Sacrifice Play

Shay Sheridan

Fandom: Kyou Kara Maou. A thousand thanks to my wonderful beta, Lynnmonster


"Hey, batter batter batter batter!"

On the pitcher's mound, Conrad smiles with amusement as he watches the catcher heckle Dorcas. The poor man is already twitching with nerves – it's his first time at bat, and his king, the dreaded Maou, is standing right behind him, teasing him. Poor Dorcas has no way of knowing this is standard procedure in Yuuri's world.

Conrad winds up and unleashes a fast ball, knowing full well Dorcas won't be able to see it, much less hit it, but secure in the knowledge that Yuuri will catch it easily. He learned early on that Yuuri's skills in baseball are very fine indeed, and that he can easily handle anything Conrad throws at him. It might be different if Conrad were like his half-brothers, with the strength of magic shoring up his throwing arm. It might be harder, then, for Yuuri to catch the baseball and snap it back to him with the easy grace of a boy who's made baseball a lifelong passion.

"Steeeeerike three!"

It took both Yuuri and Conrad to persuade him, but Günter is proving to be an excellent umpire. . . though perhaps not as impartial as he should be. He has yet to call a strike against Yuuri, for example, but then again, the other team's pitchers haven't Conrad's control, and most of their pitches are outside the strike zone.

The teams change sides. Yuuri offers Conrad an exultant "high-five." It's the bottom of the final inning, and the teams are tied, mostly due to serious errors by other players on the Maou's team. Yuuri's first up at bat, and Conrad's batting cleanup. They're the best players on their team, of course; they're also the only ones who have played before, the only ones who've seen a real game. They make a good team, Yuuri and Conrad.

Conrad sits back on the bench and regards his king as Yuuri steps up to the plate. He's not really just a boy any more. He's just fifteen and still in school, of course, but he's growing, reaching past Conrad's shoulder now, well on his way to being tall for his age. Certainly he'll be tall for a Japanese, even if he never quite comes up to the height of the Mazoku. He's more filled out these days, and stronger, too; Conrad's watched him put on muscle along with the height. But a boy he still is, hopelessly naïve, easily embarrassed, with a childlike awe about the world and the creatures in it.

It's that quality, that childlike naïveté, which stays Conrad's hand.

Yuuri taps non-existent dust from his spikes, takes a few practice swings, and sets himself for the first pitch.

Conrad rubs his hand; he still feels the ghost of Yuuri's slap against his palm. It's painful, this longing that fills his chest. Sometimes he thinks his heart is going to explode or be expelled from his chest like a rocket with the force of his desire. If Yuuri were not so vulnerable to him, Conrad might not hesitate – he'd reach out and touch him in a far different way than the kind pats on the shoulder, the friendly hand slaps, the easy, warm hugs the two of them used to share. Each touch would be infused with Conrad's need. Everything would have meaning.

Conrad barely touches Yuuri any more.

"Ball one!" Günter is frowning, hands on hips as he steps toward the mound. "You there! Are you deliberately trying to hit His Majesty?!"

At first Conrad wondered if his burning desire for Yuuri was for the boy himself or for the soul he carried within him. Conrad burned for Julia, too, for her beauty, for her grace, for her compassion. But it's more than that – Yuuri's soul may be Julia's, but his personality is his own, and his outward appearance, that tangle of tousled hair, elbows and edges, could not be more different from Julia's transcendent radiance. Yuuri's graceful only when he plays baseball. The rest of the time he's merely an awkward boy.

Conrad finds him beautiful.

The wobbly pitch is thrown. There is a satisfying BAM! as Yuuri connects for a single.

The crowd cheers. Günter leaps about, delirious with joy. "Oh, Heika! That was wonderful!"

Yuuri hits first base in a slide, though it wasn't really necessary. But then again, he's partial to theatrics on the baseball diamond. He dusts himself off and runs a hand through his mop of hair.

Conrad's heart contracts again.

Yuuri is fifteen.

Conrad, though not a pure Mazoku himself, ages as one – and though he may look as if he's in his late twenties he is many, many years older. When Conrad thinks of that, his frown rivals his older brother's. To be sure, in Shin Makoku relationships with such differences of age, such similarity of sex are hardly rare. The Mazoku may be a haughty and insular people, but they are open-minded about sexuality.

Conrad is of the Mazoku's world, but he has lived in Yuuri's world, too. He has been made aware that not everyone approves of such relationships. In Yuuri's world an older man with a young boy is not a lover but a pervert. And though Conrad does not, cannot imagine himself that way, still, in the back of his mind an accusatory voice whispers hentai! in harsh tones when he thinks of how much he wants Yuuri. Perhaps Yuuri's world has infected him with its morality. Or maybe it has shown him the darkness within himself. Either way, he is paralyzed.

Would Yuuri feel disgust if he made his feelings known? Would Yuuri would be shocked, or disturbed, or frightened of him? Would Yuuri's face cloud with anger? Would his shoulders droop with disappointment? Would he ever again feel comfortable turning to Conrad with an open and vulnerable face? Would his honest eyes shift away? Would he ever again say that Conrad was his special person, his closest friend? Or would the awkwardness between them destroy their soul-deep connection? Because that connection is something Conrad cannot afford to lose. If he lost Yuuri in that way, it would be the loss of his own heart. Compared to that, a limb, an arm, is nothing. Not even death could be as cruel.

