It’s a dark and stormy night, because apparently nothing interesting ever happens on nights that are just dark. Or so it seems to Viktor, as the thunder roars and the lightning flashes around him in this thick and thorny wood. Beside him, his horse Makkachin tosses his head in agitation.
“It’s okay,” Viktor soothes, though he feels just as skittish as his steed. “We’re going to make it out of here.”
As if on cue, a droplet of rain hits his nose. Makkachin snorts; Viktor sighs and guides him onward, holding his lantern aloft to try and find the path out of the woods.
The rain is coming down thicker and faster by the time the trees begin to thin, and the next lighting flash illuminates the silhouette of a castle turret in the distance. Viktor begins to start towards it, but Makkachin brays and pulls back, clearly uneasy. With the next thunderclap, he tears his reins out of Viktor’s grasp, and in spite of Viktor’s calls for him to come back, scrambles into the scant shelter of the trees.
In the sputtering light of his lantern, Viktor can’t make out where his horse went. With a sigh, he turns to contemplate the distant silhouette of the castle. It doesn’t seem to be inhabited — very few things are, out here in the Wilds between the Kingdoms and the Empire in the East, where Viktor is headed.
If his map and the mumblings of the pub patrons in the last town he’d visited are correct, this part of the Wilds is rumoured to be haunted by something unknown. A beast or creature of untold fury and terror, lurking in the shadows of the trees. Viktor has to admit he’s intrigued, though in his current situation he probably shouldn’t be. There’s no point in trying to be a hero without his horse and supplies with him; all he has now are some coins, a dagger, the map, and a now-dead lantern.
With that thought in mind, Viktor looks back forlornly at the trees, before turning his feet towards the castle with the intent of finding shelter for the night.
It takes ages to get there. Perhaps he’s just delirious with hunger and exhaustion, but it always seems as if the castle is just a little farther than he’d originally anticipated.
But finally, Viktor makes it to the wrought-iron gates, and to his wonder, they swing open with nary a sound, almost as if they’d been waiting for him. He can barely marvel at the ironwork before he’s heading through the garden, up the steps, to the door. Through the mullioned windows he can see golden light, feel the warmth of a fire and music playing somewhere deep inside, and it strikes a chord of longing within him for his own armchair by the fireplace back in his family estate in Petersburg, his cousin’s cat curled up purring on his lap.
Viktor knocks, and everything suddenly stops, as if holding its breath. At his second knock, the door opens into golden warmth. The ceiling seems to vault into the heavens above, while an intricate tile floor sweeps out before him into an elegant marble staircase. And at the top of the staircase stands a young man, resplendent in crimson, his dark hair slicked back and topaz eyes sparkling enigmatically.
“You must be so tired, traveller,” he purrs, his voice like honey and wine. Viktor steps forward, entranced.
“It must be dangerous for such a beautiful man like yourself to live out here in the Wild,” he replies. Behind him, the doors swing shut with a loud thudding finality.
The young man’s cheeks flare under the compliment as he descends the staircase, the skirts of his scarlet dress flaring with each step. Viktor is rooted to the floor, heart hammering as he watches him draw closer. This young man is a dream, a vision, a memory all at once — Viktor’s certain if he dared to touch, the spell would shatter like a mirage before his eyes.
“I make do,” the young man murmurs, now standing before Viktor. He extends a hand, cheeks still rosy as he looks up at Viktor through his lashes. “Would you like to stay for the night?”
Could I stay forever ? Viktor very nearly says. But he bites his tongue, remembering the words of warning he’d heard on the road through the Wild. Never give a stranger your name. Never make a promise to someone you cannot keep. “A bed for the night would be good,” he says after a moment, pressing a kiss to the young man’s hand. It feels warm, solid, and the young man’s cheeks flush as deep as his dress when Viktor’s lips meet his knuckles.
“And a meal?” he asks, tilting his head. Viktor’s stomach growls. “Seems like a yes.”
Viktor nods, mutely. The young man’s smile widens.
“My name is Yuuri. What about you?” His hand trails down Viktor’s forearm, sparking something deeper in Viktor’s gut past his hunger and doubt. Swallowing heavily, Viktor pulls his arm back, bashfully tucking it behind him.
“Aria,” he lies. Yuuri considers it for a moment, before nodding and beckoning Viktor to follow him through the immensely empty halls. As he goes, Viktor finds it hard to tear his gaze away from the sensual cling of Yuuri’s dress, the tantalising curve of his shoulders just before the off-shoulder sleeves. He swallows hard, redirecting his hungry eyes to Yuuri’s own. “Is it just you here? I thought I was interrupting a party or something.”
“The guests all left,” says Yuuri dismissively. He pitches his voice lower, conspiratorial. “I don’t mind. I much prefer you to them, to be honest.”
Viktor’s stomach flutters at that, even as they reach the magnificent banquet room, alight with a dazzling chandelier and adorned with elaborate frescoes and elegant giltwork. He’s seated at the head, with a sumptuous feast laid out before him. Yuuri sits at his right hand, smiling as Viktor hungrily tears into the food that appears on his plate.
