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Do You Believe in Fairies?

Chapter Text

Out of this wood do not desire to go.

Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.

I am a spirit of no common rate,

The summer still doth tend upon my state;

And I do love thee. Therefore go with me.

I'll give thee fairies to attend to thee

And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep

And sing while thou on pressèd flowers dost sleep;

And I will purge thy mortal grossness so

That thou shalt like an airy spirit go.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act Three, Scene One by William Shakespeare

 

Chapter One – Unworthy

 

Trees dotted the edge of a meadow where the flatlands gave way to thick woods. The sun hung high in the sky, washing the earth in its golden light, bleaching the wheat, painting the river blue, and bathing the earth's creatures with its warmth.

A young man sat on the edge of the wood. It was as close to danger as he dared venture, but still near enough to it to make the village's maidens tremble from his bravery, and the young, jealous lads scoff at his stupidity.

The young man sat with his back to a thick oak tree, a book in his hands, and his posture was relaxed and unconcerned. The woods were safe for him; he was one of the few in the village who did not believe the stories.

Little did he know that he was being watched, ironically, by the thing that he claimed did not exist.

 

Yuri stood close to the Reading Man.

Yuri peered out from behind a nearby tree, his lips parted in quiet wonder. He was very handsome—for a human—and Yuri liked the way his hair refused to stay tied up, and the locks frequently fell from the high bun and into his dark eyes.

Yuri fidgeted, and the grass at his feet rustled. The Reading Man turned, brow furrowed curiously, and he looked directly at Yuri—through Yuri—and apparently content that he saw nothing, he returned to his book.

Yuri knew the rules. He was Fae, but the Reading Man did not believe in his kind. According to the ancient laws, that meant that Yuri was forbidden from showing himself to the object of his desires.

The Fae slipped out from behind his tree, and approached his human. As Fae, he was beautiful, and he knew it. Fair as snow, with hair the colour of pale gold, his eyes as green as cut emerald. His skin seemed to glimmer in the sunlight, and at his back swirled a twinkling light in the rough shape of fairy wings, but a mere illusion compared to the true wings of his sprite cousins.

The Reading Man did not look up as Yuri crouched down next to him and read over is shoulder. Yuri cocked his head to the side as he read, and found the text to be some sort of fantastical story that made little sense to him. It was written in an ancient language that Yuri had not heard spoken in many centuries, and he found himself impressed that his human could read it so easily.

A throat cleared quite suddenly behind them, but the Reading Man, once again, did not stir. Not that he would, for it was a vocalization made by Fae. Yuri turned, and saw what appeared to be a young man standing there, his arms crossed and a disapproving frown upon his face. He was far from young, however. It had been over a millennia since Yuuri of the High Court had been viewed as young by anyone.

“What are you doing, Yurio?” he hissed as Yuri stood up reluctantly, wrinkling his nose at the nickname, and stepped over to the king.

“What does it look like I'm doing?” he replied in the same tone, and Yuuri scowled at him.

“It looks like you're pining over a human who doesn't believe in us...again. We're supposed to help the believers, not the nonbelievers, you know that.”

“I could make him believe,” Yuri mumbled, but before he could say anything else, Yuuri cut him off.

“We do not make humans do anything; we are not wizards, we are Fae. We work with the earth, we tend to her and her elements, and we reward those who are gracious enough to let us into their lives without fear, and take from them only the firstborn son as payment. You cannot keep pining over a human who scoffs at our very existence.”

“I am not pining,” Yuri sputtered indignantly, “I'm—I'm...watching. He's...I'm just watching him. I know the rules, I won't show myself to him.”

“Yuri,” Yuuri said, his voice softening as he gazed at Yuri. In that moment, he looked every part the respected, all-knowing king that he was. “Let him go. A human who does not believe in us is not worthy of your time.” He lifted his hand, palm up in supplication, and starting with his little finger, he curled his hand into a fist.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and Yuri's human looked up at the darkening sky with a frown.

Yuri glared at Yuuri, and mirrored him. The sky cleared, and with a simple shrug, his human went back to his reading.

“You see? He does not even question it!” Yuuri said, “please, there are plenty of humans out there, why waste your time with this one?”

Yuri's eyes narrowed into a glare.

“Because I want him.”

 

~*~

 

Yuri sat with the Reading Man all day. The human did not move, save to wander to the stream for a drink, and to pick some wild strawberries to eat around midday. The Reading Man did not seem to question the out-of-season berries, their unnatural size, or their perfect, sweet juice that they contained. Nor did he did not question the way the water was as clear and refreshing as a mountain spring, or how it would be as energizing to him as a health tonic from a healer.

Yuri frowned, frustration bubbling inside him as he watched his human put away his book and wander back to his village at dusk. Yuri followed him as far as he dared, but stopped roughly a hundred yards from the border, knowing that in a place mostly of believers of his kind, they would see the signs of his presence, even if Yuri had not allowed them to see him.

Reluctantly he backed into the woods, and headed for home.

Yuri took the slow path, a human's pace to reach the Fae High Court. He could have been there in an instant if he wanted to, but there was something peaceful in taking the slow path. The way the animals of the forest came to pay their respects, the nods of acknowledgement from the human sentries who served the High Court, and the way the elemental sprites swirled around him, chattering excitedly as he passed them by.

Yuri heard the High Court before he saw it, and passed the agaric mushrooms as he stepped into the fairy ring.

Oberon, King of the Fairies sat upon a throne made of a living tree, and his king sat next to him. The current Oberon was a man named Viktor, eldest and wisest of the living Fae. His choice to take a king instead of a queen caused a minor stir amongst the elders of other Fairy orders, but none of them had been foolish enough to try and contest it in battle. Even if the sprites, brownies, dragons, djinn, leprechauns, and even the Dark Elves banded together, they did not have the skill to match even one Fae in battle.

And so, Yuuri became the second king.

“Yurio!” Viktor cried over the music, the dancing, and the general merrymaking as Yuri made his appearance within the circle. Again, Yuri scowled at the nickname, but did not dare protest it. His late grandfather may have been Oberon before Viktor, but he was not foolish enough to assume that this granted him any sort of special privilege. Viktor waved him over while a human servant dragged over another seat for Yuri, and presented him with a glass of honey wine.

“Have a good day?” Viktor asked innocently as he turned from the dancers and looked at Yuri. The sparkle in his blue eyes told Yuri that Yuuri had likely told him what he'd been doing. That, and the fact that Yuuri had suddenly found the backs of his hands positively fascinating.

“Fine, I suppose,” Yuri replied mildly, and sipped his wine.

“Yuuri tells me you were trying to charm that human again. The one who doesn't believe? And I felt your magic from here. Yurio, nonbelievers will not believe, period. They believe in logic and reason. They believe only what their eyes can show them. Magick does not exist for them. Please, stop hurting yourself and find another human, or you can take one of the firstborns from my collection.”

“I do not want any of your starry-eyed harem boys,” Yuri snapped. “I have to keep trying. My human...I don't want to trick him into a fairy ring and make him mine by some sort of magical contract. I only want him if he wants me.”

“He'd want you if he could see you, Yurio, you are still Fae, and you will always be impossibly beautiful to a human's eyes. But he cannot. I will not tell you what to do, but you know the rules of the Court.”

“I know, I know,” Yuri grumbled, “never show yourself to a nonbeliever.”

 

~*~

 

Yuri loved to dance, and often partook in the Night Dances, to dance from dusk until dawn, and as Fae, such a feat was simple, and would never cause him to tire.

Tonight however, he was far too lost in thought for even a short dance (short for Fae being a few hours long, their view of time being somewhat different than a human's, given their long lives) and instead he sat and drank, and watched Viktor tease his firstborn sons, the humans he had collected as payment from their parents, and watched the humans regard the King Oberon with a look of deep longing as he would step back at the last moment to embrace his king.

Yuri felt an endless burn of jealousy, seeing the pair together, and he thought of the Reading Man.

He did not know his name, despite the fact that he could have discovered it easily if he was so inclined. To read the mind of a human was as easy as paging through a book, but he did not wish to trick his human, or do magic on his human. Yuri had no issue doing magic for his human, but that was as far as he would allow his manipulations to go. He wanted to do right by the Reading Man, whatever that might be.

As the night progressed, Yuri watched the humans collapse from exhaustion, and the gentry Fae carried them off to the sleeping quarters. Yuri paused in his meditations to approach a young man who seemed to be reaching his point of exhaustion and touched his arm. A starry eyed look overcame him, as though he'd been blessed by the gods.

“You look tired,” Yuri said simply, “come sit with me a while.”

The order, dressed up as a request was often how the royal families often spoke to their underlings. Unkindness was rarely vocalised, and wars were often waged over the smallest of verbal slights. All the humans of the court were prisoners, technically, and were obligated to obey every command the Fae put to them.

No human who was taken would ever think to disobey a Fae, especially not a Fae prince, and their lives were better for their time in the court. They lived as long as the Fae did; they never aged; and they were never maltreated. If a human came to try and take them home, they would always refuse.

The human Yuri approached was a pretty young man with soft brown hair and a meek, quiet demeanour. He appeared startled by Yuri's appearance and subsequent request, but smiled brightly as he nodded, and obediently followed the Fae back to his seat, motioning for another chair to be added, and they were both provided with wine and fruit.

“Your highness is very generous,” the young man said, his fair cheeks flushing pink as he bowed his head a little, and Yuri waved off the compliment lazily.

“My reason for calling you over here extends beyond the clear need you had to rest your weary limbs,” Yuri said dismissively, “tell me—what do you recall of your human life, before Viktor—King Oberon, to you—took you?”

If the human was startled by this question he did not show it, and did not speak at first, but sipped his wine thoughtfully, his gaze cast towards the Fae and humans that continued to dance.

“It was a long time ago that I was taken,” he said, “I do not recall when exactly, time here is so different than how time flows in the human world, but I think it must have been a century or two, and my memories are fuzzy.”

“Tell me what you can remember...Guang-Hong,” Yuri urged gently as he looked into his mind, and offered the human a bakeapple, still on its vine. Guang-Hong seemed to be quietly transported when Yuri spoke his name, and obediently plucked the white berry off the greenery and ate it, honey-sweet and far more delicious than any human-grown fruit ever could be.

“I remember...” he sipped his wine, “...I remember that I had a lover, I think. I cannot remember. He was always smiling, but we had to be careful, because my father did not approve of our involvement, because it was a marriage that would produce no heirs.

“My father was an herbalist, but one season his foxglove would not grow, and he called on the Fae for help, and they agreed to help him tend to his fields if they could take something of his. He agreed before he knew what the Fae would take, but...I can't remember if he was sad or not about losing me.”

“If you could return to your father, would you?” Yuri asked curiously. “Please, answer honestly. I would truly like to know what you think.”

“No,” Guang-Hong said as he shook his head vigorously, the movement causing his hair to fall into his eyes. “I loved my father, and my lover, but it is beautiful here, and it's so...so...I don't know the word. I would never leave.”

“That is good to hear,” Yuri said, and Guang-Hong beamed under the praise. Yuri lifted a slice of apple, and held it a hairsbreadth away from the young man's lips. Obediently, he ate the piece of fruit straight from Yuri's hand. “Tell me more of your lover. How do humans court each other?”

“Oh, um...” Guang-Hong paused, and Yuri offered him another piece of fruit, which he accepted. “It is slow sometimes, and many different villages have their own customs. Some approach their intended by showering them with gifts, taking them places—not faraway places, but sometimes it is as simple as a walk through the woods, or to the beach, or accompanying them to a ball or festival. Some people have their parents arrange their...partnerships, and they do not meet until their wedding day. But the most common I think is simple gifts and outings together, means to get to know one another before you marry.”

“What sort of gifts would you deem simple?”

“Erm...Flowers, I suppose, a single red rose is considered very romantic. It sort of depends on what the intended likes.”

“If for example they read a lot, would they appreciate a journal, or perhaps a book of poems?” Yuri ventured, and Guang-Hong smiled as he nodded his head vigorously.

“Oh yes, those would make excellent gifts, your highness,” he replied, still smiling, and Yuri nodded as he offered another piece of fruit to the human.

 

The pair talked through most of the night, and by dawn, Guang-Hong had utterly exhausted himself. He fell asleep curled up in the chair that Yuri had offered him, and one of the Fae servants carried him off to bed. After they had gone Yuuri approached him, smiling approvingly, a look of relief upon his face.

“It's good to see you speaking with some of our firstborns again—” Yuuri began, and Yuri shook his head.

“I want him—no, don't look like that,” Yuri added with a slight scowl, and Yuuri's hopeful smile fell. “I want him as my Companion. Will you speak to Viktor on my behalf?”

Yuuri sighed heavily, defeatedly, and nodded.

“I'll speak to him. But, Yuri—”

“I'm not going to do anything stupid, I promise,” Yuri said, but his reassurance was met with a dubious look. “Really. I am not breaking any of our laws, I swear.”

“Yurio, this is...please. This human is not worthy of you. You cannot have him.”

Yuri narrowed his eyes.

“I want him, Yuuri, and by the Lady Moon, I swear, I will have him. Just you wait and see.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two – The Companion's Song

 

“Your highness,” Guang-Hong said uncertainly, “forgive me, I still do not understand...what am I doing here?”

The human looked up at the Fairy Tree as he spoke. It hugged the edge of the river, and its branches grew out like a living spiral staircase into the grand home that was built high in the canopy. Guang-Hong regarded it nervously, as though his eyes were being cheated by some spell. Yuri had heard that many humans feared high places, though it was also possible that Guang-Hong had never been invited to the home of one of the Royal Court before, and was thus intimidated by it.

“Did King Oberon not tell you why I called for you?” Yuri asked as he touched the human's cheek, and he watched as the human flushed a deep scarlet, and took a small, nervous step back.

“He just said you wanted me, your highness,” Guang-Hong replied in the same soft tone, “he did not say why.”

“I want you as my Companion,” Yuri said gently, as though he was speaking to a skittish deer, “do you know what that word means?”

“In the human world, it has many meanings,” Guang-Hong replied, though his nervous tone did not abate following Yuri's brief explanation. “With Fae...if I remember, it is something like a familiar?”

“Essentially, yes,” Yuri said as he nodded. “A human Companion is a friend, sometimes an advisor.” Yuri waved his hand invitingly, and he led Guang-Hong up the tree's branches and into the high canopy.

High above, planks of highly polished wood rested upon the sturdier branches, creating square flooring beneath the leaves of the trees, protecting Yuri's various belongings—food, furniture, and his mementos from his grandfather from the elements. There were no confining walls like one might find in a human home, though there was a partition in the sleeping area to provide a little privacy while they changed clothes. Birdsong filled the air, but none dared land in Yuri's home without his express permission. Despite Viktor taking over the throne, he was still a prince, and that still garnered a certain level of respect from both the birds and the beasts of the forest.

Yuri climbed higher, stopping in the area of the tree that served as the kitchens, and he produced a platter of seed cakes and maple water for his guest. Guang-Hong accepted the food and drink graciously, while Yuri sat down across from him to watch him eat and speak further on what he wanted of the pretty young human.

“What I want from you, quite simply, is to teach me about humans,” Yuri explained, and ignored Guang-Hong's look of mild surprise as he continued. “The human that I want, he does not believe in Fae. I do not wish to take him in the ways of my people, by kidnapping or trickery, or by striking a bargain with his family. I wish to have him only if he chooses to have me.”

“How strange,” Guang-Hong said in that same soft, delicate tone of his, and tilted his head to the side. “I mean no offence, your highness, but it's just that I have never met Fae before that wished to not kidnap their beloved.”

“None taken,” Yuri replied, and touched Guang-Hong's hand gently. “You needn't be nervous, I will not send you away as frivolously as some of my kin.” He paused and poured himself some of the maple water, which he sipped while he thought on how to best answer the human's remark.

“It does not make sense, even to me, why I wish to do this for my human,” Yuri said after a moment of contemplative silence, “he is...special. He exudes such strength without lifting a finger, and I am always impressed by the books he reads. I do not know where he gets them, he dresses like a commoner, and they are clearly books for the higher classes. He comes so close to the territory of Fae without fear—even most nonbelievers avoid this place, but he doesn't. Nothing frightens him, and I do not wish to take his strength from him by kidnapping or tricking him. I want his strength to remain. I just don't know how to make him see me, or how to court him in the way a human might.”

“If it is not too bold to say, your highness, I think it is very noble of you to treat your intended with such...respect,” Guang-Hong said, and his expression brightened when Yuri did not take offence to his statement. “If you wish it, I could go to this village as a travelling Bard, perhaps befriend your intended, and go with him to his reading place, and play. Is music not one of the few times Fae may show themselves to anyone, even the nonbelievers, and dance?”

“This is true...” Yuri paused as he cradled his chin in his hand thoughtfully. He had no concerns that Guang-Hong might double-cross him and use it as an excuse to flee the Court. He had been theirs for many centuries, and was as close to kin as he could be, but so too did Yuri know how lovely his beloved was. Humans, so full of love, both sexual and emotional, sometimes cannot control these feelings; not how a Fae child could. “I will let you go to him, but before I do, I need to ensure that you will behave yourself before my intended.”

“Anything, your highness,” Guang-Hong said at once, his voice just on the side of breathless, and watched as Yuri produced a small crystal vial in one hand, while the other he twirled through the air with a flourish, ending with his fingers pointing skyward, as though he was holding something delicately in his empty hand. Guang-Hong's breath caught, and a light pink, iridescent smoke trickled from between the human's lips, ambled slowly through the air, and poured itself into the vial. Yuri corked it, and stowed it carefully in the pocket of his breeches.

“Your—your highness...what did you do?” Guang-Hong asked, his eyes wide, and he pressed a hand to his chest. “I feel...I feel...cold.

“I took your love from you,” Yuri explained, and brushed his fingers across the back of the human's hand. This time, he did not react to the intimate touch. “I left enough that you would not become a creature without conscience, but your romantic and sexual love are mine, temporarily. I do not want you falling in love with my human.”

“Your highness, I would never—!” Guang-Hong protested, his eyes widening with shock, but Yuri merely offered him a rare smile.

“It is merely a precaution. You have not met my human yet, and soon you will see why it would be so easy to fall in love with him.”

 

~*~

 

The following day, Yuri went with Guang-Hong to the gardens, and he helped the Fae pick out a rose for his intended.

“I like this one,” Yuri said as he lifted the long-stemmed bloom. It was perfectly formed, its petals a deep red, and its fragrance was sweet, but not cloyingly so.

“It's perfect, your highness,” Guang-Hong said with a small smile, “any believer will know where such a bloom comes from; perhaps they will be able to aid in swaying the beliefs of your intended.”

“Perhaps, but my faith is in your plan. If all else fails, I know your ability with a lyre will aid in opening his eyes.” Yuri spoke as he cut the rose, and with a delicate brush of his fingers, he removed the thorns one by one. He then crouched to the ground, and chirruped.

Out of the woods darted a cat. It appeared to be a simple domesticated feline; long of body, with thick, light brown fur, but a darker shade on his paws and face, as though he'd stepped into an ink pot and drunk from it.

The little creature stopped in front of Yuri and mewed, bowing respectfully before it sat down and gazed up at the Fae with a look of inquiry in its brilliant blue eyes.

“Take this to my intended,” Yuri said as he pressed his fingers to his temple, then moved them to the cat and tapped it just below the ear. “Can you see his face in your mind?” The cat meowed again in affirmation. “Good; go to him.” He offered the rose to the feline, and it bit down gently upon the stem before it wove back into the trees and disappeared.

Yuri straightened up, and strode over to Guang-Hong. The human mirrored him, and regarded Yuri with equal parts fear and respect. Yuri cradled his cheek in his hand, and pressed a kiss to his forehead.

