Yuuri shook his head like a puppy that got a bath for the very first time – not matter how many times he traveled between Earth and Shin Makoku he just never got used to the process – and stepped out of the fountain.
Greta was there as always, jumping excitedly up and down by Conrad's side. Wolfram and Günter both held the same towel and they attacked him with it.
When he finally managed to break free from the embraces he looked around to see if anything had changed since his last visit. Had he been away for months this time, or only a week or two? Greta had perhaps grown a little but the others, unsurprisingly, looked exactly the same, and they were very happy to see him.
The previous maou greeted him in the dining room. Not until then did he realize that he had been gone for quite a while and that something quite important had happened in his absence.
"Ch… Chérie-sama!" he stuttered, blushing, and he didn't know where to look.
Chérie's big belly was kind of hard to avoid – round, pointing right at him, so… big. Not that he had never seen a pregnant lady before – the last one had been Nicola… but Nicola's and Chérie's sense of fashion were very different. Yuuri had never seen the ex-queen wearing anything else than revealing, tight sexy outfits and apparently her pregnancy was not going to stop her from wearing them.
Yuuri's thoughts were spinning. When? How? Wait, I don't need details, not at all! - why, was the question, not how - and how did the others take it? He supposed Wolfram was sort of still a teenager, but the other two were pretty old to get a new baby brother or sister…
"I see congratulations are in order", he said, trying to compose himself. Was that the right thing to say? Yuuri glanced at Wolfram – always the first one to tell him when he was not acting like a king – who seemed calm, without objections and reproaches.
"Thank you!" Chérie beamed and caressed her belly covered in black silk. "Yes, I am so happy. We all are! I was wondering if you were going to notice."
"Er…" Kinda hard to miss! "Well, yes… but who… I mean, if you don't mind my asking, who is the lucky father? Is it Fanvalen?"
Yuuri supposed the two of them would get married. It wouldn't be the first time Cecilie von Spitzveg married a human, but was everyone okay with that?
"Oh, my dear Fanfan!" Chérie smiled. "No, it is not him. Actually, there is no father."
Yuuri nodded and smiled back, trying to process the information, and then –
"What do you mean there is no father?"
"I mean that there is no father!" Chérie smiled brightly again. "Isn't that great? You see, lately I've been quite bored on my free and easy holiday travel for love. It didn't… seem worth my time anymore, and then seeing Wolfram with Greta, thinking of the three of you as a family… Well, it made me long for a baby again. It was such a long time ago!"
So being Greta's grandmother is not enough? Yuuri thought, but wisely didn't say it. Greta was not a baby, after all.
"But I still don't understand…"
"Men are wonderful… sometimes. Mostly, they just give you heartache and trouble. I spoke to Anissina about this, and she told me that she was inventing something that could help me. So in a way, I guess you could say that Anissina is the father."
What? Yuuri couldn't even say it out loud. There were no words, none at all. He could just stare, and blink, and try not to stare too much.
"But not really. Only a man can be a father and the truth is that this baby simply don't have one. It will have me and Anissina. And of course, three wonderful brothers… and a lovely brother-in-law, too."
Yuuri almost asked who that last person was, before he realized it was supposed to be him. Wolfram would yell at him if he forgot… even for a second…
"I'm so excited!" Greta took Yuuri's hand. "It's going to be so much fun to have a baby aunt. I'm going to help take care of her just like Uncle Conrad helped taking care of Wolfram."
There was nothing to do but to smile at the little girl, her joy was so cute. Yuuri glanced at the others around him and none of them looked at all displeased in any way. Not even Wolfram seemed to be bothered by the reference to his days as a baby.
"Um, how do you know it's a girl?" That seemed to be a safe question. "What if it's a boy, Greta? I'm sure that would make you happy, too."
"No", said Chérie. "Three boys are enough. This baby is a girl."
In his mind, Yuuri could hear the echo of his mom's voice – 'boys are so boring!' – and for a moment that echo was louder than the thought: Wait, there's something strange going on here…
"How do you know? Don't tell me that Anissina can decide the sex of the baby, too?"
This is becoming stranger and stranger, he thought.
"Oh no", said the pregnant Sexy Queen. "She wishes she could, I'm sure, but I just meant that I can feel it. In my heart, I know."
"Well, if you say so," Yuuri agreed. If he could just get over the fact that it was so strange seeing Chérie like that – he was far from an expert but she was just huge in his eyes and he wouldn't be surprised if she was almost nine months along already – he had to admit that there was something very sweet and almost touching about the way she smiled.
Yuuri didn't ask anymore questions until later that day when he found himself alone with Conrad. It was kind of an awkward topic but he sure didn't want to talk to Wolfram about it.
"So… Your mother and Anissina are, like, together now?"
