Actions

Work Header

Blue Flames

Chapter Text

“You’re an Alpha.” Victor closed the gap between the two and gripped his hand. It was a proper greeting among Alphas, one he never thought he would have to make with Yuuri.

“Yes,” his mate confirmed, “I'm an Alpha.” The way he said it sounded like he was still trying to convince himself of the status.

“No more bright colors, then?” Victor asked after a moment of silence, hand still gripping tightly onto Yuuri’s.  The Japanese lord huffed something that sounded close to amusement and looked down.

“No. I’m officially grown now. Dark colors for me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Victor murmured, “light or dark, you’ve always been beautiful in blue.”

Yuuri relaxed his grip as a sign to end the handshake, but Victor pulled him in close and wrapped his free arm around his neck, holding him tightly.

“I’m glad you came,”  Victor breathed. He could smell Yuuri's discomfort, so he reluctantly stepped back.

“Phichit is here. He’s very excited to see you. So are Mila and Yurio.”

“Ah, I haven’t seen Phichit in years,” Yuuri said with a small smile, “I’d like to see him as soon as possible, if that's alright.”

Victor tried not to feel hurt from the enthusiasm shown toward the Thai teen. “He’s in the library,” he started, “however... he presented as an Omega. I’m sorry, but I must have guards accompany you.”

The smile dropped almost as soon as it appeared, “I understand.”

He walked around Victor and started up the stairs when the Crown Prince reached out and grabbed his sleeve, “Will you join us for dinner tonight?”

He hesitated, and Victor's heart sunk.

“I think I’d like to have some time to myself,” Yuuri answered, not looking at the Russian.

“Of course. We’ll have a meal sent to your room.”

“Thank you.” He turned slightly to give a polite bow before resuming his walk up the stairs. Victor watched, seemingly petrified, as Yuuri nodded to the Doctor and Master before entering the castle with Popovich, Celestino, and three other guards trailing behind them.

He stayed standing at the bottom of the steps long after Yuuri had gone inside. Dr. Plisetsky slowly made his way down to join him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“You’re upset.”

I am.

“But you’re not upset with how he presented.”

I'm not.

“You’re unhappy because Yuuri is unhappy.”

Yes.

“Do you know why he’s unhappy?”

A pause. 

“As selfish as it sounds,” Victor finally spoke, hesitantly, “I think he’s upset because he thinks he disappointed me. I remember Master Popovich had mentioned his insecurities about presenting…”

“That’s part of it,” he agreed and continued, “you also have to understand... the cultural implications of his presentation. It’s rare for an Alpha and a Beta couple to give birth to two Alphas. His older sister is the first born who will inherit the lands and title. Even without being your soulmate, he’s confined to the life of a subordinate to his sister. As the second born Alpha, he will have to leave. He doesn’t have a place in his hometown anymore.

“Even in coming here,” the doctor continued, gently guiding Victor back up the stairs as they spoke, “our society won’t look favorably on him either. He’s an Alpha foreigner; he’s not part of the royal family nor does he have any royal blood in him; he’s not considered to have a high rank in the hierarchy of his own country - certainly not here - and he’s your soulmate.”

“What does that-”

“You’re an Alpha, Your Highness. So is he. Our society, though not outlawed, isn’t fond of Alpha/Alpha pairings. You know this.”

“But Yuuri is different.”

“Yuuri can’t give you a child.”

“He’s still my soulmate," Victor asserted.

“That doesn’t matter,” the doctor allowed him to walk through the door first before following after, “there’s no divine law that states soulmates must be married. Many are happy to stay friends; there’s no reason why you two can’t be-”

“Christophe has his own concerns about us as well,” he admitted with a scowl, stopping and staring at the ground. His aura was plagued with uncertainty and anxiety, “but he’s wrong. You’re wrong. Yuuri is my mate - my soulmate - he is the only one for me! I’ll only have him!”

“But Victor,” the doctor sighed and stroked his beard, “are you only saying this because you share the same Mark?” Anger spiked in Victor’s scent and he turned on the doctor, eyes shining silver with his Inner Alpha’s presence.

“I don’t like what you’re implying,” he snapped with a growl. The doctor narrowed his own eyes and took a step forward into Victor’s space.

“You forget, child, that I’m also an Alpha,” he warned, his eyes flashing pale blue as well, “don’t throw a tantrum at me just because you don’t like what I’m saying.”

“How presumptuous to assume you’re allowed to judge my relationship with Yuuri.”

“A relationship between two Alphas isn’t common. You’d sooner rip each others throats out than get along - it’s just not done!”

“There’s nothing in the agreement signed with the Emperor stopping me,” Victor turned and stormed up the stairs, heading for Yakov’s office.

“But your Uncle-”

“Wouldn’t dare stop me either!” Victor sent a glare over his shoulder at the good doctor and sneered, “I’ll make sure of it, too.”

“Careful, Victor,” he warned from the bottom of the stairs, Victor heading down the hallway to the left without a second glance, “This is a fight you’ll lose.”

 


 

“I’m surprised.”

“Yeah,” Yuuri smiled half heartedly, “so was I.”

“I’m a little happy, though,” Phichit smiled from where he sat on the cushions piled in the corner. There were two guards within hearing distance and Celestino sat at a table a few yards away from their pile of pillows, “I wish there were more Alphas like you.”

“Like me?”

“Yeah,” Phichit picked up a piece of chocolate from a bowl next to him and tossed it at Yuuri. He attempted to catch it in his mouth but it bounced off of his cheek and fell to the side, “you know, Alphas who aren’t complete Knotheads.”

“Oh, there’s plenty of them out there,” Yuuri reassured and picked the candy off of the cushion, blowing on it before popping it into his mouth.

“We would make good mates,” Phichit continued, unfazed when Yuuri choked from surprise, “I like to think that we would, but Yurio would sooner kill me than allow us to even talk to each other. He’s got the biggest crush on you.”

“He’s always threatening Victor whenever the three of us are together,” Yuuri supplied when he recovered, “Last year, after he admitted his ‘undying love’ for me, I was never alone. Yurio went with me everywhere.”

“He’s always talking about you and saying how he’ll be the perfect Alpha,” the Thai boy snickered, “I wonder what he thinks now.”

“He’ll probably be upset. He was really looking forward to me being an Omega.”

“Your secondary sex doesn’t define you, Yuuri,” both turned and saw Chris approach, dressed comfortably in white and blue with a languid swagger in his step, “it merely compliments who you already are. Hello, Phichit.”

“Hi Chris! Join us!” The boy shouted and gestured to a pillow next to Yuuri. The Alpha bowed and sat cross legged on the cushion.

“How are you feeling, Yuuri?”

“Fine.”

“I find that hard to believe. Presenting as an Alpha, hm? Must have been a shock.”

“It was.”

“What I find hard to believe is that you don’t smell like an Alpha,” he leaned in and sniffed the top of his head, pulling back before Yuuri could register the action and smack him, “Yes, you have that distinct aura and musk, but you don’t have that certain... spice of an Alpha. What you have now is mellow and clean...it’s nice; very comforting."

“How do I smell?” Phichit gave a toothy grin. Chris obliged with an over exaggerated sniff of the air he wafted over.

“You’re so sweet, it’s sickening. Hint of ginger, though. Or is it paprika? It's gross either way.”

“Well your stench is so disgustingly strong it fills up a room within seconds!” He countered playfully. Chris gasped and put a hand to his heart, eyebrows furrowed with hurt and shock.

“Words hurt, Phichit! Even weak ones like those.”

“I can’t bring myself to care~.”

“Speaking of caring,” Chris looked back at the Japanese teen and leaned in slightly, “How did it go with Victor? I heard he greeted you outside when you arrived.”

“He did, even though I asked him not to in a letter,” Yuuri sighed and ran a hand through his slicked hair, “He rushed at me and wanted to give me a hug, but when he saw that I was trying to shake his hand he realized that I’m... an Alpha.” The words were bitter on his tongue and he suppressed a grimace.

“What else?”

“We shook hands, he pulled me in for a hug anyway, and he told me he was happy that I came here.”

“That doesn’t sound bad. Why do you smell so troubled?”

Yuuri huffed and bent his leg, propping his hands and chin on his knee, “He had this look on his face. It was weird, as if he was trying to understand what he was seeing. Me being an Alpha must have shocked him quite a bit... he probably couldn’t process it.”

“I can dispel that rumor right now for you,” Chris squeezed his shoulder in a friendly manner and reached forward to snag a piece of chocolate from Phichit’s bowl, “he was upset, but only because you were upset.”

Yuuri scowled, “How could he tell?”

“You’re like an open book. Having presented as an Alpha also means everyone is more sensitive to the changes in your scent. I bet even Phichit could smell your distress, isn’t that right?”

“Yes.”

“Phichit,” Yuuri tsked, “why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because that’s not what you wanted to talk about. I could guess that much.” Yuuri was touched and felt tears well in his eyes, but he quickly suppressed the urge to cry. Alphas weren't supposed to cry.

“I passed Victor on my way here. He was determined to talk to Yakov about something and he looked angrier than I had ever seen him before.”

“Really?” Both perked up with curiosity at the observation.

“Yes. Dr. Plisetsky told me why when I saw him at the stairs. He and Victor had been debating about the validity of your future bonding.”

“He was probably saying that he couldn’t have me as a mate anymore,” Yuuri deflated a bit and looked to the ground, “I understand though. I’m an Alpha, I can’t give him children, I don’t even come from a high ranking house in Japan-”

“You’ve got it all wrong: the doctor was the one who said that. Victor disagreed.”

“The doctor said that?” Phichit asked with a frown, “really? I would have expected that from the Viceroy or Master Popovich’s son, not him.”

“Georgi? He’s a devout believer in the power of love, although he doesn’t look like it,” Chris shrugged, “the doctor only said those things to Victor because he’s concerned about where his heart lies.”

“‘Where his heart lies,’” Yuuri repeated and furrowed his eyebrows, “what does that mean?”

“He’s worried about what his motivation is for wanting to marry you,” Chris stated bluntly, sympathy in his green eyes, “so am I. I’ve had my concerns for quite some time now, and I haven’t really seen any change since I voiced them to Victor.

“We don’t know if he wants to bond with you because he’s in love with you, or if it’s because you’re soulmates,” Chris quickly reached out and squeezed his other knee as a gesture of comfort, “either way, he loves you Yuuri. Very much... it just might be a different kind of love.”

“How do you feel about him?”

“M-me?” Yuuri stuttered, caught off guard by Phichit’s question.

“Yeah.”

“W-well…” he blushed and turned to the side so that his face was partially hidden from the two, “I... I love him too, but... it’s a different love.”

“What do you mean?” Chris pressed.

“It’s sort of like... it’s like a... I don’t really know,” Yuuri groaned, “I don’t know how to describe it.”

“What does this love do to you?” Chris rephrased, “what does it make you feel?”

Yuuri was quiet for a moment. He thought back on all the times he and Victor were together, all of the kind things he had done and the way he felt whenever he laughed or smiled. He felt heat creep into his cheeks and his toes curled.

“It makes me very happy. Whenever I see him for the first time after traveling from Japan, I just… ” he hesitated, struggling to find the words before sitting up straight and facing the two boys, “You know those oil lanterns?”

“Yes.” They confirmed.

“You know how if you spill some of that oil, it’s an absolute mess? And you have to be careful not to set it on fire?”

They nodded.

“At home, I’m one of those lanterns that sits unused in a closet. But when I leave for Russia, it’s like I’ve been spilled and created a huge mess and seeing Victor…” his blush deepened and he diverted his gaze once more, “seeing Victor is like being ignited by a flame. I’m just... so happy when I see him and he gives me so much confidence. I feel stronger when I’m with him; I become a person I want to be whenever he’s around. Today was different though... today I feel like I disappointed him.”

“Oh Yuuri, you know that's not true!” Chris wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close, resting his cheek on top of his head, “as his friend, it makes me so happy to hear how much you care about him. But as your friend, I’m worried that he doesn’t feel the same way.”

“It never occurred to me that he didn’t feel that way,” Yuuri muttered feeling ashamed and embarrassed, “he’s just so nice and it seems like he cares.”

“He does care,” Chris was quick to correct, “no one is saying he doesn’t care about you. There’s only a possibility that your affections aren't the same type as his.”

“How do we know?” He asked, voice small and feeling so, so vulnerable.

“Victor is the only one who knows what’s happening in his head. He has to realize that answer himself before he can tell us.” A tear flowed freely down Yuuri’s cheek and Chris held him tighter.

Phichit stood from his cushion, drawing the attention of the two Alpha’s. He walked to Yuuri and crawled into his lap, sitting with his legs crossed as he looked up at his friend and smiled.

“A nap always makes me feel better. You should try taking one too,” he said as he wiped a tear off of his cheek, “No one is ever too old for a nap.” Yuuri smiled at his friend and nodded.

“Thank you Phichit. I think I will.”

 


 

The tension in the palace was ice cold and suffocatingly thick. Since Yuuri’s arrival a week earlier, Victor and Yakov had practically shut themselves away in the Viceroy's study.

They left only for a few hours at a time to wash up, eat, or sleep before returning to the room and spending several more hours locked in a screaming match. Sometimes, the room would fall silent for hours; no one dared to knock in fear of having their throats ripped out. Other times, the shouting and snarls would get so loud that the western wing rang from their fights.

Many times, the sounds of furniture being thrown and glass breaking could be heard through the doors, and no one was allowed into the room to clean even after they had left for their breaks.

The Viceroy and the Crown Prince refused to see or speak to anyone. The guards grew worried by their behavior and had planned during one of the days to have Yuuri ‘coincidentally’ pass Victor in the hall. When it was supposed to happen, Yuuri could smell the aggression of the young royal from around the corner and stopped, telling the sentries that he was going to go another way and left before they could see each other.

The stench of the western wing reeked of rage, Alpha pheromones, frustration, and irritation. Opening windows didn’t seem to help clear the smell and, if anything, actually appeared to keep tourists and townspeople away from the castle.

When they had emerged for the last time, it was with a fragile peace in place. They didn’t look at each other as they went their separate ways. Yakov headed immediately for his room as Victor sought out his mate. He found him quickly in the library with Chris, Phichit, and Mila. Celestino and a couple of other guards stood around the room to make sure nothing happened to the unmated Omega or the unpresented child.

“Yuuri~,” Victor called out when he saw the little group. He was mentally exhausted from the negotiating and bickering he had done with his uncle but seeing his mate had the same effect as a breath of fresh air. “You look beautiful today! Oh, how I would love to wax poetic about you eyes and smile, but first I must share fantastic news!”

“Hello to you too, Your Highness,” Chris greeted playfully with a wink.

“Oh, I’m sorry! Hello everyone! I just got a little excited.”

“Hi Vitya!” Mila grinned with an enthusiastic wave.

“Victor!” Phichit also called out and mocked Chris’ wink. The other Alpha noticed this and threw a crumpled piece of paper at him, hitting him on the back of the head.

“What are you all doing here?”

“Yurio sent notes to us yesterday saying he wanted to meet us here,” Phichit kicked his legs under the table, narrowly missing hitting Chris each time, “we’ve yet to see him and we’ve been here for almost an hour.”

“10 minutes, you drama queen,” Chris corrected with an eyeroll.

“What is it?” Mila asked as she flipped her hair, “Yurio asked us not to tell you to come, so say what you wana and leave before he gets here.”

“Oh?” Victor feigned a sniff, “how cruel. Children can be so mean.”

“You said something about ‘fantastic’ news,” Phichit prompted once more.

“Oh, yes! Yuuri, my uncle and I have been at each other's throats for days, but we have it all worked out. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Alpha, we can still bond with each other!” He gushed, a toothy grin in place as he rushed around the table and hugged his mate, “There’s no need to worry, my love! We can still marry like we’ve always planned!”

“Yay!” Phichit and Mila cheered and high fived. Chris gave a slow clap, a practiced look of poised amusement on his face as he offered his congratulations. Victor didn’t notice and nuzzled his cheek against the top of Yuuri’s head.

“Isn’t it wonderful? You’re still mine!” Victor pulled back and beamed, “and I’m still yours!”

“Victor… ” the Crown Prince’s expression dropped from happiness to confusion when he saw the look on Yuuri’s face. He wasn’t excited or cheerful or happy. Instead, he looked conflicted and upset. Even his scent smelled of uncertainty and guilt.

“Yuuri?” He asked and removed himself from the boy to give him space, “why are you looking at me like that?”

“Can we talk somewhere else?” Victor felt a cold jolt of panic down his spine and he clenched his fists. The others had fallen silent, watching the exchange with bated breath.

“No… ” Victor said eventually, “No... just... please tell me what’s wrong. Why do you look so troubled?”

“It’s just... I’ve had some time to think since my presentation,” Yuuri started quietly, looking to the floor and away from the group, “maybe we should reconsider bonding.”

The words felt like a slap. “What?” He choked out after the initial shock. He never thought Yuuri would tell him something do cruel. Why was he saying this?

“You’re young, Victor; so am I,” he pressed, looking at him now with such an earnest expression, “we’ve gone our whole lives convinced we would marry each other that we never went out and met other people. I may be your soulmate but what if I’m not the right one for you?”

“Yuuri,” he felt his mouth go dry, “you’re the only one I want.”

“But you don’t know that Victor,” Yuuri stood up and placed a hand gently on his shoulder, clearly trying to guide him away from the group, “come on, let’s-”

“No,” Victor didn’t budge, visibly steeling himself for the conversation with a clenched jaw and tensed shoulders. “I want to talk about this now.”

“Victor-”

“You’re all I’ve wanted, Yuuri! All my life, all I ever wanted was to bond with my soulmate, and you’re-”

“But Victor, that can’t be the only reason to want me,” Yuuri snapped, “do you want to bond with your soulmate or do you want to bond with me ?”

The familiar words struck a chord with him and he hardened his gaze. His Inner Alpha flashed silver in his eyes when he looked at Chris, who was staring back with a challenging look of his own.

“You got inside his head,” he hissed.

“He deserved to know,” Chris countered, “you shouldn’t toy with him like this, whether intentional or not.”

“You planted these seeds of doubt!” Victor took a step toward him, but Yuuri stayed between the two Alphas. His hands were on Victor’s chest, trying to push him away from Chris who had stood and was leaning over the table. The guards motioned at Phichit and Mila to quietly come with them, and the children exited the room without anyone noticing. “You did this!”

“He didn’t do anything, Victor!”

“Yes he did!” The Alpha grabbed Yuuri’s biceps tightly and turned his gaze back to him, “I’m losing you, Yuuri, and it’s all his fault!”

“You’re not ‘losing’ me! I’ll still be here for you, but not as your mate! Many soulmates stay platonic all the time!”

“But we’re not one of those couples! We’re not!”

“You can’t make all of the decisions for him, Victor.”

“Chris!” Victor tried to lunge at him, but was held back by Yuuri and Celestino, who had chosen the perfect moment to step in. Two more guards went to Chris and urged him to leave. He reluctantly obliged, eyes still on the royal as he, too, exited the room.

“Victor, please,” Yuuri continued, “we’re both Alphas. I can’t give you children, I can’t-”

“It doesn’t matter,” Victor practically pleaded, eyes back on his soulmate, “Yakov and I worked it out. It doesn’t matter if you can’t bear children or-”

“That doesn’t change our biologies, Victor!” Yuuri cupped his face, eyes determined but scent heartbroken, “We’re Alphas. There is a very real risk that we could kill each other. What if one of us loses control one day? What if I provoke you to the point where-”

“That will never happen!” Victor grabbed his wrists and pulled his hands away, gripping them tightly in the space between the two, “I could never do that!”

“But what if you did? You wouldn’t be able to live with yourself!”

“Yuuri-”

“You haven’t even decided if you love me yet, Victor!”

“I do love you-”

“But you don’t know if you love who I am or what I am! It won’t work, Victor! I’m sorry,” Yuuri tried to pull his hands away but the Crown Prince wouldn’t budge.

Victor stood petrified. His soulmate was rejecting him... after all these years that they’ve known each other, learned about one another, loved each other... he was trying to end it all?

What was he thinking? Victor's Inner Alpha reared its head at the tenacity of his mate. Suggesting so casually to end what they had, this beautiful thing between them? The insolence of this boy!

Victor tightened his grip on Yuuri’s wrists, eliciting a wince from the Japanese lord.

How dare he! How dare he assume that this was something Victor would accept without a fight? Did Yuuri honestly think he knew what was best for the both of them?

“Your Highness,” Celestino quietly warned, “You’re hurting Yuuri.”

Victor couldn’t let this stand. He wasn’t about to lose the one thing he ever needed in life just because his mate was afraid!

“No,” Victor released his hands and pointed at Yuuri, knowing fully well the rudeness of the gesture, “I won’t accept this without a fight. I’m challenging you to a Duel.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your Highness!”

“Your country calls them ‘Alpha Brawls’ because of the barbaric natures of the matches, right? Here, they’re a legitimate method of settling disagreements between Alphas,” Victor narrowed his glare, “I challenge you to a Duel. Three rounds. Loser does whatever the winner wants. Do you accept?”

“Your Highness-”

“He can’t help but remind us all of his Alpha status," he snapped, “so I will treat him as such! Do you accept, Lord Katsuki?”

The tension was stronger now than it had been during the week. Yuuri stared at Victor with a disapproving expression for a moment. Victor glared right back, waiting for his answer. The guards were stiff, waiting for any sign of trouble to step in.

Yuuri finally moved, smacking Victor’s pointed finger out of his face and scowling.

“I accept your challenge,” he growled, eyes flashing gold, “and I will win .”

Chapter Text

I’m “Oh, Georgi…”

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“I’ve messed up horribly, haven’t I?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“What should I do?” Victor pulled his head out of his hands and looked up at his attendant. He was at his desk in his study, the tabletop scattered with books, pens, and papers ready to be reviewed. He had been there for an hour and so far hadn’t done a single productive thing, choosing instead to wallow in self pity with his head in his hands and elbows on the table.

Georgi leveled him with an unamused glare, “I don’t know why you think I am the one to seek advice from every time you mess up, Your Highness. I’m not often in positions like yours, having challenged my mate to a Duel or bossing him around with Alpha Commands.”

“That happened once!” He groaned and practically threw himself back in his chair, “You never fail to remind me!”

“Because you should never forget your mistakes, Your Highness. What was going through your head?” Georgi scolded and put his own ledger and pen down, “What on Earth made you think it was a good idea to fight your soulmate instead of talking to him?”

“I was overcome with rage!” Victor whined, “He was insisting that he knew what was best for us! It’s not my fault-”

It is your fault , Your Highness!” he snapped and ran a hand through his cropped black hair, “You fell back on your instincts as an Alpha and decided that the best way to solve the problem was to beat it into submission. You’re not a savage, Your Highness, you’re a human - and a grown man at that! You don’t think before you act and that’s a flaw you’ve yet to work on solving.”

“I can't be the only one at fault, though!” He persisted, “Yuuri-”

“Stop looking for ways to place blame off of yourself and start working on fixing your mistake,” Georgi gathered a stack of papers and turned on his heel, “There's clearly no hope of you getting any work done, so I will take these back to Master Giacometti. I'll fetch you in an hour for your sparring session with Captain Cialdini.”

“Thank you, Georgi,” he muttered half heartedly as the door shut behind him. He sighed heavily and leaned forward once he was alone, arms stretched out in front of him on the table and his gaze fixed to the ugly green wallpaper. He should change it. Something blue, perhaps.

This was a nightmare. He thought he was done with these impulsive outbursts of adolescent aggression. He was 20 years old, he shouldn't be challenging 16 year old Alphas to Duels; especially newly presented, untrained Alphas. Yuuri had been groomed to be a Beta all his life, he barely knew about the social etiquettes Alphas had to follow. The chances of him beating the heir apparent were slim to none.

Victor stood from his desk and stormed out of his study, heading directly for the training grounds. He had some aggression he needed to work off. Plus, it was foolish of him to underestimate his mate: Yuuri had stamina and decade of training as a dancer. He was flexible, nimble, and speedy. With the proper training, he would make a formidable opponent.

However... losing this match was not an option.

He was quick to spot the Captain on the training ground, since a large crowd had amassed around the sparring ring where he and his opponent were facing off. None of the soldiers had noticed the Crown Prince’s arrival, and he seamlessly blended into the crowd of Alphas as he shouldered his way to the front to see what the commotion was about.

“Take out his legs!”

“Watch out for his fist!”

“Incoming on the right!”

“The legs! The legs!”

The soldiers were screaming instructions at the two contenders in the ring, and as soon as he spotted a familiar mop of black hair he understood why.

Yuuri had stripped down to his trousers and an undershirt, covered in dirt and sweat as he fluidly dodged another attempted grab from the Captain. Celestino was dressed the same but bare chested, his long brown hair tied into a braid and pulled out of his face. As he struggled to regain balance from the failed grapple, Yuuri dive-rolled to the other side of the ring, panting heavily and pushing his bangs out of his face. The Captain straightened up and turned to glare at Yuuri, releasing a wave of pheromones that screamed rage and dominance. Unimpressed, Yuuri tried to counter with his own aggression, but it didn’t match up to the potent stench of the seasoned veteran.

“His Highness!” the soldier behind Victor shouted and shoved the man to his left, bowing to the royal. It was a matter of seconds before the crowd dipped low before the Crown Prince. Victor huffed with annoyance, quickly realizing his own scent had given him away; he reeked of irritation, a clear threat towards the Captain to back off. His Inner Alpha was furious that his mate was involved in a fight with another man. Had he been younger, he probably would have attacked the Captain without warning in a show of dominance.

He wasn’t a complete ‘Knothead,’ however, but he was a little concerned with how his body reacted without thinking. He grabbed the closest soldier, bringing him up to his feet and giving his arm a friendly pat as he scrambled to regain his composure.

“Please, stand! We’re all the same on the training grounds!” As the soldiers started to rise, he noticed Yuuri’s expression had darkened. He quirked his lips in distaste and looked away almost as soon as they had made eye contact.

“Your Highness,” Celestino greeted and approached, holding out his hand for a greeting. Victor returned the grip tightly and scrunched his nose.

“You smell terrible, Captain.”

“I could say the same for you,” he countered smoothly, a knowing look in his eyes. Conversations had already started back up among the soldiers, a few looking anxiously between the Russian royal, captain, and Japanese lord. “What brings you here so early? I was not expecting you so soon. Has time passed that quickly?”

“No, it’s my fault,” Victor released his hand and smiled apologetically, “I was a bit stressed and unable to get any work done. Georgi dismissed me from my previous chore, so I came here early hoping to sweat out my frustration,” he looked to Yuuri, who he hadn’t physically seen since The Incident 5 days ago, and licked his lips, suddenly feeling nervous, “Hello, Yuuri. You look well.”

“Your Highness,” he greeted curtly, clearly meaning to acknowledge his presence and nothing more. Victor almost flinched.

“Ah, I see. If it helps, Chris is supposed to be here in an hour, but until then I can ask the soldiers for a volunteer. I would offer my own services, but-”

“No, I understand. I prefer that you work with him rather than me.”

The Captain smiled with relief, “I’m glad you understand. Just give me a moment,” he stepped away from the Crown Prince and whistled to the crowd of murmuring soldiers, “Alright, men! Gather up, I need a volunteer!”

Victor stopped paying attention to Cialdini in favor of approaching the Japanese man, “Yuuri, how are you?”

“I am well, Your Highness,” he answered, eyes still on the floor with his arms crossed, “I’m sorry to hear that you are troubled. I hope the issue resolves itself.”

The words were hollow, merely a formality for the benefit of the crowd. Victor wasn’t foolish enough to believe Yuuri meant it, but it still hurt. He shifted his feet.

“I’m glad to see that you’re getting some training in. How long has Celestino been helping you?”

“We started the day you issued the challenge,” Yuuri finally looked him in the eye, his gaze hard as steel, “I’m not about to run into a fight without any training. I’m not an idiot; determination doesn’t negate the differences in skill level between two opponents.”

“I see,” Victor nodded, flushing with embarrassment. What was he doing here? He should have seen this coming, Yuuri wasn’t foolish enough to enter the Duel without any practice. However, he was happy to see that Yuuri was training. Should he stay? Should he come back at a later time to allow Yuuri his privacy? Was watching him train placing a disadvantage on Yuuri? Would his mate watch him as well?

Victor perked up a bit. It wouldn't help much unless he fought Yuuri himself, but surely observing how Victor moved could help the lord in their upcoming match, couldn't it? Maybe seeing Victor’s technique would peak his interest. Would he be willing to put aside their conflict and ask Victor for advice? Now his thoughts were straying into the realm of wishful thinking.

“Your Highness,” Victor turned around and saw Celestino standing by with a young Alpha. He was brawny and wide in the chest and thighs, only slightly bigger than the Crown Prince; despite the slender image his clothes created with drooping shirts, fitted pants, and laced sleeves, Victor was actually a lot broader and thicker than many assumed him to be.

It was clear his sparring partner wasn’t expecting his build to be stockier under his clothes. After their introductions and relocation to another ring, he flushed red and widened his eyes with surprise when the heir apparent shrugged off his vest and shirt. He had left the ringlet of blue roses back in his study to avoid damaging it. He considered keeping his undershirt on as well for the sake of keeping his soulmark hidden, but what it looked like was no secret among the soldiers; plus, he hated the feeling of sweat-soaked clothes sticking to his back.

Once he tossed the fabric into the pile with the rest of his clothes, he turned back to his opponent and flicked his fringe out of his face, “Ready to dance?” he asked arrogantly with a salacious wink before stepping into the starting position. The soldier seemed to jolt out of his stupor and grinned with equal fervor.

“I won’t go easy just because you’re royalty, Your Highness.”

“I’m counting on that.” A second soldier from outside of the ring clapped his hands once the other Apha mirrored Victor’s position.

“This is a clean fight; that means no targeting genitalia or eyes, and the use of any weapons is prohibited. A point is awarded to the Alpha that can either subdue the other for either 5 seconds or until one admits defeat. The winner is determined at the end of three rounds. On my count, the match begins. Are both sides ready?”

“Yes,” they called out in unison, twitching to lunge as their scents joined the thick tension in the air.

“On the count of three, you may begin. One... two... three!”

 


 

Yuuri wasn’t sure if he saw everything that happened. Celestino had been talking him through the steps of a takedown when he glanced over at the sparring ring Victor occupied. He and his opponent had thrown and dodged a couple of punches when the soldier had suddenly snuck up behind the Crown Prince. He had grabbed the Alpha and looked like he was about to throw him with suddenly... something... happened?

He wasn’t entirely sure... they had moved so fast. One moment Victor had been grabbed from behind and the soldier tensed as if getting ready to throw him and then they were on the ground with Victor wrapped around the other’s leg. He was laughing as the soldier struggled to free himself, their referee counting down the seconds necessary to subdue him for the point.

Did he black out? Did he blink at the worst time and miss it? What on Earth happened?

“Do you understand, Yuuri?” He blinked rapidly, suddenly reminded of his training session with Celestino, and grinned sheepishly.

“I’m sorry, I was distracted. Could you repeat that?” The captain sighed and looked at the duo Yuuri had previously been staring at. He seemed to recognize almost immediately what had happened and smiled fondly at the two.

“Clearly, that soldier has never sparred with Victor before,” he huffed and crossed his arms, the two now watching as the referee awarded the point to Victor, “he likes to bait his opponent into attacking him from the back, before promptly pulling them to the ground with a leglock.”

“Oh,” Yuuri acknowledged, watching the two stand and brush off the dirt from their shoulders. When they turned back to each other, Yuuri had a clear view of the blue Soul Mark starkly contrasting against his skin. Looking at it made his own tingle, and a surge of possession over the bearer of the Mark flushed through him from head to toe.

He shook off the weird feeling, unaware of the way his eyes had carelessly flashed gold and looked back at the captain, “Celestino, I really appreciate that you’re trying to help me.”

“Of course, My Lord,” he grinned kindly and shrugged, “no one wants you walking into that ring without some sort of preparation, least of all me.”

“That’s kind of you to say... and learning all that you’ve taught me so far has been extremely helpful, but... could you start training me in ways to counter Victor’s current fighting style?”

“Hmm…” Celestino crossed his arms and thoughtfully mulled over the proposition. Yuuri looked back at Victor’s ring and saw that the soldier was charging at the Crown Prince. Victor didn’t move, instead choosing to lift his arm so that his opponent’s chin would be tucked snugly in the crook of his elbow. As soon as he made contact, Victor kicked his leg up and wrapped it around the other’s knee before swinging the outstretched arm down and forcing his opponent to fall onto his back. He quickly moved away from the fallen soldier, bouncing side to side on the balls of his feet as he taunted the other to get up. The force of the fall had knocked the wind out of him and the victory had been guaranteed for the royal, but it appeared that he wanted to play with his food a little bit longer.

Yuuri made a note of his cockiness just as Celestino spoke up.

“You have a good point. Although I would much rather you have consistent training under your belt for any future conflicts, I don’t anticipate you accepting any challenges to Duels in the near future. For now, we’ll mainly focus on avoiding Victor’s strengths and utilizing his weaknesses.” He hesitated for a moment, sizing up Yuuri and glancing over at the other sparring ring, “However... hear me out before you make any decisions, okay?”

“I will,” Yuuri slowly agreed, his suspicion leaking into his scent as the captain remained carefully neutral, “What is it?”

“How should I put this... sorry, I’m not able to articulate what I want to say,” the captain fumbled, “The best way to learn about Victor’s fighting style is to fight against the man himself. Would you be opposed to asking him for his assistance?”

“What?” Yuuri scoffed, “Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of learning how to counter him if he knows what we’re doing?”

“My lord, the Crown Prince is very distraught over this Duel. Trust me when I say he’d be very eager to help you train; he wants you to have a fair chance of beating him, and he knows that with what you know now, that’s not very likely. If he could have his way, he’d cancel the match.”

“He’s not getting out of this. If he didn’t want to fight me, he should have thought about that before challenging me.”

“This is exactly why he hasn’t attempted to call it off,” Celestino sighed, “he knew you’d react like this. Yuuri... he isn’t supposed to see me for another hour. He has so many other tasks he could be doing right now, but he chose to stay here and spar.”

“He’s trying to intimidate me,” Yuuri reasoned half heartedly, “he wants me to ask him to end the fight. I won’t.” He didn’t believe what he was saying either, but Celestino didn’t need to know that.

“Or,” the captain gestured to the Alphas once more, waiting for Yuuri to look at them before continuing, “or... he wants you to see how he fights? Give you a good idea of what you’re up against so that you’re not completely caught off guard when you face him in the ring?”

Yuuri frowned. He redirected his attention once more to the side, watching with the captain as Victor triumphantly laughed and released the hold he had on the other Alpha’s arm. They were covered in dirt from the scuffle they were previously in and Victor reached down and gently helped the soldier to his feet. The man playfully shoved Victor away once they were upright, a rueful smile on his lips as the royal laughed wholeheartedly and stretched.

He shyly glanced over at the captain and Yuuri so quickly that they almost missed it. Almost.

“As ridiculous as that sounds... I think you're right,” Yuuri huffed. Celestino nodded, clearly taking the look Victor had sent them as confirmation of his assumption. “He is so stupid sometimes.”

“I wouldn't say that,” the captain was quick to correct, “there's no honor in this Duel: a fully grown Alpha with years of training versus a newly presented Alpha adolescent with a week - at most - of conditioning. It took a few days, but he’s realized that this is a cheap match. He wants to level the field as much as he can between you two before you meet in the ring.”

“Ah, so it's his honor that he's worried about?”

A heavy hand came down on his shoulder and he jolted, looking at the captain's stern expression. “If I may speak freely, My Lord?”

“Please, captain.”

“Don't try to start a fight. You know as well as I that he doesn't feel that way.”

Yuuri chewed on his bottom lip and scratched his chin. If Celestino was right, then... it wouldn't hurt to have a few practice matches against Victor, right?

He hardened his gaze. That was just foolish. This was still a fight and they were still opponents. Both were risking something with this duel: Victor would have to give up on the idea of mating Yuuri, while Yuuri... well... he didn't know. Victor hadn't said what he wanted Yuuri to do, only that the loser would have to whatever the winner wanted, and that was something he couldn't afford to give up.

“I don't want him to train me,” Yuuri finally said, “No thank you, Captain. Now, would you mind showing me that takedown one more time?”

“My Lord-”

“Captain?” His tone was colder than before, something about his expression daring him to continue. Celestino sighed and shook his head, his shoulders slumping in defeat as he walked to the side. He stretched his arms briefly and adjusted his stance into a slight squat before speaking.

“For this, you’ll have to wait for your opponent to charge. It’s fairly simple, so just pay attention the first time and I’m sure you’ll pick it up easily enough…”

After their encounter on the training grounds, Yuuri tried his best to avoid Victor for the next two days. It worked out well for the most part, with Chris doing what he could to alert Yuuri of Victor’s schedule (and even Georgi arrived a few minutes early to certain areas of the castle and let Yuuri know about the heir apparent’s impending arrival).

He had taken to stowing himself away in the library, a room so massive that even if Victor had been in there at the same time as him they wouldn’t be able to stumble upon each other by accident. He was reading an academic book about Thai culture that Phichit had recommended when he was greeted by a familiar sight of blond hair tumbling out from one of the aisles.

“Yurio!” He smiled warmly and waved. As soon as he spoke, the boy perked up and turned to look at him. His eyes hardened with determination and the 8 year old stumbled over to him, a heavy tome in his hands.

Once he reached the table, he practically threw the book onto the surface with some difficulty. Heaving, he trotted over to Yuuri who had shifted his chair out so that he could properly hug the boy. He latched onto him tightly, his face buried against Yuuri’s shoulder as his small hands clutched tightly at the back of his shirt. Yuuri grinned into his hair and gently pushed him away when it became clear that he didn’t want to let go any time soon.

“What brings you here?” he asked, eyeing the volume, “That’s quite a big book. What’s it about?”

Yuri huffed once more and stepped away from the seated Alpha, pulling out the chair next to him and standing on the wooden seat in order to drag the book to his side of the table. Yuuri bookmarked his spot and placed it to the side as Yurio opened the cover with a loud thud, the pages thick and heavy as the child flipped through the chapters.

Yuuri had just noticed that the boy had many parts bookmarked with scraps of paper when Yurio finally reached one of the segments he had been looking for. It was the start of a chapter, with a faded family tree inked on the left page as the right was covered in red-inked calligraphy - all in Russian, of course. Yuuri had reached a fluency in his studies where he was proficient in reading (yet still had some difficulties with casual Russian speech and slang), so he was able to decipher the chapter title to be the names of former members of the royal family.

“I found this book in my Grandpa’s study,” the 8 year old clarified, his face a scowl as he scoured the page for what he was looking for. When he found it, he pointed to the finely printed words and looked at the Alpha, “King Dmitri Ivanovich Pushkin and Queen Anastasiya Alexeyevna are a well known Alpha pair in Russian History. Anastasiya died of hypothermia and her husband followed 6 years later. They were together for 43 years and never had a fight that left them injured.”

Yuri flipped to another marked page in his book, “Vera Nikolaevna Dostoevskaya and Oksana Viktorivna were also an Alpha pair before Russia’s regime change 5 centuries ago. They fought, but there aren’t any books saying that they hurt each other.”

“Yurio-” he began, catching on quickly to where this conversation was going.

“No! I have more!” Yuri didn’t even look at the Alpha as he turned to another marked section, his frown seeming to etch deeper into his face as he pointed to another set of names, “King Charles of England also had Alpha lovers, and he never tried to rip their throats out! Same with Lord Kingsley and his husband Theodore! And these Alpha Canadian writers also had Alpha partners! Valerie Jetson, Louis Roy, Jacob Tremblay-”

“Yuri, please-”

“-Kendal Cote, Robert Johnson, Jendrick Anton-”

“Yuri, enough!”

“No! There’s more!” Yuri yelled, red in the face with frustration when he finally looked at the Japanese lord, “there’s so much more! There are so many Alphas who were also with other Alphas that didn’t kill each other! I was there! I heard what you said to Victor! You’re lying!”

“Yuri!”

“You’re lying! You’re not afraid of killing him! You’re not! You just don’t want to be with an Alpha!” He knocked the chair over when he threw himself into Yuuri’s arms, holding onto him tightly as he wheezed. Yuuri felt something warm and wet against his neck and he held the other boy, his own face heating with stress and shame as the boys anxiety permeated the air.

“I know you don’t think Alphas can be together,” Yuri hiccuped, sounding so insecure and small with his voice muffled by Yuuri’s shirt, “So for you... for you, I’ll try to be a Beta.”

“Oh, Yuri,” he squeezed him tighter and gently rubbed his back, “Oh, Yuri, don’t say that.”

“I’ll work extra hard! I’ll eat the berries my Grandpa eats to smell like a Beta, I won’t take my medicine, I won’t-”

“Yurio, stop,” he put his hands on Yuri’s shoulders and separated them, bringing a hand up to wipe a stray tear off of his cheek. The boy slumped in his lap, straddling Yuuri’s knees with his hands clutching the front of Yuuri’s shirt. He looked down with a scowl to hide his embarrassment, mouth twisted as if he had tasted something sour.

“But... you hate Alphas…” Yuri sniffed, his grip tightening, “So I won’t be an Alpha.”

“No,” Yuuri was quick to correct, “no, I never said that!”

“You don’t think Alpha’s should be together.”

“No! I don’t think that at all!”

“Then why did you tell Victor that?” he sighed and dropped his hands from his shoulders, untangling Yuri’s grip from his shirt and squeezing his fingers comfortingly.

“Victor is... you know him just as well as I do,” Yuri hesitantly nodded, “so you know how lost he can be in his head, right?” Another nod, “Victor doesn’t realize the... consequences of our bond if we were to actually mate. He’s the Crown Prince, he needs an heir. I can’t give him children.”

“He said he figured it out,” Yuri insisted, “I heard him say that.”

“He may have a solution, but would the advisors like it? Would the people of Russia like it?” Would I like it?

“That doesn’t matter! They would have their Grand Duke and you would have Victor!”

“But Yurio, you don’t understand-” he cut himself off and narrowed his gaze at the boy. He realized what Yuri had implied and gave an exaggerated look of suspicion in order to dispel some tension in the air. In reality, however, he was more bothered by what it seemed Yuri was trying to do than he cared to admit, “I thought you wanted to be my mate.”

“I do,” his cheeks turned redder with another shade of embarrassment, but he visibly swallowed his nerves and made eye contact with the Alpha, “But Victor is your soulmate. It’s really, really hard to meet your soulmate, Grandpa said so. What you’re telling Victor about Alpha pairings killing each other isn’t true, and now I know you don’t believe it either.

“You’re lying to Victor right now and he’s your soulmate,” Yuri continued pulling his hands away from Yuuri and crossing his arms, “I don’t like Liars and I know you don’t wana be a Liar, so stop!”

Yuuri was speechless. He didn’t know what he should say - what he could say - to Yurio after his passionate proclamation. The boy clearly wasn’t done, and prattled on with conviction.

“You also said that you had never been with anyone else - or thought about being with anyone else? Right? I can fix that! Just wait for me! As soon as I present, I’ll court you! I’ll be the best Alpha ever! Don’t worry about Victor, he can have my soulmate when they’re born so that he doesn’t throw a fit-” that earned a startled laugh from Yuuri, making the boy tilt his lips in a hidden smile as he continued, “-but before we can be together, you need to tell the truth. If you’re gonna lie to your soulmate, then what’re you gonna do to me?”

Guilt weighed heavily on Yuuri after the boy was done. He hadn’t felt good about lying to Victor... he personally didn’t believe that they would kill each other, but he still stood by what he said about their pairing; he was royalty and needed an heir. Yuuri was the worst possible mate he could have. Whatever Yurio said couldn’t change his mind about that, but...he wasn’t wrong about how crappy he felt with lying to his soulmate.

“I won’t lie to you, Yurio,” He smiled. With so much to consider, that was really all he could say.  Yuri nodded.

“Then tell Victor the truth. I wana woo you fairly, and for that to happen you gotta say that you don’t mind Alpha partners.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Thank you.” Faster than he expected, Yurio leaned up and pecked his forehead before sprinting off and leaving the book behind. Yuuri watched him go, a little stunned by the action and the sudden departure of the Doctor’s grandson. After his brain finally caught up with him, he chuckled to himself and rubbed his forehead.

He had a lot to consider now, thanks to the child’s lecture. He was about to stand and leave when his attention was captured once more by the giant tome on the table. Curiosity got the better of him and he pulled the book toward himself.

His thoughts about approaching Victor played as background noise in his head as he flipped through the pages, taking special care to read through the passages Yurio had marked as he skimmed through the book.

 


 

“You sent him, didn’t you?”

Victor wasn’t really expecting this. His week had been full of unexpected surprises coming in the form of a blond child.

Yurio had sought him out numerous times, each time with a different demeanor - as if a switch had been flipped. The first time Victor saw him, he was screaming about how big of an idiot he was for challenging Yuuri to a duel. He even went so far as to threaten to maim him if anything were to happen to ‘his mate.’

The second time, Yurio was much more subdued, apologizing for his behavior hours later and begging Victor to reconsider fighting him.

The third time, happening the next day, he went to the Crown Prince and asked if Victor was willing to train Yuuri “since you’re the best fighter I know and he doesn’t have a chance right now.” Victor had reassured him that Yuuri was more than capable of fighting, which made the boy leave with a bitter expression on his face.

The fourth time, Yuri was all smiles and boyish charm. He had gone to Victor and asked if he seriously believed in anything Yuuri had said when they fought. Victor had told him yes, that if he hadn’t meant it then he wouldn’t have said it - to which Yuri responded with a scoff and eyeroll.

“There are some people stupid enough to lie to their soulmates,” Yuri had huffed and fondly shook his head. Victor had frowned and watched him with his head tilted as he left the room, not sure of how to interpret his comment.

And then Yurio had approached him and asked if he would do a practice round against Yuuri.

