Wet Blanket

Shay Sheridan

Fandom: Kyou Kara Maou, written for the KKM Christmas exchange 2007. Gwendal/Gunter.



Pain is the basis for all humor – David J. Parker
Words with a "K" are funny. – Neil Simon




Gwendal von Walde liked exactly three things:
1) work
2) knitting
3) baby animals

Unfortunately, none of the above ever gave him what could be described as "pleasure." He took no joy in his work, though he was diligent at it; it was tedious but it had to be done, and he was the best person to do it. Knitting, an odd habit to be sure, had been suggested as a way to relieve stress; he took to the regularity and orderliness of it, but it caused him further stress and perturbation, as no one could tell his knitted kitties from his purled piglets.

As for baby animals, he was incapable of resisting their cuteness, which annoyed him no end.

Cherie von Spitzburg was fond of pointing out that her eldest had been from birth a serious child. Of her three sons, Wolfram – eternally squabbling, wailing Wolfram – nevertheless had his devastatingly cute moments, clutching his mother's hand in his tiny fist and giggling as they walked together. And Conrad, though he could be wise and serious at times, was primarily a joyful child, ready to amuse Cherie with his playful antics. Only Gwendal had never seemed to find fun in anything. He never engaged in games or idle play, and was more likely to work at his fencing skills than toss a ball or play in the dirt, unless it was to practice his earth-transforming maryoku.

Of course, this came as no surprise to anyone who met the adult Gwendal von Walde. Dour, formidable, habitually put out by the world around him, Gwendal had such a terrifying presence that no one imagined him capable of amusement.

A rumor surfaced from time to time that on one remarkable occasion Gwendal had actually smiled, the reason being his youngest brother inadvertently sitting on the cat and receiving angry scratch marks in the derriere as a result. The courtiers could easily picture Wolfram's red-faced indignation as he gingerly removed claws from his tender flesh; they could almost hear the cat yowling and Wolfram cursing loudly, because Wolfram, they'd gossip, was still quite childish. They could well imagine Conrad sympathizing while struggling to keep from laughing. But it was infinitely harder – no, absolutely impossible – to imagine Gwendal smiling at the scene. The rumor, obviously, was just that. It could not possibly be true.


SLAPSTICK


Of all the courtiers at Blood Pledge Castle, Anissina von Khrennikov had known Gwendal the longest, since what passed for his childhood, and it was generally assumed by the gossipy courtiers that she'd been in pursuit of him ever since. If that were true, she couched her pursuit in the strangest of ways: torturing the object of her affections with a barrage of scientific experiments. Over the years she'd somehow forced him to participate in tests for a great number of bizarre inventions, tests which often resulted in Gwendal's complete humiliation. He'd endured having most of his hair burnt off, his head squeezed, his limbs stretched and his demon powers drained, to name but a few of the unpleasant side effects Anissina had inflicted upon him. She'd even turned him blue during one particularly unpleasant experiment (an effect that lasted an entire summer). Gwendal lacked the subtlety to resist her will, though after his "blue period" he became adept at hiding when he heard her coming. Anissina's attentions might have inspired fear in Gwendal, but they did nothing to dispel his eternal foul humor.

Oddly, none of Anissina's inventions had ever proved practical or particularly useful. To the courtiers, this seemed a scientific tragedy. Only Anissina knew the truth, that her tests were actually failed attempts to locate Gwendal's funny bone; that was the true area of her interest. In truth she had no other expectations of the unsmiling Lord von Walde, as she'd determined early on he had no heart, at least not one made for romantic entanglements. From the way things were going, though, it looked as if it would take her a lifetime to discover his missing sense of humor – if there were one to be found at all. Of late, Anissina had begun to wonder if perhaps she should consider another line of research.

And that was the other thing about Gwendal von Walde, whispered the courtiers: surely he was incapable of love, just as he was incapable of humor. Perhaps, they concluded, Gwendal had used his astonishing earth-transforming powers to raise walls around his heart, walls so thick that the only emotion able to escape was his prodigious anger.

As far as Gwendal himself was concerned, life was about one thing and one thing only: protecting the Demon Kingdom to the best of his abilities. Life was work, serious work. Nothing else mattered, and if he felt a lack of levity, he made no mention of it. Besides, there was too much to be done. He had no time for fripperies of any sort.



WORDS WITH A "K"


Gunter von Kleist skittered down the hallway muttering to himself, his robes and flowing locks trailing behind him in a white wake. People passing him bowed respectfully, but hastened to get out of his way. They knew full well that if they lingered they might be caught for hours in an excruciating discussion on anything from impending war to the castle's new curtains.