"That's your first question?" Conrad smiled. "Well, I guess they are, or were. You know Mother; she can say things like 'I'd like to settle down', but it doesn't last and I suspect she likes falling in love more than being in love. Judging by the way they acted just shortly after you left I'd say they definitely were… But I don't really want to think about it."
"Right", Yuuri said quickly, "I feel the same way." Thinking of Chérie-sama and Anissina doing… sexy things… together was kinda creepy to him, actually.
"What do you all think about the baby, then?"
"Oh," Conrad smiled, "I approve of almost anything that makes Mother happy, and while a baby was… unexpected, I see nothing wrong with it. Wolfram, of course, was a little grumpy at first. He's so used to being the youngest, you know."
Conrad winked and Yuuri chuckled a little. That had been his thought exactly.
"And Gwendal", Conrad went on as they walked through the castle, "was perhaps not entirely pleased with Anissina's involvement, but he's overjoyed about the baby. Pleased as punch."
"Really?" Yuuri could see that even the slightest possibility of Chérie-sama marrying Anissina would scare the crap out of Gwendal, but he hadn't expected a phrase like 'pleased as punch'.
"Of course, Yuuri. You wouldn't hear him admit it, of course, but Gwendal has a soft side, you know."
It was true, Yuuri realized. Gwendal loved cute things but with his constant frown and military posture and general seriousness it was easy to forget the fluffy part of him.
"Everything is great, then", was Yuuri's conclusion. "But… it's just… there are things I don't understand. How is it even possible? No father?"
"No idea", Conrad admitted willingly. "But Anissina is prouder than any father-to-be that I've ever seen before. Günter says he has never heard of a maryoku strong enough to create life, so I guess there must be some – ah… male bits… involved somewhere in the process..."
"Oh", Yuuri said. "I get it – like a test tube baby. People do that on Earth, but I wouldn't have expected it here. Pretty smart of Anissina to invent that all by herself."
"She'll be proud if she heard you say that", Conrad smiled. "But she's kind of secretive about it. When Günter asked her flat out how they did it, she just grabbed him and forced him to assist her in some experiment involving baking machines. She has hinted that next step would be making it possible for men to get pregnant…"
Yuuri stopped dead in the corridor. Everything around him suddenly began spinning so fast, too fast…
"Don't let Wolfram know", he creaked.
"What, you don't want to have a second child?"
Conrad's teasing tone of voice was lost on Yuuri. Oh, the horror, the horror!
"Greta doesn't need a sibling", Yuuri panted, "especially not now when she's getting an aunt…"
"Relax!" Conrad took a firm grip around Yuuri's shoulders. "It's not going to happen! Whatever Anissina did to Mother, I'm sure it would be impossible to do the same thing to a man. We don't have wombs, remember!"
"Yeah… right…" Yuuri took a deep breath and tried to calm down. The mental image of a breastfeeding Wolfram might have scarred his brain forever, but it was a relief to think that it just couldn't happen.
"Wow, this place is just getting queerer and queerer."
"What do you mean?" Conrad released him when he was sure Yuuri wasn't going to pass out. "It's not that strange."
"Yeah, but…" Yuuri ran his fingers through his head and tried to sort out his thoughts. "But they are both women!"
He stared at Conrad who just looked right back at him with the gentle concern that often preceded some kind of life lesson.
"You know that it is not uncommon. And from what I remember, it is not unheard of in your own world either. Yuuri, why do two lovers of the same sex upset you so much?"
"It's not that it upsets me…" Yuuri blushed. "It's just… I don't know…"
"Well, figure it out." Conrad's voice got stricter, got something of Gwendal in it. "Yuuri, I want you to think about what kind of values you are passing on to your daughter."
Yuuri just stared at his friend. What did Greta have to do with anything? She was adopted, not at all the same as Chérie's baby…
"Think about it", Conrad insisted. "You adopted Greta, you became her father and she loves you. She loves Wolfram, too. She thinks of the two of you as her closest family. How do you think it makes her feel to hear you going on about how 'you are both guys'; can you seriously expect her not to get confused?"
"Well…" Seriously, I'm the one who is confused here! "I never thought about it that way…"
"I suggest that you do." Conrad leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, as if he was about to deliver a lecture.
"You remind me of my brother", Yuuri mumbled. "That's kind of creepy…"
"I take that as a compliment", Conrad said with a hint of a smile. "Shori always wants what's best for you. But don't change the subject. I want to ask you something: What did you think when you first came to this world and realized that it is a sin for humans and mazoku to be together, romantically?"
"I thought it was horrible and just plain stupid." Yuuri shuddered when he remembered the women who worked under slave-like conditions, the infants who were sometimes buried when they were only half-dead… "I have to put an end to that once and for all. If people would just get to know each other, they would see that humans and mazoku aren't that different after all."