‘Of course,’ he had told him, ‘If he wants my help, I will gladly give it to him.’

“Good. Captain Ciao Ciao will give you a time and place.” He had turned on his heel and left, leaving Victor dumbfounded in his study.

“Wait! Did Yuuri ask you to-”

“He didn’t!” Yurio had shouted, not turning around or slowing in his steps.

“Did he agree to this?”

“He will!”

And with that, he had left the room. The exchange left Victor confused and lost with his uneasiness plaguing him right up until his and Yuuri’s scrimmage 2 days later.

It also didn’t help that Yuuri was looking at him from across the ring as if he had murdered the small child.

“What?” was all Victor could manage to mumble as Yuuri’s accusation finally registered in his head.

“You sent Yurio, didn’t you? You used him to get this match!” The Japanese lord was seething, truly a fearsome sight to behold. If Victor didn’t know how about how soft and warm he was as a child - as a person - then he would have been intimidated.

“I don’t understand…” he started, only to be cut off by his opponent.

“He came to me and asked if I would have a practice fight with you!” He pointed at the Alpha before spreading his arms to gesture to the ring and the space between them, “Well, is this what you wanted? You always seem to get what you want.”

“What? No, I never sent him!” Victor furrowed his brows and pointed at the other Alpha, “I thought you sent him.”

“Me? Why would I? If I want something from you then I’ll go to you myself.”

“Could have fooled me. You have been avoiding me for weeks, after all.” Victor shrugged before smirking, the smile feeling dirty on his lips, “he probably has such little faith in your victory that he wants you to get the practice in.”

Yuuri’s glare darkened for the briefest moment before his expression suddenly softened. Instead of a scowl, he was smiling, surrounded by a condescending air as he crossed his arms. He almost looked amused, “Say your part, Captain. I would like to get started.”

The confidence unsettled Victor.

Yuuri, Victor and Captain Cialdini were the only people present for the practice match. They were inside the palace, in one of the ballrooms. A circular rug about the size of a standard ring served as their battle ground. The shutters were barely closed and the guards dismissed, the affair kept quiet for the sake of privacy. There were, however, plenty of hidden passages that led to peepholes in this room; Victor suspected that Yurio, Mila, and Phichit were in the walls, watching from the eyes of the gilded masks that complimented the wallpaper.

“Yes, My Lord,” Celestino gruffly responded and cleared his throat, looking between the two with an unreadable expression, “This is a practice match; it has no influence or relevance to the actual Duel between you two. Fight cleanly: no weapons. Targeting the eyes or genitalia is forbidden, and bites near or on the neck will land you in a cell. Blood can be drawn, but bone breaking is prohibited.”

Victor rolled his shoulders, hearing a satisfying pop as he eyed Yuuri. Dread weighed heavily in his stomach.

“Points are given at the end of each round and will be awarded as follows: if you can subdue your opponent for 8 seconds, you get a point. If your opponent forfeits or asks for mercy, you get a point. If your opponent does an illegal move and breaks a rule, you get a point.”

Yuuri physically didn’t look phased by the speech, but Victor could see his eyes were dull and darkening the longer Celestino talked. He clearly wasn’t looking forward to this either. His ‘amusement’ was a complete sham.

“There will be three rounds and the winner will be determined after all three rounds are fought. The Referee’s word is law. You must do what the Referee orders or else your opponent will get a point. Are both parties ready?”

“Yes.” Victor answered, stepping into the starting position with some hesitance.

“...Yes.” Yuuri followed suit.

What the hell was he doing? Victor felt as if he was seconds from being run over by a freight train, an icy anxiety prickling through his body as he struggled to appear calm. This was his soulmate! And even if he wasn’t, he was still a newly presented teenager! A boy who - up until about a month ago - firmly believed and had been raised to be a Beta! A boy who had zero experience in actual combat, a little over a week of training, and half the body mass of his opponent. There was no way this would end well, he had to stop this.

But... Yuuri needed this. He needed the practice. Victor preferred that he be the one to help Yuuri rather than another Alpha... rather than Chris. The mere thought of the Alpha steeled his resolve. He felt incredibly guilty for challenging Yuuri and he wanted to cancel the match, but... but he was scared. He was so terrified of losing his... of losing Yuuri that he couldn’t even risk defeat in a practice match. He knew throwing the match would only infuriate the boy more, and it wouldn’t be very helpful either... but it would work to his advantage-

No. he wasn’t going to do that to Yuuri. He would treat this as if it were any other scrimmage with the soldiers on the training grounds. He would fight to win. Losing Yuuri wasn’t an option.

Victor had been so caught up in his head that he barely missed Yuuri’s movement. The match had started, and the boy began by charging forward. Victor hadn’t so much as flinched when Celestino announced the start of the round, so he probably looked distracted to the boy. Victor kept his face neutral and his stance relaxed, watching Yuuri’s body carefully for any indication of what he was planning on doing.

It looked like a head on tackle, one that beginners were often taught. He waited until Yuuri was just close enough before lunging forward, arms out and hands ready to grab him. It was an easy counter, a rookie mistake... and then Yuuri jumped. He launched himself at Victor, grabbing at his shoulders as the Russian grabbed at air. Yuuri somehow star vaulted over him; how was that even possible? He didn’t have much time to process what had happened before he was kicked in the back and sent flying forward. He dive rolled to avoid face planting and spun quickly to look at his opponent. Yuuri was grinning, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waited for Victor to move.

“Nice…” Victor huffed, “That was quite the jump.” Yuuri didn’t say anything, moving to the side. Victor mirrored the action. “That must have taken a lot of energy out of you. Be careful.”

“I have stamina,” Yuuri muttered, “Much more than you, anyway.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Yuuri charged forward once again and Victor rushed to meet him. He lashed an arm out to grab at him and Yuuri latched onto his fist. It looked like a block and Victor was going to follow up with another attempt with his other hand, but Yuuri twisted his wrist down. The sudden move forced Victor to move his body in the same direction that Yuuri had tugged him in and he nearly missed the boy’s movements. Yuuri kicked his legs up, using his other hand to balance briefly on the floor as he locked Victor’s head between his thighs, just above the knees. They both fell to the floor, Yuuri trapping Victor’s right arm under his torso while his left wrist was also caught between his legs. It was a foolish mistake made on the Russian’s part, who had brought his hand up to help protect his face from the possible impact with the floor.

He was on this back, both hands trapped with no way of getting out of the head lock. Years of training as a dancer gifted Yuuri with incredibly strong thighs and legs. Had this been anyone else, he probably would have been able to worm his hand free; against Yuuri, though... he was stuck.

The countdown started, and Victor struggled fiercely against the Japanese boy. Yuuri looked like he was barely hanging on to his right arm, and Victor knew that if he could free it then he’d have a fighting chance to escape. However, all Yuuri needed was 8 seconds.

“Round 1 is over! Katsuki get’s a point!” as soon as Celestino announced the end of the round, Yuuri released Victor and rolled away. He inhaled deeply, coughing as he struggled to catch his breath. He rolled onto his stomach and lifted himself onto his knees, looking at his opponent. Yuuri was sitting upright, also breathing heavily as he eyed Victor with caution. There was spark of disbelief in his expression, as if he couldn’t believe he had won the round. Victor couldn’t believe it either.

He had to focus. It was Yuuri he was fighting for. It was Yuuri he risked losing. It was Yuuri that he needed to beat. He couldn’t go easy on him, he couldn’t underestimate what sort of training he had received. Clearly, he knew Victor’s movements well enough to have a general feel of his fighting style. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if Celestino trained him especially to counter Victor’s movements. He should bear that in mind.

He wasted no time subduing Yuuri in the second round. When it started, he had charged. Yuuri dodged, which Victor anticipated and managed to snag the lord before he could get very far. They tumbled to the floor in a graceless heap and Victor immediately grabbed Yuuri’s foot, tucking it into the crook of his elbow in an ankle lock. If Yuuri had been trained properly, he would have been able to easily kick his way out of the lock. However, he was caught off guard by the tackle and wasn’t assessing the situation in the same way Victor was. Instead, he was panicking and flailing his other leg. Victor grabbed it and forced Yuuri to cross it over his trapped left leg. Once he did that, he quickly put his hand back on the ankle to make sure he had a strong grip on it and threw his calves over the limb he had maneuvered on Yuuri. With one foot trapped against his side and the other under his knee cap, there was no way Yuuri would be able to break free. Victor highly doubted that Celestino himself would be able to escape from this hold.

As the captain started the countdown, Yuuri thrashed and hit at Victor’s legs, desperate to free himself. As soon as he announced the end of the match and awarded the point, Victor loosened his grip and Yuuri shoved him away. He stood and winced, lifting his leg and rolling his ankle as he glared daggers at the Russian. Victor knew why he was upset: the Crown Prince had easily taken him down seconds after the round had started. They were tied.

“Would you like to take a break before-”

“No. Please start,” Yuuri interrupted him, eyes flashing gold. They were beautiful. Victor felt his own eyes flash silver in response to the challenge, “I’d like to end this quickly.”

“Big talk for a small boy,” Victor taunted, internally cringing as soon as the words left his mouth. He needed to stop, but he couldn’t help himself. He always liked to provoke his opponents in order to get a good fight out of them. He needed to stop riling the lord up and work on motivating himself, though. Yuuri was on the line.

“Don’t get too cocky,” Yuuri countered, “I won the first round. Remember that.”

“How could I forget? The way you moved was so pretty, I was stunned,” he assumed the starting position and grinned, all teeth, “I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

“Are both sides ready?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“You may begin... now!”

Yuuri stepped to the side. Victor mimicked the action. He felt a tension build in his shoulders, an anxious energy boiling inside him. He nearly forgot to remind himself that this was just a practice match.

“If this is how you are when we fight for real, then I am sure to win.” Victor nearly balked at the tease.

“Have you already forgotten how the last round went?” Yuuri stopped walking and eyed Victor up. He hesitated, waiting to see what Yuuri would do. What was he looking for? Was he waiting for Victor to do something?

“You’re easily swayed by your feelings,” Yuuri observed, face contorted into an expression of concentration as he took a step forward. Victor didn’t move. “It’s a flaw you carry over when you enter the ring as well. I’ve seen it when you practice with the soldiers.”

“Forgive me for ‘feeling,’” Victor huffed, staying still when Yuuri took another step to the left. Was he trying to distract him? “After getting to know you for all these years, I assumed that you could do the same.”

“It’s not that I’m ‘emotionless,’” Yuuri countered, stepping forward once more, “I just don’t let my feelings make decisions for me. I don’t have that problem-” Victor snarled as soon as Yuuri said that.

“Hypocrite.”

“What?” he frowned, distracted.

Victor lunged forward and grabbed Yuuri, throwing him to the other side of the ring. Yuuri scrambled to get back up, caught off guard by the sudden throw and dodged to the left. Victor had followed through with another attempted tackle, but Yuuri had moved quickly enough to avoid the Russian. He resumed patrolling the border of the ring as Victor got to his feet, copying Yuuri’s movements.

“You’re a liar!”

“What?! I am not!”

“You are! Your problem is that you make problems!” Victor lunged at him again, and Yuuri side stepped and dive rolled to the opposite side of the ring. “You let your anxiety get the better of you! You always have!”

“Victor-”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Yuuri! There isn’t!” Victor broke his stance and straightened his posture, no longer prepared to fight. Yuuri remained tense and ready across from him, reeking of suspicion and hurt. “But your insecurities are pushing you to look for problems. When there aren't any, you create them out of nothing!”

“Is this supposed to distract me? Stop it!”

“You don't like it when great things are happening to you, because you don't feel like you deserve them!”

“I’m not being insecure, I’m being rational!” Yuuri also chose to stand up straight and stormed to Victor, completely ignoring the fact that they were supposed to be fighting. Victor hadn’t forgotten, but he wasn’t willing to ruin the moment when they were finally talking to each other. “Your head is often in the clouds, but you need to realize that you can’t have everything!”

“But I can have you, Yuuri! And you can have me! You said that we won’t be able to have children, but Yakov and I found a solution-”

“You finding a solution doesn’t mean everyone else will agree with it! Will your advisors like it? Will your citizens like it?”

“It doesn’t matter what they think, Yuuri-”

“But it does, Victor! It does!” the anger Yuuri had started with earlier was slowly melting away to frustration and exhaustion. Victor could see it in his heavy sighs and the way he brought his hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “The country will have an heir? Great, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’d be mated to a foreign, low-class Alpha. They won’t want to follow you, you’ll be in danger-”

“Oh, stop,” he huffed, “You’re not low class, you’re nobility-”

“Just barely.”

“-and there’s peace between our countries. You haven’t done anything wrong-”

“But I am an outsider in the palace!”

“-and your secondary sex doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

“Victor-”

“Yuuri,” he grabbed his hands and held onto them tightly, giving them a comforting squeeze when the boy didn’t pull away, “there will always be complaints about us. If not for our sex, then our ethnicity. If not our countries, then our status. If not our relationship, then something else entirely. I will always be in danger, there will always be people who hate me, but you leaving me doesn’t lessen that risk.

“Just stay with me, Yuuri... please…” he felt a lump forming in his throat as he said the words, “I can handle whatever is thrown at me, but not if you’re the one pitching. Please.”

The silence was deafening between the two. Victor desperately hoped that he hadn’t crossed a line, that whatever he said hadn’t rubbed the boy the wrong way. No matter how angry Yuuri seemed, he was still a child. A child with fears, insecurities, and no clue as to what he was doing. Frankly, Victor didn’t know what he was doing either.

Just as he was about to speak, Yuuri shifted, looking away to the partially closed windows.

“If you won, what would you have asked for?”

It took Victor a moment to catch up to what he was saying. “Oh... the Duel?” he allowed himself to relax only slightly, still high strung from the tense atmosphere. The way Yuuri had worded the question gave him some hope, “What do you think?”

“I don’t know…” Yuuri pulled his hands away, “You wouldn’t force me to marry you, you’re not that kind of person, but... I’m not sure. What would you make me do?”

His expression softened. “I would have asked for you to allow me to court you.” Yuuri’s eyes widened and he gawked.

“Really?”

“Yes.” Victor shrugged, “I’m confident that I’d be able to woo you into submission.”

“Oh my god, don’t ever say that again,” Yuuri groaned, drawing a chuckle from the other Alpha.

“Does this mean-”

“Look,” Yuuri started, interrupting the Russian, “we have to talk. There’s a lot that we have to talk about; your impulsive, naive behavior and my...well, fighting it out isn’t really going to get us anywhere.”

“I agree,” he nodded. Yuuri also bobbed his head and looked down.

“So... let’s call off the match. We’ll talk and we’ll listen to each other.” A grin slowly spread on Victor’s face as Yuuri glanced shyly at him.  

“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.”

“Good.” Victor smiled and reached out to hold his hand.

“So this means-”

He was on his back before he could finish the sentence. Yuuri had bounded away before he could even register what had happened. Did Yuuri... just flip him?

“We’re still in our third round, Victor,” Yuuri snarked, a newfound confidence energizing him, “are you gonna lie there and take it? Shall I claim my point now?”

Victor slowly sat up, his smile changing from warm to mischevious.

“I’m going to wreck you, boy.”

“I’d like to see you try!”

Chapter Text

The blond boy stalked through the halls, looking like a man on a mission. He held in his hands an envelope and a box. On either side of him trailed a young girl and a dark haired boy, talking rapidly to each other in Russian and making wild gestures and gasps of disbelief. Next to the trio was a newcomer to the palace, China’s Prince Ji Guang Hong.

The 10 year old was confused by the sudden abduction. His uncle had brought him along to tour different European and Asian countries - in which the only reason he was allowed to go was due to his low profile status as the 4th in line to China’s throne - and they had just arrived 2 days earlier. He was content to explore the gardens and admire the pretty blue roses on the walls when he had been dragged away by the son of Thailand’s visiting diplomat.

He had seen the boy in passing once or twice, and it was nice to see other children present in the palace, but he certainly didn’t know him well enough to agree to being led around like a dog on a leash. He didn’t even know who the other two were!

“Uhm…” he started hesitantly, gently tugging against the dark hand wrapped around his wrist.

“Oh, excuse me! Where are my manners?” The foreigner gasped and turned to look at him, not at all slowing his pace, “Can you speak English?”

He nodded, a little overwhelmed from how the boy’s eyes lit up at the confirmation.

“Great! I’m Phichit Chulanont, I’m 13 years old; my father is a diplomat for Thailand. Sorry, when I saw you a few days ago I got so excited! I always tend to eat boiled rice from the middle of the bowl, it’s a habit I can’t seem to break.”

“‘Boiled rice’…?”

He shook his head and waved his free hand, “Anyway, this is Mila Babicheva. Her Mother works as a chef in the kitchens.”

“Hi! Nice to meet you!” She greeted, a strand of red hair falling in her face. She blew it away with an annoyed huff and eyed the Chinese royal, “It’s not often we meet new children in the palace. How old are you?”

“O-oh, I’m 10,” he stuttered, anything else he might have said being cut off by her pleased shriek.

“I’m older than you! I’m 11! Don’t listen to Phichit, okay? Mentally, he’s 4.”

“Rude!”

“Where are you from?”

The constant bickering and the abrupt change in topic nearly sent his head spinning, but Guang Hong did his best to keep up with the conversation. “I’m from China-”

“How are you liking Russia so far? You got here a few days ago, right?”

“Y-yes?”

“At least get his name before you question him!” The angry blond snapped and stopped walking, turning to glare up at the group. Mila tumbled right into him as Phichit and Guang Hong skidded to a halt before they could join the fallen children. “Oi! Get off ‘a me, you witch!”

“This is why you’ll never get a lady! You’re so rude!” She teased and sat back up, using his head to leverage herself onto her feet. The boy nearly hissed at her and scrambled off of the floor.

“I don’t want a lady!” He inspected the letter and box in his hands for any damages, mumbling something in Russian and shooting the girl a dirty look before looking at the prince, “Well? What’s your name?”

He flinched at his tone, surprised with the amount of animosity dripping from the smaller boy’s lips, “Ji Guang Hong. I’m-”

Something registered in his eyes and he glared daggers at Phichit, “You kidnapped a Chinese Prince. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

He balked at the accusation, “how was I supposed to know?! You’re not mad, are you Guangie?”

“Uh... n-no.”

“You can’t just give people nicknames either! You’re not friends!”

“We are friends! He’s officially part of the group now, anyway.” he smiled warmly at Guang Hong and put his arm around his shoulders, “we’re trying to find our other friend Chris right now. He did something dumb and we’re going to scold him for it. If we’re lucky, he might be hanging around Yuuri - if not, he’s probably parading around the town in his underwear!”

He blushed at the image Phichit conjured up and replied slowly, “I don’t know who ‘Chris’ is, but I do know a little about the Japanese lord. My uncle said he’s the Crown Prince’s soulmate.”

“Yep. They have the same Mark on their backs and everything,” Phichit confirmed with a nod, “I’ve seen it; it’s awesome. Do you have a Soul Mark?”

“Yes... on my ankle.”

“Mine’s on my neck, so I have to wear high collared shirts and turtlenecks. It’s very annoying, especially when it gets hot in the summer.”

“Mine’s on my rib!”

“No one asked you, hag!”

“Stop hissing, kitten. You’re just jealous that you don’t have one!”

“Nuh-uh!” He stuck his tongue out at her and turned red as she laughed at his expression.

“Oh look! I think I see him!”

“Where?!” The blond demanded and whipped his head around to look at Phichit. Guang Hong frowned and looked around, noticing only a handful of servants walking in and out of rooms and the guards positioned along the hallway’s perimeter. Was one of them ‘Chris?’

“He just walked into that room three doors down. Let’s go!” The Thai boy dropped his arm from Guang Hong’s shoulders and grabbed his hand tightly, pulling him down the naturally lit hallway with a broad smile on his face. The young prince let himself be dragged along, hearing Mila’s complaints behind them and Yuri harshly yelling at someone in Russian.

They stopped right in front of the door Phichit had pointed out, the young boy nearly slamming his nose into his back. Phichit released his hand and squatted in front of the handle, peering through the keyhole and struggling to look inside. Within a few seconds, Mila quickly popped up beside Guang Hong with Yuri following up the rear, a guard in tow behind him.

“Awe, why’d you bring him?” Phichit sniffed when he glanced up at the soldier. He looked displeased and straightened up, running a finger along the inside rim of his green collar.

“Chris is an Alpha and Omega’s can’t be left alone with Alphas.” ‘Idiot’ remained unsaid and Yuri glared at him. Guang Hong’s eyes widened with surprise and he gawked at him; he didn’t act like an Omega, he was far too rambunctious than the Omega’s he knew at home. Phichit pouted and rolled his eyes, crossing his arms and glancing away.

“Chris is inside. It looks like he’s reading a letter.” Yuri hissed another instruction at the guard, who responded with a gruff affirmation and moved to stand straight-backed by the door. Yuri stomped forward and shoved Phichit aside, peeping through the keyhole himself before kicking the door.

When it didn’t open, the color on his cheeks deepened and he tucked the letter under his arm. He turned the knob and shoved it open as hard as he could, storming into the room and leaving the rest of the children in his wake. At Mila’s silent insistence, she and Guang Hong followed after Yuri and Phichit through the door frame.

It looked to be a small sitting room, a color scheme of deep red and gold painting the walls and furniture in an ostentatious display of wealth. The gold brocade that decorated the furniture was distasteful in Guang Hong’s opinion, but who was he to judge? He had seen plenty of disagreeable and strange fashion choices during his travels with his uncle, and he learned early on to keep his mouth shut.

“I hate this room, too,” Mila whispered to him kindly, a conspiring look in her eyes, “we all do. Chris loves it, though, so Vitya let him claim it.”

“Hello, children!” His attention was drawn away by the blond Alpha in the room. He was seated in a chair, a book on the table beside him and a letter in his hand as he looked at them over his reading glasses. He took the round spectacles off and moved them to rest on the table, putting the letter down as he watched them with amusement. He said something in a smooth, sultry voice, eliciting a shout from the young Russian and a grunt from the Thai boy.

Guang Hong fidgeted uncomfortably, clearly unable to keep up with the foreign conversation. Beside him, Mila bumped her shoulder against his and grinned. The chinese prince noticed a change in her expression; she was no longer as bright and welcoming as she had been in the hallway, instead shifting into a more serious mindset that was clearly meant for dealing with the Alpha in the room.

“I can fill you in later on what’s happening... unless you want to leave? Phichit can be a bit brash, so you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

A tempting offer for the shy boy, but…

“I’ll wait.”

She playfully nudged him once more before redirecting her attention to the three boys in front of her. Her expression dropped and her jaw tightened. Guang Hong wasn’t sure what he was getting himself into by being there, but he knew that - whatever it was - this wasn’t going to be a friendly visit as Phichit had implied in the hallway.

 


 

 

“Did you have some trouble with the door?”

“Shut up, creep!” Chris laughed and shook his head, folding the letter and sticking it into the inner pocket of his jacket.

“If you want me to be quiet then why did you seek me out? I assume that you’re here to talk, right?” A vein bulged on Yuri’s forehead and he gritted his teeth, practically snarling at the older man. As funny as he looked with his nostrils flared, Phichit wanted to to address the reason why they came there.

“Yuri,” he called out, tone low and unemphatic. The boy seemed to get the message and held the envelope out to Phichit. He plucked it from his fingers and opened it up, noticing with interest the way Chris’ eyes slightly widened.

“What is that?”

“‘Lord Yuuri, I hope you are well,’” Phichit read aloud from the page. Yuri would have done it himself, but the calligraphy had been too ornate for him to properly distinguish the characters, “‘I’m happy to hear that the Duel has been canceled. It pains me even now to think of the injuries either one of you would have sustained if you had gone through with it.’”

“That’s extremely rude,” Chris sniffed, “You shouldn’t read other people’s letters. Give it here, I’ll return it to Yuuri-”

“‘There are rumors floating around that you will stay in the palace. Excellent! I’m happy to hear it! No doubt Victor will start his attempts to court you within the next few days; what a sight that will be! An Alpha wooing another Alpha!’”

“Hand it over,” Chris stood and advanced toward him, but was stopped by the sight of the guard reflected in the mirror hanging in the hallway. Although he couldn’t hear their conversation, it wouldn’t look favorably on him if he saw the young Alpha advancing on the Omega child. Phichit felt his lips twitch from a suppressed smile.

“‘I’m sure you’d like to participate in the courtship as well- if you’re still interested, of course. Rumors are hearsay, after all.’”

Phichit put a hand on Yuri’s shoulder, signaling him to hold up the box, “‘Victor has talked often of the image you’d create wearing one of these. How dazzling and beautiful you would look and how excited he is to one day see you wearing it. I’m sure that you would not only be pleasing Victor, but everyone in the palace - the country - by wearing this gift. It’s an important part of Russian tradition, one I had doubts of telling you about. However, I know how happy it would make Victor, which is why I’m sending this to you now. He would have preferred to give it to you himself, but he is too shy. Please come to me if you have any questions or if you would like to talk. I miss our chats.’”

“Phichit-”

“‘With love from your favorite Alpha-

“Phichit , enough-

“'Christophe.’”

“What is your problem?!” Yuri screeched and threw the box at Chris, hands clenched at his sides as he breathed heavily, “What is wrong with you?!”

Phichit folded the letter and put it in his pocket, face neutral as he watched Chris sigh and roll his eyes.

“If you’re going to throw a tantrum, then I’ll leave-”

“Answer his question, Chris,” He interrupted smoothly and crossed his arms, “What’s your problem?”

“Yeah! Answer me!”

“I simply wanted to help out my favorite couple in the world,” he shrugged with feigned nonchalance and narrowed his gaze on Phichit, “things have been rocky for them-”

“So you decided throwing more stones in their path will fix things?” He scoffed.  Yuri picked up the item that had fallen out of the box and held it up for all to see.

“Stones would have been better than a cuff!”

“You children clearly don’t understand-”

“Yes,” Phichit snarled, “we don’t. We don’t understand why Victor’s closest companion and Yuuri’s friend would want to sabotage their relationship.”

“It’s not sabotage-”

“It is! We know what cuffs mean, Chris!” Yuri threw the gold jewelry onto the ground and continued to shout, punctuating each word with a stomp on the cuff, “Submission! Weakness! Ownership!”

He kicked it forward and pushed his hair out of his eyes as Phichit continued for him, “It’s an insult. It’s disrespectful. It’s an archaic mating tradition only conservatives use to demean their partners. Every Russian knows that! It’s an ugly part of your history, and it’s obvious you’re trying to piss off Yuuri and place the blame on Victor!”

“I would be careful with what you say, young master,” he warned, “to speak with bias against Russian culture when your own people practiced a similar method of-”

“But we’re not here talking about you asking Yuuri to sear a brand on his wrist; you’re trying to insult Yuuri with the presentation of a cuff!” Phichit snapped defensively, “Why? Why are you trying to ruin their relationship? Do you hate Yuuri? Are you jealous of Victor?”

“Hate? Jealousy?” Chris huffed and rolled his eyes, shaking his head as if the children were trying to convince him 2 + 2 = 5, “Everything I do is out of love for those two. I don’t have to explain myself to you, and you wouldn’t understand even if I did.”

“You can’t know that unless you try,” Mila added from the back.

“No.”

The refusal was met with a vase being thrown at the Alpha. He easily caught it and looked at Yuri with a mixed expression of irritation and strained amusement, “Careful, child. You could have hurt someone.”

“As if what you’re doing is any different!” he seethed and ran forward, grabbing the front of Chris’ shirt and pulling as hard as he could. The Alpha barely budged and placed the ceramic onto the closest table.

“Why are you so upset, little one? I thought you would be happy since you want Yuuri as your mate.”

“What you’re doing is wrong! It’s dirty and cheating!” he let go of the fabric and pointed a finger at the taller male, “Why are you doing this? Why are you being a stupid jerk - why?!”

“Oh, how annoying; this is why I’m not fond of children. You’re clearly not going to stop anytime soon, and trusting me must be out of the question-”

“It is.” Chris gave Phichit a dry look.

“Think about it: for practically their entire lives, they’ve known that they’re ‘destined’ to be together in one way or another. Victor is a romantic, so he’s always assumed that they would mate when Yuuri presented. Yuuri doesn’t think of these things as often as Victor and merely follows his lead. They’re going to commit their entire lives together without the chance to experience the possibility of a future without each other. Eventually, they’ll regret it and I don’t want to see that happen.”

“That's an assumption based on nothing!" Mila tsked.

"Oh, and you’re the perfect candidate to show them what a ‘future’ like that could look like?” Phichit glared, “You selfish, knotheaded-”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that... however, I am an available bachelor; who knows what could happen with either of them.”

“You better back off, Chris,” Yuri hissed and picked the cuff up, glaring daggers at the older male as his scent became thick with rage, “they’re not asking for your help. They’ve never asked for your help.”

“You like to shove your nose where it doesn’t belong, and the people you think you’re so graciously ‘helping’ are the people who are suffering the consequences of your actions.” Phichit put a hand on Yuri’s shoulder, a signal that their conversation was over, “Let them figure out the nature of their relationship themselves.”

“I knew you wouldn’t understa-”

“‘Older’ doesn’t mean ‘wiser,’” Mila warned, arms crossed, “you’re an idiot, Chris. And now you’ve made us angry.”

Chris smiled, “Oh, the wrath of children. How I quiver.”

“Stay out of their business,” Phichit nudged Yuri in a silent request to turn around and leave, and the blond reluctantly obliged, “You’ve tested your bond with Victor and Yuuri once before and it didn’t work out for you. If you won’t learn from your mistakes, you shouldn’t be surprised when you repeat them.

“We will be holding on to these,” he held up the letter and used it to motion to the dented cuff in Yuri’s hands, “Think carefully about what you decide to do next.”

Chapter Text

“Ah, Lord Yuuri,” Dr. Plisetsky called when he saw the Japanese teen approaching his door. He smiled kindly in return and waved, “I was just about to send for you. Please, come in.”

He liked the doctor’s office: it was clean, smelled of whatever flowers were in season - courtesy of the maids proactive efforts to make sure there were always fresh flowers on the windowsill - and well stocked with enjoyable books and snacks. There were three large windows that greedily sucked in the light from outside, giving the blue walls and white furniture soft illumination and a humble feel. Yuuri sat in one of the plush off-white velvet seats in front of the doctor’s desk and scratched his neck.

“What brings you to me?” He asked when he himself was seated, leaning back in the chair and sighing with satisfaction as his joints popped from the slump, “Were you just passing by before I stopped you?”

“No, I did want to see you. Lately, I’ve been getting headaches from the slightest odors,” Yuuri confessed, “Even the flowers now are too strong for me. It’s like I’ve become hyper aware of the scents around me.”

“That’s just your body adjusting to presenting. It’s almost been 2 months since you went through your rut. Your body is still making internal changes to accommodate your new Alpha status,” he answered easily, “I can whip up a tonic for you to take in the mornings when you eat, if only to dull your nose to the smells around you.”

“Thank you,” Yuuri sighed gratefully and relaxed his shoulders, “I’d really appreciate it.”

“Of course,” he smiled and stroked his beard, “Now, there is a matter I’d like to discuss with you as well.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“No reason to worry, Yuuri, it’s nothing life-threatening.” Yuuri exhaled loudly and shifted in his seat.

“Wait... is this related to that blood sample I gave you a few weeks ago?”

“Yes,” he folded his hands in his lap, the expression in his eyes still welcoming and warm - as if to say, ‘there’s nothing to fear.’ “I know, in the past, you were often confused with being an Omega or told that you would become one based on your scent.”

“Oh, yes…” Yuuri confirmed, “Even now, there are still people in the palace that I run into who are surprised to learn that I’m an Alpha. I’m still shocked by it, to be honest.”

“The country will learn soon enough,” the doctor reassured him, “What with Victor starting the courtship within the next few days. How does that make you feel?”

“Honestly, I’m a bit anxious... but also excited,” he blushed and looked down, “obviously I can’t let him do all the work, though… I think I’d like to participate, too.”

“How ambitious,” he nodded, “rest assured, I’m sure there’s nothing more you can do to woo him; he’s been head over heels in love for years now.”

“I guess that’s a way to look at it,” Yuuri mumbled, looking out the window behind the doctor, “But even now... I’ve been told some things-”

“Did Chris offer his opinion?” He tsked, “that boy, I swear. Always chatting away, never really realizing what he’s spewing from his lips. I’m sure you’ve noticed that he’s a salacious young man. Due to his inexperience, he’s a bit narrow minded when it comes to the way people can care about each other and love one another. It comes in all different forms, and just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not genuine.

“I will admit, I had my doubts as well; but seeing how these past few weeks played out, I know now that it was foolish of me to even consider the possibility of... well, enough of that. Please forgive this old man for prattling on. I find that the older I get, the more verbose my conversations become.”

He stayed quiet, letting his words sink in for the young lord before leaning forward onto his elbows. “I’m sure you’d like to discuss the results of the tests I ran on your blood.”

“A-ah... yes, please.”

“As I stated earlier, it’s not life threatening. You have a pheromone disorder usually found among the children of Alpha-Beta pairs. It’s not common, but not a rarity either.”

“Pheromone disorder?” The doctor nodded.

“Your scent doesn’t align with your secondary sex, so to speak. Yours is called the Nagisa Disorder, named after its first recorded patient. You emit a scent similar to an Omega despite your Alpha presentation. Did anything serious happen to your mother while she was pregnant with you? Do you know?”

“Well... she was sick with a fever for a few weeks, 2 months before I was born. The doctor that tried to help gave her some medicine that prolonged the illness. It was when she stopped taking it that she recovered a few days later.”

Dr. Plisetsky nodded, “Whatever was in the medicine your mother took may have altered your body chemistry slightly. Again, it’s not going to kill you, but - to put it simply - you’re going to smell almost like an Omega for the rest of your life.”

Yuuri stayed silent for a moment, processing all of the information before slumping further into his seat, “That’s... I mean... I guess I prefer to be misgendered than sick for the rest of my life.”

The doctor chuckled, “That’s one way to look at it. Would you like me to send a letter to your mother?”

“No, that’s alright. I’ll let her know. Thank you, though.”

“I hope you understand that I need to tell the Viceroy. And Victor?” He posed the last part as a question, watching Yuuri’s reaction. The boy rubbed his eyes and shrugged.

“You can if you would like to, Doctor. I don’t mind. I doesn’t sound like something that has to be kept a secret.”

The doctor put his hands on the desk’s surface and interlocked his fingers, “There are some who will try to rile you up with taunts about it. That’s inevitable, a part of life. If you would like, I can introduce a specially-bred berry that neutralizes the scent glands-”

“There’s no need to hide it. I’m a foreigner and a low status lord who may someday marry the Crown Prince; I’ll be bullied no matter what I do,” Yuuri smiled kindly and stood, a mature look present in his eyes and he glanced out the windows once more, “My friends and family have helped to me ‘thicken my skin’ over the years. Being disliked is nothing new.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Yuuri shrugged and redirected his attention back to the doctor. “Thank you for letting me know. Are there any books I can read to learn more about the disorder?”

“Yes. I have a colleague in Italy who has done some research. He’s amassed quite the collection of books and articles, I’ll write to him and ask for a loan.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Really, I appreciate it.”

“Drink plenty of water and get some sleep. I’ll have the tonic for your headaches ready tomorrow.”

Yuuri nodded and bowed before heading for the door. The doctor watched him leave, thinking for a moment on his comment about thick skin and speculating on what it implied. Eventually, he shelved those thoughts for the day and turned to his cabinet, beginning to scour through the many vials he had in stock to begin preparations for his medication.

 


 

A pheromone disorder, hm? That explained a lot to Yuuri, who was wandering down the hallway from the kitchen to his bedroom. The comments made in passing about his smell and questioning his status as an Alpha weren’t unfounded, at least.

He opened his bedroom door and strolled inside, peeling off his jacket and kicking off his shoes. He was about to fling himself into bed when he spotted a vase on a table in front of the window. In it was a floral arrangement consisting of blue roses, lily of the valleys, and baby’s breath. Tucked among the delicate petals was an ivory card, his name written in beautifully blue-inked calligraphy across the front.

Yuuri smiled and approached the display, gingerly plucking the card from the roses and opening it up. The message was short and sweet, merely wishing him a good day and signed by the Crown Prince. Yuuri put the card back on the table, noticing with interest a glittering object tied to the vase via a ribbon around the glass neck. He untied the ribbon and pulled it away, eyes widening when he saw the brooch attached to the silk.

It was one of the most ostentatious things he had ever seen, a bandeau brooch designed to look like a garland of flowers - ones similar to what was in the flower arrangement and in the gardens outside - with a color scheme of blue sapphires, diamonds, and silver metal work. Pearls dripped side by side with smaller pieces of moonstone along the bottoms of the flowers. Pins on either side of the ends allowed Yuuri to attach the accessory to the collars of his shirts or the lapels on his jackets.

One thing was for certain: this was definitely Victor’s idea.

The jewels felt heavy in his hands and he placed them on the table, blushing at the expense they surely incurred when Victor obtained them. His face flushed; he was flattered that Victor went to such great lengths to present him with something so beautiful... but these probably cost the same amount as all of the horses in his family’s stalls back home. Also, this wasn’t just something he could leave out in the open or carry around casually!

Anxiety turned his ears red and he gently picked up the brooch once more, looking around nervously for anywhere safe to put it. He opted to stick it in the bottom drawer of the armoire in his room, inside a hollowed out book he and Phichit had made as an art project 3 summers ago, and covered it with a blanket. He felt guilty hiding it away, but it was just too... opulent to leave out unprotected.

As soon as he had closed the drawer and turned back to his bed, the door to his room burst open. Yuri stormed inside, holding in his hands two tea cakes with two letters tucked under his arm. White powder dusted his lips and the corner of his mouth, and he made a direct beeline for the bed.

“Ah, Yurio!” He greeted the young boy, smiling and fidgeting nervously in front of the armoire. Why was he nervous? This was a child. Surely Yurio wouldn’t care about the jewels. He was still so fascinated with skating that nothing compared to the smell of snow or the sound of a sharp blade scraping on fresh ice.

“Mila and I snuck some snacks out of the kitchen,” he hopped onto the bed, careful not to drop the cakes onto the blankets. The powder, however, was unavoidable but he didn’t seem perturbed by it, “I wanted to bring you some, too.”

“Thank you, Yurio, that’s sweet of you.” He smiled warmly, chuckling at how Yuri’s cheeks bloomed scarlet. He looked down and carefully placed the pastries on his lap, holding up the papers that were tucked against his side.

“I also saw these letters with your name on them, so I brought ‘em for you.”

“Really?” He walked forward then and sat in front of Yuri on the bed, taking the sealed envelopes from his grasp and scanning over the front. He recognized the handwriting on one to be his sister, but the other... he wasn’t quite sure. Flipping it over, however, revealed the seal of Japan’s Imperial family.

“Ha’ one!” Yuri held out the cake, in the process of stuffing the other one in his mouth, “Dey ‘ealy kud!”

“O-oh, thank you…” he accepted the pastry, distracted and still staring at the letter in his hands. Why would the Emperor - or anyone connected to him - send him a letter? His anxiety returned and he set Mari’s letter aside, putting the cake on top of it to avoid crumbs on the bed before carefully breaking the seal with a tremble in his fingers.

“Yuuri? Are you ok?” The boy asked, having swallowed his mouthful of the snack with a thicker layer of powder on his cheeks. Yuuri glanced up at him and gave a timid smile.

“Yeah, it’s just... yeah, I’m fine.” Rethinking his decision, he set the letter aside on the bedside table and stacked Mari’s on top of it. As much as his anxieties were screaming at him to read it, he could do it later. Yuri was with him, and clearly the little boy wanted to spend time with him. He took a few deep breaths (inhale-exhale... inhale-exhale…) and took a bite out of the tea cake, “this is delicious, Yurio. Thank you.”

“‘S no big deal,” he grumbled and hopped off of the bed, running over to Yuuri’s bookshelf and grabbing a novel. He ran back and jumped up on the mattress, the impact causing Yuuri to bounce for a moment as he crawled across the comforter and settled next to the lord. “Can we keep reading?”

He nodded and plucked the book from his hand, wiping the excess powder off on Yuri’s shirt and earning a squawk of disapproval from the boy as he flipped through the pages to their most recent chapter.

“You have some on your face, too,” he pointed out with a smirk, his emotions becoming more genuine the longer he spent time with the boy. Embarrassed, he grabbed Yuuri’s sleeve and wiped it off on the fabric, sticking his tongue out and snickering with triumph before practically throwing himself into his lap.

“Keep going!” he demanded, gesturing to the book and he leaned his back against his chest. Yuuri removed the paper they had been using as a bookmark and cleared his throat, scanning the first few lines before speaking.

“‘ Dorian was now in a truly perplexing situation; one where neither option seemed to be the right one ….’”

 


 

When Yuuri woke up the next morning, it was to the faces of 4 children staring eagerly at him. He jumped with a yelp, propelling himself backwards and tumbling out of bed.

“Good morning, Yuuri!” Phichit greeted with a charming smile, Mila and Yurio on either side of him and a third boy watching with trepidation from a few feet away.

“Uh... morning?” He greeted, brows furrowed as he looked between the children. His gaze settled on the unfamiliar brunette, who startled at the attention and quickly look at his feet. “Uh... hello... I’m Yuuri.”

“G-good morning, Lord Katsuki,” he greeted back shyly and audibly gulped, “I’m Pr... Ji Guang Hong... from China.”

“Ah…”

“He’s a chinese prince and Phichit kidnapped him!” Yurio was quick to rat out the Thai boy, “Do something!”

“What?!” The said kidnapper gasped and put a hand to his chest, “Lies and slander! He’s trying to drag my name through the mud! Oh, the prejudice! Oh, the gall of this boy! Yuuri! Do something!”

Yuuri looked between the two boys and the ‘Chinese prince’ for a moment, confusion evident in his expression.

“Uhm... are you a Chinese prince?”

“Y-yes…”

“... Did Phichit kidnap you... your highness?”

“... well... I mean... he sort of dragged me along with the group yesterday.”

“Ah…” Yuuri looked back to the Thai boy, confused expression still tin place, “... Uhm... don’t do that again?”

“Oh, Yuuri! Not you too!” He bemoaned and threw himself dramatically against the mattress, covering his eyes with his arm, “My only friend! My ally! Turned against me by the Russian Fairy!”

“Hey-!”

“Betrayed by the Chinese royal! This is the life of poor Phichit Chulanont!”

“Why are you here?” He asked and stood up, “All of you?”

“We were bored and decided to visit,” Mila clarified and shrugged, “Guang Hong hasn’t met you yet, so we figured it would be fun.”

“And was it ‘fun?’” Yuuri asked and crossed his arms. Mila merely gestured to Phichit’s overreacting form as her answer and Yuuri sighed.

“Okay... I’m going to change now, so if you could all leave for a moment-”

“I’ll help!” Yuri was the first to shoot his hand up, with Phichit following closely behind.

“No, I will! I’m the oldest of us 4, so it only makes sense!”

“You’re an Omega, you can’t help! It would be indecent!” Mila turned to Guang Hong and pointed a finger at him, “The same goes for you, Prince! Royalty is not allowed to do a servant’s work!”

“I didn’t offer…” he started quietly before being cut off by the blond boy.

“You’re a girl, so you shouldn’t even be here! Get lost!” he argued, “It makes the most sense that I should be the one to help, I haven’t presented yet!”

“But you’re the youngest one here!”

“Look, I don’t need any help, alright? Please, wait outside,” Yuuri walked to the door and held it open for them to leave. Guang Hong was the first to exit, muttering his apologies as he left, with Mila dragging the remaining two boys behind her and out of the room.

He had changed his outfit and was in the process of buckling his shoes when he remembered the letters Yuri had brought him yesterday. With the buckles secured, he walked to his bedside table and grabbed the letter that had the Imperial seal on it first. He carefully folded the letter open, treating it as if it were a firecracker about to explode in his hands, and noticed with surprise that the first characters on the page were scribbled clumsily in a child’s handwriting.

YUURI!! I hope you’re well! I haven’t seen you in forever and I miss you! I’ve been practising my dancing while you’ve been away and I’m getting a little better, but not as good as you are. One day I will, though! I want to dance with you again!

Minami. Of course. Yuuri smiled warmly at the atrocious handwriting - however, it was a huge improvement from the last time he had seen the boy write.

Father says I won’t be able to visit you until I turn 13. 3 more years! I also heard you presented as an Alpha! That’s so cool! I have a 50-50 chance of being an Alpha or Omega, but I don’t care about which one I get. My mother is an Omega and she’s the coolest person I know.  My father told me that since you presented, you have to stay in Russia now. Nooo!!! That doesn’t mean you can’t visit, okay? I’ll even send a bunch of ships to pick you up, okay? You have to visit me soon!

The rest of the letter went on with the mundane details of what his schedule had become since turning 10. Yuuri read with interest, chuckling a few times at the complaints he made and the gossip he shared about his friends and the children of other lords.

When he was done reading, he moved to put the letter on his desk located near the widows. He made sure the seal was a prominent focal point against the pale color of the table's surface so that he would be reminded to respond later on in the day.

As he opened Mari’s letter, he heard the children’s rough housing and bickering outside become more rowdy as the addition of a new voice joined the fray. He rolled his eyes and walked to the door, swinging it open to come face-to-face with an amusing image.

Victor was standing tall and proud, holding Yurio under one arm with Phichit thrown over the other shoulder. Mila was in the process of braiding Yuri’s hair as he squirmed and demanded to be released; Phichit was defending himself against a kidnapping charge he believed he didn’t deserve. The Chinese prince was looking shyly at the ground and giving short, quiet answers as Victor inquired about his stay in Russia so far.

Upon having the door opened, all eyes snapped to Yuuri.