“Go in good health,” Yuri said, and pressed something into into the human's hand. Guang-Hong looked down curiously, uncurling his fingers to see a small cloth parcel resting against his palm. Guang-Hong tugged on the twine, and inside the cloth he found a small pile of ruby red, teardrop-shaped berries.

“If you find yourself struggling to befriend my beloved, offer him some of these after eating a few yourself,” Yuri explained, “they are wolfberries, and invite friendship to those who eat them.”

“Thank you, your highness,” Guang-Hong said with a small smile before he tied back up the little bundle and pocketed it carefully. “I will not fail.”

“I have every faith in you,” Yuri replied immediately, and kissed Guang-Hong's cheek. Even without his love, the small show of friendly affection brought a bashful smile to the human's face.

 

Yuri walked with Guang-Hong to the edge of the wood closest to the village. He kissed his Companion's cheek one last time, and watched him walk away, knowing that his love of the Fae and his fealty to Yuri would keep him from abandoning his task.

The Fae Prince had every confidence in his newfound friend.

 

~*~

 

Guang-Hong was gone for three days.

 

On the first day, the Reading Man returned to his usual spot near the forest alone, but instead of a book for reading, he brought with him four things—a journal, a pen and ink, and a familiar-looking rose.

Yuri bit his lip nervously was he watched his human sit down with his knees brought close to his chest, and he pressed the journal against the dark material of his breeches. He balanced the ink pot on a flat rock, and rested the rose on the grass next to him. After he dipped the pen in the ink, he sketched the rose roughly, and yet despite his clumsy human hands, he managed to capture the beauty of the bloom without even trying. It was little more than a coarse line drawing, and the wet ink seemed to sparkle in the midday sun.

Below the drawing the Reading Man began to write, and Yuri bowed over his shoulder to read.

 

Who are you?

Of all the strange events to happen in my life, none compare to a cat wandering into my father's smithy and resting this rose upon my anvil, only to scurry off as quickly as it had come.

Had my father not witnessed it, I doubt he would have ever believed me otherwise. He and Mother are very excited by this, and they say that I have won the affection of a Fairy. They say it will bring good fortune on our lives, and they urged me to accept this offering, because Fae are quick to anger, and would not look kindly upon a refusal of such a heartfelt offering.

Fairies? Ridiculous.

 

The whole town is enamoured with the concept of Fairies; it's maddening. Whoever sent this rose is a real person with a well-trained cat, not some sort of magical demigod. I do hope that it is a man, at least, for my interest in the fairer sex is spotty, at best.

A newcomer came to town today, and approached me at the inn's tavern. He bought me a tankard of mead, and broke bread with me. He was kind, but something tells me that he was the sender of the rose.

I sincerely hope that it is not the soon-to-be king. I know that Prince Jean-Jacques only showers me with material affection because it infuriates his father and his fiancée. Nothing would come of it I'm certain, which is a blessing. I hold the same feelings for him as I do hair lice—that is to say, little more than an annoyance that is difficult to get rid of.

 

The Reading Man sat and wrote almost continually for most of the afternoon. He paused to discard his shirt when the flecks of ink began to dot his sleeves, and Yuri felt his mouth go very dry at the sight of him.

His beauty of the face was matched only by his godlike physique. Muscle straining against tan flesh, it spoke of his work as a blacksmith, and Yuri yearned to touch him; feel him, watch his face in the throes of pleasure.

His beloved was perfect, of that Yuri was certain.

As the afternoon passed, his human paused in his scribblings to wander to the stream to clean his hands of the ink, have a drink, and then search for some food.

Like last time, he did not seem to question the existence of a fully-grown peach tree, heavy with fruit, so close to the edge of the wood, nor that it was the wrong season or clime for such a thing. He plucked the fruit from the tree, and Yuri gritted his teeth in frustration.

After his human ate, he returned to his journal, and continued to muse about who may have sent him the gift. He came back to Guang-Hong several times, and scoffed at the suggestion that it was Fairies. Each negative remark made Yuri ache with sadness, and at dusk when his human blew gently on the ink to dry it before he closed the journal, packed up, and headed home, Yuri learnt something new, for the Reading Man had signed his name.

 

Otabek Altin.

 

~*~

 

On the second day, Otabek returned to his usual spot, but this time with someone else in tow.

Yuri smiled when he recognized Guang-Hong.

“You're quite brazen for a h—erm, for coming out here, I mean,” Guang-Hong said, his gaze fixed resolutely upon Otabek as he spoke, but Yuri did not miss the brief flick of his eyes over to where Yuri watched, smiling and nodding encouragingly to his Companion as he refocused his eyes on Yuri's intended.

“Why's that?” Otabek asked, his voice rumbling from his throat in a mild, almost emotionless tone of voice.

“Well, aren't these woods supposed to be the realm of the Fairy King and his subjects?” Guang-Hong asked innocently, “they always want firstborn sons when they can get them.”

“There is no such thing as fairies,” Otabek said firmly, his voice quivering as though he was just barely keeping his anger in check. “I wish people like you would start seeing sense. Little wingèd creatures who flutter around stealing children and cobbling shoes? It's ridiculous.”

“Well, if you are so certain that they do not exist, why not lure one out?” Guang-Hong asked in the same honey-sweet, innocent tone, and he arched a brow at Otabek in challenge. “What do you have to lose? If you are right, nothing will happen. If I am right, well, I think you will have a lot of apologies to mete out.”

Otabek hesitated; Yuri held his breath.

“All you need to do is bring a few leaves of foxglove with you back to this place,” Guang-Hong explained quickly, “and I will bring my lyre. All Fae love music and dance.”

Otabek did not speak for a long moment, but crossed his arms as he narrowed his eyes at Guang-Hong suspiciously.

“How do I know this is not some sort of trick?”

“Trick?” Guang-Hong asked, and cocked his head to the side.

“Yes, trick,” Otabek said, “how do I not know if you planned this with someone from the village, and if we do this...thing, all I will see is one of your companions with false wings pasted to his back?”

Yuri bit the inside of his cheek to stifle his laughter at Otabek's very apropos use of the word companion. Guang-Hong seemed to be having a similar experience, and he was pressing his lips together hard enough that they had turned white. When he'd calmed down, he spoke with the same air of challenge in his voice, one Yuri knew that Otabek would not back down from.

“Well, that's just a risk you'll have to take, now isn't it?”

 

~*~

 

The third day arrived, and Yuri rose with the sun to prepare for his dance with his human.

Yuri used his opal comb to free his hair of tangles, and he plied the sprites with fresh cream and clover honey in order to have them help him braid it. They wove threads of white gold through his hair, and he dressed in a silvery-grey tunic and white breeches, ending in fitted silver slippers and white stockings.

Yuri completed his look with the diadem that he had never before worn outside of the Royal Court. It was a simple circlet of moonstone dotted with tumbled jasper and tiger's eye, the crystals standing out starkly against his yellow hair.

As he descended from his home and made for his human, Yuri could hear the gentle, excitable whispers of the other Fae of the Court follow him as he strode from the fairy ring and towards the edge of the wood.

 

“...going to court a human...

“...I've never seen Prince Yuri put so much work into his appearance before, he must be quite taken with this human...”

“...I hear it's a nonbeliever, one he has been trying to shift the views of for quite some time...”

Scandelous!”

 

“Don't they have anything better to do than gossip?” Yuri muttered to himself as he passed another cluster of whispering Fae.

“Well, it is uncommon for them to see their prince so immaculately dressed,” a voice said, and Yuri ground his teeth together in annoyance as King Oberon fell into step with him. “I hear you even sent off my son that I gave to you to try and sway your human. He must be something quite special if you put this much effort into claiming him for yourself. Maybe I should—”

“—no, Viktor,” Yuri interrupted, his voice just short of a growl, “if you see him, you will want him all for yourself. I saw him first. You already took the throne from me,” Yuri's voice wavered for a moment, and dropped to a whisper. “Please...don't take my human too.”

Yuri bit back a curse when his voice cracked. Before he could blink, Viktor dragged him into a bone-crushing hug, and he pressed a kiss to Yuri's forehead.

“You know that I cannot control the lines of succession,” Viktor said gently, softly enough that they would not be overheard. “My ascension to the throne was predetermined, you know that.”

Yuri debated the pros and cons of debating with the king how predetermined it actually was, given that many the mystics had been uncomfortably close with the current king, even before he took the throne. However, Yuri did not want to darken this day of all days with such talk, and instead he chose to not answer. Viktor seemed to understand, and kissed his temple lightly.

“Go in good health,” he said, and Yuri nodded.

“And you, your majesty.”

Yuri resumed his walk, and as he ventured farther from the Court, the whispering stragglers, both human and Fae alike, petered out. He was left to walk alone, save for the occasional curious woodland creature who would join him for a time.

 

As he approached the edge of the forest, Yuri felt his skin tickle in an irresistible pull towards Otabek's usual spot. Yuri smiled to himself; this sensation was proof enough that his human had brought the foxglove.

Barely ten feet from the break in the trees, Yuri could clearly hear two distinct voices speaking to one another.

“Did you bring the foxglove leaves?” Guang-Hong asked.

“Yes,” Otabek groused, “this better be worth it. It cost me my entire morning's wages for these things.”

“Are you telling me you're beginning to believe?”

“I'm telling you that you'll owe me fifteen silver pieces when nothing happens.”

“Fine, fine, you'll be eating your words soon enough, my friend,” Guang-Hong said teasingly. “Are you ready?” Yuri heard the soft plucking of a stringed instrument being tuned. He heard Otabek grunt in affirmation, and slowly, a sweet, tinkling melody floated through the air.

Yuri recognized the music easily; it was a simplified version of Procession of the Fae, a common song played within the court, which invited all to dance. It was a melody no human outside of the Fairy Court was permitted to hear, and Guang-Hong was taking a great risk in playing it for Otabek.

The sweet, sweeping melody lifted Yuri's spirits, and even if Otabek had not been present, already Yuri felt the compulsion to dance. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, and as silently as a summer breeze, he stepped through the foliage, and lifted the veil.

At last, his human would finally be able to see him.

“Nothing's happening,” Otabek said over the music, and Guang-Hong exchanged a smile with Yuri.

“Oh really?” he asked lightly as he continued to play. “Turn around.”

Otabek turned, the expression on his face giving Yuri the impression that he had just rolled his eyes, but the look of minor annoyance and disbelief crumbled when he saw what stood before him. His mouth dropped open in shock, and Yuri held out a hand to him.

“Will you dance with me, son of Altin?” Yuri asked, his voice shifting to a more regal tone that he used with the lower beings of the Court, and it seemed to add to his ethereal quality as Otabek's eyes shifted from abject shock and disbelief to awe.

Mutely, Otabek reached for Yuri's hand, and their fingers intertwined. Yuri marvelled silently at how their hands seemed to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.

Yuri pulled the human to him, and Otabek went willingly. His dumbfounded expression never left his face as Yuri led him in a dance, twirling him effortlessly across the grassy plain, alternating between leading and being led, and marvelling at how good and right it felt to finally be in the arms of his beloved.

Otabek met Yuri's graceful movements easily, and matched them with those of his own design. When Yuri took to the air, Otabek did not flinch away as they danced on the wind. He took Yuri in his arms, spinning him and drawing him back into a warm, all-encompassing embrace, and regarded him so intensely that Yuri almost lost himself in his gaze.

Yuri had the forethought to remember that most humans could not match Fae in stamina. As the afternoon bowed to the evening and they danced upon moonbeams that rained down from Lady Moon's swell, Yuri caught sight of the moisture on his human's brow, and the way his chest had begun to heave. Without a word, he led Otabek back down to the welcoming earth.

When they landed, Guang-Hong slowly stopped playing, stood up, and offered Yuri a short bow before he disappeared back into the trees. Yuri saw the bow out of the corner of his eye, unwilling as he was to turn his gaze from Otabek, and broke the vial in his pocket, returning Guang-Hong's love to him. All the while, Otabek stared at him with wide eyes, his lips dampened and pink as he tried to catch his breath, and after several long moments of silence, he finally spoke.

“You're real,” Otabek said with breathless amazement, and reached up uncertainly to touch Yuri's cheek with his rough hands. “You're really real.”

Yuri smiled warmly.

“Oh, yes, my precious Otabek,” Yuri said after a moment's pause, “I am very real.”

Yuri closed the distance between himself and his human, and sealed their lips together in a kiss.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three – Magick

 

Kissing Otabek felt wonderful.

Never before had an act felt so right, so perfect, and the fact that his human responded to it with equal verve was enough to make Yuri weep.

When they at last parted, Otabek's eyes flickered back open, and a frown immediately crossed his features. Yuri felt the muscles in the human's shoulders tense under his hands.

“How do I know this is not some trick?” he asked, his tone guarded and wary. “You are...you are beautiful, but how do I know I am not being swayed by some sort of philtre?”

“I was under the impression that you did not believe in magick,” Yuri said teasingly as one of his hands slid from Otabek's shoulder to the back of his neck, and he rubbed at the skin that he found there.

“A philtre is a creation of an herbalist, it's not magick,” Otabek replied stubbornly. Yuri chuckled softly at his attitude, and leant in for another intoxicating kiss.

“And what, besides my presence, would convince you that I am no charlatan?”

Otabek stared down at Yuri, his expression thoughtful. His hands, rough and strong from his work at the smithy, dropped to Yuri's waist, and he nearly moaned aloud at he sweet sensation of his human holding him like this—as though he were precious.

“Surprise me,” Otabek said at last, and Yuri's mouth twitched into a mischievous smile.

“Come with me,” Yuri said as he closed both his hands over one of Otabek's, and led him along the edge of the wood. He stopped before a wilted orchid, the bloom curled in on itself and the once-white petals were warped and brown.

Yuri let go of Otabek and crouched before it as he reached forward and brushed his fingertips against the flower's petals. Yuri smiled inwardly as he listened to Otabek gasp sharply as the bloom perked up, regained its greenery, and the petals regained their pure white colour, as quickly as blinking.

“Maybe you need some friends to keep you company,” Yuri said to it, and smiled as he brushed his fingers over the soil, and more orchids burst from the ground, growing to full bloom within moments.

Yuri picked one of the orchids, and handed it to Otabek. He accepted the flower mechanically, and gazed down at it as the wing-like petals began to fan in an invisible breeze.

Otabek let out a small cry of surprise when the petals seemed to fold in on themselves and grow in size. Where a moment before had been the bloom of an orchid now sat a pure-white swallow. It glanced up at Otabek, head cocked to the side, chirped once, and flew away.

Yuri strode forward and closed the distance between them. He plucked the stem from the human's hand and discarded it, then twined his fingers with Otabek's.

“Are you convinced, or do I need to be more impressive?” Yuri asked teasingly, his thumb brushing over the back of Otabek's hand, the gentle touch causing the human to shiver a little as he regarded Yuri with both awe and wonder. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but no sound came out. Taking that as a need for more proof of his power, he smiled at his human warmly, and began to lead him again, this time stopping before the wide river that flowed through the woods and bypassed his human's village.

“Stay there,” Yuri ordered as he dropped Otabek's hands, and he stepped onto the river. He lifted a hand, and a sweet, clear melody seemed to filter from the trees, though no musician was visible. He heard Otabek gasp softly as Yuri began to dance; everywhere his feet touched froze the river solid until it was a smooth, flat dance floor.

Yuri moved effortlessly over the ice, twirling and spinning to the Agape melody, ending with his hands raised towards the sky, intertwined together in supplication. Even by human standards it was a fairly short dance, and he swallowed a smile as he turned and meandered back towards Otabek, while he flicked his fingers towards the river, as though he was shaking water droplets off his hands. Starlight fell from the digits, and as it blanketed the ice, it reverted it back to its usual shape.

“How is it that you can dance so beautifully, and it makes me want to weep and shout with joy all at once?” Otabek asked softly as he reached out to touch Yuri's cheek, but flinched away almost immediately. “My mind tells me you cannot be real, but my eyes show me that you are. Are Fae all like this? So...impossible?”

“Impossible?” Yuri queried in the same tone, and tilted his head to the side.

“You bend reality with no more effort than it takes to blink, you invoke the elements with the lightest touch, and you make me feel...” Otabek trailed off. His cheeks were cherry red, and he looked in that moment remarkably like a rabbit caught in a trap. Yuri reached out to brush his cheek with his fingertips, and Otabek shivered.

“Do I frighten you, my Otabek?” he asked gently, inching closer to his human as he spoke, and Otabek took a small, nervous step back.

“Is my mind still my mind?” he demanded, his voice panicked, “have you enchanted me?”

Yuri frowned, and mirrored his human by taking a step backward.

“No,” he answered coldly, “I am not King Oberon, who collects sons like one would pick pretty seashells off the beach. I have only ever wanted the love of one human.” Yuri raised an eyebrow pointedly, and Otabek's cheeks coloured again. Despite the seriousness of the discussion, Yuri found himself mildly amused that he could invoke such a flustered reaction in him so easily.

“You mean me?” Otabek asked, and Yuri nodded his head once.

“I have not enchanted you,” Yuri reassured him, “I have spent many days here, watching you, unable to show myself to you because you did not believe. As far as the High Court is concerned, you were unworthy to receive the gifts of the Fae. That did not matter to me, you enchanted me with nothing more than your presence. I have never once enchanted you, though I have tried many times to make you aware of my presence. Yet, you never questioned anything, and the magick I performed for you, you never noticed.” Yuri took a step towards the nervous human, and this time, he did not back away. “If I were one of my kin or kith, I would have done something by now, ensnared you in a deal, or performed a wish, or task wherein the price would be you to be taken to the High Court of the Fae—forever. I do not wish to do that, Otabek. If I were to have you as my lover, I wish for you to choose it.”

Yuri stopped directly before Otabek, and brushed his fingers along the line of his jaw. He shivered with delight at the way the human's stubble tickled his fingertips, and the dazed sort of look that crossed Otabek's face with every small touch. Could he feel it as strongly as Yuri could? Was that what was scaring him?

Otabek grabbed Yuri's wrist, stopping his movements, though his expression never changed. He directed Yuri's arm to fall, and wrapped his opposing arm around the Fae's lithe waist.

Otabek tugged him forward, and Yuri stumbled into Otabek's strong embrace. He felt his cheeks tint pink at the way his human held him and his breath caught. How is it that a human could fluster him this easily?

“O—Otabek?” he asked uncertainly, but Otabek did not respond, save to tighten his hold on the Fae prince.

“What is your name?” Otabek asked, the low timbre of his voice causing Yuri to shiver. “Somehow, you know mine, but I do not know yours.”

“Yuri, I am called Yuri,” Yuri said at once with a small smile. “I knows yours because, as I have said, I have watched you for a long time. When you came here with my gift and a journal, you signed your name—Otabek Altin.”

“Your gift?” Otabek asked, and an instant later, understanding dawned upon his face. “The rose.” Yuri nodded.

“My Companion human told me that a gift of a single rose can be seen as very romantic, I did not want you to misunderstand my intent. I have loved you for a long time.”

“Your...companion?” Otabek asked uncertainly, and Yuri chewed on the inside of his cheek with amusement at the look that he now saw cross his human's face—jealousy.

“A human Companion to a Fae is not what you think,” Yuri replied reassuringly as he shifted the wrist still in Otabek's hand, and he laced their fingers together. “They are friends; advisors, no more than that.”

Yuri fell silent, and watched his human work over the new information in his mind. His jaw muscles continually tensed and relaxed, and he stared down at Yuri with such intensity that he shivered involuntarily.

I am Fae, not him, Yuri thought in nervous amazement, how is it that he's ensnared me so easily?

“Yuri...” Otabek said, testing the name on his tongue, “what is it that you want of me?”

Yuri kissed him, removing his hand from Otabek's in order to wrap his arms around the human's neck. Otabek fell into the kiss easily, his arms finding Yuri's waist and holding him close.

“Nothing more or less than you are willing to give,” Yuri murmured against his mouth. “I want you, Otabek Altin, but I will not steal you away.”