"Batter up!"

The second batter is at the plate. It's Anissina, who bullied her way onto the team despite Yuuri's sputtered objection that baseball teams are for guys only! Eventually, predictably, she got her way. Like everyone else, Yuuri is hopelessly outgunned when dealing with Lady von Khrennikov.

The uniform suits Anissina, molding to her curves and making her look even more feminine than usual. At first base, Yuuri seems not to notice her; he's moved off toward second, his eyes fixed on the pitcher, wary of being caught.

Perhaps, Conrad considers, with not a little bitterness, perhaps it is unfair to make assumptions about Yuuri's desires. He is only a boy, after all, completely inexperienced – apparently he's never so much as kissed a girl. Perhaps Conrad needs to act like the advisor he purports to be – that's what an older, more experienced man is supposed to do for his younger friend, isn't it? He needs to push Yuuri in that direction, provide him with introductions to young ladies of appropriate age and background, encourage him to date, to spend time with them, to romance them, to kiss them. Perhaps he might go so far as to introduce Yuuri to girls of slightly looser moral character; maybe it's time for the Maou to have sex. He's old enough, isn't he?

Conrad runs a hand over his eyes. When he imagines doing such things, he feels even worse than when he thinks he's being a pervert, because what he's considering doing now is nothing short of pimping Yuuri out.

The crowd roars and Conrad's attention snaps back to the game. Anissina's reached first base, having been walked by four wild pitches. Yuuri's on second, and Wolfram's up at bat. Conrad narrows his eyes at his younger brother and chuckles. Wolfram's uniform has been. . .enhanced, with a ruffled jabot at the neck and lace at the cuffs. How Yuuri convinced him to play is beyond Conrad's understanding; Wolfram hates "that stupid ball thing," as he derisively calls the game. But he is jealous and suspicious enough to want Yuuri within his sight at all times – the idea of Yuuri surrounded by sweaty men in tight-fitting uniforms was apparently enough to bring Wolfram onto the field.

Wolfram.

Conrad's younger brother is himself many years older than Yuuri, but his appearance and his level of maturity are not all that different from Yuuri's. Wolfram is worldly enough in matters of military tactics and social etiquette; certainly he has the skills and nature of a first-class warrior. But he is also immature and selfish and boisterous in the way of children. In many ways, Yuuri is the more mature of the pair.

But no matter Wolfram's obstinacy and immaturity. Wolfram is Yuuri's fiancé. And if that engagement came about because of Yuuri's awkwardness with Shin Makoku customs, and even if Yuuri professes panic at the very idea, it hardly matters. Because Wolfram loves Yuuri, in his own obstreperous, noisy way, and Conrad is well aware that underneath all that noise Wolfram is as vulnerable as Yuuri, and perhaps more easily hurt.

Conrad will not be the one to hurt him.

His head rises at the sound of the bat connecting with the ball. It's a solid hit, but Wolfram stands dumbly at home plate, staring at the rising arc of the ball. "RUN!" Conrad shouts – around him his fellow teammates, Günter, the crowd, everyone is urging Wolfram to go-go-GO! But still Wolfram stands, watching the ball rise into the air until it reaches its apogee and begins to descend. . .squarely into the glove of the right fielder. The crowd groans.

"Now what?" Wolfram demands.

"Now you sit down," Conrad answers, annoyed. "You're out."

"Stupid game," Wolfram mutters, wandering away.

Conrad stands up. Apparently it was a double play; he notes that Anissina has been tagged out at second and is complaining noisily to a very disinterested Günter. Yuuri, panting and dusty, grins at him, safely on third.

Oh, my Heika, Conrad thinks, picking up a bat.

My Yuuri.

And yet, Yuuri is not Conrad's, not in the way he desires. Because even if he were younger, or Yuuri older, even if Yuuri had professed a preference for men, even if Wolfram did not exist, Conrad's first responsibility must be to protect his king. Seducing him, loving him, falling in love with him – those can only compromise Yuuri's safety. A lover cannot give himself fully to his love, and still protect him with vigilance.

He will die for Yuuri before he professes his love to him.

Conrad looks out across the field. The opposing team, knowing his strength, has moved out further, anticipating a powerful hit. The third baseman hovers around Yuuri, keeping him close to base. Yuuri quivers with excitement, eager to score the winning run. It's possible, even if the other team fields the ball well and Yuuri is tagged out, that Conrad can make it to first, maybe even second. But the game will be over, and no one will win. But if he draws their attention, Yuuri may be able to score.

Conrad looks at Yuuri and their eyes meet. Yuuri's eyes say I'm counting on you, Conrad. Do this for me.

Conrad steps up to the plate, sets himself in position. The outfielders move back, back, ready to go after an enormous hit.

The pitcher winds up.

This is for you, Yuuri, Conrad vows.

The ball speeds toward him and Conrad—

—turns his bat and bunts toward first base. The crowd shrieks; Conrad tosses his bat and runs, noting the shocked response of the opposing team as they flail about and regroup. And then the first baseman is in his path, with the ball in his hand, and he feels the sting as the ball slaps his arm, and Günter is shouting "You're out!"

But behind him the crowd is cheering.

Yuuri's made it safely home.


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