"You even adopted a human child", Conrad nodded. "Many people think very highly of you for doing it. But there are also those who are opposed to your beliefs. People think that these rules exist for a reason, that couples like Hube and Nicola shouldn't be allowed to be married…"
"But that's so unfair!" Yuuri got so upset that he even raised his voice. "People who say that are wrong. Hube and Nicola truly love each other and it doesn't matter who they are or where they're coming from. It's wrong to separate lovers. To separate somebody from the one they love is like killing that person!"
Conrad looked at him in silence, waiting for something more. When Yuuri didn't know what else to say, Conrad asked:
"Then tell me, please, why it matters if the lovers in question are of the same sex or not? Would it be okay to punish a human girl if the one she loved more than her life was a mazoku girl?"
"Of course not", Yuuri replied. "I won't tolerate any gay-bashing in my kingdom. This is supposed to be a hate-free, happy place!"
"Well, that's what you always say, but sometimes it sure doesn't sound like you mean it", Conrad said.
"You're unfair!" Yuuri almost stamped his foot like a three-year-old. "Gosh, Conrad, why are you being so hard on me?"
Conrad's eyes softened a little.
"I'm not being hard on you. We're just having an adult conversation about a slightly touchy subject. Sometimes, such things are necessary. You have every right to disagree with my point of view on things, but you need to know why you do it. As a king, it is your responsibility to think things through and not just always say whatever is on the tip of your tongue."
So Yuuri thought about it. Didn't he want everybody to be happy? Of course. What was wrong with two guys loving each other, if that made them happy? Well, nothing – how could two people's happiness harm or offend anyone? What if Conrad one day told him he was getting engaged to a guy, wouldn't that be a good thing? Conrad would make anyone happy, for sure – man or woman – he'd be a good boyfriend and he deserved to be happy… And as for Wolfram – well, Wolfram…
"You know", Yuuri blurted out, "it's just that I was never given a choice! I didn't know anything about the traditions. You can't just accidentally slap someone and then be engaged and be expected to fall in love just like that."
"So this is about that", Conrad said. "What if Wolfram had been a girl?"
For a split second, Yuuri thought: That would have been better, but would it, really?
"No, that wouldn't have changed how I feel about it. But… the fact that he is a guy just makes it worse, somehow. I do like him, though."
"You were taken by surprise", Conrad said, sounding sympathetic again, "that's understandable."
"It's just that… that I…" Yuuri searched for words. Conrad nodded encouragingly but didn't try to fill in the gap for him. "The thought never even occurred to me before, you know. I mean, I've never even had a girlfriend, I've hardly even thought about girls…" Don't blush, he told himself. "I mean, not seriously. So how could I even begin to, like, question my sexuality and stuff…"
"Hm…" Conrad said thoughtfully and stroke his chin.
"I mean", Yuuri tried to explain, "I'm a guy, so I'm sort of expected to be into girls by default, where I come from, you know? It's not that I think it's something seriously wrong with being gay…"
"Well", Conrad said, "I guess this is a conversation you should have with Wolfram at some point and not with me. But you know, not even a royal engagement is written in stone. It is possible to end it."
"And be challenged to a duel on life and death?" Yuuri sniffed. "Wolfram would kill you for even suggesting it, so no thanks…"
Conrad didn't speak for a moment. He looked like he was mulling something over.
"Um", he said, "it's getting pretty late, you should probably go find Greta or something. Get some sleep. Tomorrow, Gwendal will expect you to work, and Günter will expect you to study."
"Uh, sure…" Yuuri felt like he was getting snubbed. "And you'll practice with me in the morning as usual?"
"Sure", Conrad said and they walked in silence for a while. Not until they approached Yuuri's room – where Wolfram no doubt was waiting – Conrad added:
"He's in love with you, you know."
"What?" Yuuri stopped and gulped. Well, yes; he knew, sort of, but did Conrad have to say it out loud? It made it worse, somehow. It was so much easier to pretend it was just an act, a childish game.
"So…" he mumbled. "Does that mean I've got to break his heart?"
"Yuuri…" There was so much sadness in Conrad's voice that Yuuri almost couldn't bear to stand still. "I can't answer that for you. The two of you have to figure this out by yourselves. I don't want to see any of you unhappy…"
"Let's not talk about it", Yuuri decided quickly. Yes, that was the quick and easy temporary solution, trying to forget that the engagement even existed. "Let's just think about the new baby and be happy for it, okay? Your mom and Greta are right; a girl will be perfect. I bet Gwendal's already knitting baby clothes, and Günter's compiling lists of appropriate names from the family history, which Chérie-sama is going to ignore completely and choose something totally random…"
"You know us well." Conrad smiled a little at last. "You're right. Let's just be happy for now. You've got time to figure things out."
"Yes." Yuuri put his hand on the door. "Thank you, Conrad. I realize I've been acting like a homophobe… I didn't mean to."
"I know you didn't." Conrad's smile was definitely warm again. "Goodnight, Yuuri."