"What's he on about, then?" one guardsman murmured to his companion as Gunter flew by. "He always seems so, um…"

"Panicky?"

"Well–"

"Skittish?"

"Er–"

"Distracted? Disconcerted? Discombobulated?"

"I was going to say flappable."

"Look out, he's turning this way!"

The guards ducked behind a tapestry and made their escape, but Gunter von Kleist did not notice, so intent was he on his mission. Brilliant fighter, eminent scholar, dogged defender of Shin Makoku, he nevertheless had an unfortunate reputation as a man who simply could not see the forest for all the distracting shrubs blocking his path. Gunter was, indeed, quite flappable.

This particular afternoon Gunter was in an extraordinarily heightened state. He rushed toward the room at the end of the corridor and burst through the heavy wooden doors with a resounding crash. "Gwendal!"

Lord von Walde did not look up. "What is it this time?"

"A disaster! It's a disaster, I tell you!"

"Really. You don't say." Gwendal appeared neither particularly interested nor amenable to be being interrupted. "I suppose His Majesty the Maou missed his history lesson again."

"Don't be funny."

"I," Gwendal remarked, "am never funny."

"True enough," conceded Gunter. "I wish you'd give me your attention, Gwendal. There is a serious problem we must discuss."

Gwendal sighed, his mouth twisting downward as he lifted his gaze to the flustered personage before him. "What is it?"

"Your brother has had a lover's quarrel with the Maou." Gunter suppressed an emotion-driven sniff. "His Majesty admitted he doesn't wish to be engaged! Wolfram nearly struck him! There was shouting!"

"Gunter–"

"It's terrible, just terrible! Young lovers thwarted! Destiny denied! Hearts shattered into itsy-bitsy teeny-tiny–"

Gwendal slammed his pen down, anger flashing. "That's why you interrupted me? Wolfram and King Yuuri having a spat?" He leaned menacingly across the desk. "I don't know which is the biggest fool – Wolfram, the king – or you!"

"I beg your pardon," Gunter huffed in indignation. "There's no need to be insulting. But really, Gwendal, you must–"

"No! I've no time for such nonsense. There's work to do. Leave me." Gwendal sat down heavily and picked up his pen. "Go!"

Gunter planted himself firmly. "You don't understand, Gwendal. This is love I'm talking about. Love. Love is the most perfect thing in the universe. Love is–"

"Love," sneered Gwendal, "is a waste of time. Now get out!"

"Humph!" Gunter turned with a swirl of hair and greatcoat and made a thoroughly dramatic departure.


SCREWBALL COMEDY


"Left to take care of things all by myself again! Conrad says not to worry – it'll all work out! Anissina wants to hook them up to a Devotion Detector! The Great Sage just laughs! Yozak says – well who cares what Yozak says! Lady Cherie would understand, but she's on her 'Self-Discovery and Free-Love' cruise! The only one I can turn to is Gwendal. You'd think he'd want to help, wouldn't you? But nooo! Not Gwendal! He's such a stick in the mud! Such an immovable object! Such a, a–" Gunter flopped sulkily onto a chaise. "–Such a wet blanket!"

The problem was, Gunter reflected morosely, Gwendal couldn't understand the importance of Wolfram and Yuuri's love running smoothly, because Gwendal himself had never been in love. That wasn't a surprise; the man never so much as smiled at anyone – it was unlikely any woman would want so surly a lover. Gwendal couldn't possibly know what poor Yuuri and Wolfram were going through.

Gunter threw up his hands. "I give up. How can I make him understand the joys, the thrills, the dangers of the most important thing in the universe?" He sat up, a look of determination on his face. "I'll have to educate him; that's what I'll do! I'll force him! I'll show him how people in love behave. I'll make Gwendal understand!"

An excellent conclusion…but with further thought Gunter's broad smile dwindled. "How, by Shinou, am I to achieve that? He hasn't a chink in his armor! The man is never frivolous – he never stops working – well, except for his knitting, and that does little enough to relax him. However may it be done?"


KNOCK-KNOCK


"Who's there?"

No answer.

Knock-knock.

"Who's there, I say! Announce yourself!"

Gwendal thrust aside his papers and growled at the door. The rapping at his chamber had been going on for some minutes, but every time he yelled an inquiry, no answer was given. Really; was it to much to ask he be left alone, or, failing that, that he not be the victim of an apparent practical joke?

Knock–knock.