“Can I trust that you will not?” Otabek asked, “can I trust that you will not secret me away like a monster in a fairy tale?”

“Are you the damsel in distress, is that what you are telling me?” Yuri asked teasingly between kisses, and Otabek chuckled as his arms tensed around him.

“I am the Hero, and you are the Fairy—the mythical beast of this tale,” he clarified, “I should have slain you, but instead, you have seduced me.”

Otabek pulled him in for another kiss, crushing the Fae against his broader form, and Yuri clung to him as their mouths latched together in feverish want. Yuri tightened his hold on his human, and shuddered as Otabek pressed his thigh between Yuri's legs pointedly. Yuri let out a tiny moan of longing, and at the same moment, and infuriatingly familiar voice interrupted their moment.

“My, my, my...Yuri, you certainly weren't exaggerating. He is a handsome one.”

A string of soft curses hissed past Yuri's barely parted lips as he turned to look at Viktor. The resident king was bracing his shoulder against a tree, his arms and ankles were crossed in a relaxed posture, but he still managed to exude an air of quiet authority. Without saying a word, everyone knew that Viktor was a Fae of great power.

Yuri felt Otabek's arms tense around him as Viktor straightened up and made his approach. His violet cloak fluttered in the breeze, the golden leaves of his crown glittered in the sunlight, and his very skin seemed to glisten with an iridescence only found in the Fae people.

Viktor stopped directly before the couple, and Otabek's breath hitched in surprise when Viktor reached out to touch his cheek, but Yuri intercepted, his hand closing firmly around the king's wrist, stopping him short.

“Leave him alone, Viktor,” Yuri commanded, “he's not one of your firstborn boys you can claim on a whim. He's mine.” Don't take this away from me too, Yuri added mentally, knowing full-well that Viktor would be able to hear him.

“And you know that I must inspect him, Yuri,” Viktor said with a sickly false kindness, “to ensure that he is worthy of you. Come now, let him go.”

Yuri narrowed his eyes and tugged Otabek backward and out of Viktor's grasp. Viktor frowned.

“You would defy your king?” he asked, and despite the polite tone, Yuri could all but taste the danger in it. He was walking on very thin ice, and they both knew it.

“Please,” Yuri said, his tone just short of begging, and he choked at how plaintive he sounded. “Please. You have the throne, and your king, and your firstborn sons. I have nothing but my Companion and my human. Please do not take him from me. Please.”

The pleading seemed to do no good, and Yuri felt Otabek's arms tense around him again. Still smiling warmly, Viktor made his approach.

Yuri felt a wave of helplessness wash over him as Viktor stopped directly before them once more, and reached out to brush his fingers along Otabek's jaw. Otabek flinched back with a hiss, and Viktor moved his hand, lightning fast, to the back of the human's neck, holding him still.

“Why do you recoil, human?” he asked sweetly, “I will not harm you. I just wish to see your intent.”

Otabek did not speak, but his eyes flitted to Yuri uncertainly. In response, Yuri tensed his arms around Otabek in an effort to reassure him, but he was still hard as stone when Viktor moved his hands to Otabek's temple. Yuri squeezed his human harder.

“Now, just relax, this might twinge a little...” Viktor said, and Yuri swallowed thickly, wincing as he watched Viktor press his fingertips against Otabek's temple, and then they sank into his flesh. Yuri paled.

"Viktor, no!" Yuri cried, but it was too late.

Otabek cried out in shock and pain, his eyes bulging, and he squeezed Yuri so tightly that had he been human, it was very likely he would have crushed him. Light spilled from Otabek's head, silhouetting Viktor's fingers buried in his skull, and pained tears stung Otabek's face.

Almost as quickly as he had begun, Viktor removed his fingers, and Otabek slumped against Yuri, panting softly. Upon his temple there was no mark, no sign whatsoever of the magick that Viktor had just performed, save for the shock and exhaustion still radiating through Otabek as Yuri held him up and tried to console him.

“He is pure of heart,” Viktor said with a small smile. “You are free to bring him to the Court at your discretion.”

Without another word, Viktor turned his back on the pair and disappeared back into the woods.

 

“What...what was that?” Otabek demanded between heaving breaths, “what happened? What did he do?”

“Come sit down,” Yuri said gently, “and I'll explain.”

 

Yuri led Otabek over to the riverside, and conjured a goblet out of a tulip. He filled it with purified water and offered it to his human, and Otabek accepted it gladly.

“That was King Oberon, King of the Fae,” Yuri explained, “he is a man named Viktor, and is notorious for collecting firstborn sons. There are dozens of them in the Royal Court—deep in the woods. When he came here, I had thought he wanted to take you for himself, perhaps bewitch you to love him, but instead he...he used a particularly crude and vicious spell that I've only ever seen the Dark Elves use before. He looks into your mind and searches for intention. Your intentions towards me were pure, and not shadowed by greed or lust, and so he proclaimed you worthy for me to take to the Royal Court.”

“Take,” Otabek noted with a frown between sips of water. “Not come with.” Yuri mirrored his frown, and nodded.

“King Oberon does not hold humans in a very high regard,” Yuri said gently. “Oberon before him, my grandfather, he took maybe one or two sons in his time as king. He respected the humans, and only went to their aid when there was dire need of it. Viktor is much more...frivolous.”

“How long was your grandfather's rule?” Otabek asked curiously, and Yuri pursed his lips as he thought back.

“Time is...different for Fae. We do not see it in the same way that humans do,” Yuri explained, “but in a human time cycle...nearly eight centuries, I think. Viktor came into power in your twelfth century.”

Otabek dropped the goblet Yuri had handed him, and his eyes widened.

“But that's...that's over twelve hundred years!” Otabek sputtered, and reached for Yuri again, his hands cupping his cheeks. Yuri shivered with delight as Otabek's eyes scanned him intently, his lips parted slightly in shock and awe. When he next spoke, his voice dropped to a soft, almost entranced murmur. “How is it that you can walk the earth for so long, and yet none of it shows on your face?”

Yuri covered one of Otabeks's hands with his own, and brought the human's knuckles to his lips. He brushed a gentle kiss over them, then glanced back up to Otabek, and smiled softly.

“Gift of the Fae is eternal life,” Yuri explained gently, “if you chose to come with me to the Royal Court, you would live just as long as I. My love would keep you alive, young, and strong, forever.”

“And...what if I chose to return to the human world?” Otabek asked uncertainly, while he regarded Yuri with a look of nervousness in his eyes. The idea of Otabek wishing to leave him was painful, but in his desperate desire to not be like their fair king, he left that decision to his human.

“I have never known a human to leave our world after stepping into it,” Yuri said while he reached up to brush a strand of hair from Otabek's eyes. “Every human I have known falls in love with our magick, our music, ourselves. If one were to leave, from what I know, your life as human would begin again, and you would age naturally and die. There would be no aftereffects, and likely, one of the Fae gentries would be charged with erasing your memory. No human can see the Royal Court of the Fae and remember it to carry the information back to your brethren.”

“So, if I left, I would forget you,” Otabek said, and Yuri nodded.

“I would have never existed to you,” Yuri replied, and reached up to touch the human's cheek lightly. Otabek immediately leant into the touch, and lifted his hand to cover Yuri's. His calm, impassive expression seemed to break, and at the concept of never seeing Yuri again, an anguished look overcame him. It broke Yuri's heart to see it, and immediately he pulled Otabek into another kiss.

“You needn't decide right away,” Yuri murmured against his lips, and gently traced the line of his jaw. “I am not my kin, as I've said. I will let you choose.”

Otabek wrapped his arms securely around Yuri's waist and tugged him closer. His breath hitched a little in surprise as he straddled the human and gazed down at him. Otabek moved one hand to Yuri's cheek, and guided him into a soft kiss.

“And what if...What if I asked you to leave the world of Fae, and come to the village with me?” Otabek asked. His voice was so soft that it was barely above a whisper, and he could hear the hypothetical note to it. He was not asking in the strictest sense, but feeling out what the laws of his kin were. His desire to learn was endearing, but the question brought an ache to Yuri's heart. Leave the Royal Court?

“I don't know if I could,” Yuri replied honestly, “I am a prince of the Royal Court. My place...it's with them,” Yuri chanced a glance up at Otabek. “Isn't it?”

Otabek leant in close, and brushed his lips over Yuri's.

“That's not a question that I can answer.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four – Indecision

 

Yuri spent the day with his human, his Otabek, and nearly wept when Otabek announced that he needed to go home.

“I'll come back tomorrow,” he promised, “as soon as I finish my work, I will come back.”

Yuri pulled him into a kiss. One hand moved to tangle in his hair, and the other cradled his cheek. His skin felt hot under his hands, and Yuri longed to taste more than just his lips.

“I will wait for you,” Yuri replied, and pulled Otabek into a close embrace, one which he mirrored. His human seemed to be shivering, and Yuri rubbed his back gently in an effort to soothe him.

Letting Yuri go seemed almost painful for Otabek; his eyes shone as he backed up and moved towards the village. For the first few yards, Otabek walked backwards in order to keep Yuri in his line of vision, but at last he turned around reluctantly, and ran the rest of the way.

Yuri watched him until he disappeared, and immediately the Fae prince willed himself back to the Court.

He did not pause to greet the kings or his Companion, who surely would want to know how his day with his human had gone. Instead, he spirited himself to his home, and withdrew an indigo cloak trimmed with gold from his wardrobe and threw it over his shoulders. He drew up the hood, hurried back down the tree, and willed himself to the village.

 

Yuri appeared suddenly, but the few villagers meandering home from the merchant square did not question his presence, or even look at him.

The blessing of a Cloak of Concealment, woven from the hair of a changeling and dyed in protective colours, it did not hide Yuri from the humans, but it enabled him to weave amongst them unnoticed—ignored.

Yuri looked with his heart. He gazed about the village square, and on the northern side, he spotted what he was looking for—a smithy.

The Fae ascended the short incline, and stopped at the house attached to the forge. He did not dare go near the place; all the iron made him nervous, and he did not wish to hurt himself. Instead, Yuri peered into one of the windows, and spotted Otabek sitting at a scrubbed wooden table, a chipped ceramic mug before him with some sort of steaming, dark liquid therein, and he was speaking to two older people who looked remarkably like him—his parents. By the fire were two younger children, twin girls in pigtails who looked no older than eight or nine. They were playing with dolls made of straw, and the scene Yuri witnessed was one so peaceful that he felt himself immediately relaxing.

Smiling indulgently, Yuri pressed his palm to the window, and listened.

“...didn't know any better, I suppose,” Otabek said, “I had no reason to believe. I do now, however.”

“Son, what happened?” his mother asked, her voice heavy with concern. “You are not making very much sense. You saw a Faeling? What sort? What did it look like? Did it speak to you?”

“He...danced with me,” Otabek said awkwardly, his cheeks flushing an attractive pink that brought a smile to Yuri's face. “Guang-Hong? The young man I met at the Old Orchard Pub? He called him...Fae.”

“Oh, Otabek,” she said tearfully, “that's wonderful. The favour of a Fae, that will certainly bring good fortune on us. After the last year, it has been something in short supply. You must go to him.”

“One moment, Olga,” the man, presumably his father, said gruffly. “If you rush to agree to an offer made by Fae, there is no taking it back. Have you struck any bargains with this Fae that you encountered?”

“No,” Otabek answered at once. “He was quite adamant that he had not enchanted me, and never pressed me to agree to anything. I asked him to prove to me that he was Fae and not an imposter, and he showed me his power.”

“Oh, Otabek,” his mother said with a soft air of longing, “it must have been beautiful.

“And terrible,” Otabek added, and Yuri frowned at this confession. How was his power terrible? “He is...he is the most magnificent creature. Beautiful, powerful, confident...perfect, you could say, but his power scares me. He is an eternal being, and he can bend reality to his liking...does that include me?” Otabek's normally placid, neutral tone took on an edge if panic. What happens if I accept this and run off to Fae Court with him, and after a while, he tires of me and changes me to suit his fancy? What happens then? In a hundred years, two hundred, three...will I even recognize myself anymore? Will I even be me, or just an extension of him, like...like a puppet?”

“You mustn't say such things, Otabek!” His father said sternly, and Otabek and his mother jumped a little at his harsh tone, though the two girls did not seem to notice the argument happening so close to them. “Fae are powerful; a stepping stone away from the gods themselves. You cannot offend them with such talk. They will curse us if you do. If you continue to speak like that, I will disown you.”

“Matyash! Don't say that!” his mother protested, “of course Otabek would not curse us. He is just trying to understand what this Fae wants of him. They will not curse us for his curiosity and concerns.”

“It takes precious little to offend the Fae,” Matyash said seriously, “Celestino, the foreign farmer on the other side of the village, he merely proclaimed to a Fae that he was not confident in himself, and his land became black as night. Only tar grows there now.”

“But our boy is not that foolish,” Olga snapped, “what does this Fae want of you, did he say?”

Yuri smiled indulgently when Otabek flushed a deep red. His mother cottoned on straightway, and responded with a simple, “ah, I see.”

His father, however, was not as quick on the uptake.

“What do you see?” he asked his wife gruffly, then turned back to his son. “Beka, what does he want of you?”

“Me.”

“What do you mean, me?” his father retorted, and if Yuri did not know better, he was quite certain that the human was being stupid on purpose.

“He wants me to come with him to his home...you know. As his...partner? Lover? Husband? I'm not completely certain,” Otabek explained to his knees, curiously incapable of looking his father in the eye as he spoke.

“He wishes to bind you to him?” His father asked seriously, and Otabek glanced up, his brow knotted in confusion.

“He did not say bind,” Otabek said. “What is that, like a marriage?”

“Of a sort,” his mother answered with a small nod. “From what our books of old tell us, it is a form of ceremony not unlike our marriage or handfasting rites, but infinitely more permanent. It is rarely done, given how flighty Fae can be. Binding to a Fae is very serious. There is no going back once you say yes. It is forever, in the very literal sense of the word. You will be as close to Fae as any of their human servants or consorts. You will watch the earth grow old, and you will not age a day.”

Yuri did not miss the way Otabek shivered.

“I don't know what to do, Father,” Otabek said nervously, “I don't want to say love, because I have known him for barely a day. It feels like love, though. He promises that he has not enchanted me, but how can I know that for certain?”

Instead of answering, Matyash stood up, and walked towards the fireplace, where he picked up a small figure off the mantle. Yuri squinted through the window, and saw that it was a small rendering of a sprite. The dark colour of the metal told Yuri that it was iron, and Yuri shivered a little as he gazed at it.

Matyash returned to the table, and handed the figure to Otabek. He blinked, and stared down at the figurine bemusedly.

“Do you still feel love for this Fae? As you hold that in your hand, have your feelings changed at all?” his father asked, and immediately Otabek shook his head.

“No, I feel the same.”

“Then you have not been enchanted, son,” his mother said warmly, and Yuri watched Otabek's shoulders slump as he relaxed a little. “Iron, like silver, burns all children of Faerie, from merfolk, to Fae, to sprites, and beyond. It breaks all enchantments and glamours, and helps you to see with clear eyes.”

“So my love is true, even after a day?” Otabek asked uncertainly, and both his parents nodded.

“Love at first sight is not so uncommon,” his mother replied, “it happens to all creatures. Do not concern yourself with it, and let yourself love.”

 

Otabek spoke with his parents a while longer, until his little sisters fell asleep on the hearth, and the two older adults carried them off to bed. Yuri watched Otabek drain the last of his drink before he stood with a small groan, and followed his parents up the stairs.

Yuri watched him go, and longed to ascend to the top level and watch his human sleep. However, something in that longing disturbed him for some strange reason, and instead, he stepped away from the house, but not before leaving a single red rose, free of thorns, upon the doorstep.

 

~*~

 

Yuri willed himself home, reappearing in the upper levels of his Fairy Tree, where he promptly discarded his cloak and fell upon the bed with a heavy sigh.

He'd been amongst the humans for barely two hours, and already he was thankful to be home.

Could he really give all of it up for the happiness of one person?

Otabek is worth sacrificing a thousand sunsets, a thousand-thousand sunsets, more...but I don't know if I can really give this up for him.

Yuri no longer knew if his heart belonged to Otabek, to the Court, or to both.

“Your highness?”

The soft, uncertain voice of his Companion broke through the silence like a tinkling bell, and Yuri sat up to see Guang-Hong peering into his bedchamber uncertainly.

“Come in, Guang-Hong,” Yuri said with a small sigh, and the human hastened to obey. He still looked nervous, and Yuri tried to offer him a smile of reassurance, but it came out rather weak. “It's all right. I was just...thinking.”

“Fae have more knowledge than a human ever could,” Guang-Hong said as he sat down on the edge of the bed and regarded Yuri curiously. “What troubles you so?”

“Otabek,” Yuri said with a soft laugh, and Guang-Hong smiled. “He...he asked me if I would leave the Court for him.” he paused when an stricken look crossed Guang-Hong's face, and reached for the human's hand, giving it a squeeze. “I haven't given him an answer. He did not formally ask such a thing, I think he was more...curious about our ways in the Court. King Oberon also paid us a visit, and was more than a little vindictive in assessing Otabek's intentions.”

Guang-Hong visibly shivered, and Yuri nodded.

“I want to give Otabek the world, I want to show him the beauty of the Court, and I want him to be part of it,” Yuri said, his tone taking on a wistful note to it, “but I believe that Viktor may have scared him away with his...stunt.”

And maybe that was his intention, to always take everything from me.

The thought was very close to treason, and Yuri shivered. To read the mind of another Fae was like flying a kite in a hurricane, but it could be done, given the right training.

And Viktor, being the king, was a master of that sort of magick.

“Then tell him so,” Guang-Hong said encouragingly as he motioned to Yuri's writing desk. “Write him a letter, or tell him when you next see him. There are many ways to protect Otabek and his family from...certain Fae influences, and you can show him the beauty of the Court without fear that you might lose him.”

“And what of seeing the Court?” Yuri inquired, “there are many laws on what a human can and cannot see of our ways, and gentry Fae often take the memories of the humans who choose to leave.”

“Otabek is a good man, and would not divulge what he saw if you asked him not to,” Guang-Hong said. “I know that that would not be enough for the Court at large, but you and I know that to be true.” Yuri nodded, and Guang-Hong continued. “But perhaps talk with him; explain the rules of the Court, and ask his permission to use an enchantment on his tongue, to prevent him from speaking on what he sees within this realm. That will put the other royals, King Oberon and King Yuuri, at ease, and enable you to show him everything without fear.”

“I have a feeling Otabek won't be comfortable with that,” Yuri said as he reached up to slowly begin to unbraid his hair, “Fae magick seems to terrify him.”

“Then do it without his knowledge,” Guang-Hong said, and blanched when Yuri narrowed his eyes.

“I wouldn't put it past...certain people to happily inform him of such a deceit. He'd never trust me again. Besides, I swore to him that I had never enchanted him. I can't start now.”

“Certain people,” Guang-Hong echoed, and Yuri nodded. “Do you mean King O—” Yuri held up a hand, silencing his companion.

“Words have power, you know that,” Yuri said, his tone firm with warning. “To speak his name is to invoke him. He seems quite taken with my human, and I do not wish to further draw his attention to him.”

“Apologies, your highness,” Guang-Hong said with a bow of his head, his voice trembling a little. “I did not mean to cause trouble, I—”

Yuri silenced him with a gentle touch to his cheek, and he smiled softly at his Companion. Guang-Hong returned it, shuffling in place bashfully, as though he could not completely absorb Yuri's attention of him.

“There is no need to apologize,” Yuri said, still touching his cheek, “though you should know better than to use a name of one you do not wish to invoke.”

“I believe my brief stint in the human world made me forget the importance of such things,” Guang-Hong said, and offered Yuri another small, apologetic smile. Yuri waved it off with a short shake of his head.

