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Til Death Do Us Part

Chapter Text

“No.”

“But, your royal highness-"

Viktor Nikiforov rolled his eyes and held up a hand decisively. Asserting himself was the best way to ensure that his thoughts and feelings on the issue mattered.

“I said, my answer is no.” No sooner than those words had left his mouth, Viktor’s Uncle Yakov strode into the room, his usual expression of exasperation etched into the lines on his face; constant stress was a natural part of being the King of Russia, but that still didn’t make it any easier for him.

“Vitya, just what the hell do you think you’re playing at? You’re twenty-eight years old, for goodness’ sake. What are you doing with your life? You need a wealthy husband to keep you company, and yet you’re rejecting every possible offer on the table. “

Viktor scoffed, accustomed to Yakov’s rants by now.

“Well, let’s have a look at the list, shall we? Otabek Altin- “

Yakov raised an eyebrow at him. “The Hero of Kazakhstan,” he pointed out. “Wouldn’t he make you look good?”

Was he serious? How could he not see how unsuitable this man was for him? “Not really, no. For one,” he began, looking at the door when he noticed his younger brother slip in the room, “Altin is far too young for me. You know this. Secondly, I think he has his eye on…” he sneaked another, knowing glance at his brother, “someone else. Just leave it, okay? Who said that I even wanted to get married at all? Why should I? It’s not like we can procreate, after all, is it?”

Yakov’s face turned an ugly shade of beetroot, and that’s when he knew he’d got to the older man, something he noted with great satisfaction. “Of course not,” he snapped, fed up of his nephew’s antics by now, “but you need someone whom you can adopt children with. There’s nothing wrong with adoption.”

He would know-his own two children, Viktor’s cousins, Georgi and Mila, were both adopted, due to Yakov and his wife, Lilia, being infertile. It had worked out for the best, in the end, but he couldn’t imagine himself with children. What if he messed up? What if something happened and he couldn’t save them, the way he couldn’t save-

He stopped that thought where it was at, being brought to the present by his brother nudging his side. For a sixteen-year-old boy, he sure was strong. “You have to choose someone, pridurok.

This only enraged the King further. “Yuri, language!” Yakov chastised, practically growing. “Honestly, it’s as though the two of you were raised in a barn or something. It’s disgusting.”

Yuri shook his head. “No, what’s disgusting is him getting all lovey-dovey with somebody! Why can’t he just pick someone he tolerates for political purpose, instead of misguidedly trying to search for love?” He practically spat the word out, as though it left a bad taste in his mouth.

Yakov shrugged. “It’s beyond me,” he articulated, shooting a meaningful glance at Viktor, who sighed and picked at the bottom of his silk shirt.

“I don’t know, I just need to feel it in my bones, know if he’s The One.”

Much to his surprise, Yakov began to laugh. “Oh, you’re a funny one, Vitya. The One? You’ve got to be kidding me, you can’t be serious. That stuff doesn’t exist outside of fairy tales and fiction. As if you could ever find ‘The One’. Anyway, let’s get Lilia in here so that we can review your list of potential suitors again.” That being said, he left the room, snapping his fingers at his scared-looking personal assistant, who followed him diligently. Viktor shut his eyes and rubbed at his forehead, attempting to alleviate some of the tension that had built up in there from the sheer pressure of having to choose the man he was going to be spending the rest of his life with. At least Yakov was accepting about his choice in suitor, but that never had been a real issue for anybody before, in any of the lands. It was a good job, too, because he couldn’t imagine spending the next fifty or sixty years with a woman-it was unthinkable, in his mind.

“What did you mean, earlier, when you were talking about Otabek?” Yuri hissed into his ear; his emerald eyes wide. “About him liking someone else. Do you know that for certain, or…?”

Viktor smirked to himself. Yuri’s crush on Otabek had been obvious to him ever since they’d met at a party three years prior; he’d been enamoured immediately. They’d started chatting and seemingly really hit it off, laughing and cracking jokes. They appeared so at ease, so comfortable with each other. It was something that he yearned for himself, so desperately. Not with Otabek, that was, but with somebody. Was that too hard to ask for?

He placed a hand on his brother’s frail shoulder, attempting to reassure him. “Yurio- “

“That’s not my name.”

He bit down on his lip, hard, to stop himself from swearing at him. “Yuri, I can tell how much you like Beka. It’s clear that you're good friends, but you want more.” The teenager opened his mouth, ready to interrupt him, but Viktor placed a slender finger in the air, stopping him from speaking-it was a secret rule the two of them had. They’d had it for almost ten years, now, as far as Viktor could recall. “And that’s fine, even if his reputation isn’t always the best at times. I will support you as fully as I can with him, I promise. The person I was referring to was you-anyone would have to be blind not to see the chemistry between you both, and the way he looks at you. Whenever you walk into the room, his face lights up. I’ve seen it, and I’m happy for you.” He saw Yuri’s face. “Really, I am. You both really like each other, and that’s great.”

Yuri bit down on his nails, a nervous habit he often possessed. “You won't tell Uncle Yakov or Aunt Lilia, will you?”

Viktor shook his head. “No, of course not. You can trust me.”

“You promise?” Yuri checked.

“I promise,” his older brother confirmed, holding out his pinky. They’d done pinkie promises all the time when they were younger, so he thought it would be a funny thing to do now, and oddly fitting. Chuckling to himself, Yuri wrapped his pinkie finger around his brothers.

“Pinky promise?”

“Pinky promise.”

They release their fingers, and Viktor’s brother glared daggers at him. “Tell anyone about my crush on Otabek and I’ll kill you, I swear.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second,” the Prince responded jovially, never one to take his threats seriously. “Now look sharp, Yakov is coming back with Lilia.”

Both of them immediately stood up straight, knowing the value Lilia placed on immaculate posture and grooming. After a quick inspection, she gave them a nod of approval and sat herself down on the round table in front of her, gesturing for the boys to do the same. Yakov himself sat down next to her, drumming his fingers onto the table. She shot him a look, and he stopped. Even her husband could be intimidated by her and her icy presence. Who knew?

Their personal assistants retreated to the other side of the room, next to the piano in the corner of the room. It was a beautiful thing, old and antiquated, casted from the finest bronze and gold. Dust collected and swirled around it like a snowstorm when the lid was lifted on it, which was not often, only on rare occasions, such as banquets and balls on parties. They hadn’t thrown many since-

Viktor swallowed. Well. They had only thrown a handful in the past fifteen years, put it that way. The rest of the room, he observed, was just as precious and worthy of preservation as that piano, with the heavy scarlet curtains lined with gold gilding draped over the spacious windows that lit up the room, the colourful chandeliers swinging precariously overhead, the dark, shiny tiles that covered the room. Not every room was tiled, just the meeting rooms, the Hall and the kitchens. This was done for the sake of their safety; when they were younger, the boys had races, and Yuri had tripped and injured himself once. Never again, they’d vowed at the time, so they replaced most of the tiles with luscious carpets imported from all over the world. That had been nearly ten years ago.

Even though the brothers were both considerably older now, too old for such childish games and the like, the children of Viktor’s personal maid, Yuuko, and her husband, the head chef, Takeshi Nishigori, would chase each other down the halls, despite Sara’s best efforts to prevent them from doing so. Sara Crispino was the royal nanny, and usually did an excellent duty, but it was not her fault that the seven-year-old triplets were so rambunctious. Maybe one day, she’d be charged with looking after his own children. Viktor was aware of how little he could be trusted.

“Right!” Yakov clapped his hands, alarming Viktor enough to bring him back to the present, back to reality. Ah, yes. He hadn’t even chosen a husband yet. Great. What was he going to do? He had no choice in the matter; he was to be married, and that was the end of the story. For the sake of upholding the Nikiforov’s reputation and the family name, to keep them relevant and rich and noble in the eyes of other countries. To keep Russia great. Viktor was doing this for his country, he reminded himself, so there was some comfort to be found, at least, in his selfless sacrifice. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

Lilia nodded and Yuri shrugged, looking sullen. Viktor groaned, internally. So, it was going to be one of those meetings, was it? One of the ones where Yuri sat there, slumped down in his seat like a moody teenager, ready to kick off at any given moment. Perfect. Just what he needed today, of all days. He massaged his forehead again, feeling a headache coming on from all the stress he’d been experienced recently. This was all so frustrating; he didn’t know why his life had to be so complicated. Why couldn’t he just be a common person, and marry for love instead of political purposes? Surely, his life would be much better that way. But he knew that he was privileged nonetheless, so he decided to grit his teeth and bear it. What other choice did he have, at the end of the day?

“So,” Lilia began. “What about Jean-Jacques Leroy? His name means ‘King’, and he is a prince. You could even visit Canada frequently, that way. A good-looking Canadian prince-who could possibly say ‘no’ to that? He speaks fluent French, so he’s very cultured, and he’s even in a band! He’s musically talented, so there should not be an issue there.”

Viktor raised an eyebrow at his aunt’s uncharacteristic display of enthusiasm towards his future spouse, but welcomed it all the same. He never really saw this side of her, so it was nice to see, he supposed. “Remind me how old he is again?” Viktor prompted, knowing that he probably was not going to like the answer. Lilia flushed and adjusted her glasses, looking a little embarrassed, if he wasn’t mistaken.

“Well, he’s twenty-years-old, but- “

“Then he’s too young for me,” Viktor was quick to interject. Lilia tutted.

“Won’t you try to work with us here, Vitya? You know we love you very much- “

He let out an undignified snort in response to this. “Yeah, you love me so much that you’re arranging to get me married to a complete stranger for your own political gain. How very Machiavellian of you.” Yuri clapped a hand over his mouth, trying his best to suppress a laugh at Viktor’s words and failing-his brother did make a good point, to be fair to the guy.

Yakov slammed his first on the table, pink in the face, causing them all to jump. “Enough! Vitya, I will not have you disrespecting the two of us like this. As for you-“he looked straight at Yuri-“you are rude and disrespectful towards your elders on a regular basis, and even rude to Viktor. He saved your life, you know, and this is how you thank him?”

Yuri flushed and scratched the back of his neck, caught off guard all of a sudden. “That was years ago,” he mumbled. “I don’t even remember it.”

Lilia wagged a finger at him. “You wouldn’t be here today, having this conversation with us, if he hadn’t done what he did,” she pointed out. “Like your aunt Olga, like your parents, like your Babushka and now your Dedushka, too. The least you can do is be polite and courteous towards him.” Yuri rolled his eyes but agreed.

“Fine,” he muttered, shoving his hands in his pocket. His boredom was obvious to them all, but they didn’t care; there were more pressing and urgent matters to be taken care of right now than pandering to the insignificant whims of a moody teenager.

Viktor, on the other hand, was preoccupied by something else completely. Even though he had never been close to his aunt Olga-she’d died at the age of seventeen, twenty years ago, when he was eight-the loss of his Babushka ten years ago still upset him, because they’d been close, and she’d given him wise counsel in her time. The grief from the death of Nikolai, his grandfather, six months ago, was still very painful, raw and real, for both him and Yuri, who had no real experience with grief prior to his death-he’d only been six when his grandmother had died, not alive yet when his aunt had passed away, and only one when his parents were killed in a fire.

For Viktor, on the other hand, his parent’s death had shaken him to the core. He’d been very close to his parents, especially his father, who had always told him to be brave, like a soldier, and to fight any battle, no matter how hard it was. He missed him every day. His mother had been a caring, wonderful woman, and he sorely missed her, too.

He didn’t notice that his hands were shaking until Yuri placed his pale hands on top of Viktor’s to stop them from doing so. Turning to him, Viktor nodded in acknowledgement, mouthing ‘thank you’ to him. Yuri ignored it, however, focusing his attention back to their aunt and uncle. It felt like a truce. Viktor couldn’t help but smile at the small victory.

“Let’s continue,” Yakov decided, before any of them could get too worked up about what they had lost in their time. Lilia peered at the list in front of her, squinting a little.

“Ah, yes. Here, we have Christophe Giacometti.” If Viktor had been drinking in that particular moment, he would have done a spit-take.

Tetya, I love you and all, but you are joking, right? He’s a notorious sex symbol, for fuck’s sake.”

Lilia lowered his glasses and fixed him with a sharp glare. “Language. Do not use such unattractive words, please. They are not fit for royalty.”

Viktor didn’t care, though, and brushed off her words in an instant. “Look, I am open to finding a suitor, but he’s too…promiscuous for me, shall we say? He has a vast array of sexual experience that I do not possess.” Yuri snickered somewhat at his twenty-year-old brother’s lack of sexual prowess-you’d think somebody that age would have done something, at least. Yet he had not; he was allegedly ‘waiting for marriage’, or whatever. Geez, what a loser, he thought. Viktor flushed, embarrassed at his own transparency.

“Vitya, my dear, the Giacomettis are Swedish royalty, and very well-respected,” Lilia argued.

“I don’t care. Not him. Please.

She sighed at his stubborn nature. Just like Aleksander, she thought. His father would be proud of him if he were alive today, she had no doubt about that-but the young prince was hopeless sometimes. “Okay, what about Phichit Chulanont, then?”

Viktor scrunched his nose up in distaste. “The Prince of Thailand?” Lilia nodded. “No, he’s too bubbly all the time. He would get on my nerves. I met him once, remember?”

Who could possibly forget? A drunk Phichit had stumbled his way on over to him, giggling as he introduced himself to Viktor at his twenty-fifth birthday party. Taken aback by this, he had moved away from the man, who proceeded to follow him and accidentally spill his champagne all over him, before apologising profusely. Then, he’d returned to chatter loudly to his attractive, dark-haired friend who was stood across the room from him, someone he had been meaning to talk to but didn’t have the courage to converse with. Odd, considering that he was literal royalty, yet he was too afraid to go and talk to someone he found good-looking.

Anyway, Phichit had left the event having completely humiliated himself, but not after talking Viktor’s ear off for half an hour about his homeland. At the time, Viktor had cruelly labelled him ‘the disgrace of Thailand’, but now he looked at that nickname in shame. Nonetheless, he could not stand the guy, regardless of whether he was drunk or sober.

Lillia paled at the memory. “Okay, that is understandable. How about Lee Seung Gil? His family are aristocratic South Koreans, the richest family in the whole country, in fact. And he is quiet, drawn in to himself, furtive. Like you.”

Yuri snorted, but his amusement was quelled instantly by a sharp glare aimed at him from his uncle. Viktor groaned. “He’s too similar to me, then. I wanted somebody who could help bring me out of my shell, not someone who would put me back in it.”

Lilia sighed. “Viktor, don’t rely on your future husband for that. Only you can do that yourself. Although, perhaps the pair of you are a bit too similar in terms of personality, we need someone a bit different to make your relationship appear interesting…how about Yuuri Katsuki?”

Abruptly, Viktor stood up and pushed his chair into the table. He was sick of talking about suitors at this point. “I’m going for a walk.”

“Viktor, no- “ Yakov began.

“Not again, please-" Lilia pleaded, pinching the bridge of her nose and rising with him. Yuri just stared at him, silently pleading for his older brother not to leave him alone with their older relatives. Ignoring this, Viktor tore his icy blue eyes away from him and focused on the door in front of him, pushing it open.

Don’t wait up for me.”

Chapter Text

He needed some space, and some time to breath. The only person permitted to be with him on his walks around the vast and sumptuous grounds of the palace was his personal assistant, whom Lilia still insisted on referring to as a ‘maid’, Yuuko Nishigori, who was married to the head chef, Takeshi Nishigori. Appearing from where she had been stood, in the corner of the room, she scurried after him, looking a little exasperated.

“Prince Viktor, your highness, where are you going?” The prince turned to her, running a hand through his mess of silver hair, making it stick up in the most unprofessional manner possible-he looked like he had just got out of bed, but of course his whole attitude towards this was rather nonchalant.

“I’m going for a walk by the lake,” he told her, and she nodded. He started off again, and she walked alongside him, trying her best to match his pace. Despite being two years his senior, her eyes had bags underneath them, exhaustion setting permanent lines in her face.

“That’s okay, as long as we’re back within an hour then hopefully they may be willing to forgive you, your royal highness.”

Viktor laughed, then, at the formality in her voice. She’d known him since her children were born, seven years ago. There was really no need for all that fakery. “Please, Yuuko. For the last time, just call me Viktor.” Yuuko’s eyes widened; as much as she did not wish to disobey him, another part of her did not want to do away with referring to the Prince using the rightful language that he deserved to have used about him, as a way of showing respect towards the monarch. She bowed her head as a sign of respect towards him.

“If you insist, your royal highness.”

He nodded, opening the wide double doors that led out to the courtyard at the back of the palace. “I do,” he insisted, taking in a deep breath of icy fresh air with a smile. Clearing his head really did wonders for him. “How are the triplets?” he asked, after a few minutes of strolling in awkward silence.

Yuuko beamed at the mention of children, her eyes lighting up. He couldn’t see the appeal of children, personally, so he didn’t fully understand her enthusiasm towards them, nor did he try to. Instead, he simply asked polite questions about them, while simultaneously vowing to never have his own. Inside his own head, of course; his desire to not have children was a source of great contention and stress in the palace. After all, he was supposed to have ascended on the throne following on from his parent’s death-he was the rightful heir to the throne. But his grandfather had stepped in and insisted on doing the job instead, bless him. He’d argued that a shaken, traumatised thirteen-year-old boy was in no fit state to run the country, and of course, he was right. Nikolai had also come to the conclusion that his own children should rule next, Yakov and Lilia, and so on, unless Viktor was ready to step up to the plate and take on the role of the ruler of Russia. Now, it seemed like he would have no choice, and that his reign would be inevitable.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of seagulls flying overhead. The sound was oddly comforting to him, in a way that he could not explain. He drank in his surroundings, taking in the trees with the icicles hanging of them and shining in the light of the sun, the melting snow that carpeted the grass below his feet and the frozen lake in front of him, practically beckoning him to skate on it.

He didn’t know what all of what had sparked his initial interest in skating, only that one day, he’d seen a small boy perform for him and his family, a boy who could not have been any older than eight, and was fascinated by the way he moved. It wasn’t too long before his parents died, come to think of it. A mere nine months beforehand, when Yuri was only a few months old. The adult skaters out there were impressive too, and so majestic. Their bodies moved with the music so gracefully, it was as though they became the music itself. Dancing on ice, most people liked to call it. Magic, Viktor had corrected them. It was magic, plain and simple, the elegant way they became one with the ice as soon as they stepped on it, and looked so bare and empty without it guiding them. Fire on ice, all heat and passion, excitement and love, displayed in one simple sequence. He’d been enthralled, mesmerised by their movements, and that was when he knew that it was something that he wanted to try for himself.

His parents had signed him up for skating lessons a month later, and he’d gone to every single one, twice a month, for seven months. Then, his parents died, and Nikolai insisted that he should be moved away from the ice. Yakov decided, upon becoming his guardian, that the boy was stay inside the palace, protected from the harsh outside world. It was for the best. His uncle had done what was best for him, hadn’t he? It had seemed that way, at the time.

Viktor truthfully wasn’t so sure, any more.

He’d only made three public appearances in the twelve years since his parents had died; on one occasion, to celebrate Nikolai and his babushka’s coronation, once on his eighteenth birthday, to celebrate him becoming an adult, and more recently, at Yakov and Lilia’s coronation. Funerals were a private matter for the Nikiforov family, and not made a public spectacle in the slightest. No public service; people were to mourn the loss of royals in the comfort of their own homes. That would have to suffice, for them.

So, if Viktor couldn’t come to the world, the world would have to come to him, in the few balls and birthday parties hosted over the years. Most of them only involved extended family, but some of them included acquaintances to the family and their children, some of whom were friends with, or who actually were, his potential suitors. How his life had changed over the years. Adult responsibilities sucked.

With that in mind, he took off towards the lake, gliding across it like a swan. This came as naturally to Viktor Nikiforov as breathing did; it was easy, and light, and made him feel careless and free. Nothing could bother him. Not his uncle’s infuriated ranting; not his aunt’s stern lectures; not his brother’s discontented grumbling; not his servant’s constant stress; not the unbearable pressure of having to chose a suitor; not the dark tragedy shrouding the death of his aunt Olga; not his grand father’s recent death; not his grandmother’s tragic passing; not his duty to serve his country under any circumstances; not even his parent’s terrible death. Nothing.

He vaguely registered Yuuko’s voice calling to him from somewhere in the distance, urging-no, begging-for him to be careful out there. He just rolled his eyes and continued gliding over the ice, weightless, free. He was the ice prince, powerful and unstoppable from the second he set foot on the ice, he was one with the ice, he was ready to take off like a bird and fly…

That’s when he lost his footing, and slipped, some of the ice falling through into the water below him. Viktor gasped and tried to right himself, and Yuuko looked like she’d just seen a ghost. Shaking, he managed to pull himself back up and away from where he’d fallen, gliding across the other side of the lake with ease, his heart beating fast and his ears ringing. By the time he reached a waiting Yuuko, she was shaking.

“Prince Viktor!” she called, when he was close enough to hear. “Are you okay, your royal highness? You could have died!”

Viktor sighed and drummed his slender fingers on his leg impatiently. “But I didn’t,” he pointed out, huffing. He stepped on to the grassy bank in front of him, albeit with great reluctance, watching the slush that had been snow not so long ago disintegrate and melt into it.

“It’s been half an hour. We should get back now, your royal highness,” Yuuko informed him, and he sighed, too mentally exhausted at this point in time to argue with her, heading back the way he came.

He dreamed that one day he would be on the ice for real. If only his dream could become a reality-but that was wishful thinking, and a sign of weakness. He needed to be strong and do his duty, by serving his country. So, that’s what he would do. Squaring his shoulders up, he tried to be as stoic and soldier-like as he could physically manage, his gaze stony and his stance defensive, guarded off. He’d been through the wars, so now whatever obstacles came his way, he would overcome them all.

It’s what his father would have wanted, so he had no choice in the matter-that is what we would do, end of story.

The walk back was tense and awkward, and the two of them barely spoke the whole way back, but Viktor wasn’t too bothered by that. He knew how dangerous opting to skate on a frozen over lake was, but he hadn’t cared; the sensation of soaring, transporting himself to the magical world he’d first peeked a glimpse of at the age of twelve, that made it worth it.

Even if he had just nearly died.

“Vitya, there you are!” Yakov noted with relief, mingled with mild irritation. What did he expect? “Come on, we’re having another meeting, about your duties, this time. And you will not storm out in the middle of it, you promise me?” That’s how he knew he was forgiven, by his uncle not scolding him outright for making a scene earlier. Yakov was always lenient on him in a way that he wasn’t with Yuri, because he knew all that he’d gone through, which Yuri hadn’t suffered through. By some unspoken agreement, perhaps, or a miracle of God, Yuuko elected not to tell him about what had happened.

A wise decision; the King was too preoccupied by much more pressing matters, a lot of complicated stuff to do with the military and international political relations, tedious stuff that Viktor knew all about, but did not care much for just yet. He would, when he was older. Yet he did not feel like it concerned him at the moment, because he wasn’t directly involved in it. Either way, King Yakov and Queen Lilia both had a lot on their plate, so hearing about Viktor’s brief near-death experience-he could have fallen through and drowned back there-would only serve to heighten their anxiety further, and get Yukko fired for alleged negligence, and would blacklist both her and her husband, when they both had kids to provide for. So maybe she didn’t tell him for them, and not him, but he was glad about it regardless.

“Okay,” he responded, thinking about his mother’s words. Always strive to be the best, my little Vitenka, she’d whisper, kissing the top of his head and stroking his hair. Odd hair, she called it. When he asked why it was silver, the only response she could provide him with was, ‘magic’. Magic. That elusive force of nature that he’d felt earlier, while skating. He briefly wondered whether it did exist or not. Even if it did, he had important matters to attend at that moment. He snapped himself out of it and followed Yakov down the long, winding corridor that led to the Main Room, where all the balls were held, and the two majestic thrones stood strong, purple and decorated with gold.

It should be mat yi otetz up on those thrones, Viktor thought, tearing up. Not Uncle Yakov and Aunt Lilia. Usually, the eldest would take the throne, and that would be Yakov, yes-but that was not how things worked in Russia. Instead, the reigning monarchs trained up the child that showed the most promise, and their bloodline would rule the country. Yakov didn’t mind, because he rather enjoyed the prospect of having a normal life-until their whole world turned upside down, that was. His parents had been good leaders, he recalled. Kind. Caring. Logical. Determined. Hard-working. Courageous. Incredible. They’re not on the throne, and it’s all my fault, he reminded himself, as he did so often. My fault, my fault, my-

“Viktor!” Lilia’s voice interrupted his train of thought. He blinked a few times, realising that they were back in the Meeting Room, despite him having no recollection of having moved past the Main Room. He must have been too lost in his own head, his own thoughts, his own little world, in the way he always was. “Come in, and sit down. We need to talk.”

Bracing himself for whatever was coming next, Viktor situated himself on the circular table, sandwiched between his cousin, Georgi, and Lilia. Next to Lilia was Yakov, with Yuri, whose feet were resting idly on the table, to his right, and Mila situated between Yuri and Georgi. The six of them met often, and ate every single meal together, so they were practically siblings; there was often a comfortable, easy atmosphere between them, and today was no different.

“Yuri, get your feet off the table.”

Yuri glared at Mila. “I’ll pass, thanks, old hag. You don’t get to tell me what to do, anyway.”

Mila stuck her tongue out at him playfully and he hid behind his hair, trying not to laugh. Viktor spoke to Georgi while Yakov and Lilia discussed and scrutinised a piece of paper that lay in front of them, an important document by the look of it.

“Where’s the make-up today, Georgi?” It was no secret that, although he was a straight cis man, he was also needlessly flamboyant and loved wearing colourful costumes and bright-make up, whereas Viktor, the token gay of the family (Yuri hadn’t officially come out, yet), although just as dramatic, was somewhat subtler in his fashion tastes.

“Where’s the wig today, Rapunzel?” It was an inside joke of theirs, because he’d spent so much of his life confined to the walls of the palace, and he’d had long hair when he was younger, from being a young boy of ten. He’d cut it off on his eighteenth birthday, on live, national television, during his second public appearance since his parent’s death. It was an attempt to retain some sort of control to his life. He wasn’t sure if it had worked, but it had been therapeutic for him all the same. Cathartic.

In response to this, he chuckled and launched into some chatty small talk about how his new girlfriend, Anya, was. Viktor almost envied how fortunate Georgi was, in that he’d be granted a relatively normal life in comparison to him-unless he chose to assume the throne after his father’s reign on the throne ended. Well, so he thought, anyway.

Lilia clapped her hands in an attempt to focus their attention on her and her husband. “Right. Attention, children.”

“I’m not a child!” Mila, Georgi, Viktor and Yuri all protested at the same time. Mila had a point, being nineteen, and Georgi too, being a grown adult of twenty-eight, like Viktor, but Yuri was only sixteen, and they all protected him as fiercely as they could. He was still a child, in their eyes.

Yakov chuckled at their synchronicity; those kids were close, and it was nice to see. It was such a shame that they were all forced to grow up so fast. Lilia cleared her throat, amusement dancing in her emerald eyes, before continuing. “Anyway, as you all know, one day, we will pass on our reign to one of you. Obviously, Aleksander was the chosen one, appointed by Nikolai to take over because he was getting too old and tired of the throne, and when Aleksander and Nikita passed- “she paused, wiping at her eyes, with Viktor, Georgi and Yakov stopping to do the same thing-“him and Anastasia re-established their rules as monarchs for fourteen years, and did a splendid job of it. Of course, he wasn’t the same when Anastasia died, but he carried on like a soldier until the very end. Now, it is down to us to look after the country, at Nikolai’s wish-he would rather wait longer for the next person in line for the throne to take over. And the first in line for the throne, as well as the person with the most potential job is, without a doubt, Viktor.”

At the mention of his name, Viktor raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.

“Why does he have to be King and not Georgi?” Yuri asked, scowling and moving a piece of hair out of his face to allow him to look at his aunt.

“Because, he is not part of our biological bloodline, not our true kin, as much as he is our son.” He directed his gaze to Georgi. “That doesn’t mean we love you or your sister any less, of course, than our nephews. Family is family, at the end of the day.”

Georgi nodded, understanding his point completely, squeezing his sister’s hand. Despite what the regency would tell you, blood didn’t make a family. Love did.

“Ohana means family, and family means no-one gets left behind,” Yuri muttered. Viktor smiled at him, fondly remembering the Disney marathons they used to have when Yuri was a young boy. Those movie marathons made him feeling young and innocent again, like the universe hadn’t taken his heart and torn it to shreds. That was a long time ago now, and he hadn’t felt that way for a while. It was a shame, really, but it was the truth, and it had to be said.

“Something like that, yes,” Lilia said, smiling fondly at her two nephews, her son and her daughter. Her and Yakov had done well in raising them, she thought. They’d tried their best, but it had been hard over the past six months, without Nikolai's help-and Anastasia’s death nearly ten years prior hadn’t helped, either. Still, adopting Georgi twenty years ago, and choosing to adopt Mila (who was from another family that knew his) three years later, was the best decision they had ever made as a couple, no doubt about it.

“So, do you understand, Viktor? You have to step up to the plate now. No more running away. No more childish games or petulant temper tantrums. No more living in your own fantasy world. You’re first in line to the throne, Vitya, so you need to choose yourself a husband already. Every man on that list is going to be invited here, and each and every one of them is going to take you on a date. You can make a fuller judgement on them once you’ve been on a date together. Think about the legacy your parents left behind in restoring this country to greatness again, and the good you can do when you’re in charge one day. Consider how having another King by your side will help you to make the best decisions possible for your country. I mean, think about it. Seventeen million square kilometres, and it’s all yours to rule one day. Wouldn’t you like that? You need somebody by your side, so are you going to go through with this or not?”

Viktor swallowed hard; the pressure thrust upon him in the heat of the moment was insurmountable. This was his patriotic duty. He had to do what he must to stay devoted to his country. Millions of good, kind-hearted, intelligent and innovative people were relying on him, and he didn’t want to let them down. Didn’t want to let his loving family down, chaotic as they were sometimes. Didn’t want to let his parent’s memory down. Didn’t want to let anybody down.

Become a soldier, Viktor, he heard his father tell him in his head. Always strive to be the best, his mother’s voice added. Viktor’s hands shook and he clenched his fist. He couldn’t stand most of his potential suitors, but so what? His opinion didn’t matter here. All that mattered was avenging his parents, and serving his country for the sake of the people in it, and for his family-Olga, Nikolai, Anastasia, Alexander, Nikita-as well as Yuri, Georgi, Mila, Yakov and Lilia.

His mind on the matter was made up. That was all he needed. To abandon his dreams of becoming a professional ice skater (it was too late now, even if he wanted to, though) and follow the path that had been set out for him from the beginning. He glanced round at the table, steely determination brightening up his beautiful eyes and making him appear more like a fighter than ever.

“Fine. I’ll do it. Bring them in.”

Chapter Text

"This is so exciting! Today's the day! Aren't you excited?" Yuuko was chatting at about a thousand miles an hour while she polished his shoes, and he fixed his tie in the mirror, slicking his hair back again with a sigh. Didn't she get it? He wasn't doing this for himself. He was doing it for Russia. He was doing it for Lilia and Yakov, Mila and Georgi, Yuri. For Olga, Anastasia, Nikolai. Most of all, for his parents, Nikita and Aleksander. 

He shrugged. "Not really, no. It's just my duty to my country, isn't it?" Looking up at him, Yuuko shook his head sympathetically, saying nothing. Pity misted over her amber eyes. 

"Honestly, your royal highness. Are you not excited to meet your future husband?"

He made some non-committal noise in response to her question. "Maybe. I don't know."

"Well," Yuuko observed, dusting off the shoulders of his jacket, "it could be worse. At least they're not trying to find you a wife." Viktor shuddered at the thought. 

"Don't remind me."

He was grateful that they respected his decisions and sexuality enough to let him be with a man. When he'd told them he was gay, at the age of fifteen, they had been nothing but supportive towards him-he was hoping for the same thing to happen to his brother, but Yuri was still in the closet. What's in your closet would suggest otherwise, Viktor often used to tease, given that Yuri had a tendency to gravitate towards sparkly clothes and bold animal prints. Obviously, it was just a joke, but Yuri took everything he said on board sometimes, and would storm off in a huff. A family of drama queens, is how Yakov had once described them. He couldn't help but think that perhaps the old man had a point. 

Right on cue, he heard Yuri let out an ear-piercing, earth-shattering scream. "No! I already told you, I'm not 'cute', I don't 'look like a kitten' and pink is NOT 'my colour', whatever the hell that's supposed to mean!" 

Well, his appointment with his stylist must have been gone well, then. 

A minute later, Yuri shoved through the heavy double doors of Viktor's bedroom; clearly, the guards had noted the furious expression on the young Prince Yuri's face and decided not to question him, and to just let him through. He had tantrums like this a lot; Lilia suspected it was just puberty, and hormones, a part of being a teenager-but Yakov thought otherwise. It was a matter of personality, he'd insisted until he was blue in the face. Viktor wasn't sure where all of Yuri's pent-up rage originated from, but he figured that it was better to let it out than to keep it in.

"Yuri, what a pleasant surprise-" 

"Do you have the suit?!" he practically growled. Knowing what he meant in an instant, Viktor nodded and moved to his wardrobe to locate the purple silk suit that Yuri often wore at family events. His dark blue one was at the royal dry cleaner's, due to the fact that Georgi had accidentally spilt his drink on Yuri when they were having a 'fashion show', three days ago. The two of them, with their flamboyant tastes, had a tendency to do that. Feeling left out, Mila and Viktor had judged at first, calling out random scores, but they soon grew fed up of it and resorted to playing some kind of drinking game.

What kind, Viktor didn't remember now. His hangover the following day has been a testament to that. He didn't binge drink often, but when he did, he always got out of control, because he just wanted to forget everything he'd gone through and have some fun, enjoy himself in the moment. He wasn't too sure if his repeated vomiting and dreadful hangover the next morning had been worth it, in the end, but that didn't matter. Besides, he enjoyed spending time with his family-what else was there to do when you were stuck in your own home? 

Well, a lot, but there were only so many books one could read before it drove them crazy. Painting and drawing was fun, he supposed. He did that sometimes. And he could play the piano, but the stuff he played was always sad, lamenting the losses that he carried the weight of inside his heart every single day of his life. 

"Here you go," he said, beaming at his scowling younger sibling. His charming, heart-shaped smile worked on most people, but it didn't seem to crack Yuri, who just rolled his eyes and snatched the suit off him without even saying 'thank you.' 

"You don't look terrible," he remarked when he reached the door, the look in his eyes softer than it had been a few seconds prior. "Not terrible at all. This suitor of yours will be a lucky man. As long as you don't take mine." The older of the two princes laughed. Yuri was funny, sometimes, especially when he wasn't meaning to be. The boy didn't consider Yuuko as someone who would push the matter, presumably. That being said, he turned on his heel and left the room. 

