Yuri coiled the thin leather string around his hand as he unspun it from its spool. It was hard to gage how much was needed and already he’d cut several too short. The lacing on the baseball gloves had to be perfect, though. Around the weltings, web and the spaces between the fingers, there needed to be very little resistance or else their players might lose the ball right through their mitt and lose the game because of shoddy craftsmanship, rather than game play.
Conrad looked up from the glove he was currently stitching and shook his head with a large smile. “Yuri, you don’t have to assist me. There’s plenty of time between now and next season to finish these.”
“I don’t doubt you. But this team is my responsibility and I must do everything I can to help them.” Yuri stopped winding the leather out then held his hands out for Conrad to snip the space between. “However little it may be.”
The two of them sat near the stables where the oils they needed to soften the leather would not offend too many people. It was the end of summer now and the sky’s often brilliant blue was a lazy gray above them, as though rain was on its way. Just in case it did, they made sure to sit under an awning, making for a very relaxing and comfortable environment to just sit and fiddle with their lazy task.
Conrad obediently leaned over with his strong sheers and snipped through the leather lacing. “You’re sure there’s no other reason?”
Yuri pouted, feeling a bit guilty at that. “Conrad, couldn’t you have played along and brought it up more subtly?”
“I’m sorry, Yuri. I will try harder next time.” Conrad’s smile was unwavering and he went back to carefully lacing the glove in his lap. “So, what about Wolfram did you want to discuss?”
“I don’t know if it even is about Wolfram,” the king said truthfully, wrapping the leather around his wrist again. “I’m sure you’ve noticed, though, that he hasn’t been sleeping in his own room.”
“The first night with Greta, we said it would be the last night we’d share that bed. But then the next night we stayed up talking and we ended up sleeping in there together again. And then the fifth time he fell asleep in the study and I brought him up to my room out of habit and didn’t feel like carrying him back to his.” Yuri sighed, continuing to spin the lacing out. “It’s been over a week now, Conrad. Every time we say that it’s the last time and the next night we’re always back again.”
“And this is a problem?”
Yuri shook his head. “It’s not like we’re doing anything we shouldn’t be but I’ve learned that doesn’t mean too much to people when they feel the need to gossip. And I know it was sort of taboo on Wolfram’s part last time to sleep with me when we were only engaged. It’s probably ten times worse now that we’re not and he’s still there.”
Conrad nodded again, still working carefully as he listened.
“I don’t want anyone to think badly of Wolfram ever. If this were Earth, no one would really think anything of us sleeping in that huge bed together. But it’s because we were engaged that it’s a mess in everyone’s mind.”
“So it’s not that he’s sleeping in your bed that’s bothering you. It’s what people might say.”
Yuri nodded slightly though somehow the words just seemed wrong. It was true Wolfram’s reputation mattered to him, but that wasn’t the problem he was trying to convey. He held out his hands and had Conrad cut the next string. As he held it up, it became clear that it was much, much too long. The soldier chuckled a bit and snipped off the extra and handed it back to Yuri.
“Almost enough for two with that one. Careful not to waste too much more.”
Yuri nodded and pocketed the remainder as he had several others. He would give them to Greta to use for a necklace or something if he could find any nice gems or rocks to hang from it. He didn’t much feel like looking for any, though. “Say, Conrad...why is it so hard?”
“Why is what so hard?”
“Thinking that I could be....” Yuri sighed again, raking his hands through his hair. He couldn’t even say it.
“That you could be gay or that you might love Wolfram?”
Yuri fell backwards off his bench in shock. “How can you say that so calmly?” he exclaimed, standing up to wipe the dirt from his pants while trying to hide the furious blush across his face.
Conrad just smiled, titling his head just slightly. “Well, which is it?”
“There’s a difference?”
“As you understand it, perhaps not.” Conrad put the glove down and gave Yuri his full attention. “On Earth, if you love one man, then it is understood you may love any man. Your sexuality is viewed in black and white. Here, things are not like that. If you love one man, then it is perceived only that he acted in a way to deserve your affection. There is no reason to speculate you may not at some time love a woman the same way you did a man. We are more focused on the individual than on labels when it comes to gender. It is in our views of race that we mirror your world’s objections.”
Yuri blinked at him as though most of it had gone over his head.
“In other words,”--Conrad stood and clasped his shoulders, looking gently into the king’s black eyes--“you don’t have to love all men to be in love with one man.”
Yuri stood there, staring back into Conrad’s eyes as the wheels began to turn.
“I have to go. Sorry. I’ll see you later.” Yuri dropped the spool of leather lacing and took off running towards the main building. To see their king running in such a hurry caught the attention of the maids and guards who looked at each other for some kind of clue as to what was going on.
Yuri checked all the rooms in the castle he could think to search in, popping his head inside every study, much to the confusion of Gwendel and Gunter who had each been busy with one thing or another and lost track after the sudden interruption. He spared no time to explain, though, and continued to dash about the halls.