“It doesn't matter,” Yuri said dismissively, and pulled himself off the bed. It was getting light out, and he needed to prepare to see Otabek again. “I need to wash.”

Guang-Hong bowed his way off the tree's limb, leaving Yuri alone. Yuri willed himself to the base of the tree and followed the river until he found a number of shallow pools—the hot springs.

The pools were not empty, but filled with a quintet of happily chattering Nymphs. Their respective yellow, red, blue, green, and white heads of hair marked them as Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit Nymphs, a common sight, given that their power was most attuned and controlled when the five elements came together.

At the sight of a Fae however, their jovial mood died.

Earth noticed him first, and with a tiny, alarmed squeak, she notified her sisters with a few insistent nudges, and the five Nymphs bolted.

Earth ran off and took the form of a flowering tree; Water melted into the pool and took the form of a school of minnows, which darted back into the main river without pause. Fire leapt from the pool and became a fire skink, and it darted away as fast as Yuri could blink. Spirit seemed to burst into the form of a thousand small white butterflies, and they disappeared into the depths of the forest.

This all happened in a matter of moments, and Yuri shook his head a little as he chuckled. Nymphs were always ridiculously skittish things, especially when confronted with someone sporting a more masculine shape. With the feminine aspect it was a different story, Nymphs loved women—human women in particular, but any man who tried to come to them were exceptionally foolish.

With no more thought given to the Nymphs, Yuri disrobed and descended into the scalding water.

He let out a luxuriated sigh as he tilted his head back against the stony edge of the pool, and the chitter of a number of sprites came to him.

The tiny sprites giggled happily as they swirled around him like fireflies, cleaning his hair and styling it, and he thanked them by conjuring a small feast of nectar, honey, and fresh cream.

Yuri had intended the bath to be a short one, but like with most times before it, he spent several hours in the hot, invigorating water, and exited it feeling refreshed.

He returned to his Tree and chose fresh clothing. This time he selected a tunic in ice-blue, so pale it looked almost white, and breeches in a slightly darker shade. When he regarded himself in his water-mirror, Yuri marvelled at how he looked so much like the Ice Queen to the North. He didn't dare remark on this aloud, certain that she would not appreciate being compared to such a low creature. Lilia had always been known for her fierce temper and arrogance.

Yuri completed his look by adding white gold thread to the braids in his hair, then descended to the gardens to find a suitable gift for his beloved. He did not wish to repeat the rose, and though they were lovely, there were countless other blooms in the Gardens of Fae that he could choose from. Fields miles upon miles long, that seemed impossible that the forest could contain them all, but this was part of the power of the Fae, to create space where before there was none.

The moment Yuri arrived, it seemed as though the Fates wished for this budding romance to truly blossom, and he found himself in a field of daisies.

To attract love and provide protection... Yuri thought with a small smile as he brushed his fingers over the delicate white petals, “perfect.”

 

~*~

 

Otabek was already there when Yuri arrived at their meeting place. Yuri could have walked up, silent as a cat, but he did not wish to frighten his human. He stepped on a dead twig, snapping it, and Otabek whirled around, his eyes wide. When he saw who it was however, his entire tense form seemed to sag as he relaxed.

“I was afraid you might not come,” Otabek said, “many of our records say that...” he cut himself off and shook his head. “Never mind. I am just glad that you are here, Yuri.”

“I apologize,” Yuri said, bowing his head a little, “I would have been here sooner, but I was making a gift for you.”

Otabek blinked.

“For...me?” he asked, and Yuri nodded.

“Could you bow your head a little?” he asked, and Otabek immediately acquiesced to his request, tilting his head forward so that Yuri could access it better.

Yuri withdrew the crown of woven daisies from behind his back, and lifted it to rest upon Otabek's head. The white went startlingly well with his dark hair, and the presence of the flowers seemed to offset his masculinity, softening him slightly in an endearing sort of way.

“How does it look?” Otabek asked as he straightened up, his cheeks flushed a faint pink, as though unused to receiving such gifts.

“Perfect,” Yuri replied as he leant up to kiss him. Otabek responded in kind, wrapping his arms around Yuri's waist to hold him close.

 

In the shadow of an Elder tree, a figure watched them. Beneath his cloak, he crossed his arms and watched the couple settle down on the edge of the flatlands, curled up in each other's arms like a pair of newlyweds.

He looked into the human's mind, and three emotions jumped out at him at once.

Love.

Adoration.

And most troublingly—Indecision.

The figure inclined his head, a plan forming in his mind.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five – Riddles in the Dark

 

As evening came on, Otabek found himself surprised by its appearance.

“It's twilight,” he said, and the Fae smiled at him. He shifted, and curled more securely into Otabek's arms. The warm, welcome weight of the ethereal being in his embrace was enough to make his heart soar.

“It is,” Yuri replied, “we stayed together all day.” The Fae shifted and sat up to kiss Otabek soundly on the mouth.

Like with all of Yuri's kisses, it was intoxicating. He tasted sweet like the finest honey, he made Otabek feel like he was flying and falling, like he wanted to scream with joy and cry out in fear all at once. Yuri was so many things, and though it had barely been two days, Otabek already felt as though he could love him—completely.

And yet...

If Yuri had asked him, he wasn't entirely certain he could say yes, and come away with him.

He thought of his parents, of his sisters, his friends, and his work. He would lose all of that if he chose to leave with Yuri—he'd never see them again. Would it be worth it? Could he sacrifice it all for one person?

Not even a person, Otabek thought, not really. The idea made his insides twinge with guilt, and he shoved it hastily to the back of his mind.

“Do you regret it?” Otabek asked softly, his lips still brushing over Yuri's as he spoke. “Do you regret spending the day away from your Court, and your people, just to be with one lowly human?”

“You are many things, Otabek,” Yuri said as he lifted a hand to touch his cheek, “but never lowly. You are my sun and stars, my moon and sky. You are everything to me. I have loved you since the first time I saw you. I could spend a thousand eternities with you and never be bored.”

“You speak such wonderful nonsense,” Otabek replied affectionately as he huffed a small laugh, and kissed Yuri again.

Darkness encroached around them as they kissed, Yuri's gift of a flower crown still high upon his head, as healthy and bright though the flowers had been freshly picked, and they showed no signs of age. Otabek moved a hand to cradle the Fae's cheek, and he marvelled at the sweet, silky feeling of his perfect skin beneath his labour-worn fingers.

“I need to go,” Otabek said reluctantly, pulling away from Yuri slowly, as though he was underwater. “If I am gone too long, Father will worry. He's still afraid I might fumble in speaking to you, and you will ensnare me in a trap, or I might inadvertently offend you, and he'll never see me again.”

“I wish you would come to the Court with me,” Yuri said as he stroked Otabek's cheek, “I would never ensnare you with my words as some of my kin would. I swear it. I want you to come of your own free will. I think you would love the Court. It is endless, timeless beauty, and there are dances that go on for a lifeage, and abundance the likes of which most humans rarely see.”

“I would love to see that,” Otabek said earnestly, and Yuri's eyes lit up hopefully. “But...the stories from my village...they say anyone who sees the Fae Court never returns. They say they cannot return.”

“There are ways,” Yuri said quickly, “enchantments I can use to protect you. Fae are protective of their secrets, and I know you would never give away what I tell you if I ask you not to, but some others in the Court are not as trusting. If I tied your tongue, they would permit you to come and go.”

“Tied my...tongue?”

“Yes.” Yuri nodded. “It is a simple enchantment that would stop you from revealing our secrets to outsiders.”

Otabek hesitated.

Magick made him nervous, it always had. From the time he was little, the idea of someone using something to penetrate your thoughts, change your appearance or mind on a whim, it utterly terrified him. Even something as innocuous as what Yuri was offering gave him pause, and he shifted nervously as the stars came into view above them.

“It is the only thing I can think of that would allow you to leave safely, and not bind you there,” Yuri continued, “you would also need to ensure that you eat and drink plenty before you come, because eating or drinking anything within a Fae Court would bind you to us.”

Yuri spoke in a nervous rush, and his eyes were wide with concern and hope. Otabek could see quite plainly that Yuri absolutely did not want to force his hand in any capacity, and that in itself was deeply heartening.

Before Otabek could speak again, Yuri leant in and kissed him. This was not like their earlier, gentler kisses, but deep, heated, and made Otabek want to weep. If he could experience more of these kisses, he felt as though he would give up almost anything to feel it.

“Oh, don't do this to me, Yuri,” Otabek said with a soft moan, “I really do need to go.”

“At least let me walk you to the edge of your village,” Yuri said earnestly, and Otabek chuckled a little.

“Protecting me, are you?” he asked teasingly, and Yuri's smile widened.

“Always.”

The couple moved towards the village in relative silence, and shared one final kiss before Otabek turned reluctantly and stepped across the border.

Except when he crossed into his village, he discovered that he was not where he was supposed to be, but back on the edge of the forest.

“What the...?” Otabek whirled around, his mind awash with confusion, and froze when he saw a figure slip out of the forest.

He was tall; easily a head taller than Otabek was, with silver hair as bright as steel and eyes as blue as the ocean. He was dressed immaculately in shades of rose and violet, and a cloak of deep blue rested upon his shoulders. Like Yuri, at his back a glimmering starlight seemed to follow him, fashioned in the rough shape of wings. Where seeing Yuri's magick (or whatever the starlight was) so blatantly had been warm and comforting for Otabek, he did not feel the same when gazing upon this particular Fae. All he felt was a deep sense of unease.

It took him a moment, but then Otabek recognized him—Oberon, King of the Fae. He remembered that Yuri had called him Viktor.

The Fae locked eyes with Otabek, and he smiled.

“Hello, son of Altin,” he said with unnerving false kindness. “I believe you might remember me. I am Oberon, King of the Fae, and head of the Royal Court.”

“Your majesty,” Otabek said with a short bow, and Viktor's smile widened.

“It is so nice to see a human with a sense of decorum,” he said with what sounded like genuine approval. “Very refreshing. You are quite the catch; my Yuri is quite taken with you.”

Your Yuri?” Otabek asked uncertainly, but Viktor's smile did not waver.

“Oh, yes. As part of the Royal Court, he is mine. As you are,” Viktor said, and Otabek paled. “Well, almost are.”

The emendation did not make Otabek feel any better, and he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the king.

“What have you done to me?”

“I have snatched you out of time,” Viktor explained smoothly. “As far as Yuri knows, it has been mere seconds since you two parted, and now he is rushing back to the Court for his Cloak of Concealment to follow you to town and guard you as you sleep. He is young and foolish, idealistic, and if I may speak plainly, something of an embarrassment of late.”

“If he is of your house, how can you speak of him so shamefully?” Otabek asked, his voice shaking a little. “He's done nothing wr—”

“He has not taken you, as is our way,” Viktor interrupted. “He has not trapped you, or tricked you, but instead seems intent on wooing you like some sort of common human. This I cannot allow. I must step in. I have trapped you in his stead, and intend to gift you to him upon our return to the Court.”

What? But I—I—I'm not a—a gift!” Otabek sputtered, “I am a person, you cannot give and take lives like this—” Viktor opened his hand, and Otabek choked when he saw a strange blue light fly from his mouth, and fell to rest in the Fae King's hand.

“Do not interrupt me,” Viktor said in his sickly-sweet voice. “Now that I have your voice, I will explain. I'd like to make a deal with you, because I know even with my magick at my disposal, you do not seem the type to come willingly to the Court. So, we will play a game. If you win, I will let you go, and you will remember nothing of this encounter. But if I win...”

Viktor flattened his palm. The blue light flew back to Otabek, and jumped down his throat. Otabek coughed, and it took him a moment to find his voice again.

“If you win...?” Otabek asked nervously.

“You will come to the Fae court and remain there. Forever.”

“And...and what if I refuse this game? If I won't to play, what happens then?” Otabek asked, and Viktor chuckled, shaking his head in an amused sort of way like he was speaking to a small child who was not grasping a simple concept.

“You do not understand, though I suppose that is to be expected,” Viktor said, offering Otabek a smile. “There is no will and won't. I have ensnared you, I could take you away right now if I wanted. But I am a gracious king. I wish to give you a fighting chance, and so—the game.”

Otabek pursed his lips. Gracious was by far the last word he would use to describe this man—this Fae, he reminded himself. Even Prince Jean-Jacques, for all his irritating self-involvement and inflated view of himself, he could never be this cruel. To dangle his freedom from a hook, and watch Otabek scramble in his attempts to reach it, it was the farthest thing from gracious he could think of, but at the same time, it appeared as though he really had no choice.

“All right,” Otabek said at last with a soft, defeated sigh. “What is the game?”

“That's the spirit!” Viktor said with a bright smile as he clapped his hands together. “Oh, it's been so long since I've gotten to play anything, so many choices, let's see...let's see...” he spoke very fast, and propped his chin in his hand as he tilted his gaze skyward. His eyes seemed to glimmer for a moment, and he returned his gaze to Otabek, his smile widening in his excitement.

“Riddles.”

Otabek blinked.

“Riddles?” he asked, unable to completely mask the nervousness in his tone. He liked to read, and Jean-Jacques had been kind enough to lend him many books from the Royal Libraries, but he'd never played a riddle game before.

“Indeed,” Viktor said, and nodded his head once. “Riddles. I will ask you seven riddles. You may answer but once, and one incorrect guess will make you mine. Are you ready?”

Otabek looked away from the king, and across the flatland. It was empty and still. Nothing seemed to exist beyond the pair of them, and the emptiness made Otabek feel sick with loneliness. He did not know if he was ready—if he ever would be ready, and more than anything at that moment, he wished that Yuri was there to tell him what to do.

That is, unless Yuri put Viktor up to this somehow.

Otabek shivered. He did not want that to be true.

“I'm ready,” Otabek said at last as he returned his gaze to the king, and the Fae's lips spread into another smile. Viktor pressed the tips of his long fingers to his chin in thought, and paused for a long moment before he spoke his first riddle.

 

What runs but never walks,

Often murmurs, never talks,

Has a bed but never sleeps,

Has a mouth, but never eats.”

 

Otabek turned, muttering the lines of the verse under his breath, but the answer jumped out a him, more quickly than he had expected it to.

“A River,” he answered, and Viktor smiled.

“Very good, human,” he praised, though strangely, it did not sound complimentary. “You are more intelligent than I had anticipated. All right, let me see...” He paused again, and smiled as he spoke the next riddle.

 

At night, they come without being fetched.

By day, they are lost without being stolen.

What are they?”

 

“Comes out at night...” Otabek looked away from the leering king as he muttered to himself. “Many things come out at night...but lost during the day...Oh!” He returned his haze to Viktor. “Stars. The answer is Stars.”

“Wonderful! You have five left, and you are doing admirably!” Viktor said as he applauded him, but something in the gesture seemed almost mocking. Otabek did not dare speak as he waited for the Fae to speak the next riddle, his nervous heart lodged firmly in his throat.

 

What is black when you get it,

Red when you use it,

And white when you're through with it?”

 

“This is an easy one,” Otabek said, and just barely managed to swallow a laugh. He'd heard this one many times. “The answer is Charcoal.”

“Hmm, perhaps I need to make these a little more difficult, if you find them so easy...” Viktor said, and before Otabek could apologize or protest, he was uncertain which, Viktor launched into the next riddle.

 

The one who makes it, sells it.

The one who buys it, never uses it.

The one who uses it, never knows that he is using it.

What is it?”

 

Otabek paced before the king, his chin propped in his hand. “What do you buy, but never use?” he asked himself, and a chance glance towards Viktor, which only yielded a smile that immediately made Otabek uneasy.

Okay, calm down, he thought nervously, just go through the verse once line at a time.

He asked Viktor to repeat the riddle, and he did, his smile widening, a knowing look in his fierce eyes, like a cat having trapped a particularly troublesome little mouse.

The one who makes it, sells it,” Otabek muttered under his breath, “simple enough, a merchant of some kind. The one who buys it, never uses it. Does that mean it's a gift? And The one who uses it, never knows that he is using it. How do you not know what you are using, unless you're dea—oh, of course. It's a Coffin.”

Viktor's smile flickered a little, and he bowed his head to Otabek.

“Well-reasoned,” he said. “Nearly halfway, very impressive. Most humans never get this far, but let us see how you fare with my next riddle.”

 

I am the beginning of the end,

and the end of time and space.

I am essential to creation, and I surround every place.

What am I?”

 

Otabek felt his stomach turn over nervously.

What? His mind was blank. He had absolutely no idea what the answer could possibly be.

Otabek kept his lips firmly sealed for a moment as he pushed back his panic and refocused his attention upon the lines of verse. Even running them over in his mind, he still came up with no answer. He paced before Viktor, and struggled to ignore his amused, victorious smile.

“Do you give up, human?” Viktor asked as his smile widened, and he rubbed his hands together.

“No, of course not!” Otabek snapped and turned away from the Fae, whose expression did not falter at Otabek's sudden rudeness.

Okay, okay, calm down, Otabek thought fiercely, if you panic, you won't be able to think clearly. Just go over it slowly. Beginning of the end, and end of time and space. What do these two things have in common? End...time and space...surrounds every place...I feel like the answer is staring right at me...”

“Oh!” Otabek exclaimed, and his eyes went wide. “I know this.” He turned to Viktor, this time with his own smile of victory. “The answer...is the letter E.”

Viktor's smile flickered, and his lips went white as he pressed them into a thin line.

“Very good, human,” he said, though some of the warmth had left his voice. “I must say, my Yuri did well in choosing you. Much more intelligent than the average pretty-boy...Hm, I must make this a challenge for you, then...” he paused for a moment, then spoke the next riddle.

 

It is greater than God and more evil than the Devil.

The poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it, you will die.

What is it?”

 

Otabek blinked hard. What on earth do the rich need that the poor have?

He resumed his pacing, certain that he'd dug a trench in the earth by this point, and thought hard. What do rich people need? Otabek glanced up, and he smiled.

“Nothing.”

This time, there was no mistaking it. Otabek saw the way the Fae King's expression darkened, though he felt that this was not very surprising. He had one last chance to ensnare Otabek, and thus far, he had failed. However, he did not dare get too arrogant. These latter riddles were not simple ones, and one wrong answer would lead to a lifetime of servitude.

Two lifetimes, Otabek reminded himself, more. A thousand-thousand unending sunrises and sunsets as an indentured man if I get this wrong. Viktor seemed to know this as his mouth spread into another smile, and he spoke the final riddle.

 

I never was, am always to be.

No one ever saw me, nor ever will.

Yet I am the confidence of all,

to live and breathe on this terrestrial ball.

What am I?”

 

~*~

 

Yuri willed himself back to his Fairy Tree, positively brimming with happiness. He stopped long enough to eat some cream and honey, as well as a full, ripe, white peach, and the sweetness of the foods only added to his joy as he spirited to his bedroom, and reached for his Cloak of Concealment. He hadn't been gone long, mere minutes. Certainly it was enough time to catch Otabek before he made it all the way back to his family's forge. He could walk with him, watch him with his family—keep his precious human safe.

“Your highness, you look very happy,” Guang-Hong observed as Yuri descended from the bedchamber, his cloak draped over his arm.

“I am,” Yuri replied, smiling a little. “My day with Otabek went wonderfully. He accepted my flower crown that I made for him; it should protect him from any curses that any of the others of the Court may try to inflict upon his family. His father seemed quite afraid of Otabek losing my favour and me taking it out on them. I hope the gift will help to reassure them.”

“Otabek's father is a staunch believer in the Fae,” Guang-Hong said reassuringly, “I am certain he will understand the deeper meaning of the gift.”

“I hope so,” Yuri said, still smiling, “I'm sorry, Guang-Hong, but I need to go. I want to make sure Otabek gets home safely—” he began, but stopped himself short when Guang-Hong shook his head.