“I’m glad you like it. I can’t eat any of it,” he says, resting his chin on his hands with a small smile.
“Why not?” wonders Viktor, pushing a cake towards Yuuri. Yuuri rolls his finger through the cream frosting, licking it off carelessly. Heat pulses through Viktor at the sight of Yuuri’s pink tongue lapping up the cream; he crosses his legs uncomfortably, hoping his flush isn’t too obvious.
“I’m on a liquid diet,” replies Yuuri, as he drags a finger through another dollop, presenting it to Viktor’s lips. Viktor swallows, pitching forward uneasily to take Yuuri’s finger into his mouth. The frosting is sweet, but somehow the way Yuuri hums in delight is much sweeter.
Viktor has to remember how to breathe, how to speak. “What about a toast, then?” he rasps, as a flute of champagne appears before him, filled to the brim by some unseen force. Yuuri raises his own flute in acknowledgement. “To tonight.”
“To your health,” agrees Yuuri, clinking their flutes together. “And your stamina.” His cheeks are rosy again, almost to match the fire that seems to burn just beneath Viktor’s skin. The music starts again, lively and unseen, and Viktor finds himself rising to his feet in response.
“How about a dance?” he asks, extending a hand. Yuuri smiles, taking it readily. Viktor presses his lips to Yuuri’s knuckles again, feeling the other man tremble at the touch.
They move from the banquet room to a magnificent ballroom overlooking a vast garden. The music swells as Viktor leads Yuuri through the steps of a dance he doesn’t remember learning, to the tune of a song he heard lifetimes ago. Yuuri presses close, already warm and familiar despite the fact that they’d barely just met. Viktor isn’t sure why he’s so at ease, though a tiny part of him can’t help but wonder if it’d be safer to get the hell out.
He ignores that part of him. Just a little longer. One dance more, before I tell him I need to find my horse and leave. But Yuuri’s eyes are like starlight, and the storm is still raging on outside. It’s nice and warm in here, and Yuuri is so beautiful — even if all of this is some fey trap, it’d at least be a delightful way to go.
“We’ve only just met,” he muses, “and yet it feels like we’ve known one another for ages.”
Yuuri’s cheeks flare, but he reaches out, places a hand on Viktor’s cheek. “I’ve waited for you for a very long time,” he replies. Viktor’s not proud to admit a part of him stirs at that, and he steps in closer, falling deeper under the spell.
“And I’ve travelled a long distance here,” he breathes. “And I still have so far to go.”
“You must be weary,” Yuuri remarks, as he twirls out of Viktor’s arms. “I’m a dreadful host, making you dance when you must be fatigued.”
Viktor can’t help but chuckle at that, as he pulls the young man in the fetching red dress back in. “Yet my feet are lighter than feathers,” he says, marvelling at the way the candlelight shines across Yuuri’s hair, glows against his skin, sparkles in his eyes. Inexplicably, he draws even closer, until he can feel Yuuri’s breath against his lips and smell the faintest hint of jasmine and honey just behind his ear.
“Aria,” murmurs Yuuri, and the spell splinters a little, the music grinding to a sudden halt as Yuuri drops their arms from the dance. “So wise and yet so foolish.”
Viktor’s breath hitches, as Yuuri’s hands trail down the front of his shirt, coming to rest along his hip. The warmth of Yuuri’s fingers so close to him makes his heart race faster.
Yuuri’s smile is soft, a little sad. “I could show you to your rooms for the night,” he says, looking down at his shoes, and Viktor aches for him all the more. He wants to protest, but already he finds himself ascending the stairs, wandering down candelabra-lined hallways to an ornate door.
At the threshold, Yuuri bids him good night, his face still glowing with some unknown hope as Viktor pauses with his hand on the door. “Sweet dreams, Aria,” he offers, extending his hand.
“Good night,” Viktor replies, turning to his host. He kisses Yuuri’s hand once more, but when he looks up, the hallway is empty.
Viktor doesn’t sleep much that night. The bed is large and soft, appointed with luxurious red curtains and velvet covers, and there’s a cheery fire crackling in the grate to keep the chill of the storm at bay. But despite all of that, Viktor lies awake for hours thinking about the strangeness of the night, and the unsettling feeling now curled tight and painful in his chest. Wherever Makkachin is in those woods, Viktor half wishes he was there with him. Hopefully his horse isn’t eating poisoned berries or trying to escape wolves or something, because the last thing Viktor needs is a dead steed if things go south.
The lightning flashes, and Viktor finally gives up, throwing on his clothes and shoes and lighting a lamp to guide him out. The castle is strangely dark and dusty as he tiptoes down the halls, not a trace of the earlier golden liveliness to be seen.
He catches a glimpse of crimson light from the windows of a different wing, and makes his way over with hesitant, curious steps. The halls he pass look as if they haven’t been touched in years, despite his memories of walking through them mere hours before. The ballroom floor is littered with broken glass that he definitely doesn’t remember, and he quietly skirts it as he heads for the other wing.
There he finds a chapel bathed in red, from the curtains to the light that suffuses through the room, illuminating Yuuri’s bowed head as he sits in one of the pews. Without even looking up, he asks, “Restless, Aria?”