“Good morning, my love!” Victor greeted, putting the children down and approaching Yuuri. He gently grabbed his hand and kissed his knuckles, a dazzling smile in place as he turned back to the group, “I know you’re waiting on him, but he and I have plans this morning. I’ll send him to you as soon as he’s free.”

“What?! You can’t just steal him from us!” Yurio hissed, “I’m coming along too!”

“Sorry, Alphas only.”

“But I’m going to be an Alpha, anyway!”

“We’ll see you later!” Victor quickly closed the door and leaned against it, winking at Yuuri conspiringly as the children banged on the door and yelled. The tantrums only went on for a minute before Georgi’s voice boomed from down the hall, yelling at them to cease and desist. Silence followed shortly after.

“I wish I had the same presence as Georgi sometimes,” Victor revealed and straightened up, “It would make getting rid of Yurio so much easier.”

“You don’t mean that,” Yuuri chided. Victor's expression softened and he glanced away.

“Yeah, I don’t.”

“So what are these plans, exactly?” he asked, unfolding Mari’s letter and barely catching the second envelope that had been tucked away in the pages. Written on it in his sister’s script was Victor’s name.

“I want to go into the city with you. Let’s go out and shop,” his attention was drawn to the papers in his hands and he cocked his head to the side. “Letters?”

“From Mari,” he held out the one addressed to the Crown Prince, “This one’s for you.”

“Wow!” He held the parchments as if they were gold and marveled at this name written in the Japanese script, “Is that my name?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll have to do the same for her!” he ripped the seal and scanned the document, amusement glinting in his eyes as Yuuri turned to do the same with his own letter.

Yuuri, I hope you’re well. News of a ‘duel’ has traveled to Japan and I can’t help but feel a little worried. As I write this, however, a courier has arrived with word that the fight was canceled. Were you about to brawl it out with a Russian Alpha, little brother?

He could feel her smirk in her words.

I was close to storming over there myself and ending the duel, but I'm happy to hear it was a misunderstanding. Of course, I’d love to have some clarification on that mess. As soon as possible would be preferable.

Once you get this letter, the rest of your things should arrive soon after. Including Vicchan; I’ll miss that pup. I’m considering getting a poodle of my own...or maybe a pig and calling it ‘Yuuri.’

Yuuri huffed in amusement and looked up to tell Victor about Vicchan’s impending arrival when he noticed a change in his demeanor. Victor looked paler, brows furrowed and a frown in place. He held the letter tightly, his scent emitting a distressed quality that raised his own hackles. Whatever his mate was reading was giving him anxiety-

‘Mate?’ Did he just refer to him as ‘mate’ in his own head? As much as Victor liked to assert that they were mates, was Yuuri ready to agree after their near-fight a few weeks ago?

“Is everything alright, Victor?” He asked, making him jump from his sudden inquiry.

“Hm? What? O-oh, everything is fine,” he gave a strained smile and folded the letter back up, tucking it away in his inner jacket pocket, “you know how Mari is... she loves you very much…”

“Was it a threat?” He’d have to address that in his response to his sister.

“Oh, no, just some playful banter. Nothing to worry about,” he shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. Yuuri nodded and scanned through the remainder of his letter, learning that it was merely an update on his friends and family, as well as how the estate and hot springs were running, before folding it back up and moving to place it back on the desk.

When he turned around, he saw Victor staring at the flowers on the windowsill.

“Oh, I never got to thank you,” Yuuri mentioned and walked to join him at his side. They stood together, admiring the blues and whites of the flora in a comfortable silence as the winds blew outside.

“They’re beautiful, Victor. I love them, really. Thank you.”

“I heard that you have been feeling unwell lately, so I wanted to brighten your day however I could,” he admitted with a slight blush tinting his cheeks. He picked up the discarded ribbon and wrapped it around his wrist a few times, reminding Yuuri of when they were children; of how Victor would always have a ribbon on hand for whenever he needed to tie his hair up and how Yuuri did the same for times when he braided the silver locks.

“I was wondering…” he broke the silence, bringing Yuuri out of his nostalgia, “do you... did you like the gift?”

Gift? Oh, the jewels. “The brooch is lovely.” The comment brought a pleased smile to the Crown Prince’s lips.

“I was a little nervous at first,” he confessed and looked down, turning redder on the tips of his ears, “you hardly own any jewelry and I wasn’t sure if it was a cultural practice or a personal preference."

“A little of both,” he admitted and bumped his shoulder gently against Victor’s, “but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s pretty.”

Victor looked at him then and smiled broadly, “can I see it on?”

“Hm…” Yuuri pondered, toying with Victor and enjoying the eye roll he got in return, “yes, let me go get it.”

When he fished it out of the drawer, flung the blanket aside and emerged with the box, Victor started to laugh. “Such advanced security you have there! I’ll see to it that the royal jewels are transferred immediately into your care! Do you think that book can hold a tiara?”

“Ha-ha,” Yuuri laughed dryly and placed the book on the table, flipping it open and pushing it towards Victor, “I’ll need your help to make sure it’s not crooked.”

“Allow me,” Victor picked the jewels up gently and held them in front of Yuuri, looking back and forth between the two for a moment before putting them back down, “First, we need to change your jacket.”

As Yuuri rolled his eyes and shrugged out of the light grey coat he had been originally wearing, Victor rummaged through his armoire for a moment. He pushed aside the different vestments and suits with tsks of disapproval before triumphantly calling out that he found ‘the perfect one!’

It was a dark blue double breasted coat with silver buttons. Yuuri traded jackets with him and slipped it on, buttoning the front as Victor fiddled with the collar of his shirt so that it was on top of the lapels. Once he liked the look, he picked the gems back up and secured the pins to either end of his collar.

“I told the jeweler I wanted all of the extravagance of a brooch with the functionality of a collar pin,” he stepped back and put his hands on his hips, his eyes trailing up Yuuri’s form, lingering on his neck.

When they made eye contact, Yuuri noticed something in his expression. There was a shift so subtle that he barely caught it. Victor’s eyes had widened ever so slightly, a realization made in the milliseconds it flashed in his appearance. Whatever the thought that crossed his mind was, it changed him. His eyes once playful and amused were now filled with such deep meaning, with words unsaid, words dying to be said, words afraid to say.

Yuuri hesitated to speak. A moment had happened for Victor. He hadn’t even realized he was holding his breath until Victor lifted his arms out for a hug.

“You’re stunning.” Yuuri blinked and looked away, a blush blooming furiously on his cheeks. Timidly, he stepped into the Crown Prince’s embrace, hands resting around his waist as Victor wrapped his arms around his shoulder and back. He closed his eyes and breathed in, basking in the Alpha’s scent: a mixture of the peach he had that morning, the smell of clean snow, and a certain musk that marked his secondary sex without overriding the other scents.

It reminded him of his talk with Dr. Plisetsky a day earlier.

“Have you talked to the doctor yet?”

“Hm?” Victor pulled back and looked at Yuuri, his hands coming to rest on his shoulders. Yuuri’s fingers fiddled with the jacket cuffs.

“I went to see Dr. Plisetsky yesterday.”

“Are you feeling better?”

“He promised to make me a tonic to have before breakfast. It should help with my head aches.”

“Good,” he gently squeezed his shoulders, “I’m glad.”

Yuuri looked down briefly before making eye contact with the Russian, “He also told me something else.”

“Is it serious?” he asked, concern all over his features.

“Well, not really. He tested my blood... and it turns out I have the Nagisa Disorder. My pheromones are imbalanced, so my scent is more Omega than Alpha.”

“... does this mean-”

“It’s not serious,” Yuuri quickly reassured him, grabbing his wrist to give a comforting squeeze, “It’s not life threatening. I’m just going to smell more like an Omega than an Alpha.”

“But are you healthy?” He asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes.”

“And this isn’t going to cause any complications or illnesses as you age?”

“Not including the people who will mistake me as an Omega, no.”

“Is there a cure?”

“Not that the Doctor told me of. He said he has a friend in Italy who has been studying pheromone disorders, and he’s going to ask if he can borrow some books for me to read,” Victor nodded and sighed with relief, dropping his hands and holding his arm out for Yuuri to take.

“I’m glad you’re healthy. I’d like to borrow them when you’re done. Let me know when they get here, alright?” Yuuri nodded and smiled, looping his arm with Victor’s and walking out of the room with him.

“We’ll stop by Plisetsky’s office and grab the tonic before we head to town. There’s an inn that serves the best breakfast! I usually have some syrniki , but you might like the egg platter they have: Fried eggs, kolbasa and dill on top. Delicious!”

 


 

Honestly, Yuuri was having trouble keeping up with Victor. It had only been a week since the courtship officially started, and already he had more jewels than he had ever encountered in his lifetime. He was pretty sure his collection - courtesy of Victor - outnumbered the English monarch’s royal jewels.

It wasn’t just jewelry that he had been receiving from the Crown Prince. He gave dozens of silk yukatas, two of Russia’s finest racing horses, a clipper ship for his personal use during the summer (that was being sailed in directly from America), a pair of skates, some furs to wear for when the winter came, new clothes that were more western in style, many books on topics he thought would interest Yuuri, flowers delivered to his room every day, and a variety of pastries.

These presents were extravagant in size and number, as if he were constantly doing his best to out-do himself each time. As amazing as they were, Yuuri’s favorite gifts came in the evenings. Right before bed, when Victor had finished his schedule for the day, he would come to Yuuri’s room in his bedclothes and robe. He would bring with him a platter with tea cups and a kettle, and they would sit on his bed and talk.

The first night had been silly, with Yuuri telling him summaries of some of the books he had read that Victor gave him. Victor had chimed in with his opinions on characters and a theory or two if he had also read the book himself. On the second night, though, they had talked about their relationship. Victor got right to the point and brought up the conclusion to their scrimmage, asking Yuuri about his insecurities, about his fears for their future and what he thought would result in their union.

It was a long night, and Yuuri had found himself tearing up a handful of times with Victor holding his hand, anchoring him to the present moment and stopping him from running off with his thoughts. In return, Victor had voiced his own concerns and ways he thought he could alleviate Yuuri’s stress. It was... sweet; in the end, Yuuri went from viewing Victor as a god on a pedestal - this untouchable Russian Alpha - to humanizing him into this tangible young man who only wanted what was best for everybody.

In the following nights, their talks didn’t measure up to be as serious as the second night, but they were still precious moments that Yuuri found himself treasuring more than the fancy feasts or clothes Victor brought to woo him. He genuinely enjoyed spending time with Victor, which he had realized early on he was starting to miss with how busy the Crown Prince’s schedule had become (as well as his own dancing lessons from Lilia).

It had been the previous night, when Victor had been resting on the ground with Vicchan in his lap and Makkachin spread over Yuuri’s, that the Japanese Lord admitted to himself he had been charmed. As Victor laughed aloud at his own joke, doubling over and grabbing his stomach from how hard he had been laughing, Yuuri had a realization.

When Victor looked up at him, a smile in place and tears in his eyes, he knew he loved him.

But how would he tell him?

 

Chapter Text

“I need you to repeat that,” the blond made a show of pretending to clean his ear out with his pinkie, cupping his hand around the cartilage and leaning slightly to the side, “I don’t think I heard you correctly.”

“I love him, Chris,”  Yuuri sighed and looked around the square. They were in town, strolling by the shops with flowers in their hands given to them by a blushing florist, “and I want to show him that I love him. He’s been giving me gifts for a long time, I would like to return the favor.”

“It took him a month of giving gifts for you to love him?” Chris raised his eyebrow, “Really?”

“When you put it like that, it sounds incredibly shallow,” Yuuri plucked a leaf from one of the flowers and flicked it at his companion, “but no, that’s not what happened. The gifts are nice, yes, but I honestly don’t know what to do with them. I’m not used to having such expensive things... no, it wasn’t the presents. Ever since this courtship started, I’ve been able to spend more time with him. It helps that Georgi is actually forced to pencil in appointments with me into his schedule.

“It’s just... spending more time with him with romantic intentions, communicating our hopes for our possible future together, it gives me the reassurance I needed when I first presented. I do love him, I have for years now, but it was only recently that I actually felt comfortable and confident enough in my feelings to admit it.”

“Ah, so it was only coincidence that your epiphany came around the same time that Victor started to throw his money at you.”

“Stop trying to cheapen the moment,” Yuuri scolded, “what has you in a bad mood?”

“Children,” Chris answered quickly, a pout in place as he narrowed his eyes at a group of young boys in front of a shop window, “they’re not cute. I was foolish enough to believe they were at one point in time.”

“Is that why you wanted to accompany me? To get away from certain children in the palace?”

“I came with you because you asked me to,” he redirected his gaze back to the Japanese lord with fondness shining in his eyes, “and I am your friend. However, you’ve yet to tell me why we’re here. Was it just to admit your love for the Crown Prince?”

“No... not really,” he became flustered and did another scan of their surroundings, “I want your help. You’ve known Victor longer than I have.”

“Yes, I have.”

“You know what he likes.”

“Yes, I do.”

“I want to tell him that I love him... without really telling him.”

“Weren’t you just going on about communication?” Chris snarked playfully and pursed his lips.

“I’m not nearly as bold as he is.”

“I beg to differ.”

Chris !”

“Yuuri, mon chou, you doubt yourself far more than you should. Remember when-”

“Yes, I remember! It was stupid and you promised never to talk about it again!”

“It was funny and I can’t wait to tell the children about it when they get older.”

“I hate you.” Yuuri buried his face in the flowers, blushing with embarrassment at the memory - or lack thereof - of the night he and Chris accidentally drank a bottle of wine in the kitchen. They had mistaken it for grape juice; really, really bad grape juice.

“Remember what lying to yourself got you into last time?” He asked with a salacious wink, referring to the not-so-fond memory of the almost duel, “anyway, back to the mission at hand: what are some Japanese courting customs you could do?”

“Well, it’s not that simple,” Chris stopped and gestured to a bench a few feet away. The pair sat and set their flowers to the side, their escort of 3 guards standing vigilant a few feet away at the request of the two lords.

“How so?” Yuuri sighed and leaned forward, elbows on his knees with his chin in his hands.

“I’ve noticed that Victor has done some research into my customs. Yes, he’s showering me in gifts, which isn’t really done where I live, but he’s respecting my space. When we’re in private, he likes to hug me and hold my hand, but in public he doesn’t touch me or call me pet names.”

“Is that... bad?”

“Not at all,” Yuuri quickly corrected him, “my people aren’t keen on public displays of affection. Even when it’s just the two of us and his leg is pressed against mine, I still get all flustered. I’m certainly not used to it, but I can’t help but wonder how things are done here. There aren’t exactly any books on dating etiquette.”

“There are, actually,” Chris revealed, “but I can just tell you what you’d like to know. I’m glad that Victor may be taking your culture into account by respecting your space in public, but it’s also not allowed for teenagers to engage in public displays of affection in Russia. You’re still 16, Yuuri, so he probably won’t initiate anything in front of a crowd until you’re at least 18 or 20.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“Also, Alphas tend to be very chivalrous. That’s why Victor seems to always be assisting you with little things: holding doors open, carrying your items, offering to buy you whatever you need. It’s a practice that just goes to show that the Alpha cares and is capable of providing for their mate.”

“I suppose the same can be said for Japan,” Yuuri mumbled, “I just… I’m not sure of what to do. What are some ways Russians are wooing their partners now?”

“I’m not telling,” Chris huffed, “if you want to do something meaningful for Victor, then don’t copy others or do what’s fashionable now. Come up with something yourself. The time and effort you put into... whatever it is you figure out will make it all the more special. You’re a smart boy, you’ll think of something.”

“But I don’t know, though!” He whined and buried his head further into his hands.

“Well, what do you want him to do?”

“Hm?” Yuuri peeked through his fingers at his blond companion, a frown in place, “but he’s already done so much for me.”

“No, nothing that you wanted.”

“... well-”

“I’m not referring to your late night hook-ups.”

“We’re not ‘hooking up!’” Yuuri squeaked with embarrassment, face red as he leaned over and smacked his knee.

“What he’s doing are things he thinks will win you over. They’re shots in the dark that have coincidentally worked in his favor, but what is it that you want him to do?”

“... I don’t know.”

Chris smiled kindly at him and shrugged. “Therein lies the answer to your question. Once you figure it out, do it for him. Most likely, you both want the same thing. You have on all other accounts, anyway…” he trailed off with an unreadable emotion in his eyes, looking at the view in front of them.

Yuuri bit his bottom lip and stared at his feet. What Chris said was a good idea, but it left him more confused than anything. He wanted to be happy with Victor, he didn’t want to let him down. He wanted to do his best and be a partner Victor could be proud of, even with his Alpha status. Mainly, he wanted to show that he cared as well.

He didn’t like that it seemed like Victor was the only one in pursuit, despite the doctor’s constant reassurances that there was little he could to when Victor was already so smitten with him. When couples entered a courtship back home, the period of wooing was a time to get to know each other as people: likes, dislikes, goals, personalities, work ethic. It’s a delicate process, trial and error, and exceedingly rewarding at the end of the year. But having grown up with Victor, he already knew-

“A year?!” Chris gasped with wide eyes, his undivided attention focused on the Japanese man. Yuuri frowned at him, caught off guard by his interjection. Had he been mumbling to himself again?

“Yes. Traditionally, the process lasts a year.”

Quel travail!

“Well, divorce isn’t really… uhm, couples aren’t locked into their marriages, but it’s usually not socially acceptable to separate from your partner - unless there’s a ‘valid reason’.”

“Any reason should be valid.”

“But… I guess that’s one way to look at it. Times are changing, but the majority of the population is still pretty conservative. The Emperor is doing his best to implement some changes, though. He’s much more liberal than the rulers we’ve had in the past. Anyway, that’s why so much time and care is put into a courtship; you’re potentially bonded with this person for the rest of your life.”

“That’s how it is with any courtship,” Chris held his hands up in surrender when Yuuri huffed loudly, “but I understand what you’re trying to say. Oh my, a year. Does Victor know?”

“Why is a year a big deal?”

“Because if he could have his way, you would have been bonded yesterday.”

“Ha-ha,” he laughed dryly and stood up, gently picking the flowers back up, “let’s head back. It’s almost time for my lessons with Lilia.”

“I don’t understand how you’re still leaping back to that she-demon,” Chris shook his head exasperatedly and stood as well, gathering his own bouquet and signaling the guards of their departure with a flick of his fingers, “the lessons must be worth it.”

“Oh, they are,” Yuuri smirked, already feeling his face go red before his comeback even left his lips, “As you would put it, it makes me ‘quite bendy.’”

Yuuri!” He screeched, absolutely scandalized, with a hand against his chest. He stopped in place, a large smile dominating his mocked shock as his companion scurried ahead and hid his own face behind his flowers, “I dare say, you’re just trying to make me jealous with all of your teasing!”

“Oh, stop! Forget I said it!”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to,” he laughed loudly as Yuuri’s neck turned red with the embarrassment, his own groan being drowned out by the blond’s cackle.

 


 

 

He ended up creating a list of possible ways to… ‘woo’ Victor when they arrived home from their stroll. Of course, he didn’t do it in front of Chris - never! That man would have a field day if he knew he had done something that silly! No, he waited until he was completely alone before opening to a page in his favorite book that had little text typed on the paper - the last page of chapter 5.

He spent a long time figuring out little things he could do that he thought Victor would like - or, at the very least, appreciate - to show that he cared. It wasn’t very long, but it at least gave him something to do.

 

  1. Little communications throughout the day.

He’d wake up early in the mornings and go to Victor’s office. Georgi would already have the files for the day prepared the previous night, so the stacks of papers off to the side were a good place to start. He considered writing in the corners of the papers themselves, but he wasn’t sure what were official documents that needed to be preserved in the archives and what could be scribbled on.

Instead, he opted to rip up scraps of parchment and write little notes for Victor in Japanese (to at least create an illusion of privacy; he wouldn’t be surprised if Georgi also knew how to read Japanese as well). They usually started as words of encouragement and gratitude for the gifts he received, but as the days went on he progressed to little complaints about characters in his books, whining about the pains of dancing, a funny story or two involving the children, and practicing his Russian.

He also started to draw pictures, usually poorly sketched versions of Makkachin and Vicchan that ended up looking more like clouds than poodles, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

After he would finished and the ink dried, he would open the files and books randomly and place the papers inside. Whenever he had extras left over, he would hide them in desk drawers or stick them against the corner of the window pane; Victor often liked to distract himself by looking out the window, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to think that he would eventually spot Yuuri’s doodles.

He was anxious after the first time he had done it, wondering if it would make Georgi or Victor mad that he was essentially distracting him from his work. He got his answer from the Crown Prince, however, when he had been walking down the hall to head to the kitchens. Upon passing his slightly opened door, he heard a gasp of delight come from the Russian, promptly followed by a squeal.

“Oh Georgi, look! Another one! Do you think there are any more?”

“The only way to find out is to keep working, Your Highness.”

Yuuri had walked away with a blush and was visited later on that evening by Georgi himself.

It was an hour before Victor was supposed to join him and he had been reading. Georgi had visited his room, carrying in his arms a stack of documents and books. He had placed them gingerly on the desk and withdrew from his pocket folded strips of neatly cut paper.

“His Highness actually finished his work load for the day,” Georgi had confided with a smile, a light blush tinting his cheeks. “I’m not sure if you meant it as a one time occurrence but… I’m sure Victor would appreciate it if you did it again. I certainly would.”

He found out later from Mila’s mother that the younger Popovich was gushing over how cute the notes had been and that ‘there’s still hope for love after all!”

Victor, however, did not hesitate to let Yuuri know about how he felt. The first night, he had practically pranced into the room emitting rays of happiness and hugged him tightly, squealing about how much he loved the notes and how adorable his mate was. Every night after, their talks always started with Victor addressing the notes Yuuri wrote, usually a request for more details about a particular story or how a particular message brightened his morning. In response, Victor had chocolate sent to him twice a day. Lilia was not pleased and had him stop for the sake of Yuuri’s figure after the 5th time it happened.

Either way, Yuuri was elated to hear that his first attempt at wooing had been a success

 

     2.Tea

Before he had come up with this idea, he would usually write a letter about how his mornings went and place it on the tea cart that would be delivered to Victor in the afternoons. Only 2 weeks had gone by since he started writing the notes and Lilia had given him good(?) news.

Yuri had improved his dancing a great deal and was ready to begin more complicated moves and longer practice sessions. She altered his schedule to accommodate Yurio’s age and schedule, which meant that Yuuri’s lessons had been moved to the mornings. This gave him more free time in the afternoons, times that coincided with Victor’s tea breaks.

He asked Georgi first if it was alright to bring the tea himself in the afternoons. The older Beta didn’t see an immediate problem with it and allowed it. However, When Yuuri went in that afternoon, it was his first and last visit during Victor’s ‘working hours.’

Spotting the other Alpha left him high strung and hyper, and he spent the entire time chatting about the notes and complaining about some of the things Georgi had scheduled for him later in the week.

An hour had passed with Victor focusing his attention on Yuuri, and when he attempted to snuggle with the lord on the couch Georgi kicked him out.

“Nothing personal, My Lord,” he had said as he walked him to door, “but His Highness needs to get his work done. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

“It was the best idea! You’re just jealous!” Victor had petulantly complained, sulking over a stack of papers. Yuuri merely nodded in understanding, feeling a bit bad and embarrassed for causing a ruckus, and decided that it was better off to call this courting attempt a failure.

 

   3. Tactile Affection

With Yurio’s new schedule and training regime, he had started getting sore in places he never knew could hurt. The young blond often complained about his aches and pains to Yuuri, sometimes with tears threatening to spill over, and it had pained Yuuri to see him that way.

When he first started training with Minako as a child, he also felt the same pain as Yuri. He was more emotional about it, though, choosing to cry to his mom and dramatically whine instead of just yelling and sniffling. His older sister tried to bring him toys and animals in attempts to soothe his mood, and his dad would often encourage him to sleep and eat until he felt better. Minako nearly ripped his head off in chastising him about maintaining Yuuri’s figure.

However, it was his mother who knew best. She would make him soak in the hot springs. Once dry, she dressed him in the softest robe they owned and would massage his legs, arms, back and shoulders. It always left him feeling like a pile of  melting snow and he often fell asleep almost immediately afterwards.

Yuuri told the younger boy to do the same and had Georgi draw a hot bath. While Yurio did as he was asked, Yuuri had searched through the things that had been sent to him from home, looking for anything soft and comfortable. He eventually settled on a robe that used to be his as a child but was now reserved for Vicchan as a blanket whenever the pup got cold.

When Yurio had finished and was all wrapped up in the robe and an additional blanket, Yuuri started to massage his feet where most of the pain had been. 5 minutes had passed when he realized he made the right call: Yurio nearly sobbed from the relief that came with his ministrations.

The blonde was fast asleep when Yuuri had finished with his legs and arms, cuddling Vicchan who had joined them shortly after they started. Yuuri was about to stand and leave the room - his bedroom, since that’s where Yurio liked to spend most of his free time - when Victor had walked in.

It had taken a lot of shushing on Yuuri’s part to keep Victor’s gushing as quiet as possible. But when asked what he did to put the young boy to sleep, he decided to record the offer to do the same for Victor on his list.

Victor had practically glowed when Yuuri had asked and quickly shrugged out of his jacket. He carelessly tossed the coat onto a chair and started to undo his shirt’s buttons.

“Do I need to strip?” He had winked, sticking his tongue out between his teeth as he popped open the third button. Yuuri flushed red and widened his eyes.

“Yuri is right there!” He had hissed.

“Is that the only thing stopping us?”

“Clothes on, Victor,” with an amused pout, he left the rest of the buttons alone and crawled onto the bed. He had been careful not to jostle the mattress too much and Yurio merely twitched in his sleep before curling in a little further around the dog.

Lying on his stomach, Victor stretched himself out and peered at Yuuri over his shoulder.

“I’m ready when you are,” he teased, voice muffled by the pillow he had tucked under his chin.

Not thinking of the possible teasing that could come later, Yuuri sighed and gently hoisted himself onto the mattress. He moved so that he was straddling Victor’s lower back with his legs on either side of his body, ignoring Victor’s pleased hum as he leaned forward and placed his hands on his shoulders.

“Hmm. Yuuri, I didn’t expect you to be so forwar- OOH,” Victor had groaned when he started to knead the muscles on his shoulders and upper back. Yuuri shushed him gently and dug his fingers deep into the base of his neck, frowning at the knots he felt.

“You need to invest in a sauna. Or at least find a hot spring. Do you think Russia would have any?”

“We do, but none close by.” 

“Then build a sauna. I’ll even pay for it. Consider it a gift.”

“Oh, how you spoil me~” that brought a smile to Yuuri’s lips and he fondly shook his head.

“I wouldn’t say that. You’ve been doing so much for me, Victor. I’m having a hard time trying to keep up.”

Victor didn’t say anything at first. Yuuri had originally dismissed it as Victor dozing off and didn’t want to disturb him.

15 minutes had passed in a peaceful silence - and Yuuri was positive that Victor had fallen asleep - before the Crown Prince spoke.

“This… is going to sound silly,” he had hesitated and Yuuri stopped moving. He waited for Victor to speak, who was pointedly not looking at him and keeping his face buried in the pillow, “but… seeing you put so much effort into returning my affections… just knowing that you care is enough for me. It boggles my mind to think that you actually feel the same way, that this is not some dream I’m about to wake up from.”

He shifted to roll onto his back and Yuuri lifted himself up to accommodate his movement. He had been close to moving completely off of him when Victor sat upright and rested his hands on his hips; a silent request to stay put. Yuuri obliged, feeling slightly embarrassed and looking down. It was Victor’s finger under his chin that brought him back up to make eye contact. His eyes had flashed silver

“Every time I see you or you do something to show that affection for me, it’s like being struck by lightning. You never think it will happen to you, but here you are - this powerful force and light so bright that I’m blinded from anyone else,” he had grabbed both of Yuuri’s hands and squeezed them tightly. “You’ve ignited something in me. I’m grateful to have met you and blessed to have you here now.”

Yuuri blushed deeply and looked down once again, “you’ve always been one for the dramatics. After hearing that, how am I even supposed to look at you now?”

Victor chuckled and wrapped his arms around the other Alpha’s frame, smelling of contentment as he pulled them down to lie on the mattress.

“I’m tired. Take a nap with me.”

“But you-”

“Georgi’s been distracted all day. I think he’s found a new lover. He won’t know that I’m gone.”

“Surely, he-”

“Hush~!” Victor had tightened his hold on Yuuri so that he was pressed against his chest, his voice muffled by Yuuri’s hair, “just lay with me for a while.”

Yuuri gave up quickly after that, having noticed the bags under Victor’s eyes earlier in their conversation.

He hadn’t intended on falling asleep himself, but the next thing he knew, he was blinking awake to the sight of Yuri curled up against his chest, a small hand fisted into the front of his shirt. Makkachin was curled up behind Yuuri’s back with his sleeping head propped on Yuuri’s legs. Looking up, he saw Victor mirroring his position on the other side of Yurio with some cloth from his robe pinched between his fingers and Vicchan curled up on the pillow above their heads.

He had no idea how they ended up in that position and he didn’t have the heart to remove himself their pile.

He had closed his eyes and was about to fall back asleep when he smelled something odd.  Something was off. A bright flash of light and the sound of a bulb cracking startled the dogs and caused them to bark.

The sudden panic from the pups had woken up Victor and Yuri almost immediately, with the blond boy yelping and latching onto Yuuri tighter and the dog’s hopping off of the bed. Victor’s eyes had snapped open and he’d let his Inner Alpha growl in warning, his eyes glaring silver and his scent emitting aggression. He immediately reached a hand out to Yuuri and grabbed his wrist, his arm caging Yurio between them as he looked over his shoulder at the intruders.

If anyone had been paying attention, they would have also seen that Yuuri’s eyes had briefly switched to a bright gold.

Georgi and a man Yuuri had seen a handful of times stood off to the side, completely unaware of the murderous intent of the two Alphas in the room. The man held a camera in his hands and was giving Georgi an estimate of when the film would be developed when Victor snarled at them.

“Out, Georgi!”

“Oh, Your Highness! I’m glad to see you’re finally awake.”

“Leave!”

“You’re cranky. I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself before we continue with your schedule for the day.”

“Georgi, I swear to God-!” The threat had been cut off by their prompt retreat into the hallway, the door slamming shut in their departure. Victor had sighed heavily and released Yuuri’s wrist, sitting up properly and stretching with a scowl in place.

Yurio still cling to Yuuri, looking startled and slightly embarrassed. His tiny frame was trembling and Yuuri hadn’t registered it until Victor spoke up.

“Are you alright, Yuri?” He said, looking down at the blond, “... Did I scare you?”

He shook his head ‘no.’

“Did they scare you?”

He hesitantly nodded.

“I’m sorry that happened. If you want, we can-”

“N-no, just leave!” He yelled quickly, avoiding eye contact with both Alphas. “G-go away!”

“Yuri?” Wha-” the smell of urine registered with them at the same time. Yuuri and Victor exchanged knowing looks, the Crown Prince’s expression darkening as he glared at the door.

“Yura, would you like to take a bath with Yuuri?”

He hesitated again before nodding, having realized that his accident was noticed, “I-I’m really, sorry, Yuuri, I g-got scared and-”

“Shhh, it’s alright. It’s not your fault,” Yuuri had gathered the smaller blond into his arms and stood, ignoring the noticeable wet patch on the bed and the wetness on the side of his pants and Yuri’s robe as he soothed the other boy.

“Let’s go take a bath and eat something hot. Maybe Mrs. Babicheva can make us some tea cake or cookies.”

“Yeah,” Yurio agreed in a small voice. Yuuri glanced over his shoulder at the royal, who was fuming to himself and tense with irritation as he stripped the bed of its sheets and blankets.

Later on he would file the massage as a success and incorporate it, along with other forms of touch like cuddling, into their nightly ritual. At that moment, though, the only things on his mind were soothing Yuri and restraining himself from slaughtering Georgi.

 

   4. Small gifts

It only seemed natural to return the gifts with some of his own. Of course, he had plenty of access to money to buy such things, but he couldn’t carelessly throw a bucket of gold at a jeweler for a 76 diamond-encrusted pin or a golden cuff (especially when he had done research into said cuff; he found himself frowning in the end and erasing the idea completely from his mind).

Instead, he sought to share with Victor little things that he enjoyed. When Mila’s mother was testing a new recipe for a spice mix and used it to season her biscuits, he had one wrapped and ready for Victor for when he had finished training with the soldiers. Whenever he found a particular passage in a book or a line of prose or poetry that he enjoyed, he would copy it on a piece of paper and have it delivered with his daily letter during Victor’s tea time.

On one occasion, he and the children had gone for a walk and he found a small stone that had the same shape as Makkachin’s head. He left it in Victor’s desk drawer with a note and was happy to see his amused expression when he had visited him later on that evening.

Eventually, Yuuri caved and went to the jeweler. By this time, a month had passed since he started leaving the gifts, 3 since the courtship started, and he had withdrawn a bit of money from his personal accounts (‘a bit’ was an understatement, this was the most amount of money he’d ever had on himself at any given time).

He took with him Celestino and two other guards when he went into town, but had all three wait outside the shop.

The owner was an elderly Beta with a hump in his back and kind green eyes. He had greeted Yuuri warmly when he had walked in, lowering his head to indicate a bow.

“My deepest apologies, My Lord. My back is not what it used to be.”

“That’s alright. There’s really no need,” Yuuri responded with a small nod of his own and walked to the counter.

“Oh, but there is! I’d even curtsey for you if I could,” the owner chuckled, his head bobbing in time with the laughter. Yuuri smiled; he decided he liked the man, “we’ve all heard rumors of the Crown Prince’s soulmate, but I didn’t think I’d see him in my shop. Your Russian is quite good.”

“Oh? How did you know who I was?”

“Only royalty is followed by the Captain of the Guards,” he said, nodding to Celestino’s silhouette in the shop window, “that and there aren’t many Japanese who make it this deep into the country. 2 weeks on a train isn’t really appealing when one hops off a boat.”

“Ah, yes. The journey is quite tedious.”

“But well worth it, I hope?” He asked with a knowing glimmer in his eyes. Yuuri blushed slightly and nodded.

“Definitely.”

“What can I help you with today, my Lord? Victor has come to me quite often over the years - especially so these past few months - and I’m sure I can offer some insight into his preferences if you’d like the assistance.”

“Uhm... to be honest, I’m not really sure why I’m here,” he had admitted and avoided eye contact, staring at the different accessories displayed under the glass, “I just wanted to get him something… but… “

“Take a look around then. If anything catches your eye, please let me know.”

“Thank you.”

Yuuri had circled around the room 3 times during his search, overwhelmed by the seemingly massive amounts of precious gems and gold displayed in the shop. The security must have been well fortified if the owner was willing to have these stones so openly presented. All of the accessories were placed on velvet cushions, the deep plum color contrasting with the stones in a way that elicited a brighter sparkle.

Yuuri had no experience with this, he was not one for extravagances to this extreme. He spotted a necklace proudly displayed on the wall behind the counter and nearly choked at the amount of diamonds it took to create. It had the beginnings of a choker with a design not unfamiliar to Baroque lace in its flow and complexity. The white glimmering gems dripped down to cover the entirety of the collar and upper chest of its wearer, almost looking like someone had poured molten diamond down their neck and allowed it to settle.

“See something you like?” The shopkeeper asked when his eyes lingered far too long on the necklace.

“I’m just curious as to how long that took to make?” Yuuri stumbled to get out when he had been caught. It was pretty, yes, but definitely not for Victor. He’d never take it off.

“3 years. I only just recently finished it 4 months ago,” he admitted with pride, “I based it off the late queen’s fringe tiara she used to wear in public appearances. It’s quite the beauty. You should try and see it when you get the chance. I’m sure there’s little stopping you.”

“Wow,” Yuuri blinked and stepped forward to the case he kept restarting at, “It’s truly a beautiful piece. Women can only dream to possess something as magnificent.”

“Women? Hah!” He had shaken his head as if told a poor joke, “jewels should be worn by those who want to wear them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, Omega or Alpha, if you’d like to add some sparkle to your outfit then there shouldn’t be anything stopping you. I’ve been known to wear a tiara or two back in my prime.

“Would you like to try it on? Your neck appears to be quite slender.”

“Oh, I couldn’t. Perhaps another time,” he had smoothly declined the offer with little trouble and looked back into the case in front of him.

“Hmmm… for appearing so conflicted, it seems that you’ve already found what you’re looking for,” that had caused him to look up with a frown, and the owner laughed.

“I have?”

“I’ve been watching where your eye is drawn to get a better sense of what you’d like. Those rings there,” he pointed to two simple gold bands resting side by side amidst the crystals, amethysts and aquamarines, “were made from the left over gold I had used to make the engagement rings for the late King and Queen.”

“Really?” He focused his attention back on the accessories, surprised by how they gleamed in the low light.

“They’re simple little things; people nowadays prefer mountains on their fingers and stars in their hair, but you’re different. Is it true that your people don’t like jewels?”

“Well, not really,” he started to correct as the owner stood from his stool and hobbled to the case, opening it from the back and gingerly grabbing the rings with a cloth from his pocket, “we like jewels, but we don’t use them as markers of marriage or engagement. That’s what the bite scars do.”

“Then this is perfect for you. Not too flashy, no giant gems. Simple, yet still does its job.”

He held his hand out and Yuuri had hesitantly complied, allowing him to slip the ring on his finger and turn it side to side to examine its shine, “how does it fit?”

“It’s…” perfect. He didn’t want to say at first, but he actually liked it… a lot.

“It’s the one?” he asked, hopeful. The owner shook his head and released Yuuri’s hand, allowing him to inspect the ring himself, “sorry, I tend to get pushy whenever I see someone find what they’re looking for.”

Yuuri didn’t agree since he had come in there not knowing what to get, but the rings were certainly a pleasant surprise, “I think I’ll buy them.”

“You think?”

“I will. Thank you.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” the shopkeeper awkwardly ducked down behind the counter and grabbed something from a hidden shelf, resurfacing to reveal that it was a small wooden box and a velvet drawstring bag. “You can take the one you’re wearing home with you,” he said as he gestured for Yuuri to show him his hand. He gently slid the ring off and placed it in the padded box, slipping it into the bag and pulling it shut, “But the other one will have to be sized to Victor’s finger. And seeing that this is your first purchase in my shop, I’ll give you a discount for the pair.”

Even at the cheaper price, Yuuri nearly fainted. Over half of the money he had brought with him went into paying for the accessory and the extra labor of having to downsize the other ring to Victor’s finger.  However, any anxieties he had about parting with the significant amount of his funds left his mind when he had returned a week later to pick up the ring.

Pride and anticipation, as well as his nerves, sent butterflies riling in his stomach. They were leaving the city tomorrow, going to a new palace closer to the ocean and much warmer in the winter. Victor had been excited to leave and kept talking about the new town and its charms, placing emphasis on the indoor rink that a visiting Englishman had helped to construct during his last visit a decade ago.  

Yuuri had trouble focusing on the impending journey, however. He was sitting at his desk, the box open in front of him and the rings sitting heavily in his palms. As much as he wished he could just give him the ring as soon as possible, these couldn’t be considered casual gifts like a note or a pretty rock. These were special and had far more meaning in them than anything else he had done so far.

Giving the ring to Victor required even more planning, and an event that would have to be so special that they’d never forget it. When that thought crossed his mind, Yuuri found himself smiling. It seemed that Victor had made a romantic out of Yuuri after all.

Chapter Text

 They moved to a palace closer to the sea in the middle of September. Yuuri knew that Victor and his court often changed locations depending on Russia’s weather, since the nearby gulf kept the other city warmer in the cold months than if they would have stayed in place. As far as he knew, there were 2 estates that they regularly used and 7 that were carefully preserved in case they ever wanted to travel around the country.

To celebrate the arrival of the Royals and their entourage, a banquet was to be held in three days in the city center. At least that was what Yuuri was told by Georgi when they got closer to their destination.

“Our travels have been a bit delayed due to the weather and a few complications involving the integrity of the rear cars. Everything is in order now, but a few foreign guests will already be settled in the palace by the time we get there,” Victor’s attendant scanned the memo in his hands, standing in front of the couch Yuuri and the Great Prince were currently occupying.

The train car was styled to look like a small sitting room with various seats, books, and desks stocked with materials to help the heir get his work done even when traveling. Yuuri and Victor shared a fur blanket thrown over their laps, Yuuri’s gaze fixed out the window with a closed book on his thigh while Victor gave Georgi his undivided attention.

The Russian frowned, “that’s not ideal. Who are they?”

“The American Captain de la Iglesia and his crew with the ship you gifted to Lord Katsuki.”

“Oh, excellent!” Victor beamed and smiled at Yuuri, “he is a kind man and is probably exhausted from travel. I’m sure he won’t mind our absence. Who else?”

“The South Korean Prince, Lee Seung Gil.”

“Damn,” his smile fell and he brought a finger to his lips. In his peripheral, Yuuri could see his mind working quickly, trying to come up with a way to deal with the situation, “how did he beat us?”

“He came early to tour the country at his own pace, or so the Viceroy has told me,” Georgi informed, “uou can make your apologies to the young prince when we arrive. Based on his reputation, I’m sure he doesn’t care as much as you think.”

His early arrival was probably intentional, Yuuri thought to himself before redirecting his focus to the snowy tundra outside the train.

“It’s still rude of us not to be there to greet him,” Victor pouted, “I’ve been told he has a dog that goes everywhere with him. I’ll just appeal to his nature as a fellow pet owner. Georgi, have some gifts for the dog prepared. Anything Makkachin would like should be a good standard.”

“I’ll get someone on it as soon as possible.”

“Thank you. Any other guests?”

“Dr. Plisetsky wanted me to inform you that a good friend of his should also be at the palace when we arrive. Dr. Crispino is known for his research into genetic mutations with a focus on the development, function, and psychological influence of secondary sexes.”

“Oh, this is the doctor he told us about Yuuri!” Victor cheered and Yuuri perked up at hearing his name.

“Hm? Oh, right! The one with the books.”

“How exciting! I’m eager to meet him.”

“He’s bringing with him his grandchrildren, twins Michele and Sara Crispino. They’re 15 years old.”

“Oh, I’m sure Phichit will have a blast meeting new people, especially those so close to him in age.” Victor hummed and shifted in his seat, slightly disturbing the blanket he was sharing with Yuuri. The lord didn’t mind and readjusted the fur to completely cover his legs.

“You spoke about a banquet earlier,” Yuuri spoke up, recalling the mention from the beginning of their conversation.

“Yes, there will be a celebration to greet you as well as the other guests held in the town square.” Georgi clarified. Yuuri’s eyes widened.

“The event is going to be out in the open? Is that safe?”

“No one will harm you, my dear,” Victor tried to reassure Yuuri, but earned a scowl for his trouble.

“I’m not talking about me, I’m referring to you. And your guests,” he quickly added.

“The banquet will be closely monitored and heavily guarded. There’s no need to worry, My Lord. Captain Cialdini will make sure of that.”

“Are you sure?”

“Really, Yuuri, everything will be fine. We have these banquets every year. There haven’t been any problems in the 5 times we’ve had them in the square.”

“I still don’t like it.”

“We’re at a time of peace.”

“That was before you announced that you were courting me. Not everyone is in agreement over two Alphas being in a relationship, let alone their country’s heir and a foreigner.”

“I trust Celestino and Georgi’s judgement. If they say we’ll be protected, then I'll believe them. Just relax, Yuuri.”

Yuuri huffed and looked out the train window, his scent emitting rays of distrust and anxiety. He heard Victor sigh heavily beside him and a shift in the shared fur blanket between them signaled his departure, leaving the room with Georgi in tow.

He didn’t care if he was acting petty, he had every reason to be worried. He wasn’t sure how things were when Victor was alone, but he experienced some of the most vile jabs against his character when left to the mercy of disgruntled nobility. Whenever he and the Great Prince were in the presence of people who clearly didn’t care for Yuuri, however,  they would always plaster on fake smiles and compliment him for some sort of skill or his appearance. Victor always seemed to enjoy those praises.

He would do his best to avoid conflict, merely standing and letting them vent out their disagreements with Victor’s decision to court him. This only happened whenever he was left alone at balls or parties, and once they strayed into insulting his family or country he’d silently finish his drink and leave.

He had a feeling Yakov knew. There’s no way the Viceroy would be so innocent as to believe that everyone got along with him as Victor did. Yuuri’s suspicions were brought about by the looks the Viceroy would send him or the friendly squeezes of solidarity on his shoulder whenever he would approach after a nasty conversation with angry nobles.

Yuuri didn’t care if they hated him. He was more concerned with aristocrats redirecting that hatred towards Victor than he was with having verbal insults thrown at his face.

The door to the cabin opened and Phichit walked through, accompanied by a Thai and a Russian guard. Yuuri brightened at the appearance of his friend and he lifted the blanket beside him, an invitation for the Omega to join. His father had left them a few stations back, having been summoned to South Korea for an matter deemed confidential. He had promise it wasn’t urgent, but it still left Phichit feeling uneasy.

The room started to smell of a foreign spice - not overpowering in the slightest, yet pleasant and still able to deliver a little kick with it’s presence. It was a fitting scent for Phichit.

“Yuuri~” he greeted as he made himself comfortable under the blanket, scooting in close to the Alpha and looking at the two soldiers, “feel free to find a seat, I’ll be here for a while.”

“Hello Phichit,” he responded and smiled kindly, “what brings you here?”

“Victor asked me to come. He said that you were anxious over the venue for the banquet.”

“Oh, great,” Yuuri slumped a little further in his seat, avoiding eye contact and cheeks tinted red with slight embarrassment.

“There’s nothing wrong with being worried, Yuuri!” Phichit was quick to reassure him, expelling some calming pheromones to help soothe his nerves. “I’ve been to 2 of the banquets that were held in the town square, and there’s really nothing to be afraid of! Most nobility don’t like to show up because there’s usually a ball held a few weeks later, so it’s mainly for the middle and lower class. The royal chefs will prepare the meals for us and our entourage, and the townsfolk will usually bring food of their own to share among themselves.”