He was on the second story balcony when he saw him passing through the courtyard and he leaned over the rail to shout out to him. “Wolfram! Stay right there!”
Wolfram turned and glared at him. “What do you think you’re doing shouting at me like that from there!”
Yuri didn’t pause to hear him complain as he raced down to the nearest staircase and back round to the courtyard where Wolfram stood, tapping his foot in agitation.
He was out of breath and knelt down, hands on his knees as he panted and tried to get his breath back.
“You haven’t seriously been running around the castle have you? I’d expect even you to act with a little more dignity than that.” Wolfram turned on his heal and began to walk away.
“Hey, I said to wait here,” Yuri whined, still heaving in deep breaths.
Wolfram turned back to him and crossed his arms over his chest, tapping his foot again. “For what? I’m in the middle of something.”
Yuri stood up, opening his left hand to make a swinging arch towards the other’s left cheek.
He looked up at Wolfram’s face.
He felt his hand fall to his side and clench into a fist in frustration.
No. He couldn’t do it.
“I...I’ll walk with you,” he said finally, feeling his heart sink.
Wolfram gave him a questioning look but shrugged. “You can if you like. I thought you were helping Conrad, though.”
“I was. I will later. I guess I just really wanted to see you.” It was a lame excuse but the best he could think of.
Wolfram smiled a little and took his hand in his. “Alright, I’ll walk with you.”
It hadn’t been what Yuri meant but it was certainly more like what he had wanted. He held his hand back, holding it tightly as they went.
In the middle of the courtyard, though, he stopped and let go. Wolfram turned around a bit to see why he had done so, only to see Yuri’s hanging head.
For a minute, he looked like he was crying, shoulders shaking as strained noises came from his throat. After several seconds, though, it was clear he was laughing. He threw his head back and let the last of it out, then smiled at Wolfram in an almost alarmingly toothy grin. “I get it now.”
Wolfram leaned away from him just a bit. ”Get what?”
“Why you nobles slap each other in the face when you propose.” It was all rather funny how things aligned themselves and the grin on Yuri’s face was full of pride. “All your customs and things are symbolic. The whole knife thing symbolizing a duel and the fork and its prongs being about a love triangle. I never thought to think about what the slapping really stood for.”
Wolfram shook his head. “Old traditions like that lost their meaning a long time ago. It’s just the way things are done now. What are you thinking about proposals for anyway?”
“I just never really have, I guess. Even where I come from, we have proposal traditions. The man kneels and offers the woman a ring. If she accepts the ring, they get married. I guess you could say it’s full of lost symbolism too. The guy...he knows he’s not worthy to marry the girl he loves. He bows to her to humble himself. At the time, the ring stands for everything he wants to offer her, but really it’s just there so she can show it to everyone and have proof that they made a promise together.” Yuri smiled at Wolfram, trying to find a way for it to make sense to him. “Here though, no one kneels. You come to each other as equals and one of you hauls off and smacks the other person in the face and if they’re lucky, the other person will turn the other cheek. I think the person doing the slapping, what they’re trying to say is that even though they love you, there are going to be times ahead when they hurt you. And when the other person offers their other cheek, it’s to say that that’s okay. They’ll stick around even if it does hurt.”
Yuri knelt to the dirty ground at Wolfram’s feet, his face staring back up into the bewildered green eyes.
“I won’t slap you because I’ve hurt you enough, which is why I kneel; because I know I don’t deserve you.” He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out one of the long pieces of leather lacing and held it out. “It’s not much but I offer you this so you can wear it on your arm and let everyone know without you needing to shout at them that you’ve got me.” He felt his hands trembling as he forced a smile. He was scared to death. “That is, if you can find it in your heart to turn the other cheek.”
Wolfram looked down at him for a moment, simply staring at him. Slowly he knelt down in front of him and took the leather lace from his hands. Rather than accept it, though, he took Yuri’s left arm and wrapped it around his bicep, tying the ends together in a bow.
Yuri watched him, unsure what it meant. “...Wolfram?”
“It’s better if you wear it, since you’re the cheater,” he replied, smiling with wetness in his eyes.
“I’ve got more.” Yuri pulled out a handful from his pocket and took Wolfram’s arm, tying it the same on his left arm as it was on his own. His hands were shaking, his body was shaking; he didn’t know what to think or feel or do. It seemed like an impossible task to make a bow, but finally it was there, messy and knotted awkwardly but still present against the light blue cloth.
“You’re trembling,” Wolfram pointed out softly.
Wolfram shook his head and tackled Yuri to the ground with his arms wrapped tightly around his neck. Yuri wrapped his own around his waist and rolled on the ground with him, laughing like he hadn’t laughed since he was a child.
“I love you, Yuri.”
Yuri breathed in his scent and clutched his fiancé tightly.
“I love you, too. Wolfram.”