Viktor flopped down onto his bed, sighing. It was one of the most luxurious beds imaginable; spacious, grand and incredibly comfortable. The red velvet curtains at the sides ensured that he had maximum privacy at all times, and the soft pillows were perfect for cuddling whenever he felt lonely. Which was often, these days. Maybe having a husband would fix that. 

Or not. He couldn't tell, yet, but he was terrified of what was approaching him-it was another step towards life as a fully functioning adult. And he'd been one for a decade, now, so he should know how to behave like one. According to King Yakov, anyway. Not that they always got along with or agreed with each other, of course. More the opposite, with Viktor deliberately attempting to wind him up on a regular basis, but there was no malice behind it. Not really. 

"Your royal highness, your suit will get rumpled!" Yuuko pointing out, biting her nails and pacing the room. He had to look presentable, or else the sons of the monarchs would leave and want nothing to do with him-if he couldn't put on a public appearance and look professional, what kind of prince was he? 

He had to admit that she had a point. He heaved himself up, off the bed, wishing he could treat himself to a nap. He hadn't slept well, that night; he'd been too busy tossing and turning, thinking about his haunting past, his stressful present, his scary future. He didn't know which one he hated more. Actually, in hindsight, yes, he did. His past was a nightmare from hell, and not a place he intended to return to, ever again.

So, he wouldn't. Taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders back, Viktor braced himself to explore the unknown. Yuuko gave him a thumbs-up as he stepped into his shoes, tying the laces for him while he stared determinedly past her. Today, he would be making what was possibly going to be the biggest decision of his life so far. He crossed his fingers and hoped that he wouldn't screw it up. Yuuko finished tying his shoelaces for him, and he plastered a fake smile onto his face for her benefit.

"I'm ready to go." 

Although his appearance wasn't perfect, it would have to do. Everyone down there would be waiting for him, anticipating his reaction to the royalty and nobility set on stealing his heart. The whole of Russia was watching. It felt like the whole of the world was watching, waiting for him to find his prince Charming and waltz away into the sunset with him. That was not quite how it would work, he was certain, but he'd have to give the day a go nonetheless. He'd have to spend an hour on a date with each one of them. Hopefully, he could derive some sort of enjoyment out of the activities of the day, depending on what they had in store. All he had now was hope. 

It would have to be enough. 

"Good luck, Prince Viktor," Yuuko whispered, letting him past. He thanked her and exited the room, with her soon hot on his heels. She was awarded with more freedom of speech whenever it was just the two of them alone, but when they were in the public eye, it was a different matter altogether. She was not permitted to speak, unless it was to answer a question asked of her. Only speak when spoken to, was a good general rule of thumb for the servants working for the royals. When in groups, anyway. Royal protocol demanded things to be such a way, but in private, their relationships with their servants were, generally speaking, more relaxed and informal, depending on the individual, of course.

Viktor made the long walk, across the landing, past room after room. There were a total of twenty-bedrooms in the palace; the ones that could be located in the servant's quarters, for example-about seven of them, because Sara shared with her twin brother, Michele Crispino, and the Nishigori family had one bedroom to themselves, and Emil shared his quarters with three other people, including their butler, Minami. Then, there was the room for people with specific jobs, which held half a dozen people, including the ballet instructor, Minako, who had encouraged Viktor to take up ice skating in the first place.

The other three bedrooms had four other servants, cooks and other workers in them each. The thirteen other rooms were for Yuri, Mila, Georgi, Yakov and Lilia, Viktor, and that left the five guest bedrooms and the the three forbidden bedrooms nobody went in any more. Seeing as there would be six suitors, two of them were room-sharing; Phichit Chulanont and Katsuki Yuuri, apparently, because they were already friends, he'd heard. The rest of them had rooms to themselves. As for the two other bedrooms-they had tragedy shrouding them. There was Anastasia and Nikolai's old room, and Aleksander and Nikita's old room. The third room had been Olga's, back when she was alive. 

Viktor shuddered as he walked past it, feeling eerie all of a sudden, for no apparent reason. Yuuko rushed forward determinedly, and Viktor understood why. Passing those three rooms, which were all next to each other, was both unavoidable and spooky. Haunting. A memory of five losses too great to bear. Moving past them, he rushed towards the bathrooms, of which there were half a dozen, all lined up in a row and opposing each other, three on each side, all of them extremely spacious. Two of them were for guests, and four of them were for their servants. Each member of the Nikiforov family had their own en-suite bathroom by default. 

Beyond the bathrooms, were four rooms of great importance; the cabinet room, where all the trophies and awards members of his family had been awarded throughout the years. The cabinet was collecting dust, now. Viktor wished he had a medal to bring home, but his dreams of becoming an ice-skater had been shattered, now. When he was twelve, he was too old to start, anyway. Maybe it wasn't meant to be, plain and simple. He peeled his eyes away from the cabinet and focused on moving forward, the way he always did now with his life. All about advancing to the next thing. And the next. And so on. When would it end? When would he learn to appreciate the present? Would he ever learn how to do that, or was he doomed to always move on to whatever came next, going forward to stop him from looking back? 

He sighed. All these questions, and still no answers. The next room was a music room, containing every musical instrument conceivable; drums, which Yuri played often; an electric guitar, which was a personal favourite of Georgi's; the violin, which Lilia adored; the trumpet, which Mila played only to annoy everyone else, but enjoyed in secret; the keyboard, which Viktor himself enjoyed a turn on when he couldn't access a piano. Yakov liked to play the clarinet, on occasion, but was too embarrassed to admit it, and would turn fuchsia if it were ever brought up.

Next door, was the sauna and spa room, both of these considered to be one. And then there was the room next to it, which most of them found more therapeutic than the sauna or spa treatment; the room where that contained cheap, breakable items that they were allowed to smash to pieces, and one of the cleaners would clear it away afterwards. Yuri and Yakov, being the angriest of them all, used it more frequently than the rest of them. Viktor had been tempted to use it a lot, nowadays. Viktor strode on, determined to keep his head up high and his spirits up. In his head, his parents were there, silently supporting him and cheering him on. You can do this, his mother's voice told him inside his head. I promise. He could do this, he knew he could. He'd done things that were a thousand times harder than this. 

He stood at the top of the elegant, marble staircase, spiralling downwards endlessly. He was powerful. Regal. Majestic. He needed to carry his own legacy on now. Viktor Nikiforov was about to meet his future husband. He took a deep breath and took the steps one by one, anticipation coursing through him. Smiling to himself, he walked down the corridor, letting Yuuko walk ahead of him so his arrival could be announced, his eyes firmly trained on the decorated door in front of him. 

"Your highnesses, may I present to you, the man you are fighting to steal the heart of, the wonderful Prince Viktor Nikiforov!" Despite almost all being royalty themselves, his potential suitors all turned and bowed upon his arrival, out of respect to him. It would be the first sight he'd be greeted with as he entered the room, keeping his head high and remembering to honour his parent's memory. He squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again, the look in his eyes fierce, and entered the room. 

The first thing he noted was the colours they were wearing; he could only see their hair, and the jackets on their backs. One of them, with dark hair, was wearing sapphire blue, another was wearing dark purple, one was brandishing emerald green, the other ruby red, and the other two were wearing gold, and one black. He raised an eyebrow, surprised at their actions, and stood waiting for them to stand back up again, before drinking in their faces. God, they were attractive. It looked like his aunt had been right about something, at least. Even the obnoxious, smug-faced Prince Jean-Jacques Leroy was good-looking. Most of them were attractive in a hot, smouldering way, whereas Phichit seemed to be more cute than anything, Christophe was both hot yet pretty, and Phichit's dark-haired friend, the one whom he figured must have been Katsuki Yuuri, was simultaneously hot and cute. Viktor's cheeks heated up; he didn't think it was possible for someone to look like that. 

He tried to brush this off, though, pushing his feelings away and letting his voice become icy and impersonal, giving nothing away. He bowed to King Yakov and Aunt Lilia, as custom dictated. They looked like a force to be reckoned with, when sat on those thrones. Strong. Imposing. Magnificent. 

"These are my suitors?" he asked them, turning back around and climbing up on to the thrones around them, which were much smaller and were intended for princes and princesses. Mila and Georgi were situated to Lilia's right, with Yakov on her left, an empty space left between Yakov and Yuri-who looked elegant in his purple suit, that brought out the green in his eyes due to the colour contrast-and was staring straight at Otabek. Poor thing. He had it bad for the guy, huh? 

Lilia nodded. "Yes." 

Viktor took them all in again, observing the expressions on their faces. Chris looked confident yet not to an irritating degree, J.J, as he now wanted to term the prince, wore a self-satisfied smirk on his face that made Prince Viktor wanted to punch him badly. Of course, he was not permitted to do so. Oh well. He surveyed the rest of them. Phichit had a bright, cheery smile on his face, which appeared to be surprisingly genuine. Lee Seung Gil's face contained what Yuri once termed an 'RBF', or a 'Resting Bitch Face', his eyebrows almost touching. That wouldn't do at all. He'd come this far and he didn't even act as though he wanted to be there. His loss, Viktor decided with a smirk. Otabek's face was stony and he was almost frowning when his gaze was trained on him, but his face softened straight away when he spotted Yuri. The older prince would let him off the hook; the way his younger brother felt about the man was obvious, and vice versa. For Yuri's sake, he did not want to prevent that from happening-as long as the so-called 'Hero of Kazakhstan' didn't break Yuri's heart, that was. If he did, he'd be dead meat. Rubbing his hands in an attempt to warm them up, Viktor, who'd saved the best until last, forced himself to meet the Japanese prince's gaze. 

He’s nervous, the Russian monarch realised. I’ve made him feel nervous. You could see it in the twenty-four-year-old's dark, glittering eyes. There was something different about this man to the others that he couldn’t quite explain, or put his finger on. Something special.

His ebony hair was slicked back in a professional manner, his amber eyes danced in the light streaming through the windows, sparkling with both determination and anxiety. Viktor recognised that look in himself. Huh. He didn't think that he'd actually be able to relate to these people. Interesting. As weird as this was, his skin looked soft and shiny, his lips soft and kissable. Not that he was thinking about kissing him. Of course not. He was Viktor Nikiforov, the Russian Prince. The Ice Prince. He must do his patriotic duty to his country by displaying that persona, proving his mental strength and his ability to make rational, smart decisions. Emotions didn't come into that. Love certainly didn't. He'd learnt that ever since he'd claimed to be searching for it, two weeks ago. Yet, he couldn't help but feel drawn to this guy. He didn't know anything about him, because he'd stormed out when Lilia was discussing Yuuri-something which he regretted now, although it did admittedly make the man a bit of an enigma. That excited him. 

But that didn't matter-serving his country did. 

"You may say what you like to the prince," King Yakov declared. "Prince Christophe, you shall go first." 

Christophe bowed to Mila and Georgi, then Yakov and Lilia, then Yuri and Viktor. He approached him and bowed again, taking his hand and kissing it, staring him straight in the eye. His eyes were lime green, and his eyelashes were very long, making him look delicate and pretty, but he spotted the mischief in the glint of his eyes and the intent. In an instant, this was a man he knew that he would be able to tolerate. He raised an eyebrow at him teasingly, his own eyes sparkling like jewels. 

"Your royal highness," Christophe addressed him, sounding a little breathless, getting up in his personal space, "it is my privilege, my honour, my pleasure-" he winked at the last word, and he caught on to what he meant in an instant, crossing one leg over the other-"to be here with you today, and to be allowed this opportunity to win this over, even if it is not so fruitful." He hummed in an approving manner, a subtlety which he was certain Lilia and Yakov would be able to pick up on. Maybe he'd underestimated Prince Christophe, after all. 

In response, he bowed his head. "The pleasure is all mine," he said, keeping his voice as hard as possible. He was not some prize to be won, but a great and noble prince, and nobody here was to forget that. Christophe stepped down, his head bowed, smiling to himself. Viktor forced himself not to let his own lips twitch up into a smile, keeping up the façade, the act. The Russian prince was a statue, a tribute, present but faraway, made of stone, unbreakable. 

"Next, please!" Lilia called, pointing to Lee Seung Gil. The man bowed politely to everyone, before switching his attention to the bachelor, his lips twitching up into a small, tight smile. It was plastic and made him almost shudder. 

"Your royal highness," he said, when he moved in closer, much further away than Christophe had been to him. "It is an honour to be here, today, with you. I hope I can give you what you want and need, to satisfy you in every element of your life. I hope to be able to give you happiness, and as much as I can." Ugh. Too formal, distant, cold. No. Just no. 

"Thank you," Viktor responded, through gritted teeth. Lee Seung Gil half-nodded, half bowed and stepped down again. Yeah, no, not happening, he thought, eyeing him up carefully. 

"Prince Phichit, you next," Yakov demanded. Phichit was respectful, bowing to all of them as was customary, his smile wide. He stepped forward and shook Viktor's hand, taking him by surprise. What were the customs in Thailand? Was it normal to greet royalty in such a way? Maybe, in hindsight, some research should have been done into the countries which they were from beforehand. 

"Your royal highness, it is a great honour to be meeting with you today. I am here to proudly represent my people and my country, and I hope to teach you more of the customs and ways of it. I love it there and I love my people, I also promise to love you and your people just as much. As I have been told throughout the years, I bring a lot of cheer and happiness to people and am able of showing them how to love and appreciate what I do, and maximise their capacity for love." Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Yuri fake a yawn. "I can show you the ways of my world, and a whole new world you have never seen before. I promise you this: I will learn to love the people of Russia as though they were the people of my own country, and I hope you will consider what I have said to you today." 

God no. He was so cringy and over-the-top sometimes, despite his well-meaning nature. How could Yuuri possibly stand this guy? His cheeriness almost came off as insincere, but his kindness shone through. Although a sweet guy, he would invariably end up talking his ear off in a conversation with him. Not to mention the fact that he still remembered the drunken incident from three years ago. So, that was another 'no', then. How was he supposed to find a husband, at this rate? 

"Thanks, Prince Phichit," he managed to say, his eyes distant and faraway. Already, he was lost in another world, one where he could escape from his problems forever. On the ice, he was free to be reborn into who he wanted, however many times he wanted. He hoped that what he loved would be the key to his salvation-but what he loved and what he wanted, versus what he was doing and what he needed to get done, were two completely different things. 

A little perturbed by the Russian prince's lack of enthusiasm, the prince of Thailand stepped down, his head low, and spotting Christophe checking him out in his peripheral vision. Oh, maybe the suitors who weren't picked could find love elsewhere-in each other. How sweet. They certainly wouldn't end up finding it in Viktor, that much was certain. 

"Next up is Jean-Jacques Leroy!" Lilia shouted, and he winced. He could tell that this one was not going to go well. 

J.J., as Viktor referred to him inside his head, still retained the air of an arrogant, smug jerk about him. Next to him, he felt rather than saw Mila, Georgi and Yuri pull faces. Yakov and Lilia's faces undoubtedly stayed neutral, like they were supposed to. They were true professionals when it came to this whole royalty thing. Needless to say, their children and nephews had not mastered the art of subtlety yet. 

J.J bowed, and moved forward in a somewhat awkward, clumsy manner. "Your highness," he began, grinning, "may I just thank you for inviting me to stay at your palace. It really is a cosy little place, you know. Different to my home in Canada, but charming nonetheless." Different? In what way? Cosy? The palace contained thirty rooms upstairs, and thirty rooms downstairs. He'd hardly consider that small, yet this irritating Canadian prince obviously thought otherwise. Viktor glared daggers at him, hoping that he would receive the non-verbal message, but he didn't. Of course he didn't. "I look forward to enjoying your company later on today. Just so you know, your highness, I am part of a band, and I have twenty sports trophies. Alongside that-"

"Next, please!" Yakov barked, winking at his nephew, whose shoulders relaxed all of a sudden. 

"Thank you," he said to the Canadian Prince, his smile as bitter and fake as Lee Seung Gil's had been earlier. Frowning to himself, J.J. stepped down without any acknowledgement of what had been said and assuming his place back in the line. Viktor barely managed to repress a smirk, and his gaze naturally drifted for Yuuri, who was looking at Jean-Jacques with such disdain in his eyes, it was alarming, and probably reflected the way he'd been looking at the twenty-year-old, too. 

"Otabek Altin?" Lilia prompted. He turned his attention to the prince of Kazakhstan, who tore his gaze away from the youngest member of the Nikiforov with great reluctance and dragged it over to Viktor, his expression distantly polite, if slightly detached. He was somewhat younger than J.J, if he remembered correctly. Way too young for him-nine years younger, to be precise-but a mere three years older than his brother. Perhaps he ought to play matchmaker, and feign even more of a disinterest in the man than he already felt; that wouldn't be hard. Yuri was watching him like a hawk as it was, daring him to flirt or tease, but he stood strong in his position on the matter. 

He bowed respectfully, stepped forward and addressed him in a tone that conveyed forced politeness. "Your royal highness, I am here as the second-in-line to the throne of Kazakhstan. My people, they adore your country, as do I. It is a wondrous place of great scientific, economic and creative development. You are an inspiration to all of us. I am honoured to be standing here with five other men, competing for your hand in marriage." His tone of voice had a strained quality to it. "Thank you for allowing me this great opportunity, I hope I would be able to serve you well." 

Viktor felt some semblance of sympathy for the young man, really he did, but he had an act to keep up. He did not smile at him. "Thank you, I appreciate that," was the best he could muster up. He nodded at him, indicating that he could go, but not before he snuck a glance at Yuri, then swept his gaze back Otabek with a brief, knowing smile. Otabek's face softened for a second, and he appeared relieved and grateful all of a sudden, but he remembered to keep an act up of his own, hardened his face and stepped down to the line. That left just one more person. 

"Last but certainly not least, the Prince of Japan, Katsuki Yuuri!" Yakov called out. Viktor swallowed hard, his heart beat sped up and his palms grew slick with sweat. What was happening to him? He must be strong, not weak. He must stand tall, not fall for someone. What had he done? 

Yuuri bowed in a polite manner to each and every family member, leaving Viktor until last, and bowed for the longest. The Russian man ignored Lilia's quiet hum of approval and centred his focus on the beautiful man in front of him. "Your royal highness," he whispered, his voice causing the silver-haired man to shiver, "I feel greatly honoured to be in your presence, right now, and to be deemed worthy to be contending for your hand in marriage along with these excellent princes. You are an incredible inspiration to us all, somebody whom we all look up to as a pinnacle of courage, strength and resilience. Your country is a great one, and I truly hope I can bring you happiness, regardless of whether I may have the privilege of being given your hand in marriage or not. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity." 

He bowed his head, and Viktor couldn't prevent a smile for making its way onto his face, despite himself. "Thank you so much, Katsuki Yuuri," he told him, his voice softer than it'd been with his previous suitors. Shit. He was supposed to act as cold as ice. What the hell was wrong with him? He could have kicked himself. Wide-eyed and flushing a little, the Prince of Japan stepped back down into the line. 

Yuri raised an eyebrow at his older brother, mocking him. Georgi was smirking. Mila was hiding behind her hair, giggling. Yakov seemed more relaxed, and Lilia looked almost pleased. He sighed and barely resisted the urge to slump down into the throne and massage his forehead; he could feel a headache coming on. So, it was going to be one of those days. He'd just have to deal with it, wouldn't he? 

He didn't have any other choice. 

"Now, as for the next step-each and every one of you is to take Prince Viktor on a date." She turned to him, her emerald eyes piercing into his soul. His aunt was insightful like that, he supposed. "Are you ready, your highness?" Casting one last look at the line of attractive, single princes in front of him, he nodded. 

"Ready as I'll ever be."

Chapter Text

1. Date Number One-Christophe Giacometti 

"I can't believe you," Viktor muttered, shivering. 

"Why, your Royal Highness? Surely, you know that I have a reputation?" 

The Russian prince sighed. Admittedly, he did know, so he had no reason for complaint. But still. "I suppose so," he conceded, wishing to wipe of the smirk on Prince Christophe's face. "But really? Swimming, in the winter?" 

Chris raised an eyebrow at him. "Swimming, in the pool that can be found in your palace," he pointed out dismissively. "You'll hardly freeze to death." 

Well, it sure felt like it. The initial shock of jumping into the pool had overwhelmed him, and he'd let out a loud gasp, glaring at Christophe in an accusing manner. The prince of Sweden had just laughed his concerns off and swum over to him, wrapping an arm around his waist. Viktor didn't know whether to be scandalised or delighted at the human contact. The luxuries of dating and being physically or emotionally intimate with somebody else had never been afforded to him before, until now, and he was struggling to wrap his head around it, to become accustomed to this new way of life. His formative years had passed him by while he was cooped up in that palace with his family and lots of things to do, but no-one to do them with apart from the people he spent every waking day of his existence with. 

"I suppose not," he grumbled, pretending like he wasn't enjoying the sensation of someone holding his hand; Chris was leading him round the pool, trying his hardest to splash water into his face. Naturally, the twenty-eight-year-old was having none of it, and flipped him the bird. His irritation was not genuine, however, and Chris knew that. With him, he felt transparent, as though he were made from glass and that his thoughts and feelings could be seen by this guy. He wouldn't mind spending the rest of his life with him, if it weren't for the way he acted like he was the cat who had got the cream all the time. Not as smug as J.J, but confident, perhaps overly so. His confidence seemed to be largely sensual and sexual, based off shallow things such as looks and appearances. Not that he wouldn't make a good friend, though. He was one to consider, for sure. 

Chris pulled himself up, making his way to the twenty-foot high diving board. Viktor groaned; only Georgi and Yuri had managed to make perfect, or at least non-destructive, lands into the water. Lilia hadn't even tried, on the basis on not wanting to wet her hair, Yakov on the premise of his age, and Mila and Viktor had tried, but with little success. It occurred to him that perhaps Christophe should be made aware of this; then again, he didn't want to distract him or put him off, so he sighed, burying his misgivings, and watched the man competing for his hand in marriage climb up on the board. 

"Watch this!" he shouted, sounding a little too overenthusiastic about the whole thing for a fully grown adult. 

"Be careful!" Viktor called out, resenting how grown-up and sensible he sounded all of a sudden. He braced himself for the impact by swimming to the opposite end of the pool and observed while Chris jumped, tucking his knees while he did so. 

"Watch me go!" the Swedish prince shouted, diving into the pool and managing the perfect landing. Viktor clapped, visibly impressed. He could feel the ice beginning to thaw between them. Fuck.

"Well done," he said, when Chris got close enough to hear him. "That was quite impressive, you know." 

Flushed, Chris grinned at him, taking his hands and twirling him round in the water. The Russian bit the inside of his cheek to hold in a laugh. "Thank you, your majesty," Chris said, once they stopped moving, and squeezed his hand.  He soon shrugged it off. 

"It's no problem," he replied. "And please, just refer to me as 'Viktor'. No need for the pretences, especially considering the fact that you're royalty yourself. Speaking of which, what is royal life like in your country?" 

They discussed this during their laps of the pool, not quite trading life stories but simply indulging in brief, pleasant small talk about the ins and outs of their lives. 

After ten minutes or so had passed, Chris gasped. "What do you mean, you've barely left the palace for fifteen years? I know you haven't had many public appearances in that time, but I just assumed-"

"Then you assumed wrong," Viktor snapped, feeling guilt wash over him straight away. 

"How did you cope? How did you manage not to go insane, out of your mind, crazy? I know I would have done, in your position." Viktor let out a bitter laugh. 

"Well, who says I haven't?" Chris laughed along, this time, and Viktor could really feel himself warming up to him. This hadn't been the plan, but felt welcoming nonetheless. They laughed and joked like this for another five minutes or so, the flow of conversation feeling easy and natural. It felt nice, but didn't fill him with the same warmth and butterflies and pent-up excitement and anxiety that Yuuri did. Of course, he couldn't base a rational decision such as who to marry off that. Could he? 

"We should probably get out now," Chris said, after a short amount of time. It certainly hadn't felt long, anyway. It was a shame to watch him go, but at least he'd see him, along with the other suitors, around in the palace. Their natural chemistry wasn't quite romantic, but it was nice to have made a new friend all the same. 

"We should," he agreed, sighing. When he got out, shivering as he adjusted to the cold, Prince Christophe glanced at him with amusement dancing in his lime-green eyes, brushing his blond and brown hair backwards and biting his lip, presumably in an attempt to act in a seductive manner. 

"Choices, choices," Chris whispered into his ear, making him shiver. "Whoever will it be?" His voice was light and teasing, with a suggestive undertone to it. Viktor shuddered. 

"I don't know yet," he told him, his voice sterner than it had been a moment ago. "Don't go around getting your hopes up, now." 

Never one to be put off by what Viktor was saying, Chris chuckled. "Believe me, I'm not," he explained. "Besides, I'm flirty with everyone-and I might have my eye on one of your other suitors..." 

Oh yes, Phichit Chulanont. He remembered now. That made sense; they were similar in their bubbly natures, but different, too, with Phichit seeming pretty innocent, and Chris appearing quite mature in comparison. That should make for an interesting couple combination. Maybe he shouldn't interfere with that, and not choose Chris-but he was a good option at the moment. Reliable. 

"Fair enough," he responded. "We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?" He didn't wait for him to respond, wrapping a towel around himself and not looking at him. "Now run along, and go flirt with some other poor prince." 

"I will. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get to know you, prince Viktor. I hope we can be friends."  He couldn't stop himself from smiling.

"So do I, Chris," he answered, genuinely meaning it. "So do I." 

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2. Date Number Two-Seung Gil-Lee

"So, you're two months younger than Phichit Chulanont?" 

The man shrugged. "Not quite, but yes." 

"I see." 

"Yeah," was all the south Korean seemed able to come up with. The silence that followed was deafening. Seung Gil Lee offered very little personal information about himself. Then again, neither did Viktor. Not because that was the cold and uncaring nature of his personality, unlike him, but because he'd been happy, and full of life, with a world of happiness in his life, and then the word had hurt him, shattered his illusions of joy and innocence permanently. He wasn't about to divulge in to his memories and bring up his painful past with someone he had just met, after all. 

"Why do you like horror movies so much, then?" Seung Gil Lee tore his eyes away from the screen of the short movie they were watching in their indoor cinema to meet Viktor's curious gaze. 

"I just think they're interesting, really. Like dystopian stuff. Look at all the possible outcomes of a scenario, and pick the worst ones. Seems pretty cool to watch play out. To me, at least." He frowned. "Not in real life, of course," he hastened to add. 

"Of course," Viktor agreed with a nod, knowing that the other man could only half make out his face in the semi-darkness of the room. He thought about resting his hand near his, but that was a step too far and invading the south Korean's personal space for sure. Besides, this was the only potential suitor of his who wasn't royalty. Although attractive and wealthy, given his age and lack of royal status, along side his disinterest in human interaction, he would hardly make the ideal match.

Bearing this in mind, he turned back to the movie, something about a virus, like the Second Plague, essentially, combined with a nuclear Third World War. It was rather miserable, really, now that he thought about it. All he knew about the person sat next to him was that he liked horror movies, was around twenty-one years old, owned a pet parrot called Rio-how unoriginal, he thought-and that he had a husky called Akira, which he had to admit was actually a cool name. Oh, and he had a younger sister and liked coding and baseball. That was it. All he knew. 

Suffice to say, he'd discovered a lot more about Chris in the one hour time slot they'd been allotted for each date. Hell, he probably knew more about Angel, Prince Christophe's cat, than he did about the person he was on a date with. It really was quite unfortunate. Approximately twenty minutes later, which had dragged on despite the mind-controlled zombies, epic explosions, fast cars and chaotic fights in the film, their time together had finished while the credits rolled. Seung Gil Lee hadn't even had the courtesy to bring popcorn. Honestly. Who would want to marry someone who didn't bring popcorn with them to the cinema? Even if that cinema was located in his palace, he was certain that someone could have provided it if requested. 

Seung Gil Lee shook his hand before he left. "I apologise for my lack of social interaction with you," he said, wearing a sheepish smile on his face. "I cannot trust people easily and am not the most emotional person, it could be said. You're attractive and a very nice, interesting man, I'll give you that. Your future husband will be lucky. But..." he turned to the door, sighing, "I miss my home already. I'm not sure if I like in Russia, or if my place in society belongs with royalty. You do understand that, don't you?" 

Viktor hummed in agreement with him. "Yes, of course I do, and that's fine," he articulated, the response rolling off his tongue with ease. They seemed to have some unspoken understanding between the two of them, which was great and all, but it wasn't enough to make a relationship work. His communication skills were poor. They lacked a bit of finesse, to say the least. He wasn't royalty, he barely asked him about himself the whole time, and he was too young for him, too. That simply wouldn't do. "Good bye. I am sure I will see you around." 

Lee Seung Gil almost smiled, but not quite. "I'm sure I will." 

With that being said, off he went. 

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3. Date Number Three-Phichit Chulanont 

"Isn't it the coolest room in the whole palace?" What, the Games Room? Certainly not. He wasn't a teenager anymore. 

Viktor rolled his eyes and shook his head, Phichit's overenthusiasm about everything grinding his gears. "Not really, no." 

Phichit was persistent in his quest to get to know the Russian prince, however, and pushed on further. "What's your favourite room in the whole palace, then?"

Viktor placed a slender, gloved finger to his lip while he pretended to think about it. "My bedroom," he decided. Phichit's eyes widened. 

"Really?" 

"Really." He sighed, exasperated, trying to re-focus his attention on their game of pool. Picking up on this, Phichit continued their game, but of course, it wasn't long before he roped him into further conversation again. 

"What's it been like, spending the past fifteen years cooped up in here? I mean, what is there really to do here after a year or so of being stuck here?" Viktor shrugged, acting bored. It wasn't hard to do. 

"I mean, I haven't known any different, so it's been fine for me. My younger brother, Yuri, doesn't know any different for his entire life, which is a shame." 

Phichit nodded along, his eyes misted over with sadness. "That's so sad, I'm sorry that you had to live like that for so long. I know it was for the sake of your own personal safety of course, but still." 

Viktor chewed his lip, deep in thought. He contemplated whether or not to spill his heart to the prince of Thailand. Perhaps he should let him in, just a little. That way, it would be a weight off his shoulder. Not to mention the fact that he was a kind, warm and non-judgemental person, so he'd understand. "It's all my fault that he's spent pretty much his entire life locked away like a prisoner in this palace, though," he revealed. "It's not fair on Yuri in the slightest, what I've put him through all because of my own selfish decisions." He squeezed his eyes shut, the pain too hard to bear. 

He felt a warm hand squeeze his shoulder. Phichit was right by his side, ready to give his condolences. "I'm so sorry about what you've gone through, your Royal Highness, but please don't blame yourself. I'm sure what happened wasn't, and still isn't, your fault." 

"Oh, but it is," he remarked, tears streaming down his face. "If only I'd gone back in there, or I'd thought to go to them straight after-but no. If I'd been faster, they'd still be alive today." 

"Your parents?" Phichit asked, his voice soft. That's what caused Viktor to snap. The reminder, from someone else, that it was his parents who had died because of him. It stung like salt to a wound. 

"Yes, Phichit. My parents. That's right. I fucking messed up back when I was just thirteen and I can't take it back, so now I've had to spend the past fifteen years stuck cooped up in the palace without them, with only my brother and my cousins and aunt and uncle to keep me company. Well, I did have my grandparents, but not any more. We've lost five people in our family now, and I was responsible for the passing of two of them. Have you any idea how that feels? No, of course you don't."

Phichit looked a little taken aback by the prince's random outburst, and rightfully so. It wasn't every day that he was snapped at like that. "I'm so sorry, is there anything I could possibly to do help you?" Viktor shook his head vehemently. "Okay. Well, I'm here for you. Are you alright?" 

When Viktor next spoke, it was through gritted teeth. "I will be, don't you worry your pretty little head about me." He kept his eyes trained on the pool table. "Besides, I live a pretty luxurious life, don't I? I have a library, an arcade, a games room, a swimming pool, an indoor tennis court, a spa, an indoor hot tub, a room where I get to break shit, a cinema, a ton of living spaces, massive grounds to walk around...need I go on? They'll keep my mind occupied, I'm sure." 

"Oh, okay."

They didn't talk for a good fifteen minutes after that, instead focusing on their game of pool. Much to Viktor's surprise (and annoyance), Phichit won, in the end. He kicked the table when the game finished and stared at the window. It looked like it was going to snow again. Maybe it would. 

"Look. It's nothing personal, I shouldn't have snapped at you," Viktor said, out of nowhere, as an awkward silence washed over them. "It's just...my parent's death is a sensitive topic for me, okay?" 

"Okay. Sorry for pushing the matter." 

Viktor turned to Phichit, meeting his gaze. "It's fine," he dismissed the apology with a wave of his hand. "Don't worry about it, Phichit. Now, what do you say we play Poker? No doubt you know how the game works." For the last twenty minutes or so spent together, that's what they did. The Russian prince was surprised that the twenty-one-year-old hadn't picked the arcade, given his boisterous and excitable nature, but it turned out that he was exhausted from the journey and couldn't be bothered with the bright light and colours of the arcade. He could be bothered, however, to chat Viktor's ear off about anything and everything, producing his whole life story for him. His oversharing was sweet, but annoying. Very annoying. 

Oh, and he took selfies. A lot of them, too. Naturally, this had led to an impromptu photoshoot while they were supposed to be saying goodbye. Viktor put his number into Phichit's phone, the way he'd done with Christophe, and given him his number, too. Phichit had flushed and thanked him, hugging him while he said goodbye. He was kind, definitely, but too full-on. He wouldn't do. 

"Goodbye, Prince Viktor!" Phichit exclaimed, waving, while he left the room. Viktor inclined his head in acknowledgement of him. 

"Goodbye, Phichit. I'm sure we'll cross paths soon." 

"I'm sure we will. See you!" 

"Yeah, see you," the Russian muttered, already pulling out his phone to check who was next on the list and groaning. It was none other than the obnoxious Prince Jean-Jacques Leroy.

How was he going to survive?

Chapter Text

4. Date Number Four-Jean-Jacques Leroy 

“I must say, your highness, this isn’t what I was expecting in the slightest.”

Viktor raised an eyebrow at Prince Jean-Jacques Leroy. “No? Then what were you expecting, might I ask? Gold pianos? Singing water fountains? A hundred and one marble statues of my family members throughout the years? A huge, indoor water slide? A Japanese toilet that plays music and flushes while you’re using it, so nobody can hear you go? This is not Canada, this is Russia, and things are different over here than they are over there. You would do well to remember that.”

J.J rolled his eyes. “We have some of that at home,” he began, smirking. Of course, they do, Viktor thought, groaning inwardly. “But that’s not quite what I meant,” he added, his eyes glinting with mischief. Again, he was filled with the urge to punch him, but resisted.

“Oh, yeah? Then, what did you mean, exactly?”

J.J. looked bored. “I expected it to be grander, more glamorous. I mean, this arcade is nice and all, don’t get me wrong, but it’s hardly the type of place fitting for royalty now, is it?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he practically growled. J.J. backed up, his hands in the air in a defensive manner.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Calm down, your royal highness. I mean no harm, no malice, no ill will to you or your family. But it is curious. I mean, you’ve spent the last fifteen years trapped away in this palace, have you not?”