“Going to a banquet and having to bring your own food?” Yuuri questioned with a frown. Phichit grinned and winked, snuggling closer against Yuuri’s warm side.

“The royal family provides the booze and entertainment. Fair trade off, I’d say. My father says it helps the town reestablish their sense of community with each other. It’s really a beautiful experience: lights are strung up and illuminate the streets, looking like stars that’ve been dragged down from the heavens in order to brighten the event. There’s dancing and music, games and stories, and even an indoor skating rink!”

“Really?” Yuuri gaped at the image and cocked his head to the side, “an indoor skating rink?”

“Yes- well… it’s ‘indoor’ in the sense that it’s inside a tent. There’s a viewing platform as well as space along the side for people to watch performances or others play. There’s even an orchestra section set up to cover the sound of the machine that keeps the ice frozen. Every year, Victor skates a routine for the people to enjoy - WAIT!”

Yuuri jumped at the sudden interjection, his book falling to the floor as Phichit gazed at him with a look of horror, “You haven’t seen Victor skate, have you?”

“Uhm…” Yuuri glanced at his feet and thought hard about his past. Had he really not seen Victor perform? The only time he could was when there was leftover ice during particularly cold summers... he always went home in the winter and was unable to stay and see. This would be his first winter with the Great Prince, “no, I don’t think I have.”

“Oh my God, it’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see! Truly, you have no idea what you’re missing! He’s so incredibly talented; I heard he was able to land quads when he was 12!”

“Let me rephrase: I have seen him skate,” Yuuri clarified, “but I haven’t seen him perform a program. He actually tried teaching me how to skate when we were younger.”

“Really? What was that like?” he smiled and sighed, recalling the memory fondly.

“It was nice. Were were experiencing a cold front that summer so the lake nearby was still solid. You know the one, right? We went there a few weeks ago.”

“Yes, I remember. How old were you?”

“Hm...9? 10? Around that age…. “

 


 

 

They arrived in town the next evening and made it to the palace within an hour of disembarking. Upon their entry into the foyer, a group of 3 teenagers waited with the guards and staff, playing monkey-in-the-middle with a dog while a 4th teen watched from a small distance away with his arms crossed.

Upon seeing the dog, Makkachin barked and tried to rush forward to join the game. Had Victor not been holding the leash, the dog surely would have knocked over 3 or 4 guards on the way to join the fun.

Introductions with the staff and the instructions for dinner were given quickly, and it was a matter of a few minutes before Yuuri, Victor, Chris, and their own group of children were free to meet the others. He passed off the dog to Georgi so that Makkachin could be fed. Yuuri did the same with Vicchan and handed him off to another guard.

The first to introduce themselves were the Italian twins. The girl, with tanned skin, black hair, and deep purple eyes, came running up to them and nearly fell over herself in her haste to curtsy.

“Hello, Your Highness!” She greeted cheerfully in heavily accented English, a light blush on her cheeks, “good evening, My Lord! I’m Sara Crispino. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Good evening, Madam,” Victor returned the greeting with a polite nod, “I am the Great Prince and Grand Duke of Russia, Victor Nikiforov. I’m sorry we kept you waiting.”

“Oh not at all! We’ve only been here for a few days, it’s been so much fun!” A throat clearing to her left revealed a young boy around her height, if not a bit taller, with the same eyes as his sister. His hair was much lighter and he seemed to have a permanent frown in place as he eyed Victor wearily.

“I’m Michele Crispino, Sara’s older brother,” he introduced himself with a bow.

“A pleasure to meet you, Sir!” Victor nodded once more and put his arm around Yuuri, bringing him closer and gesturing to him with his free hand, “this is my soulmate, Lord Yuuri Katsuki of Japan.”

Yuuri, who had been in a bit of a daze from traveling until that moment, perked up and blushed from embarrassment, “I’m sorry, Sir, Madam, I did not mean to be rude,” he bowed his head.

“Oh, it’s quite alright, My Lord! We were exhausted from traveling too, right?” She looked to her brother for confirmation, whose expression had softened upon hearing Victor’s introduction for the Japanese lord.

“Yes, we were tired as well. Honestly, we did not believe our grandfather when he said he had connections to Russia’s Imperial Family.”

“It was quite a shock to come here and be greeted by the Steward by name! We thought we were brought here for a tour and then the next thing we knew we were being taken to our rooms! Thank you for hosting us!”

“It truly is a pleasure to have you both here, Sara and Michele.”

“Please, call me Mickey.”

“And you can call us by our names as well, if you’re comfortable with that,” Victor offered with a broad smile, “please excuse us, we’d also like to greet the others.”

“Of course, Sir! Leo, come here!” She waved over a small boy with dark brown eyes and hair that reached his chin. On his head was a fluffy white ushanka. The 12 year old had been playing with the Siberian Husky, but upon hearing his name had perked up and stood, telling the other teen something before running to join the small group.

Phichit chuckled from behind them when he nearly tripped over his feet, and Yuuri had to signal him with a flick of his fingers to stop and be polite.

“H-hello, I'm Leo,” he introduced himself, red faced from the stumble. When he made no indication of speaking any further, Sara elbowed him in the rib. He jolted, glared at her, and widened his eyes when she made a gesture with her head, “oh! Sorry!”

He bowed with half the grace as Mickey and straightened up with his gaze locked to the floor, hands behind his back. “I completely forgot. We don't have royalty in America, so this is new for me, Sir-”

“‘Your Highness.’” Mickey hissed and Leo flinched.

“-Your Highness.”

“Are you Captain de la Iglesia’s son?” Victor asked kindly.

“Yes.”

“‘Yes, Sir.’”

“Yes, Sir- wait, you told me not to call him that!” He frowned at Mickey, who rolled his eyes.

“You can call him ‘Sir’ after you've addressed him as ‘Your Highness.’”

“This is so confusing,” he groaned and scratched his head, “isn't Seung Gil a prince, too? He doesn't make me call him that.”

“Seung Gil doesn’t care about anything that isn’t his dog,” Sara huffed. She would have kept talking had she not noticed Yakov approaching their group. Both she and Mickey bowed deeply to the Viceroy, with Leo following their lead a few seconds later.

“Good evening, Your Majesty!”

“Good evening, children,” Yakov nodded and looked to Victor, a clear, unspoken order for him to follow before he walked to the third boy standing off to the side. Victor tapped Yuuri’s elbow and both moved to follow the Viceroy, leaving Chris, Phichit, and Mila to introduce themselves to the other visitors.

“Lee Seung Gil,” Yakov greeted when they got closer to the boy. The teen looked up from where he had been watching his dog and straightened his posture, bowing elegantly to the old Alpha, “I am glad to see you made it here safely, Your Highness.”

“Thank you for hosting me, Your Majesty,” he responded respectfully.

“I’m sorry our first meeting had to be on such informal terms.”

“I am not fond of pomp and ceremony. I wouldn’t have preferred this any other way,” Yuuri took in the appearance of the Korean royal while he was distracted with talking to Yakov. He was dressed simply in clothes appropriate for Russian winter: a linen shirt, wool pants, boots, and a thick wool coat. Under his shirt, he wore a thin turtleneck. It was a dramatic contrast to Leo, who was not used to the snow and cold weather and seemed to drape himself in any piece of fur clothing he could find.

He had sharp eyes, thick black hair, and a pale complexion that made his features harshly stand out even with baby fat enlarging his cheeks. Yuuri had heard rumors about the prince from the servants in the previous palace and other aristocrats he had met at past balls. They said he was creepy, a misanthrope. That he was an angsty teen with no respect for those who were of a lower status than himself. Spoiled, entitled. A genius with no sense of humanity.

What the Viceroy, Victor, and the others didn’t know was that Yuuri had met Seung Gil before. Last winter, Seung Gil had gone on a tour of Japan and spent a few weeks in Hasetsu to receive some training from Minako to improve his hand-eye coordination. He was 12 at the time and had brought Yuuri a birthday gift even though he had arrived a week after the celebrations. Yuuri had even joined him in his lessons with Minako, and Seung Gil had insisted on watching Yuuri’s practice in case there was anything done that he could utilize for his own training purposes.

Based on the time he had spent with him, Yuuri concluded that Prince Seung Gil wasn’t odd. He was a stoic teen who didn't have much interest in anything except his dog and ice skating. He was an introvert, sure, but he was social when necessary and polite to others (with an odd disinclination towards women); he mainly spoke when prompted to and was brief with his answers. He seemed to make connections with others through the use of his dog, allowing the pet to be a barrier between himself and the children while socializing the Husky to others in his place. He was just a teenager that wanted to be left alone.

He looked at Yuuri then, effectively snapping the lord out of his thoughts. Yakov had made his departure while he had been wrapped up in his head, leaving only Yuuri and Victor with the Prince and his pup.

“Hello, Your Highness,” he greeted with a bow, “I am Lord Katsuki Yuuri from Japan. It's nice to meet you,” Seung Gil looked at him for a moment before nodding politely, recognition dawning on his face.

“Hello, Sir. Thank you for hosting me in your home last year. It was a pleasant experience.”

“I’m glad you thought so, Sir,” Yuuri felt Victor’s quizzical gaze on him but didn’t acknowledge it, “has your training gone well?”

“Yes, but there is still room for improvement,” he shifted his focus to Victor and inclined his head, “Good evening, Sir. I am Prince Lee Seung Gil, heir to the throne of South Korea.”

“I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in Russia so far.”

“I have. The landscape is beautiful.”

“Have you and Yuuri met before?”

“Yes, last year. I stayed in his home and trained with his instructor for a few weeks in December.”

“Trained?” He looked to Yuuri for clarification. The red on his ears told Yuuri that he was embarrassed for not knowing. Georgi was good at his job, so Victor probably forgot.

“Seung Gil is an accomplished figure skater. Maybe you could show him a few moves of your own.”

“You skate?” The two asked at the same time, one showing slight interest while the other beamed with enthusiasm.

“Yes, I have for years! Ever since I was a child! Have you taken advantage of the indoor skating rink in town yet?”

“No, not yet. I twisted an ankle on some uneven ice before I came here, so I’ve been forced to let it heal before I can continue.”

“I would love to see you skate during your stay! Perhaps we could trade advice and tips. I’d like to hear your feedback on my own skating.”

“If you insist, I’d be happy to do so,” he looked at Yuuri again with a critical gaze, “have you started to skate yet?”

“I haven’t.”

“You had potential the last time I saw you. Are you still mentoring under Madam Okukawa?”

“Not since I’ve moved to Russia permanently,” he admitted, missing Minako terribly at the mention of her name, “Lilia Baranovskaya has been kind enough to take me on as a student.”

“Madam Baranovskaya,” he repeated the name, looking down quickly in thought and contemplating the new information. “Perhaps I could observe your lessons again, if the Madam gives her permission.”

“Once your injury heals, she will probably insist on you participating.”

“I wouldn’t decline.”

The Husky barked and stood, sprinting over to the other group and knocking Phichit to the ground. Seung Gil sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as the others laughed. Phichit squealed with delight as the dog licked his face, making fruitless attempts to push the dog off of himself.

“Please excuse me, Sirs,” he withdrew from their conversation and left to approach the other group, whistling at the dog and snapping his fingers once. The Husky was quick to obey and hopped off of Phichit, running over to circle around Sara and Chris as the Prince helped the Thai teen to his feet.

“Well, he was a lot chattier than I thought he’d be,” Victor admitted when Seung Gil was out of earshot of the two. Yuuri shrugged.

“He’s very fond of skating and his dog. If you approach him with one of those two subjects, then he’d be more than willing to carry a conversation with you.”

“What was it like having him as a guest?” He asked, snaking an arm around Yuuri’s waist as they continued to observe the group. Everyone had bowed and made formal, proper introductions to the Korean Prince, but were now treating him as if he were one of their pack with Phichit slinging an arm around his shoulders and asking questions about his dog.

“He was quiet and kept to himself. Doesn’t like being bothered much, and he’s not too fond of girls.”

“Really?” he huffed with surprise. Yuuri hummed and leaned into his side.

“Yes. I assume it’s because he isn’t social in the first place. He might feel more comfortable around men than women. He avoided my sister and my friend Yuuko as if they were infected with a plague the whole time. There were only men in his entourage, with the exception of his skating instructor. She’s a woman, but she’s also an Alpha.”

“Being an Alpha doesn’t diminish her gender,” Victor pointed out and Yuuri nodded in agreement, “how is his skating?”

“He’s talented,” Yuuri admitted, recalling memories of when he’d watch Seung Gil apply whatever he leaned from Minako onto the ice, “always eager to learn, although he’s not as visibly enthusiastic as you are.”

“Well, pardon my joy!” He teased. Yuuri rolled his eyes.

“You know what I mean. If you’re looking to break the ice with him-”

“Ha!”

“-then you should take him skating with you. Or walk your dog with him,” Yuuri bit the inside of his cheek in thought, “his dog and Vicchan got along well with each other.”

“I’m sure I’ll build some sort of connection with him quickly,” Victor answered, posture confident and tone full of reassurance, “after all, I’m performing a routine tomorrow for the banquet.”

Oh, that’s right. Tomorrow would be the Banquet to welcome the Royals and their guests to the city. After his conversation with Phichit, Yuuri felt a little better about the event. But only a little.

He was about to voice some lingering concerns he had about the venue when Victor interrupted him with a question.

“Why is he wearing a turtleneck?” Yuuri redirected his gaze back to the group.

“Who? Phichit?”

“No, the Prince. He must be sweating in all of those clothes. It’s certainly warm enough in here.”

“Leo’s even more bundled up than he is and he seems fine,” the other Alpha pointed out.

“But Leo’s country doesn’t get as cold as Russia. Korea is connected to us. Even though their weather doesn’t get nearly as cold as ours, I’d assume that he’s used to freezing conditions.”

Yuuri looked up at him and immediately recognized the look on his face: Mischief.

“What are you plotting?”

“Not plotting, just thinking,” Victor smirked.

“What sort of conspiracy are you coming up with now?”

“Yuuri, did you ever take baths with him?” He asked, glancing at the Japanese lord for a second, “your home is connected to a hot spring, right?”

“Once,” he admitted cautiously, eyes narrowed and appraising his soulmate, “to show him what to do and what sort of cool down stretches I do after dancing.”

“And there are no clothes allowed in the Onsen, right?”

“Yes, Victor.”

“Where’s his Soul Mark?” He knew where he was going with his line of questioning and suppressed a sigh.

“Why does this interest you so much?”

“Because Phichit wears turtlenecks to hide his Mark, too.”

Yuuri looked over to the group and watched as Phichit and Seung Gil interacted. The Thai Ambassador’s son was giving the Husky a belly rub while the prince informed him of where the dog liked best to be scratched, “You think they’re soulmates.”

“There’s a possibility. You haven’t answered my question.”

“Yes, the Mark is on his neck, but the possibility of them having the same one is ridiculous.”

“We’re soulmates, Yuuri. Our parents are soulmates too, along with your friends. Is it really that farfetched of an idea?” Victor looked at him properly then and cocked an eyebrow. “I know what Phichit’s looks like. Do you?”

“... No.”

“You know what Seung Gil’s looks like and I don’t. Let’s tell each other at the same time what-”

“Soul Marks are extremely personal and private,” Yuuri scolded him, “even when people meet their matches, they still tend not to reveal them. I am not telling you what Seung Gil’s looks like. You’ll have to ask him yourself.”

“Please, Yuuri? I’ll tell you Phichit’s-”

“I don’t need you to do that, Phichit would show me his himself if I asked. Don’t betray his trust.”

“Think about it, Yuuri: His father was summoned by the South Korean Court. In the letter he received, he was given strict instructions that his son,” he gestured emphatically to the group, “should be the one to serve as a representative for Thailand and greet the prince. In Seung Gil’s culture, there is a literal manhunt to find the soulmate of the monarch because they believe their ruler should only be with their perfect match.”

“I’m still not telling you. It’s not our business.”

“But we could help them-”

“Victor, they don’t want our help.” Yuuri stepped away from him and glared, feeling an urge to protect Phichit flare in him, “Leave them alone. This isn’t our business and the chances of them being soulmates are one in a million-”

“Which is why we should help them-”

“Victor, please? Please, please drop it.”

Victor stared at him for a moment, eyes searching for any crack in his resolve that he could exploit. When it was clear that Yuuri wouldn’t change his mind, he sighed and slumped his shoulders.

“Alright, I won’t interfere.”

Yuuri’s expression softened, “thank you,” he stepped closer to him and wrapped his arm around his waist, an echo of their earlier position, “if they are indeed soulmates, then that’s probably why Phichit’s father was summoned to Korea.”

“But why not Seung Gil? Why wasn’t Phichit asked to go with him.”

“I’ve heard that Seung Gil’s mother is a kind woman. Maybe she wanted their first meeting to be out of a political context.”

Victor looked at him for a moment before redirecting his gaze the the teenagers, his expression softening into one of fondness, “I’m going to hang on to that scrap of hope you’ve given me.”

“I won’t judge you,” Yuuri squeezed his hip, “You’re a hopeless romantic after all.”

“Don’t act as if you’re not one either,” he blushed and looked forward as well, making eye contact with Phichit and returning his enthusiastic wave.

“Only when it comes to you.”

 


 

 

The next evening, they were carted to the town square via 2-horse carriages with open tops and velvet cushions. Thankfully it wasn’t snowing, so the seats wouldn’t be ruined from getting damp. Yakov had his own carriage, accompanied by Master Popovich. Victor and Seung Gil shared a carriage, with Victor dressed in a white uniform and Seung Gil donning a traditional hanbok for the occasion. The garb had been modified so that it was lined with fur along the opening around the neck of the durumagi. He had been offered boots and an ushanka in place of his kkotsin and gat, but declined the offer.

Yuuri shared his carriage with Phichit and, at the insistence of a small blond, Yurio. He and Phichit wore clothes traditionally meant for formal occasions back in their home countries: Yuuri in a montsuki over his haori and hakama and Phichit in a Nehru-styled jacket, chang kben, and fitted boots instead of the usual usual knee socks and dress shoes. Yurio had been wrestled into an outfit similar to Victors.

The rings he had bought were in a drawstring bag tied tightly to his hakama. He had been carrying the rings on him ever since they left the previous palace, waiting for the perfect moment to give his gift to Victor. He hoped tonight would be a good night, but he was more than willing to wait.

(That’s a lie, he was itching to give Victor his ring - borderline giddy.)

Chris shared his carriage with Georgi and a few other Beta advisors, taking great pleasure tormenting the poor attendant during the ride to the square. All attention had been placed on the Viceroy and his nephew, so Yuuri and Phichit felt like they were the only ones fully aware of the shenanigans happening in the carriage behind them.

Walking along either side of their procession were 2 rows of soldiers. A few higher ranking guards rode on horseback, and Seung Gil’s own personal bodyguards sat in the back on the tail board that the footmen usually occupied. Captain Cialdini rode on a horse in the space between Victor and Yakov’s carriages (it had been a long fight between Yuuri and Victor over whose safety Celestino would prioritize, but the decision was ultimately made by the Viceroy).

The streets were flooded with crowds of citizens cheering and welcoming the group. All were bundled up in furs and wool, and many held in their hands flowers, pictures of the royals, and food that they were bringing to the banquet. As roses were thrown into the carriages, names screamed, and children held in the air to get a better look at the Viceroy and the Great Prince, Yuuri was floored by the sight of the city.

The previous evening, they had been carted quickly to the palace in order to greet the guests as soon as possible. It had all happened so quickly that Yuuri hardly had a chance to take in the sights of the town during the trip, especially since the walls had been raised in the carriage.

Now, though, he had time to appreciate their surroundings. There were small lumps of snow on the sidewalk and the edge of the road, serving as a reminder of the snow fall that had occurred earlier that morning. Red bricked shops and homes on either side of the street loomed over the crowd and royalty, their sharp pointed roofs stretching for the overcasted night sky as if to claw through the clouds for some stars. Wires were strung up from window shutters and tucked into notches between the bricks, with light bulbs dripping  low and casting the city in a warm glow. People had lit candles in their windows, hung lanterns over their doors, and stoked fires in their homes. A glowing copper fog blanketed their path and the town square, and Yuuri was mesmerized by it all.

Phichit would occasionally point to different shops or alleys and tell a story, either from his own past or from the history of the city. Sitting in Yuuri’s lap and sharing his blanket, Yurio would interject whenever he had a tale of his own to tell or wanted to look smart and correct Phichit’s pronunciation. A few people recognized Yuuri from the stories told throughout the years of the Japanese lord in the palace, and flowers were thrown for him in greeting. A few nearly hit the carriage’s occupants in the head and Yurio struggled to gather up whatever he could in his lap in order to give them to Yuuri when they reached their destination.

When they had reached the square, Yuuri could see that a dais had been built for the comfort and viewing of the Viceroy and his entourage. The tables were decorated with a rich red cloth and illuminated by silver candelabras. To Yuuri’s amazement, strings of lights had been stretched across the large opening of the square, attached to the rooftops and house façades of the buildings lining the area with poles intermittently spaced to support the weight of the wires. In front of their allotted seats were 3 long tables that spanned 10 feet with benches to provide seating for its occupants. They also sported table cloths and candlesticks, but - as told by Phichit - were reserved for the upper class of the city. The rest of the citizens would occupy the  available space in the square and streets. some would stay near their own homes and eat while enjoying the festivities and singing praises for the family that doubled as drinking songs. Behind the dais were massive wooden kegs filled with different kinds of alcohol; servants from the palace were ready and waited to start filling up goblets and mugs with the free drinks.

When the carriages came to a halt, Victor waited for Seung Gil to exit before hopping out himself. He quickly made his way to Yuuri’s carriage and lifted Yurio out from his lap, resting the small boy on his hip and forcing him to drop the flowers he had collected. Phichit had already exited and cooed at how cute the display was (“Like a real family! Awe!”) while Yurio pushed against Victor’s chest and demanded to be put down.

“I’m not a baby, let go!”

“There’s a puddle that you undoubtedly would have tripped in. I’ll put you down once we’re a bit farther away from it.”

“Then Yuuri can hold me, not you!”

Yuuri ended up carrying him only a few yards before the doctor intervened and scolded the child.

Yakov sat in the enter chair with Victor to his left and Seung Gil to his right. Yuuri sat beside Victor and Phichit was sent to sit next to the Korean Prince so that he would have a companion his age in case he felt at all uncomfortable. Yuuri highly doubted it, but kept his thoughts to himself. Chris sat next to Phichit and then the rest of the Beta advisors took the remaining seats. Yuuri was seated next to Georgi’s father.

At the end of one of the tables placed in front of the dais were Dr. Plisetsky and Yuri. Across from him was a man of a similar age with dark skin and hair. He had the same purple eyes as his grandchildren, who occupied the space next to him. Sitting opposite of the twins and beside the doctor was Mila, who had already started to poke and prod at the 8 year old . Her mother had been busy all day preparing the food.

As nobles and the upper class started to slowly make their way to the square and find their seats, Yuuri noticed Victor’s absence.  He frowned and looked to Master Popovich, who understood immediately what his question would be.

“His Highness is preparing for his performance.”

“When will that happen?”

“A representative of the town will give a loyalty toast to the Imperial Family and all will drink. Afterwards, the Viceroy will usually give a speech thanking the town for their hospitality, give a few words on how the year has gone, and introduce any guests that need to be made known. He’ll offer the drinks behind us as a gift for the people and then invite everyone to watch Victor’s performance at the indoor ice rink. It’s done at the beginning of the banquet while the Great Prince still has energy; the first time it happened, they had waited until the end of the dinner and His Highness had cramps from eating and drinking food prior to the performance.”

“Oh, no.”

“Doing it now prevents pain for Victor and ensures an energetic show for the people.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Where will it happen?” Master Popovich gave him an odd look, eyes flickering to an area beside them.

“At the indoor rink. It’s right over there, My Lord.” he said and pointed to a large pavilion to their right.

It was massive. Yuuri was shocked that he had overlooked it in the first place. The pillars surrounding the rink stood 20 feet high with its hipped roof extending up another 10 feet. The canvas that originally draped down to serve as walls for the rink were rolled back and tied up, with a guard posted at every pillar to ensure that no one would be foolish enough to pull the cords and release one. There was about a distance of 8 feet between the columns and the edge of the rink to allow room for plenty of spectators.

At the end farthest away from Yuuri and Victor was a large platform where observers could get a better view of the action happening on the ice. The rink itself was one of the largest Yuuri had ever seen, over 100 feet long and 60 feet wide. Rows of lights were strung up across the ceiling, and many citizens had already taken the liberty of donning their skates and playing on the ice.

“It’s...big,” Yuuri muttered when he found he was speechless. Master Popovich chuckled and stroked his moustache.

“I’d say we have a few more minutes before the events for the evening start.”

“What are we waiting for? It seems like everyone is here already.”

“We’re just giving Victor time to stretch and prepare himself.” Yuuri nodded and looked down at his empty plate, a nervous energy coursing through his veins. He was still a little bitter over the vulnerabilities the venue for the evening clearly created, but he was also excited to see Victor skate. It had been years since he and Victor last stood on ice together, but he was surprised to realize that he hadn’t actually seen him skate since he was 10. From what he remembered, Victor had been highly skilled for his age with the ice appearing to be a second home for the Great Prince. With the way he had been diligently practicing ever since, Yuuri was at a loss for what to expect.

A man at one of the tables stood, holding up his mug and an empty hand to draw the attention of everyone near by. Quickly, conversations fell silent as other aristocrats also held up their mugs, their eyes ether trained on the man or on the dais where the Viceroy sat. Yuuri frowned and went to pick up his own mug, only to be stopped by Master Popovich’s hand on his arm.

“You are one of the recipients for this toast,” he whispered quietly, holding up his cup along with the rest of the advisors.  Yuuri looked down the table and saw that Chris and Phichit held their glasses as well, but Yakov and Seung Gil kept their hands in their laps.

Once the banter died down, and the crowds of middle and lower class citizens in the streets followed suit, the man spoke.

“To the health of the Viceroy!” he shouted in Russian.

“Hear-hear!” Some members of the congregation called out in response and drank from their cups. Once done, the man held his mug up once again.

“To the health of the Imperial Family!”

“Hear-hear!”

“To the health of their allies and loved ones!”

“Hear-hear!”

“To warm winters and warmer summers!”

“Hear-hear!” A few laughed as they sipped their drinks.

“To a prosperous future for Russia!”

“Hear-hear!” Seung Gil and Yakov picked up their tankards for this toast, and Yuuri quickly copied them and sipped his sbiten. It was spicier than he remembered drinking as a child, with wine clearly present instead of water and a cinnamon stick added as garnish. It was delicious, but Yakov standing stopped him from chugging the liquid. He would probably have to drink more by the time Yakov concluded his speech, so it wouldn’t be smart of him to finish it now.

The other man who had given the toast (“A baron popular in the city,” Master Popovich had informed him) sat down quickly, and all eyes were directed back to the Viceroy.

“Dear citizens, nobles, ladies and gentlemen,” Yakov greeted the silence of the crowd, his booming voice carrying easily throughout the streets. In the distance, Yuuri could hear people repeating his words for others in the back to hear. “My nephew, our advisors, and our guests thank you all for the wonderful hospitality you have shown us. We are always shocked whenever we come for the winter because the town seems to always be changing and improving for the better.

“This has been a prosperous year for Russia: we’ve solidified trade relationships with countries to the west and south; we’ve received many foreign visitors who’ve come to see the beauty that is our cities and landscape, and we’ve had one of the warmest summers in the past decade. Crops flourished and babies were born healthy,” the crowd cheered with approval.

“And, thankfully, the Great Prince did not twist his ankle running down the stairs again,” laughter lightened the atmosphere a bit, and Yuuri bit back his own grin at the memory of last year’s incident.

“We have brought with us two guests; Prince Lee Seung Gil of South Korea,” a few applauded out of politeness for the foreigner, “and Lord Katsuki Yuuri of Japan.”

There were a few mutterings in the crowd at the mention of Yuuri’s name, but he kept his expression carefully neutral. It was difficult not to let his nerves show, he never liked being pointed out to a crowd, “the Prince has toured the country for the past few weeks and is very pleased with what he has seen. He offers his compliments to you all,” a few delighted hums reverberated among the crowd.

“Lord Katsuki has been a bit of an enigma for the Russian public. I’ll clarify now that we weren’t purposefully hiding him,” a low wave of chuckles followed his statement, “but merely housing him during the summers. I mention him now in order to confirm a few rumors you have undoubtedly heard: Lord Katsuki is indeed Victor’s soulmate and they have already entered a courtship. I wish them well in their endeavors and future, and hope that you will do the same,” there were hollers and cries of congratulations, many gasps of shock, but Yuuri was not ignorant of the glares and sneers of disapproval he saw among the horde. He shrunk back a little into his seat.

“To thank you for your hospitality, we come bearing gifts of drink and entertainment. Behind us and scattered throughout the city are barrels of spirits and beer that we welcome you to partake in. We learned our lesson from last year and will not make the same mistake of running out before dessert again.” Laughter at the memory echoed in the square and Yakov held his mug up high. Everyone seated on the dais did the same, to show that they were toasting the citizens of the city. Yuuri thought it was a thoughtful, interesting gesture from the nobles and lifted his own tankard.

“We thank you once again for your good spirits and cheerful hospitality. We wish you all a warm winter, good fortune, and good health!” Everyone holding a cup drank and the crowd cheered loudly. Their voices rang and boomed, shaking the windows of the buildings surrounding the square and lining the streets. Before the excitement got too rowdy, Yakov put his cup down and held a hand up.

“Let us start tonight’s entertainment with a performance from the Great Prince, My nephew, Victor Nikiforov.” ‘Swoon’ was the only word Yuuri could think of to describe how the crowd reaction. They squealed at the mention of the Great Prince and tried to mob their way to the ice rink, only to be held back by the guards in order to allow the nobles and royalty to reach the pavilion first. Yuuri stood along with everyone else on the dais and was ushered away with a wall of soldiers on either side.

As they got closer to the rink, Yuuri was able to make out more details that he had not seen from is previous seat; there were mirrors propped and angled around the rink in order to give those farther back in the streets a better look at what was happening on the ice. The previous skaters had cleared off during the toast before Yakov’s speech and the ice had been cleaned in preparation for Victor’s routine.

A section to the side had been cleared off and marked with a rope, a reserved area for the small orchestra currently occupying the space. They blocked the way to a large tent that still had its flaps down, and Yuuri could hear the sounds of a machine whirring away. Phichit noticed his stare and confirmed that it housed the contraption that kept the ice cold.

“There are also multiple bands set up in the streets that will play the same songs at the same time so that everyone can enjoy the music.” Yuuri widened his eyes as they came to a stop at the rink’s edge, arm linked with Phichits.

“Wow.”

“I told you: booze and entertainment. It’s a fair trade off.”

Once the group had found their spots, the guards created a small border around them before letting the other nobles and upper class into the rink. The process was tedious and took a while, giving Yuuri an opportunity to look around. Seung Gil stood beside the Viceroy, but his eyes were alert and ready to analyze Victor’s routine. Yuuri was flanked on either side by Chris and Phichit, with Yakov standing next to Chris and Georgi beside the Thai Omega. The other Beta advisors were busy talking among themselves with their feet nearly touching the edges of the rink. A few yards away, Dr. Plisetsky had Yurio on his shoulders, talking to the Italian doctor with the twins and Mila eager for the performance in front of them.

It was when the middle and lower class were allowed to move in and watch that Victor finally emerged. He skated a large circle around the perimeter of the ice, waving and smiling to the public as they cheered for him. He stopped in front of Yuuri’s group, bowing in greeting to Yakov for the sake of public appearances and nodding to Seung Gil. He looked at Yuuri and winked.

“Don’t take your eyes off of me,” he requested and turned away, leaving a blush on Yuuri’s cheeks and laughter from the two friends at his side.

An excited silence fell over the square once the crowd had settled in. There was a distant hum from the machinery used to keep the glycerin solution pumping below the ice. If Yuuri looked close enough, he’d be able to see parts of the copper pipes set below the surface. The Great Prince was at the center of the rink wearing something similar to the ensemble he had started the night in, the exceptions being the absence of the badges and pins and his jacket being a deep red instead of white. He stood with his back straight, eyes closed, hands resting relaxed at his sides.

The clock tower a few blocks over struck its bells. Phichit had told Yuuri earlier that he would begin on the third ring. He held his breath in anticipation.

The music started softly with the strings, the breeze carrying the notes out of the room and over the crowd. The woodwinds crept in, spurring Victor to move. He kicked away from his starting position, eyes now open as he appeared to search for something. He propelled himself around in time with the clarinets, letting the force carry him along the edge of the rink. The harp rose and fell, prompting a Bracket turn. He still moved forward, this time facing backwards, as if he believed he had missed whatever he sought the first time around. He held his leg out in front of himself and leaped into a double Lutz. As he rotated to face forward, his eyes widened, his focus on his original starting point.

When the strings rose with slight intensity, he closed in. He still skated around in circles, this time focusing on an invisible figure. His expression was pleading, his arms moving in large beckoning gestures as if trying to convince the imagined partner to join him. He skated in close, a hand up and caressing the air in front of him. Yuuri’s breath hitched at the tenderness of the gesture, at the way his body moved - bewitched by the music and leaving no doubt that this routine was, indeed, a waltz intended for two. The illusion was created, and everyone was able to see the ghostly figure in their mind’s eye.

Now the waltz had well and truly started, and Victor moved slowly. He was still fixated on the center, arms slightly outstretched as he tried to coax the participation of the invisible other. They were shy and stubbornly set against joining the Great Prince in his dance, leaving his interpretive questions and pleas without an answer as a silent rejection. Victor’s expression started to fall at the implication, and his arms reached out to desperately latch onto the partner. He stopped himself, however, brought his hands back in and, after a careful build up, performed a quad Flip.

Yuuri was left in awe to marvel at his talent. As the woodwinds and percussion started to join, Victor was leaping into the air, performing various combination jumps of different difficulties. He only performed one more quad Loop before the rest was mellowed out with doubles and spins. He moved with longing, his actions purposeful as if trying to prove something to the other: that he was capable, trustworthy, reliable.

The melody shifted and the choir joined, the percussions establishing their presence with more force. Victor entered into a step sequence at this point, moving quickly across the ice. He followed an invisible path of loops through the middle of the rink, using various turns and spins to navigate his way around. Yuuri could hardly keep up with the complex sequence, seeing only the story his choreography created:

A man, alone, filled with determination after rejection. Undeterred by the refusal, he works hard, thinking of the ways he could approach the other and seek out their participation. He moved with confidence and excitement, a smile on his face and eyes bright with hope. He did a triple Salchow and quickly skated back towards the center of the ice, gaze vacantly locked onto the invisible other.

The melody fell silent for a moment as Victor stood, panting, and suddenly he’s nervous. Then the woodwinds began the waltz once more, an accordion setting the mood. He moved slowly, like before; his hands out as if another’s body were in his grasp, slowly guiding them around with a timid smile in place. He led in a way that showed he was guiding the other into spins and certain steps, a conversation through dance taking place. Yuuri watched without realizing he was holding his breath, quietly gasping for air when he caught Victor’s eye for the briefest second. With his hands raising up as if he were holding the other up high, the exchange ended with him on one knee, hands cupping the others as if he was holding precious gems. His eyes were up and expression so, so vulnerable and so afraid of another dismissal.

The silence settled once more before a violin cut in slowly. When the pace picked up, Victor’s posture changed from uncertainty to cautious happiness, standing and skating forward as if he were now the one being guided. It became clear to Yuuri that this was the response Victor had been waiting for, and it seemed to be the one he wanted to get. During this piece, Victor was now the spectator, watching with fascination and joy at the other’s unseen sequence as he followed in their wake. He spun and turned, performed a double Loop - triple Loop combination and skated with speed along the perimeter of the rink. His arms and legs moved with controlled elegance, all the while carrying on with an air of happiness and innocence.

A music box of the same melody started to play, and Victor had timed it perfectly with his return to the center of the rink. He kicked his leg up and lowered into a sit spin. As the music box continued to play - Phichit could be heard laughing with amusement at the sudden break from the orchestra for such a device -  Victor rose up, not once breaking out of the rotations, into a camel spin and leaped onto his other foot. The crowd roared with approval and Victor grabbed his skate, lifting up his leg so that the blade was behind his head.

When the horns blared and the percussion started back up, he ended his rotations and skated outward once more, reaching his hand out to the invisible partner. Throughout the entirety of the performance, the crowd’s cheers and clapping were muted to the lord’s ears. Yuuri was too focused on Victor and could imagine the scene perfectly: the way their fingers interlocked, how they danced around each other before coming to a halt with Victor pulling the other closer in increments that matched the last three notes.

As the waltz began its final start, Yuuri felt tears dripping down his cheeks. Startled, he quickly wiped them away and covered his nose and mouth behind his hands. Victor and this transparent partner glided on the ice, wrapped around each other in their waltz, separating only to come back together in smooth fluid motions. Tears continued to pour, but this time Yuuri let them. He couldn’t tear his eyes away for a second, enraptured by how smitten Victor was, how completely and utterly honest his program appeared to be, brimming with love for the partner and excitement at the returned sentiments he received.

While others had been engrossed with his skill and talent, Yuuri saw the program fr what it was. The message was clear; it had been from the very start. Victor loved him, showed his love through his skating, his desire for Yuuri - his invisible partner- to join him, be with him, to love him back. This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision nor a recent development. Victor had wanted him for so long, and Yuuri felt himself melt. He suddenly felt foolish to have had any doubts. With a program so honest, feelings so genuine and a message so clear, he didn’t know how else he could have misread the Great Prince’s intentions. He had been a complete fool.

But Yuuri was Victor’s fool, and Victor was his. Possession reared its ugly head, but instead of jealousy, Yuuri was overcome with pride. As the waltz reached its climax, he had found the answer to the question Chris had asked him. He knew exactly what he wanted: to let everyone know who they belonged to, to have their devotion for each other acknowledged. The Marks on their backs may have brought them together, but ultimately that was a mere suggestion. They were the ones who chose each other and they were the ones who decided to stay. The rings felt heavy against his hip.

With the violin screaming its final notes, Victor performed a back spin at a rate that matched the intensity of the the strumming. As the other sections of the orchestra joined in the build up, Victor slowed and stopped, elegantly poised with his hands folded against himself.

As the music came to a halt, Victor kept one hand pressed against his heart and the other outstretched, reaching for Yuuri. They made eye contact and the skater panted heavily, a smile in place that conveyed everything he wanted to say to the Japanese lord at that moment.

The crowd erupted into applause. Yuuri tried to join in, but found himself sobbing over the routine and hunched over instead. He tried his best to even his breathing, feeling Phichit place a comforting hand on his back and tell the crowd to back away. The sound of skates scraping on ice fell deaf to his ears, and he was surprised when he felt warm arms envelop his smaller frame. The red of the coat filled his vision and he peered up at Victor, offering a wet smile before clinging to him with equal ferocity. They both collapsed onto their knees, one from exhaustion and the other from overwhelming emotion.

If any social etiquettes had been broken that night, no one dared to criticize. Instead, eyes were averted and conversations picked up, the crowd slowly making their way out of the tent at the encouragement of Chris, Georgi, the Viceroy and a handful of royal guards with the promise of the couple’s eventual arrival in the square. as they cleared out, guards started to pull on the cords and drop the canvas walls.

Victor clung to Yuuri tightly; the lord could feel Victor’s hands tremble and he soon noticed the wet patch on his shoulder. He pulled back slightly and brought a hand up to cup his cheek, tilting Victor’s head so they they were making eye contact. Victor smiled, tears clumping his eyelashes together and nose red as he panted. Yuuri’s expression softened to match and he struggled to speak.

“Did you mean it?” He asked in reference to the program. Victor’s eyes, so impossibly blue, searched his for a moment before he nodded.

“Of course,” he croaked, gently grabbing Yuuri’s hand and holding it in both of his own. He repeatedly kissed his fingers, resting his forehead against his knuckles and taking a deep breath before looking back up at his mate.

“Yuuri, I-”

“-Love you, Victor.” he interrupted him, blushing red with a genuine smile, “I’ve been told those who speak of Love or attempt to describe it in any form are fools; you’re skating proves that’s wrong.”

As he spoke, he slowly, carefully reached into the bag tied to his hakama to grab the rings, keeping his eyes locked with Victors as he struggled to voice the chaos churning inside himself, “I thought the last time you told me you loved me was 6 years ago, when I cried in the hallway and believed you were saying whatever you could to stop a child’s tantrum. I was wrong, though - I was so, so wrong!

“You never stopped telling me you loved me. Your heart sang your love whenever you held my hand or tucked stray hairs behind my ear, your eyes sparkled with it whenever you looked at me. Your soul laughed when I laughed, cried when I cried, raged when I was upset, but you never stopped. You never stopped loving me and I was so stupid, hiding my own love while you came to meet me halfway, waiting for me to close the gap.”

The switch in the positions of their hands nearly went unnoticed until Yuuri looked down to slide the ring onto Victor’s finger. The Great Prince froze, his breath stolen by the action as Yuuri leaned forward and kissed the gold band on his finger. His tears poured once more, more forceful than before, and he hid his face against Victor’s knuckles.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I’m here now.”

For a moment, there was a silence thick between them. Made up of Yuuri’s heaving and Victor’s soft panting, neither Alpha was aware of their small audience of Guards stationed around the room, of Yakov standing in the tent’s opening flap with Georgi and his father on either side, of Phichit and Christophe peeking from the bottom where the canvas met the ground with the rest of the children pulling on their clothes and demanding details, of the crowd’s murmurs of delight and curiosity coming from the town square.

And then Victor spoke, his words whispered like prayer.

“You love me.”

Yuuri looked up when he heard his voice, immediately noticing the mixed emotions of joy, disbelief, and adoration flushing his face in a radiant glow, “Yuuri Katsuki finally said he loved me.”

“Oh, stop!” Yuuri screeched, overcome with embarrassment when he actually realized what he had just confessed. He moved to playfully shove Victor away, but a look in his eyes - something Yuuri hadn’t seen for 5 years - flashed so quickly that he nearly missed it and stopped him from moving any further.

The Great Prince reached forward and gingerly grabbed Yuuri’s other hand. Yuuri easily released the other ring when prompted and Victor balanced it in his palm, gazing at it with familiarity and pleasure.

“There was a time when others doubted my intentions toward you,” he started slowly after a moment, “their concerns made me question myself as well. Did I love you? What kind of love was it?”

He looked up and made eye contact with Yuuri before continuing. “It took me a while to think it through, and when I finally shook off that uneasiness I thought I felt, I became worried that you were receiving mixed signals from me in the same way that others were in looking from the outside. But not everyone loves the same way. I didn’t want to focus on fitting their definition of ‘Love’ when I could just tell you in my own way how I feel about you. I’m ecstatic that I didn’t fail tonight - that you got my message loud and clear - but I want to tell you with my own words to dispel any sort of misunderstanding before it happens: I love you, Yuuri.”

The young lord teared up and blinked rapidly, biting his lip to prevent himself from sobbing once more. Victor glanced back at the ring he held, his eyes flickering to Yuuri’s hand for the briefest moment.

“May I…?” he started, slightly lifting Yuuri’s other hand and slipping the ring on. They stared at their connected hands for a moment, both admiring the gleam of the gold in the low light and basking in each other’s body heat. Their scents intermingled, matching each other’s excitement, joy, and nerves. Yuuri and Victor looked up at the same time, and something unexpected inside Yuuri shifted: he wanted Victor.

His eyes flashed gold.

“Can I kiss you?” he asked, cupping Victor’s cheek once more with his free hand. Victor’s ears flushed and he shyly smiled.

“I would like that very much,” he replied and leaned forward.

It was an awkward first kiss, a chaste press of lips, a moment lasting a bit too long with clammy palms warm against each other’s jaws and necks. Lips were chapped, etiquette forgotten, and inexperience made painfully obvious. Even though Yuuri was the first to pull away, red cheeked and feeling like a fool, he wouldn’t trade that moment for anything in the world.

Victor reached forward and wiped a tear away, bringing him out of his thoughts and back to the present.

“If we don’t leave soon, a scandal is sure to break,” he teased, eliciting a small smile from his fiancé.

“Is it really a scandal if we’re going to get married anyway?” he asked in return. Victor chuckled and kissed the ring on his finger.

“Fair point, but Yakov will scold us,” he winked, “would you mind helping me up? I’ve fallen so hard for you that I’ve forgotten how to stand.”

Yuuri erupted into a wet laughter and stood, helping Victor to his feet as well. “That has got to be the worst flirtation I’ve ever heard.”

“I’m exhausted, Yuuri, please be kind,” He huffed and put his arm around Yuuri’s shoulders, subtly using him for support as they made their way to the entrance where Yakov and the others waited.

The look on their faces was one of fondness; even from the Viceroy’s gruff expression, one could see that he was pleased.

“Would you like to retire early, Your Highness?” Georgi asked when they got closer, and a few guards from inside the tent started to follow them out. Victor made a show of thinking his decision over before shaking his head.

“I can stand to be here for a little while longer, there's still food to be served. I’m afraid I’ll need to be carried to the carriage when we leave, though.”

“Crybaby,” Yakov sniffed and patted him roughly on the back, nearly making him fall forward had he not been hanging on to Yuuri, “No stamina, just like your father. It’s a wonder you didn’t collapse half way through your routine. That was risky, even for you."

“It was worth it Yakov, trust me,” Victor winked and pecked Yuuri’s temple. Chris and his entourage of teens, who had met them at the entrance when they had spotted them leaving, cooed at the display as Yakov pinched Victor’s ear.

