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So Let Us Be, You and I

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“I’m in deep trouble,” Viktor sighed.

“Oh, I know you are,” his friend and fellow prince Christophe said, his brow perfectly arched as he eyed his lounging companion. After breakfast they had taken to Viktor’s private room, where they now lay on his bed and were going over the details of the night before. Or rather, while Viktor sighed endlessly over the details and Christophe listened patiently, always ready with the odd quip during lulls in the conversation.

“You should have seen Yakov’s face when he was told you bailed on the banquet the other night. Never have I seen such an angry shade of red on anyone’s face before. It was quite something.”

Viktor rolled over onto his back, arms arched high over his head, tail flicking almost agitatedly. “No, no, not that.” Well, a little of that, maybe. But Yakov being unimpressed with him wasn’t out of the norm.

“Ah.” Chris grinned. “Perhaps you are referring to the reason why you weren’t present, no?”

Viktor scrubbed his hands over his face. “What am I going to do, Chris? Yuuri was so cute and charming, and I fell asleep on him. No wonder he was gone when I woke up. I’ll be lucky if he wants anything to do with me ever again.”

“Have you seen yourself lately? How could he not. Not to mention that you’re a prince. You’re quite the catch.”

“But that’s just it though,” Viktor murmured. “When he saw me last night... he fled. I don’t think he ever realized that I am a prince. Not until I entered the room with my family anyway.” Viktor recalled the utter panic he’d seen in Yuuri’s eyes, the way Yuuri had immediately bowed to him like one of his servants. Like the afternoon they’d had at the market had been a shared dream, but now that they were awake it was over and gone and there was no longer any room for what could have been.

Or at least it had seemed that way at first, until a determined look had shone brightly in Yuuri’s warm eyes and he’d asked Viktor to dance with him. Outside of the Banquet altogether, without the music or the fancy decorations or any eyes on them. Just the two of them in their own world. Nobody danced with him the way Yuuri had, Viktor thought with a private smile. Nobody looked at him the way Yuuri had on that day at the market, like he was worth being around for reasons other than his title.

And, gods, the look on Yuuri’s face when he’d dipped Viktor in his strong arms, like Yuuri had wanted to devour him whole. Just the memory of it alone made Viktor shiver.

“No one expects to meet the prince at the market,” Chris said with a considering hum, breaking Viktor out of his reverie. “You certainly can’t blame him for being nervous. You mentioned he seems like the shy type.”

“I suppose,” Viktor conceded.

“What would have been nice,” Chris said with a small pout, “is if you had waited until I arrived before you just took off into the night with your lover boy. Someone has to veto through your usually terrible taste in mermen, and it might as well be me.”

“Chris!” Viktor protested with an angry blush. “It’s not my fault you were late, as per usual.”

“Fashionably late,” Chris corrected. He leaned back on his arms, stared down at Viktor over the length of his nose. “And what’s worse is you didn’t even get to properly meet my beautiful husband. Breakfast this morning doesn’t count, he was hardly in the room longer than a few minutes before he had to go right to work.”

“I’m sorry,” Viktor said, smiling apologetically up at his friend. He truly was. He knew he had a habit of getting stuck inside his own head sometimes, oblivious or uncaring of time and place. He didn’t mean to cause trouble for others, it just... sort of happened sometimes. “I’ll meet him tonight at dinner. Properly,” he emphasized with a wink.

That seemed to be enough for Chris. He eyed his fingernails before asking in a curious voice, “So when do you see lover boy again?”

Viktor could practically hear the ‘thud’ of the mood in the room plummeting at that single question alone. “...I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t even know where he lives or what he really does. He was very vague when I asked.” Yuuri had avoided answering pretty much every question Viktor had asked, now that he thought about it. He hadn’t been bothered at the time, he’d simply been happy to be in Yuuri’s company, but now that he was left with nothing but memories what was he to do about it?

Chris’ eyebrows shot upwards. “You’re kidding me. So you don’t already have another date lined up, let alone even have a way to contact him? Oh, Viktor.”

Viktor shielded his burning face away from his friend with his hands. “I know, I know,” he said through them.

“Well, there’s gotta be something. I refuse to believe he left you nothing to go off of, not if your night really went as well as you said it did.”

Viktor reluctantly pulled his hands away from is face. There was something. He slipped the bracelet he was wearing off his wrist and held it up for Chris to see. “All I really have is this -- Yuuri bought it for me at the market.”