Viktor nodded, his patience beginning to slip already. They’d only been on this arcade date for ten minutes; J.J. really knew how to charm a guy, huh? “Yes, I have. It was for the best. For my own safety.”

J.J. tutted in a patronising way that wasn’t even attempting at being sympathetic towards him or his situation. “Was it, now? Because I believe what’s happened to your family throughout the years has either been within these grounds, or not far from them. Am I not correct in saying that?”

Viktor’s fist curled into a ball. He knew that this man was annoying, knew that he liked to test people and push their buttons as much as was physically possible, but this time, he had taken it too far. Nobody spoke of his family members like that, so offhandedly, like they were some broken ornaments or objects or possessions. Nobody.

How dare he. How dare he! The audacity of it all was enough to make his head swim. Everybody knew that discussing deceased loved ones was a sensitive topic for literally anybody in any situation, but most of the Western world was aware of what had happened to Viktor’s aunt Olga twenty years ago, knew about the fire that had tragically killed his parents, learnt of the slow, natural deaths of both of his paternal grandparents. Evidently, J.J. knew what he was doing, and he was playing nasty. Nastier than anyone else he’d ever encountered, that was. Despite being bisexual, he was Catholic, too, as far as the Russian man recalled, so he was hardly acting like a child of God, a point that maybe he would bring up just to irk the guy.

“Factually, you are correct, yes,” Viktor began, his voice shaking with a held-back rage. “But morally, you have no right to say that.”

J.J. tilted his head at him, feigning confusion. “Say what, sorry, your highness?”

Viktor scowled, pushing his hand through his hair. He’d got up at the crack of dawn to prepare to greet his royal guests and to go on dates with them. It was a quarter past one, and he still hadn’t eaten. He was both hungry and tired, a combination that did not work well when coupled with J. J’s teasing in the slightest.

“You were talking about my family disrespectfully, like they’re throwaway objects. They are-weren’t. They weren’t. My father, especially. He was like a soldier; he was the strongest man I ever knew. The strongest man I think any of us ever knew, come to think of it. So, you don’t get to come in here and insult my home and the customs of my home country and my family life.”

J.J. frowned at him, his grey eyes conveying confusion. “What do you mean, Viktor? I didn’t insult the customs of your country, for one- “

“Oh, yes you did. When you first came in, you were comparing the different ways in which we greet people- “

“Isn’t it so weird that Russians give people such firm handshakes and act so polite and formal when they first meet each other?” J.J. wondered out loud, beaming at Viktor, which only served to annoy him further.

“Not really, no. It’s what we are accustomed to doing, after all.”

“How strange, all the same. In Canada, we shake hands, too, but we often laugh a little to diffuse the tension, you know? And I’m from a family of French Canadians, so we tend to kiss each other on each cheek in greeting, too.”

Viktor stifled a yawn. This prince’s weird obsession with himself was boring. “Oh, really?” J.J. nodded. “How lovely.” It was hard to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

Sighing, J.J. surveyed the room, and decided to have a dance battle with Viktor, only to become infuriated when, ten minutes later, he won. “I demand a rematch!” He insisted furiously. Prince Viktor’s jaw dropped; was this man for real? People like him really existed? He actually wanted a rematch? He must be insane.

“No. I won, fair and square. You’re just a sore loser.”

“No, I’m not! I’m usually not a loser, at all!”

“Is that so?” Viktor’s voice once again took on that bored tone. He couldn’t help it, but this man was seriously getting to him, now.

“Yep! I’ve won twenty trophies, for a variety of sports events, and I’m also in a band, and I attend Toronto University even though I’m a prince, so naturally there’s a lot of security there, entirely for my benefit.”

“How impressive.” Viktor said, sounding distinctly unimpressed.

“Well, what have you done, Mr Nikiforov? Hmm, let’s see, nothing! Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” he taunted. “You had long hair for eight years, as I seem to recall, didn’t you? When I saw you on the television, growing up, it was so long-but you cut it, right? On your eighteenth birthday, of all days! You won’t leave the confines of this palace, even for a date! At what point does it stop being a palace and start becoming a prison, hmm? You stayed in here, trapped, doing nothing! So how dare you mock me for actually having done something noteworthy in my lifetime. How dare you! Poor little orphan boy, trapped in his ivory tower with his stupid little baby brother and his cousins, and granny and grandpa sat on the throne, and now it’s auntie Lilia and uncle Yakov, all because a certain someone is too much of a fucking coward to take his rightful place on the throne, following on from his parent’s death. Most people would have assumed the throne at the age of thirteen, with their grandparents and families working as their guardians. Or they would have taken the throne at eighteen. It’s been a decade since then, Viktor. Wake up! You’re getting old, now. What are you so scared of? Sitting in the place where your parents should have been? They’re dead, Viktor. Dead! When will you get over yourself and just realise that, already? Huh?” 

That was it. He’d had enough. J.J. had been skating on thin ice as it was, but now, he was done. Viktor snapped.

“No, I didn’t assume my position on the throne at thirteen, that’s right! You know why? You know the real reason why I didn’t take over as soon as plausibly possible? No, you don’t, because it’s a private matter, a personal matter, a family matter, actually. The real reason why I couldn’t do that is because my grandfather, Nikolai, ordered it to be so. That’s right. He did! He claimed that a thirteen-year-old boy who’d been traumatised-yes, you heard me correctly, traumatised-by the early death of his parents could not be in a fit state to rule. Do you know how many years of therapy it took until I could finally feel like myself again? Five, J.J., it took five years! Then, I cut my hair. I felt free, you know, for a bit. Happy, almost. Yet, adult responsibilities were soon thrust upon me and my childhood had ended. Actually, no. My childhood ended the day my parents died, when I couldn’t save them from that dreadful fire that ravaged our tent in the night. The guards were gone. We were alone. I was next door to my baby brother. I managed to save him that night, but not my parents. Not my parents. Do you even have so much as the slightest idea how that feels? The guilt, knowing I could have rescued them, and I didn’t. That it was too late for them. It eats you alive! I could barely eat, barely sleep, barely function, for nearly a year! It still haunts me to this day, by the way. I will never forget them. The only reason I’m even tolerating you right now is so that I can do my duty to my country in order to honour my parent’s memory. There, I said it! That’s why. That’s the truth. I am fully aware that they are dead, believe me. It hurts every single day, knowing my brother never knew them, that Mila barely did, because of me. Because of my own personal failure. I let them down that night, but I am determined to never let my strong, noble parents down ever again! So, don’t you dare attack me and use my past against me ever again, or you’re kicked out of this palace that you don’t even seem to like anyway, you understand me?”

He was breathless by the time he’d finished his rant, and his head was swimming. He felt like he was underwater, for some reason, but he couldn’t explain why. Tears were openly streaming down his face, and all of his former composure was lost. His hair was a mess, as was his outfit. He was a mess. An emotional wreck. His vision was blurred, and J.J.'s voice sounded distant. All that he knew was that he couldn't breathe. Fuck. Why couldn't he breathe? 

"Your royal highness? Your royal highness, I need you to stop clutching at your throat, please-and gasping like that. Please. Come on, breath in and out with me. In for five seconds, out for five-there, you've done it. No, don't try to stand up, stay there, rest. You're not injured, are you? No? Good. Okay, keep breathing with me. In, and out. That's it. Rinse and repeat. More and more. Alright, well, you seem to have got the hang of it now. Perfect. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry-just keep breathing, no, don't try to talk. Just rest. There we go, you're almost breathing properly again. Almost there, your royal highness, you're almost there." 

Viktor followed his instructions. In, and out. Breathing in, and out. Slowly, his senses came back to him. He wiped his sleeve across his face and squinted, his vision becoming clearer. Prince J.J. was knelt in front of him, copying the breathing movements that he was doing, his eyes wide with fear and his own hair tangled. He seemed terrified. 

"You-" he started, gasping for air. "My parents, my wonderful parents-I might have spent most of my life without them, but what I remember-so good to me, so kind-made me strong, and you-insulted them, insulted me, my family-nobody insults my family-how dare you-why? What did I do to you, huh? Why did they leave me, J.J.? Tell me, please. Why did they go? It isn't fair," he wailed. "It isn't fair." 

"No, it isn't," J.J. agreed, calmly. "But it's life, and I need you to understand that life goes on after the death of our loved ones. I've been there. Believe me, I know how painful it can be to lose a loved one. You've got to move on one day, though. That doesn't mean forgetting them, it simply means going ahead and living your life in spite of their deaths." 

Viktor shook his head, struggling to take those words in. "How could I possibly-oh, the betrayal of it all." He remembered something, all of a sudden. "I need to get fixed up before my next date, need to change my clothes, have a nap. Rest." 

"Rest is good. You should probably rest, Viktor." 

"I agree with you. Oh, and you need to leave. Now." J.J. looked alarmed at the prospect of leaving. 

"But, your royal highness, with all due respect, it's been thirty-five minutes. We still have time left together." 

Viktor opened his eyes and glanced straight at him. "No, we don't. Not if I kick you out of the date early." J.J. was the furthest from husband material out of all of them, by far. The Prince of Canada gasped, hurt. 

"But-" 

"Just leave already." His tone left no room for discussion. Viktor shut his eyes again; he was both mentally and physically drained by his day, and it wasn't even two in the afternoon yet. He didn't even care if he was humiliating himself in front of his date-all that mattered to him was that he rested for a bit. Even if that was while curled up in the corner of the Arcade Room. It was fine; he could sleep anywhere. Sometimes, he willed that not be true, but it was. 

Sensing defeat, J.J. gave in and made to leave. "Goodbye, your royal highness. I truly am sorry for what I said." It went without saying that he wouldn't be forgiven for it any time soon. 

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever," Viktor murmured, in response. That being said, J.J. waved and walked to the door. 

"It's J.J. Style!" he swore he could hear the man exclaim while he left. Shaking his head to himself, Viktor checked his watch. Half an hour until his date with Otabek. 

Today was going well so far, wasn't it? 

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5. Date Number Five-Otabek Altin 

"So, you really think that you can help me?" "

“I can certainly try,” Viktor responded, taking a careful sip of his coffee. “Trust me, I know my brother better than anyone else in this world.”

Otabek nodded. “I understand that. I’m close with my sisters.”

“Remind me what they’re called, again?” Viktor prompted him, leaning forward in anticipation of his response.

“Aisha, who’s fourteen, Rayana, who’s eleven, and Danata-she’s seven.”

“I see.”

Otabek tapped his fingers on the table, full of nervous energy. “It’s very generous of you to do this, your royal highness.”

Not one to take a compliment on board easily, Viktor brushed off his good deed as though it was meaningless, or nothing much. “It’s no problem, Otabek. In fact, it’s the least I can do for you. Truthfully, I think that my brother has his eye on you, too, and I don’t want to get in between that, so I figured that, if I’m in a position in which I can help bring you both together, why not do so?” He paused, letting his words sink in. “That being said, though, if you break his heart, you’ll be dead meat, are we clear on that?” He'd realised, not long after mentioning Yuri's crush on Beka, that he had promised not to tell, but this was for good intents and purposes, so it was fine, he decided.

The Prince of Kazakhstan swallowed thickly, his eyes wide. “Yes, your highness. Crystal clear.”

He sat back, relaxing into his chair, his shoulders less tense than they had been before. The little bohemian café, situated in the little square between sections of the palace, was a good choice to have picked. It had coffee, cake, sandwiches, anything he desired, really. Nothing they couldn’t do for the precious, beloved, first-in line for the throne, Prince Viktor Nikiforov. Especially after his panic attack earlier that day. Word has spread like wildfire throughout the palace, and he'd been allocated time to change and rest before his next date because of this. Yakov had been slightly concerned, as had Lilia, but once he'd reassured them (for the thousandth time, it felt like) that he'd be absolutely fine, they'd finally let him go. Hence, here he was, on a lunch date, with a national hero, and his brother's crush, Otabek Altin. 

“Good. My brother deserves only the best, you know. He is unfortunate enough that he has only ever known life in these palace walls.”

Otabek bowed his head. “I know, your royal highness. I cannot imagine how difficult life here has been for both of you.”

So, he was an empathetic, kind person. That was a green flag, for sure. For Yuri, that was. Not him. He was trying his best to ensure that both of them managed to get into a relationship with each other. Some people would probably cite that it was none of his business, but he was helping out, here. Besides, he’d be lying if he said that it wasn’t at least a little bit fun, getting involved with such matters.

"Indeed, it has been. He has led a very sheltered life thus far. He knows nothing of dating, love, heartbreak, relationships or even of real friendships. His only friends here are our cousins, Mila and Georgi, and one or two of the personal assistants he talks to on occasion, but they don't really count." He sighed and stirred his drink, blowing on it to cool it down. It was still too hot. He put it down. "I'd recommend walking before you run, Altin. Befriend him first. Then, see how it goes. I reckon he's as smitten as you are." 

Otabek flushed. "Really?" 

"Really." Viktor chuckled. "He never stops talking about you. I'm aware that you've spoken at parties, multiple times before, and you have each other's phone numbers and social media handles. Is that correct?" 

"Yes, your highness. That is correct." Viktor appeared suitably impressed. 

"That's a definite start. You've got a good chance of things progressing between you, if that's the case. Now, tell me. What are your intentions with my younger brother?" 

Otabek scowled, taken aback by the blunt and sudden question. "What are you implying?" 

"Nothing, nothing," Viktor replied, his voice as cool as ice. "I'm just wondering, that's all. I am entitled to know." 

"I suppose you're right," the younger of the two conceded, sipping at his own drink. "I only intend to make him happy. He's beautiful-his eyes are soulful, and expressive, and stunning. He looks like an angel-" 

"I can assure you, he certainly doesn't act like one," Viktor muttered darkly. Otabek laughed. 

"I'm sure. But still, he's funny, and sweet, and kind-hearted. He's a fun and interesting person to be around, and a very talented dancer." Viktor's eyes widened as he imagined his relatively innocent sixteen-year-old brother, dancing with the Hero of Kazakhstan. 

"You've danced together before?" 

The Prince of Kazakhstan scratched the back of his neck, staring down at the table in front of him. "Um, yeah. Once. Nothing bad, I promise, your highness. My intentions with him are only pure. We had a dance competition, and he won." He smiled at the memory, his eyes glazed over. It seemed like they were both far gone for each other. 

"Right. Well, I can understand that it may have been hard coming here and attempting to win my hand in marriage, in that case, when it is not me you desire, but my brother."

"You could say that, yeah," the nineteen-year-old mumbled into his latte. "It has been an honour getting to know you, though, and come to your wonderful Kingdom, your highness. I shall be honoured to stay here as your esteemed guest." Polite, too. Good. The acts of rebellion he'd heard of were most likely minimal, then. 

"It is my pleasure," Viktor told him, meaning it. "Anyway, do tell me more about this family of yours." 

He let Otabek's chatter wash over him while he though about his final date, Katsuki Yuuri. He'd been thinking about him all day, even when on dates with other people. Those eyes had not escaped his mind for hours; he felt as though he was going insane. It was not a good feeling to have, in his opinion. Yuuri had made him feel like nobody else had so far, and they hadn't even been on a date together yet. Only spoken for one brief, thrilling exchange. If the butterflies in his stomach were anything to go by, he had fallen, hard. 

He couldn't wait until he could see him again. Fortunately for him, Prince Viktor Nikiforov didn't have long to wait. 

Chapter Text

"Are you looking forward to your final date, your highness?" 

Viktor nodded at Yuuko, albeit wearily. "Yes. Even though it's been a long day so far, and not the best by all accounts, I'm intrigued to see what he has planned for our date together." 

Yuuko clapped her hands, appearing even more excited than Viktor himself. "Oh, this is so great! I've heard that he's a really sweet guy, and he knows how to treat someone right. He's been out with both guys and girls before, apparently." 

Viktor swallowed down the sudden wave of jealousy that washed over him at the thought of Yuuri dating anybody other than him. "Cool. So, he's bisexual then?" 

Yuuko nodded. "Yes, I think so. He's a really sweet guy, I promise," she assured him, her eyes bright. "Takeshi has met him several times before, and he was nothing short of wonderful, apparently. Plus, he's really hot," she added with a wink. Viktor flushed; there was truth in her words. It was something that he could not resist; the man was very good-looking, and this didn't help Viktor battle the magnetic pull that was drawing him towards this mysterious man. 

"Well, I hope he's husband material, in that case," Viktor muttered, while Yuuko adjusted his tie for him. 

"He probably will be," she exclaimed, beaming up at him. "I mean, look at him!" 

Viktor laughed; she had a point. "Anybody would be better than Prince Jean-Jacques Leroy." He paused, knowing that he could trust her. "Or, as I like to call him, J.J." 

Yuuko frowned at the nickname. "Was he really that bad?" 

"Yep. He kept trying to get to me, to infuriate and upset me. It worked. I ended up nearly having a panic attack because of that guy. He disrespected my parents, and was rude to me." 

"That simply won't do," Yuuko responded, her voice a perfect imitation of Lilia's. They both burst out laughing. "Seriously, though. He sounds like a jerk." 

Viktor thought back to the way J.J. had deliberately taunted him, calling him Rapunzel and turning something that had been a witty inside joke that he shared with his cousin into something sour and bitter, something that left a nasty taste in his mouth. He sighed. "He was, but I won't let people like him ruin my day. Besides, I've got one last date to look forward to, so what have I got to lose?" Yuuko grinned at him again, pleased that he wasn't letting other people bring him down the way he so often did.

"Exactly," she said, spraying him in cologne while he slicked his hair back. "Go out there and enjoy yourself, Viktor." 

So, that's what he did. 

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“Your royal highness,” Yuuri greeted him, bowing low. Viktor laughed at the formality.

“Please,” he insisted with a nonchalant wave of his hand. “Call me Viktor.”

Yuuri swallowed, his nerves showing. That’s so cute, Viktor thought to himself. How is it possible for one human being to be so adorable? It was beyond him, personally.

“If you would like me to, your highness, then I will, of course,” Yuuri replied, a small smile creeping its way onto his face. Viktor could feel himself falling further and further. He thought back to Yakov and Lilia’s stern lectures, and equally as stern faces. The disapproving looks and insults thrown his way when he dared to mention the possibility of love. His duty to his country. Falling in love wouldn’t do at all.

“Yes, that is what I would like you to do, please,” he replied, icily as he could. Yuuri raised an eyebrow in surprise at his hot-and-cold behaviour, but didn’t question it.

“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll do as you say, then, Viktor.” The older of the two men bit down on his lip, hard, trying his best to control his reaction to the Japanese prince saying his name.

“Good,” he responded, glancing around him and drinking in his surroundings. Yuuri had said that they were meeting outside, but hadn’t specified anything else, meaning that he didn’t have any details to work on. “Yuuri, tell me. What are we doing outside, if I may ask?”

Yuuri smiled again, his dark eyes lighting up with joy. Now, that was a side of him that Viktor enjoyed seeing, it had to be admitted. “It’s a surprise. Come on, Viktor. Follow me.” With that being said, he grabbed his arm and pulled him forward. The Russian Prince let out a squeak at the action; this man was stronger than he looked. He supposed that he would have to trust whatever he had planned was good, and would interest him. If the mischievous glint in his eye was anything to go by, either it was something terrible or something brilliant.

Truth be told, Viktor wasn’t sure if he wanted to know which one it was.

“Can I trust you?” he joked, albeit feebly. Yuuri chuckled, his laughter reminiscent of a windchime blowing in the wind. It was a beautiful sound.

“Of course, you can, don’t be ridiculous,” he laughed. “I’m hardly going to kill you, am I?”

Viktor shrugged. “I don’t know what your intentions are.”

“Oh, they’re pure, I promise.” When his nerves disappeared, they gave way to boldness. Confidence. He liked it. It suited him.

“Ah, well. That’s good to know,” Viktor said, grinning. The route they were taking started to look familiar-the trees that they passed all looked like the exact same ones Viktor encountered whenever he was on a walk around the grounds to Yuuko, like when he had stormed out of the family meeting that he had been in a few weeks ago. Could Yuuri’s date idea possible be-? No, surely not. Unless it was?

If it was what Viktor suspected that it was, then perhaps he had found himself some good husband material, after all.

Yuuri turned to him with a dazzling smile that nearly took his breath away. He was pretty sure that it was illegal to be that good-looking. His dark hair, although well-kept, looked fluffy and soft; he felt a sudden, compulsive urge to run his hands through it, but of course, he didn’t. His amber eyes were soft yet filled with determination and joy, so expressive and soulful that it took him by surprise. Whoever had dated Yuuri in the past had been very lucky, that much was for certain.

“I promise you’ll like what I have in store for you,” he reassured him, his voice low, reaching out to grab Viktor’s hand. Before he could protest or move it away, he gave it a warm squeeze, accompanied with a smile that was just as warm, and set the Russian man’s heart on fire in the process. Whoa. He didn’t know that he would possibly be able to feel things about other people so intensely, but here he was nonetheless, all flustered over the Prince of Japan, of all people. What had his life come to? He was supposed to be untouchable, icy, cold, strong. Like an ice sculpture, not a real-life, flawed human being. Yet here he was, in this moment, so vulnerable to Yuuri’s charms that it made his head swim.

“Will I, now?” he asked, his voice an octave higher than it had been previously. Embarrassed, he cleared his throat and tried again. “Do you really think so?” he asked, his voice sounding more normal this time, thankfully.

Yuuri nodded, his self-confidence beginning to show. “Yes, I promise, your hi-I mean, Viktor. It’s something that I know you’ll like for a fact. I’ve done my research, you know.”

Viktor’s heart sped up. What did Yuuri mean by that? What kind of research had he been conducting on him, and how? Did he mean, like, a quick Google search of him? Or did he mean something else entirely? Had they ever met before? He believed that they hadn’t, or else it would have stuck out in his mind as being a rather memorable occasion. No doubt about it. So, why was he being so elusive? It did sound a bit creepy, he had to admit it-but if it was for their date, then surely it could be perceived as sweet and endearing, right?

“What do you mean by that?”

Yuuri stopped in his tracks and turned around to face him fully, more beautiful than ever, somehow. “What I mean, is that I am aware that you happen to enjoy ice skating, Mr Nikiforov.”

He couldn’t help but let out a gasp. How did he know? This wasn’t a fact that you could find out by searching his name up online, it was private and personal. Who had he spoken to? When? How did he know exactly how much skating meant to him? “How did you-?”

Yuuri smirked, evidently glad that he had the upper hand in this conversation. “Well, Viktor. You know how your family likes to hold parties and balls and galas on the odd, rare occasion?” In response to this, he nodded, rendered speechless. “It just so happens that, at your twenty-fifth birthday party, myself and my good friend, Prince Phichit Chulanont of Thailand, were present.”

Oh. That made a lot of sense, actually. So, he had been the dark-haired, attractive stranger that had caught his attention, caught his eye, the one who’d been stood with him, the person he’d been too afraid to converse with out of the fear of completely and utterly humiliating himself in front of him. “Oh, right. You were the dark-haired guy he was stood with practically all night, then?”

Yuuri nodded. “Yeah, I was. Sorry about what happened there, by the way. I know that it wasn’t my fault, but I was responsible for looking after him, considering that I’m three years his senior. I really shouldn’t have let him drink so much, but what’s done is done, I suppose. Anyway, he wasn’t the only drunk one at the party at night, though, was he?”

Viktor frowned, trying to recall the night in his head. What did he mean by that? Who else had been drunk there? He didn’t know that anybody else had been, but they must have been, right? “I’m afraid that I’m not following. Who do you mean? What are you talking about, Yuuri?”

Yuuri’s eyes brightened even further, shining out like diamonds. He was too beautiful to describe in words, this man. He really was. “Viktor, you’re telling me that you don’t remember getting drunk and approaching me after Phichit left the party?”

His heart dropped in his stomach. Sometimes, at parties, he liked to drink as a form of escapism. He didn’t realise that perhaps, he’d got carried away too, and done something regrettable or embarrassing or made a huge mistake. Whatever Yuuri had to say about the matter probably didn’t bode well for his reputation, to say the least.

“No, I don’t remember, as a matter of fact. What did I do, exactly?” Panic set in as he remembered that he had a tendency to go off the rails whenever he became inebriated.

Yuuri chuckled, and his eyes took on a distant and faraway gaze while he remembered what had gone down at Viktor’s birthday party three years prior. “You approached me and began flirting with me, calling me all sorts of flattering names.”

Oh, shit. “What like?”

“Hmm, let’s see,” Yuuri said, putting a finger to his lips and pretending to think about it. “Hot. Sexy. Fit.” He held up a finger for each one, causing the older prince to wince. Oh no. He had a reputation to uphold, but one night of drinking might have disgraced him without him even knowing it.

“I apologise for my misconduct. To be fair, I was speaking the truth.” He took in Yuuri’s sudden blush with delight. “Did I do anything else that could be deemed particularly noteworthy?”

“We danced together. And you kept telling me about how much you loved ice-skating, how you’d like to see me dancing on the ice some time because you though it would be, and I quote, ‘super, super sexy’.”

Viktor buried his face in his hands and groaned. “Oh, God. What have I done? I’m so sorry, Yuuri. I had no idea…”

Slowly, Yuuri prised Viktor’s hands away from his face, his touch electric, causing a whole-body shiver. Huh. He’d never reacted to anybody’s touch like that before-that was weird. “Viktor, look at me.” He obliged him, icy blue eyes meeting chocolate brown ones, the feeling both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. “It’s fine, honestly. I found it quite funny, and cute. Endearing in a way, too.”

Viktor’s eyes were wide. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

He breathed out a sigh of relief. “Well, thank God for that. And at least it means I get to have a half-decent date, for once.”

Yuuri tilted his head in confusion. “Why, what were the others like?”

“Believe me, Yuuri, you don’t want to know…”

“Oh, but I do,” came his answer. Viktor rolled his eyes and shook his head, but reluctantly explained all of his five previous dates regardless. By the time he was finished, a full ten minutes later, shock was written all over Yuri’s gorgeous face.

“Whoa, I had no idea that this whole process would be so stressful and upsetting for you. I’m sorry to hear that, Viktor.”

He shrugged it off. “It’s fine, honestly. I’m over it now.”

“But still-you were with someone cold and unfriendly, you were with someone who irritated you, then you were with someone who acted obnoxiously towards you and upset you to the point in which you had a panic attack, and your most recent date was with somebody who’s in love with your brother…that mustn’t have been easy to deal with. Chris sounds nice, though.”

Viktor hummed in agreement. “He is, yes. I look forward to seeing him again. For the others, though, I can’t exactly say the same thing. Not that Phichit and Otabek weren’t nice, of course, it’s just- “

“You weren’t compatible,” Yuuri interrupted him, with a knowing look in his eye. “There was no spark between you.”

“Huh. That’s right. How did you know that?”

Yuuri smiled at him again, and it was a moment so sweet and tender, that Viktor wanted to relive it over and over again. “I guess I’m just magic.”

Viktor laughed, softly. “I guess you are. Anyway, are we getting on that ice or what?”

“Or what?” Yuuri responded, taunting him. Viktor folded his arms, obstinately, refusing to budge. Yuuri took his hand and lead him over to the lake. “Come on. Let me show you how it’s really done.”

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"I told you already, I can balance by myself!" 

Yuuri giggled, the sound filling Viktor's heart with warmth. "Sure you can, Viktor. Sure you can." 

Viktor rolled his eyes in fond exasperation of the man in front of him. "I can actually, I'll have you know." 

Yuuri pouted at him, then, and he was reminded once again of how adorable this guy was. "But now I don't have any excuse to wrap an arm around your waist." 

Viktor's heart skipped not one, but several beats upon hearing this. Determined not to let this show, he just raised an eyebrow at him, acting as unimpressed as possible. "Oh well. Maybe it'll teach you to be a gentleman, in the future." 

“Maybe,” Yuuri conceded. “Maybe not. We’ll see.”

Viktor laughed. “I’ve been doing this for years, you know.”

“Oh, yeah? So have I. Ever since I was a young boy, actually.”

“Really? Is that so?”

Yuuri spun around and around, before entering a complicated-looking jump and landing it perfectly. Viktor applauded him.

“Yes, I’ve been performing for people since I was young, too.”

Viktor frowned. “If you’re a prince, then why the hell would you need to perform?”

Yuuri scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, his skin flushed pink. “My family have always been about working hard,” he explained. “So, they wanted us to do something to prove that we’re worth the lavish lifestyle we’ve been afforded. For Mari, my older sister, her thing is playing the violin. Mine happens to be ice skating. I’ve performed all over the world, under different names and all sorts, to ensure that people wouldn’t suspect it’s me, the prince of Japan.”

Viktor’s eyes widened as he remembered something significant from his childhood. “Yuuri,” he asked, a little breathless, “you said you’ve been around the world?”

Yuuri nodded. “Hmm. Yeah, that’s right.”

“Have you ever been to Russia, by any chance?”

He nodded. “Several times, actually. On one occasion, I was around eight. On the other, I was seventeen- “

“I think I saw you,” Viktor blurted out, interrupting him. “When you were eight. I was twelve. My younger brother, Yuri, was a few months old.”

Yuuri frowned as he attempted to recall the details that Viktor was describing. “I remember the King and Queen being there,” he muttered. “They were holding a baby in their arms-well, the Queen was, anyway. Not the King. He had his hand on a boy’s shoulder. The boy must have been around eleven or twelve- “

“That was me,” Viktor replied, unable to believe it. It seemed impossible to process. “You saw me. Yuuri, the whole reason I started to ice skate-I mean, after my parent’s death, it became a form of escapism for me, and ultimately my salvation. Ice skating saved my life. And you-you’re the reason why I started to ice skate. You are the reason I’m here today.”

Yuuri pulled a face, not quite following his lead. “I don’t understand. What do you mean, Viktor? I saved your life?”

Viktor nodded. “Yes. I saw how gracefully you danced on the ice, how you were one with it. It was pure magic. You were pure magic. I loved that performance. It’s what inspired me to start skating-I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you. Thank you. I owe you the world.”

Yuuri shook his head vehemently. “No, Viktor. You don’t owe me a single thing, you understand me? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered-and mostly so, so glad that you’re still here today-but how can you put this all down to my performance? You saved yourself, Viktor.”

He had a point, but still. That performance had changed his life. “Maybe, but you still helped me, without even meaning to. So, thank you for that,” he said, smiling at the prince tentatively. Yuuri smiled back at him.

“You’re welcome, Viktor. Even though I don’t feel like I can take credit for all that, I’m honoured. Shall we get back to ice skating?”

Viktor nodded, and they carried on.

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When he was on the ice, he felt as though he was floating, flying, magical, ethereal, perfect. The world was a beautiful place, and Prince Viktor Nikiforov was sure as hell glad to be in it. His movements were fluid and light, this came easily to him, as easily as breathing. This was perfect. He was perfect. Yuuri was perfect too, swan-like and graceful and in control of himself. That beautiful self-control was truly something to be admired. Here was a man who could entrance people, perform a little magic on him. Like a fairy, almost, although that was a ridiculous thought, of course. Still, he was like a magnet, drawing people in and pulling them into his world of beauty and splendour and wonder. Yuuri and the ice moved as one, and Viktor moved in perfect synchronicity with each other, like this was fate, like this was their destiny, like it was meant-to-be. As if his life was a fairy tale, and this was his happily-ever-after.

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After a while, things had to stop. The dates were only supposed to last for an hour, at the end of the day. He was disappointed to have to see Yuuri leave, but it was what had to be done.

“I really enjoyed our date today, Yuuri,” he exclaimed, while they walked away from the lake and through the grounds of the palace. “It was as close to perfect as I think any first date could possibly get.”

Yuuri’s eyes lit up at those words. “You mean that?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not just saying that, either?”

“No.”

Yuuri let out a relieved sigh at his reassurances. “Thank goodness for that. I felt really connected to you, Viktor. Like we moved as one, in our own world.”

Viktor couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face if he tried. “That describes how I felt perfectly, Yuuri. You really are special, you know that?”

Yuuri blushed and stared at the ground, unable to formulate a response to what had just been said to him. “Thanks, Viktor. That means a lot to me. Whoever you choose will be extremely lucky, for the record.”

Wow. He was just such a kind and considerate person, and one he could envision himself being with for a long time. He was husband material, no doubt about that. This man was one in a million. Who cared if he fell in love, or if that made him weak? If being around Yuuri made him weak, then he didn’t want to be strong, put it that way.

“Thank you. I have a lot to think about.”

Yuuri looked up at him, meeting his gaze. He looked nervous again. “I’m sure you do.”

“I’ll see you around, Yuuri,” he whispered, his façade now completely broken, moving forward at the last minute to envelop him in a hug. His mind on the matter was made up, now. No doubt about it.

“I’ll see you around, Viktor,” a shocked Yuuri responded, hugging him back. They hugged for longer than two people who were just friends would do, and Viktor watched him retreat, walking away to the quarters where the guest bedrooms would be located. Viktor watched while the man he had just fallen in love with walked away from him, his smile a mile wide. It was official. Regardless of what his aunt and uncle had to say in the matter, this was his own decision to make as a grown adult. He was going to do this.

He was going to marry Katsuki Yuuri, and nobody could stop him.

Chapter Text

"What the fuck do you mean, 'no'?" 

Lilia sighed and massaged her forehead, visibly stressed out by the situation. When she snapped her eyes open to meet her nephew's gaze, the look in her eyes was adamant and unrelenting. "I said what I said, Vitya." 

"But, Tetya-" 

She rolled her eyes and raised a dismissive hand in the air. "Stop it with the childish whining, this instant." 

"But-"

"I mean it. And the pout, too. It's not going to work on me, you know." 

Viktor stomped his foot on the ground and glared at her with clear disgust written all over his face. "THIS IS SO, SO UNFAIR! I DON'T GET WHY YOU'RE DOING THIS TO ME! I HATE YOU! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? I DON'T CARE IF YOU'RE THE BLOODY QUEEN OF RUSSIA, I AM VIKTOR NIKIFOROV AND I WILL DO WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT WITH MY LIFE!" 

In response to this, his aunt faked a yawn and feigned a bored expression. "Are you quite done, Viktor?" 

He let out an undignified snort at this. "Like hell I am! I don't understand-you said I could choose my husband myself!" 

She cleared her throat. "I did. However, our relations with Japan are strong. Politically speaking-" 

"Who said anything about politics?" His eyes were watery. "This is about my future and my happiness, aunt Lilia! Why can't you just hear me out already?" 

Rolling her eyes, Lilia stood up and moved away from her throne and towards him. "I have been, my dear Vitya. For the last ten minutes." 

Furious, he pushed her away. Just who did she think she was, treating him like that? She wasn't his mother! "Don't you DARE 'dear Vitya' me right now! Not when I'm so upset at you. Can't you at least try to have some compassion and see it from my point of view?" 

She raised an eyebrow at him, unimpressed. "I am. And I think it would be a shame to let such an opportunity, one to help unify Canada and Russia, go to waste. Thailand and South Korea-they're fine. Sweden is, too. Things could obviously be better with Kazakhstan, but in light of recent events-" 

Yuri, who had been slumped on his throne while scrolling aimlessly through his phone, sat up straight and stared straight at her. "What recent events?!" he demanded, suspecting immediately that it had something to do with Otabek himself. Regardless of this, Lilia ignored him and continued speaking to Viktor, as though his younger brother wasn't there at all. 