“Not until you’ve mated,” he scolded and left them small group. Master Popovich and a few guards trailed behind them as the children scrambled to look at the rings, making comments about Victor’s performance (Seung Gil in particular)  and questioning their tear-stained cheeks as Yurio hung farther back.

He stood scowling, his own tears flowing from his eyes as he glared daggers at the couple, paying particular attention to their hands and Victor’s smiling face before turning around and running off. He spent the rest of the evening on his Grandpa’s lap, hiding his face in his jacket and refusing to speak to anyone who tried to chat.

 


 

 

  1. A declaration of love

Accounts of the banquet were spread far and wide over the course of the next few days. The events of the evening were told, retold, repeated, written and mailed, committed to memory, immortalized in art, traded around the dinner table, and treated as a treasure. Some would say that Russia’s heir was bewitched by a magic charm put on his finger by the foreigner. Others would assert the opposite, that the Great Prince casted a spell with his skating, reducing his soulmate into a pliable puppet under his influence.

A popular edition of the story featured the two as abstracts, as forces of nature colliding, of love and friendship meeting in the middle. That evening, two souls became one, a partnership sealed with a kiss. That evening, a bond was formed.

As the people embellished these metaphors and spread them like the word of God, life went on in the palace by the sea. Yuuri was quick to put into motion the final step of his last major act of courtship, keeping the idea under wraps from even his closest friends to ensure a surprise worthy of Victor’s standards.

His gift was revealed the night of the Ball, a social gathering for nobility of local and foreign origins. It was a farewell to summer and an embrace of Winter, a place for trendsetters to reveal the newest fashion, for the aristocrats to divulge the gossip of the summer, and for members of the court to introduce themselves to the future mate of the Great Prince.

Yuuri had been nervous at first, shrugging on the garment he had especially ordered for that evening. Behind him in a trunk delivered by the tailor were variations of the same apparel, varying in types of lace, color, and fabric. He had already changed several times before concluding that it wasn’t the garb that was wrong, but his anxiety.

If this were to have the effect he wanted it to have, he needed to own it. He sighed and straightened his back, steeling himself and running a hand down the front of his shirt to smooth the wrinkles. He gave himself one more look in the mirror checking for any ruffled clothes or displaced hairs before grabbing the blue gem brooch he had been given as a courting gift from Victor and securing it to his collar.

He left his room and walked down the hallway, his guards who had been waiting outside now following behind him. He could practically hear their thoughts regarding the clothes he wore, but he swallowed down any fears he may have had. He wasn’t doing this for them, he was doing it for Victor.

They stopped at the door that led to the foyer, where he and Victor were meant to walk arm-in-arm with each other down the grand staircase and greet the guests. Many had already arrived, with plenty more to come within the hour. Victor wasn’t there yet, which meant he had to wait before he could join the crowd. He wasn’t sure if he appreciated this delay of the inevitable.

Minutes passed with him staring at the grandfather clock beside the door. He turned and was about to go to Victor’s room to see what was taking the man so long when he noticed the Alpha had been standing a few feet behind him. Victor’s face was a light pink, a finger over his lips in thought as he had stared at Yuuri. Once caught, his eyes widened and he blushed a deeper shade of red, scratching the back of his neck with a blinding smile threatening to take over.

“Good evening, Yuuri,” he greeted, his gaze averted to Yuuri’s chin instead of his eyes. The reaction gave Yuuri the confidence he originally pretended to feel and he smiled back.

“Good evening, Victor.”

“That’s… quite an unusual shirt you’re wearing,” Victor uncharacteristically stuttered. Beside him, Georgi was slack jawed.

Yuuri’s grin widened. It was indeed an unusual shirt: a simple white blouse, tailored to fit Yuuri’s form perfectly but not skin tight. The collar had bits of lace on the corners, complementing the pin he  wore around his neck. On the back, however, there was a large diamond cut out - or what the tailor’s daughter affectionately referred to as a ‘Keyhole back’ - with the edges framed in a lace that matched the shirt’s color. For modesty’s sake, a thin layer of voile suggested an illusion of coverage while doing nothing to hide the skin beneath. Yuuri’s Soul Mark was on full display.

“Do you like it? The idea came to me a while back, after the banquet that was held to welcome us to the city.”

“I…” Victor started, at a loss of words. He stepped forward and took Yuuri’s hand, lifting it up to encourage Yuuri to rotate around as if they were dancing. He obliged, moving slowly to give Victor time to look and was met with silver eyes when he faced front once more. “I like it a lot. You look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” he released Victor’s hand and held his arm out. Victor’s grin widened and he wrapped his arm around Yuuri’s in response, glancing over his shoulder at Georgi and signaling him forward with his free hand.

“Let’s leave. We can’t keep the guests waiting any longer.”

“I’m not the one who stared at Lord Katsuki’s back for a solid 7 minutes,” he muttered under his break and gestured to the guards. They opened the doors for the couple and stepped aside.

In a week, Victor would visit the tailor to have similar garments made for himself; for now, though, the Great Prince and his mate descended the stairs arm in arm. All eyes in the room locked on their beaming smiles. Their simple gold rings gleamed with a sparkle that rivaled even the most polished of diamonds. 

Chapter Text

Phichit had been getting along well with his new friends: the Crispino twins were highly energetic with Sara getting herself into silly situations and Mickey having to help her out of them. Leo was the sweetest boy he had met, aside from Guang Hong; he had even written to the Chinese prince about the sailor, gushing about the qualities they shared and insisting that they should meet one day. Truly, Leo was a sweetheart who always asked questions and made music with whatever he could get his hands on (more often than not utilizing pencils or sticks and drumming on the nearest surface).

Seung Gil was also nice, if not a bit stiff and off putting. He rarely smiled, and even then those were exclusively reserved for his dog. Phichit quickly learned that the only way to speak with him was to mention the pup or his hobbies, and he was pleasantly surprised to learn of his interest in ice skating. When he had revealed that he had some experience with the sport, Seung Gil had latched onto him and dragged him along to the indoor rink any chance they had. He insisted that if he were to remain ‘grounded’ until his injury had healed, then he would train Phichit during their spare time. It was a...nice(?) gesture, and Phichit did enjoy himself whenever they went even though Seung Gil was a highly critical teacher. He had to admit that he had improved significantly under the Korean prince’s tutelage.

He also enjoyed accompanying Seung Gil to Yuuri’s dance lessons with Lilia Baranovskaya, since he didn’t see Yuuri’s talent nearly as often as he wished. Where he was awestruck by his flexibility and the grace with which he conducted himself, Seung Gil spotted errors and pointed them out. He didn’t think those parts were very fun, but the Madam approved of his analytical mind and often thanked him for the input before correcting the lord.

Phichit was usually the one to seek out Seung Gil whenever they spent time together, but on this day in particular he was the one who found the Thai first.

“Letters from my home,” he clarified, holding the papers in his hand. One had already been opened - the one meant for the prince, Phichit had assumed - while the other remained sealed with his father’s diplomatic insignia, “this one is for you.”

“Oh, thank you!” He stood from where he had been previously laying on the couch and quickly approached the royal. Any formal greetings had quickly been done away with at Seung Gil’s insistence. He considered it tedious when they had so many other things to do, like skate or take his Husky for a walk.

Phichit engrossed himself with the letter, carefully breaking the seal so as not to rip the paper and folding it open. He had scanned the first 3 lines - a greeting and inquiry into his health - when he noticed that Seung Gil still stood in the doorway.

“Would you like to come in?” He asked and moved aside, gesturing to a chair, “or would you like to sit? I can read this letter later if there’s somewhere you’d like to go-”

“No, please read,” Seung Gil requested and walked into the room. A moment later, his dog came in from where she had been sniffing a patch of carpet in the hallway and followed after her master. Her head seemed to bob in greeting when she spotted Phichit, her tail wagging with more enthusiasm. Phichit grinned and blew kisses at her before going back to the sofa and flinging himself onto the cushions.

A Thai guard hovered in the door, and Phichit dismissed him with a flick of his fingers. Seung Gil hadn’t presented yet so there was no perceived danger to his Omegan innocence or threat of a scandal. He also appeared to have left his own guard behind, so Phichit would do the same as well. 

Once settled, he splayed the two pages out in front of him and got to work, paying no mind to the way Seung Gil was staring neutrally at him with a hand on his Husky’s head.

My Dear Son,

I hope you are well. I am so sorry for leaving you so suddenly. One moment we were enjoying dinner with the Russian Viceroy and his nephew and the next I was being whisked away to Korea. Please forgive your father. I am merely a man doing his job.

Phichit smiled fondly at the words. He knew his dad always felt guilty whenever they had to leave on short notice. He didn’t mind that his father had to perform a quick departure. What confused him, however, was that Phichit couldn’t go with him. This had been the first time he was left behind, and he really wanted an answer for that.

I feel especially guilty knowing that Korea is one of your favorite places to visit. Let me appease you with some new information I’ve learned. There are many traditions that celebrate their culture and heritage, including religions with creation myths unique to their people. If you remember, one common belief that enraptured you as a child was their view of soul mates, that for thousands of years, without fail, their monarch and religious figures have always reunited with their other halves. The earliest genuine records of their history prove this to be true, and it is a tradition that has been successful for centuries.

Phichit nodded to himself, recalling the stories his father had told him as a child and the many beautiful artworks he had seen in the palaces and temples during his last visit to Korea. Each depicted a historical figure and their partner with the image of how they were ‘reunited,’ as the people had called it.

There was also another interesting tradition that had snagged his attention. The main palace was surrounded by a moat and one had to cross a bridge to get onto the grounds. On the bridge were hundreds of locks with the names of the Monarchs and their soulmates engraved into the metal, each with designs of what their Soul Marks etched into them. The Monarch would place the lock on the bridge while the other would lock it with a key and wear it around their neck. It was a popular tourist attraction, for it was believed that the lock signified the permanence of their love and union.

He was flushed with nostalgia and crossed his ankles.

Whenever a citizen develops their Soul Mark, they’re instantly taken to the nearest doctor for documentation. Both the date and the image are recorded in an attempt to make finding the heir’s soulmate easier.

Oh, interesting. He didn’t know that.

For the prince, it's a little more difficult. He was born with his, and therefore has no way of utilizing a 'Date of Appearance' to narrow down the search. They have to rely on Mark description alone in order to reunite him with his soulmate.

I know you’re wondering why you couldn’t come with me. As I had told you before, you were left to stay behind in order to greet Prince Seung Gil on behalf of our office and country. That was at the request of her Majesty, the Empress. That was a lie.

His eyes widened slightly with interest.

Do you remember when we went to Korea years ago? I think you were 8 or 9 at the time. When we first arrived, their immigration authorities had me fill out paperwork, as many countries do, on the nature of our business, as well as contact information and any items we were bringing into the country. We also had to undergo a physical exam to make sure we were healthy while also documenting our appearances and any distinguishing features we had, in case of one day having to be identified for whatever purpose. All standard protocol. Documentation like that, with many foreign visitors entering and leaving the country at a time, can take weeks to file and becomes one of the many thousands put aside until it is needed.

They reviewed our files in preparation of our visit in 6 months. Your Mark is a perfect match to Prince Seung Gil.

His hand flew to his neck and his attention snapped to Seung Gil. He was sitting calmly on the love seat, his shoulders tensing slightly under the sudden attention from the Thai Omega.

“Is something wrong?” He asked when Phichit had continued to stare for a minute. He was snapped from his shock and shook his head quickly.

“Uh, n-no, I’m alright. Everything is fine.”

“Have you finished?” He asked again, and his pup raised her head from his lap to give Phichit a look of apparent concern.

“No, not yet. Please, give me a moment.”

The Empress told me this in the summons I received and asked for my presence immediately to discuss an arrangement between you and the Prince. She had requested that you stay so that you and her son could get to know each other before being informed of the connection you two share.

She told me moments earlier that she would be writing to inform her son of the development, and I wanted to extend the same courtesy to you. We could not have asked for a better match, your mother and I. To not only bond with someone intelligent and from a good family, but also your soul mate! I would have sent word to our own Monarch, but her Majesty has already beaten me to it and received his consent in return. I will remain in South Korea for the time being, and you will return with Seung Gil at the end of his tour in Russia.

Do not fear, I will not sign any papers until you have had a chance to look at the terms. You are still my son and I still very much care for your opinion and happiness.

Please write me back soon, child! I eagerly await to hear of your stories with the Prince in Russia. Give the Imperial family my regards, as well as Lord Katsuki my support. He must feel anxious over the prospect of having to live in Russia permanently, please continue to be kind to him.

I love you very much and wish you good health and warm weather.

Sincerely, your loving father.

Phichit carefully folded the letter along its creases and stared at the wax seal.

Phichit’s king had already given his consent. Phichit’s family was thrilled with the match. Phichit’s father had known before he left.

Seung Gil was his soulmate. Prince Lee Seung Gil, whose country demanded that he marry his ‘other half,’ was his soulmate . Seung Gil also received a letter from his own mother explaining the situation.

Seung Gil already knew.

He sat up straight and looked at the other boy. He wore the same bored expression on his face and stopped petting the dog.

“Any news from home?” Phichit asked, meaning for it to come out conversationally. Instead, his voice was shrill and dripping his anxiety. He gulped in an attempt to swallow his nerves. If his tone hadn’t given him away, then surely his scent would.

Seung Gil watched him for a moment and Phichit could practically see his mind analyzing the situation. When he spoke, it was as if he were trying to calm a spooked animal.

“I imagine our letters were similar in nature,” he suggested and moved to place the papers in his lap onto the table.

“You think so?”

“That’s what my mother implied,” he reasoned and leaned back, “you can read mine, if you’d like. There aren’t any state secrets in there that would threaten my country.”

Normally, the dry delivery and the fact that Seung Gil made a joke would have Phichit in tears. Now, though, he was on the verge of crying for a different reason.

“No, thank you,” he stuttered out, the Mark around his neck now feeling more like a brand, burning his skin, “uhm… do you mind if… I…”

“Can I see your neck?” Seung Gil asked when Phichit made no move to speak further. The question shocked the teen like a jolt of electricity and he stared wide eyed at the prince. They definitely had the same information in their letters, “I'll show mine, too.”

The voice in his head screamed at him not to, begged him to say ‘no.’ Seeing visual confirmation of the claims made in the letter… he couldn’t handle it. Not now. He needed to leave, he needed to separate himself from this situation, he wanted time to process this. He needed a friend.

“Later,” he managed to choke out and stood, avoiding eye contact with the prince. From his peripheral he could see that Seung Gil remained seated, but there was a deep furrow in his brow not uncommon with his dour expression.

He didn’t say anything as Phichit left the room.

One of the Thai guards that stayed on his father’s orders followed closely behind him as he made his way through the halls. He usually maneuvered through the identical passages without any problems, but his distress sent him to dead ends, the wrong rooms, and even into the kitchens at one point.

“Oh, Phichit! Good morning!” Mila’s mother had greeted him when she spotted the boy in the doorway. She frowned immediately when she scented the air, "is everything alright, dear?”

“Uhm… I can’t seem to find Yuuri’s room,” he mumbled instead of answering, not trusting himself to lie successfully.

“3rd floor. He’s staying in the Lavender room. Would you like to sit down a moment? I can make you something warm to eat.”

“No, thank you. I already had breakfast this morning, it was delicious,” he gave a crooked smile and turned to leave, nearly bumping into his escort.

“I know where the room is, Sir,” the late 20-something year old soldier informed him with concern in his eyes, “I will take you.”

“Thank you,” he clenched his hands and nodded, swallowing his humiliation and following the guard's lead up 2 flights of stairs and down 3 corridors. Thankfully, he remained silent during the walk.

He saw that the familiar door was slightly ajar and ran past his guard. He shoved his shoulder against the heavy dark wood and stumbled into the room, bolting through the sitting area and through another door to the left where the bedroom was located.

Yuuri was startled upright when Phichit came crashing in. He had been lying back on his bed, a book in hand and Yurio curled up at his side. The blond was also jolted into sitting up from where he had nearly fallen asleep and glared when he saw the Omega.

“Go away!” He hissed and scooted closer to Yuuri, “don’tcha usually stick to the other prince? Yuuri’s mine until lunch!”

Phichit didn’t bother to snap back with a tease or a whine. Instead, he ran straight to the bed and crawled onto the mattress. He latched onto Yuuri and held him tightly, burying his face in the juncture between his head and shoulder and deeply inhaling his comfortable, familiar scent. He felt Yuuri slowly loop his arms around Phichit as well and pulled him in closer.

“Yuri, you have a lesson with Madam Baranovskaya, right?” He felt the vibrations of his voice through their pressed chests. The question was met with a frustrated snarl.

“Yeah, but not for another hour! Make him go away!”

“I’m sorry, but I need to talk to him.”

“You didn’t have to before!”

“Yuri, please-”

“No! This isn’t fair! I don’t get to see you anymore! You’re always with Victor now, it’s not fair! You promised to read to me today and that’s what we’re gonna do. Phichit needs to go away! Go to that other guy! Yuuri is staying with me!”

“Yuri, leave,” it wasn’t an Alpha Command, not in the slightest, but his voice held an authority Phichit hadn’t heard before. He could hear Yurio’s astonishment in the form of a whine and felt the lord tense up, “now is not the time to be arguing with me. I’ve been with you every morning since we’ve arrived and I’m asking you for this one, one small favor. Please leave us alone. I’ll find you later, alright?”

It was near silent in the room, the air thick with tension with the only sounds of sniffling coming from the child on the bed. His breathing got heavier, as if he were trying not to cry - something Phichit was trying his best to avoid doing now - and he lashed out against the lord.

“Don’t bother! I don’t want to see your stupid face again!” Phichit felt movement through the mattress and heard the sounds of the child’s feet stomping on the carpet. The door slammed shut behind him, shaking the windows and paintings and leaving the noise to reverberate in the room for a few moments afterwards.

He felt Yuuri shift his grip, moving his hands to his shoulders before gently pushing. Yuuri maneuvered them so that they were an arms length away from each other. He lifted a hand up and pushed Phichit’s bangs out of his face to get a better look at his eyes, the gesture nostalgically maternal and bringing a swell of emotion up his throat.

“What’s wrong?” He asked softly, concern weighing heavily in his expression and eyes so, so caring. Phichit suddenly felt awful. He didn’t want to burden Yuuri with his problems. Could he even consider this a problem? Shouldn’t he be honored to have an intelligent prince as his soulmate? Was he acting like an entitled brat right now?

Tears began to pour and Yuuri’s expression fell.

“Oh, Phichit,” he murmured and pulled him in close for a hug, tucking his head under his chin and wrapping his arms around his shoulder. Phichit easily fell in with the motion and held Yuuri around his chest, burying his face in the soft silk shirt Yuuri wore and letting the sobs choke out.

“Y-Yuuri~,” he cried pathetically as his friend ran his hand up and down his back, “I don’t kn-know what to do!”

“What happened, Phichit? Please tell me,” he continued to soothe, his breath warming the top of Phichit’s head. He gripped the lord tighter.

“M-my dad sent me a l-le-letter,” he started, struggling to get the words out. Admitting the situation felt like bile spewing from his mouth, “he knows who my soulmate is! He-he's making arrangements f-for us to be married!”

“Oh, Phichit,” Yuuri cooed and cupped his cheek tilting his head up so that they were looking at each other, “he found your soulmate! Isn't that a good thing? It’s not scary, don’t worry. For most people, meeting your soulmate will feel as if you’ve known them your whole life. I’m sure the same will happen for you two.”

“N-no, Yuuri, you don’t understand,” he leaned back to sit on his knees and furiously rubbed the tear streaks off of his cheeks with the back of his hand, trying to build the courage to tell his friend the truth, “I’m not… It’s not… how you feel toward Victor? I… I, uh…”

Yuuri sat patiently in front of him, quiet and waiting for him to continue. Phichit felt tears of gratitude slide down the track marks left by his pained sobs and he sniffed. He could do this. Yuuri was his friend. His best friend.

“I won’t ever feel that way about anyone. I can’t feel that way, I don’t want to, either.”

Yuuri blinked at him, his face carefully neutral as Phichit held his breath. A moment passed, the silence timed by the ticking clock in the corner of the room. Yuuri didn’t look upset, right? And his scent was still sweet and comforting. There wasn’t any indication of a reaction from him, though, and that worried the Thai teen.

“Please say something,” he begged quietly and wiped his cheek on his sleeve. Yuuri blinked again.

“You don’t...feel love?” He asked. It made Phichit flinch, even though he knew it wasn’t meant as an attack. It just sounded too much like what his parents had told him in the past, of what other children from different countries had said when he was younger. It was hard not to hear it like an echo.

“Of course I do,” he huffed and glared, “I love you, idiot. I love my hamsters, I love my parents, I love Makkachin, but I can’t...fall in love. I can’t be ‘in love.’”

Yuuri’s expression shifted slightly more towards confusion. “You can feel love, but not love?”

“There are different kinds of love, Yuuri!” He snapped, anger flaring up at the frustration he felt. Damnit, why couldn’t he have told Yuuri sooner when he wasn’t an emotional wreck? “I love my friends and family! I love animals and sweet foods! But I don’t feel romantic love! I don’t experience lust! I can’t feel a love like the one you have with Victor!”

“Phichit, I… think I understand now,” Yuuri tried to calm him down, hands up in a meek surrender and voice soft as Phichit panted heavily from his rampage, “that… kind of love, is...it’s not meant for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“But there must be something wrong with us because we ended up as soulmates, Yuuri! This has to be a mistake!” Phichit continued to yell, hands clenched into fists as he hit the mattress beside him, “we shouldn’t be soulmates! Seung Gil needs someone who can actually love him! Who can give him heirs and wax poetic about his eyes and other nonsense!

“As a friend, he’s great! Until a few moments ago, I thought that I could one day grow to love him in a similar way to how I love you, but this changes everything! Korea is famous for the love stories of their past and present monarchs, and I can’t give him that! I can’t! Just thinking of having to give him heirs, of having… having to do those things to get them - i-i-it makes me sick,” he put a hand over his mouth, feeling a wave of nausea as unwanted images flashed through his head. He willed his imagination to stop and squeezed his mouth shut, moving his hands down to his throat.

“I don’t know what to do…” he continued softly, bitterly, “He deserves so much better than me.”

“Phichit,” Yuuri took his hands away from his neck and held them tightly in his own, “Oh, Phichit…”

“Have you seen his Soul Mark?” He pulled his hands out of Yuuri’s grasp, a clear indication of how the contact wasn’t what he was looking for, “he stayed with you for a while, right?”

“... Uhm... yes, I have-” Phichit moved before he finished speaking. He ripped the linen shirt he had been wearing and shrugged out of it, letting it pool around his waist as he struggled to remove the tight turtleneck. He threw the garment away onto the floor, keeping his eyes locked onto the lumpy pile of black fabric to avoid looking at Yuuri.

“Is it the same…?” He spat through clenched teeth. When he didn’t respond immediately, he snapped his attention back to his face, ignoring the shock and flush on Yuuri’s cheeks in favor of yelling, “ Is it the same ?!”

“It is.”

Phichit didn’t know what to do. He had confirmation from Yuuri, a second nail in the coffin alongside the one delivered from the letter. He sat frozen, panting and mind blank. This was happening, this was actually happening-

“Nothing is happening, Phichit,” Yuuri snapped, “nothing you don’t want to happen! You’re friends with Prince Seung Gil, right? What do you know about him?”

“He needs a-”

“No, stop. I’m not asking about what you’ve heard or what he needs, Phichit, but what has he told you about himself?”

“... he … he likes to skate,” he spoke slowly.

“Good, what else?”

“He loves his dog more than anything in the world.”

“Okay, more. Give me more,” Yuuri encouraged.

“He… he doesn’t want to go back home yet.”

His friend physically perked up, “Why?”

“I don’t know…”

“He hasn’t told you why?”

“No… yes, he has. He doesn’t want to sit through his lessons or learn court etiquette. He just wants to skate.”

“Think about it Phichit,” he waited until they were making eye contact before he continued, “his dog is the love of his life, skating is his priority, his duties as a prince are the last thing on his mind. They’re chores to him. What’s expected of him as a future monarch by his people?”

“Be intelligent, put the country’s interests first, produce an heir-”

“I don’t want to hear you say that again,” Yuuri interrupted him, “don’t, alright? We’re not talking about that”

“But-”

“Think about what you told me. Just think it over for a moment.”

He did. He didn’t say anything. Yuuri sighed.

“Phichit, it sounds like the only soulmate he’ll ever accept is his dog.”

“He can’t, though, he has to-”

“As per tradition, he has to marry his soulmate. I remember you told me that, but that’s just a civic duty he has to perform.”

“He still has to do it!”

“It sounds like he’s indifferent to that, though.”

“But he has to!”

“Phichit, he doesn’t care ! Based on everything you’ve told me, he might feel the same as you.”

“Yuuri, we'd still have to bond; we'd still have to have-”

“Have you tried talking to him about it?”

“... No.”

“Why not?”

He hesitated to answer. “... I ran away before we could.”

Yuuri closed his eyes and bit his lip, “Phichit….”

“I was scared! I was nervous-”

“Why? Was he going to attack you?” Phichit’s eyes widened and he shook his head.

“No! He just asked to see my neck.”

“Did you show him?”

“... No.”

“Why not?”

He gulped nervously, “seeing it would make it real.”

“You just asked me if he had the same Mark as you. How is that any different?” He asked gently. Phichit felt his face heat up with embarrassment and he looked down.

“It just is! You could be wrong!”

“You should talk to him. You have to talk to him.”

“But I can’t,” his voice cracked and he felt the tears start to well once more, “I can’t right now.”

“That’s fine. I won’t force you to leave,” he scooted over and patted the open space by his side on the mattress, “stay here for a while and rest. Don’t think about this. Don’t think about him or his Mark or your letter, just rest.”

Phichit nodded slowly, biting his lip. The idea sounded wonderful, and he tried not to think about what he’d have to do when he’d wake up, “can we… can we cuddle like we used to?”

Yuuri’s eyes flickered to an area behind him, probably where the guard that had accompanied him still stood. There was a beat of silence before Yuuri looked back at him, the action followed shortly after by the sound of a closing door.

“Of course.”

Phichit crawled forward and laid on his side. He grabbed a pillow and hugged it tightly to his chest, staring straight ahead as he felt Yuuri gently spoon him from behind. The arms around his waist felt like anchors, grounding him.

He took comfort in the tactile support and noted that there was a stockpile of blankets, pillows, and shirts strewn around the bed in a circle, a build similar to that of a pillow fort or an Omegan Nest. The familiarity made him feel at ease, along with Victor, Yuuri, and Yurio’s mixed scents. Yuuri removed his arm briefly and reached for a blanket, throwing it over Phichit and tucking him in tightly before returning to his earlier position.

“We’ll probably get 2 hours in before we’re called away to lunch,” he commented. Phichit hummed in agreement and closed his eyes, letting the tears fall quietly in this safe space he and Yuuri occupied.

 


 

 

The next time he saw Seung Gil was at a luncheon 5 days later. He had been practically glued to Yuuri’s side, preferring Yurio’s wrath over the inevitable conversation he was supposed to have with the Korean Prince.

It was held to showcase exotic gifts and artwork Captain de la Iglesia collected during his journey from America to Russia. Everything was displayed around the gardens, with written histories of each item posted on the pedestals they rested on and the Captain telling the stories of how he acquired them to anyone who wanted to listen.

Victor was absent from the gathering, along with Dr. Plisetsky. His rut had started 2 days prior and was estimated to last a little over a week. Phichit had noticed that Yuuri also hadn’t been looking well. He’d spent a good majority of his time with Victor before he was quarantined to the west wing and they both had been attached at the hip during their free time, constantly keeping a hand on each other. Phichit wasn’t sure if it was due to their amorous connection or Victor’s hormone imbalance, but he didn’t want to give it much thought. Every time he did, he’d see himself and….

“Yuuri, are you sure you’re alright?” He heard Mila ask in a soft whisper. He looked to his left and saw the young girl fretting over his friend, who looked clammy and a little under the weather.

“I’m fine, thank you,” he smiled, “Leo has been so excited to show us what he has, I don’t want to miss it.”

“If you’re not feeling well, then go back,” Yurio helpfully supplied with annoyance, “I’ll get my grandpa.”

“He’s busy with Victor, it’s fine. Really, I’m alright,” he reassured the boy and glanced at Phichit, sending him a kind smile. That day was a rare sunny day, so their small group was able to wear light jackets as opposed to heavy wool and fur. Yuuri had shed his, though, and was left standing in his shirt with the exposed back. Phichit could see many people staring at the lord, either out of confusion for the missing layers or the prideful display of his Mark. He felt bad for him.

“Maybe you should leave,” he insisted as well, “you’re either sick or about to start your Rut. Better to get out now and save yourself from unintentionally starting a scandal.”

“It’s common for couples to sync up,” Chris supplied, placing a hand gently on Yuuri’s lower back, “you smell absolutely divine, mon cher , and I can tell that I’m not the only one who thinks so.”

“Here it is!” Leo shouted as he rejoined their cluster, Sara and Mickey following closely behind. In his hands he held a book with yellowed pages and a worn binding, “these are the weird pictures I was telling you about! Of people contorted into all of these weird positions!"

"It’s really weird,” Sara agreed with a fervent nod.

Phichit lagged behind as the rest clustered around Leo and the book. The child spouted the history behind its attainment, going into detail about the circus they visited and the acts they saw. The Thai teen looked around the garden, observing the gaggles of ladies in their winter dresses and the men in suits and caps. Captain de la Iglesia was showing the Viceroy a sword while the majority gathered around different clothes displayed on mannequins near the entrance to the hedge maze.

“What are they looking at?” Phichit jumped at the voice to his left and turned toward the speaker. Seung Gil stood next to him, dressed comfortably in a thin coat and a scarf around his neck. The breeze had turned his nose and ear tips red, and he was looking with disinterest at their group of teens gathered around Leo.

“Uhm… Leo is showing them a book,” this was the first time he had spoken to Seung Gil since their last encounter. He looked anxiously at Yuuri, debating on whether or not he could smoothly leave Seung Gil to join him and Chris.

“Yuuri doesn’t look well,”  Seung Gil commented uncharacteristically, “my mother looks the same way before she goes into heat.”

“Yuuri’s an Alpha,” Phichit corrected with a bit of venom in his tone. Seung Gil’s expression revealed no acknowledgement of the attitude.

“I keep forgetting. His scent doesn’t match,” he looked at Phichit then, and the teen scrambled to come up with an excuse to leave.

“Where’s your dog? Did she get lost? I’ll go look for her over there-”

“She’s inside. I didn’t want to risk her damaging any of the exhibits.”

“O-oh, uh.... are you thirsty? I can find a waiter-”

“I’m fine, thank you. I’d like to talk to you for a moment. Please, come with me.”

He held his arm out for Phichit to take, and the Thai Omega hesitated. In public, surrounded by Russian aristocracy and in the presence of royalty, he had to accept. If not, gossip was sure to be spread and ill words would be said about his people and his father. He swallowed his irritation and wrapped his arm around Seung Gil’s, looking back to see his guard had noticed the movement fell in place beside Seung Gil’s own escort a few feet away.

“Have you been in the maze before?”

“No,” Phichit lied, not wanting to encourage him to go inside.

“Neither have I. I hate mazes,” he tsked and they began their walk. Based on their speed and the direction they went in, Phichit assumed that they were walking to a stone alcove near a display of  scrolls. It was a little out of the way without being completely removed from the party. It was smart on Seung Gil’s part; it kept them in everyone’s view while allowing privacy for their conversation.

“I haven’t seen you in a few days,” he started,” Is everything alright?”

“Uhm… yes. Everything is fine.”

“I have the impression that you’ve been avoiding me since our last talk,” Phichit clenched his hand, keeping his gaze locked onto the ground. There was no anger in Seung Gil’s voice, nor annoyance. He was completely unemphatic.

“I’m sorry if I gave you that impression-”

“You’re only sorry that you were caught.” Seung Gil stopped walking and angled his arm to encourage Phichit forward, turning him so that Phichit had a wide view of the garden while Seung Gil kept his back to the party and its attendees. Phichit made brief eye contact with Yuuri, looking a little panicked. Yuuri mouthed ‘you’ll be fine, talk to him’ before turning back to resume his conversation with Mickey. Traitor!

“I’m not good with people. I don’t like these social gatherings or the crowds that attend them,” Seung Gil huffed with a glance over his shoulder, “the majority of people I meet and people I'm forced to interact with due to my status are obnoxious. They lie and dance around issues, always trying to pry information out of each other while never offering anything in return.

“I appreciate your bluntness, Phichit,” The boy widened his eyes slightly at the compliment(?) as the prince continued, “it’s refreshing compared to the riddles and prose spouted at these parties. You know what you want and you’re not afraid to share your opinion, which is why I didn’t think talking about the contents of our letters would be so difficult.

“I’ll start first, then, while I have you here, so that we at least have one half of this conversation done before you resume hiding from me again,” Phichit cheeks tinted red with embarrassment at being called out on his actions, but he kept his mouth shut. Seung Gil, with the same blank expression, reached up and untied the knot of his scarf. Phichit knew why he was the one facing away from the crowd as soon as he started and he anxiously watched as Seung Gil parted the cloth open in the front and revealed his Soul Mark.

“I want to confirm this before I go any further: is this the same as yours?”

It was. This was actually happening. He couldn’t exactly shimmy his way out of this one. He sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping in defeat, “yes.”

Around his throat was a bold black line, about an inch thick, with a short 3 inch long line of the same thickness going vertically down the center and intersecting the first line. On either side were 2 more lines, slightly thinner, that intersected the horizontal one at angles that slanted down and away from the center.

Seung Gil tied the scarf around his neck once more.

“We’re soulmates,” he started, eyes locked with Phichit's, “I don’t know how it happens or why it works, but statistically speaking, soulmates share a lot in common with each other, which generally makes them good matches. To keep this conversation short enough for me to get my opinion out before you run away, I am going to be blunt with you, since you have been kind enough to offer me the same courtesy in the past.

“I’m not attracted to you,” Phichit startled at the admission. Seung Gil certainly hadn’t been lying when he said he’d be blunt, “honestly, I’m not attracted to anyone. It’s not something I have an interest in or deem worthy of my time. Our parents will certainly arrange our marriage and fight for us to bond since it's expected for me to be with my soulmate, but I want to clarify this now before we go any further. “

Phichit felt a tear slip from his eye. And then another. And another. Seung Gil’s expression, empty and calm, didn’t alter in the slightest when faced with Phichit’s tears. He furiously wiped at his eyes and sniffed, looking down at his hands as he processed the information. Seung Gil awkwardly glanced behind them at the few nobles whose attention had been drawn to them and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket.

“Here,” he held it out, “I knew there was a possibility that you’d be upset-”

“No,” Phichit interrupted him and shook his head, grabbing the cloth. He wiped his eyes and cheeks with the fabric, “not upset, no.”

When he looked up, he was surprised to see Seung Gil’s eyes had widened slightly, ”’not upset…’” he repeated quietly to himself. Phichit nodded.

“Yes. I’m not upset,” Seung Gil watched him for a moment, eyes narrowing and analyzing the boy in front of him before he inhaled, realization dawning on his normally bland expression.

“You feel the same way,” he smiled shyly at the prince.

“I do.”

“This… I did not account for this.”

“I’ve never seen you at a loss for words,” Phichit laughed, feeling like a weight had lifted from his chest, “I think this is the most I’ve heard you talk at one time, too.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“A joke? This is crazy, should I be expecting a smile anytime soon?” He grimaced, eliciting more laughter from his companion.

When he had calmed down, Seung Gil straightened his scarf and shifted his weight on his feet, “now is not a good time, but I’m assuming you’re more receptive to conversations about us.”

“Yes,” he agreed immediately, “since we’re both decided on our stance with this… thing… can we tell our parents and call the marriage off?”

“It’s tradition. I can’t break it without repercussions from politicians and the general public,” Phichit groaned.

“Would they be small repercussions, or…?”

“Not in the slightest,” he scowled. Seung Gil’s face returned to its neutral state.

“Well...I know you treat your whole princely duties as mandatory work you have to do, but I refuse to let you treat marrying me the same way,” Phichit warned, “I am not a chore.”

“No, you’re not. ‘Marriage’ wouldn’t be the right word for our eventual union,” he admitted, “‘Partnership’ is more appropriate. I’ve only know you for a handful of weeks -and I’ve met others and spent time with others far longer than I have with you -but I enjoy your company," something softened in his eyes, "I think I will grow fond of you one day.”

That was quite the admission, especially coming from Seung Gil. It made Phichit smile, “I think I could love you, Seung Gil... just not in that way.”

“We’re finally on the same page now,” he pointed out, "and here I thought I would have to chase you half way through this talk."

“Yes, I won’t run away. I’m sorry I did, I just...I didn’t know how to bring it up,” Phichit huffed, "there aren't many people like us."

“Avoiding me was a poor start.”

“Shut up,” Phichit stuck his tongue out. He felt happy now, relieved. He and Seung Gil felt the same way; what were the odds of that?  He couldn't even begin to comprehend the luck he needed for that to happen. They were allies now, and knowing there was someone else like him gave him a thrill of validation. Suddenly, being faced with the prospect of having to marry his soulmate wasn't so scary, not with Seung Gil standing beside him.

After all they had said had settled between them, Phichit nodded to the other children, “let’s head back. Yuuri looks like he’s about to faint and I don’t think Chris should be the one to catch him.”

Chapter Text

When she first heard the whispers, she was working in the kitchen. Mila was 12 years old, old enough to begin her formal training as a chef for the Imperial family. If she were to be honest, she would say her training started the day she was able to eat real food, but now was the time that she had to “stop dallying around and actually start working.”

For as long as she could remember, the kitchen was a popular place for rumors to breed and spread. Maids would scurry in and fetch plates, spilling whatever juicy information they had learned to each other and to off-duty servants who had stopped by to get a quick bite. As a result, the others would go back to their own duties - gardening, cleaning, attending, etc - and bring with them the drama to chat about as they worked.

The topics usually concerned other servants of the household, or aristocrats that had gotten into trouble at the most recent social gathering. Mila had grown bored of these rumors fairly quickly. She didn’t care if Baroness Kournikova was seen scenting another Alpha at the same birthday party her husband threw for her. She didn’t think it was funny that Sir Yusupov had been written out of the family will for mating a Beta instead of an Alpha. These weren’t interesting to her. She was too concerned with disguising the smell of spices in pastries in order to trick little Yurio into eating a spicy tea cake.

It was for this reason that she was in the kitchen early this morning before anyone else had arrived. Her mother forbade her from experimenting during ‘working hours,’ forcing her to wake up extra early to work on her goal. She didn’t mind, neither did her mother. She’d usually cook breakfast for the few men and women who came in early for a snack before working on her recipe. Fortunately enough, there was only one gardener who had come to eat, giving her more time to bake before the other chefs woke up.

She was pulling her 4th attempt of a ‘spicy bomb’ out of the oven when a maid stumbled into the kitchen, red faced and holding back a squeal. She paid no mind to Mila and headed directly for the gardener eating his morning breakfast and gripped onto his arm tightly.

“Ivan, you will not believe what I have seen!”

“I don’t believe most things you see, my dear,” the gardener shot back with an amused smile, bits of egg stuck in his teeth.

“Oh, just listen! Anna was changing Lord Katsuki’s bed sheets this morning while he was taken to a bath by Olga and Katarina when she saw slick on the mattress!”

“He’s going through his Rut, that’s nothing new.”

“Did you not hear me, fool? There was slick on the sheets!”

“Yes, yes, whatever can help him get through the Rut. Leave the poor boy alone.”

“Ivan, do you know who Lord Katsuki is?” She was getting frustrated, casting an anxious glance at Mila with a scowl on her face.

“I’ve just started a few days ago, I still don’t even know the chef’s name.”

“Lord Katsuki is Grand Duke Victor’s soulmate!” She hissed and leaned in closer, “ and there was slick on his sheets!”

The gardener perked up and glanced around the room, completely overlooking Mila who had moved to the door and hid behind the frame in order to keep them there to continue their gossip.

“That’s his Alpha lover?”

“Not a lover. Yuuri Katsuki is Victor’s soulmate and potential fiance. They started their courtship months ago.”

The man gasped, his jaw dropping, “and there was slick on his sheets,” he echoed, “which means-”

“-he’s been sleeping around with an Omega!” They finished in unison.

“My guess is that Thai boy that the diplomat left behind,” she asserted, “they’re awfully close, and Omegas usually end up bending over for their Alpha friends sooner or later. My sister was an Omegan slut to her childhood friend for years. It’s in their nature.”

“Is there any way you can check? To see if it’s the Thai?”

“I’ll try my luck in flirting with one of his guardsmen. They’d know if he was sneaking around at night to get into the lord’s room,” there was laughter in her voice, and Mila was grateful that she was holding a spatula instead of a knife.

“I have to go now, my shift is starting.”

“And I have to fetch new sheets for Anna. She’ll be wondering why I’ve taken so long,” Mila chose to re-enter the room just then, slamming her wooden spatula onto the counter with annoyance before grabbing a knife. The maid jumped from the noise, glaring at the pre-teen and whispering to her companion, “we’ll talk later.”

“Yes. Please keep me updated, Alexandra.”

“Of course I will,” she smiled at him and left the room. The gardener glanced at Mila and timidly thanked her for the food before leaving as well. Mila waited a few moments, wanting to see if they would be back, before placing the knife down and inhaling deeply.

When that did nothing to calm her anger, she grabbed the biscuit she had baked and threw it onto the floor, stomping on it twice before storming out of the kitchen. She didn’t get very far before doubling back and cleaning up the mess. Her mother would kill her and the other chefs would box her ears.

She marched down the hallways, her hands clenched into fists and her lip raw from being bitten. She didn’t know where she was going or where she should go. This was not drama to be taken lightly. These were serious accusations, ones that could ruin reputations and lives. Victor was still in Rut, as was Yuuri. The Viceroy was a busy man who didn’t like to grace rumors with his attention, but there was potential that this gossip could turn into a scandal within a matter of hours, if not days.

She found herself approaching the door to Christophe’s rooms. A guard standing beside the entrance held a hand up to stop her.

“I’m sorry, miss, he’s not awake yet.”

“Then wake him up, I have to see him!”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, miss.”

“It’s important!”

“Please, come back at a later hour. Or tell him whatever it is you need to tell him at breakfast.”

“No, I need to speak to him now! It’s very important!”

“Miss, I-” the door opened to reveal the blond Alpha half dressed. His hair was still messy from his slumber, but his eyes were bright and alert. It appeared that he had been in the middle of getting ready for a run.

“There’s no need to be so mean to the lady,” he teased the guard and smiled at Mila, “she’s welcome into these rooms at any time.”

“But Sir, the implications-”

“-are so vulgar and so far from the truth that one would sooner be disgusted by the people who would believe those rumors than myself. After you, ‘Miss,’” Mila scowled at the subtle tease and walked into the room.

“I heard something in the kitchen just now,” she said just as the door clicked shut behind her. She sat on one of the sofas in the sitting room and looked at Chris, who was finishing buttoning up his shirt with a practiced efficiency.

“Aren’t you a little too old to believe in monsters?”

“No, not like that. I overheard a conversation between a maid and a landscaper.”

“I know you like to make fun of rumors,” he huffed with a smile and sat down in a chair across from her, “but I didn’t think you would believe them.”

“This is different; it’s about Yuuri,” he perked up at the name, gracefully propping his elbow on the arm rest and resting his chin in his hand. His eyes twinkled with interest.

“There are always rumors about Yuuri. He’s an Alpha with the build of a Beta and the smell of an Omega. Enlighten me: what are they saying now?”

“They found slick on his sheets,” Chris’s expression remained carefully neutral as he processed the simple words.

“Slick?”

“That’s what the maid said.”

“Oh, dear.”

“They think it was Phichit.”

“Oh no, not Phichit.

She caught on quickly to the playful tone, “stop mocking me and be serious!”

“Mila, I don’t know what to tell you. Let the servants have their gossip to brighten their otherwise boring chores.”

“But this is serious! This could ruin Yuuri’s reputation! What if it’s true?!”

“You and I know Yuuri better than them. Do you think it’s true?”

“No!” She snarled, “of course not!”

“Then don’t worry. It’ll die down soon enough.”

Mila frowned deeply at the lack of help and concern she was getting, “Yuuri is our friend! If you’re not the least bit concerned about what will happen to him if these rumors spread, then-”

“Hush,” Chris stood up and walked to his armoire, opening the cabinet and withdrawing shoes and a light jacket, “here’s what we’ll do: we’ll talk to the maids who apparently witnessed this ‘slick’-”

“Except Alexandra!” Chris paused at the amount of venom that dripped from the little girl’s words.

“.... alright, ‘except Alexandra.’ We’ll also speak with Phichit to see if he really is sneaking into Yuuri’s room. However, that’s the most we can do until the rumor either develops with new information or Yuuri finishes his Rut.”

“... fine.”

“Don’t say I never do anything for you,” he quickly laced his shoes and stood, shrugging his coat on with Mila in tow as they left the room together. He gave a brief good morning to the guard in passing and waited until they were a few meters away before asking Mila, “do you know the names of the servants we’re looking for?”

“The woman said ‘Anna’ was the one changing the sheets this morning.”

“Oh, Anna,” he purred the name, making Mila shudder with disgust at the pheromones he started to spew.

“You smell gross. Stop it.”

“Anna is one of my long time admirers. This will be easy,” he grinned, all teeth, “she’s probably in the wash room. If we hurry, we might get there before she starts soaking the sheets.”

Mila took off into a sprint after he spoke. He sighed heavily and jogged after her, allowing her to go barreling around the corners and nearly run into servants. All the while, he laughed and yelled commentary, earning himself aggressive glares and comebacks from the girl half his size.

He told her to stop, though, when they were a few doors away from their destination.

“Let me go in first. You should wait out here.”

“No, I’m coming too!”

“Trust me, dear, you do not want to come with me.”