The chair screamed against the wooden floor as it was shoved back. Gwendal strode across the room and turned the doorknob, but the door stuck so he tugged harder. "What in the world–?" He yanked it open and stepped into the hallway–

–only to find himself entangled in an elaborate spider web made of some type of string. He fought himself free and goggled at the intricacies of the web, which ran wall to wall, looping around the outer doorknob, across the corridor, weaving into the wall sconce opposite and through the helmet of a suit of armor. Gwendal scowled even more fearsomely than usual. "If someone is playing a joke on me, I'll have his innards pulled tighter than a skein of…" He paused. Yarn? He ran his hand over the web. It wasn't string, at all. It was made of yarn. Very fine quality yarn, in fact, that slid through his fingers delicately, silkily. Provocatively.

Mmm, yarn.

Yarn of such quality, spun from what was obviously very fine wool... Oh dear – it was so very, very hard to resist. Every time Gwendal began a knitting project (be it kitty or piglet) he couldn't help but feel a rush of anticipation that might almost be described as pleasure. When he picked up his needles he felt power in his hands, a subtle variation of the power he used to move and transform the earth. That was the appeal of knitting: it was the possibility of taking raw materials and creating something new, something small, something cute, something people might actually recognize.

And this yarn was particularly intriguing, unusually silky and inviting. What couldn't he make with such marvelous stuff! He could already imagine it looped about his fingers, the needles clicking rhythmically as he knit, purled, organized, transformed the yarn into a veritable menagerie of cute little–

No, no! Gwendal shook off his reverie. What was he thinking? "What a ridiculous idea! And what kind of miscreant wastes time and yarn to construct such a useless web? I've no time for such things." No. He wasn't interested. Not at all.

But his fingers belied his intent. They were already working at the complex knots, untying them, winding the yarn into a ball. He worked meticulously; it would be unconscionable to destroy fine, soft yarn that could be fashioned into a fluffy bunny or perhaps even a kitten. If only he could get it untied–

"Stop it!" he lectured himself severely. "All right. I'll concede this much; I'll simply roll this up so no one trips over it, or catches their weapon on it. Then I'll resume my work." And so across the hall he went, following the yarn, rolling and untying it, unlooping it from the sconce, lifting the visor of the suit of armor, reaching inside to pull it free.

But the yarn didn't come free; it continued down into the body of the armor, emerging out the right gauntlet to run along the floor and disappear around a corner. Gwendal cursed. What silliness was this? By all rights he should toss this aside and return to his study, continue to attack the mountain of paperwork on his desk. By all rights he should ignore this wasteful, ill-advised jest and forget all about it! He raised his eyes to the heavens and let out a disgusted sigh.

But…

…on the other hand, he'd done this much already. It would be a shame not to finish the task. He picked up the growing skein and followed the yarn around the corner, winding, winding as he went.

Yarn 1, Gwendal 0.


SIGHT GAG


The yarn continued in a convoluted path, framing portraits, threading through settees, adorning lampshades, weaving around cornices, ducking under rugs. After two turns of the corridor Gwendal traced it toward the ceiling, where it seemingly ended in an ornate bow suspending a small object from the chandelier. He approached with caution.

To his surprise he found a fluffy stuffed kitten dangling there, made of soft white plush, set with amethyst eyes that sparkled realistically in the dim light. Gwendal found himself somewhat unnerved; he narrowed his own eyes and stared at it suspiciously. The kitten's eyes twinkled back. Gwendal stared. The kitten twinkled. "Cute," he murmured.

There was a card tucked into the kitten's collar, and Gwendal turned it over. DON'T STOP NOW, the card said. He frowned at the kitten, but its eyes just twinkled again. Gwendal's eye twitched. "Don't stop now? Don't stop…how?" He scanned the corridor, still seeing no one. But now that he'd untied the kitten, he saw the yarn had not ended, but continued further down the darkened corridor. In fact, the corridor was darker than usual, as if someone had doused the lights. Alarm prickled Gwendal's scalp and his eye twitched again. Tucking the kitten under his arm he released the clasp of his sword, picked up the trail of yarn and turned toward the darkness, senses sharpened, alert for danger.

The yarn truly was his only guide now. The hallway's shadows merged, until he could see no further than the yarn sliding through his fingers. Winding the yarn into an ever-growing ball, he turned a corner and found the next passageway even darker than the first. The yarn tugged him toward the floor. He followed it, crouching, and his hands touched something soft and tiny. Gwendal picked it up and examined it closely.

A velveteen puppy.