"In light of recent events, I do not think that a marriage between the two of you would be optimal, or the best idea, shall we say. So, that being said, I think the best thing to do, for the sake of your country, would to be marry Jean-Jacques Leroy." 

That was it. He'd had enough. Enough. More than enough, come to think of it. Of her stern lectures, of screaming and shouting matches that inevitably ended in doors being slammed and objects being broken and people crying. It was infuriating, and it was really beginning to get to him, now. "No! I refuse to marry him. He was horrible to me about Mama and Papa, you know!" 

This seemed to stop her in her tracks. "What?" 

"He was essentially rubbing it in my face that they were dead, he made out that I was lazy-" 

"He wouldn't be wrong there-"

"Shut up, Yurio! Nobody asked you." 

"That's not even my name." Again, he was ignored in the heat of the moment. 

"He said that?" 

"Yes, and more. He taunted me, calling me 'Rapunzel' because of my hair, and called me a coward for not assuming the throne at the age of thirteen." This seemed to take the woman by surprise, because she sat back down again, a pensive look crossing her face. 

"I see." She paused, weighing up her next words. "But you must push your personal issues and opinions away for the sake of political matters, Viktor. Come on. You're nearly thirty, now. You need to stop being so immature and get over yourself already.  Your cousin Georgi is your age, and he would not act in such an unbecoming manner." 

Viktor rolled his eyes in response. "I'm not Georgi, though, and I resent it when you compare us to each other. You know that already, aunt Lilia. You're his mother, at the end of the day. You're not mine." The last words seemed to be the wrong thing to say. He was supposed to be softening Lilia up. Not making her bitter and angry and hurt. But he'd been pushed too far, at this point, and that was one of the only valid arguments he could technically make in such a situation. Not that it made it hurt any less. Lilia may have been the strong, stoic queen of Russia, but she was a human being with feelings and emotions, as well. Perhaps, Viktor would have done well to remember that-yet it was too late to take back what he'd already said to her by that point in time. 

"That I may not be, but your mother isn't here, is she? You know full well what happened to her." 

Viktor ran his hand through his platinum hair, stressed. "Yes, I know what happened to her full well! She's dead, and so is my father, all because of me! It's my fault they're gone in the first place, so how dare you use that against me!" 

Yuri frowned. "What do you mean, it's your fault?" 

Lilia seemed genuinely shocked by this revelation. "Viktor! Why would you blame yourself personally for such a terrible thing?"

What? Why weren't they agreeing with him? It was all his fault, but nobody was seeing it! It was so frustrating. "Of course I blame myself, it's all my fault and every day I am haunted by the knowledge that if I'd made a different decision that night, then perhaps they would still be here today!" 

Lilia gasped. "How could you possibly say that, Viktor? Without your bravery, your brother wouldn't be alive today. Do you regret saving him?" 

He turned to look at his brother, who was staring at him with wide, emerald eyes, filled with tears. In an instant, he was taken back to the devastating night of the fire. 

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"Mama? Papa? Fire! Fire! Fire!" Viktor shouted, his voice hoarse.

Smoke filled his lungs, slowly suffocating him. The sound of crackling flames had woken him up; they didn't have a smoke alarm installed, because his mother didn't think they'd needed it. He had to get out of there, and quick. It wouldn't take long for the tent to burn to the ground. It was a wooden tent, one of the portable ones you had to set up, a 'luxury' one. Guards were supposed to be, well, guarding it, but they'd gone out and drunk and passed out somewhere nearby in the forest. The forest was only a few miles away from the palace. Home wasn't far away; his Babushka and Dedushka, and Aunt Lilia and Uncle Yakov were all there with his four-year-old cousin Mila, and his cousin Georgi, who was his age. They would be safe and fine. Him and his parents and younger brother might not be. 

He stumbled out of his bedroom, clicking the red emergency button that was on his bracelet, the one each royal was obliged to wear constantly, just in case something like this had happened. His one-year-old brother was next door to him, in the room adjacent to his; Aleksander and Nikita were further away from them. He could vaguely hear him wailing, and knew what to do in an instant. He rushed into the room, grabbed his brother and ran out of the tent, running further and further away from the site of disaster. Why anybody thought that leaving a one-year-old alone in a room was beyond him, but that was irrelevant now. He needed to put his brother down somewhere where he'd be safe. He'd begun screeching like a banshee, as was his custom and as would be his custom for the next fifteen years of his life and onwards. Panicking, he set him down, concerned that his lungs would be filling up with smoke. Carbon monoxide, Yakov had once called the stuff that poisoned people when they were in fires. He'd called it carbon monoxide poisoning during one of their annual fire drills. It could be deadly. Maybe it still would be. 

All the same, he couldn't concern himself with that. He needed to focus on finding his parents. He tore across the grass, running as fast his thirteen-year-old legs would take him. His own lungs burned, and it was obvious that him and his brother would require immediate medical attention, as soon as was physically possible, but that didn't matter to him in that particular moment as much as waking up his parents did. They needed to leave, otherwise they'd, they would d- 

It didn't bear thinking about. Tears rolled down his face at the thought of his strong, brave parents dying. He needed to get to them, and fast. After one terrifying, endless minute, he made it back to the tent, which was engulfed in flames at that point. Viktor barrelled in without a second thought, not caring if his skin would burn. It didn't luckily, because he had the good sense to conceal most of his body in an attempt to save his skin, but he would later be treated for minor burns and major trauma. Mental trauma, that was. He didn't deserve to be treated, he insisted, but his Dedushka argued otherwise and his Babushka agreed with him. 

He tore his way through the tent with little regard to his own health and safety, but he started to feel woozy, as though he was going to pass out. "Mat! Otetz! FIRE! GET OUT! PLEASE!" He screamed, his lungs burning up. It occurred to him that he should find his baby brother, make sure that he was alright. Yet, how could he? His parents could die. That was a terrifying concept to him. Panic-stricken, he shot out of the tent to go and find Yuri. When he eventually found him, bundled up in his blankets the way that Viktor had left him, the grass surrounding him,  the royal paramedics (who had been parked in trailers less than a mile away) were leant over him; clearly, his emergency button had alerted them. 

"Will he be alright?" he asked urgently, coughing. One of the two paramedics nodded, the one with red hair, as he recalled. 

"You're lucky you left when you did," the other paramedic said, his voice gruff. "This little one here wouldn't have been able to make it otherwise." Well, that was a relief, at least. 

"What about my parents?" He wondered out loud, tugging at the sleeve of one of the paramedics, he wasn't sure which one. His eyes were filling up with tears and he felt dizzy and sick, nothing like the strong man his father had always taught him to be. In that moment, he felt weak. Pathetic. Helpless. Terrified. Nobody answered him. Two other paramedics came running up to survey the scene, and firefighters had turned up on the scene, too. When asked, he pointed in the general direction of where he'd come from, sobbing the whole time. The paramedics assessed him and decided he needed to be taken to hospital for observation, and to check the carbon monoxide hadn't poisoned him. 

"Come on, son," one of them told him, placing an arm around him reassuringly as he led him to the ambulance. "You'll be fine, I promise. Just come with us. Your grandparents and aunt and uncle will be informed of this immediately." 

Viktor shook his head, not caring about them. "That's not who I want to hear about! I care about my parents, so much! I love them, please tell me they're not going to die!" He was practically in hysterics by then. 

Nobody could truthfully tell him that they weren't going to die. 

"Come on," the other paramedic insisted now, a young woman with bright lipstick on. "We need to take you to the hospital. You've probably got some burns, and you've inhaled a lot of smoke. We need you to hang on, okay? Hang on in there, your royal highness. Hang on. We'll be there before you know it." But of course, that's not what Viktor cared about. Not at all. 

"My parents," he croaked. "I need to see my parents, I need to know that they're okay!" They didn't listen to him, however, and just took him and Yuri away in separate ambulances to the private, luxury wards of the local hospital. He'd been in there before-it was more like a hotel than a hospital, truth be told. They couldn't guarantee that, though, and it broke his heart. 

His heart had been broken ever since that night, and nothing could possibly fix it.

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It had been discovered, later on, that the cause of the fire had been one of Aleksander's cigarettes going out properly, meaning that the fire had originated in his parent's room. Long story short, the case had been hopeless all along, when it came to the matter of saving them from the fire, and Yuri and Viktor had been very fortunate to escape with their lives and near enough (physically) unscathed. Many people would say it was Aleksander's fault, for smoking, or Nikita's fault, for not having a fire alarm installed. Others would blame Nikolai, who was the one who had allowed the trip to go ahead in the first place, or even Anastasia, who had recommended it in the first place. Some would even go as far as suggesting that it was Yakov's fault, for buying them the not-so-fireproof wooden tent the previous year, or even Lilia, who had booked the trip to ensure that they wouldn't spend their own money on it. 

Not one person blamed Viktor for his parent's demise-except for himself. The guilt ate him alive, every second of every day. It was manageable most of the time, yes, but also inescapable.

"Hello? Earth to Viktor!" Yuri exclaimed, waving a hand in front of his face and projecting him back to the present. 

"Oh, sorry," he murmured, snapped out of his reverie all of a sudden. "No, of course I don't regret saving him," he responded, squeezing his brother's hand. Much to his surprise, he squeezed it back, before letting it go. 

"Then what do you regret?" Lilia questioned, confusion knitting her eerily perfect eyebrows together. 

"I regret not getting my parents out of there quick enough. I should have grabbed Yuri, taken him slightly nearer to the location, but so that he'd still have been safe, and then gone back for my parents. Or gone into their room, woke them up, and then grabbed him." 

"What, and risk him potentially dying from carbon monoxide poisoning?" 

Viktor glanced down at his feet. "Well, no, not exactly. But I let my parents down that night, and I don't want to ever let them down again. I know that, if they were watching over me right now, they'd want me to do what makes me happy. Wouldn't they?" 

Lilia sighed; it had to be admitted that the prince had a point. Not to mention the fact that he'd already been through so much, suffered more in the first thirteen years of his life than most had in forty. The past fifteen years hadn't exactly been a walk in the park for him, either. He must be lonely a lot, being a twenty-eight-year-old trapped in a palace with his family and no love or social life to speak of. It was sad, really. Perhaps he'd end up befriending several of his potential suitors, and political alliances could be forged that way, instead. Keeping this in mind, she inhaled deeply and stared straight into her ward's eyes. 

"Fine," she relented. "I'll allow it. If I'm on board, your uncle will be, too. I promise." 

Viktor glanced up at her, surprised at her sudden change of heart and wondering what had caused it. "You do?" 

She nodded. "I do." 

He grinned at her. "Thanks, auntie. You know how much this means to me!" 

"Hmm. I do. Just, swear to me now that there will be no more displays of juvenile tantrums or anything of the sort?" 

"Of course not," Viktor responded, laughing. "When have I ever done anything like that?" They all burst out laughing, then, knowing full well how much of a drama queen the prince was.  The twenty-eight-year-old was over the moon; he couldn't wait to tell Yuuri the good news. Finally, something in his life was going right for him. Did he deserve this much happiness? He didn't know, but he'd happily welcome it, irrespective of that. His parents would have wanted that for him, after all, despite everything. He just knew it. Wow. He was going to be married to Yuuri! It felt like surreal, as though this wasn't reality. Obviously, it was. But still! Not only had he been fortunate enough to find someone so perfect for him, he was literally going to be spending the rest of his life with him. He could think of nothing better. 

Smiling to himself, he slipped out of the room, but not before he caught a snippet of Yuri's conversation with Lilia. His brother was no different when it came to the matter of dramatics, and made his own demands as soon as Viktor's had been met.

"By the way, Tetya, what are the recent events that you spoke of earlier, regarding Kazakhstan?" 

Lilia, who had phone calls to make about Viktor's choice of husband, just ignored him. 

Chapter Text

"Yuri, no." 

"Yuri, yes, more like. I can do whatever the hell I want, Viktor. It's as though you've forgotten that I'm not a baby anymore." 

Viktor sighed deeply, running a hand through his hair. It was his responsibility and duty to look out for his brother, and make sure that he didn't get hurt. But, he sure as hell didn't make his job any easier for him, to put it lightly. Over the past few days, he'd been a complete and utter nuisance. When each member of the family had spoken to his fiancé Yuuri-he was still in disbelief about that-and he was getting the blessing of the King and Queen to marry their beloved nephew, Viktor's younger brother had been nothing but rude and disrespectful towards the man. It was frustrating, and he didn't know why he was doing it.

"I haven't forgotten that in the slightest, Yurio. You know how much I love you-" 

"Bullshit." 

Viktor blinked several times, like a deer caught in headlights. "Excuse me?!" he exclaimed, not bothering to chastise him for his language for once. 

Yuri rolled his eyes. "It's just a tactic used to make me believe in whatever you say, by appealing to my emotions. It's supposed to give you more credibility, in my eyes. It's not going to work, for the record. I know you love me, but you don't need to say it. It's an excuse that you're using to get away with talking to me like I'm still a child, that's all. Nothing more than that." 

Where was he getting this stuff from? It confused Viktor to no end. "No, it's not about that, Yuri. You don't understand. I care about you, and that's why I want to try my best to protect you from what's out there." 

Yuri laughed at that. "What's out there? I think you're forgetting something, old man. I haven't left this palace for fifteen years, and neither have you. For me, that's my whole lifetime. What could be so bad, that I'd need shielding or protecting from it, huh? What's worse than being practically incarcerated for fifteen years?" 

Viktor scowled at him. "A lot, actually. Like car crashes. Like fires-" 

"Fires can start anywhere," Yuri pointed out, flicking at a broken nail on his finger in a bored manner. "What's your point?" 

Viktor sighed again, fed up of having these quarrels with his younger brother all the time. "My point is, that it's my job to look after and protect you." 

Yuri rolled his eyes at him, the blatant sign of disrespect only serving to infuriate Viktor further. "No, it isn't. You're not my Dad, Viktor. He's gone, and I never even got to know him. That isn't my fault."  Viktor gasped at the loaded insult, stumbling back towards the window in Yuri's room, behind where they'd been stood. 

"How dare you-I only want what's best for you, Yuri!" 

Yuri shook his head. "No, Viktor. I think you have a saviour complex." 

"No, Yuri," he responded in a childish, taunting manner, his patience wearing thin at this point. "I think you have an asshole complex." 

Yuri raised an eyebrow at him. "Wow. Creative. Where did you get that from, huh? What does that entail, exactly?"  His nonchalance made the whole thing worse, somehow. Like, Yuri could get a rise out of Viktor, but not vice versa, which was frustrating as hell.

"It's where you defy everything anyone asks you to do, act generally moody, bitter, sour and angry all the time, stomp around blaming everyone else for your personal issues, start arguments constantly and try your best to get on everyone's nerves. You're the poster boy for it." 

Enraged, Yuri leapt forward with a growl and began to kick his older brother repeatedly, hissing, shouting, scratching, all of it. His anger issues really needed to be worked on, Viktor calmly observed as he stood there and let the boy attack him. "I hate you!" Yuri screeched, his eyes wild. "I HATE YOU!" 

"Oh, I know you do," Viktor deadpanned, shrugging it off. He was aware that Yuri didn't mean it, not really, so it didn't bother him all that much. 

"You think you're so smart and brave and heroic and amazing for saving me from that fire, but you're not!" Yuri taunted. "You're not, and, in fact, you're a coward! The rest of us can be around fire, but you haven't even gotten over your fear of it yet! How pathetic." Okay, that was it. He'd hit Viktor's Achilles' Heel, now. 

"You little shit!" He yelled, fed up of being patient and kind towards the teenager. He pushed his younger brother off him with a surprising amount of force. "Why would you say something so horrible to me?! You know how much that night messed me up. I know you were only one when it happened, but you've heard what I was like before it happened. Much happier. Much healthier. Now look at me, huh? Too scared to assume the throne, too scared to be around fire, too scared to confront my own past and face my own future! I messed up, big time, and I can't stop re-living those mistakes. You have no idea what that feels like. So, I'm sorry about you being cooped up in this palace your whole life, maybe that is my fault. But at least you're still here!"

He was full-on sobbing at that point. Yuri's eyes were wide, this time not with anger, but a mixture of fear and surprise. Out of everyone, Viktor was usually the one who had his shit together, despite his occasional tantrums. He thought that his older brother was strong, that he could handle this. It seemed as though he had been wrong. This wasn't like the older prince, in the slightest. The last time this happened, it was in front of J.J., and only because he'd aggravated him. To see him in such a state was, frankly, a little disturbing. 

"Um...Viktor?" he asked, after listening to him cry for a minute or so. "Are you alright?" 

"What do you think?!" he shot back, instantly. Yuri felt a wave of guilt consume him; he didn't mean to make Viktor cry. Not consciously, anyway. Or maybe he did. He wasn't sure. It had to be admitted that he wasn't always the nicest person to be around. Otabek didn't know what he was letting himself in for. It crossed his mind that he probably shouldn't see him that evening, not if it ended this disastrously. It was the topic that had started their conversation in the first place, and now it had devolved into, well, a mess. 

"Sorry, Viktor," he told his brother. "I didn't mean to-" 

"Yes you did," Viktor interrupted, rubbing his eyes. "At the time. Not now, perhaps, but still. You can't take back what you said, or the hurt that it caused me." 

Yuri sighed. "I didn't say that I could." 

Viktor just rolled his eyes and sniffled to himself. "Whatever." 

"I truly am sorry, you know." 

"Okay." 

Clearly, his apology wasn't going to be accepted any time soon, but he had to try, right? He placed a hand on his brother's shoulder, albeit tentatively. "Viktor-" 

"Just go." The hurt and pain in his voice was raw and real, and Yuri wondered fleetingly if his older brother suffered more than he let in. Either way, his tone of voice left no room for discussion. This wasn't how he'd wanted this conversation to go-he'd simply wished to discuss his crush on Otabek with his brother, and he'd messed it up. He always did mess things up, it appeared. Oh well. With a heavy heart, he left the room, but not before he said one last thing. 

"Ohana means family. Family means-" 

"Nobody gets left behind," Viktor finished off with a small smile. They'd loved watching Lilo and Stitch growing up; Viktor always saw a lot of himself in Nani, and a lot of Yuri in Lilo. He supposed Potya, Yuri's cat, could be Stitch. He supposed that Yuuri was his David Kawena, now. It was weird to think of Yuuri as part of the family, but thrilling nonetheless. Anyway, that had been their code, a way of telling other that they still cared about each other after an argument, when they were too angry to articulate their true feelings, still. 

Letting out a deep, heartfelt sigh, Yuri left the room, and Viktor couldn't help but wonder if things could have gone down differently. He could have been teasing Yuri about his crush on Otabek right this minute, but never mind that. He'd just have to move on with his life. 

Moving on wasn't something Viktor Nikiforov was particularly good at, but he'd have to try, at least. He had no other choice. 

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"Georgi, where's my purple eyeshadow?" 

Georgi shrugged. "I don't know," he told his younger sister. That was a deliberate lie; he had taken it from her the day prior. But he wasn't about to admit that to her any time soon. 

Mila rolled her eyes. "Yes, you do. Come on. I know how much you liked that eyeshadow. Can you give it back?" 

Georgi smirked, enjoying himself now. "What's the magic word?" 

"Abra-fucking-cadabra? Geez, I don't know. I just want you to give me my make-up back," Mila huffed, her usual bubbliness giving way to irritation. Her brother was going to be the death of her one day. 

Georgi tilted his head in the most obnoxious manner possible and grinned at her. "Nope. The magic word was 'please', so you're not getting it back," he said. "Besides, I'm using it." 

Mila folded her arms across her chest. "But it's mine," she whined. 

"Sharing is caring. Besides, in Soviet Russia, you don't keep calm. Calm keeps you. It's not your make-up, it's our make-up," Georgi pointed out, wearing a self-satisfied smirk on his face and leaning back in his swivel chair. Mila kicked the chair, almost tipping him over, and blinked several times. 

"This isn't Soviet Russia, Georgi." 

"But it could be again, one day, if the state returns to its former glory." She nudged him, then. 

"Ow!" He rubbed his arm, and scowled at her. "What was that for?" 

Mila rolled her eyes at him. "For being stupid, that's what." 

"Then you deserve a thousand nudges." Mila gritted her teeth; she'd evidently had enough of Georgi's antics, already. 

"Georgi, grow up. Seriously. Stop being an asshole. Does mother know how childishly you act? No, as a matter of fact, she doesn't, because this is a side of you she never sees. She's always comparing you and Viktor, using you as a good example. I can't imagine, for the life of me, why." 

"Right, you know what?" 

She placed her hands on her hips, her gaze intense. "What?" 

"You don't get to come in my room and insult me-" 

"But you stole something from me, you criminal!" 

Georgi could only gape at her dramatics. "Criminal?" 

"Yes, that's right, you heard me properly. I said, criminal."  At that moment, Yuri stormed in, muttering under his breath and swearing in Russian.

"Yuri!" Georgi greeted him brightly, relieved that his sister's attention was turned away from him. "What can I possibly do for you?" 

"I need a distraction," the sixteen-year-old muttered. "And I could hear your little argument from down the hall. I had one with Viktor myself, although it was more serious than yours, no doubt." 

Mila raised a perfect eyebrow at her younger cousin. "I don't know about that one, Yurio. Stealing property from other people is pretty serious." 

"For the last time, my name isn't Yurio!" Yuri barked.

Georgi and Mila ignored him, however, too caught up in their trivial bickering once again. 

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"Your highness, are you okay? I heard shouting and crying." 

Viktor turned around and noticed a concerned-looking Yuuko stood at his door. She'd been on her lunch break when he'd had his argument with Yuri; his younger brother didn't want to discuss matters in front of her. It was understandable, he supposed, but things wouldn't have escalated the way that they did if she'd been there, he just knew it. 

He shook his head. "No, Yuuko. I'm not okay, but I will be, I promise." He wiped his sleeve across his eyes furiously. "For the last time, please refer to me as 'Viktor.'" 

Her eyes widened and shone with sympathy. "As you wish," she responded, bowing her head. "Is there anything I can do to help you, Viktor? What happened?" 

Where did he start? “We had an argument, myself and Yuri. It started off with discussing him sneaking out to the guest rooms tonight to see Otabek, and his freedom, and ended in him insulting me and insisting that he didn’t want me to save and protect him or something. He also teased me about my aversion to fire,” he explained, his words stumbling over each other in a frantic rush to come out. His distress was both obvious, and painful to see to Yuuko, as someone who cared about him deeply.

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that, Viktor. Is there anything I can do for you?" He just shrugged. Chewing her lip thoughtfully, she considered what she could do for the young prince, and settled for giving him a hug, taking the Russian completely by surprise. After a few seconds, he hugged her back. He clearly needed comfort and security, which was exactly what he'd lacked since his parent's death, fifteen years ago. 

"Thank you, Yuuko," he whispered, meaning it. "I appreciate it." 

She brushed it off with a casual wave of her hand. "Don't worry about it, your highness," she told him, smiling. "Anything for you." 

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"Why did you let him do something so foolish, so reckless, so impulsive?" 

Lilia rolled her eyes; she knew that Yakov would not be happy about this, but she didn't care for once. "Don't be ridiculous, Yakov," she dismissed. "The boy is happy, that's what matters." 

Yakov glared at her. "That's the issue, though, Lilia. He isn't a boy anymore. Viktor is a man now. He has been for a full decade. When are you going to open your eyes up to the reality and see that? He has to make this decision for the good of our nation, not pick someone he deludedly believes himself to have fallen in love with! He's being entirely selfish and irrational, and you're letting him." 

Lilia shook her head to herself. Didn't her husband understand? Their nephew had suffered enough already. Why not let him be happy, for once? It had been torturous enough for him, spending the last fifteen years cooped up in this palace. Even though it had been for his and Yuri's own good, she couldn't help but doubt her, Nikolai, Anastasia and Yakov's collective decision to keep them in. Perhaps it had done them more harm than good, but it was too late for regrets now. 

"That's not true at all. He's suffered through trauma before. He's still recovering, so no wonder he acts in the way he does sometimes. If he wants to marry Yuuri, then why can't we let him?" 

Yakov sighed, somewhat softened. "Look. I want what's best for Viktor just as much as you do, believe me. But is this the wisest decision, when we could opt to strengthen our ties with Canada, or Kazakhstan?" 

Lilia cleared her throat, her expression conveying vague embarrassment. "Ah, right. About that," she said, "I'm afraid that there's a bit of an issue here." 

Yakov narrowed his eyes, not following what she was saying. "What do you mean by that?" 

"Unfortunately, it seems as though Otabek Altin has acted in an unbefitting manner-he rides a motorbike, for one. That's bad enough as it is. Secondly, he goes out in secret and DJs at illegal night clubs. It's believed he has also shoplifted on multiple occasions, before, and has defaced public statues of, uh, controversial leaders." Upon hearing this, Yakov turned an ugly shade of beetroot. He shook his fist angrily. 

"What a scoundrel!" 

Lilia nodded, tight-lipped. "Indeed." 

"To think, we've let him into our home, as well. What a disgrace! What should we do with him?" 

Lilia contemplated this for a few seconds. "Kicking him out reflects badly on us and our hospitality, despite what people might say about us having him here. He is our guest, at the end of the day, and we must treat him as such. However, we should probably release a statement to the press regarding the situation." 

Yakov nodded at his wife. "You're right, I suppose. I'll get onto that. Anyway, what's wrong with Prince Jean-Jacques Leroy?" 

Lilia just stared at him for a few seconds. "Have you seen him? He's arrogant and egotistical through and through, and he was disrespectful towards Vitya about Aleksander and Nikita." 

Yakov seemed somewhat surprised by this. "He was?" 

"Yes. That's why he came out of that date so worked up, like he told us. It wasn't a random panic attack, after all. Whatever Prince Jean-Jacques had said to him, had triggered it. Also, he told me that it was his fault that Aleksander had died that night." 

Yakov's jaw dropped, and he turned even more pink than usual. "He blames himself. But it wasn't his fault, it couldn't be helped! I bought that goddamn tent, you paid for it, Mother suggested the trip, Father approved it, those guards got drunk, Aleksander shouldn't have been smoking, Nikita should have installed a fire alarm, that old nanny of theirs should have been present...out of all the people you could possibly blame, he is not one of them. And he was strong and brave and heroic for dealing with it at such a young age for one, but also for saving his younger brother." 

She nodded again. "I know. But Viktor doesn't see it the same way that we do, I am afraid. Even after all that therapy, he's still struggling with himself and battling his own difficult feelings and grief. Maybe we should let him breathe, for once." 

Yakov sighed, and that's when the Queen of Russia knew that she had won the argument against her husband. "Fine. That's understandable. He deserves happiness as much as the next person, if not more. Staying in this palace for fifteen years has been hard on all of us, I'm sure you'll agree." He paused, weighing up his next words. "Fine. We can let him marry Yuuri Katsuki. Call Queen Hiroko and King Toshiya and let them know the good news. Our nephew is to be married to the Prince of Japan, and that's all there is to it."

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The next day...

"You did WHAT?!" 

"Shut up," Yuri hissed, scowling at his older brother in disdain. "Are you out of your goddamn mind? Someone could hear us. Keep your voice down." 

Viktor pushed a hand through his hair, his shock obvious. "I just can't believe it. You snuck out of your room to meet up with Otabek?" 

Yuri nodded. "Yep, that's right. That's what happened last night." 

Viktor's eyes practically popped out of his head. "But how? How did you get past the guards and the security cameras?" 

Yuri rolled his eyes. "Have you never watched any action movies before, Vitya? I baked them cookies with mashed up sleeping pills in them. Their fault for trusting me, really. As for the security cameras, I'm good with technology. I managed to short-circuit them." Security cameras could be found in the corridors and outside the rooms, but never inside them unless specifically instructed (for moral reasons, allegedly). "Also, I checked everywhere from hidden microphones, of course. I would have been dumb not to." 

Viktor gaped at his younger brother, in a state of utter disbelief and shock. Why had he gone against their backs had done this? As an act of teenage rebellion against their aunt and uncle, against their cousins, against him? Or out of genuine affection for Otabek Altin? It ward hard to tell, with Yuri. Even if you knew him as well as Viktor did, he was still hard to read most of the time. "You would be dumb to do so in the first place!" The older of the two Russian princes pointed out. 

Yuri scoffed and shook his head. "Not really, no. You always told me to follow my heart, right?" 

That was a good point, to be fair. "Well, yes, but-" 

"Then, what's the problem?" Yuri asked, his head cocked to the side in utter defiance and glee. 

Viktor crossed his arms, and that's when Yuri knew that his older brother meant business. "The problem is, that you went out after curfew, an act of blatant and deliberate disrespect towards the adults in your life." 

"You all think that you're superior to me just because you are all adults, and I am not! It really isn't fair!" Yuri whined, being his usual immature and petulant self. He hadn't expected anything other than that. 

"You know who else is an adult?" Viktor asked Yuri, frowning at him. "Otabek Altin. And you ran off to do, well, God knows what, with him. At just sixteen!" 

Yuri blushed at the implication. "So what? I didn't do that, but would it matter terribly if I did? I am the age of consent, after all." That much was true; the age of consent in Russia was sixteen, but that didn't make it any more right, did it? 

"Yuri." Viktor's voice was stern, now. "What exactly did you do with Otabek last night?" 

Yuri rolled his eyes again. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Viktor. Nothing like that. I confessed to him that I had a crush on him, that I would like to get to know him better, and he told me that he felt the same way about me." Viktor's guard came down a little as he noticed the sparkle in Yuri's viridian eyes, the excitement in his voice. "We climbed up the roof, and he helped me up, holding my hand and we looked up at the stars and kissed. It was fun. Really fun. Not that I'd expect you to understand what that means. I've been trapped like a bird this whole time, and now I'm finally free, whenever I'm with him." His intentions seemed pure enough, Viktor observed, but you never knew with enigmatic people like him.

"You seem happy," he conceded reluctantly. Yuri went to butt in. Viktor placed a slender finger into the air to stop him. "Which I'm glad about, don't get me wrong. I am fully supportive of your relationship with Altin, as I've stated before. Even if he is a bit old for you. I know how important entering a relationship you know you're going to be happy in. I don't want to stop you from doing what you like with your life, Yurio. Just, be careful, okay?" 

Yuri nodded. "Okay," he said. "Thanks." 

"It's no problem," Viktor responded, with a weary smile. "Truce?" he suggested, holding his arms out. 

"Truce," Yuri agreed, hugging him tightly. That boy was young, Viktor was forced to remind himself, and needed warmth and comfort in life.  

"When are you next planning to sneak out and see Otabek?" Viktor asked, genuinely curious. He would never betray Yuri's trust by deliberately telling either Yakov or Lilia.  

"Tonight, hopefully," Yuri responded, his fingers crossed. That was the operative word-hopefully. 

"Boys!" Lilia shouted, pushing the door to Viktor's bedroom open all of a sudden, with a face like thunder. "What is the meaning of this?" 

Shit.

They both had some explaining to do, and fast.

Chapter Text

"You cannot go out and see Otabek Altin in the future," Lilia decided. "It is forbidden." 

Yuri stamped his foot and wailed. "What? Why not? That isn't fair!" 

Lilia fixed him with a sharp glare, her lime-green eyes conveying the exact message that she intended to send. "It is fair, Yuri. You are sixteen. This is not love. Besides, even if it was, I am afraid that he has committed several crimes, back in Kazakhstan-shoplifting from several shops, spraying graffiti on and defacing statues, and public indecency (on one occasion)." 

Yuri scowled at her. "I don't care about that, don't you understand? I want to be with him. He's a good influence on me, I swear. He's like, the chalk to my cheese, the yin to my yang, the ice to my fire." Viktor's hands started trembling, and he got up to leave the room, walking almost directly into his uncle. 

"Viktor, what are you doing?" he asked. "I thought you were in the middle of a family discussion with Lilia and Yuri." 

Viktor nodded. "I am." He paused and corrected himself. "Well, I was. But he mentioned something that took me back to the night-" 

Yakov rolled his eyes. "Get a grip already, Viktor. You need to move on. They might not be living anymore, but you are and that's what is important for you to remember. Yes, what happened was, and still is, terrible. But none of us can help that, and you have to stop fearing fire." Viktor winced at the mention of the word. Yakov sighed and grabbed his wrist, pulling him back into the meeting room and taking a seat next to Lilia. Viktor sat back down where he'd previously been situated on the round table, between Yuri and Yakov. Yakov was between Viktor and Lilia, and Lilia was between Yakov and Yuri. Yuri was sat between Viktor and Lilia. A bored expression had wandered across his face in the time it had taken him to talk to Yakov, and he happened to be scrolling through his phone aimlessly at that particular moment.

"Yuri, sit up!" Yakov barked, red-faced. Yuri reluctantly complied-who would dare disobey the King of Russia, after all? Well, he would and had before, but today, he paid attention to what he was saying to him for once. Odd, Viktor observed, but he didn't push or question it. It would have been entirely pointless to do so. "Also, get off that goddamn phone already, or you're getting it taken away from you, understand?" Yuri threw his phone down onto the table dramatically and crossed his arms, seeming unwilling to talk to anyone. 

"Yuri, we're trying to do what's best for you," Lilia told the boy. He snorted, out of contempt. 

"Ha! Yeah, right. Keeping me trapped in this hellish prison and unable to see someone is helping me, is it?" Lilia tutted.

"Yuri, please. Spare me the dramatics."  

Viktor placed a gloved finger to his lip thoughtfully. "No, no. He's got a point." 

Yakov shot him daggers. "Of course you'd defend him, wouldn't you?" 

An unpleasant shiver ran through Viktor's spine. "What is that supposed to mean, exactly?"  

Lilia held a hand in the air in an attempt to placate them both. "Now, now. That is enough." She turned to Yuri. "Yuri, Otabek is a bad influence on you and I won't have him corrupting you and your mind."

Yuri's expression morphed from one of irritation to one of full-on fury. "Stop treating me like some dumb kid already! I'm sixteen, and I am capable of making my own decisions by now, don't you think? I'm not the baby that Viktor saved that night. I'm me, and that's fine! You'll let him-" His voice was dripping with venom, and he pointed at his older brother menacingly-"be with the man he loves. So, why won't you let me be with mine?" 

Lilia refused to meet him in the eye. "That's different." 

"How?" 

Yakov decided to take over the conversation. "Because. You're too young for him, for one. You're both too young, and we're scared of him taking advantage of you, especially given recent news about his reputation back at home." Yuri's hands curled into a fist. 

"Beka would never do that to me! I kissed him, did you know that? He kissed me back, and I liked it. In fact, I loved it, and so did he. Before you ask, we didn't go further than that. We don't intend to. He was gentle, and soft with me, and so, so kind. Otabek softens around me. He'd never hurt me. Never.  When will you both get that through your thick skulls already?" 