“That’s not fair! You wouldn’t be here without me!”

“And you need me more than I need you,” she huffed and crossed her arms. Her gaze screamed ‘bloody murder’ and Chris found himself sighing.

“Look, you can peak if you’re quiet, alright?”

“Fine.”

He straightened his jacket and ran a hand through his hair before sauntering to the room. Mila followed a few feet behind him, sticking close to the wall and waiting until he was in the room with the attention of the servant before peeking inside. She flattened herself onto the floor and pressed against the wall, making sure that only the top of her head and eyes were peeking around the bottom of the door frame.

Anna ,” Chris smoothly drawled, causing the woman holding a bundle of napkins to spin around quickly and nearly drop the cloth.

“Oh, Chris!” She stuttered, a light blush blooming on her cheeks, “good morning! What brings you down here to see silly old me?” Mila noticed that she was quite a few decades older than Chris. Probably in her 40s. She silently gagged.

“I went for a jog this morning and I think I may have stumbled across a young lovers’ meeting spot,” he lied easily and shed his coat, the scent of his pheromones more pungent than before. Mila swore she saw Anna’s eyes flutter, “the smell of slick was so strong that… I must admit, I’m embarrassed to say this, but I found myself getting a little excited.”

“Oh, dear,” she cooed and dropped her bundle into a large woven basket before reaching out to take the coat from his hands. “Your scent certainly does seem to scream ‘come hither.’ You’re still a young man, regardless of how mature you like to present yourself to others.”

“You can imagine my embarrassment. I was hoping to dump my clothes here in exchange for a fresh set.”

“Of course. Maybe you should stay a few moments as well, in order to calm down from your… discovery.”

“Thank you, Anna, you are too kind.”

“I have some of Prince Victor’s garments that are cleaned. I don’t mind washing them again if you’d like to change into those.”

“I think I shall, thank you,” he gently tugged at his shirt, the buttons popping out of their holes smoothly, and surrendered the garment with a wink. Mila wanted to leave.

She saw Chris do a subtle scan of the room as he buttoned up Victor’s shirt, all the while Anna chatted on about ‘teenagers these days’ and their ‘incessant need for sex.’ Mila saw that his eyes lingered on a basket in the corner and he glanced at the little girl peeking through the doorway. It was brief, lasting only for half a second, but the expression in his eyes told her everything she needed to know.

The sheets were there.

“What’s that smell?” She heard Chris ask. Anna stopped talking and frowned as Chris laced up the borrowed trousers.

“Hm? Honestly, dear, the only thing I can smell in here is you,” she clucked, “and soap.”

“It smells like slick,” he murmured and wiggled his eyebrows at her, “ Anna! Have you been having fun in here?”

“Oh goodness, no! ” She gushed, scandalized.

“But the only people in the castle who are having a ‘heat’ are Alphas,” he insisted, “something smells like an Omega in heat in here.”

“I can assure you nothing like that is happening in here!” She asserted, glancing at the doorway. Mila froze, thinking she had been spotted, but the woman stepped into Chris’s space and whispered in his ear, “but in the royal bedrooms, however, I can’t say for certain.”

“What do you mean?” He whispered back in the same manner, making a show of also looking around.

“What I mean, dear, is that one of the royals seems to have already adopted a concubine,” Chris’s eyes widened with faux shock and he put a hand to his chest.

No!

“Yes! My girls and I went earlier this morning to take care of Lord Katsuki. While they were bathing him, I found slick on his sheets!”

Quelle folie!

“They’re right over here!” She quickly turned and snatched the basket Chris had spotted earlier and brought it to him, setting it on a work table against one of the walls and waving at her nose. “It’s been hours, but the scent is still strong.”

Mila watched with disgust as Chris scented the sheets. He was so close that he nearly buried his face in the fabric. Thankfully, there was still (a little bit of) space between them and he straightened up. It happened quickly enough for Anna to miss it, but Mila was able to catch the unmistakable flash of gold in Chris’s eyes. He needed to leave, she needed to get him out of there. Mila straightened up and dusted her skirt off.

“To be honest, my dear, the only scent I can make out is Yuuri’s.”

“I agree. Whoever it was must have a scent similar to his-”

“Miss Anna, are you here? I- Oh!” Mila shouted as she ‘casually’ strolled into the room, “good morning, Chris!”

“Mila!” Chris smiled tightly, asking through gritted teeth, “what brings you here so early in the morning?”

“I can’t find my apron,” she huffed, “my mother has already yelled at me twice and the other chefs smacked me during their scolding. It really hurt, so I was hoping there’d be a spare.”

“Oh, Mila! Of course! Let me look around for a moment,” as she turned to search through the heaps of laundry, Chris grabbed the basket and dumped its contents into one of the large vats of hot water in the room. He used the wooden stirring stick leaning off to the side in order to completely submerge the sheets without having to touch them.

“Oh, Mila! I completely forgot that I meant to speak to your mother this morning!” Chris gasped and slipped on his shoes, subtly leaning the stick against the wall without drawing any attention to his actions. He walked to Anna and gave her a friendly hug, muttering an apology in French, “I will visit you later to return these clothes, my dear Anna.”

“Be sure that you do!” She smiled and held an apron out for Mila, “don’t lose this one, alright?”

“I promise! Thank you!” She smiled brightly and turned to Chris, “shall we? Mother is probably preparing breakfast right now.”

“After you, little one,” he gestured for her to leave first. Mila bit back the glare she was tempted to throw at him and waved good bye to Anna.

She waited until they were three hallways away before speaking to Chris.

“You’re disgusting.”

“Me?” He asked with a raised eyebrow, “welcome to the world of adults. If you want to know something, you seduce someone for that information. I just like to use my body instead of money-”

“I thought you were going to roll around in Yuuri’s sheets,” Chris paused and considered her words for a moment before sending her a jaunty smile.

“Well, he does smell divine.

“Disgusting.”

“But I was being honest. The only scent I could make out was his,” he furrowed his eyebrows, “we should still talk to Phichit.”

“He wouldn’t do that, though.”

“He loves Yuuri very much. He’d do anything to help his friend,” he reasoned as they approached stairs to the second floor.

“Yes, that’s true, but he wouldn’t sleep with him !”

“Why not? I would,” she sneered at his chuckle and rolled her eyes.

“Like I said: you’re disgusting.”

“Whose disgusting?” They startled and looked up, spotting a little boy with golden blond hair peeking down at them between the banister bars at the top of the steps.

“Go away, Yuri,” Mila sighed as they breached the top of the stairs. The blond looked confused and taken aback at the rejection. Usually, he was the one telling her to leave, so Mila could understand the oddity of her words, “we’ll play later.”

“What are you two doing?” He followed after them, pumping his legs quickly in order to keep up.

“We’re looking for Phichit,” Chris supplied just as Mila said, “None of your business.”

Yurio scowled.

“Well, I know where he is and I’m not telling you.”

“Chris! Mila! Good morning!” All three stopped and turned around to see Phichit a few meters down the hallway. He smiled brightly and waved, “oh, hello Yuri! I didn’t see you!”

“Phichit, good morning!” Chris greeted cheerfully, approaching the Thai boy and pulling him in for a hug. Phichit squealed and struggled in his arms, complaining about how bad he smelled as Mila hissed at the little boy.

“Seriously, Yura, now isn’t a good time. I can fill you in later, but please just go away,” she did her best to ignore the hurt in his eyes, choosing instead to focus on his brow as his face contorted from childish arrogance to fury.

“Fine! I didn’t want to play with you anyway!” He seethed and stormed away. Mila swore she saw his eyes watering, but she had more pressing things to deal with than a little boy’s tantrum.

She approached the boys, noticing that Chris was trying to subtly scent Phichit as he bear hugged the smaller boy.

“Mila, help! He smells terrible, I want him off me!” He laughed. Chris released him and set him back on the ground as he looked around with a frown, “wait, where did little Yurio go?”

“We have something important to talk to you about,” his confusion deepened and he looked between the two with hesitation.

“Uhm… alright… did something bad happen?”

“No!” They both said - a little too quickly - and Mila shook her head.

“It’s not something we should discuss out here,” Phichit’s eyes narrowed with suspicion and he nodded slowly.

“Alright… we can talk in my room,” he turned and motioned for them to follow.

The walk was silent, awkwardly so. Mila kept shooting looks at Chris, who appeared to be unaffected by her concerns. She didn’t like the way Phichit fell silent, nor his hesitance. Then again, she and Chris weren’t exactly the paragons of subtlety either. They reached his room quickly and Phichit told the Thai guard standing next to his door that they were not to be disturbed. With interruptions prevented and all of them seated in the sitting room, Phichit was the first to speak.

“So what’s this about?”

“Mila heard a rumor about Yuuri,” Chris bluntly announced before Mila could speak.

“Oh? I haven’t even had breakfast yet and you’re already starting my day off with a juicy topic,” most of the suspicion melted away to concern at the mention of his best friend, “what is it?”

“The maids who cleaned him up this morning found slick on his bed sheets.”

“Oh.”

“We went to the laundry room and confirmed it.”

“Oh, no.”

“Some of them think you snuck into his bedroom,” Mila added.

“What?!” Phichit reeled back, offended and angry, “I would never!”

“You’re his best friend and an unmated Omega,” Chris shrugged, “is it so far fetched to think that you’d want to help him in his time of need?”

“Yes, it is!” He snapped, “it’s very far-fetched! I would never do that! Never!”

“Where were you last night?” Phichit narrowed his eyes at Chris.

“I was sleeping in my room. You can’t possibly think that I would actually do something like that.”

“Can your guards confirm it?”

“Not you too, Mila!”

“Really, Phichit, we need to know,” she insisted, “there will be servants and aristocrats asking questions! A maid this morning said she was going to try and seduce your guard for information.”

“There isn’t any ‘information’ because it never happened!”

“Then why are you so upset?” Phichit pointed at Chris with the coldest glare Mila had ever seen.

“Don’t you dare,” he seethed, “don’t you dare think this is an omission of guilt by anger. How would you feel if your friends accused you of whoring around with your best friend?”

“It’s only considered ‘whore behavior’ by those who are jealous.”

“Get out. I can’t even look at you right now.”

“Phichit, we’re just worried,” Mila spoke up as Chris stood, “Yuuri’s reputation is on the line - yours as well! There’s no denying that slick was found on the sheets, Chris saw it-”

“Let me first say that it didn’t smell like you,” Phichit’s attention snapped to Chris and he cringed.

“Oh my God… you smelled it?”

“I wafted!”

“With your face nearly pressed into the fabric,” Mila muttered.

“I had to be sure,” Chris huffed at her before redirecting his attention to Phichit, “it didn’t smell anything like you-”

“I hope to God you don’t know what my slick smells like.”

“Be at ease, I don’t and I don’t want to either. It doesn’t smell even remotely similar to you. Whoever it was smells almost exactly like Yuuri.”

“Which isn’t likely,” the omega huffed as well, “because Yuuri doesn’t smell like anyone I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve been to 4 continents.”

“What if the slick came from him?” Mila asked, looking at Chris, “Does that happen to Alpha’s sometimes? Ever?”

He widened his eyes and blinked at her, “it’s certainly never happened to me. I’ve never heard of it happening to anyone else, either.”

“Well, Yuuri does have that syndrome… whatever it was…” Phichit spoke up, “It could possibly be due to that… right?”

“Sara’s grandfather is a doctor that studies the secondary sexes,” Mila recalled aloud, “he’s the one taking care of Yuuri right now while Dr. Plisetsky is watching over Victor. Why don’t we just tell him about this rumor-”

“No,” Chris interrupted, “as of right now, the only people who know about this are the maids who cleaned Yuuri’s bedchamber, the few people who talked to them, and ourselves. With the evidence now soaked away in the laundry room, there’s no need to draw any more attention to dying gossip. We can ask to borrow a book from the doctor, but let’s avoid asking questions.”

“I feel like we’d be even more suspicious.”

“Not if Phichit is the one who does it,” he perked up at the mentioning of his name, “since they’re best friends. Right?”

“I mean… I think you’re over thinking this. Just ask the doctor.”

“Better safe than sorry,” he rolled his eyes and groaned, straightening up and standing from the sofa.

“Fine. I still think you should just ask though. I’ll detour to Dr. Crispino’s office and ask about a book on Yuuri’s syndrome. I’ll give it to you at breakfast.”

“Thank you, Phichit.”

“Are you sure we can just leave this alone?” Mila asked once more.

Mon caneton , the evidence is gone. We just need to wait it out. A new scandal is bound to spread by dinner.”

 


 

Rumors of the infidelity had spread all over the castle by noon. It had become the talk of the servants and members of the court, with pointed looks reflected in mirrors and giggles echoing throughout the halls in reaction to the gossip.

“-slick found on the sheets-”

“-the maids swore he reeked of it-”

The news had not yet reached the ears of the Imperial family, nor any prominent members of the court. It was as if it was being regarded as an inside joke among the lower masses: a dish to be tasted and savored by the chefs before being served to the royals.

“-it must be that Thai boy-”

“-saw him going to the visiting doctor-”

“-should have used protection-”

“-hasn’t come out of his room since breakfast-”

Mila heard it all. Her station in the kitchens became the hot spot for the rumors, with exaggerations and a white lie added for flavor occasionally making its way through the scullery before joining the rest of the gossip back out in the hallways.

“-he’s lucky that he hasn’t been caught-”

“-only a matter of time-”

“Oh, to be young and foolish again!”

The book had been useless. The syndrome seemed to only target the scent glands of the inflicted individual, nothing more. Mila was frustrated and angry, wanting to hurt Chris in anyway she could. This was a grave miscalculation done on his part and she refused to accept the blame for it.

Then again, wasn’t she at fault for trusting him instead of following her gut?

“Mila, could you bring this platter to Dr. Crispino and his granddaughter?” Her mother called out, snapping her out of her thoughts. Mila put down the potato she had been peeling and walked to the counter, grabbing a cloth and wiping off slivers of potato from the blade. She unrolled a leather knife roll and slid the utensil back in its slot. Once she had it tied up and tucked away in her apron pocket, she easily lifted the tray and its polished cloche.

“Where’s the cart?”

“You’re strong, you can carry it. It’s just a light snack since they didn’t show up for lunch.”

“I’ll be back, Mama.”

She slowly made her way up the stairs and through the halls to the Doctor’s quarters. There had been a few times when a small group of guards would rush past her to the western wing of the  castle, but she paid no mind to it. Children of nobles sometimes liked to call false alarms, and each one was treated with all the seriousness of a real threat.

When she arrived at the Doctor’s door, it was just at the same time as Sara.

“Mila, hello!” She greeted cheerfully, her hands filled with books and papers.

“Hi, Sara! I didn’t see you at breakfast,” Mila grinned, “or even at lunch. Don’t forget to eat.”

“Yes, ‘mom,’” she dramatically rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out. The two - with equally full hands - looked back and forth between each other and the door they would eventually have to open before laughing at their predicament at the same time.

“Well, one of us has to change,” Sara huffed. Mila rolled her eyes and gingerly placed her platter on the floor.

“What are you doing?” She asked, eyeballing the papers in her hand as she opened the door.

“I want to be a doctor like my grandpa one day,” she quickly entered the office set aside for her grandfather’s use and dumped the papers unceremoniously onto the desk. They slid and fell to the floor, the parchment scattering all over the ground. “Merda!

“Need help.”

“Please?” Sara went and held the door open for Mila to bring the tray of food into the room. She set her cloche-covered burden on the coffee table and proceeded to help Sara gather the documents.

“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by this disaster,” Sara frowned as she stacked the books, “I want to be a doctor too, so my grandpa lets me help him with his cases and research. It’s really interesting! Especially Yuuri’s condition.”

“Oh?” Mila said off-handedly, remembering that she needed to return the book borrowed by Phichit.

“Yes! There’s only around a thousand people with the same ailment! Err, well it’s not technically an ‘ailment,’ it’s just… different.”

“Oh, the syndrome? Phichit and I borrowed a book from your grandpa this morning because we were curious to learn more about it,” Sara looked at her, eyes bright as she grinned with excitement.

“We made huge progress this morning! He doesn’t have the Nagisa Disorder! We’re going to tell the Viceroy this evening, but I’ll tell you too if you promise not to tell anyone else!”

Her interest perked. “I promise.”

“Good! It’s actually-”

The door to the room suddenly burst open and Dr. Crispino appeared, out of breath and a bit disheveled. With unexpected and impressive agility, he managed to leap over the mess on the floor to the cabinet next to his desk. The girls, confused by his urgency, noticed a trio of guards waiting by the door.

“Girls! Hello!” He greeted quickly, fumbling with the lock before swinging the cabinet doors open to reveal a collection of variously shaped bottles, “what are you doing in here?”

“Is everything alright, Doctor?” Mila asked, quickly shuffling the last of the papers together and placing them on top of Sara’s books.

“Oh, yes,” he muttered, distracted, “nothing to worry about… Sara, dear, do you remember where I left the sedatives? From the last time your brother had a panic attack?”

“Uhm… I think it’s in your bag.”

“Ah! My bag…” he trailed off and grabbed a black leather case from the floor. He opened the latch and dumped its contents onto the desk’s surface.

“Is everything alright, grandpa?” Sara asked with concern, standing to help him look through the desk drawers as he sifted through the cluster of pens, notes and vials.

“Just a small emergency, nothing to worry about,” he absently reassured her and grabbed a small brown case. He popped it open, observed its contents with a triumphant smile, and smacked the lid shut, “thank you for the help. Now stay here while I deal with this fiasco, alright?”

“Of course, Grandpa! We’ll wait here.”

“Perfect,” he affectionately patted her head on his way out, signaling the guards to follow. Mila stared at the now empty doorway for a moment, listening to the scuffle of boots on marble tiles before turning to speak to Sara.

The girl, however, was staring intently at her.

“Shall we follow?” She asked with wide eyes and a solemn expression. Mila nodded and the two rushed out the door.

“What do you think happened?” Mila asked as they made their way through the halls, “I noticed pairs of guards making their way to the western wing during my walk to your grandfather’s office.”

“It can’t be good,” She mused, taking a left at Mila’s mentioning of the west wing, “Grandpa has many different kinds of sedatives, each of different concentrations. He grabbed the brown case and that contains his most potent tranquilizer. He reserves it for patients suffering mortal wounds or serious threats.”

“Oh no.”

“He used it on my cousin Claudia when she presented. She had destroyed half of the villa before he managed to take her down,” as they rounded another corner, they could pick up the sound of a crowd’s chatter emanating from down the hall, “he said it was a ‘small emergency,’ so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an Alpha going on a rampage.”

They arrived at the back of a cluster of servants and nobles. All were questioning the guards that formed a loose barricade in the formation of a line but they remained silent on the matter. Sara tugged on Mila’s sleeve, tearing her attention away from the murmurs and towards the wall. They elbowed their way through and stopped in front of a young soldier who had accompanied Dr. Crispino to the office earlier.

“My grandpa forgot his syringes when he stopped by the office,” Sara smoothly produced the knife roll from Mila’s apron pocket, waving it around without letting the guard get a good look at it before tucking it under her arm, “we’re just going to give it to him and then go.”

“Uhm…” the guard looked between the two girls and at his silent guardsmen, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I’ll bring it to him for you-”

“That’s an even worse idea,” Sara snapped quickly, “with you gone, there will be a hole in your apparent human wall and some of these people might slip through. I’m also not going to risk you breaking this: they’re very fragile and you look like a klutz. I saw your belt come loose and fall when you left my grandpa’s office earlier,” she linked her arm with Mila’s and ducked past him.

“W-wait!”

“We’ll be back! Promise!” They dashed down the hall. Sara handed Mila back her knife roll once they were out of sight of the others. They rounded two corners, giving the guards posted there the same vague explanation, and spotted 4 soldiers posted outside the door to-

“That’s Victor’s room,” Mila pointed out. The men posted by the door had yet to notice the two girls tucked closely to the wall, “I hope he’s alright.”

“I don’t think anyone broke into his rooms,” Sara anxiously tied her hair out of her face with a ribbon she used as a choker, “it stinks too strongly of hormonal Alpha.”

“It almost smells like he’s the one needing the sedative,” Mila held her nose, “under the stench of rut, you can make out anger.”

Yells came from the room and the guards outside tensed, moving to stand in front of the double doors. Mila felt a sense of dread creep down her spine and she looked at her companion, who seemed to have the same foreboding feeling.

“We should probably go.”

“Uhm… uh, yeah… let’s go,” she looked conflicted but allowed Mila to nudge her away, “I’m sure grandpa will be fine. He has an entourage of guards with him, he’ll be fine.”

Their attention was sucked in by the sound of wood splintering. The two girls turned and saw that a guard from inside the room had been thrown against the door, causing it to break under impact. The thrown man took with him two soldiers that had been standing in front of the door and the three were crumpled into a pile against the hallway wall.

Without any hesitation, Sara sprinted for the group as the two remaining guards rushed into the bedroom. Mila had froze initially from shock, but it was Sara’s demand for her to fetch help that brought her back into motion. She doubled back, yelled at the soldiers a little ways down the hall to come help, and turned to run to Sara’s side. The girl was already helping one of the men up and walking him to the incoming gaggle of guards and told her to help one of the other two do the same.

“Are you alright?” She asked as she all but lifted one of the men to his feet. He looked disoriented, blearily blinking and looking around with a frown.

“I’ll be better once I’ve had a bottle of scotch,” he groaned and leaned most of his weight against the 12 year old. The height difference had him unusually hunched over, but she was strong enough to pick up the slack. She glanced at the room they were guarding as they passed and was able to catch a glimpse of the scene before having her vision blocked by another soldier.

Victor looked feral: hair mused, clothes askew, and trapped in a corner of the room surrounded by guards. Dr. Crispino and Plisetsky stood a few feet away, trying to calm him down mostly through agreements to whatever he was saying. Victor was holding a servant by the collar of his shirt and his eyes were shining bright silver. Although her view was blocked, she could still hear them yelling over the sounds of orders being shouted.

“He's on his way now, Victor. Release that man, he isn't necessary anymore,” came a scold from Plisetsky.

“You're lying! I haven't seen anyone leave the room yet to bring him!! This entire squadron should be protecting him, not circling around me.”

“My prince-”

“I will rip your throats out if you do not do as I say! Bring Yuuri here immediately!”

“The only people who have attended to him through this Rut have been Betas, boy.”

“Then where has this talk of Omegas sneaking into his room come from?! There can still be truth in rumors!! Bring him here now!”

“You ladies need to leave,” Mila looked up and saw the Captain of the Guards helping the soldier out of Sara’s arms, “you shouldn't even be here in the first place. How did you get past the barricade?”

“I can help these men while the doctors are busy!” Sara asserted, “Please, let me-”

“Not necessary,” he interrupted her, “but your offer is appreciated. Please head back to your room,” when he glanced over and spotted Mila, he groaned, “and you should be in the kitchens, young lady.”

“Ciao Ciao, you’re not seriously considering bringing Yuuri here, right?” He motioned with his head for another soldier to take the man from Mila’s arms. A third gently guided the redhead to join Sara, who was being herded away by another guard.

“No, he is safe in his rooms. We are, however, moving Victor to a different location which is why you can’t be here,” he passed the injured man in his grasp to a different person before commanding the rest of the small group to follow him. Before they disappeared, Mila spotted Celestino pulling a baby blue and silver handkerchief from a pouch attached to his belt. She concluded that it was Yuuri’s.

The two girls remained silent as they were escorted to the original line of guards they conned their way through earlier. The young man they had originally tricked looked red with embarrassment when he saw the two and avoided eye contact.

“Please return to you rooms, ladies,” their escort said before leaving them to rejoin his captain. A few of the bystanders who had noticed their arrival asked the girls questions about what they saw. Mila and Sara merely looked at each other before leaving, ignoring their questions and remaining silent until they were by themselves a safe distance away,

“What you asked the captain earlier…” Sara started, glancing over her shoulder briefly, “What did you mean by that? I only saw that Victor’s room had been flooded with people but I couldn’t tell why.”

“He had grabbed a servant by the shirt and was demanding to have Yuuri brought to him,” Mila confided quietly, her irritation at Chris spiking, “men are injured and the Grand Duke is making a scene, all because of a stupid rumor.”

“Rumor?” Sara asked with a frown, “I haven’t heard any rumors that would anger His Highness. Unless you count the one about Countess-“

“No, you probably wouldn’t have heard of it. The servants are keeping it amongst themselves for the time being.” She shook her head, “there’s talk that Yuuri was visited by an Omega last night to ‘help’ him with his Rut.”

“What?” Sara’s jaw dropped at the accusation, “how could talk like that ever spread? Who would ever think of such a thing?”

“The maids cleaning his rooms found slick on his sheets,” Mila admitted, clenching her fists, “I overheard a girl talking about it in the kitchens. I went to Chris for help and we confirmed that there was slick, but we got rid of the evidence before anyone outside of the four maids could snoop around and see.”

Color drained from Sara’s cheeks, “Oh…”

“I’m so furious right now! Chris reassured me that it would die, but clearly someone felt the need to tell Victor of the rumor! Now he wants an investigation done and to have Yuuri brought to him! What will the Viceroy think-”

“The Viceroy won’t believe it.”

“But you don’t know that!” Mila huffed, “there’s no evidence to prove it, but there also isn’t any to disprove it. Many people hold onto this ‘guilty until proven innocent’ ideal; there’s no way they will give Yuuri - a foreign noble of low rank - the benefit of the doubt-”

“There’s no need to worry about ‘proving his innocence,’” Sara smacked Mila’s shoulder in order to pull her attention away from her rambling, “my grandfather and I can prove it.”

“...huh?” She balked, “what? How… what can you two do?”

“Mila, my grandfather was put in charge of monitoring Yuuri during his Rut while the royal doctor was busy with Victor,” she sped up a bit when the door to Dr. Crispino’s office came into view. Mila was forced to quicken her pace to keep up and was all but pulled into the office once they reached the threshold.

“But what does that have to do with anything? You can’t prove that the slick isn’t his because we already got rid of it-”

“There’s no need to worry about that,” she shut the door and went to the stack of books she had been carrying earlier, “there will be more. There’s probably more now.”

“... what?” Sara pulled a book out and opened it up, flipping through the pages and smiling when she found whatever she had been looking for. She straightened up and walked to Mila, pushing her shoulder to propel her back to sit on the couch before settling next to her.

“You’re right; there isn’t an Omega sneaking into his rooms,” she passed the book over and placed it on her lap, “but you’re also wrong. The slick does belong to Yuuri. Grandpa and I learned about it a few days ago, when Yuuri’s Rut first started. It’s perfectly natural, too.”

“Wait… no wait, Chris said he doesn’t produce slick and he’s an Alpha too.”

“Yuuri’s not an Alpha, though,” Sara pointed to the book, drawing Mila’s attention to the odd symbol of a triangle, “he’s a Delta.”

Chapter Text

“Delta?” Yuuri asked, propped up on pillows and wearing his softest pair of pajamas. His legs were tucked beneath his blankets and he was currently experiencing post-rut exhaustion. He honestly wanted to sleep but that wasn’t possible with the amount of people that were waiting for him in his room when he came back from cleaning up.

Sitting on top of the comforter to his left was a very eager and confused Victor. The moment Yuuri had walked into the room, he had latched onto the lord and practically scented him. He had been the one to tuck Yuuri in and fluff the pillows behind his back before sitting beside him and wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

Yuuri was too tired to pay attention to his surroundings, but based on the smells in the room and the blurry outlines of the visitors, he could tell that Celestino, Georgi and his father, the Viceroy, and both Doctors were present, along with several guards and two Beta advisors. Quite the turnout for an announcement about him. He only found it a little odd, but that was before Dr. Crispino told him he was-

“A Delta, yes. Not an Alpha,” he cleared his throat, setting aside a book that had been resting on his lap onto the bed. Yuuri could feel the weight of the tome in the dip of the mattress, “we thought it was best to tell you as soon as you were coherent enough to understand. Still, I’ll leave this book with you in case you’d like to do some research on your own once you’ve fully recovered.”

“A Delta,” Dr. Plisetsky piped up, “is a secondary sex that isn’t nearly as common as Alpha, Beta, or Omega. Years before any proper studies were done on it, it had been thought to be a birth defect and was commonly misidentified to be other syndromes or disorders. Nowadays, thanks to Dr. Crispino’s work, we know that it’s actually a secondary sex that just isn’t as common in the most countries’ gene pools as it is in more rural areas.”

“You most likely became a Delta due to either the sickness your mother had when she was pregnant with you or medicine she was given as treatment,” Dr. Crispino took over once more, “or maybe it was just a genetic mutation. We can’t really say for sure.”

“Alright…” Yuuri said slowly, struggling to keep up, “so… I don’t have the Nagisa Disorder… I’m actually a Delta… and there’s no telling what caused it to happen?”

“Exactly.”

“And a Delta is… a secondary sex?”

“Yes.”

“Alright… but what does that mean?” Yuuri asked, sitting up a little straighter. 

“Being a Delta is sort of like a mix of all three secondary sexes, in the simplest terms,” Dr. Crispino supplied, “you have the physical build of a Beta, the hormones of an Alpha, and the pheromones and reproductive capabilities of an Omega,” he tapped the cover of the book twice, “I won’t give you an anatomy lecture now, that can wait, but if you would like to read up on anything ahead of time then it’s all in here.”

“You said ‘reproductive capabilities,’” Yuuri glanced up at Victor, who was staring intensely at the doctor, “does that mean… can he get…”

“We’d have to conduct a physical examination and run a few tests to apprehend the status of his health, but yes,” Plisetsky confirmed, “if he and his uterus are healthy, then there is a chance that he can give birth to a child.”

Yuuri saw the way Victor’s expression morphed between surprise, disbelief, and shock. Personally, he felt the same way.

“However, it’s a very small chance,” Crispino interrupted, “due to his contrasting Alpha and Omega characteristics, it’s possible that his body could reject the fertilized egg. Based on the data I’ve gathered from a thousand Delta subjects in Europe… there’s only a 15 to 20% chance of pregnancy and a 4% chance of carrying the egg to full term. The numbers are reduced even further in males.

“It will be difficult,” Crispino continued, “it will be painful, and it will take time. But is it possible? Yes.”

Yuuri felt Victor’s exhale and looked up to see him school his face into a neutral expression. It was indeed quite a bomb of information to drop, as well as discouraging and terrifying in the statistics Crispino gave. That certainly answered Victor’s question and brought many worries for them and the Viceroy to discuss, but… Yuuri wasn’t really hung up on the idea of pregnancy. Not when he had more pressing questions to answer.

“How do you know I’m a ‘Delta?’”

“Your blood reacted in the same way to certain tests I ran on other Delta blood,” the Italian doctor happily changed the subject, “You also have the physical characteristics most Delta’s have, and you produced slick during your rut. Did that happen when you presented as well?”

“I… I’m not sure. I… maybe it did. I was too scared about presenting to pay attention to what was on my sheets,” he added bashfully. Dr. Crispino nodded.

“I’ll ask your mother about it later.”

“Are there any health risks that come with being a Delta?” Yuuri leaned forward and pulled the tome closer to himself, “having traits from all three sounds like a nightmare.”

“Based on the data I’ve collected and the people I’ve interviewed, you’re more prone to anxiety, hormonal imbalances, volatile mood swings, a weak immune system, and a higher chance of depression.”

“Doctor, is there a possibility that a bonding bite could mellow out some of these imbalances and mood swings?” Plisetsky asked.

“It really depends on the secondary sex of the mate and the connection the two have.” Crispino looked between both Victor and Yuuri, “with His Highness’ status as an Alpha, there’s no way of predicting how Lord Yuuri’s temperament will react to a bonding bite. Because of their long time connection and their as-of-now undecided way to establish themselves in their relationship, the lord has even chances of his nature becoming more docile, more volatile, or continuing to fluctuate. Only time can tell.”

“In other countries, how do they treat their Deltas?” One of the advisors asked.

“From what I’ve seen, they’re often associated with Betas due to their low fertility rates. In some places, like England, France, and Spain, they’re treated like Omegas. It doesn’t matter what their physique or genitalia looks like: as Alphas their sperm is infertile, but as Omegas they have a chance - however small - of conception.

“I’ve yet to meet a Russian Delta in my travels,” the Doctor admitted, “but I am sure they’re out there. I do wonder how your people will react, Your Majesty.”

“This recent development is very concerning,” one of the Betas spoke up, “as you simplified it, Doctor, a Delta is a combination of all three secondary sexes. This is something unfamiliar to most people, it could come as quite a shock. Some may even deem him as an abomination.”

“Now, I wouldn’t say that a Delta is a ‘combination-’”

“But this could work in our favor,” the other advisor interrupted Dr. Crispino, “there are many who’re opposed to the courtship between two Alphas, but if we are able to sell to the public the image of a Delta as an alternative Omega, then half of the battle is won. It’s too late to convince them that he’s an Omega, so we have no choice but to-”

“As a man of medicine and science whose life’s work had been devoted to the study of secondary sexes, I cannot agree with this,” the Italian doctor spoke up, “there’s still so much we don’t know about this new sex. We are still in the early stages of research and we have a wonderful opportunity on our hands. I haven’t met any other Deltas with a high profile status aside from Lord Yuuri; there’s a chance here to influence public opinion and  the stereotypes that will inevitably befall Deltas once their presence becomes more frequent in society. I implore you to carefully consider your next course of action. What you decide to do here could influence the attitudes of the world.”

“It’s a valid opinion,” Georgi’s father, Master Popovich, agreed, “grouping him with Omegas from the very beginning is a terrible idea. As established earlier, Deltas seem to share characteristics from the other three sexes, but if I’m to follow the current rhetoric in the room, then we have just as strong of a chance of grouping Deltas with Alphas and Betas as we do with Omegas. A majority of the world already treats their Omega’s terribly based on conservative ideals and traditions; we shouldn’t be the ones who start this trend of treating our Deltas as second Omegas, especially because - regardless of their similarities - a Delta shouldn’t be dismissed as a combination of all three sexes.”

“Exactly,” Plisetsky joined the conversation, “in our attempts to comprehend and verbally express what we’re learning, we’re already doing what many of us wish to prevent. Your Highness, the best course of action we can take at this moment is to announce Yuuri’s secondary sex as a Delta and educate the public on the sexes. The biggest problem I’m having with this discussion is that the majority would like to group what they don’t understand with what is already familiar to them, and in doing so pass their judgement and prejudices onto a new secondary sex.”

“Doctors, you’re not considering how the general public will react to this information!” A Beta interjected, “up until today, only two people in this room knew what a Delta was! A majority of the world doesn’t even know! If His Highness wishes to have the public’s approval of his relationship with the Lord, then-”

“I don’t need their approval!” Victor was quick to flash the silver of his Inner Alpha in his eyes and growl, “my relationship with Yuuri doesn’t affect the public!”

“Of course it does, Your Highness!”

“No, it doesn’t! Based on what I’m aware of, in the contracts signed with both Yuuri’s country and ours, this marriage isn’t an agreement to a co-reign arrangement. I am the sole ruler and I have the final say in what happens to the people. Yuuri has no influence or sway in my decisions, matters of the state don’t concern him, so the people shouldn’t be worried about-”

“He has your heart, Your Highness,” the other Beta said, “as far as the people know, he might as well have your throne.”

“We will continue this conversation elsewhere,” the Viceroy spoke, drawing everyone’s attention to himself, “the young lord is clearly exhausted from his ordeal. We shall reconvene in my study with the rest of the advisors present, as well as a clerk to document the discussion. I want to see everyone in this room there within the hour.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the chorus of affirmations.

“If it’s alright with everyone,” Dr. Crispino said as the group began to leave the room, “I’d first like to have a word with the lord in private.”

“Of course, Doctor,” Yakov nodded and looked at Victor, “Vitya, let him rest.”

“But Yakov-” he hesitated, looking between Yuuri and the Viceroy for a moment. Finally, with a conflicted expression, he leaned in and gently pecked Yuuri’s temple. He inhaled deeply before pulling away.

“Come see me when you’re feeling better.”

“Of course,” Yuuri smiled at him, “I’ll see you later.”

Victor continued to hesitate, but it wasn’t until Dr. Plisetsky tapped him on the shoulder that he finally straightened up and left the room. The rest filed out with Celestino and his guards being the last to leave. Yuuri looked at Dr. Crispino tiredly, a slight frown on his face.

“Is something wrong, Doctor?”

“Oh, I just wanted to talk to you for a moment,” he scooted a little closer to him on the bed, placing a comforting hand on his shin, “I know this is… difficult for you to take in all at once. It’s not easy to absorb this in one go and then be fine with it.”

“Uhm… yeah, it’s a little shocking to hear all of this,” Yuuri agreed, “especially because I just finished my rut a day ago. Wait, am I having ruts or heats?”

“Both, but the terms are interchangeable for you. Whatever you prefer to call it, you can.”

“That last discussion was certainly… “ he struggled to find a suitable word, “... loud?”

“Ah, I do feel responsible for that,” he looked down with a disappointed frown, “I’ve done a poor job of explaining your situation. You’re not a combination of Alphas, Betas, and Omegas. You simply seem to share characteristics found in those three sexes. That doesn’t make you more Omega than Alpha, or more Beta than Omega. You’re just a Delta, and we’ve yet to understand what that entails.

“This sex doesn’t define your attitudes or morals,” he was quick to clarify, “it doesn’t define how you act. That’s all… that’s all you.”

“Oh,” Yuuri started, looking down at his hands, “wow, so… if they do decide to tell the public… then how I act - that will surely affect people’s opinions on Deltas.”

“That’s also what I wanted to talk to you about,” Dr. Crispino leaned forward slightly, placing a comforting hand on Yuuri’s knee, “many Deltas that I’ve met think in the same way those men thought. They hear that poor explanation of mine involving Alphas, Betas, and Omegas, and they’re immediately left wondering where they fit in with the three and how they should act. I want you to be yourself. You may become a famous Delta, but you won’t be the only one. Opinions will change as more emerge in the world, so don’t worry about setting an example.”

Easier said than done , Yuuri thought to himself.

“My Lord… Yuuri, do you remember what I told you about the mood swings and anxiety? I need you to tell me when you feel those. But above all, I need you to talk to me the moment you think you are depressed. Or Victor, or your family or someone - just don’t try to bottle it up. Depression is very serious and is often brought on by these self doubts and unusual situations. Sometimes, it just comes without an explanation. You have people who care about you and want to help… please remember that.”

“I… thank you, doctor,” Yuuri managed to stutter out, caught off guard by the sudden turn in their conversation.

“You’re in a scary situation, Yuuri,” he added gently, “there’s nothing wrong with being afraid. There’s no one here who knows what you’re going through, but please don’t hesitate to talk to someone if you need to.”

“I will, doctor. I promise.”

“Good… good, I’m glad,” Dr. Crispino squeezed his knee gently and stood. “Shall I send the redhead from the kitchens in here with some food?”

Yuuri smiled at the mention of Mila and shook his head, “no, thank you. I think I’ll sleep for a couple of hours. Days, if Victor lets me.”

The doctor chuckled and nodded, “there’s water on the night stand. Try to finish a glass before you sleep. Sleep well, Yuuri.”

Yuuri grinned at the sentiment, “good night,” he said, despite the obvious afternoon sunlight seeping through the curtains.

The doctor shut the door gently behind him, leaving Yuuri to shimmy down the mattress and flop back on the pillows. He frowned and knocked some off of the bed so that he was lying horizontally instead of at an incline.

Delta, huh? Well, that certainly wasn’t something one heard everyday. It did clear up a lot of ‘questionable traits’ about himself: his overly sweet smell and small build, his mood swings and slick on the sheets.

He probably would talk to Dr. Crispino later. Maybe after the meeting that would be taking place in the Viceroy’s office, after he hears about what they’ve decided to do with this newly shared information. He’d have to write to his mother, too. Did the doctor already do that though? He wondered. What will her reaction be?

He became acutely aware of the ache in his limbs as a cold spike of fear punctured his stomach. He was the first ‘famous’ Delta, and depending on what Yakov and the rest decided, the public might learn about that too. How he acted, how he was described and presented - surely that would influence public opinion on how to categorize and treat Deltas, as the advisors mentioned earlier.

But his image in the public was already questionable, right? He was a foreigner of low rank (and an Alpha, as far as the people knew) marrying into the royal family, marrying the heir to Russia’s throne. He looked down at the gold ring on his finger, the movement causing a sparkle to flash brilliantly. How would their opinion change if they learned he had a chance of providing the country an heir?

Another spike of discomfort hit his stomach. Victor had mentioned that he and Yuuri wouldn’t be ‘co-reigning’ once they got married. Yuuri hadn’t thought that they would, but he wasn’t aware that it was a stipulation in the agreements signed by both their countries. What would he be expected to do all day, then? Certainly not pump out babies for Victor (and even if he could, there’s no way he’d allow himself to be reduced to a child machine).

He hadn’t really thought about what would happen to his life once he and Victor were married, but now he was afraid. He couldn’t think of anything that he could do; literally everything in the castle was taken care of by staff and nobility, and he wasn’t keen on dancing his days away no matter how much he enjoyed it. Maybe he could be a performer or an instructor himself? But would that be allowed for the husband of the Tsar?

He closed his eyes and rolled over, shoving his face into a pillow. No good ever came from his wild imagination. He’d have to ask Victor about it the next time he saw him. He was obviously more aware of the situation than Yuuri was, and he wouldn’t ever make Yuuri do something he didn’t want… right?

Right, he thought to himself and pulled the blanket to cover his shoulders. We’ll talk about this later, when I’ve actually had more than 4 hours of sleep.

Chapter Text

The direction this meeting was heading in left a foul taste in Victor’s mouth. He watched with a carefully crafted poker face as the proceedings appeared to be approaching an end: the Viceroy tired and reluctant, the Beta advisors pleased, and the doctors disappointed.

“Are we reaching a decision, then?” Christophe’s father spoke with a finality that left Victor livid, “Lord Katsuki shall be treated, addressed, and presented as if he were a Beta.”

“I really must object to this,” Dr. Crispino echoed once more.

“It is the option that makes the most sense. With this recent discovery of Lord Katsuki’s true secondary sex, we have no idea what sort of assumptions about Deltas could be formed by allowing the public to form their own opinions-”

“Indeed,” the oldest advisor, Lord Baranov, interrupted Giacometti, “gentlemen, I’ve been around for a long time and one of the lessons life has taught me is that people are fickle. Even if we were to educate the public about this new sex and implore them to be patient in stereotyping what kind of person that would make the young lord, it would take one misstep - the smallest of mistakes - to influence the entire population’s opinion.”

“Lord Katsuki is already at a disadvantage,” another Beta added his voice to the repetitive argument, “he’s a foreigner and soul mate to the Great Prince. His family is respectable, but he’s barely a rung above the commoners in the social hierarchy. If we do allow what you two want,” he said with a gesture to the doctors, “then Lord Katsuki would have to be perfect for the rest of his life. That’s impossible, gentlemen; it’s even impossible for the men in this room to achieve. We cannot possibly expect the young lord to consistently be flawless under that kind of pressure, especially with the mental illnesses he’s predisposed to.”

“But that is precisely why we need to let him be himself!” Crispino shouted, “he’s not a Beta! Our secondary sexes do not define who we are!”

“Our secondary sexes have more power over us than we’d like to acknowledge, Doctor,” Lord Baranov countered with a scowl, “like race and gender, secondary sexes serve as a foundation for prejudice. Do you not see that we have the upper hand, here? We can influence public opinion before they get a chance to-”

“Have you no faith in your fellow countrymen?”

“It is not a question of if we can trust them to do the right thing, or what we hope is the ‘right thing.’ It is a matter of preventing problems before they happen, or making a decision with comparatively lesser risks.”

“I want to know why being a ‘Beta’ is best for him?” Dr. Plisetsky demanded with a pointed look at each of the advisors.

“It’s best because it’s the easiest to sell to the public,” Giacometti held up his fingers as he spoke each point, “the chances of conceiving a child are slim to none, he has the physical appearance of a Beta, there are more Betas populating the world than Alphas and Omegas and certainly Deltas - it’s a good starting platform for the first public representatives of a little known sex to stand on; it’s safe.”

“As if any one of you give a damn about his safety!” All eyes in the room turned to Victor. He objected without thinking, and he could see Lord Baranov inhale as if to prepare himself for the scolding of a child.

“Your Highness, surely you realize the possible dangers that accompany introducing a foreign concept to the public-”

“My Lord, Deltas aren’t an ‘idea’ of a secondary sex, they are a secondary sex! They’re just as real as Alphas and Betas, and there is a population of them out there in the world. How else did Doctor Crispino gather all the data he has on them?”

“Your Highness-”

“My Lords, Uncle, I find that the only way I can convey the message the doctors and I are trying to send is to be blunt: you sit here spouting nonsense about how the only way to protect Yuuri is to smother him under some sort of Beta blanket when it’s clearly obvious you’re only trying to cover your own asses.”

“Victor!” Yakov snarled in warning, but the Great Prince continued on.

“If anything bad happens that Yuuri could be accused of, the first people the public would direct the blame to would be you!” He scanned the room with cold eyes, “ All  of you, because ' you let this happen,' right? You Betas are representatives of the public, half of you elected and the rest hailing from noble houses of esteemed reputation. In this country, you are here as a voice of reason but you are all being completely insufferable right now. You’ve been talking about how Yuuri would benefit from the ‘protection’ that comes with being labeled as a ‘type of Beta,’ when in reality you have no idea what it would do to him! None of you know anything about him!”

“You’re acting far too presumptuous,” the oldest Beta sniffed, seeming to dismiss him with an upward tilt of his chin, “to market him to the public as a Beta is the best course of action. An Alpha at your side? It’s too dangerous, you’ve seen the sort of uproar that came when we all believed him to be an Alpha. An Omega would be much better, but many countries that we hold trade ties with treat their Omegan populations as second class citizens. We could lead by example, yes, but it would greatly strain a handful of international relations to see you mated with one. The only successful option is obvious: sell him as a Beta. Just use your common sense!”