“You needn't explain,” he replied as Yuri drew on his cloak. His Companion continued to regard him as though he could still see him, though Yuri knew that he may as well be invisible to him now. “Go to Otabek, I will await your return.”

Yuri nodded, but at the same moment a deep, loud gong of a bell sounded through the forest, startling songbirds from their perches, and scaring squirrels up trees. It sounded again, and Yuri cursed as he yanked off the cloak.

“Doesn't King Oberon have enough firstborn sons?” Yuri demanded irritably, “what use does he have for another one?”

“We best get to the central Court,” Guang-Hong said quickly, “the heralding of a new firstborn for the court needs to be witnessed by all, especially the Royals.”

Yuri nodded sourly, he knew the drill. He'd done it dozens of times before.

The Fae tossed aside his cloak before the pair descended to the ground level, Yuri walking with Guang-Hong instead of willing himself there in an instant, and he took Guang-Hong's hand as they meandered towards the central area of the Court. He was taking his time, and rather hoped that if he was slow enough, he'd accidentally miss all the Pomp and Circumstance, and could get back to Otabek all the more quickly, as well as in a marginally better mood.

 

The heralding of a new firstborn to the Court was always a celebration. Fae could not have children, after all, and so stealing them was the only way to fill such a void.

The centre of the Court was decorated in mere minutes what it would take days or even weeks for a team of humans to accomplish. White and pink petals of apple blossom and sakura covered the forest floor. King Yuuri sat, his expression a little sour, upon a throne fashioned from an elder tree and woven with ivy. Sprites clung to the vine, illuminating the scene with their natural glow, and a long table had been set up to one side, bearing foods of all kinds—fresh fruit, seasoned vegetables, heavily spiced spit-roasted meat, mulled cider and flower nectar, maple water, and dozens upon dozens of other delicacies found only within the Court of the Fae.

Artisans and craftsman constructed beautiful paintings and sculptures for the event, dancers turned their bodies into art, led by a single satyr fiddler, he dancing on his hooves along with them as he played on.

Yuri found himself wholly unimpressed by all of the fuss—it was pretty wrappings to explain away another kidnapped human. He continued to grumble to himself as he ascended to the dais where King Yuuri sat, and settled in, two chairs between them—one for King Oberon, and one for the so-called guest of honour.

Yuri almost sneered at such a profoundly ludicrous title. There was nothing honourable in being kidnapped.

Sudden trumpets sounded, just as Guang-Hong sat down next to Yuri. The satyr stopped playing, as all eyes turned to the northern lip of the circular court, and watched as the trees uprooted themselves, making a path for the gilded chariot, drawn by a single white horse, its iridescent coat shining in the glimmering low light of the Court.

Seated in the carriage was Viktor, their king, smiling and waving at the assembled crowd, who cheered and applauded his return. Next to him was his new son.

Guang-Hong's breath stilled. At the same moment, Yuri felt every muscle in his body freeze.

“No...” Yuri whispered. He recognized the human next to Viktor. He would recognize him anywhere. To see him here filled the Fae prince with a deep, cold dread.

 

Otabek.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Six – Give and Take

 

“Viktor, what have you done?” Yuri whispered, horror-struck, as he stared at Otabek.

King Oberon had apparently not noticed Yuri's reaction, and was busy waving to the amassed crowd enthusiastically. Otabek was a stark contrast to the king. His head was bowed forward in shame, his hands rested upon his knees clenched into fists, and his knuckles were white, hinting to Yuri just how terrified and upset he must actually be by the circumstances he currently found himself in.

A tear, like liquid starlight, dripped from Yuri's chin.

He could not recall when he had started crying.

A hand found his, and Yuri glanced down to see Guang-Hong's fingers intertwined with his own. His face was lined with a similar look anguish as he gazed upon the Fae prince.

“Your highness, I am so sorry,” he murmured, his voice catching a little as he spoke. Yuri nodded, and Guang-Hong seemed to understand that Yuri's anguish was well beyond words. Instead of saying anything more, he offered the prince's hand another small, reassuring squeeze.

“Ladies, Gentlemen!” Viktor cried to the crowd, drawing Yuri (albeit momentarily) from his blind shock, and back to the situation at hand. The king's cry was met with a resounding cheer, and Yuri watched Otabek's hands clench into fists at the sound of it. “I present to you now a new member to our fair Court, and his servitude will certainly be a joy brought to all.” Another tear dripped from Yuri's chin, and the Fae watched his beloved shiver visibly at the word, servitude.

“More than that,” Viktor continued, “this human is a gift to one who deserves him more than he might consciously realize. A human he was unwilling to take for himself, in the name of Nobility. Now, I give this human to him, to use at his discretion.”

Yuri's gaze snapped to Viktor, and he smiled warmly at the Fae prince. He felt the colour drain from his face when Otabek finally glanced up, and he shot Yuri a look of deepest betrayal.

“Yurio, please come forward and accept your gift,” Viktor said, his tone commanding, but still jovial.

Yuri knew he could not refuse—for Otabek's sake, more than anything else—and he stood on shaking limbs as he descended from the dais, moved through the parted crowd, and came to a halt before the chariot. Viktor urged Otabek to his feet, and still not looking at anything, the human stumbled a little, presumably out of nervousness, as he descended to the ground. Otabek would not look at Yuri, his dark gaze still focused upon the plush grass beneath his feet, his expression still set in a look of betrayal.

“I thank you, your majesty,” Yuri said stiffly, “for such a thoughtful gift, when one was not expected nor necessary.”

“Nonsense,” Viktor replied as he waved his hand dismissively, “you have loved this human, we have all been witness to how you desired him so deeply, and now I gift him to you, with your mark, of course...” Viktor lifted his hand to the side of Otabek's throat, and Yuri inhaled sharply.

“No, your majesty, please—” but despite Yuri's protests, it was too late.

Viktor pressed his palm to the side of Otabek's throat, and the human gasped, his eyes rolling up in his head as his knees wobbled dangerously. Yuri rushed forward to catch him before he fell, and he did not miss the distinct tenting in Otabek's trousers, nor the stain that quickly followed thereafter. At the same moment, Viktor removed his hand, and a rendering a tiger's head in black ink now rested upon Otabek's throat.

“A partial binding,” Yuri observed, and Viktor smiled at him warmly.

“Just for you,” Viktor said kindly, “I know things have been hard for you, Yurio, and I hope this gift will help us to mend our fences, so to speak.”

Yuri knew better than to protest. In the eyes of any normal Fae, such an act was commonplace; it was as simple as picking a flower and presenting it as a gift. They did not see the heinousness of the act—of taking a living person from all that they had known, and binding them to a place or person for all eternity against their will.

Yuri felt slightly sick with both anguish and anger, but he did not act on either. He ignored the warm applause as he helped Otabek to walk away from the jovial crowd, and muttered a quick, “Guang-Hong,” to call his Companion to him before the three made their way away from the festivities, and towards Yuri's Fairy Tree, the guest of honour chair that had been set up for Otabek completely and utterly ignored. Distantly, Yuri could hear the fiddle music starting up again, and the shouts from the crowd as they began to dance and feast, but it was hardly important enough to pay any mind to—all his focus was on the human in his arms.

With Guang-Hong's help, Yuri guided a half-conscious Otabek up the tree and to Yuri's bedchamber. He eased the human down onto his bed, and glanced uncertainly at the growing stain upon the front of his trousers. It was fairly common for a human to be so overwhelmed by the pleasure of Fae enchantments to orgasm from it, but Yuri hesitated to change his clothes for him. Was it more appropriate by human custom to let him sleep uncomfortably, and by extension, was it better to change him, like an infant? Or should he leave him be, giving Otabek his privacy, and allowing him to change if he chose to? Yuri didn't know. He glanced to his Companion uncertainly, and immediately Guang-Hong reached out to rest a hand upon Yuri's arm comfortingly.

“Lay out some fresh trousers for him,” Guang-Hong said gently, as though he'd read Yuri's mind. “He will change when he wakes. It's probably best to let him rest for now.”

Nodding mutely, Yuri withdrew a pair of soft black lambskin slacks from his wardrobe, and laid them next to the sleeping human. He briefly touched Otabek at the hip, and then touched the item of clothing, and watched as they resized themselves to fit the broader human. He followed Guang-Hong away from the bedroom reluctantly, and together they headed down to a lower limb of the tree where the kitchen was located.

Yuri slumped into his chair, while Guang-Hong puttered around the kitchen, plating a number of sweet cakes and pouring a measure of elf wine for each of them. Yuri accepted the stronger drink gladly before Guang-Hong sat down across from the Fae.

“I need to get him out of this,” Yuri said roughly as he sipped his wine. “I have no idea what—” he coughed pointedly, “what he is playing at, doing this, but I will get him out of his deal.”

“A deal with him won't be easy to break,” Guang-Hong said as he sipped his own wine. “We will have to watch Otabek closely and make sure no one offers him any food or drink, in particular of any Fae disguising themselves as you to offer him anything.”

“Yes, I'll need to ensure the same for the food here,” Yuri added, “there is no reason for it to be enchanted, but I will double-check everything. I don't want to inadvertently tie him here by any means.”

The pair fell momentarily silent, both lost in their own thoughts. Yuri could not help but go back to the images of him and his family together, and the ache he felt at the idea that Otabek might be permanently lost to them. As he pondered over what he could do to possibly convince Viktor to free him, the image of a small statuette of iron floated into his mind's eye as his gaze fell on his Companion.

“Guang-Hong...” Yuri began, and the human cocked his head to the side inquiringly.

“Your highness?” he asked, “what is it?”

“Can you physically handle things that Fae cannot—silver, iron, fairy crosses, things like that?”

“I...don't know,” Guang-Hong replied, blinking bemusedly as he thought it over. “When I was taken, obviously the Court would not carry such things here, so I've never tried.”

“I would like you to go to the village,” Yuri said quickly. “Go to Otabek's parents, Matyash and Olga Altin. Tell them everything, and tell them what has happened. They have a talisman there that breaks Fae enchantments. See if they are willing to lend it to you in order to keep Otabek safe until we are able to free him.”

“Yes, your highness,” Guang-Hong said quickly, and jumped up, his half-drunk elf wine forgotten. Yuri joined him, and walked with Guang-Hong to the edge of the landing, where the makeshift stairs began. He touched Guang-Hong's cheek, and kissed him lightly.

“Tell no one of the Court what you are doing or where you are going,” Yuri commanded, and Guang-Hong nodded. “If they demand an answer, tell them that you are running an errand for me, and leave it at that. Do you understand?”

“Yes, your highness,” Guang-Hong said again, his tone regaining a familiar breathlessness to it that Yuri had come to know so well. “I promise you that I will not fail.”

Yuri pecked his lips again, a salutatory, friendly kiss and no more, and his Companion disappeared down the tree.

Yuri turned back to the table, but stuttered to a stop when he saw Otabek standing upon the edge of the landing, swaying slightly as though it was a struggle for him to stay upright. His eyes were narrowed into a glare, and Yuri felt his stomach turn over uneasily.

“O-Otabek?” Yuri asked uncertainly as he took a step forward.

Immediately, Otabek moved back.

Yuri felt his heart begin to break at the sight of the small movement, and he reached for the human, though this time, he did not approach him.

“Otabek, please, don't run from me,” Yuri begged, “I did not want this—any of this. This is the king's doing, some sort of misguided stunt to give me what I wanted, but I swear to you that I never wanted it like this.”

Otabek did not move, nor did the mistrusting look leave his eye. Yuri noted that he had not changed out of his trousers, and he was shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably as he stared at the Fae.

“So what now?” Otabek asked coldly, “am I your kept boy? Your servant? I'm only human, so I'm beneath you, is that it?”

“No,” Yuri shook his head, “no, I don't want that of you.” Yuri inched closer to him, and this time Otabek did not back away. A swell of anguish seemed to fill Yuri's chest as he moved closer, and his vision swam when he finally closed the distance between himself and Otabek.

“Otabek, I am so, so sorry,” Yuri said tearfully, “had I known what the king was up to, I would have stopped it. I never wanted to entrap you, I wanted to love you.”

“And what of Guang-Hong?” Otabek asked, still not moving as he eyed Yuri with mistrust. “I saw you two just now...kissing.” Otabek sneered the word like it was a filthy curse. “Is he another one of your loves? How many of us are there? Am I just another one in a long line—”

“No,” Yuri interrupted, his mouth twitching into a frown as he returned Otabek's glare. “There has only been one person in my very long life that I have ever loved. Guang-Hong is my Companion, my friend and advisor, as I have told you. In the Court, we are very open with our affections. What you saw, from what I know of human interaction, is as common as a handshake amongst your own people.” Yuri paused to take a breath and push aside his vague amusement at Otabek's jealousy as he returned to the main point. “Otabek, I have wanted you as a lover, never a prisoner. If you were to see the Court, I wanted you to see it as a free man, not like this. Never like this.”

Otabek appeared unconvinced. His lips were twitched into a small frown, and he looked scared—very scared. Yuri tried to feel some sort of empathy towards Otabek's situation, but given that he had no idea how a mortal felt when it came to the thought of their own existence, he could only muster up anger at Otabek's forced subservience. Mortality, as a rule, was not something Yuri could really wrap his mind around.

“How do I know I can trust you?” Otabek asked uncertainly. “How do I know if what you say is true?”

“Think back to those few days that we spent together,” Yuri breathed as he reached for his hands. His heart nearly shattered when Otabek flinched away. “I have never held anything from you; I have never lied to you. He did this out of some sort of misguided attempt to make me happy, but I swear to you, I have never wanted this.”

Yuri held his breath. He did not move, and watched Otabek for some sort of reaction.

At last, the human reached out and brushed his fingers over Yuri's cheek so lightly that it felt like the ghost of a touch.

“But you want me,” Otabek said, his tone of voice still ringing with fear. Yuri swallowed thickly, and nodded once.

“I do, Otabek,” he replied, and took a small step forward. “I love you.”

“How can you love me?” Otabek asked incredulously, his voice cracking a little, panic overlaying his fear. “You barely know me.”

“I know that you love to read,” Yuri said, taking a small step forward as he spoke. This time, Otabek did not run from him. “Despite your standing, you go to the flatlands every day and read books that none but noblemen would be able to acquire. I know that you are strong and willing to defend your beliefs at any cost, regardless of how many people believe the opposite. You can draw beautifully, but rarely partake in it. You are more fragile than you want people to know, but I have never found it to be a weakness of character, but a strength. Your sensitivity is endearing, it makes me want to protect you, and keep you safe. I know that I never wanted to do anything to shatter your strength or make you think of yourself as weak, and that is, sadly, exactly what he did today, and what I never wanted to do.”

“Yuri...” Otabek breathed, his eyelids fluttering as he lurched forward, rocking on his heels with continued uncertainty. Yuri moved at the same moment, one of his hands moving to the back of Otabek's neck, cradling the column of flesh as he gazed into the human's dark eyes. Yuri studied him, silently asking permission, mere moments before Yuri slowly, gently, eased Otabek into a kiss.

Yuri trembled as Otabek's arms wrapped around his waist, and he moved forward, crushing their chests together. Yuri moved his hands to cradle Otabek's cheeks before they moved upward to entangle in his hair. It hadn't yet been a full hour since they'd been parted at the edge of his village, but between then and now so much had happened that to Yuri it felt like nothing short of an eternity.

“I'll get you out of this, Beka,” Yuri murmured feverishly between kisses, “I promise. A Fae's word is as good as law. If I proclaim it, I must follow through with it. I won't fail you again.”

“I'm sorry for doubting you,” Otabek replied in the same tone, “I just...what if I really am stuck here?”

“You won't be,” Yuri said firmly, “I swear it, we'll come up with a way to allow you to leave.”

“But how?” Otabek asked, panic once more lacing his voice. “V—” Yuri shook his head, silencing him, and Otabek regarded the Fae oddly. “What?”

“Words have power,” Yuri said, “do not name someone you do not wish to invoke. If you say his name, it's very likely that he'll come knocking on our door...figuratively speaking.” Yuri smiled with amusement as Otabek glanced around pointedly at the distinct lack of doors or walls. “You were saying?”

“Well, he made it sound so permanent,” Otabek explained with a wince. “How can you be so sure that you can break it?”

“Messing up his plans is practically what I do,” Yuri replied, his mouth twitching into a small smirk, but Otabek did not seem to see the humour. “Remember, in the courts of the Fae, words have power. I just need to make a deal, or challenge him to a contest, and the winner will get whatever they desire. The trick is to word it in such a way that would work in our favour, not his.”

“I wish I'd known that earlier,” Otabek mumbled as Yuri pulled back from the human a little, and led him to the table, where he sat down heavily. “V—He made it sound so simple...and I had no choice, he said.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Yuri asked as he sat down next to Otabek, and he reached for his hand. Otabek took it at once, and squeezed it tightly.

“He wanted me to have a sporting chance,” Otabek mumbled, not looking at Yuri as he spoke. “Looking back, it felt more like a cat playing with a mouse or something. He wanted to play a game...riddles.”

Yuri cursed under his breath. Riddle games were what Viktor excelled at.

The Fae threaded his fingers with Otabek's, and rested his other hand on top of their intertwined ones.

“I was doing fine,” Otabek continued, “I got the first six right, but then on the last one I...it was like some sort of sick joke. I said the Gods instead of the future, and that ended up sealing my...future.”

Otabek's voice grew more and more hoarse as he spoke, and the normally calm, placid demeanour crumbled, and Yuri watched as tears of hopelessness filled his eyes.

Immediately, Yuri pulled Otabek into a tight embrace, and he felt tears sting his own eyes when the shoulder of his tunic begin to dampen.

“My mother will be worried...” Otabek mumbled, his voice shaking a little as he held onto Yuri. “She always worries. And my sisters...Katya is improving her embroidery, and Anya is learning how to make beer with Mother. She had a batch that she was so excited for my father and I to taste...and Father...he was showing me how to properly craft filigree...What will they say if I can't come home?”

“You will,” Yuri whispered, rubbing his back, “I know that you will. Just breathe. We'll get you out of here, this I promise you. And you know that Fae cannot go back on their word.”

Otabek let out a huff of breath that could have been a laugh, but Yuri was not entirely certain. With his hand still on Otabek's back, he urged the human to his feet, and led him from the kitchens and back up to his bedchamber, while he murmured, “I think you need to rest, come on...”

Otabek did not respond beyond a weak nod, and followed Yuri's lead silently. His eyes were very red, and he carried a haunted, terrified look in his gaze. It broke Yuri's heart to see it—this was not how he'd envisioned showing Otabek the Fae Court.

After swearing that he'd laid no enchantments on the garment, Yuri turned around while Otabek changed. Otabek had not needed to ask this, his flaming cheeks were telling enough to Yuri that he was unused in being naked in front of people. Yuri turned back around when he heard the soft sound of Otabek climbing onto the bed, and he lay down to join him.

The human's cheeks were still cherry red, and he bit his lip as he gazed at Yuri. Yuri, in turn, shifted a little closer, and traced the shape of Otabek's face with his fingertips.

“Why are you so red?” Yuri asked softly as he leant in to brush his lips across Otabek's in a light kiss. “Something tells me this is not in direct relation to his recent enslavement of you.”

“No, I...” Otabek trailed off, and the colour in his cheeks deepened as he looked away from Yuri. “This feels oddly...intimate. I've never...I mean...” he trailed off and shook his head. “I'm sorry. Human morality—at least, the kind my village mostly follows—dictates that intimacy is for the wedding bed, and not before.”

“Though I am touched by how intimate you find it, I promise you that I had no intentions at the present moment beyond letting you sleep,” Yuri replied, and leant in to kiss him lightly. “Is this a particular moral value that you wish to adhere to? I'm afraid my knowledge of how humans live is fairly limited, but if you wish to wait, I will marry you before taking you to bed.”

“Was that a proposal?” Otabek asked, his voice gaining a teasing tone, and Yuri smiled a little as he moved in for another kiss.