Out of the corner of his eye, Viktor, who was now hiding his face behind his hands, fearing what was going to happen next, spotted Mila and Georgi slip into the room. Lilia gave the pair of them a nod of acknowledgement but said nothing. Sometimes, words weren't necessary for effective communication, she claimed. He supposed that it was true, to an extent. Anyway, that wasn't important now. What was important, was the way that Yakov's veins bulged out of his forehead, and how he'd turned fuchsia. That was never good news. He shook his fist at Yuri, causing the boy to flinch a little.  His fury at the boy was practically radiating off him. 

"HOW DARE YOU DISRESPECT YOUR AUNT LILIA AND I LIKE THAT! WE RAISED YOU, SO YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SPEAK TO US LIKE THAT AT ALL!" Yuri's sea-green eyes filled with tears. 

"YEAH, AND LOOK WHAT AN EXCELLENT JOB YOU DID THERE!" He yelled, his voice oozing with sarcasm. "BESIDES, YOU'RE NOT MY PARENTS!" 

A resounding silence filled the room. That was a low blow. "DAMN RIGHT WE'RE NOT! I KNOW YOU'RE HURT, YURI, BUT AT LEAST YOU NEVER KNEW THEM ENOUGH TO MOURN YOUR LOSS! I LOST A BROTHER THAT NIGHT! HOW DO YOU THINK THAT FELT?" 

Viktor's hands began shaking again. Mila looked unusually pale, and Georgi was pacing. Lilia's head was bowed and her hands clasped together, as though she was praying. "I WISH I'D LOST MY BROTHER BECAUSE HE'S THE REASON I'M FUCKING STUCK HERE!" Yuri shouted, not one to be outdone. "I'VE BEEN TRAPPED IN THIS PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE BECAUSE OF HIM!" 

Lilia moved over to him and grabbed his arm, roughly. "That is enough. Yuri, that was hurtful and so, so wrong. Vitya has done nothing wrong here-" 

Yuri glared at her. "He never does do anything wrong, does he? He's Mr Perfect, right?" 

"No," Yakov interjected. angry but less so than before. "Actually, he's far from it. Just like any normal human being, really. Regardless of that, what you said was unacceptable. Go to your room, now." Yuri shook his head, and Lilia gestured to Georgi and Mila, who took an arm each and practically hauled their younger cousin out of the room, screaming and swearing at them. Lilia placed a comforting hand on Yakov's shoulder. He held her hand over his shoulder, and she squeezed it, then turned her gaze to her older nephew. Prince Viktor Nikiforov, regarded as an esteemed, respectable leader, was curled up in the corner of the meeting room, his knees drawn up to his chest, his head down. He was rocking himself back and forth and sobbing.  

"Vitya, darling, are you alright?" 

"What does it look like?" he muttered through his tears. "Obviously, I'm not alright, Tetya." 

She sighed and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Viktor, he didn't mean it-" 

"Yes, he did." 

Lilia pursed her lips and didn't deny this. "He's just angry-" 

Viktor shook his head. "No, he's right. I should have died that night. It should have been him and Mama and Papa who survived that night, not him and me. That's what I deserve." 

Lilia's eyes widened with horror. "Why would you think that? That isn't true in the slightest!"

Viktor wiped his sleeve across his face furiously. "You're just saying that. Everyone knows it's true." 

Yakov stalked over, shaking his head and wrapping an arm around his upset wife. "It's not true at all, Vitya. Please don't say that, because nobody here means that. I promise."

Viktor raised an eyebrow at him, surprised. "I don't know how I can accept that, but I'll try." 

Lilia smiled and patted his hand, grateful for this one small victory, at least. "That's more like it, Vitya. We love you, you know that?"  

He nodded. "I do, and I know that Mila and Georgi do, too, and other people as well. I'm not so sure about Yuri, though..." 

Yakov squeezed his shoulder affectionately, looking at his wife and then back to his nephew again. "He does love you, Viktor. I promise. He was angry at you, and although what he did and said wasn't right or fair, and is something he will get punished for, he didn't mean it. How could he? He's hardly a monster, is he?" 

Viktor bit his nails while he considered his words. That much was true. He was referred to as the 'Russian Punk', but when you looked past that and broke down the defensive walls he set up around himself, you could have an insight into the beautiful person he was inside. "I understand that," he said. "But that doesn't make it hurt any less." 

Yakov's grip on him tightened, while he realised how much Yuri had upset Viktor. "I know, and he will be reprimanded for this. Understandably, you are upset right now, but you must work through this, son. You get that?" In response to his uncle's words, he nodded, his silver bangs falling over his sea-grey eyes. 

"I do, yes," he replied. 

"Good," Lilia muttered, removing her hand from his. "Now, a little bird told me that somebody has a date to go to?" Viktor laughed. 

"That's right," he announced, wiping his sleeve across his face frantically. "I'd better get ready. Yuuri will be expecting me before I know it." 

He stood up, and his two parental figures (not his parents, he reminded himself, never his parents) enveloped him into a warm hug that crushed his lungs. Smiling to himself, he moved away. "That's the spirit," the King of Russia told him. "Go out there and make us proud." 

So, that's exactly what he tried to do. 

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"How are you so good at this?" 

Viktor laughed and squeezed Yuuri's hand from across their game of Four In A Row. Yuuri's amber eyes widened, and he pretended not to notice it. "Fifteen years of practice makes you pretty decent at something, you know." 

The beautiful man in front of him looked awkward, all of a sudden. "Right, yeah. I forgot about that. Sorry." 

Viktor rewarded him with a wide, easy smile that caused him to blush. "It's fine," he brushed it off. "Don't worry about it." 

He smiled back. "Okay." He leaned forward and placed his chip into the game of Connect Four, looking deep in thought, serious and wise, almost owl-like. "How did you manage to cope, staying cooped up here for all those years? I wouldn't have been able to do that myself." 

Viktor's smile turned sad. "I read somewhere that humans are good at adapting to change," he said. "I adapted to life within these four walls pretty well, all things considered." 

All things considered. A reminder of his dark, traumatic past. "Oh, but of course," Yuuri responded. "I wouldn't have expected anything less from somebody as noble and brave as you are." Viktor waved off the compliment with his gloved hand. 

"Please, you are too kind to me." 

Yuuri laughed, finding his words absurd. "I mean, we are getting married, Vitya." 

Viktor flushed at the unexpected, yet affectionate nickname and his heart sped up faster. Right. He was getting married to this man. He'd almost forgotten that. Wow. How had he become so lucky? 

"That's true," he mused, gathering up his counters. "So, Yuuri. Did you always know that you wanted to get married when you were older? Or were you to be married, either way?" 

The Japanese Prince picked at the hem of his navy blue dress shirt, his jacket having been removed and placed on a nearby chair upon his arrival. "I guess I always knew. Growing up, though, I felt different from some of the other people around me. All the boys I knew wanted to get married to a woman. So did I, to an extent-but I soon realised that I'd be more than happy to be with a man, too." 

Viktor nodded, understanding where he was coming from. "I see. When did you know that you liked more than just women if you don't mind me asking?"

Yuuri chewed on his lip as he contemplated his question. "Hmm, I guess I've known for a while, now. As a child, I had a crush on one of my female babysitters, then I grew out of it and fell for one of the servant's daughters, all before the age of eleven or twelve. When I was about twelve, I fell in love for the first time. It sounds stereotypical, really, but it was the stable boy, now that I think about it. Then, I got over him; like all of my former crushes, it was unrequited. After that, I started dating this girl, but she was too high-maintenance for me personally, so we broke up. Then, there was another girl, but she cheated on me. Then, my next ex was a great boy, but he was struggling mentally and couldn't deal with a relationship at that time. The girl that I dated after that was sweet, but not my type. The two guys after her were both the 'bad boy' type, then I was with this guy who was a total nerd. The girl after him was too irritating, and things ended between us after the third date. I swore off dating for a year. There was already somebody I had my eye on, actually, during my last two years of dating, but they lived too far apart for us to be together, and we didn't talk anyway." He scratched the back of his neck, awkwardly. "I felt bad because for those two years I was scared that maybe, I was just using those people to get over y-them. To get over them." He was blushing now, embarrassed. Viktor chuckled and lifted his chin upwards, cupping the side of Yuuri's face with his other hand. 

"That's sweet," he whispered. "It seems as though you cared about those people a lot." If he noticed Yuuri's little slip-up, he didn't say anything. 

"T-thanks," Yuuri managed to stutter, a little overwhelmed by the sudden nature of their physical contact. Viktor removed his hand from Yuuri's burning skin, and he subsequently regained his composure again. "So, tell me about yourself. Have you had any sort of dating life while living here?" 

Viktor considered his answer carefully. He knew that, if he lied, that would only end badly. That much was inevitable, if he was going to be deceptive with his future husband. Yet, telling the truth seemed too humiliating to do. He could trust, Yuuri, though. He knew that already. "I haven't actually been allowed to date. All of my life, they have been ensuring that I find a suitor. I'm just glad that my par-er, Uncle Yakov and Aunt Lilia, have been accepting of my sexuality, and the fact that I'm gay." He shuddered. "I can't imagine being married to a woman for the rest of my life." 

Yuuri smiled at him, grateful for his honesty. It was refreshing. Not many royals he knew told the entire truth, but he knew that Viktor wouldn't lie about something like this. "When did you realise or know that you were gay, Vitya?" Viktor's ears reddened at the cute nickname, which Yuuri found adorable. 

"I guess I've always known," Viktor stated, shrugging, as though it was no big deal. Which, perhaps it wasn't. "Since I was about nine or ten, I would idolise a lot of young celebrities and develop juvenile crushes on them, and they were all male. Then, one of the old servant's sons befriended me, and I fell for him, but he had some issues dealing with his own sexuality, so we didn't really do anything. We were young, anyway. We stopped speaking the night before I went off on the camping trip with my parents, the trip where they, uh, passed away." Yuuri patted him on his shoulder in an attempt to reassure him. 

"I'm sorry to hear that," Yuuri murmured, although whether he was talking about his almost-relationship or the demise of his parents, Viktor honestly couldn't tell.  

"It's fine, it's not your fault," he responded. "It was a long time ago. Anyway, I did develop crushes here and there but never acted on them. Rightfully so, I think. I was dealing with a lot of trauma at that time. When I turned eighteen, I wanted to start dating. Really, I did." 

Entranced, Yuuri leaned forward, his beautiful eyes wide and his intense gaze trained entirely on Viktor. "What happened? Why didn't you end up dating people?" 

Viktor sighed as he remembered the discussion that they'd had that day, ten years ago. "They told me that I was not allowed to date, that I should wait and save myself for marriage."

Surprised, Yuuri raised an eyebrow at him. "So, you've never...?" Viktor blushed and didn't meet his gaze, and then shook his head. 

"No. I apologise for asking, but have you? I mean, you have been in multiple relationships before, after all." 

Yuuri's laugh forced Viktor to look up at him. "Seriously? Are you joking? You must be, right?" Viktor shook his head, and Yuuri's eyes widened with shock. "Really? Have you ever met me? I think it's pretty obvious that I'm a virgin, Viktor. There's no need to humour me, as flattering as it might be." 

Viktor's jaw dropped. "No, I'm not! Why would you believe that I would? I care about you too much to do that to you," he revealed. This was insane, he thought to himself. They'd only met recently, and yet here he was, engaged to the man whom he'd been so cosmically drawn to, like a moth drawn to a flame. His emotional vulnerability forced him to feel naked, exposed, and he practically sank into the wall while Yuuri stared at him with an expression on his face that he could not place for the life of him. 

"You do?" He seemed shy all of a sudden. Withdrawn. Nervous. What was up with him? He'd been so confident during their last date when they went ice-skating together. But now, he'd retreated into himself a little. Why was that? He had no reason to be insecure or anything. Not in Viktor's eyes. 

"Yes," he said, leaning over and stroking Yuuri's face lovingly. "Obviously. You are to be my husband. You only deserve the best treatment." Seeing the look on Yuuri's face, he hastened to add, "but of course, you deserve the best anyway, my love." 

Yuuri practically melted into his touch, his eyes shining brightly with affection, and then fluttering shut, his joy obvious. "What did I do to deserve you?" Yuuri wondered out loud. "Except for my family, nobody has ever shown me this much kindness before." 

Viktor's eyes widened in surprise-who would ever treat his Yuuri without kindness, or so much of it? "Well, then let me show a world of kindness that you have never seen before, my beautiful Prince Charming," he muttered, placing his forehead on Yuuri's, the intimacy between them both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Yuuri reached out to stroke Viktor's face. "You set my heart on fire," Viktor added, truthfully, without thinking, before wincing at his own poor choice of words. Noticing this, Yuuri pulled away and grabbed his hands, placing them into his own. 

"It scares you, doesn't it?" he prompted, not daring to say the word that he knew would work him up. Viktor nodded, his eyes teary. Carefully, Yuuri reached out and wiped his tears away. "Hey, you're safe now. You're right here with me, you're safe. It can't hurt you anymore. I promise. Look at me. You're not there, you're here. You're right here with me." 

This seemed to calm him down somewhat, however, he still had protests to make. "But, Yuuri. They're dead and gone, my parents. It's all my fault." 

Confused, Yuuri tilted his head to the side. "Vitya, what do you mean? How is what happened to them your fault in the slightest?" 

Viktor stared at the floor, worried that Yuuri would hear what happened and leave him. Walk out of the door, and not come back. "My parents-they were asleep. I woke up, there was a fire. We were in this fancy wooden tent. I grabbed my baby brother and ran out of the tent as fast as I possibly could, then put him down and tried to return to m-my parents." He took a deep breath. "By then, I couldn't find it, and then, I needed medical attention myself, along with Yuri. It was too late. I didn't save them, and they died because of that. Because of me and my selfishness." 

Yuuri gasped, shocked, and that's when the Russian Prince believed that things were over. "Viktor." 

His cheeks heated up. "I know. I'm a terrible human being. I understand if you hate me-I hate myself, too, for what happened." Regret tinged his voice.

Yuuri shook his head. "No, Vitya. You don't understand. Most people would have just ran out of there without a second thought, but you saved Yuri's life that night. Surely, that counts for something?" 

Viktor sighed. "Of course it does, I love him so much. He's my little brother, after all, and my family means the world to me. But, I loved-love-my parents, too." 

The Japanese Prince gave him a look. "Viktor, those things aren't mutually exclusive, you know. It wasn't Yuri's life or theirs that night. Two people died that night, but it would have been three without your intervention. Not zero. That's probably hard to process, but it's true. Nobody blames you for that night. I certainly don't, and I don't care about you any less for it. In fact, I think I'm, um, falling for you more than before, knowing that you did something so brave and heroic. I can't believe you think so badly of yourself when you're so incredible." 

Viktor's head snapped up. Whatever he had been expecting his fiance to say, it hadn't been that. His heartbeat had sped up, going about a million miles an hour. Yuuri cared about him more than before, and he was falling for him. "Yuuri, how can you fall in love with somebody like me?" 

Yuuri tilted his head and bit his lip. God, he was adorable. "How can I fall for someone so kind, caring, talented, brave, noble, interesting, fun, hilarious and drop-dead gorgeous, you mean? With ease, I think you'll find." 

This was too much. He didn't deserve it. "Yuuri, you're far too generous. Please stop lying to me."

"I'm not," Yuuri told him, his eyes serious and determined. 

"I guess I'll have to take your word for it, then," Viktor mumbled, finally admitting defeat. A small smile crept up on to his face and he stroked his lover's face again. "You're so precious, vozlyublennaya." 

Yuuri blushed and rewarded him with a dazzling smile of his own. And you're so sweet, Vitya. What does 'vozlyu-Voz-' I can't pronounce it. What does it mean?" 

Viktor bopped him on the nose cutely, grinning. "Ahh, I forgot that you know very little Russian, my beautiful Yuuri. It means 'sweetheart'." 

Yuuri blushed even harder, not sure what to say. "Oh."

Viktor smirked to himself. "I'll have to teach you some Russian, my love." He grabbed his hand, constantly craving his touch."Ya toze vie tebya vljubljajus." 

Yuuri raised an eyebrow at him, amused. "Are you going to bother telling me what that means, or...?" 

Viktor laughed. "That's for me to know, and you to find out," he teased. Yuuri ran a hand through his hair, chuckling, and his significant other simply gazed at him as though he had hung the stars in the night sky, admiring his beauty. He sat peacefully, basking in the warmth of the Russian Prince's long, lingering gaze. "I'm glad that you decided to stay," he admitted, brushing his silver hair away from his face. 

"Of course I would have stayed." 

Viktor's smile lit up his entire face. "You won't be saying that next week."

Yuuri frowned. "Why, what's next week?" 

"Oh, you don't know?" Yuuri shook his head. "Next week, you're going to be having dinner with my family."

Yuuri raised his eyebrows at him. "I am? That doesn't sound bad to me." 

Viktor laughed out loud. "If that doesn't sound bad to you, then obviously you don't know my family." 

He looked worried all of a sudden. "Are they really that bad?" 

Viktor smirked at him and looped an arm around his lover's shoulder. "Oh, Yuuri, you have no idea. All I can say to you is, good luck. Believe me, you're going to need it." 

Chapter Text

"Yuuri, calm down. You've paced my room six times. In the past two minutes alone. So, just chill out, okay?" 

Yuuri spun on his heel and turned to face his best friend. "How can I possibly calm down or 'chill out', Phichit? His family literally rule the whole of Russia." 

Phichit rolled his eyes then, unperturbed. "Yeah, they do. So what? Your family literally rule the whole of Japan. You're royalty, too, yet you seem to forget it sometimes." 

Yuuri tugged at the collar of his navy blue silk shirt, his eyebrows furrowing. "Well, I feel like an impostor most of the time when it comes to the whole royalty thing." 

Confused, Phichit tilted his head at him. "Why?" Yuuri just stared at him. 

"Phichit, you know why!" he hissed, his voice low. Phichit's eyes widened with realisation as he recalled what his friend had admitted to him just over five years prior. 

"Oh, right. Sorry, yeah. But still! It's not your fault, and you do technically count as royalty-" 

Yuuri raised an eyebrow at him, doubting his words. "Do I really?" 

Phichit patted him on the shoulder in an attempt to both placate and comfort him. "I know you struggle with a sense of not belonging, due to the circumstances you were born into. But, like you've been saying to Prince Viktor, you mustn't let your past define you, okay?" 

Yuuri nodded, brushing non-existent dust off his shoulders. "I'll try my best not to," he said. "Yet, I should surely tell him at some point? Even if he leaves me over it, Vitya deserves to know the truth."

"I deserve to know the truth about what, Yuuri?" The man in question gasped and turned around. Viktor was stood at the doorway of his bedroom, and he hadn't even noticed him. His blue eyes were narrowed, and his eyebrows were low. He didn't seem best pleased that his significant other was hiding things from him, to say the least. Phichit took this as a cue to slip out of the room, bowing politely to Viktor as he did so before leaving.

"Viktor, I-" His cheeks heated up with shame, and he walked over to him, grabbing his hands and gently taking him into his own. The prince's face softened a little. "Before I say anything, just know that you mean a lot to me, and I care about you so, so much. I don't want to hurt you or ever lie to you. I understand if you want to leave me after you hear what I have to say." 

The Russian's eyes filled with concern. "What is it, my Yuuri? What did you want to tell me?" 

There was no easy way to say this, but it had to be done. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears escaping them. He could do this. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. "Vitya, when I was born, I was left on a random servant's doorstep. The servant panicked and passed me on to their higher-up, an assistant to Queen Hiroko. They took me in and adopted me as a baby. I do not have a royal bloodline. I do not even know who my biological parents were. I am so sorry for not telling you. You can leave me if you want. I am not a real prince. Maybe you should marry someone who is." 

He looked up, his vision blurred by tears, expecting Viktor to be furious with him, and was pleasantly surprised to find that his shoulders had relaxed, and his face was calm, gentle almost. "Yuuri, is that all?"

He frowned. "What do you mean, 'is that all?' I just told you something massive, that would understandably put you off me. I don't know how this isn't a big deal to you." 

Viktor stared at him incredulously, his gaze almost piercing. "Solnyshko. You can't be serious, surely? Everybody and their mother knows that my two cousins, Mila and Georgi, are adopted. Of course, this doesn't bother me. It's not like we'd physically be able to carry on a royal bloodline anyway as two cis men. I can understand why you'd be embarrassed about telling me, hence why you didn't intend to say anything at first, but this hasn't put me off you. You're the person you are today because of it, and I will always care about you, for as long as I live. I promise."

He squeezed his future husband's hands reassuringly, then removed his hands from Yuuri's, cupping his face in his hands, pressing his forehead against his in a surprising display of physical intimacy. As he watched, tears rolled down his lover's face, and he pulled away to tilt his head at him, confused. Yuuri laughed. "I'm not crying because I'm sad, Viktor," he explained. "I'm crying because I'm so damn happy that you accept me for who I am." 

Viktor's eyes widened. Was the Japanese Prince imply that others did not accept him for who he was? Who would do that? "Oh, sweetheart," he whispered, reaching out and stroking Yuuri's cheek. The man practically melted into his touch, his eyes closing in bliss. "You deserve to be both accepted and loved for who you are."

Yuuri smiled, then, a mischievous glint in his eye, the same glint that had been present on their first date with each other, when he'd taken Viktor ice-skating. "Do you love me already, Watashi no saiai no?" 

Much to his amusement, a dark blush crept onto his cheeks in response to his teasing tone, Japanese words, and the implication that he was already in love with the man in front of him. Did he love him? No, he couldn't be in love with him at this point. It was far too soon. They needed to get to know each other some more, but, well. They had plenty of time ahead of them to do that. They were engaged, to be married, for goodness' sake-he had time to fall for him. Yet, that would mean letting his walls down. He didn't think that he was ready to do that, not now. It wasn't the right time. But, when the time was right, he'd open up to him, and perhaps he could let himself fall in love. Breaking the ice between them wouldn't necessarily be easy, but it would be worth it.

"We'll see about that," he teased, his eyes bright. "Hey, haven't you got a special dinner to prepare for, Prince Yuuri?" 

Joining in with the joke, he nodded, giggling slightly. "Yes, I have. I'm having dinner with this amazing man, you might have heard of him." 

"Hmm, I don't know about that. What's his name, again?" 

"He's called Prince Viktor Nikiforov." 

Viktor pretended to contemplate this, before shaking his head. "No, never heard of him. Sorry. He sounds nice, though." 

"You have no idea," the younger of the two responded breathlessly. Viktor beamed and kissed him on the hand, bowing low. 

"It seems as though I have to depart now, but I will see you shortly," he said, his heart beating hard in anticipation of the dinner that evening. Yuuri's eyes sparkled with joy and amusement, while he watched Viktor cross the room, to the intricately patterned door of the spacious guest bedroom. "Are you looking forward to dining with my family?" 

Yuuri laughed, knowing that his fiance was dreading the next hour or so. "Of course I am. I wouldn't miss it for the world, Vitya."

It did seem odd that this was his first time dining with the family, but, as their guests, the princes had been left to their own accord, in their own private dining room, and they were often loud and rambunctious. In a few nights' time, all of the princes would dine with the family, and that would be even more chaotic than that night was anticipated to be. That was saying a lot.

"See you later, darling." 

"See you," he said, waving. It was going to be chaos, that much was certain, but the type he could handle, the type that he looked forward to. Bring it on. 

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"Chris," Viktor groaned. "I don't quite think you're understanding what I mean. Like, my family will just tell such humiliating stories about me. They have their own arsenal of stories they can bring out and weaponise, to use against me as revenge for being so obnoxious towards them for all of these years." 

Chris laughed. "Surely, they can't be that terrible?" 

Viktor glared daggers at him. "Are you taking the piss? They're the worst around other people. You literally have no idea how torturous the past fifteen years have been, stuck with them in this prison of a palace. I don't want to be tarnished in Yuuri's eyes. I'm supposed to be getting married to the guy at some point, yet they'll probably end up saying something that ruins that and completely puts him off me, for life." In response to this, Prince Christophe simply rolled his eyes and batted the Russian Prince's concerns off. 

"Stop being so dramatic, Viktor. We've all seen how the two of you look at each other. You might as well get a room by now." Viktor threw a dark blue cushion at him, from his bed, and Christophe, who was sat on a sofa of the same colour, across the room, caught it with simple ease. 

"Ew, gross. Don't be such a perv. We barely know each other, even though it does feel as though we have known each other for a lifetime. He just gets me, you know?" Chris nodded, becoming more serious, all of a sudden. "I seriously care about him. Even though I don't quite love him yet-it's far too soon for that, no doubt about it. Yet, I will, in the future. I know I will. That might not surprise you, because we're literally engaged to each other, but I never expected to trust somebody enough to be able to fall in love with them, hard enough that they fall back. I'm not having my aunt and uncle and cousins and shithead of a brother ruin that for me," he declared emphatically. The Prince of Sweden sighed, placing his head on his hands. 

"Yuri is still giving you trouble?" He asked. Viktor had opened up about that whole hellish situation earlier, and he had patiently sat there and listened to him ramble on about it. 

"Kind of," he muttered. "I mean, at least he apologised to me for what he said. I can only hope that he meant it." 

There was a pause. "Indeed," Chris responded, inclining his head. It was nice, Prince Viktor decided, to have someone who was caring, patient and understanding, who listened to your doubts, worries, your woes and your joys in life. Somebody who didn't need to be romantically connected to you to know all about what was occurring in your life, and who reacted appropriately. A friend. He'd gone without one for so long, and now he was here. How wonderful, to have love and life back, after missing it for so many years. 

"You should probably go," Viktor advised, with a reluctant sigh. "I'll be expected to get out there, soon, and my personal assistant, Yukko, is supposed to be helping me get ready for this evening, apparently." Chris smiled. 

"I've met her. She's really nice. She has a husband and three kids, right?" Viktor nodded. 

"Yes, she does. Truth be told, I don't pay all that much attention to the lives of my servants and paid help," he responded, a wave of guilt overwhelming him all of a sudden at the realisation that perhaps he should care more about the people around him. 

"Huh. Well, maybe you should," Christophe suggested, moving over to him and patting him on the shoulder before leaving. "Good luck for tonight." 

"Thanks," Viktor replied, grateful for his new friend, and his generosity. With that being said, the blond left the room, and the anxious prince inside it. 

Good luck, he'd said. Put it this way, he sure as hell was going to need it.

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“So, would you rather eat chocolate that tastes like mud, or mud that tastes like chocolate?”

Lilia glared at him menacingly. “Yuri!” Her tone was sharp. “That is not an appropriate way to introduce yourself to your future brother-in-law!”

Yuri huffed and crossed his arms, slumping down in his chair in an attempt to annoy her; he knew that, as a former prima ballerina, nothing in the world could irritate her more than poor posture. “You said to be nice,” he pointed out. “I didn’t say anything mean. I even asked him a question, to help break the ice and get to know him better. Never again.”

Much to their joint surprise, Prince Yuuri Katsuki (or Katsuki Yuuri, depending on how they wanted to say it-the Nikiforovs chose the former over the latter, just because it was far easier to do so) burst out laughing at the odd question. “It’s fine, your royal majesty,” he told Lilia, before turning his attention to Viktor’s younger brother, amusement sparkling in his amber-brown eyes. “To answer your question, Prince Yuri, I would choose the mud-flavoured chocolate. Despite tasting nasty, I think it’s a lot more edible than mud itself, wouldn’t you agree?”

Taken aback, his namesake paled a little, his emerald eyes widening. He hadn’t been expecting a response from the guy-he’d only been testing him, after all, and he certainly hadn’t anticipated him actually passing the test. “I suppose so,” he grumbled, determined to remain as moody and sullen as ever, ignoring the pointed looks that King Yakov kept throwing his way.

“Say, Prince Yuuri Katsuki,” Georgi began, leaning forward across the vast dining table, “what attracted you to my delightful cousin in the first place, huh? Was it his looks and charming ways, perhaps? His smile, his eyes, his voice? His talent on the ice? His winning personality? His kindness? Because let me tell you this now. He possesses none of the character traits you think he does. Believe me, he is not who he says he is.” Yuuri frowned and turned to his lover, confusion written all over his face. What did he mean? Was Viktor truly not the person he claimed to be? Was that even possible? Had the green flags been red, all along? If so, why would his cousin, of all people, be the one to reveal this to him, over the dinner table in front of the rest of Viktor’s family, no less? It made no sense to him. Unwilling to witness a character assassination of the man he was going to be getting married to, he squeezed his hand, hoping that he would speak up, shedding some light on the unusual situation.

“Georgi, please do quit with the teasing, won’t you?” Viktor pleaded in a somewhat desperate tone of voice, a tight, fake smile creeping its way onto his face. “Whatever you do, I can’t have you scaring my future husband off me for life, now, can I?” Promptly, everyone around the table began to laugh in response to this, Yuuri included in this. The only person not laughing was Viktor himself. Yuuri fleetingly wondered why this was, before deciding that he was probably overthinking the matter and that he should swiftly move on.

"I've been wondering," Yakov said, as their food was set down on the table, not giving the Japanese man the chance to speak just yet. "If you are adopting children, how many will you have? How old will they be? How many girls, and how many boys? Where are you considering potentially adopting them from?" Viktor groaned. 

"Uncle Yakov, please," he begged. "Don't bring this up right now. You're only getting to know him tonight, but the first thing you want to know is that?  I mean, really?" He nodded. 

"It is a matter of great importance, son." 

"I'm not your son," Viktor pointed out, pouting a little. 

Yakov sighed heavily, sounding weary and fed up with his nephew's ridiculous antics. "And don't I know it," he sighed. "Look. I was only asking. Have you got any answers for me yet, or is it too soon to say at this stage in the game?" 

Yuuri adjusted his glasses, admittedly somewhat embarrassed by the topic of conversation, and decided to speak up for Viktor. "We haven't considered children yet. I don't think having babies around the palace would be very practical, personally-"

Lilia jumped on that in an instant. "Oh, so you'll still be living with us, then?" Viktor sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Coming into this, he knew that tonight would be challenging and frustrating, but he hadn't expected to be confronted with a full-on interrogation, or anything. 

He shared a look with his new lover. They both got each other, straight away. "Possibly? We're not sure, yet, are we, Yuuri?" The man in question shook his head. "We haven't discussed it, at this point in our relationship, but obviously we will in the future." 

Lilia raised one perfect, unimpressed eyebrow at this. "Really? You mean to say, you have barely considered the future yet? When are you going to get married, hmm? In a few months? A few years? You have given us no indication of this, thus far." 

He shrugged, sullenly. "Hey, we're not sure ourselves yet. We're just getting to know each other at the moment. Personally, I don't think that's entirely unreasonable, is it?" The room fell into silence, then. The only sounds that could be heard were the Russian royal family and their esteemed guest, soon to be family, eating their food. 

Yuri broke their awkward silence after a few minutes. "Hey Yuuri, are you more of a dog person or a cat person?" 

He considered this as he swallowed his food. "Um, I have a dog myself, so I'm going to say that I'm more of a dog person, really." Viktor grinned at his younger brother smugly, confusing him. All the same, he ignored this and decided to move on with the conversation. "What about you, your highness?" 

Yuri pushed his food around on his plate with a scowl, hiding behind his hair. "A cat person." 

Viktor smiled at him. "He has a cat of his own, which he named Potya-it's short for Puma Tiger Scorpion. What's your dog called, Yuuri?" 

His eyes sparkled brightly at the mention of his pet but widened when he remembered something potentially embarrassing. He'd been a fan of Viktor's ever since he'd watched his live television broadcast, ten years ago, where he'd cut off his hair in an act of independence and solidarity, to symbolise hope and freedom. His dog may or may not have been named after Viktor. "Oh, um, well. He's named after something I love. You'll have to guess! Also, what a cute name for a cat! How did you come up with it?" 

Yuri remained silent, and Yuuri thought that his namesake would not answer him, but after a tense minute or so,  he mumbled, "I was a kid. I thought it sounded cool. I like tigers." Yuuri nodded. That made complete sense to him. Viktor's brother seemed like a pretty cool guy, to him. 

"Nice. Vitya, do you have any pets?" 

Viktor laughed, taking him by surprise. "Wow. I thought you would never ask, vozlyublennyyMakkachin has been with a pet sitter recently, because of all the chaos, we thought the stress would be too much for her. But she should be back soon, right, Uncle Yakov?" 

The man simply nodded. "Right." 

Yuuri glanced between them. There seemed to be so much the two of them wanted to say but were holding back from mentioning just yet, and he didn't know why. "This food is exquisite, your Majesties," he said, bowing his head politely. 

Lilia smiled tightly. "Only the finest Russian cuisine." 

Yakov said nothing, just glaring at her out of the corner of his eye. Had something happened between them, to cause this tension?

"It's cute, how you call each other sweet nicknames like 'Vitya' and 'beloved'. The two of you make a great couple," Mila beamed. Viktor frowned, hoping that it wasn't a backhanded compliment. 

"Thanks!" Yuuri responded, beaming back at her.

He drunk in his surroundings appreciatively, noting the grandeur of the dining room to be more than that of the one he shared with the other princes. Half a dozen sparkling chandeliers hung above their heads, enticingly sparkling in the light. Several portraits lined the intricately patterned gold walls of the room, bringing some colour to their surroundings. Long, purple curtains were draped across the large windows, and a spacious, fluffy white rug lay at the foot of the elongated table. Across the other side of the room, what appeared to be a former fireplace stood, blocked off now. No explanation was offered as to why, but his intuition told him all that he needed to know. The purple and gold tiles below their feet were smooth and well-polished, and, next to the former fireplace, a grandfather clock stood in pride place, tall and grand. It was truly an impressive room, he observed as he looked around. Additionally, his food was excellent; it tasted great, the sauce complimented the food itself, which had a great texture to it, and the presentation of it was brilliant, too. Although different from the food he usually consumed at home, it was certainly of a high standard. He would have to give his personal compliments to the chef if he possibly could. Maybe, he would ask Viktor about that later on. 

"Watch it," Viktor chided, playfully but with a dangerous look in his eyes. Mila winked at him, before returning to her meal. 

"So, Yuuri. Your parents had two kids, right?" He nodded in response to Georgi's question. "That's funny. My parents have two kids, too-myself and Mila. Then, there's Yuri and Viktor. Maybe two kids would be a good amount to have," he suggested. He bit his lip, not sure whether to tell him whether he was adopted, or not. He and Mila were adopted themselves, after all. It wouldn't be a big issue, surely? 

"Yes. They had my older sister, Princess Mari when they found out that my mother couldn't have any more biological children-it would kill her." He swallowed, hard, and squeezed Viktor's hand. His significant other squeezed it back and grabbed his hand, the warmth comforting to the Japanese Prince. "I, uh, was left on a doorstep of a random servant. Presumably, it was assumed that it was any person's house, which is kind of was. They gave me to their boss, who was Queen Hiroko's personal assistant. Panicking, she tried to move me somewhere before the Queen saw me. But it was too late, she'd already seen me and fell in love with me. She discussed it with her husband, King Toshiya, and their young daughter, who was only six at the time, took a liking to me. So, I got to stay." His grip on Viktor's hand was now crushing his fingers, but the Russian Prince knew better than to complain about it.