It takes Viktor a moment to remember his ‘name’. “Couldn’t sleep,” he replies, sliding into the pew to sit besides Yuuri. “I suppose it’s not usual for the fey to sleep?”
“The fey?” echoes Yuuri, raising an eyebrow. Viktor catches a flash of red in his amber eyes, causing a shiver to run down his spine. “I wish. Then it would mean I was born with it.”
Viktor swallows. “Born with it?” The red seeps farther into Yuuri’s eyes as he runs his hand through his hair, trails a finger across sinful red lips. “Yuuri, what —”
Yuuri shushes him, fingers now tugging Viktor close by the collar of his shirt. “I thought I didn’t have it in me,” he breathes. “Back in the ballroom I wanted you so bad, but I didn’t know how to convince you to stay —”
Viktor’s heart races. Yuuri is straddling him, his lips dangerously close to Viktor’s skin. In a heartbeat, Viktor realises that surrendering is a path of no return. Whatever creature Yuuri is, he may not be as gentle once Viktor’s will is won.
And yet, so much of Viktor refuses to believe that, not even as Yuuri’s kiss steals the air from his lungs.
He finds himself amid the scarlet curtains moments later, on the dais before the old castle altar. Yuuri is bathed in the light of the stained glass, beautiful yet infernal as he runs his fingers across Viktor’s shoulder blades. Viktor’s shirt hangs off him, ties hastily undone, and Yuuri’s dress bleeds into the curtain somewhere far from Viktor’s thoughts.
He feels the heel of Yuuri’s shoe digging into his lower back, the textured silk of his artfully torn stockings rubbing beneath his fingers. Yuuri arches to his touch, sublime yet feral, a force of some power Viktor is hesitant to name.
“What do you want?” he breathes, his hair falling in his face as he looks up at Yuuri, a supplicant before a deity. In turn, Yuuri trails a thoughtful toe along the line of Viktor’s throat.
“All of you,” he whispers, his foot slipping lower. “Every.” Lower. “Last.” Lower. “Inch.”
Fey or not, that should be dangerous, and yet Viktor presses on, surging up to recapture Yuuri’s lips. His hand brushes the curve of Yuuri’s cock, causing the other man to moan against his lips and pull him in tighter. His trousers are open before he realises it, his own hardness straining for relief as he takes himself in hand. Yuuri arches against him, tangling his fingers in Viktor’s hair, tugging until Viktor feels stars of pain and pleasure burst behind his eyes. His legs come up around Viktor’s waist, pressing their bodies together with exquisite urgency.
Viktor forgets why he’s here. Forgets the time, the date, the place — forgets his name. The world narrows its focus to pleasure, to the heat between their bodies, to Yuuri’s little mewls as he picks up the pace. His eyes are a brilliant crimson now, no sign of the brown anywhere, and the dig of his fingers into Viktor’s skin now borders on painful. There’s nowhere else he’d rather be than the circle of Yuuri’s arms, not that he could have left even if he wanted to.
When the pleasure becomes white-hot — when his breathing grows ragged and his heart is racing towards the edge — Yuuri flips their positions in an instant, midnight tresses falling across Viktor’s chest as his head and fingers move eagerly southward. Yuuri meets his gaze as his lips wrap around the tip of Viktor’s cock, and the last thing Viktor sees is the triumphant gleam in those crimson eyes, before the world goes black and he knows no more.
Viktor wakes to the sound of the birds in the cool grey morning, the smell of petrichor heavy in the air around him. Upon opening his eyes, the first thing he realises is that he’s alone in the ruins of a castle.
The second thing he realises is that he’s naked.
He’s not entirely bereft, of course — his clothes lie beside him, neatly folded, tucked into a thick crimson cloak with a note pinned to it. Beside that are several bags of provisions and coin, and a couple feet from the dais is his own horse Makkachin, bemusedly stamping the ground beside his master.
Viktor takes the note from the cloak first as he starts to dress himself, his heart racing as he reads:
My Enigmatic Aria —
I know that is not your name, for otherwise last night you would have become mine fully, body and soul. A wise move, even when dealing with the incubi. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more beguiling.
Perhaps our paths will cross again someday. Until then, I remain
P.S. With this cloak you will be protected from all misfortunes that may befall you on the road. Think of it as encouragement to find me again.
Viktor is smiling even before he realises it, folding the note and placing it in the folds of the crimson cloak. The magic imbued in it hums at him as he drapes it over his shoulders, and almost immediately it feels as if the chill has been chased away.
It may take weeks, it may take years. But Viktor’s heart is already lighter for it, for knowing he had danced — in more ways than one — with the devil and lived to tell the tale. For knowing that out there, some terrible yet sublime being is watching over him, counting down the days until their next meeting.
Makkachin snorts at him, almost impatiently. Viktor laughs as he clambers down from the dais, looking around at the shards of shattered stained-glass, at the ashes of the illusions that had so ensnared him last night. He grabs his bag and mounts his horse, his heart set on the Eastern horizon and the adventures that await in the Empire —
— and on his eventual reunion with the demon that had spirited away his heart.