The puppy looked blankly at him out of pale violet eyes that caught the slight glimmer of available light. Gwendal lifted the toy until he was eye to eye with it; there was something about the eyes that he found familiar, though he couldn't for the life of him place the memory. There was a card tucked into the mouth and he squinted to make out the words: ALMOST THERE. "Humph," Gwendal snorted. "Almost where?"

Kitten under one arm, puppy under the other, he squared himself and continued down the corridor, led by the thin trail of yarn that was by now becoming quite a sizeable skein. Another corner, another series of knots to be untied – entirely by touch now, since he could barely see his hand before his face – and the yarn again dipped towards the floor. What will it be this time? he wondered. A bear? A piglet? A pony?

He couldn't help but hope for a pony. Ponies were so very, very cute.

But there was no stuffed animal, pony or otherwise, though the yarn trail did, at last, come to an end. Gwendal's fingers traced it downward and found a bow tied to something on the floor, a flat, odd shape. He felt for the edges: it appeared to be two long, narrow rectangles, joined at right angles. A cross? No, it was turned at an angle. It was–

"It's an 'X,'" he realized, feeling quite perplexed at the discovery. "A big X? Who would put an X on the floor? What's it supposed to mean?"

"It means 'Gotcha!'" grunted a muffled voice behind him. Gwendal jumped and started to reach for his sword. But the other man was swifter; before Gwendal could mount a defense he was shoved roughly from behind. He fell forward, appalled to discover the floor disappearing from beneath his feet as he tripped through an open doorway. And then he was falling, falling, falling, until solid ground came up to hit him, and he fell into an even darker blackness that obliterated his senses.


PRATFALL


He came to in a damp, dimly lit room with low ceilings, a dirt floor and the smell of mold. There was another underlying aroma that required another few sniffs to identify. Fermenting grapes. Gwendal blinked the mists from his eyes. A wine cellar, then. He was in a wine cellar – and apparently, from the configuration of the space, the wine cellar in his own castle. That was good news; he hadn't been kidnapped. Well, at least not very far.

Gwendal tried to sit up straighter but found his hands were bound behind him, attached to the rickety chair with something far stronger than yarn.

"Don't bother to struggle; it's futile. The cords have been enhanced by majutsu."

Gwendal squinted in the direction from which the voice had come. A dark figure stepped forward, disentangling itself from the shadows. The other man – his captor, apparently – was dressed entirely in black, like a secret assassin. Really, thought Gwendal, this was all too much. "Untie me."

"Be silent!" hissed the black-clad figure. He approached, circling the chair, pausing once to tug at the ropes before stepping in front of his captive. "Gwendal von Walde! At last I have you at my mercy! Mwahahahahahah!" The man leaned closer, reaching out with his black gloves to grasp Gwendal by the chin.

"What do you want?"

"What do I want?" One black-covered hand traced up Gwendal's jaw, tickled around his neck and pushed his hair off his forehead. "I want to make you suffer!"

"I warn you," Gwendal replied, "I'm quite impervious to torture."

"Really?" The mysterious personage stepped over him to straddle his lap and without preamble ripped open his tunic and shirt. "You think so? But you have never been tortured as I shall torture you!" The man's hands slowly flickered up Gwendal's torso, fondling him with an agonizingly light touch. He had to control himself to withhold a groan. "You think you are a man who does not know love," whispered his captor, "…but you shall suffer the pains, the agonies, the despair of it, before I am through!" A pink tongue slid out from under the black mask to lick along Gwendal's jaw. This time he could not prevent a small moan from escaping. "Good!" the man hissed. "You see? I shall not rest, Gwendal von Walde, until I make you moan, cry, and beg for love! I shall torture you, body and soul, until you understand–"

"Gunter," Gwendal sighed, "what do you think you're playing at?"

"Ehhhh?" The black-garbed person started in alarm. "No, no! You are wrong, Gwendal von Walde! I am not this…this 'Gunter' of whom you speak. I am the Avenger of Love! I am–"

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course it's you."

Gunter whipped off the black mask and hood, his flowing hair tumbling into a shimmering halo. He threw the mask on the floor and made a moue of annoyance. "How did you know it was me?"

"You must be joking. I knew it was you right away."

"Oh," said Gunter, utterly crestfallen.

"This has gone on long enough. Now get off my lap and untie me."

"I don't think I shall," Gunter sniffed. "At least I've got you in a place where you have to listen to me."

"Gunter," warned Gwendal. "This behavior is unacceptable. I cannot believe you'd go to these lengths–"

"Well, I had to, didn't I? You won't listen to me, you won't do anything about Wolfram and Yuuri, you just sit there like a lump while I do everything to get your attention–"

"Wolfram and the king will sort themselves out, Gunter. It's not up to us to interfere. But weaving such an elaborate, ridiculous plot? With stuffed animals?"