For a moment, there was silence. Quiet before the storm. Then: 

"What?! Viktor, why didn't you tell us that he didn't have royal blood?!" 

"I just found out," the prince shot back at his uncle, defensively. "I didn't know, but even then, I accept him for who he is. As you should, too." 

Lilia pursed her lips. "He is not a true prince." 

He pushed his hand through his hair, messing it up. "By that logic, neither is Georgi!"

Georgi looked affronted. "Hey, don't bring me into this!" 

"I was just making a point," he argued. "Besides, Seung-Gil isn't a prince, and he was a potential suitor, remember? Why does it matter so much to you? Like I've mentioned before, it's not as though we can procreate, anyway!" Lilia's eyes widened in shock, Yakov turned an ugly shade of beetroot, Mila seemed to be trying not to laugh, Yuri attempted not to choke on his food, Georgi stared at his food like it was the most interesting thing in the world and Yuuri's face was aflame, his hands shaking a little. One of his hands was still gripping Viktor's, despite what he had just said. 

"Vitya, please. Not at the dinner table," Lilia instructed. "You're ruining our delightful meal." 

He began shaking, his jaw set. "I'm ruining your meal?" The young man rolled his eyes. "Dreadfully sorry." 

Yakov banged his fist on the table. Yuuri practically jumped out of his seat. "Viktor! That is no way to talk to your Aunt Lilia, the Queen of Russia, no less! Apologise, now." 

He looked over at his love, then back at his aunt and uncle. "No, why should I? She disrespected my future husband by claiming that he isn't a real prince." 

Behind him, he heard muffled sobbing. Yuuri. "She's right, though. How can I possibly claim to be a true prince if I know nothing of my background, at the end of the day? I can't." Abruptly, he pulled his hand out of Viktor's. "I'll go." 

Viktor gasped and grabbed his arm. "No, don't go, please. Stay. You mean so much to me. I want you, and only you, okay?" He lifted his chin a little so that they were maintaining eye contact. Brown eyes stared into blue ones, the look that they passed between them telling a tale of thousand words. Sensing his desperation, Yuuri sat back down, albeit with reluctance. 

"Fine. I'll stay," he reassured him. 

"Good," he responded, sighing with relief, before glaring at his family members. They were supposed to be loyal. They were supposed to be on his side. They were supposed to support his decisions, no matter what. How was yelling at the man he loved achieving that, in the slightest? What kind of family were they, huh? 

Yuri pulled a face. "Seriously? How pathetic. What kind of prince cries in the middle of an argument?" 

Viktor glared daggers at his younger brother the look in his eyes wild. "You!" The Russian Prince shouted. "Do not insult my future husband like that! You've barely even made it up to me about telling me that you wished I was dead, so you wouldn't have to stay, trapped here!" Next to him, the Japanese Prince gasped. 

"He said that to you?" 

Viktor said nothing, not even looking in his direction. His gaze was entirely trained on the blond teenager. "Why are you trying to sabotage my happiness?" 

Yuri rolled his eyes. "Please, you're so goddamn dramatic all the time. I'm not. I'm just saying. But somebody is too sensitive to take on board any sort of criticism, whatsoever!"

"Oh yeah? Without me, you wouldn't even be here, so what makes you think you can even criticise me in the first place?" 

"You're not a hero, Viktor, despite what you might think!" 

"I never said I was-"

"You only bloody act like it, half the time!" 

He stood up,  pushing his chair behind him. "Oh, fuck off, you little-" 

"Viktor! Stop using such vulgar language!" 

"I can say whatever the hell I want, Aunt Lilia!" 

"Stop disrespecting your aunt, Vitya! I've told you that already!" 

"I don't care, my Yuuri is being treated badly, he is a real prince and I will marry him, regardless of whether you approve of my decision to be with him or not!" 

"It's so nice to have the family together at dinner like this," Mila said, folding her hands over her lap with a fake smile, her eyes bright with tears.

"You should really respect your elders, you know. I've learnt that-why haven't you?" 

"Because maybe, just maybe, I'm not you, Georgi!" 

"Hey, don't insult Georgi like that!" 

"Why are you even defending him, little kitten?" 

"Don't call me that!" 

"I'll call you whatever the hell I want, I saved your life-" 

"Yeah, fifteen years ago! Get over it, already! Also, you failed to save two people, didn't you?" 

A wave of guilt and anger overwhelmed him at his brother's inflammatory remark. "HOW DARE YOU!" Absolutely enraged, Viktor threw his chair across the room. Upon instinct, Yuuri ducked, despite the object not heading in his direction. He moved away from the twenty-eight-year-old, truthfully a little scared of him in that particular moment. Luckily, it didn't hit anybody. Everyone in the room just stared at him in shock. What had Viktor just done?

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Sobbing, the silver-haired man fell to the floor, rocking himself. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so so sorry," he whispered, through his tears. He thought of Aleksander and Nikita, and how disappointed they would have been of him if they were alive. How disappointed his uncle and aunt and brother and cousins must be in him right now. How disappointed his fiance must be, too. Through the haze of his tears, he vaguely registered a strong hand on his arm, roughly yanking him upwards and away from the dining room, removing him from the situation. He couldn't tell who it was, though. All he could tell was that everyone was disappointed with him and that he was nothing but a stupid idiot, a mistake, and a disgrace to the whole of Russia. 

He continued to cry and gasp for air, while the person who had moved him away from the dining room continued to march on, through endless corridor after endless corridor, door after door, room after room, until finally, a burst of fresh air hit him. Before he knew it, he was being pulled into a firm, yet simultaneously gentle hug, and that's when he realised who had taken him outside. Yuuri. It was his precious Yuuri. No words were needed, at that moment. He hugged him back, eternally grateful to have this truly wonderful man in his life. 

"There, there. It'll be alright," Yuuri whispered into his ear, rubbing circles on his back. "I promise you, my beautiful Vitya. I do. Shh, it's okay. You'll be fine. I'm here for you, I'm always here for you, sweetheart. Always.

Viktor clung to him tighter. "I don't deserve you," he murmured. "What did I do to earn your love?" 

Yuuri moved his hands further up, stroking his hair lovingly. "You exist, and you're the person that you are. That's what you did. It's okay, darling. It's okay. You've been through a lot, and yes, what you did was wrong, but there's time for you to apologise and sort things out with your family. I'm not saying the way you acted was right, but what I am saying is that your brother deliberately provoked you, and that's not okay for him to do. Ever. He was wrong to say what he said; you saved him, and that's more than enough. You're so brave, Vitya. So brave. I care about you so much. I really do." 

Viktor remained silent for a few minutes, just crying into his future husband's shoulder, and he let him. "I'm sorry that I yelled. I'm sorry that they were so horrible about you. I'm sorry that I ruined the dinner for you." 

Yuuri held him closer. "Hey, it's okay. There's always going to be more dinners, more potential opportunities to bond with your family. It's fine. It's not entirely your fault, after all. They've said mean stuff, and that's wrong for them to do. Do you argue a lot?" 

His reply was instant. "Yeah," he murmured into his shoulder. "We do. I love them and everything, don't get me wrong, but we don't always get along with each other, let's put it that way," he chuckled. 

Yuuri chuckled, then, too. "I get it. Families are messy and complicated sometimes. I bicker with my older sister all the time. I have quite a few disagreements with my dad, and my sister and mum don't always manage to see eye-to-eye. But we're still a happy family who love each other, and I can tell how much you all care about one another. It's sweet. They love you, I know they do." He wasn't too certain of that, not after what he had just done. Why would they love him after doing that? He was a bad person, wasn't he? He felt incredibly guilty about his act of violence, as he should do.

"I hope so," he confessed to Yuuri. "I want to be the best person I can be, for them and the people of Russia. I love the people of my country, and I want them to be happy. I want you to be happy too, honey. Besides, one day you will be a part of the family. Isn't that exciting?" 

Yuuri giggled into his shoulder. "Yes, it is," he responded, excitedly. 

"If you'll have me," the taller of the two added, as an afterthought. "I know I am difficult to love. I know it is not easy to be around me, at times. I know how intimidating my family can be, too." 

A little surprised, the Prince of Japan pulled away to gaze at his Russian lover. "If I'll have you? Are you serious? Of course, I'll have you, Viktor Nikiforov," he said quietly, his voice soft. He stroked one side of Viktor's face, and he practically melted into the other man's touch. "I wouldn't want anybody else in this world, but you."

Viktor gasped, touched by his sweet words. "Really?" 

"Really," Yuuri reassured him, moving his hand from his face to squeeze his hand, before letting it go. "I saw you, at your twenty-fifth birthday party, the one where Phichit humiliated himself. I thought you were so good-looking, that you seemed so charismatic and funny, even before you got drunk and approached me. After the names you'd called me, and after glimpsing your personality,the person I'd had my eye on in my last two years of dating was you. I've been an admirer of yours since your eighteenth birthday," he confessed, blushing. 

Viktor's eyes widened with surprise, and he flung his arms around him again. He hugged him back. "You have no idea how happy it makes me, upon hearing that," he explained. "I noticed you, before and after I approached you, but I didn't contact you, because. I'm a coward. I should have kept in touch. Oh well. At least we're engaged now." 

"Yeah, at least we are," Yuuri responded, and Viktor could practically hear his smile. When they pulled back, he stood on his tiptoes placed a chaste, tender kiss on the taller man's forehead, much to his surprise.  

"I should probably go back there and face the music," he pointed out, laughing. Yuuri hummed in agreement. 

"Probably, yeah," he said. "But whatever you have to face, we're going to face together from now on. Okay?"  Viktor took a deep breath and took Yuuri's hand into his again so that they were holding hands on the way back to the palace from the grounds. Things might have been difficult now, but they would get better, and he finally had somebody who wasn't a family member who was there for him, no matter what. 

"Okay."

Chapter Text

“Viktor, you’re a disappointment to our whole family. Why didn’t you save us?”

Viktor shuddered, a cold shiver running down his spine. He looked up from the ground beneath his feet, which had given him the appearance of tilting, and to his parents. His father, bearded, stood with his arms crossed, with a stern expression on his face. He looked like Uncle Yakov when he scowled like that, he observed. His mother, on the other hand, had a mixture of sadness and plain disappointment written all over her face. Tight-lipped, she shook her head in disapproval, clearly agreeing with her husband’s angered words. Why was he so selfish? Why hadn’t he been able to save them from that dreadful fire, to escape from the night that had officially ruined his life? Why was he the one who had woken up, both in the midst of the fire and the next morning, and not them?

“I tried,” he assured them, taking a step forward. They both took a step back, and that’s when Viktor zoned in on their surroundings-he was in their old bedroom, where he hadn’t been for twenty years, at that point. “I did, I promise you now that I did try my best to come and rescue you, but it was too late. Yuri is still alive, though. That counts for something, right?” He could hear the desperation in his voice, and he absolutely resented it.

“Clearly, you didn’t try hard enough. You are not brave, and you are no soldier,” Aleksander scolded, his eyebrows furrowed. “Try again.”

He tilted his head to the side, confused. “What do you mean by that?”

Nikita shrugged. “Your brother, had he been old enough, would have managed to save us. He would have been hailed a hero, the hero of Russia. But you’re nothing more than a pathetic loser. Georgi would have saved us in this situation, too. And Mila, if she’d been old enough to do so. Yet, you couldn’t, and that’s a reflection on your character, what you’re like as a person. Try again.”

She was right, Viktor though. It was all his fault that they’d died. His eyes became watery, and he wiped his sleeve across his face furiously in an attempt to be rid of them.

“Crying is for losers, not soldiers!” His father shouted. “Man up, my son! Don’t be such a disgrace to the Nikiforov family name, now! You pathetic loser. You may be my son by blood, but you are no true son of mine. Yuri is far superior to you, a better person than you’ll ever be. I do not doubt that. You are a messed-up person, you cannot do one thing right. Prince Yuuri Katsuki of Japan is only marrying you so he can cover up the fact that he is not true royalty, by getting married to someone who is.” Viktor took a step back, alarmed.

“How did you know about-?” Alas, it was too late to ask them that question, for they had both disappeared.

All of a sudden, the world around him changed, warping into something unrecognisable, at first. Flames. The eternal flames of judgement and sin, perhaps? Had he died, and gone to hell for being a bad person? In his mind, this possibility seemed perfectly plausible. It may well have been the case. If so, where was Satan? Hell, was he Satan? He tried screaming, just to make him feel something, anything, aside from this gut-wrenching fear that was consuming him, swallowing him whole.

He rubbed his eyes, blinked a few times. The scene had changed. He was back in that wooden tent, in his stupid little bedroom, running to save his baby brother. Without a second thought, he ran towards his parent’s room.

“Mama!” He shouted, through the wall of fire and smoke. “Papa! GET OUT! PLEASE, IT’S AN EMERGENCY! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!”

When he reached their room, however, a horrifying sight greeted him. His parents, their faces charred by the fire, the skin burnt off their bodies. It was truly spine-chilling, he thought, wrapping his arms tighter around the baby in his arms. A wave of nausea overcame him. He needed to escape, and now. They were already dead. He had let them down, time after time. What was wrong with him?

Matters only worsened from there, however. While he was attempting to get out of there as rapidly as possible to save both him and his brother, he tripped and dropped him into the flames. Placing his arms in front of his face protectively to save his skin, he tried to pick him up again, but he was as hard to pick up like a dropped bar of soap. Fuck. If anything, he needed to save his brother. He needed to give that boy a future. He was far, far too young to die. He’d barely even lived. What cursed sort of existence could you even call that? Panicking, he tried again, but a wall of heat surrounded him, and he became vaguely aware of the concept of carbon monoxide poisoning, which his Uncle Yakov had taught him about a few years ago. It was honestly surprising, in his eyes, that he still remembered it. But that was insignificant and unimportant right now. What was important, was that he managed to save his baby brother’s life, and yet he couldn’t even seem to get that right. Maybe this was the universe’s idea of revenge. Maybe, in a distant other life, wherein he’d managed to get Yuri out, his hero complex would have been his downfall, despite the likely guilt wracking him at leaving his parents to die, and the way his trauma probably would have shaped and defined him. He would lose his personality, his interests, his sanity, everything. Viktor couldn’t think of anything more horrific in the world than that.

If he couldn’t even get Yuri out, he would be blamed and scapegoated and scolded for it. His existence would be incredibly painful, on an emotional level. Would it even be worth living, without his family? He would be present physically but checked out mentally. Surely, that was no way for a human being to live. It stripped him of his dignity, his pride and just about everything he had known and taken for granted up until then. It was true, what they said-you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

And it was gone. His brother, his mother, his father. Yes, he still had his aunt and uncle and his cousins and grandparents, but so what? Life would not be made easier by their inclusion, and may, in fact, be harder. He wasn’t sure if he could handle that.

The flames were practically smothering him by this point, and he realised that to escape with his life, he would need to put up a fight. Yet, if the three people who he loved the most in the world had left his life, then there was no way that any meaning, or value, or happiness, could be present in the rest of his life. Life goes on, was what people always said. But, what if it didn’t? Filled with melancholy, Viktor swayed where he stood, giving himself into the flames and the smoke. Feeling himself slowly slipping away, dying, like he deserved, being the selfish idiot that he was. One word haunted his brain as he faded away: failure. Failure, failure, failure.

Then: darkness, the abyss, nothing.

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“Prince Viktor, wake up. It’s just a nightmare,” Yukko told him, trying to shake the man awake. He’d been shouting out in his sleep, and thrashing about in his bed. He kept shouting for his parents, sadly. She only wished that there was something that she could do about that, but obviously, there was nothing which would alleviate his suffering, bar his own peace of mind. She was certain that he wasn’t quite there yet, mentally.

“Hmm,” he moaned, his voice husky with sleep. “What time is it?” He sat up, running his hands through his hair. The haunted, wild look on his face suggested that he’d seen a ghost or two, and she supposed that in a way, he had, if his nightmare had been about what she suspected, anyway.

“Eight in the morning, your highness,” she said. He yawned and stared out of the window, blinking multiple times and acting like the light was hurting his eyes. “Are you going to get up, now?” He usually had done, by this point. In fact, he was renowned for being the early bird in the family.

“Maybe…I don’t know,” he said, his voice low. “I don’t feel like it.”

She felt like laughing but managed to restrain herself. “With all due respect, your royal highness, you can’t just take a day off being a royal, and performing your duties to your country, simply because you ‘don’t feel like it.' Please get up.” With that being said, she left the room, respecting his privacy. If he didn’t come out in ten minutes, then she’d get somebody.

Five minutes passed, then ten, then twenty. He didn’t shift from the warmth and comfort of his bed once in that time. Anxious, Yukko spoke hurriedly to Yakov and Lilia about their nephew being stuck in a slump. They were quite understanding about it, all things considered. Yesterday, they’d reconciled, and even officially welcomed Yuuri into the family. It had been wonderful-like a rainbow after a storm. Good things weren’t meant to last, though, and that much was evident in this particular situation.

Yakov being Yakov, he decided to go to his room and yell at him. “VITYA!” He shouted, forcing the man’s door open. “IT’S BEEN ALMOST HALF AN HOUR NOW! GET UP!”

Accustomed already to these outbursts, Viktor rolled his eyes and pulled the cover further over his head. Yakov shook his head to himself and moved to remove the cover from him, but Viktor was strong, stronger than he looked, and stubborn, too. Whatever. He didn’t have time for this absolute nonsense, anyway. Resigned to the fact that he couldn’t get Viktor up by yelling at him like he might have been able to do when he was younger, and as he had done when he was younger, he stormed out of the room.

Lilia was stood waiting for him at the end of the stairs. “Nothing?” She asked. He shook his head.

“Nothing,” he confirmed. “He’s stubborn, and he’s refusing to get up. Whether it’s an act of deliberate defiance, or otherwise, I have no idea, personally.”

She pursed her lips, unimpressed by her nephew, definitely not for the first time, or the last. “Right. I’ll see to him.” She marched upstairs in a rather intimidating matter, her high heels loud enough for everyone to hear.

She rapped neatly on his door, then opened the door without even asking for Viktor’s permission to enter his bedroom. “Viktor, you must get out of this slump immediately,” she instructed him, sternly, knitting her eyebrows together. “You promised to take on a multitude of responsibilities as the Prince of Russia, yet you have fulfilled none of them today because you are being deliberately obnoxious and refusing to leave your bed. I don’t know why you’re doing this if you deludedly believe that this is funny or a joke, but I can most certainly assure you now that it is not.” Viktor remained silent. “Viktor Nikiforov, are you listening to me?” He groaned in response, not opening his eyes to look at her, which she considered slightly rude of him to do.

“It’s too much energy,” he told her. “And, I only let everyone down regardless.”

She rolled her eyes. “I have never heard such utter nonsense in my whole, entire life. Now, get up, get your sorry behind out of bed and function like a normal human being. Do you think that you can manage to do that for me?” He shook his head and pulled his covers over his head.

Frustrated, she tutted to herself, before turning her back on him and doing what her husband had done, by exiting the room. It looked like they would have to resort to bringing his brother and cousins into the room. This had happened before, but it had not occurred for years. What had changed, now, to cause this? He was probably overthinking again, the way he always did. It was scary, the holes that he buried himself in, they were so deep and dark. He would only respond to those with whom he had a genuine emotional connection. Yuri had just finished wolfing down his breakfast, in the most undignified manner possible, being the ravenous teenage boy that he was, so he should be the next one to go to Viktor’s room and help rouse him from his sudden slumber. Despite not showing it often, he loved his older brother dearly. Anyone in their family could tell that much. They had made amends last night, but they were still wary of each other’s presence. Not that this mattered now. In this team effort to encourage the older Russian Prince to get up, teamwork was vital, and therefore they would be employing his assistance in this.

“Yuri!” She called out, striding into the dining room with her head held high. “I need you to do a favour for me. Do you think you would be able to manage to perform such a task for me?”

Several minutes later, Yuri was stood ominously over his older brother’s spacious double bed. “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCKITY FUCK, VIKTOR? WHY WON’T YOU GET UP, YOU PIECE OF SHIT?!” He screamed. That was his way of encouraging him. Ah, yes. Brotherly love.

Sighing to himself when his shouting garnered no response in the silver-haired man, he began kicking him. Viktor made several noises of complaint, in direct response to this. At least he was getting a reaction out of him, he thought to himself.

“Ow! Stop that, Yuri, it hurts! What did I ever do to you, eh? Just get out, already!”

Taken aback by his older brother’s sudden outburst, Yuri stepped backwards, thinking that leaving the room would probably be for the best, to ensure that one of them didn’t say anything which they could potentially regret later on, like what had happened the former night. The wounds from last night’s shouting match were still raw, and he didn’t want to bring up those same turbulent emotions once again. After all, the Tiger of Russia was hardly a monster. He cared about preserving his and Viktor’s relationship and was well-aware of the damage that had already been incurred.

“Fine,” he relented. “But I’m getting Mila to come and get you up.”

Viktor pressed his hands into his shut eyes, and then massaged his forehead as though this whole ordeal was giving him a headache. “Fine, whatever. Do what the hell you want to do, just get out of my room.” For once in his life, Yuri obeyed the orders commanded to him. He took one last, worried look at his depressed brother, before slamming the door shut behind him, just desperately hoping, as everyone else was, that he would be alright.

“It didn’t work,” he admitted to Lilia, whose shoulders slumped in disappointment. She wasn’t surprised, really, but this was getting difficult, at this stage in the game.

“Mila?” She called out, across the room. “Can you go and try to get your cousin out of bed for us, please? He’s refusing to budge.”

Eyes wide, she nodded, remembering the last time this happened, three years ago. The atmosphere in the palace had been tense, and painful. She didn’t want a repeat performance of last time, and she wanted Viktor to be his usual, bubbly self again. Bearing that in mind, she headed upstairs to go and reason with him.

“Viktor, are you okay? You’re not being your usual happy self,” she murmured, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Mila, please leave me alone. I hate the idea of you all seeing me like this,” he muttered. “Hate the idea that people see me as weak.”

She frowned, confused. “But we don’t.”

Viktor rolled his eyes at this. “Yeah, right.” He shut them again, and turned over in his bed, determined to ignore her.

“Please?” she begged. “I know whatever you’re going through right now must be really difficult, to leave you in such a depressed state, but we all love you and we’re here for you any time.”

He smiled, a little. “Thanks, Mils. I appreciate it. But please, leave my room. Maybe I’ll get up at some point, but not at the moment. Got it?”

She sighed, not willing to leave him, but fully aware that things would only escalate further if she attempted to argue with him. “Got it.” With one last, sad look at her older cousin, she shut the door behind her.

Georgi was stood outside of his bedroom door, in the corridor, with his arms folded. “Mother sent me,” he offered, using explanation. “I take it she sent you, too.”

She shifted from foot to foot awkwardly. “Yeah.”

His eyes filled with concern. “He really won’t get up?”

“Hmm. We’ve tried everything, at this point.”

He quirked an eyebrow up, at that. “Ha, so am I your last hope, then?” She nudged him, rolling her eyes, and pushed him towards Viktor’s bedroom door. He walked in, not sure what to expect, but willing to face it anyway.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, please tell me what’s going on,” he sang, sitting on the edge of his bed. “Clearly, you’re suffering through something. What is it? You can trust me-we’re like brothers, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, we are,” Viktor murmured sleepily, rubbing his eyes. “But that doesn’t mean I want to talk to you about what’s going on with me right now. I refuse to be judged.”

Georgi scowled at him. “You really think that lowly of us, that you reckon we’re judging you?” the man questioned.

“No, but judging is a natural, humane thing to do. I don’t blame you if you do.”

“But we’re not.” Viktor wasn’t listening to his cousin. His hands were in his ears. Georgi realised that his plight was futile. “When will you understand that we want what is best for you in life, and not just for our own selfish political matters?” Georgi asked, but to no avail. He was being subjected to silent treatment.

Fine, he decided, while he made a swift departure from what he regarded as the pit of despair. Georgi’s parents had tried talking to him, as had his younger sister and cousin. Only one more person could pull Viktor out of this, so it was worth a shot. Let’s get Yuuri Katsuki in here, and see what he has to say and whether he can help Viktor. He’s our last hope.

Therefore, that’s what he did.

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After some time, there was a gentle rap at the door, this one slower and more considerate than the others. He could tell who it was in an instant, but should he let him in and risk letting his future husband see him in such a weak, pathetic state? He wasn’t too sure of that. Yet, he already knew that this man was stubborn, from the time they had spent together so far. Before the disastrous dinner the night prior, he’d hung out with him several times, and was always in a state of awe around him, that a human being could be so perfect. Maybe Yuuri Katsuki was an angel. He believed it to be so. If that was the case, letting him in would be for the best. Given his stubborn nature, he would only persist in his quest to get through to Viktor, he knew that as a fact.

Sighing, he spoke to him, to indicate that he could enter the room. “Come in!” He hated how broken and small he sounded, like a shy little mouse, afraid of intervention of the outer world.

Concern was written all over Yuuri’s face when he entered Viktor’s bedroom. It was evident that he’d been anxious for some time, judging by his pale face, and the flush on his cheeks. Despite this, he seemed determined not to let this side of him show, and smiled at his lover in a way that they both knew was fake, but would not address.

“Vitya, my darling. How are you doing?” The Japanese Prince murmured when he reached his side, reaching forward and stroking his hair. They’d agreed that, whenever Viktor required comfort, Yuuri was allowed to stroke his hair, unless he had express and explicit instructions not to touch him, or not to touch his hair, at the very least.

“I could be better,” he tried to joke. Naturally, his attempt at a joke fell flat, and Yuuri frowned, crouching so that he could meet Viktor at eye level.

Koijin, please tell me what’s wrong.” Viktor trusted him. Really, he did. But he wasn’t sure if he could let down his walls and open up so readily, so easily, to literally anybody, let alone someone he had known for less than a month. Alternatively, he decided to distract him, because that was one thing that he knew for a fact that both he and his brother were proficient at doing-creating a distraction, to avoid discussing an unwelcome topic they were not willing to talk about.

“Yuuri, you’re too kind to me,” he whispered, taking his spare hand and kissing it, smiling.

Viktor.”

He tilted his head, forcing Yuuri’s hand off it, grinning in that smarmy way only Viktor Nikiforov could. “What?”

His significant other sighed impatiently, rubbing a hand over his face. “Stop trying to change the subject, just because there’s a difficult issue at hand that you’d rather not converse about. I’m not trying to force anything out of you. You do know that, right?” Viktor simply shrugged, his gaze distant, his mind elsewhere. “I want what’s best for you,” he continued. “We all do. Myself, King Yakov, Queen Lilia, Princess Mila, Prince Georgi and Prince Yuri. They care deeply about you, and I do, too. When will you understand that we only do this because of how much we care?”

Viktor pushed himself up, propping himself upwards with his pillows, his frustration clear. “Because you shouldn’t care about me. I don’t deserve all of it. I am a failure and a disappointment to the family name. That’s just the truth. You don’t need to lie to me, either, by denying it, because that feels more painful, in a way. I shouldn’t have survived that fire.”

Yuuri gasped and urgently grabbed Viktor’s shoulders, shaking him. “Viktor Nikiforov! Do not speak about yourself that way! What the actual hell do you think about yourself, huh? You must have such a warped self-perception. I can’t even imagine spending a day in your brain. Your self-loathing is obvious. Didn’t you work through this, and your trauma, and survivor’s guilt, when you were getting therapy?”

Viktor nodded. “Yeah, but people forget that therapy isn’t some magic cure for mental illness. It can help, but it isn’t for everyone, of course. Myself included. I suppose.”

Yuuri took Viktor’s hands and clasped them into his own. “Viktor, that doesn’t mean you can pull stunts like this and not get out of bed. I know, some days, the world seems like a bleak and terrible place, without your parents to guide you through everyday life as a royal. But that doesn’t mean that you can rid yourself of all of your responsibilities. The very least you can do is get out of bed. Some days, that feels impossible, I get that. Believe me, I have been there before. It gets better. I can imagine this doesn’t happen often, though, so it must have some sort of trigger. Am I correct in saying that, Watashi no motomou Amai saiai no hito?”

Viktor smiled a little, which Yuuri regarded as a minor achievement in of itself, given the type of day that the young prince seemed to be having. “What do all of those Japanese words mean, Yuuri? You’ll have to teach me Japanese, someday. I would really love to learn your language, and perhaps discover more about your culture.”

Yuuri laughed. “One day, I’ll teach you. I’ve just been using Japanese terms of endearment, that’s all. Nothing ground-breaking, or anything like that. But still, I’m glad that you’re taking a keen interest in elements of my life in that way. It means a lot to me.”

Viktor squeezed his hand in response. Yuuri squeezed it back, his face softening. He removed his left hand from Viktor’s, using it to stroke his hair once again, and kept his right hand in Viktor’s, interlocking their fingers as he did so. The Russian Prince gazed at him with such adoration in his eyes, it made his heart almost skip a beat.

“I’m sorry for being such a burden,” Viktor said. Yuuri shook his head vehemently.

“No, you’re not a burden, you’re really not. Regardless of what you tell yourself, you could never be a burden to me, I promise. I chose to be with you, remember that. I’m not leaving your side unless you want me to. I’d rather that didn’t happen, though. Please, stop apologising for everything, when you have no reason to do so whatsoever. You have done nothing wrong; you hear me? You haven’t got out of bed, and understandably, we’re worried about you and your current state of mind. Tell me what’s going on in that head of yours, won’t you, darling? For me?”

Viktor bit his lip, contemplating his words. A burden was exactly what he was. Why had everybody else been lying to him, by daring to suggest otherwise? It made no sense in his mind, but he couldn’t be bothered trying to untangle his web of thoughts. Besides that, Yuuri had just asked him to open up to him. Finally, a chance to expose himself, to have some sort of vulnerability in front of somebody. He supposed that this had always been inevitable, really.

“Fine. Only for you,” he decided. “I had a nightmare.”

Yuuri frowned. “About your parents?”

Viktor’s eyes filled with tears. God, he was pathetic. “Yeah, it was, as stupid as that sounds. It’s put me in a stupor. They were berating me for not managing to rescue them from the fire, fifteen years ago. They essentially stood there and had a go at me, and then they gave me another chance to try again, to not fail them this time around. However, I, unfortunately, failed them once again, because, by the time I got to their bedroom, it was too late. They were both already gone. As for Yuri, I tripped and dropped him and couldn’t get him again. Realising that he would die, I surrendered myself to the flames, lamenting just how stupid I am, how much of a disappointment and failure in life that I am, etcetera. Then, there was darkness. I awoke with a start. I’d been screaming and thrashing around in the bed, apparently. According to Yukko, anyway. She was the one to wake me up. My thoughts were spiralling into a dark pattern. I was wondering how much worth my life truly has, if I couldn’t preserve theirs, and if my life could ever look hopeful or positive without them in it. Which is dumb, I know, because it’s been fifteen years now and life has moved on. Life has moved on, and I haven’t. A testament to my weak character, I’m sure,” he muttered, bitterly.

Tears had escaped his eyes and were spilling out onto his pale cheeks. Yuuri looked close to tears himself.

"Oh, sweetheart,” he murmured into his ear, holding him close. “No wonder you’ve been unable to get out of bed.  A nightmare like that is more than enough to terrify anyone, cause them to beat themselves up. It’s clear to me that you have some self-esteem issues, and struggles with survivor’s guilt. Not that I’m a therapist, of course, but that’s what it sounds like to me. Viktor, you really need to stop blaming yourself for the demise of your parents. It really isn’t your fault.”

Viktor shook his head, opening his mouth to disagree with him. “It is all my fault, my own selfish actions caused it- “

Yuuri pressed a finger on Viktor’s surprisingly soft lips. “No, Vitya, my baby. Please don’t say that. That’s not true.”

Viktor shut his eyes, weary now, tired of arguing with Yuuri. “You’re so perfect, my angel. That’s what you are. An angel. Maybe you’re, like, a guardian angel. More specifically, my guardian angel. That would explain a lot, actually.” Viktor suggested, and Yuuri chuckled.

“Definitely not. I’m just a normal human being, I’m flawed and make mistakes, too. We all do, at times. It’s a natural part of the human experience, so don’t beat yourself up about it too badly, alright?”

Viktor sighed, and reluctantly nodded. “Alright.” Yuuri held out a hand, then yanked him out of bed, taking him completely by surprise. “Yuuri, what are you doing?”

“We’re going for a walk,” he told him, firmly. “In the grounds. Yukko can come along if she wants. I’ve already discussed this with your family. They’re happy for us to do so.”

Viktor pouted. “What about what I want?”

Yuuri rolled his eyes. “Look, I’m not falling for it, Viktor. We’re going for a walk. The fresh air will be good for you. So, get dressed, and I’ll wait outside the door for you.” He raised an eyebrow at him teasingly. “Unless you want me to help you get undressed?”

He blushed. “No, that’s fine. I’ll get myself dressed, then.” Yuuri inclined his head.

“Good. I’ll meet you outside your door in five minutes, yeah?”

Viktor took a deep breath, his parent’s disappointed faces still imprinted in his mind, but fading with every word his lover spoke. “Yeah.” Five minutes and a bathroom trip later, he was ready.

 “Let’s go,” Yuuri said, Smiling, Viktor looped his arm around Yuuri’s. Today had been hard so far, and no doubt it would continue to be emotionally difficult, but with Yuuri, he could get through any bad day.

Perhaps that was what love was.

Chapter Text

Three days later...

"It's such a relief to hear your voice, believe me!" Yuuri exclaimed, laughing. From over the phone, his mother laughed, too. 

"Daisuki dayo, Watashi no ikiko," she responded, affectionately. "I'm so proud of you. Your father and I are so very happy for you, and I still can't believe that you are getting married to Vicchan! It's so exciting!" 

Yuuri found himself laughing again and switching straight to Japanese when he heard heavy footsteps, lurking outside of his room. "Ooasan, onegai shi masu! Kare no namae ha 'Bichan' de ha naku Viktor desu. Taai nai! Kekkon suru mae ni shorai no o no namae wo manabu hitsuyo ga ari masu shikashi. Anata ha tadashii desu. Sore ha exciting desu! Watashi ha kofun shi te i masu, soshite, watashi ha kare mo sou da to omoi masu, tokorode, kare ha kazu hi mae yori mo umaku yatsu te i masu. Watashi ha anata ga shinpai shi te i ta koto wo shitsu te iru."

There was a brief pause on the other end of the line, and then she spoke warmly. "That's great, Yuuri. Being around you has really helped him, hai?" 

Although she couldn't see his face, he nodded, upon instinct. The footsteps had gone, now, so he switched back to speaking in English. "I think so, yes. Hopefully, anyway. Being around him is really calming for me, too, which is great." 

When Queen Hiroko spoke again, her voice was low. "Have you told him about your fuan shogai yet?" 

A flush crept up the back of his neck. "Not yet, mama. I will do, soon, daijobu desu?"

She sighed, heavily. Her son could be so stubborn sometimes, and it was frustrating to see. "Okay. Be honest with him, yes? Be yourself. If he loves you, he will accept you for who you are, believe me." 