“You are missing the point completely!” Victor near shouted with frustration, “he is not a commodity, he’s not a product! Don’t argue with me using ‘common sense!’ ‘Common sense’ as the basis of an argument is a poor choice! ‘Common sense’ is different for everyone! Centuries ago, it was ‘common sense’ for us to treat Omegas as slaves because they were ‘weak’ and considered ‘inferior!’ Now, though, we wouldn’t dare dream of degrading them because they’re people just like us! It’s common sense!

“‘Common sense’ serves as a way to define what is normal, and in your attempt to ‘normalize’ him to the public, you’re doing more harm than good! You’re doing exactly what you’re claiming to try to prevent! The only difference being that you get to decide what stereotypes are forced onto him instead of waiting for time to do its work! Yuuri is already at odds with himself because of his connections to two different countries! He’s already stressed because he’s been raised all his life to be a Beta only to mistakenly present as an Alpha - and even then he’s just been told that that’s wrong and he’s actually a Delta, a secondary sex that barely anyone knows about! He’s more worried about targets being placed on my back than his own, and he seems to be unaware of the reality of his situation: the majority of the people like him! Beyond that, there are far more people who don’t care than people who do have a problem with him, but he seems to be thoroughly convinced that the nation is against him because the only interactions he ever has are with noble families! YOUR families who have been against him since he was a child!”

A hand on his shoulder silenced Victor almost immediately. He jerked back and looked to his right, spotting Crispino retracting the limb from where it had once been set on his shoulder. Beside him, Dr. Plisetsky looked at the Great Prince with admiration and understanding.

“Although passionate and crude, His Highness makes a very good point,” Crispino began, “you’re all acting like hypocrites, wanting to choose how he would be viewed ahead of time instead of allowing nature to run its course.”

“Then consider it as us picking the lesser of two evils,” Lord Baranov muttered with contempt, Giacometti nodding in agreement.

“Yes, or the known versus the unknown.”

"Why can't he just be himself?" Crispino sighed, "why can't he just be a Delta? Why are we even having this discussion at all?"

“I’ve made my decision,” Yakov announced, “this debate has certainly been… enlightening, to say the least, and I trust everyone to drop this subject once you hear the verdict.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. We trust you to make the right choice,” Lord Baranov said with a knowing glance. Yakov looked unimpressed.

“I’ve decided to defer to Victor’s judgement on the matter.”

“Your Majesty!” The Betas in the room shouted in near unison, each scrambling to voice their disagreement.

“He’s coming of age and will soon take his rightful place on the throne. He needs to start making more decisions, and seeing as this is the future of his kingdom and soul mate we're discussing, it’s only right for him to make the choice and deal with the consequences.”

“I must say, this is quite possibly the worst time for you to decide this,” Lord Baranov muttered after a moment of silence. He sighed heavily and rubbed his temple with bejeweled fingers, the rings gleaming harshly from the movement, “well… I can tell where this is heading, and I won’t stand to see it.”

“Then you may remain seated,” Victor had snapped as Lord Baranov had started to stand. The older man froze, a glare marring his aged features. Victor leveled the look with one of his own, as if daring the elder to continue.

The Lord lowered himself back down, crossing his hands over his chest as his jaw clenched from the irritation. Victor didn’t care, and instead turned his attention back to his uncle.

“Yakov… thank you.”

“I just hope you’re thinking with your head as well as your heart,” he admitted, a twitch in his eye revealing his anxiety. Victor nodded and breathed in deeply.

“My Lords, you all mentioned excellent points and made convincing arguments-”

“Spare us the flattery,” a Beta spoke up, “we’re old, not stupid.”

“As you wish,” the Great Prince continued without missing a beat, “I believe that there should be a certain level of transparency between the Monarchy and the Public.”

“‘Tis merely the foolish idea of a child,” Lord Baranov spoke up once more, “it can do only harm to the aristocracy, the government, and even the country.”

“Baranov,” Yakov warned, “your argument was far more troubling than his supposed ‘childish’ ideas. I suggest you carefully reconsider your priorities. Victor, please continue.”

“Thank you,” he said stiffly, eyeing Baranov for a moment before resuming his scan of the room, “this is a matter I believe we should be transparent with. I have faith in the hearts and intelligence of our people. Dr. Crispino, I’d very much appreciate it if you’d do us the honor of touring the country’s medical schools and lecturing them on your Delta Research.”

“I’d be honored. I haven’t seen much of this country during my few visits here,” he smiled, “I’d love the opportunity to do so.”

“Dr. Plisetsky, before he leaves I’d like you to invite your colleagues to this estate in order to educate them on Deltas. That way, when they return to their homes, they’ll have answers for anyone’s questions.”

“I’ll send letters out as soon as I can.”

“It goes without saying that we’ll make a public announcement about Yuuri’s… about his secondary sex. As much as I’d prefer to keep this personal, it may cause an uproar if my Alpha Fiance mysteriously becomes pregnant.”

“A chance so slim it might as well be non existent-”

Enough , my Lords…” Victor warned, his patience as thin as spider’s silk, “as for the announcement… we’ll hold off on it. For now, I want doctors informed and the term ‘Delta’ more common among the population than it is now. This is Yuuri’s life we’re affecting, so I want his opinion on the matter-”

“A terrible decision!”

“I would say his opinion is far more relevant than yours,” Dr. Plisetsky scolded.

"-I would like his opinion on the matter before any notice is sent out," Victor finished. "This is what I've decided on."

Yakov nodded as if in agreement and stood. “I agree with educating the public of this term. I also see reason in consulting with the Delta in question regarding a public announcement. As I said, Victor’s decision is final, but I do advise that he shouldn’t put off the public announcement for too long. Doctors, you have the resources of the court at your disposal. Anyone who tries to hinder you in anyway shall be punished accordingly, so please inform the Captain of the Guard of any grievances,” he looked at Lord Baranov, a glance that didn’t go unnoticed by the occupants of the room, before stepping away from his seat, “this meeting is dismissed.”

Chapter Text

His legs were wobbly when he dismounted from the horse. She was a beautiful chocolate brown mare, energetic with a bubbly personality. His ride through the countryside had been fun, but it had also been freezing cold. He swore his ears were in danger of falling off.

Jean-Jacques Leroy stretched his arms high above his head. He felt joints pop and did a quick twist of the hips to either side before turning to face his companion. Isabella Yang watched the display with feigned disinterest, having been waiting for the past 45 minutes for him to return.

“Finished?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.  He smirked at her, all too aware that the blush on her cheeks wasn’t from the bitter Russian wind. He always thought it was cute.

“I think so. Maybe not.”

“Then wrap it up, whatever you have planned,” she huffed, her tone betraying her disbelief in his answer, “I’ve already sent men ahead to alert our hosts of our impending arrival.”

“Awe, I wish you hadn’t done that,” he whined and looked up at the sky. It was overcast, a bright grey that was confusingly blinding, “I wanted to see them scramble to ready themselves for us after we arrive.”

“Our benefactor is an old man. It wouldn’t do us any good to give our patron a stroke,” he shrugged and looked at her, the same trademark smirk in place.

“How far are we from his estate?”

“An hour.”

“And he still hasn’t come clean about why he’s been contacting us?”

“We know nothing other than the seriousness of his interest.”

“That’s a word for it. The man has been showering my father with gifts for months and even paid for our passage and stay in Russia,” Isabella fell into step with him once he passed her, both walking to the stalled carriages where the rest of the caravan was waiting, “maybe we can get a read on his intentions once we meet him in person.”

“Maybe we can use his connections to expand our own,” Isabella added, “my digging has revealed that he’s a very powerful man.”

Jean snorted, “and here I thought that he was just a rich geezer.”

“I’ll fill you in on the way.”

 


 

Yuuri was starting to feel overwhelmed. It seemed that everyone enjoyed talking about him rather than to him. They were always whispering whenever he was around and sending each other knowing looks when they thought he wouldn’t notice. Yuuri was sick of it.

It had been a week since his conversation with the doctor and a few days since he last saw Victor. Before then, their interactions had been brief, with Victor rarely coming to visit in the evenings and making time only to wish him a good morning at breakfast.

Yuuri had heard that there had been a meeting between the Beta advisors, the doctors, the Viceroy and Victor the same day he had the ‘Delta’ talk with Crispino. Rumor had it that there was a nasty argument between Lord Baranov and Victor, that the group had spent hours going at each other and ultimately reaching an ultimatum rather than a compromise. Any information about that meeting, however, was still unknown; that didn’t stop the servants and aristocrats from gossiping amongst themselves.

Enter Yuuri.

“It must be about his disloyalty to the prince.”

“Slick on the sheets.”

“The Omegan Thai that may be more than a friend.”

“A foreign nobody trying to gain favors with court members.”

“It’s not uncommon - just a shame that he was caught before I could get seduced.”

He found an unexpected ally in Seung Gil. The heir to the Korean throne had dropped by unexpectedly, his dog at his side and a ball in hand. Yuuri liked his silence; he found comfort in it. In the halls and rooms where everyone chatted and shared their shreds of gossip, the absence of words with Seung Gil meant a lot.

He had been outside throwing the ball with the husky as Seung Gil read a book near by when Leo and Phichit came running at them.

“Yuuri!” Phichit gasped, stopping and hunching over with his hands on his knees as he panted heavily from the jog. Leo looked at him with confusion, completely fine compared to the other’s haggard state.

“Seriously? We ran from the West Wing.”

“From the second floor of the West Wing,” he scolded, eyes narrowed before he straightened up and pulled at the collar of his skin tight turtleneck. From the corner of his eye, Yuuri noticed Seung Gil’s glance at the group before he returned to reading his book.

“What’s wrong?” Yuuri asked as the husky returned with the ball, abandoning it at Yuuri’s feet in favor of nuzzling her head against Phichit’s leg.

“Victor’s looking for you.”

Oh, “he is?”

“Yes.”

“Is it urgent?”

Leo frowned, “I don’t think so.”

It was Yuuri’s turn to frown, “then why did you run here to tell me this?”

“To beat his guards. Aren’t you avoiding him?” Phichit followed the trend with furrowed brows of his own.

“What? No.”

They looked at each other in silence for a moment.

“I heard that you were avoiding him,” Leo spoke up.

“I’m not.”

“Then why haven’t the two of you been hanging around each other this past week?”

“I don’t know,” Yuuri crossed his arms, “if anything, he’s avoiding me.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he’s always off doing something with someone else.”

“I heard that he’s always looking for you and can never seem to find you.”

“I’ve been going on walks with Seung Gil. I’m not avoiding him, I’ve just been outside getting fresh air.”

“Some of the maids have claimed to see him standing outside your door with a frown on his face.”

“I’ve heard that he’s sat in the hallway outside your door for hours before walking off.”

“That sounds ridiculous. He’s far too busy to do any of that. It’s just stupid gossip," at least, he hoped it was gossip. Otherwise he’d feel terrible.

“Anyway, whether or not you’re avoiding him, he’s sent men out to look for you,” Leo moved the conversation along, “we just wanted to get to you first.”

“Do you have any idea why?” Both shook their heads and Yuuri sighed, “alright. I’ll go find someone and figure out where he is.”

He stooped to pick up the ball and gently tossed it to Phichit before heading toward the castle. It was easy to find a member of the guard looking for him, and even easier to figure out where Victor was.

“He’s waiting for you in his study,” the young man led him through the hallways, more as a courtesy escort than anything else. For a moment, Yuuri wondered whether or not Victor had believed him to be avoiding the Great Prince. He shook his head as a physical way to clear his thoughts, but the image of Victor sitting in the hallway outside his door was difficult to escape.

A knock on wood pulled him out of his thoughts.

“Lord Katsuki is here to see you,” the guard announced into the room. Yuuri had hardly noticed their arrival at the all too familiar study.

“Thank you. You may wait outside,” the guard nodded and stepped aside, holding the door open for Yuuri to enter.

As he walked into the room, he saw Victor approach him from a cabinet in the corner of the room with a warm smile on his face. He looked tired, a stack of paperwork and books cluttering his desk space; He appeared to be in the middle of refilling his ink pot when the two had arrived.

“Yuuri,” he greeted, grabbing one of Yuuri’s hands with both of his own and bringing it up to his lips for a kiss. The room was hot and he was dressed comfortably in a white button up and thick slacks, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a smudge of ink on his left wrist. His nose hovered over the back of his palm, the faintest sound of a deep inhale just barely registering in the enclosed space, “I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks.

“We certainly haven’t spent much time together since our Ruts,” Yuuri pointed out, not realizing the bitterness of his words until they were out of his mouth.

Victor seemed not to notice, “I know, and I am sorry. Paperwork and duties tend to pile up when one is put out of commission for two weeks. It’s very inconvenient for everyone involved,” he released Yuuri’s hand and motioned for the young lord to sit. Yuuri obliged him, happy to be there.

“I was told you were looking for me,” he started and smiled, “is it urgent?”

Victor hesitated, eyes flickering to his messy desk for a moment, “well… it’s not urgent, per say… but it is important.”

Yuuri grew concerned, “what’s wrong?”

“It’s about the meeting I went to a while back,” Victor sat down in his own seat, rubbing anxiously at the smear of black on his hand with a handkerchief pulled from his pocket. He avoided eye contact with Yuuri, “it was between myself, my uncle, the Betas and the doctors. You might have heard gossip about what happened.”

“It’s all anyone is talking about,” Yuuri admitted, though he opted out of mentioning the rumors spreading about himself. He would bring it up if he had to.

“What have you heard?”

“Only the supposed roster in attendance. Some also mentioned that Yakov had to put down an ultimatum since everyone kept fighting. About what, though, no one knew.”

Victor looked at Yuuri, his hands having gone still during their brief talk so far. Yuuri shifted under his gaze, glancing away for a moment. This felt more like an interrogation than a talk, “I assumed… were the talks about me?”

A pause.

“Yes,” Yuuri closed his eyes, his hands clenched into fists.

“They don’t believe Dr. Crispino, do they? Do the lords think I cheated on you?” He could feel himself getting choked up as the whispers about himself echoed in his head. The Betas must have believed them; they probably thought he’d slept with Phichit or some other Omega.

“No!” Victor was quick to answer, sitting up straight with a hand reaching out for his soul mate. “No, Yuuri, not at all! No one believes that! They take the doctor's’ diagnosis very seriously, no one thinks you did that!” Yuuri felt his eyes get watery, tears of disappointment now turning into tears of embarrassment. Victor’s expression softened when he noticed the watery glimmer, “but as I said before… we did talk about you.”

“What have I done this time?”

“Nothing,” he reassured calmly, voice dropping a little lower, “nothing at all. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

Victor stood and moved around the desk so that he was sitting in the seat next to Yuuri. He reached to grab his hand, but when Yuuri made no indication of reaching back, he settled on gingerly gripping his shoulder.

“We talked about your… about your recent development,” Victor struggled to say, “about your new status. The… ‘Delta’ thing…”

Yuuri’s frown deepened, “why?”

“Because it’s important.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re my mate.”

“But why does that matter to them?”

“They’re afraid,” Yuuri scoffed, looking up and wiping at his eyes. Victor continued, “they’re afraid of what others will think.”

“Others?”

“The other noble houses, the general population, other monarchs and countries we have trade ties with.”

“But just because I’m actually a Delta… that doesn’t change anything,” he looked at Victor and hesitated, “... right?”

“...Yuuri,” the lord stood, the response saying all he needed to know and it upset him.

“I don’t understand why this has to be anyone's business - why this has to affect anyone’s business.”

“I don’t like it either, but if we were to not tell the public, then-”

“Wait,” Yuuri turned to look at him, disbelief sharpening his gaze, “we have to tell people?”

Victor interlocked his fingers, his gaze dripping down to his lap as he seemed to distantly recall the events of the meeting, “we were talking about how your new-founded secondary sex would affect your image and the public’s opinion. The lords wanted to write off your Delta status as a branch of Beta so that you’d be ‘accepted’ by members of the public who were against your original Alpha status.”

Yuuri’s jaw dropped, “what?”

“They argued that leaving you as an Alpha wouldn’t pass because of ‘current controversies,’ that presenting you as a type of Omega would be worse due to the unequal worldwide standing of Omegas in other countries- but they were just worried about trading routes with that one,” Victor snarled, “the doctors and I were against it. We wanted to educate the public on what Deltas were and leave you to live your life. But the Betas insisted that ‘in placing Beta stereotypes on you, they’d be protecting you and all other Deltas.’”

“You’re kidding.”

“But you’re not a Beta,” Victor looked at him then, “you’re not. You’re a Delta, you’re the love of my life, and I wasn’t about to let those as-those men make decisions for you.”

“... what happened, Victor?” Yuuri asked, knowing that he’d yet to finish relaying the entirety of the meeting.

“We spent hours having the same argument over and over again. My uncle eventually decided to let me make the decision since I am to rule soon.”

“What did you decide?”

“I decided to educate the public on Deltas,” he stood and plucked a paper off of his desk. From Yuuri’s vantage point, it looked like a list of names and dates, as well as cities, “Sara and Michele Crispino left yesterday because their grandfather is extending his stay in Russia. He’ll be traveling to different cities and universities to give lectures and classes on secondary sexes. Before he leaves, he and Dr. Plisetsky will give a debriefing to the most revered men of science and medicine in the region to help spread information about Deltas. My hope is to bring the existence of Deltas into people's everyday lives, to make them as common as Alpha and Beta.”

He put the paper back down, looking at Yuuri with worry, “but we can’t get around telling the people about you. We have to update them on your status.”

“But why?” Yuuri asked with anxiety, “why do we have to tell them? Why is this so important?”

“It’s important because we live in a world where things like secondary sex matters,” Victor’s shoulders sagged a bit, “I don’t like this either, but we have to. Matters like these are especially important to us because of our influence over the country and the relationships we have with other rulers. It’s all politics and I absolutely hate it.”

“Then don’t do it,” Yuuri offered weakly, “let’s not tell them. It doesn’t affect them. It doesn’t affect anyone but me and my health.”

“You know that’s not true Yuuri,” Victor rubbed his face, “you’re smart - so, so smart. I know you know this. I was given permission to hold off on telling the general population about this, but we can’t avoid it forever.”

It was Yuuri’s turn to sag his shoulders. He knew Victor was right; even if he didn’t fully understand or agree with why there even had to be an announcement, there was no doubt this was going to affect the politics of the country and their relationships with other countries. The unknown results scared him.

“How are we going to tell them?” Yuuri eventually asked, “are we going to have a big coming out party? Is there going to be a stupid festival? A banquet and ball?”

“You decide,” relief was visible in Victor’s eyes, “I told everyone that I wanted to consult with you on that before any decision was made.”

“Thank you,” Yuuri sat back down, reaching out to take Victor’s hand. The Great Prince smiled at him, looking exhausted, “I don’t want any parties. I don’t want a ‘celebration’ over this. We’re really just correcting information already made public.”

“I knew you’d say that,” Victor returned to the seat next to Yuuri, giving his hand a comforting squeeze.

“We have to tell my Emp-” he stopped, realizing a little too late the error of the words he chose, “... we have to tell the Japanese Emperor. I heard that my mother went straight to your country when she suspected we were soul mates rather than going to her own monarch. I don’t know how he felt about that, but I don’t think we should make him wait before anyone else.”

“A letter has already been dispatched. I felt the same way… I’m also afraid that this might affect his stance on our prospective marriage. We had made an agreement when you were an ‘Alpha’ and that word’s presence voids the contract.”

“I don’t think he’d change his mind. He’s a kind man, and it appeared that he really seemed to like you when you met him a few years ago.”

“He’s also at the mercy of his own home country’s politics,” Victor sighed, “we’ll just have to wait and see. So, you said no parties or celebrations. Any opinions on how you want to approach this?”

“I… I don’t really know. I really don’t want to make a big deal out of this,” Yuuri hesitated, “but there’s no way that this won’t be taken in smoothly by the population. How long is Dr. Crispino’s tour going to last?”

“Probably a few months.”

Yuuri nodded, “can we wait until after he leaves for the tour? So that when people know, they can just go to his lectures to answer any questions they have?”

“Sure. But you still haven’t told me a ‘how.’”

“I don’t know. A public announcement is still too much fanfare for my liking…”

Victor looked around the room as Yuuri was silent for a moment, trying to evaluate their options.

“Yuuri, I have an idea- but feel free to say ‘no,’” Victor quickly reassured, “how about… I don’t know, a small article in the newspaper. Published on the same day so that everyone knows at the same time. We can supply writers with information from the doctors about what happened so that people will know what it means, why it was missed, and maybe even announce Dr. Crispino’s lecture tour.”

“...okay,” he nodded after he mulled it over for a bit, “alright. I can’t come up with anything else.”

“When would you want the article published?” Yuuri bit his lip and thought.

“You said that other doctors were coming to learn about Deltas, right?”

“Yes.”

“Can we wait until after they leave? Just so that there’s a handful of smart men who know more ahead of time about what a Delta is?”

“Of course.”

“But wait,” Yuuri frowned and looked at his soulmate, “what about other countries? And other monarchs. Didn’t your meeting make a big deal out of their reactions and opinions?”

“Don’t worry about that, we’ll deal with it,” Victor squeezed his hand once more, “I’m so sorry, Yuuri. I wish we didn’t have to do this.”

Yuuri squeezed his hand back in silent agreement, both quiet as the decisions they came to weighed heavily on their minds.

“Victor…” Yuuri started eventually, something he was told earlier bugging him, “Leo and Phichit told me that they heard gossip about you sitting outside my room at some point this week.”

“Ah,” Yuuri instantly recognized the blush on Victor’s cheeks. The Alpha stood and walked back around to his original seat at his desk, suddenly finding something there more interesting, “uhm… well… yes.”

“You did?”

“Yeah…”

“Victor!” Yuuri’s face turned a darker shade of red and he he quickly hid behind his hands, “oh no! I feel so bad!”

“Don’t feel bad!”

“But I do! I feel terrible!” Yuuri stood up and quickly walked around the desk to embrace the Great Prince, "I’m sorry! I wasn’t purposefully trying to avoid you, I promise!”

“No, no! I didn’t think you were!” Victor hugged him back with equal strength. Yuuri pulled back a bit to look him in the eye, wanting to get a read of his expression for his next questions.

“How long were you there? When did this happen?”

“... A few days ago.”

“A few days?”

Victor hesitated, “a few nights, actually.”

“Victor!”

“It wasn’t for too long! Just a few hours.”

“Hours, Victor?!”

“I hadn’t seen you for a while! And I’ve been really anxious about having this conversation! I was trying to figure out when and where I should talk to you about it, so… I sat outside your door debating my options.”

“Oh, I feel so bad.”

“Stop, it’s fine. We’ve talked about it now, everything’s fine, right?”

Yuuri looked at him for a moment before nodding. Victor smiled, his cheeks still pink.

“Oh, I’m so embarrassed that someone saw me.”

“How do you think I feel? Now I look like a jerk.”

“No, you don’t,” Victor placed a chaste kiss on his forehead and released the younger boy, “anyway, I’m glad this was sorted.”

“I’m grateful that you talked to me about this,” Yuuri took a step back so that Victor could return to sitting in his chair, “really, I appreciate it.”

“It’s your life, Yuuri. It’s not fair of us to deny you the courtesy of an opinion,” Victor frowned briefly, “I meant ‘the right of an opinion.’”

“Thank you.”

“Wait, you said you weren’t ‘purposefully’ avoiding me?” Yuuri paused and looked down. He hadn’t been avoiding Victor, right?

“... Well, it was unintentional,” when he looked up, he saw Victor’s jaw drop.

“Yuuri!”

“I’m sorry!”

“How cruel!”

“I didn't mean to! I did miss you, but it kind of just happened!”

“I am hurt. I am sad. I feel betrayed and deceived-” Yuuri interrupted the Great Prince with a kiss on his cheek. Victor stopped mid sentence, looked up at his lover, and bloomed into a large, heart shaped grin, “you are forgiven.”

“Will I see you tonight?” He asked hesitantly.

“Maybe not. I still have so much work to do and catch up on,” when he saw Yuuri’s expression droop, he quickly added, “but tomorrow! I’ll see you tomorrow night. Maybe we could even have breakfast together if you wake up on time.”

“I’d like that,” Yuuri smiled, “but breakfast may be near impossible.”

“You are a terrible morning person.”

“It’s morning people that are terrible, not people like me,” Yuuri countered. Victor beamed at him as he reached out to grab his hand, giving it another kiss on the center of his palm.

“I’ll see you later, my love.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t like this,” Victor said with a scowl. Yuuri sipped from his small flute of champagne beside him, dressed elegantly in a slim form-fitting coat with his trademark keyhole-backed long sleeve underneath. The couple’s color coordination of blues and greys complimented each other, creating a noble picture for any who looked at them.

They paid no attention to their admirers, instead choosing to observe the groups of men and women wearing matching red sashes around their waists. They were scattered in threes and fours and dispersed among other party attendees, clearly entertaining the other guests with stories of their own and appropriate laughter when other nobles shared a tale or two.

Yuuri peered over the rim of his glass at a group of red-sashed men hovering by a window, “I’m not too pleased with this, either.”

That evening’s festivities were set around celebrating Yuuri’s 17th birthday. There had been a fair in the town, accompanied by games, dances and an auction. Yuuri’s own day had been spent playing with the children and spending time with Victor, including figure skating at the indoor rink and baking pastries with the chefs. The climax of the celebration was the evening ball, where they were currently in attendance. 

In addition to the regular crowd of nobility and diplomats, the Beta Advisors and their families were also extended an invitation as a show of goodwill. Many had been disappointed by the outcome of the meeting a few weeks prior, and none more so than Lord Baranov himself. Yuuri and Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that he would retaliate, but they didn’t expect him to do it at Yuuri’s Birthday Gala. 

The gesture in question was his plus one… if one could call a small army a ‘plus one.’  In addition to his family, a group of mercenaries hailing from the Canadian mountains - The Band of Blades, founded by the Leroy family a century ago - were present as his personal guests. They had cultivated an international presence among the Western Hemisphere, but they were only known only by reputation in the east. This was the first any had dared to cross the longitudinal border.

Yuuri and Victor hadn’t been the only ones upset by their appearance. Phichit, Seung Gil, even Yakov were steering clear of any possible interaction with them. The younger two boys kept to themselves in a corner of the ballroom while Yakov had been sure to keep a barrier of beta advisors and guards between himself and any red-sashed figures. Yuuri wished he could join the other two Asians in hiding behind pillars.

“Why do you think they’re here?” Victor asked his companion, briefly making eye contact with a dark haired mercenary. The man offered a smile and returned to his conversation; Victor offered no acknowledgement.

“Lord Baranov had mentioned something about knowing the family.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a son or uncle were here. Prince Seung Gil and Phichit haven’t been very subtle this evening,” Victor commented when he saw the two walk to the other side of the hall. When Yuuri looked, he noticed two mercenaries had walked up to them to try and hold a conversation, “do you know why?”

“Mercenary groups aren’t popular in Asia,” he supplied, watching his friends station themselves by a window as Seung Gil hissed something at his guard, “many Asian countries have a history of being invaded by sell swords sent from other countries. Even though these people and this group in particular haven’t personally done anything to us, who they are and what they’re part of rubs us the wrong way.”

He turned and looked up at his fiance, noticing the concern etched into his features. He reached up and gently cupped Victor’s cheek, smoothing his thumb over the soft flesh in a comforting gesture, “don’t be surprised if Seung Gil decides to end his tour of Russia tomorrow.”

“I… think I understand,” Victor offered, reaching up and gently taking Yuuri’s hand into his own, “if I had known they would be here, I would have told you.”

“It also looks like we’re not the only ones uncomfortable with their presence,” Yuuri added, jutting his chin in Yakov’s direction. Victor glanced over and nodded.

“Any military presence that isn’t controlled in some way by my household is always concerning. They may not be ‘explicitly military,’ but they’re still soldiers and fighters. They probably have weapons and definitely a certain set of skills. We were equally surprised to see them here.”

“How could you not know they were here?” Yuuri asked, “I’m not implying that you’re lying, but isn’t anything suspicious reported to you? Wouldn’t information about a large number of mercenaries entering the country reach you?”

“I suspect Lord Baranov had something to do with that,” the Great Prince thought aloud, spotting a red-sashed man and woman approaching them. He looked at Yuuri, a facade of a smile in place, “would you like to join Phichit and Seung Gil?”

Immediately getting the message, Yuuri squeezed his hand tightly before letting go, “I’ll try to get someone to rescue you.”

“Thank you, my love.’

Yuuri turned and stepped away, already halfway across the room to Phichit by the time the two mercenaries reached Victor.

“Your Highness,” the man said, giving an inadequate yet graceful bow to the Great Prince. Victor shrugged it off as ignorance of court etiquette and smiled, “it’s a pleasure to meet you. We’re honored to have been invited to your lovely home for such a momentous occasion. The connections Lord Baranov has are impressive.”

“We have known his family for a very long time; he’s practically an uncle,” Victor tried his best to sound genuine, but there was still a coldness in his eyes. He grinned wider, “I was equally surprised to see you and your comrades here.”

“We’re known for making an entrance,” the young man bragged with an easy smirk. Everything about him reeked ‘Alpha Male’ from his scent to his posturing, “I’m Jean-Jacques Leroy. My father is the current warlord of The Band of Blades. You can call me JJ.”

A son, then.

“It’s nice to meet you. How long have you been in Russia?”

“Oh, only for a few weeks,” Victor felt his eye twitch, but tried to hide it with a nod of affirmation, “we’ve visited a few places, done some tourist attractions, ate some food; we’ve really been enjoying ourselves. Your country is wonderful.”

“It warms me to hear such praise. I must admit I’ve never been to Canada.”

“If you ever find yourself there, be sure to let us know. I’ll gladly show you around.”

“Thank you,” there was an awkward lull in the conversation. Jean- JJ’s - smile stayed charmingly in place as Victor struggled to think of a conversation topic.

“... I’m sorry, miss, but I don’t believe I heard your name,” he finally directed his attention to the woman slightly behind JJ, her expression stoic as she looked around the room. She redirected her attention to the Great Prince and executed a flawless curtsy, unaffected by the fact that she was wearing the same grey and red suit combination as the rest of the men in their group.

“I’m Isabella Yang. I’m Jean’s Second-in-Command for the battalion.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Victor could feel the weight of another silent lull encroaching on his shoulders and he struggled to keep the words flowing, “what inspired this trip out to Russia, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“We were invited,” JJ quickly answered, “Lord Baranov and my father appear to be good friends.”

The word choice wasn’t left unnoticed by Victor, and Isabella seemed to pick up on this as she quickly added, “the warlord likes to keep his connections private. He separates his home and work life. We were equally surprised by their relationship.”

“It appears Lord Baranov is the same,” Victor only became more puzzled. Lord Baranov was often fond of flaunting his wealth, connections and resources. Oh, you know the son of the English Queen? He knows his mother. It struck him odd that Baranov hadn’t brought up his ‘friendship’ with this mercenary group before.

“Who was that beside you a moment ago?” JJ asked, his gaze briefly flitting to the corner of the room where Yuuri had walked off to. Victor glanced over his shoulder and immediately spotted Yuuri with Phichit and Seung Gil. All three were in a deep discussion with each other as the Korean guard seemed to ward off any potential red-sashed interruptions with an eagle-eyed glare.

It appeared the heat of the room had finally gotten to the Japanese lord, as he had draped his folded coat over his forearm. His back was to the window, hiding the view of the Soul Mark from the prying and curious eyes of any who had noticed the smudged reflection in the glass pane.

“That’s Lord Yuuri Katsuki from Japan.”

“Oh, he’s your soulmate, right?” Victor nodded, “I’ve heard many things about him. About the two of you, really.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, lots of people talk about how you’re like a fairy tale couple in real life. Did you actually meet when you were kids?”

“Yes. I’ve known him since he was 6.”

“Wow,” JJ gushed, yet the enthusiasm sounded a tad artificial, “and you’re not sick of each other?”

Victor frowned, “no.”

“That’s soulmates for you,” he seemed to direct the comment to Isabella before informing the prince, “I’ve yet to meet mine. I’m not all too concerned with looking, though.”

“How old are you?”

“18.”

“You still have time.”

“Sure, but it’s not a priority for me. I have greater ambitions than to settle with my ‘other half,’” he made air quotes, “not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just have better things to do with my time.”

Before Victor could attempt to think of a response, a 12 year old American came to his rescue.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” Leo started, smoothly entering the conversation at JJ’s side, “but my father and I are sailors. We’ve sailed around Canada before - it has such a beautiful coastline! We’ve also made port in Nova Scotia and I was able to visit Oak Island.”

“Ah, now there’s a story. What’s your name, kid?”

“Leo de la Iglesia. One of the men told me who you are, Mr. Leroy.”

“JJ is fine. Surely you learned a little bit about Oak Island when you visited.”

“Yes, a lot of the men there talked about buried treasure,” JJ’s eyes twinkled as he directed his attention to the younger boy.

“Did you know that an entire ship is rumored to be buried there?” Leo’s eyes lit up and his jaw dropped.

“No way! That can’t be true!”

“Excuse my interruption,” a velvety voice penetrated the conversation. Victor looked over and saw Chris with a champagne flute in his hand, standing with an air of elegance and authority, “but I’ve come to steal the prince for a bit. I hope you don’t mind.”

“We won’t keep you,” Isabella answered for JJ, who was far too engrossed in his conversation with Leo to pay them any mind, “perhaps we can speak again later.”

“Perhaps,” Chris parroted in a tone that offered no promises. He shifted slightly and gestured ahead, his eyes now on Victor, “shall we, Your Highness?”

“Thank you. Please, enjoy yourselves.”

“Yeah, see you later, Highness,” Victor stiffened at JJ’s brisk dismissal but was too eager to walk away from him to care. He and Chris left the conversation, but didn’t start talking until they were well out of ear shot from their previous company and any other mercenary members.

That has to be the most uncomfortable I’ve ever seen you,” Chris chuckled, “and I saw you hours before your very first Rut. What was happening?”

“We had a conversation that was like pulling teeth,” Victor revealed, taking the half drunk glass from his friend and chugging the contents in one gulp. He grimaced at the burn before adding through gritted teeth, “it was very awkward. It felt like he had only spoken to me in order to establish his presence at the party.”

“Who was he?”

“Jean-Jacques Leroy. He’s the son of their company’s leader.”

“The Band of Blades? I’ve heard many rumors about their superior strength and combat abilities. Their leader is a skilled tactician and rumor has it that his son is well on his way to replacing him,” Chris sized up JJ in a way that oozed sexual interest, but Victor saw the careful calculations in the glint of his eyes. He returned his gaze to his liege, his smile dropping instantaneously, “is now a good time for you to leave?”

Victor sighed, his jaw clenching. His father had announced that he was to join Seung Gil and Phichit on their return trip to South Korea. Victor had been to Japan, China, Thailand, the Philippines, India - almost all of Asia - but he had never been to Korea. Seung Gil’s mother had personally invited him with a beautifully written and embossed invitation, and Seung Gil had even shared that the trip would be enjoyable since his dog had taken a liking to the Great Prince.

They were to leave in three days; Victor hadn’t told Yuuri yet.

Well, Yuuri knew of the trip. He didn’t know that he wasn’t coming with him.

“All of the preparations have been made,” he said, scratching his neck, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Yakov wanted me out of the country while they’re here.”

“Some tacticians might call that a stupid move.”

“Regardless, invitations into Korea are far and few inbetween. Whatever Seung Gil has been telling his mother about us - about myself in particular - has clearly won me her affections. To decline the offer now - after everything has been arranged - would be insulting.”

“And you can’t take Yuuri with you?” Victor’s concern turned into a pout.

“Yakov won’t let me.”

“That’s ridiculous. He’s your soulmate. Koreans live for soulmate stories. She might be insulted if you don’t bring him-”

“That’s a risk he’s apparently willing to take,” he glanced over at his uncle, who was in a deep discussion with Beta Giacometti. He felt Chris’ warmth when he leaned into his personal space, the hairs on the back of his neck tickling from his breath.

“You haven’t told Yuuri yet?” It was a question presented as a statement. Victor hesitated a moment, already knowing what the response would be. He nodded, bracing for the scolding.

“I haven’t.”

“Victor,” he growled lowly, a sign that his Alpha was agitated. If Victor were to look at him, he’d likely see flashes of gold in his eyes, “you’re the worst.”

“And how would you tell him?” He demanded, looking back at his friend. He could feel himself getting fired up, but was more annoyed than angry, “there isn’t a good way to tell him. There are no words in Russian or Japanese - or even English - that could soften the blow of ‘I’m leaving for a few months and you’re not coming with me.’”

“You should have just said it,” Chris chastised him, “like a dirty bandage on a wound, you should have just ripped the damn thing off instead of letting it sit and get infected. You’re leaving in three days, Victor!”

“I know!”

“It’s a miracle that he hasn’t heard it from anyone else.”

“I forbade anyone from telling him,” he admitted before adding softly, “and half of those people told me they wouldn’t based on the principle that it was my problem to deal with.”

“You’re going to be gone for over a month, Victor, and he’s going to be here with these damn sell-swords.”

“You’ll be here,” Victor interjected, “so will Makkachin. Yuri, Mila, all of the staff he’s become friends with. Celestino is going to leave his best soldier here to personally protect him, and I believe Yakov might try to send for his sister or mother- some sort of family - to visit while I’m away. You’re blowing this out of proportion and it’s doing nothing for my nerves.”

“If I’m being overdramatic, it’s because I’m trying to give you a point of view from Yuuri’s perspective. You know his anxieties can get the better of him,” Christophe put a hand on his shoulder, “he’s still a teenager. You’re basically still one yourself.”

“Enough,” Victor pushed his hair out of his face and looked over at his lover. He was laughing at something Phichit had said - something that even dragged a smile out of Seung Gil - and he flinched.

Yakov had been stubborn in his stance on keeping Yuuri in Russia. His reasoning had been vague with answers ranging between half-assed to none at all. He had tried since the day they received the Empress’ invitation, but he was set in his answer.

“Lord Katsuki will stay in the palace. You’ve visited other countries without him and there’s no reason for him to go. She invited you, not you and all your friends,” Yakov had glared at him as he said this, his own Alpha seeping into his voice, “do you not think he’ll be safe here? Then you’re truly an idiot. Leave me.”

Yuuri looked up and made eye contact with him. He smiled brightly, probably noticing that he was free of the mercs trying to make conversation with him, and gestured for him and Chris to join their group by the window.

Chris shot him a disappointed look before putting a smile back on. He didn’t wait for the Great Prince, walking toward the group and lifting a glass of champagne from the tray of a passing servant. The servant stopped beside the Great Prince, silently offering a glass from the platter. Victor nearly knocked another glass over in his eagerness to have one.

He waited too long.

He downed his drink in one go.

He waited too long and he messed up big time.

He placed the glass on a table as he walked to join the group, taking slow steps to delay his approach.

He waited too long and Yuuri was going to kill him.

Especially since he was leaving in three days.

Chapter Text

“I’ll be in meetings all day,” the grumpy aristocrat mumbled as he walked down the grand staircase in his manor, a household servant at his left carrying his things and two mercenaries to his right. JJ and Isabella wore warm, sensible clothes, grey and in a professional style, with the red sashes replaced by a red strap around their thighs, “your men are free to stay here or explore the city; I care not of what they do, only that they don’t cause a commotion and give the Viceroy an excuse to kick them out.”

“I’ll let them know,” JJ answered, glancing at Isabella with a raised eyebrow. She merely blinked at him. 

“I would like you to join me in the palace, Mr. Leroy.”

“I’d be honored, Sir. Isabella and I have yet to even see the building-”

“No, she may stay here. I’d prefer it if you came alone,” JJ felt Isabella’s hand on his shoulder. She squeezed briefly before letting go. He didn’t like the idea either and straightened his posture, keeping his carefully crafted air of carelessness in place.

“Awe, a shame. She was looking forward to visiting the castle, she’s a fan of history.”

“Another time she can but not now. Not today at the very least.”

“Sir, your carriage is ready.”

“Thank you,” he stopped and turned to the two, holding his arms out so as to make it easier for a second pair of servants to drape Russian furs on him, “meet me in the carriage, Leroy. I’ll give you a few minutes to speak with your man… your woman.”

“I’ll be just a moment,” Baranov seemed to scowl at his inelegant word choice and turned to leave, the servants trailing behind him. They waited until they were well out of ear shot before speaking in hushed voices.

“This is weird.”

“Agreed,” Isabella nodded, “we’ve been here for a handful of days and he still has yet to give us our purpose.”

“It can’t be for a take over,” JJ dismissed, glancing around the room to make sure there weren’t any eavesdroppers, “treason is messy and we don’t have enough men to pull that off. Our soldiers are good but they’re not that good.”

“It’s hard to do anything with the amount of men we brought,” she added, “Sparta had more men than us and even they failed their mission. We have 100.”

“If he wants me to get cozy with the prince, that’s definitely not going to happen. He leaves for his trip to Korea today.”

“And it’s clear that we’re not expected to be escorting him there. He has his own guards and Lord Baranov told us to let our men relax in town.”

“If we’re just here for display then I would have liked to have known that ahead of time,” JJ grumbled childishly.

“Whatever the case is, I think you should be careful. I’m not a fan of secrets and he seems to enjoy withholding information.”

“Hopefully he’ll come clean in the carriage. I’ll let you know the next time I see you,” he was about to step away when Isabella grabbed his forearm, her face stony with a scowl.

“We’re being paid a lot of money for this.”

“I know-”

“We’re being paid a ridiculous amount of money for this. Whatever it is he wants us to do, please think it over carefully. Make sure it’s worth the price.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not a complete idiot.”

“Even I have trouble telling when you’re faking it, Sir.”

“Ha ha,” he shrugged her arm off, “funny. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Have a good day, sir.”

JJ walked quickly away from his comrade and braced himself for the cold morning air. It was a shocking change in temperature, his cheeks immediately turning red from the biting cold. He wondered briefly if he would have received any furs had he held his arms out before walking outside. The thought made him smile and he quickly climbed into the carriage. 

 


 

 

Everyone had gathered in the courtyard. There were multiple carriages lined up, filled to the brim with luggage and gifts. Servants scurried around, struggling to organize the chaos that was the extended departure of royalty. Courtiers watched from windows, the general public from the streets beyond the gates, and Yakov stood proud at the top of the steps leading into the palace, overseeing the commotion with a bland expression. 

Yuuri and Victor stood at the bottom of the steps, both bundled warmly. The winter weather had been awful, the chill seemingly worse than it had ever been in the past decade. Their gloved hands held on tightly to one another, both noses and ears pink as they made their goodbyes. Phichit and Seung Gil were already bundled up in the carriages. 

“You’ll travel for a week,” Yuuri repeated, sniffling from the weather, “maybe longer if the weather doesn’t clear.”

“Yes.”

“You’ll stay long enough to celebrate your birthday, the Lunar New Year, and the first full moon.”

“Yes.”

“So we’re looking at 3 months?”

“A little over 2,” he clarified, as if that were any better. Yuuri schooled his expression to hide his disappointment, but Victor could smell the sorrow coming off of him in waves, “but when I get there, I’ll do my best to convince the Empress to allow you to visit. Then we can spend New Years together - you, me, Seung Gil and Phichit.”

“I doubt that Yakov will let me go even if you do convince her.”

“The reason he’s not letting you go is because you weren’t originally invited,” Victor was quick to explain, “and you know how Korea is with its privacy. Also, they love their soulmate stories. A good word from Seung Gil, me waxing poetic about my love for you, maybe even Phichit having a nervous breakdown, and I’m sure we can secure an invitation.”

Yuuri smiled at that and glanced down embarrassed, “maybe just leave it to Seung Gil. I don’t want her hating me before I even arrived.  Phichit is also nervous enough as is. No need to make a scene.”

“He would do it in a heartbeat, and you know that just as well as I do,” Victor squeezed his gloved hands and grinned, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about this sooner. I thought I would be able to convince Yakov before we left. Clearly, I failed.”

“Thank you for trying,” Yuuri stepped forward and placed a chaste kiss on his cold cheek, turning Victor a darker shade of red.

Victor looked at him quietly for a moment before his expression drooped, “will you be alright?”

“Just because you’re gone doesn’t mean my world is ending.”

“You know that’s not what I'm talking about.” 

Yuuri sighed. Victor had been on edge ever since his birthday ball. The surprise appearance of a mercenary group with clear connections to one of his biggest critics was certainly concerning. In addition to that, their presence was made known days before the prince was scheduled to leave the palace for an extended stay abroad. Coincidence, bit still unlucky. 

“It’ll be fine. I don’t like them, but I'll behave myself.”

“It’s not your behavior I’m worried about.”

“I’ll have Chris and the kiddos.”

“The Crispino children are gone. Leo and his family left yesterday, and Mila and Yuri are barely tall enough to reach your waist.”

“I’ll have Makkachin,” Yuuri smiled, “and Vicchan. My two fierce guard dogs.”

“Vicchan is a toy poodle.”

“Victor, what do you want me to say?” Yuuri huffed with annoyance.

“I don’t know, I’m not happy with this situation. Maybe you can visit your family while I'm gone?”

“Yakov would probably say no.”

“Then maybe Mari could visit you, I don’t know. I don’t like the idea of leaving you here, but I can’t think of a better solution. I’m not even allowed to leave Ciao Ciao behind.”

“He’s the captain of your guards and one of the best soldiers in the country.”

“Which is why he should stay with you.”

“You’re a prince, Victor! Heir to the throne!”

“And you’re my reason for living!” 

Yuuri balked at the bold statement, “don’t exaggerate.”

“I’m not!”

The young lord looked at his lover and sighed. He brought him in for a hug and squeezed tightly, “maybe you do need the space.”