"Did you like them?" Gunter asked brightly. "It took me forever to find a kitten with the right expression."

"Very cute. But taking all that time to run yarn all over the castle…I just don't understand! Why would you–" He blinked and looked around. "My yarn. Where did it go?"

"Aha," Gunter exclaimed, clapping his hands in delight. "You liked it, didn't you! I knew you would. I had to send to Caloria for it. It was very expensive, you know, and I–"

"Gunter," Gwendal growled. "You kidnapped me! You were about to torture…" And there Gwendal paused. Gunter still straddled his lap, his warmth against Gwendal's loins. He remembered Gunter's fingers tickling up his chest, rubbing and fondling his torso. He thought about Gunter's tongue tracing the line of his jaw, those gloved hands running through his hair. It hadn't exactly been torture. In fact, it had been quite, um–

"Untie me, Gunter," Gwendal repeated, his usually deep voice unexpectedly raspy.

For an instant Gunter's eyes opened a little wider. They were violet eyes, just like the kitten's. Just like the cute little stuffed puppy's. And then he half-closed his eyelids in an extraordinarily seductive manner. "What if I don't?"

"I'll see that you're punished."

Gunter leaned closer and flicked his tongue into Gwendal's ear. "And if I do?"

"Perhaps," groaned Gwendal, shivering, "I'll punish you even more."

"Oh, good!" Gunter's lips found Gwendal's and took them in a devastating kiss, his long hair falling over them both, softer to Gwendal than the finest spun yarn.

Perhaps Gunter released the bonds; perhaps they were no match for Gwendal's strength after all. It hardly mattered how it occurred, but suddenly they were on the ground, and Gwendal was on top of Gunter, who squirmed most pleasantly beneath him. Gwendal growled in mounting frustration, his hands ripping away wool, linen and silk alike until he could finally feel Gunter's flesh against his own. After that it was but a matter of friction, the oil from a nearby lamp and Gunter's extraordinary flexibility before Gwendal found himself groaning and grunting feverishly, clutching for purchase at the cellar floor, his maryoku lifting the hardened dirt into towering peaks that matched his cresting passion.

And then both of them were crashing together into blissful completion, both blind and deaf to the earthen floor exploding all around them.


PUNCHLINE


Some immeasurable time later, Gwendal roused himself to the delightful sensation of Gunter licking the shell of his ear, while his long fingers skittered over Gwendal's sides. "What are you doing?"

"I'm tickling you." Gunter frowned. "But you're not laughing."

"I'm not ticklish."

"Of course not," sighed Gunter. "You wouldn't be."

Gwendal shifted, pulling Gunter on top of him. "I didn't tell you to stop, did I?"

"Shall I continue, then?"

"Please do."

But instead of licking Gwendal's ear, Gunter turned his head and kissed him firmly until Gwendal found his breath quite stolen.

"Careful, Gunter," he murmured when he could speak again, "I might start to think you like me."

"'Like' you? Typical! For the Love of Shinou, Gwendal, you're thicker than a block of wood!" Gunter leaned over him, glaring. "I love you, Gwendal. I always have."

Gwendal twitched as Gunter's breath whispered against his neck. "You–" He blinked in confusion. "Whatever for?"

"A very good question. Let me see… It can't be your rude manners, or your vile personality, or the boring way you dress." Gunter shrugged. "Your stubbornness? Your pig-headedness? Your lack of charm? What can it be?" Gwendal scowled and Gunter sighed dramatically. "I suppose it must be that you amuse me."

"I amuse you?" Gwendal snorted. "Now I know you're lying. You just like how good I am at this sort of thing." To prove the point, he slid a hand between them and stroked Gunter in a sensitive spot, which perked immediately, eliciting a heated groan. "See?"

"True enough." Gunter slid forward to seat himself firmly and most agreeably in Gwendal's lap and spared a look at the destruction they'd made of the wine cellar. "In fact, Gwendal, I can honestly say this is the first time the earth actually moved for me."

Up the stairs, along the corridors, into the throne room, throughout the royal bedchambers, high in the battlements and down to the stables, lords, ladies, guardsmen, servants – even the king and his troublesome fiancé – forgot their squabbles, their duties, their entertainments and their gossip, and stood stock still in disbelief, listening to the sound that reverberated so loudly it shook the very walls of the castle…

…as stoic, stony, scowling Gwendal von Walde threw back his head–

–and laughed.


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