“If you want it to be,” Yuri teased in return, and Otabek chuckled.

“You seem much freer in regards to taking someone to bed here, in this place” Otabek observed, “but what do Fae consider intimate? What is sacred to you?”

Yuri paused, his lips parted a little as he pondered the question. Otabek viewed sex as something that only those bound together should do, a concept that seemed very odd to him. Sex was momentary pleasure, like a game, or a celebration. Most Fae had dozens of partners—both human and Fae alike. To view it so rigidly felt strange, and it took a moment for Yuri to move past his surprise and focus on the question he'd been asked.

“Intimacy is...singing,” Yuri said at last. “The voices of Fae folk are as sacred to us as anything. Not all may hear us sing. Sometimes singing means death, in the case of our cousins to the south, but many times, it is joy, and something shared with only your dearest beloved. I imagine that is how you and yours view sex, am I correct?”

Otabek nodded. “Yes, that's correct,” he said, and shivered a little as Yuri wrapped an arm around him, drawing him a little closer as he kissed him again.

“Well then, I will respect your wishes, and I will do no more than let you sleep,” Yuri murmured, his hand moving up and down Otabek's spine languorously. “Would you like me to leave you be?”

“Not yet,” Otabek said quickly, his eyes widening a little. “Everything is so...so strange here, and I don't want to be alone just yet.”

“Then I will stay and put your mind at ease, if only for a moment, until you find your rest,” Yuri said softly before he kissed him again. “And when you wake, we will discuss how to get you home, all right?”

Otabek nodded, but the earlier look of utter hopelessness returned to his face. Yuri did not verbally reassure him; until Guang-Hong returned and the planning began, Yuri doubted that Otabek would truly believe that there was a chance that he could go home.

Instead, Yuri lay quietly and held him until Otabek finally dropped off to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven – Fealty

 

When Yuri stepped back down to the kitchen area of the tree, it was the same moment that Guang-Hong returned home. His face was flushed, and he was clutching two items in his hands: a scroll of papyrus, and a familiar-looking statuette.

“Where's Otabek?” Gang-Hong asked between soft pants as he moved towards the table and slumped into one of the seats.

“Sleeping,” Yuri replied, “he woke up right before you left, and as you can imagine, is very upset. Although I think he may be my fiancé now...”

“And, if I may ask, your highness, how did that happen?” Guang-Hong asked as he chortled, and Yuri joined him at the table, his mouth twitching into a small smile to mirror his Companion.

“He informed me of some of the practices his village takes, some sort of celibacy until marriage...thing. I promised that I wouldn't bed him until after we married.”

“Oh, and I can see you are just regretting that decision so deeply,” Guang-Hong teased, and Yuri laughed.

“I'd wait a hundred years if he asked me to,” Yuri said as he sobered up, and Guang-Hong smiled at him warmly.

“I am happy for you, I am, your highness, but I must admit, I'm concerned,” Guang-Hong said, and Yuri nodded his head. He knew exactly what his Companion was referring to.

“The partial binding?” Yuri asked, and the human nodded.

“If you manage to free Otabek from here, you would be obligated to go with him, now that he is bound to you,” Guang-Hong said nervously. “Would you really leave?”

Guang-Hong's voice dropped in volume, and the soft, almost childlike uncertainty that Yuri heard in it broke his heart. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but seemed incapable of speaking further on the matter. He pressed his mouth into a thin line and took several slow breaths to calm himself before he tried to speak again.

“I don't know if I'll have very much choice in that, Guang-Hong,” Yuri answered honestly as he reached for the human's hand, and Guang-Hong threaded his fingers with the Fae's. “He and I are partially bound. For me to stay here would be painful for the both of us—him moreso.”

“But...” Guang-Hong trailed off, and shook his head. “I'm sorry, your highness, I'm being selfish.”

Yuri shifted his chair closer to Guang-Hong's, reached out to brush the fingers of his free hand under the human's chin, and tilted his head up. Guang-Hong's eyes were shining, and he seemed reluctant to meet Yuri's gaze, his own expression still lined with uncertainty and guilt.

“Tell me what it is you want,” Yuri said gently, and he felt Guang-Hong's hand tense in his. He untangled his fingers from the prince's, and reached for the throat of his shirt, tugging it down to display his collarbone. The image of a wolf's head resided there, much like the image of the tiger upon Otabek.

“At your request, the king gave me to you, but I still bear his mark,” Guang-Hong said nervously. “You never bound me to you. If you leave, I wish to come with you.”

“Guang-Hong...” Yuri whispered, reaching forward to brush his fingers over the mark. The human shivered under his light touch, but did not flinch away. “I did not wish to forcibly bind you, but can you truly leave this place? You told me before that you did not wish to.”

“My only wish now is to not be parted from you,” Guang-Hong replied, this time with stronger conviction. “I do not wish to be returned to him where I would be but one more face in a sea of beautiful boys. I wish to serve you. Here, I feel like I have some sort of worth.”

Yuri reached for Guang-Hong again and brushed a few strands of soft brown hair from his eyes. He looked determined, pleading without speaking a word, and above all, he appeared completely certain. He wanted this with all his heart.

Humbled by Guang-Hong's devotion, Yuri could not bring himself to say no. He smiled at his Companion, stood up, and led him silently to another bough of the tree where something akin to a sitting room was located.

Low tables, squashy armchairs, and a leather settee decorated the area, and provided a perfect view of the entire forest and what lay beyond. Birds wove lazily through the skies, the canopies rustled with the activity of the woodland creatures, and the occasional puff of dragon smoke could be seen trailing from the distant mountains beyond their forest. Yuri turned to Guang-Hong, and leant in to kiss his lips lightly.

“Take off your shirt and lie down,” Yuri commanded gently, and his human, as eager to please as ever, hastily removed the garment and eased down onto the settee, while he watched Yuri with a familiar small smile of unabashed trust.

Yuri dragged one of the footstools over to the settee, and sat down near to Guang-Hong's head. Yuri brushed his hair from his eyes again, then moved to rest his hand mere inches from the design high on the human's chest.

“I need you to relax, and stay focused upon your desire to bind yourself to me,” Yuri said gently. “This won't be like your initial partial binding to...him. At first it will hurt, but it will not last, I promise. I need to cut his binding to you before I can bind you to me.”

“I understand, your highness,” Guang-Hong replied, his voice soft and almost breathless. “I trust you.”

A partial binding to a human was a simple enough enchantment and completely irreversible—with a few exceptions. Yuri knew that the partial binding of a servant could only be removed if it was to be immediately replaced by another binding, it could not be left empty. After one was enacted, there was no way to fully reverse it, and to attempt to do so always led to the death of the human in question. To have a human ask to be bound in fealty was rare, and Yuri found himself deeply humbled by the request.

“Are you ready, Guang-Hong?” Yuri asked, and the human immediately nodded.

“Yes, your highness, I'm ready,” Guang-Hong replied as he closed his eyes and relaxed against the piece of furniture.

“Okay,” Yuri said softly, “just take deep breaths, this will hurt, but I will try to make it fast...” Yuri's right hand moved to thread through his thick locks, stroking them reassuringly, while the other hovered over Viktor's mark. He focused on what he needed, the elemental magic of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit to sever Guang-Hong's bonds to Viktor in order to replace them with his own.

Yuri shut his eyes, and pressed his palm to Guang-Hong's chest.

A short cry slipped past the human's lips, his back arched, and Yuri winced when he felt Guang-Hong's hand clap over his forearm reflexively, and he dug his nails into the flesh. The Fae did not move, but his face contorted into a grimace as Guang-Hong's nails, cut short, dug crescent moons into his flesh.

Yuri fixated upon the impression of Viktor embedded upon Guang-Hong's soul, and braced himself for the gaping space that would replace it. Yuri knew that he needed to be quick. If he left the hole open for too long, Guang-Hong would know freedom—of a sort. Mortals often viewed death as their souls being set free, but Guang-Hong did not want that sort of freedom, this Yuri knew.

Yuri inhaled through his nose, filling his lungs as much as he could, and breathed out through his mouth. He teetered upon the edge of Guang-Hong's soul, he could taste and smell so many things—turned earth, dew on grass, freshly cut wood—it was like a window, seeing who Guang-Hong truly was. Now, more than ever, Yuri was intent upon doing this correctly, to not damage someone who trusted him so implicitly.

He waited for one more moment, then Yuri severed the binding.

Wind howled in his ears, a heavy roar that blinded Yuri to all else. He did not know if Guang-Hong was still clutching to him, or if he was crying out in pain. The gap in the human's soul had created a storm in Yuri's mind, and until he replaced the binding or Guang-Hong died, the storm would not abate.

Trembling as he struggled to keep his focus, Yuri reached out with his own brand of magic, and sealed the gap. It was like filling a crack with mud or clay, and in an instant, the world came rushing back.

He could hear Guang-Hong panting, but he was no longer clinging to Yuri. When the Fae opened his eyes, he was given barely three seconds to take in the sight of Guang-Hong laying upon the settee, his chest heaving, the new mark of a tiger emblazoned upon his collarbone. The fingertips of Guang-Hong's left hand were stained with blood, and Yuri did not need to glance down to know that rivulets of blood now streaked his arm where the human's nails had punctured his flesh.

Before Yuri could say a word,the Fae suddenly felt someone grab him from behind, and he was thrown bodily away from Guang-Hong.

Yuri hissed as he tumbled in a heap hear the edge of the platform, and looked up, expecting to see one of the Fae gentries, or Viktor himself.

Who he saw instead was Otabek.

“Otabek...?” Yuri asked uncertainly, but the human's look of mistrust from earlier had returned to his eyes. Yuri swallowed thickly.

“I heard screaming,” he said roughly, “you were hurting him.”

“No, Otabek, it wasn't like that—” Guang-Hong said as he sat up, still a little shaky, and his breath was escaping him in short, rough pants. Otabek eyed him with disbelief, then he turned his gaze back to Yuri.

The Fae stood up cautiously, and only then was Otabek's gaze drawn to Yuri's forearm, where five puncture wounds were clearly visible, along with the trails of dark blood that had streaked his arm and collected near his wrist. His mistrust wavered, but did not fall.

“Otabek,” Yuri said gently as he approached him, “I was not hurting Guang-Hong.”

“I heard him scream...” Otabek repeated, but trailed off when both Yuri and Guang-Hong shook their heads at him. Yuri continued to approach the human, his footsteps slow and measured, while being cautious to not crowd or cage him in.

When Yuri at last reached him, he rested a gentle hand upon Otabek's shoulder, and coaxed him down onto the settee. Guang-Hong sat up at the same moment, and bracketed him, but like Yuri, he was careful not to crowd him.

“Guang-Hong asked me for a partial binding, like what he did to you, binding you to me,” Yuri explained gently as he reached for Otabek's hand. The Fae smiled warmly when the human offered up the limb freely. “The difficulty was that he was already marked by the Fae who initially brought him here. To fulfill his wish, I first needed to sever the connection to this other Fae—and that is painful.”

“The screaming you heard was from his highness breaking my connection to him,” Guang-Hong added, “he was not hurting me. I did not wish to be separated from my prince; I wanted this very much, Otabek.”

Otabek abruptly yanked his hand from Yuri's hold, and he buried his face in his palms. By the way he was shaking, Yuri could guess that he was crying. The sight broke his heart, and he felt another fierce swell of hatred towards the Fae who had done this to him. Viktor needed to pay for breaking him.

“Everything is so...so strange here,” Otabek said softly without looking up. “I want to go home, but then I remember that I can't...”

“But you will,” Yuri said gently, encouragingly, “we'll break his deal, and get you home, I swear it.”

“But how?” Otabek asked, the same air of hopelessness in his voice. “I don't see how any of this will work like you say it will...”

“Come back to the kitchen with us,” Guang-Hong said gently, and touched Otabek's arm. “I brought something back from the village for you. We can talk there about what to do next.”

“For...me?” Otabek asked, and Guang-Hong nodded.

“A letter from your mother, and a certain iron statuette that will help keep you safe here until we can find a way to free you...” Guang-Hong began, but trailed off when Otabek's frown deepened.

“That's impossible,” Otabek said, and both Fae and his Companion blinked.

“Why is it impossible, Otabek?” Yuri asked, and Otabek laughed hollowly.

“You know nothing of human life, do you?” Otabek demanded, and Yuri winced. “Commoners, like me, my family, reading and writing isn't a skill most learn. I only took to it because the prince of our kingdom took a liking to me and taught me how. Of my family, I'm the only one who can read and write.”

“But...” Yuri interrupted uncertainly, and Otabek's gaze swivelled back to him. “I heard your mother mention books...”

“Oral stories, our books are not written down. It's all spoken,” Otabek explained tiredly, “only the royals have access to codecies like that. All to the point that my mother could not write to me.”

“But it is from your mother, Otabek,” Guang-Hong said, and this time ignored Otabek's disbelieving frown. “I went to your home, and explained what had happened to you, and that his highness and I wished to borrow his iron statuette to protect you from Fae enchantment. I also asked them if there was anything that they wanted to say to you, and I offered to transcribe it in a letter. I promise you, it is from your mother.”

“Come on,” Yuri interjected as he moved to wrap an arm around Otabek and coaxed him to his feet. “Let's go have a look, and I'll get you something to eat, all right? Then we can talk about how to get you out of here.”

Otabek looked as though he seriously doubted this, but with a heavy sigh, he nodded and allowed himself to be led away.

 

~*~

 

In the kitchen, Otabek seemed determined to not look at the little figure and papyrus scroll upon the tabletop, and instead watched Yuri, holding a platter, while he selected things from around his kitchen—cured meats, fruit and cheeses, sour bread, and wine. With each item that Yuri selected, he paused to disenchant it, ensuring that nothing Otabek ate would tie him to the Court.

Guang-Hong, on the other hand, seemed mildly distressed by Yuri doing the work of (in his view, at least) a servant. Both of them knew that it was imperative that Yuri feed Otabek in order to ensure that nothing was enchanted, but it still seemed to bother the human deeply.

“Your highness?” he asked softly, uncertainly. Yuri shifted his gaze to his Companion, redressed, his mark hidden, but Yuri could still feel it—his connection to both these men was so similar, and yet so different at the same time.

“Yes, Guang-Hong?” he asked as he approached the table with the platter, and the young man immediately bowed his head shyly. Yuri set down the plate and began to disperse the glasses, and his hand had moved to the bottle of wine when his Companion finally spoke.

“M-may I serve you?” Guang-Hong asked in a rush, his face becoming blotchy with embarrassment, and Otabek regarded his fellow human with confusion.

“Of course you may,” Yuri replied with a small smile, and leant in to kiss Guang-Hong. It would have been traditional to end their binding with a kiss, but given that they had been interrupted, Yuri had not been able to do so. As he pulled back, he did not miss the spark of jealousy he saw in Otabek's eyes, but ignored it for the moment as he sat down next to him, and began to assemble a plate of food for him.

“None of these foods are enchanted,” Yuri said in a conversational tone as he handed him the plate, “but you must be careful when accepting food from anyone else. As I have told you before, to eat the food of a Fae Court will irrevocably tie you to it, and you will be unable to eat anything but Fae food for the rest of your life. Only by my hand is it safe.”

Otabek nodded his thanks, but did not speak as he accepted the plate and stared down at the morsels that Yuri had offered him. At the same time, Guang-Hong took to the task of pouring Yuri his wine, and he seemed to revel in the small task. Yuri relieved him of the bottle to serve Guang-Hong and Otabek, but still Otabek did not touch the food he'd been given, and merely stared at it.

Yuri reached out and threaded his fingers through a dark lock of hair. It had fallen into Otabek's eyes, shadowing them, and he glanced up as Yuri gently curled it behind his ear. He appeared lost, caught in a trap of hopelessness, and this strong man whom Yuri loved so dearly seemed to be beginning to break, if not already broken.

The Fae did not speak, but pressed his hand to Otabek's shoulder. He did not react to the touch, watching in a bemused, disconnected sort of way as the limb moved down his arm and covered Otabek's hand with his own. He turned the human's palm up, and whilst ignoring Guang-Hong's soft, sharp gasp of shock, Yuri reached for the statuette.

Yuri closed his hand over the iron, and his skin audibly crackled. He felt Otabek tense, but momentarily ignored it as he lifted the statuette in a shaking, blistering hand, and moved it to press into Otabek's palm. He curled his fingers around it as Yuri let go, and Guang-Hong immediately grabbed Yuri's wrist as he let out a soft cry.

“Your highness, oh, your hand...”

Yuri glanced down at it, finally breaking his gaze away from Otabek, and saw his palm. It was red, inflamed, and shiny, with large blisters covering virtually every inch of flesh that had come in contact with the metal. It ached painfully, but Yuri did not allow it to register on his face as Otabek continued to stare at him.

“Why did you do that?” he asked at last, his fingers tightening around the statue as he gazed at the Fae prince.

“I will do anything to save you,” Yuri said softly, “even if it causes me great pain. I want you to understand, Otabek—nothing is more important to me than your happiness. I would not bind you here, ever. I wish only to be with you. I care about you deeply, and I would never wish to harm you by taking away your freedom.”

Otabek's expression did not change at first. He was nervous, uncertain—confused. Even without looking into his mind, Yuri could see that Otabek could not tell what was truth, and what was lies.

With his good hand, Yuri reached out and coiled Otabek's fingers around the statuette more firmly.

“See with clear eyes,” Yuri encouraged, “and trust that I will do everything in my power to help you.”

“That's good to hear,” a fourth voice chimed in. Yuri turned, and saw King Yuuri standing by the spiral staircase, his arms crossed, and a small smirk upon his face that Yuri rarely saw. “Because it will take all of your power to free your human of this place.”

The sudden appearance of the king immediately put everyone on edge. Otabek tensed, Guang-Hong gasped sharply, and Yuri concealed his surprise behind a neutral mask.

“Your majesty...?” Yuri asked uncertainly, and Yuuri crossed the space to twine his fingers through Yuri's hair in a gentle caress that was almost—but not quite—comforting.

“Don't mistake me,” the king said gently as he regarded the Faeling. “My motives are completely selfish. I want this human, who has enraptured my Viktor so, out of my Court. If that means lending my power to yours, then so be it. I won't lose my Viktor to a lowly human.”

Lowly?” Otabek hissed, and Guang-Hong elbowed him sharply. Yuuri's gaze snapped to Otabek, and Yuri moved to shield him. He was not quick enough, and Yuuri got there first.

“You have something to say, human?” Yuuri asked in his soft, even tone, and like with Yuri, he reached for his hair. Far from it being a gentle caress, Yuri saw the king grip the strands tightly before he yanked Otabek's head back. “What is it about you, hm?” he asked, “What is it that has ensnared both prince and king with so little effort? Why are you so special? All evening I've been subject to Otabek this and Otabek that and how courageous and handsome you are. What is it? Why are you so damnably special? I'd oust you now if I could—”

“—then why don't you?” Otabek growled. His eyes narrowed into a glare as he stared up at Yuuri. “I don't want to be here, you don't want me here, it sounds like the perfect arrangement, if you ask me.”

“Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of power,” Yuuri replied with a bitter sort of smile, his hand releasing Otabek as though he'd been burned, and he took a large step back. At the same moment, Yuri closed the distance between himself and Otabek, wrapping his arms protectively around the human while he stared up at his king. “I will help you, as much as it pains me to do so, it is the only way I can be rid of my so-called...competition.”

“I had no idea you had so much rage in you,” Yuri said in the same tone of voice as the king—calm, and unruffled. His arms tensed around Otabek. He didn't care if it was high treason; if Yuuri so much as laid a hand on Otabek again, Yuri was prepared to fight back.

“It's not rage, little princeling,” Yuuri answered, his expression softening into the usual shy, bemused smile that those of the Court knew so well. “It is instinct. Your human is a threat to me. My Viktor is quite besotted with him, and I will not so willingly step aside and give up my husband to a human.”