Yuuri's flush darkened. "Mama!" He could have sworn he heard footsteps again. He lowered his voice and switched languages again. "Kare ha mada watashi wo aishi te i nai, sore ha genjiten de ha haya sugi masu." 

He could practically hear her smile from across the phone. "Ah, but give it time. Triumph belongs to those who are patient, remember. Shinai naru, anata no atarashii kazoku to ganbak te kudasai. I'll visit you when I can. Anyway, I'll hand the phone over to your father, now." 

Yuuri sighed, not wishing to stop talking to his mother, with her warm, familiar voice. Truth be told, he was feeling a little homesick, having been away from home for the past three weeks. He missed Hasetsu, with its beautiful blossom trees, and the local hot springs that his family would often frequent, as well as his language, his food, his culture. It felt like home, speaking his mother tongue, and he loved the way it sounded when it came out of his mouth. Russia was a brilliant place, and he loved this palace, but there was nothing like the familiarity of home, at the end of the day. All the same, he got along with his father quite well, so he would be happy to hear from him. 

"Hello, Yuuri!"

"Otosan, konban." 

The formal greeting was what could be deemed befitting and only appropriate for such a conversation, given the relationship dynamic between Yuuri and his father. They never really understood each other, but Yuuri was content in the knowledge that his mother and sister did understand him. 

"Let's speak in English," his father decided. Yuuri sighed. 

"Fine," he relented, "but if there's anyone outside my door, I'll be switching back to Japanese." 

His father heaved a deep sigh. "If you so wish," he said, his tone dismissive. He was just bitter because he enjoyed showing off his English skills. "You're engaged to the nephew of the King of Russia, right?"

"Right. I think I am falling in love with him, father. His name is Viktor Nikiforov and he is a good man, brave and strong and noble. Handsome, kind and caring, too. He has a lighter side of himself that he doesn't show many people, which I find to be refreshing, yet he takes his duties seriously, as well." 

King Toshiya let out a brief laugh, taking Yuuri completely by surprise. "Well, he certainly sounds like a charmer. I am glad that you are doing what makes you happy, Yuuri. Tell me, what is his family like?" 

At that moment, he heard Viktor's younger brother screaming at someone. "Georgi, for the last time! I did NOT steal your mother's lipstick, I've had this for a month! Mila gave it to me!" 

"LIKE HELL SHE DID!" Georgi roared. Heavy footsteps passed by as he heard them chasing each other through to the quarters where the guest bedrooms were. 

"Chris," Mila whined, knocking next door. "Why won't you get DRUNK with ME?" 

"As I said already, I'm busy!" A few seconds later, Yuuri heard a loud, dramatic gasp. 

"You and Phichit-oh, wow-I'd best get going. I need to have a lie-down," Mila exclaimed, walking away. 

"I HAD BETTER NOT CATCH YOU BACK FLIPPING OFF THE ROOF OF OUR GARAGE AGAIN, YOUNG MAN!" Yakov yelled. Yuuri shuddered and assumed that he was addressing Viktor. "JEAN-JACQUES LEROY, WAIT UNTIL YOUR PARENTS HEAR ABOUT THIS!" 

Oh, right. JJ. He knew that guy was bad news, but damn. "Otabek Altin and Seung Gil Lee sneaked out to watch him, also," he heard a distinctly female voice utter. Lilia. "Such disgraceful behaviour." 

He was about to speak to his father, to say something, anything, about the chaos that he had tuned out of when his bedroom door burst open and a very drunk-looking Viktor entered his room. "AYYY, IT'S VIKTOR NIKIFOROV IN THE HOUSE! WHOO!" 

Yuuri stared at him, shocked. He was aware that alcohol was a form of escapism for him, but he hadn't anticipated this. "Vitya, please," he hissed. "I'm on the phone with my father." 

Before Viktor could even formulate a response, however, the King of Japan spoke up. "Brave and strong and noble, huh, Yuuri?" he teased, chuckling to himself. Yuuri swore and turned to Viktor, irritated. 

"Viktor, what the hell? I told you beforehand that I had an important phone call to make. Why didn't you listen to me?" Viktor shrugged.

"Sorry, Yuuri. I must have forgotten. Anyway, isn't it much more fun having me around?" Frustrated, the smaller of the two shook his head and tried to converse with his family again. Viktor slipped his arm around Yuuri's waist, giggling into his shoulder. "Did I tell you how stunning you are, my beautiful baby? You're like a god, you are the cutest person I have ever met, and super hot. One day, I hope to explore that gorgeous body of yours, whenever you're ready, my sweetheart. Not yet. But there's time," he whispered. Yuuri blushed and pushed him away, as gently as possible. 

"You're very kind, Viktor, and that sounds like great fun. I would love that, perhaps in a few months. I need you to get out, though," he urged. "I'll talk to you later." He took Viktor's hand, squeezed and then kissed it, his eyes sparkling with affection. Viktor giggled and drunkenly kissed him on the cheek, so close that Yuuri could smell the scent of alcohol on him. 

"Okay, my love. I'm going to go see if Chris wants to get drunk with m-" 

"No!" Yuuri interrupted, horrified. "Don't go in there, he's-" However, it was unfortunately too late, and he left his room to intrude on his new best friend, instead. 

A horrified gasp could be heard next door. "Chris, what the-ew! I'm going to go find Mila, instead. Ah, my eyes are burning!" 

Yuuri pinched the bridge of his nose and spoke to his father again. "Sorry about that," he muttered into the phone. "I guess you could say they're pretty loud and chaotic, to say the very least." 

"It seems to be that way," the man stated. "Remember not to get too overwhelmed, and not to get too lost in it all, alright? I know I don't always say it, but I care about you and I am proud of where you have ended up in life." 

Yuuri's eyes filled up with tears. "Thank you, Dad. That means a lot to me." 

"Of course, my son. Any time. Now, tell me. Are you missing home, by any chance?" 

There it was: a sign that his maybe, his father, got it, after all. "Yes," he laughed. "A lot. Even though I love it here in Russia, don't get me wrong. All the same, that doesn't replace the comfort and safety of home."

"I understand that. Before you or your sister came along, your mother and I used to travel a lot for your work, and in the first decade of your life, I did too, as you know. It really tires you out, and makes you feel alien and strange, doesn't it?" Yes, that encapsulated it perfectly.

"Yes, exactly," he said, "that's it." 

Toshiya cleared his throat. "I expected that you may be feeling somewhat...homesick, shall we say? So, I've sent over a package from home, full of some of your favourite things. It should arrive at the palace shortly." Yuuri raised an eyebrow at this. Was his Dad missing him? He must be, to do such a thing.

"Okage de fu," he responded. 

"You're welcome," his father said, rather stiffly. He seemed almost embarrassed by his displays of kindness and affection towards his youngest child. "Anyway. I have burdened you enough with my small talk, I am sure. I'll let you talk to your sister." 

Yuuri sighed, feeling as though his time with his father had been cut short. Granted, he'd only been allocated twenty minutes in which to talk to his family because they were supposed to be having a Movie Night, once they were finished. He was hoping that they could watch one of his favourites, Toy Story, but he knew that some of the others would rather watch The Lion King or Princess and The Frog.  In the end, Lilia had announced that they were allowed to put a vote forward, to decide, even though she wasn't doing the movie night with them; it involved the potential suitors, who were still their guests, plus Yuuri, Viktor, Mila, Georgi and Yuri. It was going to be fun, despite Mila and Viktor being drunk. He supposed that he would have to cut short the bonding time with his father, and talk to his sister. 

"Okay, Dad," he said. "I'll talk to you again at some point." 

There was a brief silence from over the phone, and Yuuri thought that his father had left the phone call, at first. "I'll talk to you later, son. Goodbye." 

"Goodbye." In the distance, he could hear the King of Japan talk to somebody in the background, and Mari muttering something. 

"Little brother!" She shouted down the phone. He moved it away from his ear, wincing. Suffice to say, this was going to be a long ten minutes.

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The next day...

The phone call had gone over well, overall, and Mari had teased him relentlessly about Viktor, chattering on and on about how hot he was and how jealous she was of Yuuri, but at least she was lucky to have him as her future brother-in-law. If things didn't work out, she added, then she was always single. Yuuri had sighed and painstakingly explained to her that, unlike himself, Viktor did not swing both ways. Her heartbreak and disappointment had been obvious, but she soon moved on, saying teasing things that made him blush, and he had retaliated, albeit weakly. After their ten minutes of discussion were over, Mila of all people had barrelled into his room and grabbed him by his arm, dragging him into the cinema room. Upon his entry there, Viktor had been all over him. 

He'd leaned over, lazily, to sling an arm around his significant other's shoulder. Then, he kissed him on the cheek, moving all the way to his neck. "Viktor!" he'd protested, giggling. "There are other people in here. Plus, you've never kissed my neck before. That's new." 

Viktor buried his head into Yuuri's shoulder. "I want the world to know that you're mine," he had told him, seductively.  Yuuri had rolled his eyes. 

"The world? Vitya, the only people who know that we're engaged are in these four walls," he'd pointed out, raising an eyebrow, sceptically.

Viktor had disregarded this carelessly, the way he always did with everything that did not suit what he wanted to say, or his particular tastes. He'd asked if Yuuri liked it when he kissed his neck, to which the Japanese Prince responded that he did, then kissed him more. Yuuri's clenched knuckles were white, his face red and his breathing fast. He had been trying his best not to humiliate himself by responding to Viktor's kisses; they had been causing some excitement for him-hence, why he didn't want to do this in front of other people. Even though they did have the back row to themselves, therefore it probably was more permittable to do so. 

Yuuri was reflecting on this the morning after, as he knocked on Viktor's door and patiently awaited a response. In his arms, he was holding a bouquet; he felt it was important to give him a gift, on this date he was about to go on. They were going shopping, to find him a style, and some Russian clothes. Apparently, Viktor loved shopping, so he was very excited at the prospect of going shopping, and leaving the palace. Yuuri was grateful for the trip, feeling as though it would help him in sorting his appearance out, not to mention the fact that he would be leaving the palace and spending some precious time with his future husband. 

"Just a minute!" Viktor called out, from behind his door. Yuuri chuckled, knowing that the reason that he was taking so long was probably because of a raging headache, as the result of a likely hangover from the previous night. He'd passed out shortly after their viewing of The Lion King. He had calmed himself down, fortunately, following on from Mufasa's death. During Can You Feel the Love Tonight, he'd tentatively taken Yuuri's hand, and Yuuri had taken it back, rubbing his thumb over his knuckles. They'd stayed no more than an arm's length away from each other for the rest of the night, and when Viktor had passed out, his aunt and uncle had already gone to bed. Georgi was also in a slumber, Mila was too wasted to sort him out herself, and the other princes didn't feel comfortable with putting him to bed. That had left the two Yuris. 

"He's such an idiot," Yuri had grumbled as he'd helped Yuuri drag an unconscious Viktor back to his bedroom. Yuuri had laughed. "Trust him to do something like this." 

The Japanese Prince shrugged. "His life has been pretty hard at times, Yurio. That's how he copes." He'd picked up the nickname from others using it for him, mostly Mila and Viktor. 

Yurio's piercing eyes had narrowed. "What the hell did you just call me, baka?"  They had proceeded to bicker about the offending name while carrying Viktor back to his bedroom. Yuuri had then placed him into bed gently, and Yurio stood around awkwardly, explaining that he would get him changed into his nightwear, so he wouldn't wake up, confused as to why he was still in his clothes, and so that he didn't rumple them, too. He'd nodded, allowing this, and had placed a soft kiss on Viktor's forehead, squeezing his hand and whispering that he'd be back tomorrow, for their date. Yurio had watched on, disgust was written all over his face, and Yuuri had taken that as his cue to leave the room. 

The very room that he had now returned to. The door opened, and a tired-looking Viktor greeted him, cheerfully. His excited smile covered his entire face. 

"Yuuri!" He greeted him, throwing himself at him. "I missed you. Where were you last night?" Yuuri pulled back from the hug, puzzled. 

"What do you mean, Viktor? I had a phone call, spoke to my family, and you came in and interrupted me. Then, you left, tried to talk to Chris, found him having some, uh, fun, with Phichit, shall we say. After that, you apparently ran off to the cinema room, and when I turned up, you were all over me. You kept kissing my neck and whispering Russian terms of endearment into my ear. All of which I understood, by the way." Viktor blushed, mortified. Had he really done that? 

"Oh, God. Are you kidding me? Please tell me that you're joking," Viktor practically begged. Yuuri shook his head. "I'm so sorry."

Yuuri brushed it off, laughing. "Viktor, it's fine. I enjoyed it. It was very, um, exciting." Viktor blushed even harder at what he was implying.

That's when he realised he had flowers in his hand. More specifically, a bouquet consisting of forget-me-nots, purple tulips and peonies.

"Are these flowers for me?" he asked, feigning innocence and batting his eyelashes at Yuuri. He shook his head. 

"And to think, I took the time to pick them, and everything," he half-joked. 

"Oh, I'm very grateful for them, believe me," Viktor told him, taking the bouquet from Yuuri and sniffing them. "I know what they all symbolise, for the record," he added, shooting Yuuri a meaningful glance. The man looked taken aback at this sudden revelation. 

"You do?" 

Viktor grinned at him, his eyes bright. "Yep! I sure do. So, the forget-me-nots are about not forgetting a lover or somebody who you deeply love or care about. The purple tulips stand for eternal love, and the peonies are about having a happy, long-lasting marriage. Right?" 

This time around, it was Yuuri's turn to blush, instead. "Um, yeah. That's what they all symbolise. Sorry if you think that it's too over-the-top, or anything. I just wanted to surprise you, and to make you happy." 

Viktor's lips quirked upwards into a smirk. "Make me happy? But darling, you always do, just by being here." 

"Oh." He hadn't yet realised the profound impact he'd had on Viktor's life, despite acknowledging mentally the impact Viktor had on his life. "You make me happy, too." 

Viktor looked pleased with this, his eyes lighting up in mirth. "Good, I'm glad to hear it. I'll go and sort these out, but feel free to come in my room and talk to me while I grab a vase and some water." They both made their way into his spacious and luxurious bedroom, almost identical smiles plastered across both of their faces. "Aren't you excited to be leaving this palace? I, for one, sure am. But, then again, that's because I have barely left this place in the past fifteen years. There's always ample time for new beginnings, eh? Ouch, my head is splitting today...maybe I shouldn't be drinking so much. I woke up in the middle of the night to throw it all back up. Glamorous, isn't it, being the Prince of Russia?" Yuuri simply stood there, listening and commenting when and where appropriate. 

"I'm glad that you're so happy today, Vitya," Yuuri said once the flowers had been arranged neatly into an expensive vase and set down onto his window sill. The two young men were close to each other, now. He stroked his face, and Viktor closed his eyes in bliss, before opening them again to gaze at his fiance with a lovestruck expression adorned on his face. 

"So am I, sweetheart. Thank you for the flowers. And for just being here, for sticking around, even when I do act like a complete and utter idiot and make a fool of myself in front of everyone." 

Yuuri kissed him on the cheek. "I wouldn't have it any other way," he explained. Viktor only looked even happier than he had done before. 

"Come on," he enthused excitedly, grabbing Yuuri's hand and moving him out the door with haste, "let's go shopping together." 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Their security, of course, was top-class. They'd entered a dark, blacked-out limo with a plethora of bodyguards surrounding them and with sunglasses on and the hoods of the coats up, in an attempt to avoid the press. They made sure that they didn't touch each other, lest someone spot them together and realise that they were in a relationship. They weren't ready to announce their engagement to the world, not yet. But they would do, at some point it was inevitable. 

However, the second that they were out of sight, Viktor placed his hand on Yuuri's bouncing knee, to calm him down. He was anxious that people would see him and would freak out, or not like him, or ask him why he wasn't in Japan. The 'official' reason was that he was there on a business trip, but if questioned, he feared that he would crack under the pressure. He placed his hand over Viktor's. The Prince of Russia chuckled, picking it up and kissing it softly. 

"Are you excited, Viktor?" Yuuri asked, smiling warmly at him. He only nodded, his eyes bright with happiness. The Japanese Prince squeezed Viktor's hand, then interlocked their fingers. In response to this, he turned to him with a lovestruck expression on his face.  "I'm just happy that you're happy, and finally getting your life back again." He smiled at him gratefully. 

"Thank you, my love. I am, too." For the rest of the ride, they still held hands, until they had to get out of the limo. Yuuri kissed his cheek for the second time that day just before that, though, and Viktor flushed, pleased.

They had ordered for the shops to be mostly shut, to accommodate for them and lend them some privacy, under the pretence of being business friends, who were bonding with each other. Viktor had similar trips with Chris, Otabek and JJ lined up for that week to make this seem plausible. The couple went from shop to shop, with Viktor spending needlessly extortionate amounts of money, while Yuuri gaped at him and pointed out the cost of everything, considerably more frugal in his spending. Several hours and one pleasant lunch later, they found themselves in a store that sold expensive suits. Yuuri found something navy blue and asked for Viktor to wait outside while he got changed into the suit. 

"What, can I not help you get changed?" Viktor teased, wearing a smug smirk on his face. Yuuri punched him in the arm and rolled his eyes, but he appeared to be suitably flustered, much to Viktor's satisfaction. 

"Maybe one day," he whispered into his lover's ear, as revenge. "Of course, please feel free to undress me with your eyes any time you want." Viktor's eyes widened and he felt heat creep up his neck as a satisfied Yuuri moved away from him, but he soon recovered his composure and made a deliberate show of checking him out, licking his lips while he did so. 

"Oh, believe me. I will do," he said, winking at him. Yuuri smiled to himself, then entered the dressing room. No more than a few minutes later, he pulled the curtain back and revealed himself to his waiting future husband, who gasped at the sight he was being greeted with. 

Yuuri looked nothing short of absolutely stunning. The fancy dress shirt he had on was black, his tie matching the navy blue of his tuxedo and pants. He'd removed his glasses and slicked his dark hair back, in what was likely an intentional effort to invoke a reaction in the Prince of Russia. The pants were a tight fit and showed his lower body off well. He couldn't stop his eyes from roaming-his significant other was truly irresistible. His dress shirt was also tight and showed his toned upper body off well. The tie and jacket complimented the look perfectly. Viktor wolf-whistled at him, lust causing his eyes to sparkle brightly. 

"Like what you see?" Yuuri asked, raising an eyebrow at him. 

Viktor snapped out of his trance, all of a sudden. "Like what I see? Yuuri, are you serious?  You look positively ravishing, darling," he responded, attempting to imitate a stereotypical British accent, and failing miserably.  They both broke into a fit of giggling. "Okay, but, really. Words cannot describe how incredible you look. It is taking me all of my self-control to not-" 

Yuuri put a finger on his lips to stop him from speaking.  "Vitya, please. What you're saying, it's making me feel a certain way, the same way you made me feel last night when you were kissing my neck, even though I do appreciate the compliment, don't get me wrong." 

"Good." 

Yuuri sighed. "Viktor, why don't you put a suit on of your own, yeah?" 

He nodded, agreeing to this. "Yeah." With that being said, he took his dark suit and took himself to the dressing room and got changed. When he emerged, Yuuri took him in appreciatively, checking him out. For once, he was lost for words.

"Viktor." 

He smiled at his lover. "Enjoying the view?" His tuxedo was black, like his pants, his tie was dark blue, matching Yuuri's, and his dress shirt was white. His strong arms were on show, and Yuuri just wanted the man to sweep him off his feet and take him into his arms, where he would feel warm, safe and comfortable.

"Come here," he muttered, his voice low with desire. Viktor happily obliged him, trying to appear as casual as possible. As soon as he got close, Yuuri kissed his forehead. Then, he moved to each of his cheeks, his nose, even the top of his head (which did involve him standing on his tiptoes, adorably enough). Nobody was there, fortunately, bar one of the people who was working there, and their security guard, neither of whom could see or hear them. Then, he took Viktor into his arms, hugging him with fervour and taking him by surprise. Viktor's eyes widened, but Yuuri wasn't done there. He trailed several kisses along his jawbone, causing him to gasp and clench his fists. 

"What the-Yuuri?" The Prince of Japan giggled in response, remembering his neck being kissed the night before. 

"Payback," he whispered directly into Viktor's ear, his breath warm on his neck. Viktor shivered and melted into his touch, the feeling of Yuuri's lips on his skin thrilling him to no end. 

"We should buy these suits and go back home, probably," Viktor recommended, after a few minutes of bliss, of Yuuri kissing his face and hugging him. "To the palace. They'll be wondering where we got to." 

Yuuri sighed. "Hmm, I suppose so." Reluctantly, he detached himself from the man and left the shop, both of them practically glowing. This had possibly been one of the best days of Viktor Nikiforov's life-not only had he been able to have a relative amount of freedom, but he'd also been praised and kissed by his significant other while there. He couldn't stop smiling. Finally, he had got his life back. 

Right? 

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"Yakov, think about it! It is a foolish and reckless thing to do!" The King of Russia shook his head. 

"No, Lilia. It is about time that they announced their engagement to the world, I would argue that it is ample time to do so. Is it not?" 

Lilia crossed to the curtains, which were draped across the window to conceal the night sky, and pursed her lips. "I certainly don't think he or Yuuri would see things that way." 

The door to the room opened, and Prince Viktor strolled in, wearing a wide smile and holding Yuuri's hand in his own. His happiness was shattered in an instant when he saw their faces.

"What is it?" Viktor asked, frowning. "What's happened?" 

Lilia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, sharing a look with her husband. "We were discussing whether or not you should announce your engagement to the world, Vitya." 

His eyes narrowed. "Aunt Lilia. No. We've already discussed this before-we don't want to do that, not yet." 

She nodded, understanding. "Which I tried to explain to your uncle." 

He turned his attention to uncle. "What the hell, Uncle Yakov? Why would you try to make this decision without me? Is that why you encouraged me to go out, on a shopping trip with him? So that you could talk about my engagement without me in the room? This is my life, not yours. This isn't your decision to make. It's mine," he pointed out, his cheeks tinged pink with frustration. 

"Viktor, look-" 

He stepped backwards, his hand leaving Yuuri's. "No, leave me alone. I don't want to talk to you about this any further." He gestured to his lover. "Come on, Yuuri. Let's go."

With that being said, he slammed the door behind them. Nobody took the time to notice two furtive figures slipping away into the night, away from the palace and everything they knew. 

Chapter Text

"Yuuri," a gentle voice whispered. Yuuri turned around, seeing his future husband approaching him. They were back at home, in Hasetsu, in the gardens, surrounded by cherry blossom trees. He was wearing a broad smile on his face, and his eyes were sparkling like sapphires in the sun. Yuuri walked up to meet him. Viktor leaned down and kissed him on his forehead, then cupped his face and pressed a sweet, chaste kiss to his lips. "Come on, let's go ice-skating together." He grabbed his hand and pulled him forward, to the local ice skating rink. 

When they got there, he beamed at him and took him into his arms, then surged forward to kiss him again. Yuuri kissed him back, hard, and Viktor's hands began to roam, exploring his body. Nobody else was around to see them, thankfully. Viktor's hands moved down, down, down...

"Viktor, I love you," he murmured. "Hmm, Viktor." 

"I love you too," he muttered. "Yuuri, Yuuri." He started to sound panicked, and he pulled away, his eyes wide. "Yuuri!" 

Viktor disappeared from his view, and the world shifted and faded away. 

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"Yuuri," Viktor urged, shaking his shoulders and turning his bedside lamp on. "Wake up. Yuuri!"

The Japanese Prince rolled around in his sleep, a sweet smile painted across his face. He looked adorable, his hair so fluffy. Viktor placed a hand on it, stroking it. He just couldn't resist doing so. 

"Viktor," the sleeping beauty uttered. "Hmm, Viktor." A light blush tinged his face; Viktor suspected, all of a sudden, that he must have been talking in his sleep. If so, he must have been dreaming about him. His own face heated up at the thought. He'd been dreaming about Yuuri, too, recently. Just a few nights ago, he'd dreamed about their wedding day, and it had been beautiful and perfect. Other dreams he'd had were more closely related to their future honeymoon, to put it like that.

"Yuuri! Yuuri? Yuuri!" He shook him a little more firmly. "Wake up." 

He shifted, then, groaning. "Huh?" He sat up in bed, his eyes adjusting to the scene in front of him. He reached out to his bedside and grabbed his glasses, putting them on and squinting at Viktor, confusion visible on his face. "Viktor! What time is it? How come you've woken me up?" 

Viktor chewed down on his nails. His gaze was distant and unfocused. "It's four in the morning, love." 

He frowned. "Then why did you wake me up at this time? What's wrong?"

Viktor paled. "Darling, it's my brother. Yurio is missing. My baby brother is gone." He choked back tears. Disregarding how embarrassing he believed his appearance must have been, Yuuri got up and hugged him, rubbing circles on his back. 

"Oh, Vitya," he whispered into his ear, pulling him in close as the man began to sob into his shoulder. "I'm so sorry to hear that. Do you have any idea where he went? Is anyone else missing, by any chance?" The Prince of Russia clung to him even tighter. 

"I have no idea where the hell he went, or even why. Oh, and that Otabek Altin is with him, probably, because he's mysteriously disappeared, too. I suspect that he probably encouraged him to run away with him." He trembled, then, with a combination of fear and anger, as wails and sobs wracked his body further. His future husband just held him, and stroked his hair, listening to his ragged breathing even out after a short while. 

"Shh, it's okay. I've got you, and we'll find him." Viktor pulled away from him, rubbing his puffy, red eyes. 

"You promise?" In response to this, his lover nodded. 

"I promise." 

A heavy silence lay between them, unspoken words hanging above their head like a dark cloud. Yuuri's mind kept running round and round in circles, all of his thoughts involving ominous 'what if?' scenarios relating to his future brother-in-law. What if he'd been kidnapped? What if he was lost somewhere, cold and scared and alone? What if someone had stolen something from him, or had committed a heinous act of violence against him? He might not have known him for so long, but that didn't stop him from caring about him or treating him like the younger brother which he soon would be in relation to him. 

"Get dressed," Viktor instructed him after a minute or so of an uncomfortable silence settling between the two of them. "Maybe shower, too, sweetheart. Today is going to be a long day for all of us, I'm sure. We can go downstairs and eat together, then decide how we're going to go about dealing with this. I'm going to go and talk to my cousins, aunt and uncle. I'll see you downstairs in twenty minutes, yeah?" Yuuri nodded. 

"Yeah," he replied. Viktor presented him with a small, sad smile, and gave him a brief kiss on the cheek before leaving the room. Although he was dressed, his physical appearance was bedraggled, his clothes crumpled and his hair messy. Clearly, the stress of his brother being missing was getting to him, on a psychological level. Poor Viktor. He couldn't possibly even begin to imagine how painful this must have been for him, emotionally; nothing of the sort had ever occurred with him and his older sister. All of a sudden, he felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that it had not, and regretted all of the times they had argued with each other as children. You never knew what the last words that you were going to say to somebody were. For all he knew, Viktor's most recent words to his younger brother could have been nasty or nice. He wondered if Viktor felt guilty about this. Knowing Viktor, he probably did. 

Not to mention the fact that he'd lost his parents, and now he could potentially lose the brother that he'd managed to save. God, imagine that. Who knew what Viktor was going through right now? He supposed that he would be the shoulder he had to cry on, given that his aunt Lilia would most likely take a more logical approach towards the whole situation, as would her husband. Georgi and Mila may provide him with some lighthearted relief-or perhaps offer him some alcohol-so again, it was down to him to be his emotional support. Although come to think of it, he was friends with Chris, wasn't he? Plus, the servants and the other princes (alongside Seung-Gil) would be there for him too. Bar the Prince of Kazakhstan, of course. Hopefully, nobody-aka J.J.-would act insensitive about the whole ordeal, and Viktor would get the support he needed in this trying time. 

Yuuri got himself ready with haste. It took him a mere fifteen minutes to do what Viktor had instructed him to, and he was downstairs as fast as his legs could carry him. Lilia was stood at the bottom of the staircase, expectantly, her arms folded and her eyes puffy and red. Evidently, she was distressed; then again, who could blame her? She was as close to her nephew as if he were her own son. That was the way he and Viktor had been raised, come to think of it. He couldn't even begin to imagine the emotional pain that she and King Yakov must have been experiencing at that moment. 

He bowed down before her, and then stood back up, straight, bowing his head, too. "I am sorry that he has gone. I am sure that we will find him." 

Lilia nodded, her lips pursed. "I am sure we will. In the meantime, however, we are understandably distressed without him here." Yuuri inclined his head, out of respect towards the Queen of Russia, and moved into the room. 

"DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME ALREADY?! YOU WILL GO OUT THERE AND FIND HIM FOR US!" A red-faced Yakov barked at half of a dozen terrified servants, who scurried in the opposite direction instantly, rushing past Yuuri. Yakov himself scurried off in the same direction, presumably to discuss matters with Lilia. The heavy bags under his eyes spoke for themselves. Yuuri averted his eyes, worried that if he made eye contact with the man, he'd be barked at, too. His gaze swept to the opposite side of the room, where Viktor was sat on a dark blue couch, with Mila on his left, and Georgi on his right, both of them holding his hands. He was reminded suddenly of how close the cousins had been growing up, and the fact that they'd all been raised as siblings. This included the missing teenager. All of them were crying, exhaustion was written all over their faces. 

"I am so sorry that this has happened," he said when he had made his way over to them. Upon closer inspection, it appeared as though they had all been crying. He didn't blame them at all; if anything had happened to Mari, he couldn't even begin to imagine how broken and lost he would feel. "I'm sure he'll make his way back soon; he loves you, after all, and the heart always brings a person back home." 

A brief silence fell between them like a curtain, and he fleetingly wondered if he had said or done something wrong. "Perhaps," Viktor mused, blowing at his fringe and staring out of the window. The evening was warm, the jewel-encrusted sky covered by a thin sheet of rain, serving to amplify the melancholic atmosphere present in the room at that moment. "Or somebody could have kidnapped him, or murdered him, or anything. If so, that would be my fault." 

Mila turned to her cousin. "That's not true," she argued, "because you've done nothing but be a responsible, caring older brother and an excellent role model for our young Yurio. He wouldn't even be here without you, remember?" 

Viktor sighed and refused to meet her eye. "Whatever," he muttered. "He's still gone, though, and on my watch. How could I possibly let him do this?" 

Georgi squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Just remember that you're not his father, Viktor." 

He flushed, then. "Believe me, Georgi. I'm fully aware of that, and that, in part, it's my fault that his father is gone. But, I can do my best to be a good older brother to him, no matter what. I vow to it."

His cousin nodded. "I'm sure you do. Just, let us find him, okay? He'll be somewhere, and hopefully he'll be returned to us, safe and sound, by the day's end."

"We can only hope," Viktor muttered, in response to this.

Mila smiled, sadly, and squeezed his hand, too, like her brother had mere moments ago. Georgi squeezed his shoulder, and Yuuri stood there, dithering and uncertain of what to do. It wasn't as though his words could provide comfort to him when he was in such a state of distress, it seemed. Nor could his touch, really, and even if it could, his family were present. It would hardly be considered appropriate, that much was for certain.

"He won't have gone far, at the end of the day, Vitya. He is only sixteen, after all," Yuuri pointed out, his feeble attempt to console his lover failing miserably.

"You don't know that," Viktor swiftly retorted, with a sharp glare directed at him. "He could be anywhere right now. Just remember, he's a member of the Russian royal family, so if he were to be kidnapped, he'd be valuable, in terms of financial gain and the such. Especially considering the fact that the known rogue, Otabek Altin, is with him, too. Oh, to think that I once trusted that prick, liked him, even..."

Yuuri's eyes widened in surprise at Viktor's enraged tone of voice. "He'll bring him home safely, I'm sure," he said, without thinking.

"Stop acting like you know that, and as though you have all the answers!" Viktor yelled, taking him completely by surprise. A wounded look crossed Yuuri's face, but Viktor's head was bowed, tears gleaming in his eyes, which he presently shut. Before the Prince of Japan could possibly respond, however, their guests burst into the room, all prepared to provide him with reassurance, too.

"Viktor," Chris murmured, dropping down so that he was eye-level with his best friend. "Hey. I'm sorry that your brother is gone. Hopefully he's warm and safe somewhere, and he'll be found soon." He bowed his head and retreated. Viktor nodded at him appreciatively. 

"Thank you, Chris," he just about managed to choke out. "I appreciate it." 

Chris stepped out of the way and Phichit took his place. "Prince Viktor, I am so sorry about your brother. Hopefully, he will be with you soon, and will be fine, both physically and mentally." Viktor wiped a few tears away. 

"Thanks," he muttered, not even looking up. Phichit sighed, dejected, but Chris took his hand, smiling sadly, and they moved away to let the other two men through. 

"Your brother will hopefully be safe, and returned to you soon in good condition. I wish you luck in finding him," Seung-Gil said, his tone as cold and impersonal as ever. Not surprising, really. Viktor dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and the member of nobility huffed and turned away, letting Prince Jean-Jacques through to speak briefly with The Prince of Russia. 

"Your royal highness, Prince Victor, I am sure that your rogue brother may return here safely, and that he will learn a lesson not to act in such a way befitting of royalty again." Yuuri let slip an audible gasp, although nobody noticed it. J.J. had a lot of audacity and nerve to say what he did, especially as an esteemed, seemingly well-respect guest of the household, whom the Nikiforov family had gladly welcomed into their home, despite how he had acted in the past. How dare he speak to Yuuri's future husband, who would one day rule the entirety of Russia, in such a blunt, harsh and disrespectful way! He'd pay for it, of course. He would have to. Anticipating a brutal response back from Victor, he winced, and tilted to his head to the side, confused, when Georgi took over and began to speak, instead, defending both of his cousins passionately.

"Prince Jean-Jacques Leroy of Canada, do not disrespect Prince Viktor in such a way. As all of us are at the present time, he is at his wit's end and extremely concerned about his brother, even going as far as to blame himself for what has occurred. My cousin may be brave and strong and noble, but he is only human, same as anyone else is. It would not be an injustice to you, or injure you emotionally in any form, to grow up, stop acting so petulant and petty, pull yourself together and not say such things to him again, or else we will not hesitate to revoke the terms of your stay at this palace. Do I make myself clear?" 

Flushed for once (something which many people present noted with great internal satisfaction), J.J. bowed his head, respectfully, then nodded. "Yes, Prince Georgi. I understand perfectly well. You make yourself crystal clear." Yuuri raised an eyebrow, surprised at the Canadian prince's unexpected obedience, despite the possibility that it could potentially be an act he was putting on. Yuuri honestly wouldn't put it past the guy, knowing what he was like and everything. 