“Hmm, cute.” Chris took the bracelet and examined it. He spun it around his fingers absentmindedly. “You know, there might actually be a way to solve this little conundrum of yours.”

“Really?!” Viktor flipped over onto his front and sat up, completely at attention. “Tell me!”

Chris grinned, and if there was a touch of mischief to it, then Viktor certainly didn’t care. Not so long as it helped lead him back to Yuuri.

“I’m thinking... a touch of magic?”


--


Phichit nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Prince Viktor’s voice call out to him from the doorway of his study room.

It wasn’t often that Viktor, or any of the royal family for that matter, came down to this part of the castle. Whenever the royal family needed something, they always sent a guard down to retrieve him. The only ones who frequented that section of the castle were servants, guards, and, of course, the Sea Witches (which consisted of exactly Phichit himself and his mentor Celestino). Oh, and of course there were also the customers. Usually just those who worked within the castle and who sought aid during their down time, but customers all the same.

Except now Prince Viktor lingered in his doorway, and boy did he ever look like a customer right then and there.

Viktor hovered by the doorway like he didn’t have the right to enter unpardoned. Imagine that, the eldest prince looking so unsure, like he didn’t belong there when one day the entire castle and more would be his. Phichit would have chuckled at the thought if the reality of the situation -- that Prince Viktor was in his doorway and wanted something from him -- wasn’t staring him dead in the face.

Phichit dropped everything and went to him, bowing when he got close enough to talk without having to raise his voice past what he liked to think of as his ‘serious Sea Witch’ tone. Calm, steady, private, in case anyone uninvolved was nearby. Best to act inconspicuous if the prince really was as nervous as he looked. “Your Highness. May I help you with something?”

Viktor paused and glanced behind him, as if... Ah. Someone else was there. Maybe moral support? Phichit didn’t have an issue with allowing outsiders in on transactions -- though most Sea Witches did, for one reason or another -- and if it would help...

“Would you like to invite your friend inside?”

“Oh, no. I’m perfectly fine out here,” a voice -- Prince Christophe? -- answered for Viktor. Sure enough, Chris poked his head in the doorway and winked right at Phichit. “Besides, someone should keep look out and make sure no one interrupts.”

“If you’d prefer, Your Highness,” Phichit answered with a polite nod. Two princes at his door in one day? Why oh why did he get the feeling he was swimming straight into something bigger than he could chew.

Phichit cleared his throat and gestured for Viktor to follow him further into the room, specifically the very back, where he kept a small but cozy space for working with customers one on one. A thin curtain made up of thread and a wide assortment of colourful beads were the only thing separating the small space from the rest of the room. Phichit liked to have a means of shutting off the rest of the world during transactions, but not one that would make it hard for said customer to relax and trust that if they wanted to leave anytime during the deal that they could. Trust was of utmost importance when handling such sensitive work.

Phichit waited until Viktor had taken the seat across from him before he began talking. “If I may ask, Your Highness, what is it that brings you here today?”

Viktor fiddled with something in his hand, though what exactly Phichit couldn’t tell. His eyes were downcast, like a part of him was deep in thought, still coming to a conclusion on something. “I...” Viktor looked up briefly before looking down into his hands again. “I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before.”

Phichit gave a small wave of his hand. “No apologies needed. I promise I won’t ask for your soul this time around.” At the sight of Viktor’s face turning stark white, Phichit added with haste, “That was a joke, I promise! I don’t actually do that.”

Viktor swallowed. “Right. I was... I was hoping that you’d be able to help me find someone.”

For ‘someone,’ hm? Like Phichit couldn’t guess exactly who. His stomach began to flip flop inside of him as he hoped against hope that he was somehow mistaken. “I may be able to help. Who is it that you seek?”

That’s when Viktor looked up and at Phichit, his eyes and mouth both firm with decision. “I’m looking for a merman by the name of Yuuri. Black hair and tail, brown eyes. The sweetest person you could find in the whole ocean. Can you help me find him?”

Phichit hated it when he was right. Of course Viktor wanted to find possibly the one person in the entire ocean who never wanted to be found by anyone, apart from his small selection of customers. The same person who went out of his way to make it extremely difficult to find him, even if you were a customer!