“Viktor adores you,” Yuri pointed out, “he would never toss you aside so callously.”

“There is time,” Yuuri replied simply, “there is always time, Yuri.”

“All a Fae has is time,” Yuri muttered, a common phrase within the Court, one which is not usually uttered with such a melancholy tone of voice. As the king backed away from the trio, Yuri felt some of the tension begin to dissolve, and the king offered Yuri the ghost of a smile.

“Indeed,” Yuuri nodded. “Do you accept my assistance?”

Yuri, Otabek, and Guang-Hong exchanged a look. Both humans inclined their heads minutely, and Yuri turned back to the king.

“We accept, your majesty.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight – Challenge

 

The following afternoon, the king returned to Yuri's home.

Both Guang-Hong and Yuri bowed respectfully, but Otabek refused to do so. He responded to Yuuri's presence with a mistrustful glare, and instead of responding anger, the king laughed heartily.

“Such disrespect towards your monarch,” King Yuuri tutted as he motioned for Yuri and Guang-Hong to stand, “I ought to have you exiled.”

“I don't think that's terribly amusing, your highness,” Yuri said stiffly, and crossed his arms as he frowned at the king.

“Oh, now, just relax my dear Yurio,” King Yuuri said with a chuckle. “I meant nothing by it. If all goes well he will be exiled, which, I think, is what you want.”

Yuri bit the inside of his cheek to curb the impulse to remark snidely to the king's twisted way of looking at things, and the hated nickname. At the same time, Guang-Hong took the liberty of pulling up the best seat for the king, and offered him a glass of wine. Yuuri accepted it with a nod and smile, which brought a bashful flush to the human's cheeks.

“So tell me, Yurio,” King Yuuri said, and paused to sip his wine. “What is your plan to free your human?”

“It's Yuri,” Otabek said abruptly, and all eyes whipped to him.

“I beg your pardon?” the king said, and Yuri swallowed nervously as he glanced up. Some of the canopy leaves had begun to spontaneously grow frost, showing just how deeply offended Yuuri was by the interruption. Sensing danger, he reached out to touch the back of Otabek's hand and silence him, but he ignored the silent plea.

“Yuri doesn't like it when you call him Yurio,” Otabek said firmly, “stop calling him by a name he obviously dislikes.”

“If I wish to call him Latrine, I will do so,” King Yuuri said icily. “Do not presume to know us simply because you are partially bound to one of my Court.” Without another word Yuuri snapped his fingers, and a tiny glass vial materialized between his fingers, holding what appeared to be a pale blue light—Otabek's voice.

Otabek clapped his hands to his throat, and his eyes widened as he stared at the king.

“What,” King Yuuri teased sweetly, “no witty retort? I daresay I like this version of your human much better, Yurio.”

Otabek glared at the king, and began to rise from his chair when Yuri quickly reached out to stop him. The last thing he needed was for the king to curse him for being physically attacked.

“Apologies on behalf of my human, your majesty,” Yuri said quickly, and he ignored Otabek's look of hurt. “He is wilful, but...erm...well-meaning.”

The king clucked his tongue in annoyance, and Yuri breathed a soft sigh of relief when he saw Yuuri unstopper the vial, and return Otabek's voice to him.

“As I was saying,” Yuuri said before Otabek could interrupt again, “what are your plans for freeing your human from here? You must challenge my husband publicly, you realize.”

“Public challenges to the king are notorious for being altered to tip in his favour,” Yuri replied as he arched a brow at Yuuri. Everyone in the room—save Otabek—knew that Yuuri always played a hand in sabotaging the challenger in some way or another. “How do I know that this will be conducted fairly?”

“This is not the human lands, where right and wrong are so cleanly divided,” Yuuri said smoothly, and crossed his arms as he frowned at Yuri. “If you wish to challenge Viktor, you must do so knowing full-well that I will sabotage it if I feel it necessary.”

“What is the point of that?” Otabek demanded, and Yuuri's cold gaze snapped to the human again, his eyes narrowed in warning. “If you want me to leave to badly, why would you deliberately sabotage Yuri's attempts to beat him?”

“Because he is my husband, and beyond the fact that I always wish for him to win, it would appear suspicious if I did not do so,” Yuuri replied impatiently. “The last thing we need is Viktor to suspect that I am conspiring against him.”

“And if he does find out?” Otabek asked mildly, while Yuri bit the inside of his cheek in frustration. It was as though Otabek was deliberately trying to anger the king, which was never a good idea.

“I'll tell him what I did the last time,” the king replied smoothly, “that I feared you stealing him away, and that my love for him dictated my actions more than my common sense—which is mostly true, anyway.”

Otabek did not appear overly cheered by this response, but thankfully did not interrupt again. Instead, he crossed his arms and frowned disapprovingly at the king, who appeared content to ignore the human as he refocused his attention on Yuri.

“Have you any idea what sort of challenge you might put to Viktor?” the king asked, and this time, Yuri smiled.

“I do, your majesty.”

“And what might this idea be?” he asked keenly, and the look made Yuri falter. It was well within the realm of possibility that Yuuri might relay the information to Viktor.

“He would not have offered to help us if he intended to completely sabotage us,” Guang-Hong said suddenly, and Yuri jumped when he felt a hand rest on his knee. He glanced to his companion (for the moment ignoring Otabek's glare of jealousy) and huffed a soft sigh before he turned back to the king, who was still waiting patiently for a response.

“I would challenge Viktor to a game of my own choosing,” Yuri began, reaching compulsively for Otabek's hand as he spoke. “I had intended to ask Viktor to voice Otabek's heart's desire, and give him three chances to do so. A heart is more difficult to read than a mind, and I felt that it would be an ideal challenge.”

“And what is your heart's desire, human?” Yuuri asked curiously, his gaze shifting to Otabek again. He glared, and his hand tenses in Yuri's.

“You'll just have to wait and see,” Otabek replied stiffly, and Yuuri frowned, as though he'd been denied a real treat.

“Fine,” King Yuuri replied sourly. “Mabon is in two days' time. I would suggest doing it then, when the Court will be most full, and our magick will be at peak...at least until the New Year.”

Yuri traded looks with Otabek and Guang-Hong. They both inclined their heads slightly. Yuri mirrored it, and returned his gaze to the king.

“I agree, we will challenge him then.”

Yuuri's lips spread into a smile.

“Excellent.”

 

~*~

 

“I don’t like this, Yuri,” Otabek said as they laid in bed the night before Yuri was to challenge Viktor. Yuri eyed him quizzically as he laid down next to him, and reached out to brush a lock of dark hair from his eyes.

“What bothers you about it, Otabek?” Yuri asked, his fingertips hovering over his cheek, close enough that he could feel the human’s cheek muscle twitch when he frowned.

“I don’t trust Yuu—him. He’s up to something,” Otabek explained, and Yuri smiled softly.

“He has nothing to gain by deceiving us,” Yuri said as he offered Otabek a small kiss. “But you are right to not trust him. Most Fae are not what a human might consider to be trustworthy.”

“I just...” Otabek trailed off and shook his head. “I have a bad feeling about tomorrow. There are many things of this place that unsettle me, but there if one thing I wish to ask of you before we face him tomorrow.”

“What might that be?”

Otabek hesitated, his lower lip caught between his teeth, and he regarded Yuri nervously. Whatever his request might be, it seemed to be caught in his throat. In an effort to soothe him, Yuri leant in and kissed him again.

“My Beka...whatever it is, you can tell me,” Yuri said softly, his breath tickling across Otabek’s lips as he spoke. “I would do anything for you, I am sure you know that by now.”

“I—I do, I just—” Otabek broke off abruptly and shook his head. “Yuri...would you sing for me?”

Yuri felt his cheeks prickle with colour as his mouth dropped open in surprise. To share something so intimate with Otabek was both thrilling and terrifying all at once. He bit his lip, and Otabek, his eyes wide and shining, seemed on the cusp of redacting his request when Yuri leant in to kiss him again.

“It would be an honour to sing for you.”

Otabek smiled, the expression as bright as a high summer sun, and Yuri sat up, his fingers still intertwined with Otabek’s. The human followed his movements, sitting and facing the Fae as he straightened his back, and breathed deep.

When Yuri parted his lips to sing, he knew it would be unlike any singing that Otabek would have ever heard before. Yuri sang of love, his voice carrying no words as Otabek would know them, but a climbing and falling melody that painted an image in the human’s mind of his many days and nights watching Otabek as he came to the flatlands to read, of a love so perfect and pure it ached and gave pleasure equally, of how he longed for Otabek to love him without influence, but only as an act of his heart and no more.

The music filled their little space, it danced around them like spiralling, excitable sprites on the wind, and when Yuri opened his eyes again, he found Otabek’s face to be stained with tears. 

Yuri did not hesitate, but closed the distance between them and kissed his human deeply while he lifted his hands to mop the wetness from Otabek’s cheeks.

“We will win, my Beka,” Yuri whispered between kisses while Otabek continued to weep. “Do you hear me, my love? We will win.”

At last, Otabek nodded, and Yuri’s lips spread into a thin smile.

 

~*~

 

“In the ancient rites of challenge, I call upon you, Oberon, King of the Fairies, to face me in mind-combat of my choosing.”

Yuri's call was met with absolute silence.

The revellers dancing about the central court froze, the musicians stopped playing their instruments, and every eye swivelled to Yuri and his two humans.

The three of them were all dressed impeccably, both to mark the holiday, and in challenge to Viktor. Yuri was dressed in ice-white, garments that glimmered even when he was stock-still, and his circlet of moonstone, marking him as a prince, was perched upon his loose hair.

Guang-Hong had been done up in pink and black, and Otabek in brown and white, with a vest over his shirt containing swaths of blue along with the brown. Yuri had made Otabek's garments himself, and Yuri had very nearly burst with joy when Otabek had thanked him with a kiss.

 

King Oberon was seated in his oaken throne, a crown of golden leaves upon his head to match Yuuri's. He was staring at Yuri as though he'd never seen him before, but he recovered so swiftly that Yuri was left to wonder whether he'd imagined the look or not. He stood, and glanced around at the assembled crowd briefly before he returned his gaze to Yuri and his humans.

“I accept,” he said, loudly enough that it carried through the entire court. He stepped down from the dais and approached them smoothly, and without fear. Yuri did not move as he marked Viktor's approach, but both Guang-Hong a and Otabek froze at his back. “What do you wish for, should you win this little challenge?”

“You know what I want,” Yuri retorted coldly. “I wish for you to free Otabek Altin of his ties to the Fae Court.”

“Hmm, how disappointing,” Viktor replied as he bowed his head a little in mock shame. “Very predictable. You should know better, Yurio.”

Yuri pressed his lips into a thin line, but did not answer.

“These are my terms,” Viktor continued, his voice carrying over the crowd, all of whom had circled them to watch excitedly. “Should I win, I will take your Fae life and magick from you. You and yours will be banished from the Court, live out a mortal life, and die with your humans.”

Hissing whispers immediately broke out amongst the attending Fae and humans, and Yuri felt himself go cold. He had not expected this. Behind him, he heard Guang-Hong gasp sharply, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Otabek freeze. Quite suddenly, Yuri found himself fighting not just for Otabek's freedom, but his immortal life as well. Despite Viktor's reputation for cruelty, he had never been known as a murderer.

Until now, that is.

It was too late to turn back however, and Yuri squared his shoulders as he levelled his gaze with Viktor, who was smiling at him sweetly.

“I accept.”

More whispers like a tidal wave swept through the Court, but Yuri did not turn his gaze from Viktor. The king was still smiling at him sweetly, less like they were about to partake in a challenge, and more like they were going to sit down to tea.

Yuri did not move, and watched as Viktor closed the distance between them. Yuri angled his jaw upwards as his eyes narrowed into a glare, and stomped down on his compulsion to shiver when Viktor reached out to stroke his cheek and cradle his chin in one hand. On the edges of his vision, Yuri saw Otabek shift as though he meant to step forward, but Guang-Hong stopped him with a hand on his arm and quick shake of his head.

“And what challenge would you put to your fair king?” Viktor asked softly, while his thumb traced along Yuri's cheekbone, the touch as gentle as that of a lover, and it made Yuri's skin crawl.

“I will give you three chances to tell me Otabek's heart's desire,” Yuri replied in the same soft, but challenging tone. Several of the Fae in the crowd gasped, and Yuri smirked when Viktor's eyes narrowed. The king took a large step back, and his gaze swivelled to Otabek.

“Come forward, human,” he said in a regal, commanding tone of voice. “Permit me to look at you.”

Otabek hesitated, and cast a glace towards Guang-Hong, who nodded at him encouragingly. Yuri longed to turn and offer Otabek some form of comfort, but he did not dare look away from the king. After another moment of hesitation Otabek stepped forward, and his hand slipped into Yuri's.

“You love my Yurio, do you not, human?” Viktor asked as he reached for Otabek, his gaze calculating, and Otabek immediately jumped back.

“Do not touch me,” Otabek growled, his hand tense in Yuri's as a few of the Fae observing them gasped at his boldness.

“Fine, no need for rudeness, human,” Viktor said in the same sweet tone, and dropped his arm. “Answer my question. Do you love my Yurio?”

Otabek glanced to Yuri, and he nodded his head once in encouragement.

“Yes,” Otabek replied, his voice shaking a little. Yuri could tell that it was a result of nervousness of the situation, and not any sort of uncertainty of his feelings.

“And how deep does this love run?” Viktor asked, his head tilting to the side. “What is it that you love about my Yurio? He has never proved himself to be very lovable; he is as prickly as a porcupine and shares many personality traits with grumpy old trolls. What is it that draws you? Is your love restricted to the surface of things? Is it his beauty that you love? If that is the truth, I cannot fault you for your admiration of his loveliness, although I do not suspect such a shallow love to last.”

“Do you know your subjects at all?” Otabek retorted icily, his hand tense in Yuri's. “How could you speak of Yuri so shamefully?”

“How I speak of Yurio was not the topic of the question I put to you,” Viktor replied in the same kindly tone. “I asked you how deep your love for Yurio runs.”

Otabek hesitated to answer. He exchanged a look with Yuri, his expression nervous, but Yuri offered him a small nod of encouragement. To come up with an answer to Yuri's challenge, Viktor had to ask questions, it was expected. They both knew this, but that knowledge did not seem to comfort Otabek at all.

“As deep as...the ocean,” Otabek replied at last, his cheeks flushing pink as he spoke. “My love for Yuri perplexes me, for it is new, by human standards, at least, but I feel a deep love for him as though I have known him for years beyond count. I want my days and nights marked by time spent with Yuri—his light and love brought out of me joy I have never felt before, and I refuse to let it go, regardless what I stand to lose by such a decision. Yuri has quickly become everything to me—as important as my family, if not moreso.”

“Oh, how precious,” Viktor cooed, his tone very close to mocking. Yuri frowned, but forced himself to stay quiet. “Yes, I can see that your love for my Yurio is true indeed, but how true? I can see no interlocking bodies on the edges of your mind, no heavy breathing, no fevered cries of ecstasy...has my Yurio not taken you to bed yet? Are you insufficient in some way? Are you quite certain my Yurio truly cares for you the way you care for him?”

“Stop it, Viktor,” Yuri cut in as he glared at the king. “Don't confuse him. Our sexual habits have no bearing upon the challenge I have put to you.”

“I would argue that it does,” Viktor replied in that same smooth voice. “You have never hesitated to take a lover before. That you falter now implies that your Otabek is somehow damaged.”

Yuri felt his face burn, and hurt flooded Otabek's expression. Yuri felt his heart fall when Otabek's hand slackened in his.

“Yuri?” Otabek asked in a small voice that made Yuri's heart ache to hear it. “How many lovers?”

“It doesn't matter,” Yuri replied hastily, turning away from Viktor to look at Otabek. Otabek's heart was breaking, Yuri could see it in the human's eyes. He pulled his hand from Otabek's, and pressed both palms to the man's cheeks. “It does not matter, Otabek. Fae share their bodies indiscriminately. What I share with you is beyond that. I love you, and I promised to wait for you, remember? Viktor is trying to confuse you and hurt you. Please, do not let him.”

Otabek bit his lip, and glanced from Yuri to Viktor. Viktor was smiling like a cat with a mouse, and such a victorious smile upon his face rarely led to joy for Yuri. This time, he was determined for Viktor to not take Otabek from him.

Ignoring the full court that surrounded them, Yuri pulled Otabek into a warm, heated kiss.

Otabek froze, his hands lifting in surprise, though it was unclear whether he intended to push Yuri away or draw him closer. A wave of appreciative tittering flooded the court, and Yuri smiled inwardly at the sound of it.

“I would do anything for you, Beka,” Yuri whispered against his mouth. “Anything. Do not let Viktor make you believe that I think less of you. I don't, and I never could.”

“I'm sorry,” Otabek whispered, and opened his mouth to say more, but Yuri silenced him with another kiss.

“It's all right,” Yuri murmured, “I understand that your view of love and sex differs from that of the Fae. But do not let Viktor's poisonous words make you question. I have never loved anyone but you, my Otabek.”

“I think I have an image of your human's heart now,” Viktor interrupted, and the couple whipped around to face the king. His smile was one that told Yuri that he believed that he had won, but Yuri responded it to a smirk. Viktor, so full of arrogance, could never understand the heart of another, save his king. Yuri was confident that Viktor did not see Otabek's heart as clearly as he thought he did. Otabek did not appear to be as confident as Yuri, as his hands tensed on Yuri's hips, and he drew the Fae closer. “It took me a little time to see it, but now...Yes. I can see everything quite clearly.”

“You think so, do you?” Yuri asked coldly, drawing Otabek closer as he spoke, and he wrapped his arms around his human protectively.

“I know so, Yurio,” Viktor replied sweetly, and took a step forward. Otabek tensed again, but did not move this time as Viktor reached out to cradle the human's chin, tilting his head up slightly as though he intended to inspect him like a head of cattle. At such close proximity, Yuri could see Otabek's neck muscles tense, but he did not pull away or offer up a caustic remark.

“Your heart's desire, human, is a mask,” Viktor proclaimed. “It makes its presence known as something almost laughably simple, but it is a mere illusion. You heart's desire is Yurio. You long for him as others long to breathe.” Yuri pursed his lips, ready to proclaim that this was not the whole truth, and that Viktor had but two chances left to correctly guess, but he continued to speak before Yuri had a chance to.

“Further than that, you long to bind yourself to Yurio, and live out a mortal life with him,” the king said. Yuri gasped sharply, Otabek tensed, and Yuuri smirked. “You have no desire for that which the Fae can give you, you wish for only one life, and to live it well, with Yurio at your side.”

“Well?” Viktor asked, as he shifted his gaze from Otabek to Yuri and back again. “What say you?”

Through blinding tears, Yuri glared at the king. How could he have known?

Viktor's smile widened, and Yuri bowed his head as the weight of realization began to crush him. Otabek held him fast, and kept his Fae lover on his feet as Viktor's poisonous words washed over him, sealing his inescapable fate.

“You lose.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine – Truth

 

Absolute silence filled the Court.

You lose.

The words echoed in Yuri's mind. He felt his knees wobble dangerously, and only Otabek's arm at his waist held him upright.

They had lost.

How could they have lost?

Should I win, I will take your Fae life and magick from you. You and yours will be banished from the Court, live out a mortal life, and die with your humans.

Yuri felt sick.

Remembering belatedly where he was, Yuri looked around the Court with wide, terrified eyes. Everyone that he had ever known looked on with mingled looks of shock and horror of their own, but Yuri knew better than to beseech them for help—no one was stupid or brave enough to stand against Viktor.

The horror-struck looks were mirrored on every face, except those of the kings, both of whom were smiling victoriously at Yuri, Otabek, and Guang-Hong.