Victor instantly pulled back and held him by his shoulders, “no, I-”

“You need to get your priorities in order,” Yuuri scolded and stepped back, “I love you, Victor, but I can’t take precedence over your duties to your people.”

“Yuuri, wait-”

“Have a safe journey, Victor. Try to enjoy yourself,” he respectfully bowed and turned to walk up the stairs, stopping to stand beside Yakov once he reached the top. When he looked back down, he saw that Victor was still staring at him, his expression conflicted and a hand still in the air as if he were frozen in place. When they made eye contact, he snapped out of his stupor. He gritted his teeth and bowed politely to the Viceroy, sending one last meaningful look at Yuuri before turning to approach the carriages.

“I swear that boy is going to give me an aneurysm one day,” Yakov harrumphed next to him, “smells like you two had a difficult conversation.”

“The trip will be good for him. He needs to get out every once in a while,” Yakov nodded in agreement,  “when do you think he’ll be back?”

“Mid-February, most likely,” he guessed, glancing down at the lord. Yuuri shifted uncomfortably as the two watched Victor jog up to the same carriage Seung Gil and Phichit were residing in. He opened the door and gracefully leaped onto the step, turning briefly to blow a kiss in the direction of the castle before stooping inside. Yuuri felt himself smile.

“Yuuri,” he looked up at Yakov, a little caught off guard by the concerned look on his face, “is there something you’d like to discuss with me?”

“... I’m not sure I understand.”

“Ever since your predicament was revealed to the Advisory council, you’ve seemed… at a loss,” he struggled to explain, “I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure how to explain myself. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I promise.”

“Are you sure there isn’t anything you’d like to ask me?”

Yuuri hesitated a moment. It was true that he’d been off since the Delta reveal with that whole debacle turning his life upside down. By this time, the public was aware of his status, and Dr. Crispino’s tour was well underway in the surrounding cities. Most doctors in the country had received the information he was sharing in advance, and results of the general public’s education on Secondary Sexes were coming back positive. Not everyone understood it, but the majority was very accepting. 

Yuuri’s recent gloom wasn’t due to his private life being made public, however. It was more so related to the thought he had been putting into his future with Victor ever since the possibility of children came up. Victor had said that he wasn’t going to co-rule the country, and Yuuri wondered if he really meant that. He was under no illusion that he was entitled to such power, but that did leave the question of what was he supposed to do with the rest of his life?

Yakov, as a long time resident, witness, and leader of a royal court, might have an answer. What did Victor’s father do since he was the one who married into the royal family? Would those opportunities be available to Yuuri as well, or are circumstances different since he wasn’t a natural born citizen of the Nikiforov empire?

“Actually, there is something I’m curious about. I’d appreciate your opinion.”

The first of the carriages started to roll out, soldiers on horseback pulling up to either side to form a loose wall around the perimeter of the caravan. Yuuri thought he could see Phichit pressing his face against the glass window on the door.

“Shall we head inside?” Yakov gestured towards the entrance. With one last look at the wagons, Yuuri nodded and turned, being sure to stay at least a step behind the Viceroy as a show of respect. 

“What’s on your mind?” He asked, shedding his outer layer in the foyer and passing it off to an attendant. Yuuri followed suit.

As they walked back to his office, he explained his predicament: how Victor’s words from that day made him feel off, how ever since he’s arrived he’s just kind of done his own thing, the expectations he thinks the Beta’s have of him, etc.

“I’m just puzzled,” he said, “when Victor takes the throne, what will my responsibilities be? I’m not under the impression that I would be helping Victor run the country, but what will be expected of me?”

Yakov took a minute to think over his concerns. They had stopped in the hallway, a few doors down from his office with a row of attendants and servants behind them. A few Beta’s waited anxiously by the office door, confused as to why he and the lord had stopped midway.

“That’s a legitimate concern to have, one that I didn’t think you would worry yourself with until you were older,” he started slowly, looking down in thought, “you’re right; given that you’re not of a higher class and your foreign status, co-ruling wouldn’t be accepted easily by the court or the general population. 

“There have been a few marriages in the family with similar circumstances, however. In those instances, the duties of the partner varied. Some took advantage of the lifestyle and lived lavishly. Others worked hard to prove their worth. Some were stubborn enough to demand their spouse share the power. It’s important to remember that Victor is your monarch first, and your partner second.”

Yuuri nodded, “I don’t want to just laze around all day, and I’m certainly not in any position to be asking for a share of the control. What did Victor’s father do? He was a noble, not a royal, right?”

“Well… Victor’s parents were in a different position than you two. His family was of a higher rank and he was born a citizen of this country. He didn’t rule alongside her, but he did serve as an advisor on her council.”

Yuuri felt himself slouch a bit until Yakov placed a hand on his shoulder. He lightly squeezed and continued, “the council isn’t a place for you, and I’m sure you won’t want to be there either. It’s foolish for anyone to think that Victor won’t come to you for advice and actually listen, but those moments will just happen when you’re alone, not when you’re in a meeting with several other Betas all fighting to voice their opinions. It’s probably for the best.”

Yuuri grimaced and nodded in agreement. A rare smile grew on Yakov’s face and he patted his back.

“There was another duty his father attended to in the palace - very important, although many considered it trivial in the grand scheme of things.”

“What else did he do?”

“He was a gracious host,” Yakov had a far away look in his eyes as he seemed to recall the memories of Victor’s father, “the queen was often busy with her daily schedule as well as meetings with various heads of state and diplomats. She didn’t have enough time in the day to visit and mingle with everybody in the palace, whether visiting or summoned, but Victor’s father knew the importance of playing a proper host. Everyone in the palace is a reflection of their ruler, and when you’re left ignored by staff or bored in the garden, the likelihood of other countries wanting to meet on favorable conditions lessens.  

“He greeted Her Majesty’s guests, made arrangements for their entertainment while they waited for their meetings with the Queen, assisted in planning social occasions for such guests to interact with her and each other in less professional settings, and overall tried to create a welcoming atmosphere in the palace,” Yakov glanced down at him, “does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”

“Hospitality is very important in my culture,” Yakov focused on his expression properly, noticing how Yuuri’s demeanor had changed from deflated to delighted at being given a purpose, “I’d love to learn how I can help with that.”

Yakov smiled once more, “I’m glad this interests you. The technical aspects and logistics will have to be trained, which we can arrange when then next social occasion is being planned. In the meantime, however, you can start practicing with our most recent guests.”

It took Yuuri a moment to register who he was referring to, but when the realization hit he barely hid his scowl, “the mercenaries?”

“I have a meeting with Lord Baranov today. No doubt, he’ll be bringing the leader of that battalion along with him to make us all uncomfortable,” he lowered his voice and leaned down, “dealing with men and women you don’t like is part of the job. Welcome him, give him a tour. Maybe he’ll tell you the purpose of his visit, topics like that are always brought up in conversation.” 

Yuuri nodded as Yakob straightened up. The last thing he wanted to do was interact with the Leroy heir. From what he heard from Victor and Leo’s interactions with him, the man seemed arrogant and childish. 

But Yakov did have a point. Not every guest to the palace would be kind and well liked. Yuuri was also curious about the purpose of their visit as well. If the Leroy boy was as the others claimed, then he’d probably be volunteering the information the second Yuuri said hello.

“I suppose. I’ll do my best.”

Yakov nodded and walked away, leaving Yuuri to plan how exactly he was going to play host to the Mercs and their leader without causing a national incident.

Chapter Text

Spending time with Jean Jac- JJ - had been a lot less painful than Yuuri had originally anticipated. 

His opportunity to start practicing his host skills came later on the same day he spoke with Yakov about future duties. Lord Baranov had waltzed through the palace halls, predictably late, with his attendants and the mercenary in tow. Yuuri had been on his way with little Yuri to the kitchens for a snack when they had passed each other in the hall. Baranov had the bright idea of sending JJ to join them (‘he is a guest of myself and my household, afterall, I just feel so terrible that my duties to the country are getting in the way’) and Yuuri had agreed and requested JJ join them that moment. 

The look of surprise on everyone’s faces had been well worth the forced pleasantries. 

That first day with the merc had been bearable, if not a bit tedious. Nothing in Russia - the buildings, the food, the furnishings and books and fashion - quite seemed to stack up with Canada. That day’s events could easily be summarized with “but in Canada-.”

It was only in the evening when he was reading, too blinded by his annoyance for the man and his background, that he realized JJ was homesick. 

The next day,  Lord Baranov had arrived a little earlier - which worked out perfectly for Yuuri and his plans. He had been quick to intercept the group and steal JJ away for breakfast, which consisted of dishes he would have normally eaten at home: rice, miso soup, and grilled fish. JJ had taken an immediate liking to the soup.

The rest of that day passed decently, with Yuuri subtly interrogating him on different foods and meals he enjoyed in Canada, as well as books, plays, and the entertainment he was used to. He had learned that Russia was the first trip he had taken abroad and the farthest he had ever traveled.

He had also learned that JJ himself didn’t know the purpose of his trip. 

It was day three and Yuuri was standing in the foyer with his coat folded over his arm. Beside him stood Chris looking dazzling in white wool and an ushanka in hand, a frown fixed on his handsome features.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been willingly spending time with the Canadian boy. Though it warms my heart to hear of your ambitions to become a wonderful host, why am I being dragged into this play date?”

“Because, believe it or not Chris, JJ isn’t actually that bad.”

“From what little Yuri tells me, all he ever talks about is Canada, Canada, Canada-”

“He’s homesick. This is the first major trip he’s taken and the farthest he’s traveled. He’s already been here for a month, and from what he’s told me, he has no idea when he’s going home.”

“There’s a difference between being homesick and being an annoying-”

“Yes, he’s patriotic. We all are, we all think our countries are the best.”

Chris playfully gasped and swatted the lord’s arm, “Yuuri! Did you just declare Japan to be better than Russia? The scandal, Yuuri! The treason!”

“Ok, I know you’re joking, but I need you to keep your voice down in case someone else overhears,” Yuuri grinned and knocked his shoulder into him. Chris merely laughed. 

“I’m just saying, Yuuri, you’re being awfully kind to him.”

“He’s a guest in my fiance’s home.”

“He’s also a mercenary brought in by your biggest critic-”

“Who also doesn’t know why he’s here,” Yuuri quickly pointed out. Chris looked at him skeptically.

“He is still a mercenary. War and battle are his specialty. What on earth makes you think he’ll tell you why he was brought in?”

“It’s not that I think he’ll outright tell me the purpose of his trip,” Yuuri clarified, “yes, I want to practice being a good host on him and leave a good impression of Russia, but I also want to get to know him. Once you spend enough time with someone, you get to know their ticks and quirks.”

Chris observed him for a moment.

“Oh, I see. It’s not that you’re expecting him to come to you and say, ‘Lord Baranov told me his plan, here it is.’ You’re just waiting to see if there’s a change in behavior.”

“Yes,” Yuuri shrugged, “once he starts to act differently, then we can be suspicious and make arrangements to observe him and his men.”

“And what if he already knows why he’s here?”

“His current behavior doesn’t exactly strike me as being a man on a mission.”

“Who knows,” Chris raised an eyebrow, “maybe he’s an incredibly talented actor.”

“Who knows,” Yuuri echoed, “but I have a gut feeling on this.”

After a few more minutes of playful banter and Chris’ complaints, the doors to the palace swung open and the lord’s entourage entered with Baranov and JJ leading the charge. The lord seemed to be lecturing the merc with a frown in place, JJ’s own expression professionally blank, when the older man spotted the two across the room.

“Ah! Greetings, Lord Katsuki! Christophe, my boy! How is your father?” Lord Baranov greeted, coming to a stop so as to allow the other two to approach. Chris huffed quietly, subtly making his displeasure known to his friend, and grinned as they walked over.

“It’s good to see you, Lord Baranov! My father is well, thank you.”

“I heard he was taken to bed with an illness.”

“An exaggeration, I assure you. It was merely a cough, yet the old man quarantined himself in the west wing of our home. You know as well as I that he likes to stress over the little things.”

“Will the council be seeing him anytime soon?”

“From what the maids have told me, he’s recovered. However, to be extra sure that the illness is gone, he will stay home for an additional few days.”

“I look forward to seeing him,” any warmth that had appeared in his expression became muted as he divided his attention from Chris to Yuuri, “what brings you gentlemen to the foyer? Were you waiting for our arrival?”

“For Mr. Leroy, yes,” Yuuri politely smiled, “I have plans with him today,” he looked at the mercenary and noted that his mood had considerably improved since seeing the two walk over.

“My, it seems that you’re quite popular, Jean,” Lord Baranov said smugly. JJ shrugged and took a step away to be closer to the other two.

“You don’t exactly see a Canadian in Russia every day,” he arrogantly announced, providing a friendly wink. Yuuri could practically feel Chris roll his eyes. 

“Indeed one doesn’t,” Lord Baranov smiled as if he knew something no one else did. Yuuri paid no mind to him and smiled at JJ.

“Shall we, Mr. Leroy? I hope you don’t mind stepping back into the cold.”

“As long as there’s a warm carriage waiting for us,” he easily bantered, adjusting the scarf around his nose and mouth.

“Have a good day, gentlemen,” the Beta dismissed, watching them with a calculating expression as they left. 

Yuuri did his best to play dumb, acting as if he couldn’t see the wheels turning in Baranov’s head. The man wasn’t fooling anyone. If JJ didn’t have a purpose before, he was sure to have one now. The look in Chris’s eyes confirmed they were on the same page. 

“Where are we heading today?” JJ asked as they stepped into the carriage and adjusted themselves in the small space. 

“To Lord Baranov’s home.”

JJ frowned, “why? Does he know?”

“He’ll be told later by the servants, I’m sure,” Chris huffed, “we’re not staying for very long, anyway. Hello, I’m Chris.”

JJ absent-mindedly shook the hand offered, staring at him with confusion before shaking his head out of his stupor, “wait, why are we going?”

“To pick up your lieutenant,” Yuuri filled in as the carriage jolted into motion, “you mentioned she's the ‘queen of poutine,’ so we have to bring her with us when we go shopping for ingredients.” 

JJ was stunned for a moment. Yuuri smiled kindly at him, nudging Chris when he heard the man chuckle.

“Hm? For as chatty as his reputation led us all to believe, it’s amusing to share this moment of silence, mon amie.”

JJ perked up, “parlez vous français?”

“Oui. Je m’appelle Chris, je suis un ami de Yuuri.”

Enchenté.”

Yuuri spent most of the ride to the mansion staring out the window as Chris and JJ bonded over their shared language. There were snippets of the conversation he could understand thanks to what little he picked up from Chris over the years, with him being able to guess that the conversation topics included food and - unfortunately - scandalizing stories of their years as  ‘youths;’ Yuuri wasn’t aware that Chris ever left his behind.

He did find it amusing when their carriage pulled up to the mansion and servants panicked to greet them. He had nearly regretted his choice to take the wagon with the royal crest carved onto the sides, but their discomfort was enough to change his mind. 

“Would you mind grabbing her for us?” He asked JJ, who was already standing from his seat.

“I can already see her on the steps,” he opened the door, letting a cold draft breeze through as he hopped from the stoop and jogged towards the entrance. Yuuri peered through the open door - “rude,” Chris had hissed before pulling it shut - and spotted a confused woman with black hair staring at their ride.

“What do we know about her?” Chris asked with a polite façade in place.

“She’s JJ’s right hand man and best friend. She’s intelligent, loyal, and very good with a crossbow,” he watched through the window as JJ ran to her and grabbed her hand, pulling her along towards the carriage as he babbled at her. He took off his scarf and wrapped it around her neck as they got closer, the woman still staring with caution, “apparently, she’s also the best chef in his unit.”

“I find her confusion to be endlessly amusing.”

The door opened and JJ all but lifted her inside, prodding at her back with his palms and saying ‘hurry, hurry, you’ll let the cold in’ as she scrambled to her seat. Her pleasant Beta smell betrayed her confusion.

“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Yang,” Yuuri greeted once the door was shut and JJ seated. Chris rapped the roof of the carriage, the vehicle jostling its passengers as it spurred into motion, “I apologize for surprising you so early in the day. I promise that we’re not kidnapping you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, my lord,” she greeted shyly, doing her best to bow while seated, “I will admit, I was startled to see the royal family’s carriage arrive and Jean jump out of it. He’s usually thrown from moving horses, not given an escort.”

“Haha,” JJ said dryly, giving Yuuri a conspiring look, “I speak so highly of you and you try to slander my good name?”

“I don’t need to ‘try’ to do that, sir,” her response was deadpan, earning a grin from Yuuri and laughter from Chris.

“I like her! Pleasure to meet you, mon cher. I’m a good friend of Yuuri’s, Christophe Giacometti.”

“A pleasure to meet you as well. If you don’t mind me asking, is there any relation between you and the Lord Giacometti of the Advisory Council?”

“You are well informed; he is my father.”

“Not informed, I must say. We’ve come here hardly knowing anything or anyone my lord. Lord Baranov likes to talk about his day at dinner, and his is a name that has come up a few times,” she was quick to explain, her ears tinting pink as she tucked a strand of hair away from her face. JJ frowned and gave her wrist a quick squeeze.

“No need for the formalities, Bella. They’re nice guys.”

“One of them is marrying royalty and the other may one day advise them, sir. Be respectful,” she scolded.

“Uh, ok,” he huffed, throwing his hands up in a show of defeat, “but until then, they’re not that high up on the food chain, right?”

“JJ!”

“What?! Yuuri’s a lord, so’s Chris! They’re barely a step above us! We might even be higher than them, we have more influence.”

“Are you being serious right now?!”

“All I’m saying is they’re not royalty! Relax!”

Chris started laughing loudly, Yuuri’s own chuckles nearly being eclipsed by his. Isabella looked horrified and embarrassed as she hung her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. JJ remained utterly unfazed by the banter, looking genuinely confused as to why they were laughing at their conversation.

As their laughter subsided, Isabella heaved a deep sigh and straightened up, “My lord, your patience knows no bounds, seeing as you’re willingly spending time with him for a third consecutive day.”

“I have to polish my skills as a host. JJ is proving to be perfect for practice.”

“Oh, I’m honor- wait…” Isabella smiled at his confusion. Yuuri grinning right back at her and quickly changing the topic.

“JJ had told us you’re the best when it comes to making poutine.”

“Yes, it’s one of my specialties.”

“What is ‘poutine?’” Chris asked with a slight frown. JJ’s expression brightened.

“Potatoes chopped and fried, cheese and gravy - it’s so simple, but extremely easy to mess up! It’s an art form in and of itself, and Bella here is the artist. Absolute perfection, especially when you top it with beef brisket. Even that takes a while - it’s not done right unless you’ve cured it for a week.”

“Let’s stick with the classic recipe first, sir,” she said, “I can make other dishes in addition to poutine, depending on the ingredients available.”

“We’re heading to a global goods store. The chef in the kitchen recommended it to me; she told me it’s where she gets hard to find ingredients for Japanese dishes whenever I ask her to cook something specific. Hopefully they’ll have everything you need in stock.”

“Global goods? I can only assume the tax on imported items will cause a sizeable bill.”

“Rest assured, I will be handling the cost. All I ask for in return is a delicious meal,” Isabella looked concerned and glanced at JJ, who had reclined back in the seat completely unbothered. 

“I’m flattered, but I would feel terrible to make you pay-”

“Didn’t you say he’s marrying royalty, Bella? He has Russia’s treasury in the palm of his hands, he’ll be fine.”

Yuuri most certainly did not have access to Russia’s treasury, but he did have a sizeable sum saved up from his monthly allowance. He was warned by Mila’s mother that some of the goods would be expensive - especially if they were seasonal and specially preserved - but he wasn’t as bothered by the idea as he thought he should be. He was actually starting to like JJ, and Isabella was also proving to be a charming companion. He couldn't - and shouldn’t - let his guard down around mercenaries, but building a friendly relationship with the two wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It was strategic… right?

“You don’t have to worry about anything,” Yuuri reassured, feeling Chris’ knowing gaze burning into his temple, “I’m looking forward to trying Canada’s food.”

Isabella observed him for a moment before a pretty smile bloomed on her face.

“In that case, let’s pray that there’s maple syrup in stock. I’ve been craving tire sur la neige the moment I saw snow.”

 


 

 Victor always forgot how exhausting travel was. It was slow and tedious and boring, especially with his soul mate absent. 

Phichit and even Seung Gil did their best to sympathize with him, but how could they? They were each other's soul mates, and they weren’t thrilled about the revelation themselves. At least they were his friends. Victor felt safe enough to whine, pout and mope around them, and they were kind enough to tolerate it.

To pass time during their first three days of travel, Phichit taught them games he and his father would play during their own ventures to distant lands. Their entertainment values were hit or miss, with Victor taking a particular liking to a game of deception and power. It involved everyone controlling 2 characters, with a large cast of classes to choose from at random. The objective was to acquire funds in order to overthrow everyone and be the last person standing, with each character having their own unique abilities. Phichit often won in the beginning, but Seung Gil was a quick learner. Victor was terrible, but had fun nonetheless. 

After days of travel in the carriage, they were finally moving on to boarding a train. This would take up most of their travel time, but at least they would be able to move through the carts and stretch their legs without holding up the caravan. No horses to worry about in the cold, either.

Victor laid face down on the mattress in his room of the inn. The room wasn’t as spacious as his bedrooms in the other palaces, but it was warm and dry. That was all he craved at the moment, feeling his toes slowly warm up from the heat of the fireplace. 

With a full belly, clean clothes and warm blankets, he was still feeling anxious. Call it paranoia, call it obsession, call it whatever you like. Victor was worried about Yuuri. His poor fiance left all alone at the mercy of Lord Baranov and Leroy’s mercenaries. Surely, Yakov would do his best to keep them separated, right? He would foil whatever plots Baranov was cooking up in order to keep Yuuri safe? He would keep him far far away from Leroy and his merry band of murder hobos (a term Phichit not so fondly used to refer to the Band of Blades), right?

But there was always the question of ‘what if?’ What if something happened? 

Victor didn’t like to risk these questions of ‘what if,’ so he arranged for Chris to send letters updating him on the goings-on in the palace.

And just to be extra cautious, he arranged for one of the palace guards to send reports of his own. Just to be safe. To double check that Chris didn’t miss anything. 

There was a delay between letters, though. Victor had yet to receive the first one from either Chris or the young soldier, and that was the source of his current misery.

Fortunately, whatever deity residing in the sky had clearly grown sick of the prince’s despair - or so Victor assumed - since there came a knock on the bedroom door.

“Your Highness, some letters have arrived  for you,” Ciao Ciao’s familiar voice came muffled through the door. Victor immediately threw himself out of bed and rushed forward, flinging the door open to snatch the parchment before slamming it shut in his face.

“Thank you, that will be all!” He quickly dismissed and hopped back into bed, tearing open Chris’s familiar wax seal and reading through its contents. 

It was a short letter, posted the same day his group left. Chris had written to inform that Baranov had brought Leroy to the palace and immediately shoved him onto Yuuri. He explained what they did that day - mainly touring the castle and Leroy filling the conversation with talk of Canada, as well as expressing Yuuri’s complaints made later that evening - and unhelpfully filled Victor in with information about his own day. One would think Victor to be callous over his lack of interest in Chris’s life, but the information provided mainly contained vivid descriptions of a scandalous dream he had involving a pole and jewelry. Not exactly an image Victor wished to see. 

He was quick to finish Chris’s letter before moving onto the writings of the guard, Masumi. His own report was much shorter with more relevant details. He told Victor about the conversation he overheard between Yakov and Yuuri, about his anxieties with his future in the palace and request for advice from the Viceroy. He also reported back the advice given and noted how Yuuri had taken steps later on in the day to reach out to the Canadian visitor and his agenda with said guest. He mentioned a few other things that weren’t relevant to Victor’s chief concerns - a rumor in the palace, Beta Giacometti’s illness, Chris’s usual eccentric behavior, etc - and ended with a reassurance that he would keep an eye on the mercenaries. 

Victor re-read both letters a few times to make sure he didn’t miss any hidden meanings or secret messages. Ultimately, it was just an update of his fiancee working hard to be a wonderful host to palace visitors, just like his father. It warmed his heart to hear of his newfound ambitions and to read of the diligence he was already putting into practicing on Leroy.

It made him sad to be so far from his lover. It made his blood boil to think of the Canadian Alpha receiving all of Yuuri’s attention while he was away.

His eyes flashed silver as he cursed Yakov. 

He really should have brought Yuuri with him anyway.

Chapter Text

It was subtle, but Yuuri could see that something had changed in JJ. 

It had been a week since Victor, Seung Gil and Phichit had left, but he was sure a letter confirming their arrival wouldn’t be seen for another seven days. In this short amount of time, Yuuri did his best to get along with the visiting Canadian Mercenaries, even if it meant wasting more pleasantries on Lord Baranov than his usual bow at parties. 

JJ was a vivacious and friendly companion. His right-hand woman was intelligent and blunt with a smile that was quite dazzling when she genuinely laughed. They were open with their opinions, thought very highly of themselves and their skill, and (moreso JJ than Isabella) weren’t afraid to let everyone around them know it. Despite all this, Yuuri - even Chris - found himself enjoying their company more than he thought he would.

Yuuri wondered if his behavior had stemmed from the lifestyle he was used to; afterall, he did come from a family with a rich history and a well-known reputation in the Western Hemisphere. He used to wonder if being in new lands would humble him, but that seemed to only motivate the younger leader to prove his and his groups worth to the Russians. They held public demonstrations of their training routines, sparred with Russian soldiers, and went into great detail about their battle plans and strategies that led them to victory in the past.

Information like that had to be common knowledge in their area of the world, otherwise they wouldn’t be foolish enough to reveal their secrets… right?

JJ even sparred with Chris at one point in time. They were evenly matched, but it had ultimately been JJ’s experience on the battlefield that won him the duel with swords. In the brawl circles, however, Chris quickly put him back in his place. 

Everything seemed to be going well, and Yuuri was genuinely having a good time, up until a few days ago. Just as he assured Chris he would notice, JJ’s behavior had changed. 

He was kinder to Yuuri, helping him with doors, carrying items, inviting himself to snack breaks, lunches, and dinners. He was more inquisitive about subjects Yuuri had fairly good understandings of, mainly of subjects that originated from his homeland like kenshibu. The phrase that became common in their everyday conversations changed from “JJ style!” to “tell me more!”

The shift became noticeable to Chris when Isabella stopped showing up to the palace. When pressed for an answer, JJ simply told them that she was busy running things for him so that he could spend more time with them. When asked to bring her along the next time, he would merely shrug and mutter, “I can try, no promises.”

Events took an uncomfortable turn 2 weeks after Victor had left. There had been a smattering of days where Yuuri didn’t pursue the Canadian to perform his hosting responsibilities, and the day of ‘the incident’ was one of those days. He was planning on taking Yurio to one of the frozen ponds just outside of town when he spotted JJ’s cheerful expression in the palace foyer.

“JJ, nice to see you,” he greeted as the servants helped bundle him and the little Yuri in furs and wool. JJ smirked - which looked far friendlier now that he had seen it nearly every day for 2 weeks - and brushed snow out of his hair with a gloved hand. No one except the young Plistesky seemed to mind, with the little boy mumbling about his rude behavior under his breath. In Russian, of course.

“Fancy meeting you here, lordship,” he casually joked and looked at the servant holding their gear, “are you going skating?”

“Yes, we have a pond reserved for the afternoon. Yuri is an avid skater, and he’s always urging me to join him.”

“I’m also a skater,” he walked up and examined Yuuri’s skates, “did I ever tell you that?”

“I don’t believe you did,” Yuuri lied, adjusting the belt around his waist. JJ had mentioned numerous times how he was an expert skater and would immediately list the jumps and spins he could perform. Yuuri assumed he would be at the public rink in the town square during his free time that day, but it looked like he was wanting to tag along with both Yuris. 

“Huh, I could have sworn I mentioned it to you before.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve been so busy lately I probably forgot.”

“No, I understand. Hey! Let me come with you! Maybe I could teach you two some spins and jumps.”

“Does he want to come? Don’t invite him, Yuuri, I don’t want to skate with him!” Little Yurio protested, mute to JJ’s ears due to the language barrier. 

“Yuri, be nice. It’s just one day, okay?” He responded in kind before switching to English for JJ’s sake, “we would love to have you join us. Unfortunately, I don't believe we have another pair of skates that could fit you.”

“I brought my own, they’re back at the lord’s mansion. You two can go on ahead, I’ll meet you at the pond.”

“We’re heading to the lake west of the town square. I can have one of my guards escort you so you don’t get lost,” Yuuri nodded to the nearest soldier, who bowed his head in acquiescence and moved to stand beside JJ.

“Excellent! I’ll be there as soon as I can! Get ready to see some of JJ’s style!” He made an odd symbol with his hands and winked before spinning on his heel and walking through the doors, adjusting the scarf around his neck as his appointed guide followed him. Yuri stared after him, faced crunched in confusion, before looking up at Yuuri and tilting his head.

“What was that? What did he do just now?”

Yuuri shrugged, “I don’t know. But he’s excited to show us his skating.”

“But I don’t want to skate with him,” Yuuri sighed and ruffled his blond hair.

“Sometimes you have to deal with people you don’t like in life. Practicing when you’re young can help you build patience when you get older.”

“I don’t like that he’s here. He doesn’t even speak Russian! He’s making no attempt to learn, either! I tried to teach him how to say please when he was asking me for something but he kept muttering the ugly English word for it: ‘please, please,’ ugh! Disgusting!” 

Yuuri frowned, unable to recall a time where Yurio and JJ interacted with each other, “Yurio, when was this?”

“Two days ago, I think.”

“What was he asking?”

The little boy shrugged, “I don’t know, I don’t speak that garbage language. I know a few words, that’s it.”

Yuuri smiled and held his hand out for him to take, which the child gladly obliged, “Yurio, just because you hate the grammar doesn’t mean it’s a ‘garbage language.’”

“There are too many words! Why do you need ‘articles?’ I hate ‘articles,’ I can never get them right!”

Yuuri laughed at his anger as they proceeded to exit the castle, making a mental note to ask Chris or the guards if they saw that interaction. Speaking of Chris…

“Masumi, would you mind sending someone to invite Chris to the pond?”

“He’s at his family’s home, my lord,” the brunette responded, “he was called away this morning.”

Yuuri frowned and nodded, “looks like it’s just us, then.”

The carriage ride to the pond was tedious due to the snowfall. Yurio filled the silence with ramblings about his plans for when they would get there. He went into great detail about the descriptions and names and origins of each of the spins and jumps he was learning, and Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder if Victor had been the one to tell him that information. Shockingly enough, Yurio revealed it had been Yakov during a dinner with the doctor and his family.

He was also thinking about JJ. Clearly, he had a purpose now. Baranov had schemed something the third day they spent together, and he had been acting different since. He was on his best behavior and toned down the rambunctious and arrogant personality Yuuri had grown accustomed to. Chris was actually eager to spend more time with him and didn’t seem to think anything was out of the ordinary until Isabella stopped coming to the palace. Even then, his suspicion was placed on her more so than his new pal, JJ. 

The men keeping a close eye on Isabella and the mercenaries reported nothing out of the ordinary. It was just as JJ had said: she oversaw the daily ongoings of the group, made sure everyone reported back to their superiors in a timely manner, made sure everyone attended routine training drills, made sure no one got into trouble. The worst amount of mischief caused by the group was being drunk in public, with Russia’s punishment being that one spent the night in a cold cell and was released the next morning to deal with their hangovers. The way Isabella punished those stupid enough to be jailed was much harsher than he expected, and repeat offenders didn’t seem to be a problem. 

Overall, there didn’t seem to be a dramatic change in the group. This led Yuuri to assume that Baranov’s plan only involved one other individual, and whether that was temporary or not was something he needed to consider. In the meantime, What was JJ’s end goal? 

When they arrived at the pond, the area was surrounded by a mixture of palace guards and local police to keep members of the court safe. A small crowd had also gathered, full of people wanting to see the Delta and his companion enjoy themselves on the ice. Some probably had heard of his training as a dancer, but they would be disappointed to see it poorly translated onto the ice. As they exited the carriage, Yuuri had Masumi inform the men and women that JJ was on his way and should be let through security. 

With skates on, laces tied, and scarfs secured, the two ventured onto the ice. Yuuri was coming more and more frequently, so clumsily falling onto his knees as soon as the blades hit the frozen water wasn’t an issue anymore. Little Yuri bolted onto the ice, leaving his companion behind in order to acquire space for the jumps he wanted to perform. 

“Look at me, Yuuri!” He skated in a circle to build momentum and launched into the air, completing one rotation and landing back on his feet with a hand on the ground, “did you see that!”

“I did! Very impressive!” He cheered and held a hand out, “skate a few laps with me to warm up, though. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Ugh!” Yurio rolled his eyes and made his way to Yuuri’s side, “you’re like a mother. I’ll be fine!” He didn’t object to taking Yuuri’s hand. 

They skated laps around the edges of the pond, killing time by talking about their dance practices with Lilia and the routines they were currently learning. 

“I asked her if we could take a break from ballet, and you know what the witch does?”

“Yurio, that’s not nice.”

“She makes me learn waltz! I hate waltzing! The girls I practice with want me to spin them constantly! What if I want to spin? Spinning looks like fun! Lilia spun me once to show me how to do it and I had lots of fun! Why must I lead? I want to have fun, too!”

“You sound like Victor,” Yuuri chuckled. Yurio tugged on his hand to make Yuuri look at him, pouting up with large turquoise eyes.

“Can you spin me, Yuuri?”

“Now?” 

“Yes.”

“Uh…” Yuuri looked around the ice, “uhm… I can try? I’m afraid I’ll drop you.”

“You won’t!” Yuri lifted his arms in the universal ‘carry me’ gesture and Yuuri groaned.

“If I fumble with you for a second, I’m putting you right back down,” he lifted the boy into his grasp and regretted it. Yurio was 4 feet of muscle, which made him quite heavy, “yeah, no, this won’t work.”

“Wait, why?!” He nearly screeched when Yuuri placed him back onto the ice, reluctantly releasing his arms from Yuuri’s neck.

“I’m not strong enough to hold you without dropping you. There’s no way I can spin you.”

Yurio looked horrified, “am I too fat?”

“No! No!” He immediately shouted and shook his head, “muscle is heavier than fat. You’re too strong.”

“Strong enough to lift you?” The boy smiled and Yuuri felt his stomach drop.

“Haha… no, not me. I’m too fat for you to lift…”

“Let’s try!”

“Yuri, no-”

“I’m strong! I can do it!”

“No way!” Yurio moved closer with arms out, looking like he was trying to grab Yuuri’s legs. The older Yuuri immediately took off from his spot, bolting around the ice and sticking his tongue out at him. Now that they had warmed up for a few minutes, he felt much better about moving quickly on the blades.

“I’ll catch you, Yuuri!”

“You can try!” Yurio may have had more consistent experience on the ice, but Yuuri’s legs were much longer.

They had only done a handful of laps when he saw someone in his peripheral step onto the ice.

“Welcome, JJ!”

“What’s happening here?” The Canadian Alpha asked, easily skating to Yuuri’s side and looking at the now fuming boy behind them.

“Yurio wants to try lifting me but I told him I’m too heavy. He doesn’t believe me.”

“I don’t think your weight is the issue,” he grabbed Yuuri’s bicep and pulled them to a stop. Little Yurio easily caught up, slightly panting, and glared at JJ.

“I almost had him!” He seethed in Russian. JJ didn’t acknowledge him. Instead, he placed his hands on Yuuri’s hips and hauled him up into the air. Yuuri yelled and latched onto his wrists, horrified as JJ started to skate backwards in lazy ‘S’s. Yurio screamed at him to put him down.

“Your weight is perfect for pair skating,” JJ commented, putting him back down and moving to grab his hands. Like a dance, JJ guided him around the ice, willing him to turn in different ways and directions, communicating his intentions by pulling his hands or grazing them down to push at his waist. The routine was familiar, something he and Victor played around with before Victor left on his trip, “your figure also matches well with pair skating. I could teach you? I used to pair skate with Isabella all the time but she stopped a year ago.” 

“I’m alright, thank you.” 

“You’re in excellent condition for it. Seriously,” JJ pulled Yuuri close and dipped him, smirking at his surprised yelp before raising him up again and urging him to spin. Yuuri was afraid to fall and figured doing as prompted would avoid unnecessary injury, “you have no idea how many of our client’s daughters always beg me to teach them. If they’re not in shape and don’t know the basics, then there’s no way I can help them.”

“Sounds like you’ve made quite a few girls unhappy,” Yuuri teased, slowing his speed so that they could stop. JJ took it as an invitation to pull him close, nearly nose-to-nose, and spin together.

“Everyone seems to think you can get what you want with money. The tantrums they throw when you tell ‘em ‘no’ are ridiculous.”

“Those poor broken hearts,” Yuuri managed to slip his hands out of his grasp and move away. Coming to a stop and steadying himself from the dizzying twirls. JJ came right back up to him and put a hand on his shoulder

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, I just need a minute.”

“Oh, your scarf is gone! It must have slipped off when I lifted you,” JJ smoothly pulled the blood-red fabric from around his own neck and wrapped it securely around Yuuri’s, “this will do for now. Give it back later, ok? My mom will kill me if I return home without it.”

“Oh, I’m fine. There’s no need-”

“Really, it’s ok. We can’t let anything happen to Victor’s fiance while he’s away,” Yuuri straightened up in time to catch the smirk. JJ moved into his personal space once more, hands coming to rest on his hips as he used his height advantage to tower over him, “Will you allow me another dance, my lord?”

“Keep your hands to yourself, Mr. Leroy!” The two jolted and separated, looking in the direction of the command and seeing Masumi at the edge of the ice with a stern expression on his face, “be more mindful of where you touch his Highness’s betrothed!”

“Of course! My apologies!” Some of the police officers looked unimpressed with them, while others remained either indifferent or scowled with annoyance. Yurio skated up to them, red-faced and furious.

“How come he can lift you but I can’t?!”

Yuuri stared at him blankly. Seriously?

“What’s wrong with him?” JJ asked, “does he want to pair skate too? How adorable!” He reached down to ruffle Yuri’s hair but the blond smacked his hand away. 

“That’s just how he is. He’s a ball of aggression to strangers but is really sweet when he warms up to you-”

And then he noticed his watery eyes.

Seriously?!

“Yuri, I’m sorry,” he panicked, “what’s wrong?” 

The child mumbled something in response, eyes downcast as a single perfect tear rolled down his cheek. Yuuri kneeled beside him, ignoring the chill on the ice as he leaned in closer, “what was that?”

“Pick me up and skate away from him,” Yuuri frowned, pulling away to look at the boy. Whatever vulnerable expression had been there a split second ago was gone. In its place were crocodile tears and poorly hidden suspicion. 

Yuri really was intelligent for his age and was especially mindful of others. JJ stood behind him, unable to see the true expression on his face, and cocked his head to the side.

“Everything ok?”

“I’m sorry, JJ,” Yuuri gently lifted Yurio into his arms, who immediately latched onto him and buried his head in the crook of his neck, “I don’t think he’s feeling well. All of the activity so soon after lunch must have given him a cramp.”

“Oh, what a shame. Tea always helps me,” he whistled and looked around, “well, let’s call it a day. I hope you don’t mind if I decide to stay here a while longer. I just showed up and don’t want to waste an opportunity.”

“By all means, take your time. The guards will be returning to the palace with me, and the police may disperse.”

“I’m fine. Maybe I can get some cute ladies from the crowd to skate with me. Maybe even a handsome soldier will join me on the ice,” he wiggled his eyebrows comically and successfully ruffled Yurio’s hair, “feel better, little guy!”

His response was muffled and far too vulgar for Yuuri to translate, “enjoy your day.”

“Will I see you tomorrow?” That was often becoming the closing statements for their time together.

“If you’d like. You know where to find me.”

“Goodbye, lordship,” Yuuri threw a polite smile over his shoulder as they skated away. With some help from the guards at the edges, they managed to change their shoes and head back to the carriage. As they walked up the steps, Yuuri threw one last look over his shoulder and saw that JJ had stayed in his spot, waving when he noticed the look. Yuuri waved back and boarded the carriage.

“What does he think he’s doing?! Is he trying to cause a scandal?!” Yurio spat as soon as the carriage door closed and reached for the scarf, ripping it from Yuuri’s neck and throwing it over his small shoulders. Yuuri allowed him to wrap his own grey lamb’s wool in its place as he remained frozen in place.

So that’s what he was doing!

A moment of panic had him pull aside the window’s curtains and peer through the glass. A small crowd had been there when they arrived, but it appeared to have grown in the short time they were on the ice. Some people waved at the carriage as it rolled into motion, and many seemed eager to join the Canadian on the ice. Regardless of the amount or their purpose there, one thing became clear.

They had an audience.

The audience had witnessed their entire interaction. Yuuri let the cloth fall from his grasp and he slumped into his seat, covering his eyes with his hand and groaning.

“What, have you just now noticed?” Yurio scoffed and reluctantly tied JJ’s scarf around his own neck, “Victor asked me to keep an eye on him, and I'm glad he did. That guy is a jerk. You need to be meaner to him.”

“It’s not that simple, Yuri,” he half-heartedly defended. Thoughts of rumors swirled in his head, and everything about JJ’s behavior change now made sense. He wasn’t trying to befriend Yuuri for the sake of weaseling information out of him; he was trying to cause a stir and tarnish his reputation.

This wouldn’t be the first time someone tried that. Still, though, it was a difficult thing to deal with, especially when one doesn’t want their enemy to know that they’ve found out their plan. Should he tell Yakov? What would Yakov do? There wasn’t any proof other than his and little Yuri’s word. Yes, the Viceroy would believe him but not the advisors. The Betas wouldn’t take any accusations against one of their own very lightly. 

He was at a complete loss. He didn’t know what to do.

“Stop seeing him,” Yurio answered. Either this kid was in tune with Yuuri’s struggle or Yuuri was talking out loud without realizing it.

“I can’t just ‘stop,’” he complained, “I’ve already invested about 2 weeks of time in befriending him and getting to know him. It’ll look strange if I’m suddenly giving him the cold shoulder.”

“Being grown-up sounds frustrating,” Yuri sighed, “I’d tell him to go away and be done with it.”

“Yes, that is the most appealing option,” except it wasn't. He was actually starting to like JJ and Isabella. Maybe if they had met under different circumstances, things would have been different, “I should talk to Chris about this. He might have some advice.”

Yurio shrugged, “I think he’ll tell you what I told you -  stay away from him.”

 

 


 

 

 

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the letters from Masumi. He continued to diligently report on the mercenaries and their leaders, as well as the newer development that Yuuri was also getting involved with the lieutenant Isabella Yang. 

In the letters from Chris and Yuuri, however, things had changed. They actually spoke highly of Jean-Jacques, even referring to him by his nickname ‘JJ.’ Apparently, the general consensus had changed from “annoying” to “not that bad.”

He couldn’t even look at Yuuri’s letter. The jealousy was potent, stinking up the room he was occupying in Korea’s royal palace. There wasn’t much of a weather difference between the two countries, except that it was slightly more humid. That made opening the windows out of the question so late at night, leaving him to stink up the rest of the palace hallways outside his door with his frustrations. 

They were acting really chummy, if the letters from Chris were anything to go off of. He couldn’t help but suspect that Yuuri and Chris were being intentionally vague about their interactions with the Canadian merc in order to prevent him from worrying. This only upset him more, and Masumi’s short and concise letters never went into any details about the interactions. He treated those reports as reports, which meant there weren’t any details about the expression in JJ’s eyes whenever he looked at Yuuri, or if there was a blush on Yuuri’s cheeks whenever they accidentally bumped into each other, or how genuine the sounds of their laughter were, how flirty, how tightly they were holding hands if they were even holding hands-

He needed Yuuri to join him. He hated hated hated the mercs and that stupid JJ. he hated how long it was taking the letters to get to him - it had been an entire week since the posted date on the letter. So much could have happened in a week. 

He took Yuuri’s folded letter and burned it in the room’s fireplace. As he watched the pages ignite and curl, he did the same to Chris’s letter. He didn’t want to hear about JJ and how nice he was and how he was making up for a terrible first impression. 

A knock on the door knocked him out of his seething.

“Your Highness?” He could hear the concern in Cialdini’s voice.

“What,” he snapped, still staring into the flames and clenching his fist. He was being overdramatic but he didn’t care. He was by himself in a foreign country and his soulmate was a week's worth of travel away in a palace with scornful Betas and a handsome Canadian Alpha. 

Hell, two handsome Canadian Alphas. Isabella was as much as a threat as Jean-Jacques. 

“Is everything alright, Your Highness?”

“Yes. Fine. Do you know what time it is, Cialdini?” He stood up and stalked towards the door, ripping it open to glare at the captain of his men. Cialdini seemed to be taken off guard by the sudden confrontation and straightened up, eyes downcast in a display of submission.

“It’s a little past midnight, Your Highness.”

“And you thought it was a good idea to disturb me from my rest?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I saw the light through the bottom of the door… and the smell-”

“Don’t ever disturb me this late again unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Are you sure you’re alright, sir?” Victor’s eyes flashed silver and he forced himself to look away. He gritted his teeth, digging his fingernails into the palm of his hand.

“I can’t even look at you right now. Leave me. Send someone else to escort me tomorrow, anyone else - just not you,” he slammed the door and stormed back to his seat, practically throwing himself in the chair and examining the blood drawn from his fingernails.

Tomorrow, he would convince the Empress to allow Yuuri to come. She was half in love with him the moment he arrived, it shouldn’t be too hard to do. Plus, she was hooked on the idea of Yuuri and Victor meeting as children and growing up together. And her expression when she saw the exposed Soul Mark!

One question was all it would take. A question, a smile, maybe watery eyes? All he needed to do was ask, and Yuuri would be with him in a week’s time.

The anticipation caused him to stay awake for the rest of the night.