Everyone else began agreeing, enthusiastically, their voices all merging into one loud, irritating buzz of noise in Yuuri's head, just as Yakov and Lilia barged into the room. He got overwhelmed easily, in situations where there was an awful lot of noise occurring all at once. His stomach dropped, and an overpowering wave of nausea washed over him. No, not here, not now. It was hardly fitting. Well, it was, due to the constant worry gnawing at him and churning his stomach, making his organs feel as though they were stuck in the washing machine. But, now was most assuredly not the right time to reveal that he battled with a debilitating anxiety disorder to Viktor, and he didn't want him to find out this way; it would only serve to stress him out further, he knew as a fact. Sweating profusely, he gripped the window sill behind him, the world tilting beneath his feet. Everything was a mix of bright colours and loud noises and general chaos. Not the good kind, either; far from it, in fact. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing his dizziness to fade away with time, but it did not. 

Viktor was now stood up, he noticed, without anyone holding his hand or anything of the sorts, which gave Yuuri the courage to approach him, despite his highly anxious state, and Viktor's highly distressed state. Perhaps this was a bad idea, he realised as Viktor got closer and closer in his reach. Yuuri reached out to squeeze his hand, a reassurance for himself alongside being an attempt at reassuring the man whom he was engaged to. Viktor turned to him, the look in his eyes sharp. 

"Yuuri, please. Not now." 

His face dropped in an instant. "But, Vitya, I was just trying to-" 

Viktor rolled his eyes, hard. "Stop embarrassing me in front of everyone, please. Go and do something useful for once." 

Affronted, Yuuri turned his gaze from Viktor's piercing one, to the dark, tiled floor, with its sleek and professional design impressing him despite his heightened emotional state. "I just want to show you how much I care about you, that's all," he whispered, his voice wobbling. 

"Then leave me the fuck alone, already!" Viktor expressed, gritting his teeth. Yuuri was aware that Viktor became a different person than usual when he got worked up, more so than the average person, but this wasn't okay by any means. It felt like he'd just been slapped, truth be told.

"Fine," he replied, dangerously close to tears, "I see why they call you the Ice Prince. Find someone else to raise your future heir with if you really want me to leave you alone, after everything we've been through. Because I sure as hell won't stick around if you don't want me here." 

Viktor's face softened in an instant, morphing rapidly from an expression of anger to one of horror as his own words rung in his ears. "Wait, Yuuri-" 

"Just forget it," Yuuri exclaimed, wiping his tears away with his sleeve. "I'll leave you to it." With that being said, he ran out of the room, the dizziness from earlier still remaining and threatening to shift the floor from underneath his feet. Regardless, he kept on running, down endless marble corridors, further and further away from the man he claimed to be falling in love with. He couldn't be around Viktor right now, it was all too much for him to bear. His chest tightened, and it felt as though someone had squeezed all of the air out of his lungs. Dimly, through the haze of his intense emotions, he became aware of a familiar voice calling out for him in the dark of the night, shortly after he'd made it out of the backdoor and into the spacious grounds of the Nikiforov's grand palace. Phichit. 

Wow, maybe somebody did care about him, after all. Who knew? 

"Yuuri!" Phichit called over, concern tinging his voice. A rush of guilt coursed through his veins at the sudden realization that he'd carelessly left, totally disregarding Viktor's feelings, and doing the very thing that his brother and his brother's unofficial boyfriend had done. Not that anyone cared deeply enough about him or loved him enough to care about him being missing as much as they did with Yurio-if that had been him, back at home, they'd barely even notice that he'd disappeared. Or so he believed, anyway. "Are you okay?" 

He briefly considered lying and telling his best friend that yes, he was fine, thank you very much, but Phichit was perhaps the one person in the world whom he could not find it in his heart to deceive, or deliberately lie to. "No," he admitted, breathlessly, his hands clutching at his bony knees through the material of his pants. Tears threatened to spill over onto his cheeks, but he didn't let them, blinking them away determinedly. No way would he let his friend see him like this, not when he was so tightly-wound himself, the same way everyone else was. "I'm really not okay. My future husband literally hates me, and I snapped at him while he was under so much pressure and so worried about his brother. I wanted to comfort him, but it didn't work, and then I made everything about me, in that selfish way that I always do. I feel genuinely terrible about it, you know. I mean, I ran off from him, for crying out loud! What the hell is he supposed to think about me, huh?" 

Phichit frowned and tried to approach him, in a fashion reminiscent of someone trying to approach a wild animal that could snap at any moment. "Yuuri, breathe," he advised him. "In, and out, in and out, that's it. Like I'm doing. Perfect. You're doing so well, Yuuri. Well done. Also, please don't beat yourself up about it. It's okay, it really is. You're only human, and nobody can blame you for that. Oh, and no-one is mad at you, by the way. We want to know that you're okay, that's all." 

Yuuri shrugged, unsure of what to say. "I will be, I suppose. I'm sorry if I've caused a stir, though. I really didn't mean to." 

Phichit got closer. "Can I hug you?" he asked, uncertain, even after all these years of friendship. Yuuri nodded, allowing him to do so. The hug was warm and safe and kind, and Yuuri felt the closest to being at home than he had done in what had felt like a long, long time, but in reality had only been a month or so. It truly was crazy, he mused, how fast life could change. "It's fine," Phichit promised him. Yuuri trusted him to tell him the truth, so he opted to believe the Prince of Thailand on the matter. 

"If you insist," a winded Yuuri murmured, too tired to argue with him any further. He would only inevitably lose the argument, anyway. "How's Viktor?" 

Phichit pulled away and stepped back, then shrugged at him, several expressions crossing his face at the same time. "I don't know, really. I left shortly after you did, but, in the thirty seconds following from your swift departure of the room, he seemed pretty, uh, distraught. He mentioned that he thought he was a terrible person, that he'd messed it all up, that he always messes everything up, no matter what, that everything he touches turns to shit, and that he didn't know what he'd do with his two Yuris in his life. Mila and Christophe were doing a good job of calming him down, though, as far as I am aware of. Please don't worry or feel bad about it, Yuuri. It'll be fine, don't worry about it." 

That was far easier said than done, and they both knew it. "Did I scare you?" Yuuri wondered out loud. 

"Even if you did, that's irrelevant now, because I know that you're safe," Phichit told him, wearing a small smile on his face and squeezing his shoulder. "Come on in, won't you? I know that it's warm out here, but it's also raining, and we're all tired. You could go back there-" 

His answer was instant. "No, Phichit. I can't. I'm sorry, but I can't be around him or his family right now." Out of nowhere, an image of Yurio, forlorn and alone, his knees hunched up and the hood of his favourite jacket up to protect him from the sheet of rain, crossed his mind. He shuddered, detesting the mental image and attempting to push it away, when an idea entered his head. A light bulb moment, almost. "That's it! I've got to go out there and find him!" 

Phichit scowled. "Find who, Yurio? You can't possibly do that in the dark and the rain-" 

"Why not? The servants have been sent out to do it, so why can't I? Who cares if I'm nobility (by name, if not by blood)? So what? That doesn't mean I can't care for the kid, and try to track him down. If I do, it will solve this whole issue, and maybe Viktor won't hate me anymore!" 

Phichit shook his head violently. "Yuuri, no. Please don't do that, you'll catch a cold or put yourself in danger, one way or other. Besides, Viktor doesn't hate you, and never could. More the opposite, in fact." However, Yuuri wasn't listening. Phichit sighed: Yuuri was renowned for his stubborn and determined nature, and once he got an idea, you couldn't talk him out of it. Unfortunately, this was becoming one of those situations, one of many he'd managed to bear witness to throughout the years, whether better or for worse, he didn't know.

"I'm going!" He called out, dashing off, infamous for his stamina, too. "Bye, Phichit! I'll see you upon my return, wish me luck!" 

Phichit's heart dropped in his stomach. Great. What was he going to tell Viktor, now? That Yuuri had vanished in the night, without a trace? He'd be crucified! Oh, well. Perhaps Chris could stand up for him, and prevent that. The pair of them were very close, these days, to say the least, so he could probably get him out of trouble with Viktor this time round. He was concerned that his best friend was putting his life on the line for someone else, too, but he was unstoppable when he was like that. Resigned, Phichit sighed and took himself back inside, dripping wet from the rain that poured down from the heavens. 

On Yuuri's head, so be it. Let the search for Yurio commence.

Chapter Text

"Still no sign of him." 

Viktor sighed, deflated, before dismissing Leo di Iglesia from the room with a wave of his gloved hand. All attempts at composure had abandoned him, at this point. It had been nearly twelve hours, and neither Yuris had returned home yet. His frantic pacing has stopped a few hours ago-he'd finally managed to go round the entire palace and all of their grounds, twice, with only a few breaks between. He was currently sprawled across the couch in his bedroom, some useless film blaring in the background to distract him. He played with the hem of his shirt, the way in which he always did when he was nervous. He'd tried reading, earlier, but that didn't help any. He'd spoken to many people, and none of them had been able to comfort him. The only people who could have done were either missing or dead. Yes, his aunt and uncle and best friend and cousins and other friends were there, but nothing they said brought him any sort of peace. 

His Dedushka and Babushka would have been able to help him. As would Yuuri, Yurio, and his parents. But his parents and grandparents were deceased, his brother and future husband missing (and the whole reason he was worked up in the first place, of course). What if something had happened to either of them? What if either of them were injured or worse, kidnapped or killed or anything like that? His mind has been tortured with images of Yuuri dead in a ditch, passing out from the harsh weather conditions that he wasn't accustomed to yet (the weather had taken a U-turn, and the warmth from earlier had built up to a storm), or Yurio, lay tied up and face down in some sadistic stranger's basement. To him, they were vivid and painfully real, but to those whom he indulged this, they were mere imaginings, albeit horrifying ones. Sometimes, it felt as though nobody understood him, even at twenty-eight. But of course, that was nonsense. It was just an isolating thing, fear. It truly was. 

And he had pushed Yuuri away, too, when all he was doing was trying to be there for him. He didn't think he could possibly ever forgive himself for what he had said, making his Yuuri feel completely unwanted. He'd run away, according to Phichit, to look for his brother. Even though Viktor was so undeserving of having someone care about him so much, he had still gone out to search for him all the same. The thought made his heart hurt. 

He wondered what exactly had been the catalyst, the cause, the reason for his brother going missing. Naturally, it would be easy to pin the blame on the rogue, Otabek Altin. Yet, he had a feeling that this wasn't entirely his fault but instead had come about from a culmination of factors, things that had happened that influenced his perspective on life. Perhaps the concept of living his life outside the palace walls was enticing to Yuuri, especially if it was to be with someone he seemed to get along with some well and care about so deeply (for whatever reason, he added in his head bitterly). Either way, this event had been preventable. If only he had seen the signs of his brother wanting an escape before he did so, then maybe he could have stopped him. He shouldn't have let him go to the roof and kiss Otabek, but he was so happy, which was what the boy deserved, and Viktor had felt guilty about his younger brother's lack of freedom in life, thus figuring that it was better to let him just go. Besides that, Yurio was hardly an easy person to argue with. 

Now, he was paying the consequences for not knowing. 

No doubt the media would be all over the case. Viktor didn't care about appearances so much as he did the safety of his family, however. Yakov and Lilia could deal with the media, he was sure. They were well-experienced in doing so, by now. A sudden wave of guilt consumed him at the thought of him depending on other people to cover up his messes. He had let Russia down, let his parents down, let his living family down, let his other dead family members down, let his friends down, let his Yuuri down, let everyone down. He massaged his forehead, groaning. How could he possibly be so damn stupid? Why was he like this? What was wrong with him? This wasn't about him, but he was still a terrible, self-centered person for letting this happen nonetheless, or so he thought. It shouldn't be Yuuri looking for Yurio in this weather, he realised. It should be him.

Yet, it was too late. All he could do was pray that everything would be alright, in the end. 

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"Fuck," Yuuri whispered to himself, moving his fringe out of the way. The ice-cold Russian rain had plastered it to his forehead, thus rendering him unable to see at present. "This is bad. This is really, really bad." His body was shaking like a leaf due to the sudden chill which the rain had given him, and he'd been forced to abandon his glasses long ago. Or at least, it felt like long ago, anyway. How long had it been, come to think of it? It must have been a while, it felt like it had been forever. His limbs were aching, and the wind and rain had been assaulting his senses, leaving him breathless. It made him feel completely and utterly vulnerable and helpless, in a way he never had been in his life before now.  He longed for the warmth of Viktor's comforting embrace, but he'd stupidly ran away from him to look for his brother, and now his search seemed futile.

He'd not only done this to win Viktor back, of course. From the bottom of his heart, he genuinely cared about Yurio, and almost perceived him as the younger brother whom he'd never had before. If something happened to him, it would feel like his world was ending. He couldn't even imagine the unendurable emotional pain which his aunt, uncle, cousins and brother must be suffering through. He was doing this for the Queen and King, and their children, as well as Viktor and Yurio. He was doing it for Russia, too, returning their beloved prince safety to them. Not for attention, but simply out of duty towards them, although not an obligation, naturally. 

Was this even worth it? What if he returned with Yurio, and Viktor was still mad at him and didn't want to accept him back at the palace anymore? What if he hated him still? He wouldn't blame him, after his reckless and admittedly rather stupid and impulsive actions. Phichit was probably angry at him, too, come to think of it. Great. This was exactly what his anxious self needed right now-to be trapped in the freezing cold rain, searching desperately for his brother-in-law and uncertain as to what fate may await him upon his return at the palace. Hell, he might not even be welcome there in the future. As much as he resented the possibility, it was something he felt as though he needed to accept. He would understand. It scared him, but he'd deserve it. 

I love you, Vitya, despite the anger you feel towards me right now, how much you must hate me, he thought. And I love you too, Yurio, even though you're going to hate me soon as well, if you don't already. I promise I will try my best to show you that. 

So, despite the difficulties which he was currently facing, he did. 

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"A penny for your thoughts?" Otabek asked, nudging the blond teenager sat next to him. Yurio rolled his eyes. 


"Oi. Watch it, you," he warned, teasingly, but the worried look he'd taken on did not leave his eyes. "I was thinking about how much my family will worry about me not being home-knowing them, they will have caused a right fuss, back at the palace. Besides that, I hardly meant to worry them like that. But I'm fed up of feeling like a trapped bird in a cage. I've felt that way my entire life-bored, restless, waiting impatiently for something to happen in my life, for once. Of course, your life and upbringing has been very different in mine, so I naturally wouldn't expect you to understand my perspective from personal experience, or anything." He sighed, then. Otabek chuckled and took his warm hand, entwining their fingers as he did so. He leaned down and kissed it, gazing at Yuri as though he was the most precious person in the world, his eyes sparkling with affection, his stone-cold persona broken. Yurio's pale skin reddened in an instant.

"You've been like Rapunzel, stuck in that tower for so many years," he mused. 

Yurio smirked. "Yeah, well. That's the nickname Georgi usually reserves for Victor," he pointed out. "Not for me. It's because, when I was younger, he used to have this long hair, but he cut it on his eighteenth birthday. I would have only been six at the time, so I don't remember it." 

The Kazakh prince nodded, understanding. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "You've always felt overshadowed by your older brother, haven't you?" 

How did he know? "Yes," he responded, his voice low and vulnerable. His lower lip quivered, his emerald eyes watering. Otabek squeezed his hand, trying to be reassuring, uncertain as to whether it was working or not. "He always gets treated like some sort of hero, and like, I get it, to an extent. He saved me from a fire when I was just a baby, fifteen years ago. Yet he is hardly a savior, or an angel, you know? Don't tell him that I told you this, but not only does he have days where he cannot get out of bed, he also has days where he shouts at us, and snaps. Once, we were having this family dinner, where we were supposed to be 'properly introduced' to Yuuri, or something vomit-inducing like that. Anyway, they didn't say this to you lot-it didn't go well. Not at all. He ended up shouting at us, throwing a chair (thankfully without hurting anybody) and having a panic attack. The pig-I mean, Yuuri-ended up taking control of the situation, by dragging him outside to remove him from the situation and calm him down. The rest of us kind of just sat there in shock, even though we should be used to his erratic  behavior by now, right? So, yeah. It affects all of us to an extent-myself, Mila, Georgi, my pare-uh, uncle Yakov and aunt Lilia, sorry. They're not my parents, and they never will be. My parents are dead." 

Unexpectedly, Otabek pulled him in for a warm hug. Yurio accepted it gladly, holding him tight. "I know, and I'm so sorry to hear that you've been through so much. They shouldn't expect you to be able to handle such stuff, especially not at the mere age of sixteen. I'm nineteen, yet I wouldn't even be able to deal with that myself. I'm aware that I'll never understand what you're going through, or indeed, what you've gone through in the past, but I would hope that you know I'm always here for you, any time," Otabek reassured him. He hummed in acknowledgment, before reluctantly detaching himself from his boyfriend. 

"Thank you," he said. "For everything. Except for making uncle Yakov even more bald, and giving aunt Lilia a premature heart attack, that is. They truly are going to be worried about me, you know." In response to this, however, Otabek chuckled, not seeming the slightest bit fazed. Smiling, he pulled Yurio closer to him, pressing his lips to Yurio's softer ones. For a few brief, wonderful seconds, they kissed, the whole world around them disappearing, and an overwhelming warmth filling them both from head to toe. Nobody existed in that moment-not Yurio's dead relatives, not the rest of his family, not the other suitors, not the rest of Russia, or even Europe, or the rest of the world. Nobody. 

Well, Otabek was there. He was all that mattered, in that particular moment. He cared for nobody else. He needed nobody else-or that's what he told himself, anyway. Otabek flashing a blinding smile at him pulled him out of his thoughts. His heart began beating, fast, as the older teenager ran a hand through his golden hair, pressed his lips to his forehead, then stroked his face with a tenderness that took the Russian prince's breath away. 

"We don't need anybody else, just each other," Beka, his Beka, insisted quietly. "It's just us against the world." He liked the sound of that. 

It was a shame, then, that this sense of happiness and calm that had washed over him wasn't to last. 

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After what felt like an eternity, Yuuri dragged his feet forward, one foot in front of another. His search for Yurio had, at times, been aimless, just following the most logical path-where would he go if he were an angst-ridden teenage runaway? He asked himself this question on a consistent basis, to ensure that he was following some sort of direction, choosing the most solitary  places he could to frequent. His breath was shaky, his legs aching, the icy rain painful and chilling him to the bone. The air was humid and smelt of cigarette smoke and barbecue. His instincts informed him that he was close to the boys, but how he was aware of this. he didn't quite know. Yuuri was ready to practically collapse of exhaustion, at this point. How long it had been since he'd left the palace, was anybody's guess. Had it been four hours, now? Six? Eight? Ten, even? Surely not that long, but it certainly felt it. Time dragged on as slowly as his feet did, and a wave of dizziness overwhelmed him. He reached for the nearest bin, to hold on to, and squeezed his eyes shut. His empty stomach lurched. 

Shit. 

Luckily, he wasn't throwing up into a trash can for long, but it was long enough that he still felt embarrassed by it, despite the lack of spectators-though it must have been midday by now. The grey clouds above his head revealed nothing. Once he felt ready to go again, he moved away from the dingy alley which he had just ducked into. This street was quiet, almost abandoned, Everything was quiet-a bit too quiet. Suspiciously so, in fact. Perhaps he was onto something. Excitement coursed through his veins-he was close now, he had to be! 

After ten minutes of brisk walking, he heard two faint, familiar voices and turned to take in his surroundings. Black, iron-clad gates that were chipped and worn away with time greeted him. Behind them, was a crumbling house in a state of utter disrepair; ivory clung to the brick work like tight clothes, and several of the windows appeared to be broken. Black grime lined the area beneath them. A dilapidated house such as this would provide the perfect hideout for two teenage runaways, although admittedly it was not the most conspicuous place on earth to be hiding in. Still, he understood their motivations behind choosing to hide there, in particular. 

He surveyed the gate in front of him, suddenly grateful for this athleticism (something which surprised many people, who, more often than not, had him down as a nerd). Clearly, the boys had clambered over the high gate to get in, and had trespassed private property. Not that he would have the heart to tell them that, but still. Even if it was abandoned, they were not allowed to be there. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose; didn't they know that? A pair of idiots, that what the two lovebirds were. They even had the police searching for them-or at least, they had done when he left. Yuuri was honestly surprised that he hadn't encountered them yet. 

Reluctantly, he climbed the gate and in through one of the broken windows, quietly creeping his way up the unstable stairs, and entered the room where the two unsuspecting runaways were making out. He cleared his throat to make his presence known. Despite his extreme fatigue, his words came out calm and clear somehow. 

"Hello, boys." He took in their shocked faces with satisfaction. "I think it's about time we got you home, don't you?" 

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Viktor Nikiforov paced up and down the main hall anxiously. Still no word about them. His family members seemed equally as anxious. Nobody had heard a thing, and even the police hadn't found them yet. What if they had been kidnapped, or injured, or worse still, killed? This weighed heavily on his mind while he waited in fear.

A sudden banging noise grabbed Viktor's attention in an instant, and caused his cousins to startle, too, jumping up from Viktor's double bed in surprise. His uncle, King Yakov, had hold of Otabek, roughly pushing to him towards Lilia, who pursed her lips and whisked him away. Viktor's heart rate increased and his eyes widened, hope filling his heart: did this mean-? Surely, it did. Right?

Indeed, it did. Behind them, was Yuuri, his Yuuri, the love of his life, and Yurio, his younger brother, who meant the world to him, and nothing less. Tears sprung to his eyes and he dashed towards his brother in an instant, Mila and Georgi hot on his heels. 

"Yurio!" he called out, taking his younger brother into his arms.

"That's not my name," Yurio grumbled, although he did hug him back, albeit briefly. "Silly old man."

Viktor just sighed, relieved to have his brother returned to him. "I'm just glad you're back, Yura. I love you, okay? Don't ever think otherwise." 

Yurio stepped back, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, yeah," he scoffed. "Whatever. You too." Flushed with relief and happiness, Viktor beamed at him, grateful for his brother's safety and wellbeing in that moment.

"You are feeling well, I presume?" Yurio nodded.

"Yeah. Pissed off that Beka is being treated the way he is, though. Like he's a dangerous criminal or something." 

Frowning, Viktor led his brother over to the sofa in his room, indicating for him to sit down. "No offense, Yurio, but he kind of is. He was super wrong to do what he did, you know." 

At this, the teenager pouted petulantly. "But he cares about me. He'd never hurt me," the boy insisted, stubborn as ever. Viktor sighed, reluctant to spell it out to his brother, but needing to do so anyway.

"He might say that, but it doesn't necessarily make it true, does it? That aside, anything could have happened to you, either of you, out there." 

Yurio shrugged, clearly nonchalant about the whole  matter. "Yeah, I suppose so. But it didn't." 

Viktor nodded. "Hmm. That's true." With that being said, he hugged his younger sibling again. This time, Mila and Georgi joined in. It genuinely warmed Yuuri's heart to see them all reunited with each other, once again.

"Don't ever do that to us again!" Mila chided, wagging a finger at him in a light-hearted manner. 

"I won't, I promise," Yurio insisted. 

"We would not be able to stand your absence if you left us again. We're just happy that you are finally here, returned to us, and of sound mind and body," Georgi added. 

Yurio laughed, then. "Yeah, maybe. Still annoying as ever."

Viktor grinned at his brother. "And we wouldn't have it any other way, kotenok.

If Yurio had any qualms with the affectionate nickname, he said nothing about it. "Better get used to it," Yurio muttered, "because, to nobody's surprise, I'm grounded." 

Viktor patted his shoulder. "As should be expected, for doing something so reckless and stupid," he pointed out, "but that's enough of that, I think. Mila and Georgi, I take it I can entrust you to return him to his own bed chambers, and keep an eye on him for me while I attend to a matter of great importance." He glanced at Yuuri out of the corner of his eye, and that's when both of his cousins understood. 

Mila gave him a thumbs up, and Georgi inclined his head, slightly. Viktor squeezed Yurio's hand.

"Will I see you later?" Yurio wondered out loud, sounding oddly innocent for his age. Viktor smiled again.

"Of course you will. I'll come and watch a Disney movie, any you want, with you later, yeah?" 

"Yeah." Then, he departed from the room with his older cousins in tow, leaving his older brother alone with his fiancé. 

"Yuuri," Viktor breathed out softly, tears forming in his eyes. 

"Vitya, I'm so sorry!" Yuuri cried out, tears falling from his own eyes. "I shouldn't have irritated you, or snapped at you, or ran off into the night the way I did. I just didn't think that anyone would actually care if I left..." 

In response to this, Viktor gasped out loud. "Yuuri, my Yuuri," he whispered, pulling him into a warm embrace. "Please don't apologize. I'm the one who should be apologizing to you, and I will." 

"But it's all my fault," Yuuri sniffled, his voice muffled due to his head being buried in Victor's shoulder. "And I understand why you acted in the way you did. It's fine."

Viktor's grip on him tightened. "Absolutely not, zoloste," he responded. "It's my fault entirely for acting rude and dismissive towards you. Plus, I didn't pay you enough attention, and I snapped at you. It was only fair that you would retaliate, more than fair. And of course we'd care if you ran off into the night. I was worried sick. I thought that you hated me, and that you never wanted to see me again." His voice broke, and Yuuri carded his hands through his hair in an attempt to comfort him. 

"Of course I did," he reassured him. "And I could never hate you, Vitya, not in a million years. I was just upset, that was all. I missed you, when I was gone." 

Viktor hummed in agreement. "And you had every right to be, lyubov moya. I don't blame you in the slightest. I missed you too, by the way. So much." 

Yuuri squeezed his eyes shut, relishing the warmth that Viktor's embrace gave him. "I never meant to scare you."

"I know," Viktor said, his voice soft. "It's okay. When Phichit returned and told me that you'd gone searching for my brother, I felt sick. What if both of you were in danger? However, I've got to say, I am so incredibly grateful for what you have done for us-you found my brother, my precious baby brother, and I will never be able to thank you enough for that." 

Yuuri chuckled. "Viktor, it's fine. He's my brother at the end of day, isn't he? He's family." 

Viktor pulled away from the hug to stare at Yuuri, his blue eyes wide. "Yuuri, even after what I said to you, you'll still have me? And you truly think of me-think of us, the Nikiforovs-as family?" 

Yuuri smiled at him, adoration softening his beautiful amber eyes. "Yes, of course I do, and I will always have you, so long as you want me to." He switched to Russian and cupped Viktor's face in his hands. "Ty imeyesh' v vidu mir dlya menya, milyy. Pozhaluysta, vykhodi za menya."

Viktor stood, frozen in shock for a second. "Yuuri." 

Yuuri's face was solemn. "I only want this if you want this too, my Vitya." 

Viktor laughed. "If I want this too? I have always wanted this, darling. Always. I can't believe-I mean, I must be the luckiest man alive. Of course I'll marry you, Yuuri!" He flung his arms around his lover, who hugged him back, hard.

"I promise not to run away again," Yuuri told him, burying his head into his shoulder. 

"And I promise not to snap at you like that again," Viktor said, meaning it with all of his heart. "I truly am sorry for what I said, you know. I'm so, so sorry." 

He clung on to Yuuri tighter. The Japanese Prince moved his hands, so that they were carding through Viktor's bedraggled silver hair. "It's fine, don't worry about it," he told him. "I forgive you." 

Viktor breathed out a sigh of relief,  despite not feeling worthy of Yuuri's forgiveness and love at this stage in the game. Then, Yuuri shivered slightly, and Viktor could have kicked himself for being so stupid. "My Yuuri, I'm so sorry!" he exclaimed, irritated at his own sheer idiocy. "You must be freezing. Let me take you to your bedchambers and look after you." 

Yuuri frowned. "But what about your family? And your friends?" 

Viktor waved his hand away dismissively. "Nonsense, darling. It's no problem, honestly. In my eyes, you come first right now. You are my top priority." 

Yuuri blinked fast, appearing surprised. "But why? I'm hardly worthy of it." Viktor took his lover's hands into his with a warm smile, shaking his head. 

"Of course you are, lyubov." He took in his fiance's disbelieving face with a disappointed sigh. "Come on," he insisted, tugging at the Japanese Prince's hand. Yuuri simply wouldn't budge, however. 

"I'm not as important as your family is, and you know that," Yuuri insisted, stubbornly, sitting on the floor in a petulant manner.

Viktor rolled his eyes. "Right. Well, then. You leave me with no choice, good sir." With that being said, he picked him up, bridal style. Yuuri let out a panicked squeak, then a girlish squeal. 

"Vitya, what are you doing?" 

He winked at him. "Taking care of you, of course." Exhausted and freezing cold, Yuuri let him, the ghost of a smile flickering on his lips before fading away again. Viktor held him with a tenderness that took him by surprise, and carried him upstairs. When they reached his bed chambers, he put him down on to his voluminous, switched his television on and made his way into Yuuri's private en-suite bathroom, one which was more luxurious than the others due to him now being classified as a person of a higher status within the palace. 

"Viktor, what-" the question died on his lips in an instant when he heard running water. Oh, right. "You don't need to run me a bath, you know. I'm not that weak and feeble that I can't do it for myself," he added, jokingly. Viktor didn't respond for a short while, and Yuuri began to wonder if he'd even heard him, when he emerged from the bathroom wearing a triumphant smile on his face, one that made Yuuri's heart race. God, you're attractive, he thought, before mentally chiding himself for having such thoughts when Viktor was't even doing anything to deliberately provoke them. 

"I know, dear, but I just wanted to do something good for you," he said, perching on the end of Yuuri's bed and holding his hand. Yuuri rewarded him with a soft, sleepy smile. 

"If you insist." 

"I do." 

Yuuri squeezed his hand. "Thank you, watashi no saiai no hito." 

Viktor looked at him then, really looked at him. Not the way in which you would look at an object or an item, carelessly, but with hope, and love, and joy in his eyes. "You mean everything to me. Believe me, it's the least I can do. Now, stay there while I get Yuuko to fetch you some food from the kitchen and a hot chocolate. Basic of a meal as it is, do you like tomato soup and buttered bread? " Yuuri nodded. 

"Yes, I do. It's lovely." 

Viktor hummed in agreement. "The soup will be warm, the bread will be fluffy, it will be only the best quality of food for you." He leaned down and kissed his significant other on the forehead, causing him to close his eyes in bliss. 

"You're the best, Vitya," he whispered. Viktor's skin turned magenta, although Yuuri did not see it. 

"Please, Yuuri, you're too kind," he stated, laughing. 

"No, just honest," Yuuri muttered, opening his eyes to fix his warm, adoring gaze onto the Prince of Russia. Visibly flustered, Viktor left the room to go and talk to his personal maid, before returning. 

"She's just gone to fetch it for you," he explained. "Oh, and your bath should be ready soon." 

Yuuri nodded in acknowledgement. "Hai."

Viktor kissed him on the top of the head and pinched his cheeks. "You're just too adorable for your own good, bless you!" 

Yuuri blinked at him, hard, his eyebrows creasing with confusion. "I don't really think I am, Viktor." 

"But you are, and I won't have you tell me otherwise," the twenty-eight-year-old insisted.

"I'm too tired to argue with you anymore," Yuuri responded wearily, rubbing his face with his hands and lying back down on to his bed. Victor sat and watched every micro-expression that flickered across his face, affection causing his eyes to sparkle like diamonds. A knock at the door interrupted this, however, as Yuuko entered the room. 

"Here is your food, Prince Yuuri," she said. The prince in question sat up in surprise at being addressed by her, humble as ever. She smiled at him as she handed him a tray with a warm bowl of soup, buttery bread and a hot chocolate balanced across it in a rather precarious manner, then bowed respectfully before leaving the room and allocating them some more privacy.  

"I'll go and sort out your bath, love," Viktor told his future husband, his voice gentle, squeezing his hand. Yuuri smiled at him and began to eat and drink, thus prompting Viktor to sort his bath out. When he returned, Yuuri had halfway finished his food by the time his Vitya came back; he had practically wolfed down his food, being as ravenous as he was. Fortunately, it had served its purpose in warming him up; the colour had returned to his cheeks, and he wasn't shivering in the way that he had been earlier that day. "It's ready when you are, sweetheart," he added, hovering near his bed but not sitting on it. 

"You're such a gentleman, Vitya. Thank you." He leaned forward and kissed his hand. Viktor smiled at him warmly and departed from the room.  

Viktor returned to find Yuuri finishing his food. He kissed him on the top of his head and squeezed his hand. "Your bath is ready, sweetheart." 

Yuuri squeezed Viktor's shoulder as he moved past him. "Thank you for everything you've done for me today, Vitya. I appreciate you more than you could ever know. I'll see you around." That being said, he winked at him and padded into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him as he went and leaving a love-struck, starry-eyed Viktor in his wake. Pulling himself together with a light tap to the head, Viktor left his room, and went to his brother's, to sit and watch movies with him. 

Yurio seemed pleased to see him- if his small smile said anything, that was. 

"What are we watching, then?" Viktor asked as he settled himself down on to Yurio's plush purple sofa.

"Mulan." 

Viktor hummed happily as he set down on to Yurio's plush, purple couch. "Ah, a classic." 

Yurio nodded and played the movie, but his shoulders were tensed up. "Viktor?" 

"Yes?" 

"Are you mad at me?" His voice was unusually quiet.

"No, of course not," he said, frowning. "Why?" 

A sigh. "Because. I ran away, and I said some horrible shit to you and didn't even apologize. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." 

Viktor turned to him, concern in his eyes. His brother was hunched in on himself, his head resting on his arms, which were on his hunched-up knees.

"It's okay, I forgive you and I love you." 

It appeared that he was placated by this, because the scowl melted from his face. "Cheers. You know, for being you. Yeah, you're annoying sometimes, but I know I'm not easy to deal with, or to love. So, thanks, I guess." 

Viktor rewarded him with a faint smile. "It's no problem, kitten." He ruffled his hair and turned back to the movie. "Just like old times, isn't it?" 

"Yeah," Yurio responded, immersed in the film, his emerald eyes wide despite his obvious fatigue.

After about twenty minutes or so, there came a light knock on the door. Viktor cursed under his breath in Russian, expecting it to be a servant or family member. Then, he heard a timid voice call out from behind the door. 

"Vitya? Yurio? Please can I come in and watch the film with you?" 

Surprised, the older of the two brothers turned to the teenager in front of him with a question in his eyes. Yurio shrugged. "I mean, he did get me home, so I'm both angry and grateful towards him. He's going to be my brother soon, though, so, by all means, let him in." 

Viktor's eyebrows shot up; his brother was softening. "Alright, then." He called out to Yuuri. "Yes, lyubov moya. Of course. You're a member of the family, now."

Softly, the door opened, and a slightly disheveled Yuuri emerged, blinking sleepily at the pair of them. "I hope that I'm not intruding, or anything," he stated, with a sheepish grin. The smile didn't quite reach his eyes, however, but his nervousness did. 

"No, of course not, love," Victor murmured, moving up to make space for him. Yuuri laid his head down onto Victor's shoulder, and the Russian Prince kissed him on the head, putting an arm around him. 

"Gross," Yurio muttered, sticking his tongue out petulantly, but his words held no bite to them. Not really. 

Before long, Viktor found himself sandwiched between two sleeping Yuris, his two Yuris. He smiled to himself. Makkachin was returning tonight, and the two people he loved the most were by his side. 

Needless to say, he couldn't be more grateful to have his two Yuris back in his life.