chair beside Wolfram and tucked a napkin in his collar. A stack of pancakes waited to fill his stomach.
He looked around the table for the syrup. “Pass the syrup, someone, please?”
“My apologies, Your Majesty!” Doria said as she rushed into the room at the same time as he spoke. Lasagna and Sangria stayed in the doorway. “We forgot to bring out the syrup for your pancakes!”
Yuuri stared at the glass bottle she set down beside his plate. It had a starburst pattern, tapered at the top with a glass stopper. Dark pink liquid filled it a quarter of the way. “What is this?”
“Berry syrup,” Doria said. “It’s imported from Cabalcade. We thought we’d used it up, but one of the cleaning maids found the bottle yesterday, so you’re in luck, Your Majesty.”
Wolfram put his hand over Yuuri’s. “Are you ill, wimp? You got pale all of a sudden.”
“Your Majesty?” Konrad said worriedly.
Yuuri lifted his gaze slowly from the glass bottle to see Wolfram’s face filled with soft concern – the face he thought he’d loved because of a love potion. “It’s only berry syrup,” he said.
“Oh! You don’t want berry syrup?” Doria sounded distressed. She snatched up the bottle and clutched it to her chest. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty! We’ll get you another kind.”
“That’s okay, Doria.” Yuuri turned his hand over and linked his fingers with Wolfram’s, earning him a smile that made his heart flip. “I know I’ll love it, anyway.”