Viktor took a purposeful step forward. Otabek immediately backed up and dragged Yuri with him. Yuri could feel his own body shaking, but at the same time he felt strangely disconnected from it, as though he were watching the scene, and not a part of it.

“I have won your challenge, Yuri, Fae Prince of the Plisetsky clan,” Viktor proclaimed, his voice strong, and carried to every corner of the Court, ensuring that none of the spectators missed even a syllable of his victory over Yuri. “In accordance with our agreement, I take from you now your magick and your immortal life. Furthermore, I banish you and yours forthwith from our realm...never to return.”

“N-No, K-King Oberon, please...” Yuri's voice escaped him as little more than a weakened, feeble plea, one which did not even cause Viktor to hesitate as he laid his hands upon either side of Yuri's head, and he twined his fingers through Yuri's hair. He offered Yuri one small smile, though Yuri could not tell whether it was meant to be one of triumph, or some sort of mocking false sympathy. Yuri felt Viktor's fingers press to his scalp, and he inhaled sharply as he braced himself for pain.

Yuri had always been told that losing one's magick was like the wort pain imaginable, multiplied tenfold.

And yet, somehow, it was infinitely worse.

Like skin being ripped from bone, or being set aflame, every part of him was in agony. He could feel hot tears on his cheeks as he lost his connections to the elements—he could not feel earth's sure footsteps, fire's intensity, water's ebb and flow, or air's gusts of life breathing into him. He could not feel the spirit's presence that surrounded her Fae kin; the Goddess of the Moon and the Horned God of the Sun turned their backs on him as the pain became truly unbearable, and blackness flooded his mind as he fainted.

 

~*~

 

The soft sound of crackling and popping filled Yuri's mind.

Black, but warm, and the sound was strangely comforting. He felt a soft warm weight resting over his body, but nothing else.

His connection to his magick was not there, and Yuri shivered a little at the pain of this loss, like the death of a friend.

Yuri's eyelids, heavy, slowly slid open.

Before him was a rustic, aged fireplace, with a dying fire in the grate. Yuri glanced down and saw that a heavy fur blanket had been draped over him. His head was propped up slightly on not a pillow, but a thigh, and he glanced up to see Otabek sitting up, but his head was tilted to the side, and he seemed to be fast asleep. Guang-Hong was curled up nearer to the fire with a blanket of his own, as though he both wished to give Yuri and Otabek their privacy, but longed to be close to them at the same time.

Yuri looked around the space, but remained as still as he could. He was uncertain where he was or how they'd gotten there, but it seemed to be a peasant home of some kind. It was homey, comfortable, and felt strangely familiar...

I'm in Otabek's home, Yuri thought with a sudden jolt. But how did I get here?

Yuri shifted slightly, and the small movement was enough to rouse Otabek. His eyes snapped open, and one of his hands fell to pet Yuri's hair gently.

“How do you feel, Yuri?” he asked softly, and Yuri immediately shut his eyes again. The softly spoken question brought everything rushing back, and he lifted a hand to rest it over his heart.

I'm dying.

The realization hit him like a blow to the chest, and he shuddered as anguished tears stung his eyes. Otabek did not hesitate, and drew Yuri into his arms. Yuri clung to him, his face buried in the crook of his neck, and Otabek did not speak as he held Yuri and he wept, his sobs soft and almost unheard in his effort to keep from rousing Guang-Hong.

“I can't feel anything...” Yuri mumbled into Otabek's shoulder, and clung to him harder. “How—how do you stand this? This disconnect from the Gods...how...” Yuri sniffed again, and Otabek rubbed his back gently.

“It's okay, just don't think about it...” Otabek murmured as he rocked him, childlike, and kissed his cheek. “I know it's hard, but it's not so bad, having a human life...”

“But, Otabek, I'm dying...”

“Wh-what?”

“I may have as little as fifty years left.”

Yuri hadn't been joking, and the prospect of such a short span utterly terrified him, but his proclamation made Otabek chuckle. He shifted, urging Yuri to look up at him, and he kissed him tenderly. Yuri returned it, though he couldn't quite see what was so funny about what he had said.

“Oh, Yuri,” Otabek whispered, his voice still laced with amusement, and the corner of his mouth twitched as though he was trying not to laugh. “Fifty years to a human is longer than you think. Maybe not as long as eternity, but certainly long enough to live a full life.”

“It doesn't feel like it,” Yuri mumbled, “and when I die, what comes after? I...I never had to worry about death before. Where will I go? Will you go there too?”

“No one knows,” Otabek replied as he moved to kiss Yuri's temple gently. “Some believe nothing comes after and we just...cease to exist. Others believe that our souls are transported to a paradise, or eternal torment, depending on what sort of life you led. Others still think of it as a halfway place between one life and the next.”

“I don't find that very reassuring...” Yuri pulled back from Otabek and stood up. His bones creaked and groaned unpleasantly. His back twinged with pain. It was sharper than any pain he had ever experienced before; it felt more real, now that he was mortal. Yuri began to pace before the dying fire, but the action quickly made him dizzy, and he sat back down with a soft huff. Yuri drew his knees to his chest, and stared at the glowing embers in the hearth.

Warm arms encircled him from behind, and Yuri watched as Otabek's legs gently bracketed his own. He leant back in the welcome embrace and closed his eyes.

Even with my life falling apart around me, he still finds a way to catch me.

“Tell me what you need, Yuri,” Otabek murmured, and pressed a soft kiss to the side of his throat. “Whatever you need to smile again, I will do it. Immortal or mortal, I still love you.”

The words were strong and unwavering in their certainty. Yuri found some comfort in that; the knowledge that Otabek still cared for him was reassuring, but still left him feeling incomplete and strangely hollow. To his statement, Yuri had no idea what to say, and for a long moment he was quiet, one hand curled around Otabek's wrist, begging him to stay with him.

“I need time, I think,” Yuri said at last, and nearly laughed out loud at the ridiculous irony of the statement. “I need to accustom myself to this life, and find my place in it, whatever that might be.”

Otabek's arms tensed around him, and his lips ghosted over the hollow of Yuri's throat.

“I will wait for you.”

 

~*~

 

After Yuri's little outburst when he'd first woken up after losing his magick, he felt painfully cut off from the world he loved so much. He could not call the elements to him, or contact the sprites, he could not dance on moonbeams or rejuvenate dying flora, he could access none of his magick.

He knew that Guang-Hong was experiencing something similar, but given that he bore no power like the Fae did, his pain was different. Yuri saw him gazing towards the edges of town with a homesick longing, and more than once he and Yuri had embraced each other and wept at the horrible loss of their home.

Most perplexing to Yuri was how short a day was for a human, and they spent so much of it sleeping. A Fae needed an hour or two at most in the twilight or predawn hours to properly rest themselves, while others rarely bothered with sleep at all, and instead built it up until they would lie down and sleep for a decade or two in peace.

To sleep for seven to ten hours, every night, without fail, was utterly baffling to Yuri. When Yuri had chosen to share this finding with Otabek, he was met with amused laughter, and Yuri frowned at him.

“Oh, don't be a sourpuss,” Otabek said gently as he stole a kiss, “I think it's cute, I'm not laughing at you.”

“Yes you are,” Yuri countered sulkily as he shifted closer to the wall and away from Otabek in their narrow bed. “You are laughing at something I said. Generally, that means you're laughing at me.”

“Yes, but not to make fun of you, I am laughing because I find your learning of our simple human ways to be endearing, not because I think you are a fool.”

“I feel like a fool,” Yuri mumbled, “I know so little of human life, I didn't even know how much humans sleep.”

“Do you know how long bears sleep?”

Yuri blinked.

“I have no idea,” Yuri replied as he stared with confusion at Otabek. “Why?”

“They sleep all through the winter, and wake with the spring.”

“Fascinating.”

“Do you feel foolish for not knowing that particular fact?” Otabek asked innocently as he reached for Yuri, and twined his fingers with the blond's.

“Not really, no,” Yuri replied with a vague shrug.

“Then don't feel foolish,” Otabek said with a gentle firmness in his voice. “This is a whole new culture for you, and I have a lifetime to teach you all about the idiosyncrasies of human life.”

Yuri smiled a little, and felt some of his embarrassment leave him. He shifted back to Otabek, and smiled warmly at the gentle, familiar weight of the human's—fellow human's, he reminded himself—arm as it settled across his hips. He cuddled close to him, and tried to sleep.

 

The days passed slowly for Yuri, and with each rising and setting of the sun, he swore to explore this human life beyond his connection to Otabek, but he could never quite manage it. Guang-Hong seemed happy to explore and spent many days in the village square and at the market. Sometimes he went with Otabek, or Yuri, or both, and other times he went alone, but he seemed to be acclimating to human life once more as though he'd never left it.

Yuri found it more difficult to find a place that could potentially be his. It had barely been half a week, and already he was longing for the lush greenery of the Fae Court. He'd entertained the notion of leaving for Otabek once upon a time, but to be banished was infinitely worse.

He wanted to go home.

 

~*~

 

A few days later, Yuri found himself gazing upon a familiar sight.

Overall, the flatlands looked no different to his mortal eyes, but Yuri could not see the magick of the wood. It was without aura or power—he could feel none of it. This knowledge further proved that all his magick was gone, and there was no hope of recovering it.

Yuri stopped upon the absolute edge of the forest and did not dare go any further. He may have been prince by blood, but now as nothing more than a human—Viktor and Yuuri could ensnare him if they wished, dragging him back to the fold, but enchanted and at their mercy.

He'd sooner hack off his own leg than allow himself to be subjugated like that.

Yuri's hand hovered over the edges of the trees, trying to feel the magick that he knew was there, while not quite having the nerve to touch them. Quite suddenly the lush foliage rustled, and Yuri jumped backward with a sharp gasp of alarm.

Out from the trees walked a lynx. A proud tom, with lush fur and sharp, keen eyes. It sat down and regarded Yuri in silence. To any human, such an action by a wild animal would be startling, maybe even frightening, but Yuri found himself wholly unafraid. This was atypical behaviour for a Fae inhabiting the form of an animal. Yuri was on his guard, but felt no fear as he regarded it. After a moment of silence, it opened its mouth and spoke.

“Hello, Yuri,” it said in a voice that Yuri recognized at once, and one that he had not heard in many, many years.

“G-Grandpa?” Yuri asked, his eyes widening as he took a quick, startled step back. The house of Plisetsky was known for its affinity with cats, something the houses of Nikiforov and Katsuki did not share. If this were a trick from one of them, he knew it would have come in the form of a wolf or fox, not a feline. That alone told him that it was very unlikely to be a trick of some kind. “I...but how? The present king laid claim to the throne and banished you to the Grey Twilight. You should not be here.”

“I haven't long on this plain of existence,” the lynx said, “it is my time to join with the Spirit, become one with the God and Goddess, and take my place amongst them once more.”

“Why have you come?” Yuri asked, “it takes great power to assume such a form after banishment.”

“I must speak to you,” he said in his even, gentle tone that Yuri had always known, but there was a note of urgency to his voice that was impossible to miss. “I have watched over you, unable to interfere directly, ever since Viktor took the throne from me. I have done what I can to protect you, and swayed his decisions when I could—not an easy feat, for he is strong, and I am weakened in this state. But I must tell you that it was I who forced his hand to banish you with your lover and your friend by your side, and not he himself who made that choice.”

You?” Yuri asked, his voice dropping to a horrified whisper. “But...why? Why would you condemn me to this life?”

“You must think hard on who Viktor is, and what he is capable of,” Nikolai said seriously. “He is a brutal king, the most vindictive we have seen in many millennia. He does not understand compassion, nor living in harmony with the humans. That arrogance and disregard for mortal life will one day be his undoing. Until then, I strove to protect you. Had I not, Viktor was intending to banish you as he had me, reduce you to little more than a spirit, only able to observe, never to watch, or touch. It is as close as we Fae come to a true death. He had many plans for your humans, in particular young Otabek. You know how intoxicating his seductions can be, your lover would have no hope of fighting it.

“Instead I chose to use what little power I still possess, and sway his decision. Like an advisor whispering in his ear, I laid the implication in his mind that to banish you, mortal, with your humans was a perfect punishment. In such a state you would die while he lives, but pose no threat to his position as king.”

The lynx bowed its head.

“I am sorry that I have done this to you, my grandson,” he said sadly. “I saw no alternative to save you and your loved ones. I have given you one life, a mortal life, but so too have I given you someone to spend it with, someone who cares for you as much, if not more, than I ever did. Otabek loves you with all his heart, and I foresee only purity in his love. He will never hurt you.”

“You have seen this?” Yuri asked, and the lynx nodded its head.

“I have. To gaze into the future can be most unwise, but I have done so. If you stay in the village, your life will be hard at first, but in time, you will know joy. It is your Otabek who can give it to you. Do not abandon him; he needs you as much as you need him. You two are two halves of a whole; made for each other, be it mortal or immortal, you two must never be parted. That way lies only sorrow and grief. I have taken your immortal life, yes, but I have given you something greater, something few people, Fae or Human, can lay claim to—true love.”

Yuri felt hot tears on his cheeks, but for once, they were tears of joy, not sadness.

It was still difficult to see past his own anguish to feel a sense of gratitude for his grandfather's interference. He meant well, and he had taken away something of Yuri's, something he did not know he would miss until it was gone, but he was given something much greater in the process—Otabek.

“Thank you, Grandpa,” Yuri said, his voice shaking a little as he stepped forward and stroked the lynx gently. “You have given me something infinitely precious, and I will be forever grateful for it.” He paused, and pressed a kiss to the top of the cat's head. “Go now, be at peace.”

The lynx bowed its head, and a gentle breeze kicked up around them. It tousled Yuri's hair, and lifted the lynx's fur gently. Yuri watched silently as the image of the lynx dissolved into glimmering dust, like starlight, and was carried away on the wind.

Live with love, my grandson.”

The voice floated back to him, and Yuri angled his gaze skyward.

“I will, Grandfather.”

Yuri stared at the spot his grandfather had sat for a long moment before he moved slowly and reluctantly to the riverside, crouched down, and splashed the cool water on his face. The action both helped to calm him and aided in masking some of the evidence that he had been crying. He did not wish to be questioned by Guang-Hong or Otabek—it was not that he wished to lie to them in the strictest sense, but this time, Yuri wanted to keep this particular encounter to himself. Perhaps one day he'd tell Otabek, but for now he would keep this last memory of Nikolai Plisetsky close to his heart.

 

After he was fairly certain that he did not look like he'd been out on his own wallowing in the loss of his immortality, he stood up with a renewed sense of purpose. Yuri turned and headed back towards the town with one goal in mind—

He needed to find Otabek.

 

~*~

 

It did not take Yuri very long to make it back to the Altin forge, and even at a distance he could see Matyash before the fire, red sparks flying as he pounded upon some sort of red-hot metal. He did not even look up as Yuri passed and made for the house. Indeed, since the family had awoken that first morning, only Otabek's mother, Olga, seemed comfortable enough to speak to him. His younger sisters and father appeared too dazzled by his presence to say so much as two words to him, but he supposed that that would change in time.

“Mrs Altin,” Yuri said with a short bow as he stepped inside and spotted her chopping vegetables for lunch. She smiled at him warmly and waved him off.

“Please, call me Olga, dear boy. Such formality is unnecessary,” she said with a warm smile. “Are you looking for my son?” Yuri nodded, and she chuckled. “I assumed as much. He made mention of going with your friend, Guang-Hong, into town. I believe they were headed for the village square—there is a bookshop there that I swear that boy spends half his life in.”

“Thank you Mrs—Olga,” he corrected himself, and jerked forward a little as he curbed his impulse to bow again. She offered him another smile and waved vaguely towards the door in a move that clearly said, go on.

Yuri accepted this bit of silent advice, and hastened towards the door and back outside.

So close to noon, the square was teeming with people, all of whom seemed to slow down and watch Yuri for a moment before going about their business once more.

Yuri knew that they did not know what he once was. Otabek had been convinced that there would be pandemonium if it got out that he was formerly Fae, and thus had instructed his family to be silent on the details of Yuri's origins. The looks of the townspeople, Yuri assumed, were derived not from any sort of wild rumour, but simply from the fact that he was a stranger. This was not a large town by any means, a place where obviously everyone knew everyone, and so a strange face would invariably stand out amongst the crowds.

Ignoring it as best he could, Yuri crossed the square to a little shop called Smith Books, with a display of dusty volumes stacked haphazardly in the window. Just as he reached it, Otabek and Guang-Hong stepped out, surprisingly with no purchases in hand.

“Yuri!” Otabek cried as he spotted him, and hurried over to him. “You're back.”

“I am,” Yuri replied, and leant in to kiss him. Otabek immediately returned it, while both ignored the soft gasps and hissing whispers of the villagers who spotted them. At this, Otabek let out a soft groan.

“Did I do something wrong?” Yuri asked, careful to keep his voice low, but he smiled when he felt one of Otabek's arms wrap around his waist, and his palm pressed firmly into his spine.

“No,” he replied, “it's just that the scandal of seeing me with a stranger when it's common knowledge that the prince of our land has been courting me for months will create a ridiculous stir, and likely he will wish to come and see for himself who has ensnared me, to use his sort of phrasing.”

“Will you be punished for it?” Yuri asked as his arms reached out to mirror Otabek's, and he wrapped them securely around the other man's waist, drawing him a little closer.

“No,” Otabek replied with a small chuckle. “We were not officially courting, so it's not like I was being unfaithful to him. Mostly, he would buy lavish gifts for me in an effort to win my affections, and every time he tried to court me in a more official manner, I would turn him down.”

“I'm glad you did,” Yuri purred, and leant in for another kiss. “I'm not willing to share you.” Yuri smiled when Otabek flushed an attractive red, and he could not help but kiss him again. “Come for a walk with me? I wish to speak to you where we won't be overheard.”

“Of course,” Otabek said at once, then turned to Guang-Hong, his expression apparently caught in how to dismiss him politely, but the former Companion got there first.

“I will see you two back at the house, I will let Olga know where you have gone,” he said with a short bow to Yuri, and he did not bother to correct him. It would be a learning curve for both of them, now that they were equals.

When Guang-Hong walked off, Yuri moved to take one of Otabek's hands. The man seemed happy to allow Yuri to lead, and followed the blond through the square and out of the borders of the village, but nowhere near the forest. Yuri would have liked to have done this where they had first met, but the danger of being caught by his former kin was too great, and Yuri refused to risk it. Instead, he slowed to a stop by the river, and took both of Otabek's hands in his own.

“Otabek,” Yuri began, “I know that these last days I've been...somewhat selfish. I've lamented over my loss of my eternal life, and I have been so busy mourning over what I no longer have that I did not stop to look at what I still have.” Yuri paused, and lifted his gaze to Otabek's dark eyes. His head was cocked ever so slightly to the side as he listened, his expression curious as he silently motioned for Yuri to continue. “My life is not as empty as I first assumed, now that I do not have years beyond count to watch the world grow old. I have so much—more than I thought I had.

“I have one life now, and there are many ways I could spend it,” Yuri continued, his eyes dropping to their intertwined hands for a moment before he returned his gaze to meet Otabek's. “Just one life to live,” he repeated, “if I were to spend it with anyone, I'd choose to spend it with you...if you like.”

Otabek's lips parted in quiet surprise, and Yuri watched spots of colour appear high upon his cheeks as Yuri dropped to one knee, their hands still clasped together.

“Otabek, will you...” Yuri dug into his memory for the human word, “...will you marry me?”

Otabek blinked his eyes a few times in quick succession as they grew shiny, and a warm smile spread across his face. He tugged Yuri to his feet without a word, and kissed him tenderly.

“As if I'd ever say no,” he murmured against Yuri's mouth, and they both laughed softly, with tears of joy as their lips met again in another kiss.

Perhaps a mortal life wouldn’t be so bad, after all.