The same person that, years ago, Phichit had promised to never give away his secrets or his locations or -- or anything, really. As much as he hadn’t understood or necessarily agreed, he’d still made that promise. And now here came royalty knocking on his door, asking him to break such a promise, and he was bound by duty to do so, lest he suffer the consequences of a displeased royal family member. Phichit had never seen an angry Viktor, and he didn’t plan on it anytime soon.

But, Yuuri...

Think, he had to think!

Phichit took a deep breath. “I’m... not entirely sure I can do that.”

Viktor’s brow furrowed. “You are unable to?”

“Well, it -- it depends! Tracking magic isn’t always the most reliable, given that subjects tend to, you know, move,” Phichit said with a shrug. “But in order to find someone, the spell would require a part of them to act off of. Some hair, maybe a scale. Sometimes gifts work.”

Viktor’s arm shot out, and in his hand lay an inexpensive looking bracelet. One that Phichit remembered seeing Viktor wear while with Yuuri the other night. One that Yuuri had certainly mentioned buying for his ‘Banquet date’ when they’d chatted about his strange encounter a little while ago.

A gift from Yuuri to Viktor.

Damn it.

“He gave this to me the day we met at the market,” Viktor explained, running his fingers along the smooth, light pink orbs that made up the bracelet. It was nothing fancy, but the way Viktor held it so carefully in his hands, it was as if it were the most expensive, precious thing he owned. “I’ve worn it every day since then, even when I’m asleep.”

Phichit swallowed. “I see.”

Viktor looked up at him hopefully. “Would this work? I don’t care what price I have to pay, I need to see him again. Please.”

Phichit worried his bottom lip as he thought it over. He wanted to agree to it. Gods knew Yuuri was probably suffering just as much heartache over their parting, but could he perform the spell without giving away who Yuuri truly was? Viktor had met him in disguise as a regular merman, not a Sea Witch, and Phichit knew Yuuri intended to keep it that way. But if the spell worked it could give that part away! And then there was his promise to consider.

... Well, he could always alter the image of Yuuri he’d shown Viktor. He had been practicing such magic in secrecy, learning what he could from Yuuri the few times they met during the year. He had gotten somewhat stable at it, but that was always in private. He’d never attempted it in front of an audience before.

Phichit stared back into Viktor’s waiting, hopeful eyes and felt his resolve harden. He could definitely do it, there was nothing to fear! It was only the prince, after all. And if he messed up, well, maybe he could lie through it then.

I’m sorry, Yuuri. But maybe this was for the best. Maybe some promises should be broken, if the outcome meant something good in the long run for his friend.

“All right, I’ll do it,” Phichit said, ignoring the sudden nauseated feeling that churned in his stomach. He held out his hand. “The price is the bracelet.”

Viktor blinked, taken aback. “The... bracelet itself?”

“Yes,” Phichit said. “I’m afraid it won’t survive the spell. But with it, I could help you find your Yuuri. Do you accept these terms?”

Phichit expected Viktor’s resolve to flounder, as did most customers when they were expected to part ways with something of theirs in exchange for magic, but Viktor immediately dropped the bracelet into his hand like there was absolutely no question of what he was willing to do.

Well, so long as the prince knew what he wanted.

Phichit closed his fist tightly around the bracelet, felt the heat of his will melting the beads into something almost like liquid. It wouldn’t dissolve into the water surrounding him, not with Phichit’s magic at work, and it would mold itself into any shape that he pleased. Which was exactly what he needed in order to perform this spell.

“Imagine him in your minds eye,” Phichit calmly said as he opened his hand. He traced a large circle before him, the pink liquid remains of the bracelet following his finger and forming the frame of what would be a watery, one-way window. “Remember the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand, the feelings he inspired deep inside. Remember them and you will find him in this window.”

Viktor’s eyes, which had been following Phichit’s hand as if in a hypnotized state, fell then to the center of the watery window. They searched and then widened, and the difference between the prince who had hesitated at his door and the man who stared at his beloved was like night and day. His mouth fell open and his eyes lit up, a pleasant rosy colour touched his cheeks. Viktor sucked in his next breath as if he were aching for it, as if the sight of Yuuri alone had breathed life into him.

Phichit’s heart pounded against his ribs as he watched the prince and waited for any surprise or alarm. He’d deliberately evoked Viktor’s memories into the spell to alter the image that would shine in the window, and given that they were fresh memories they wouldn’t be hard to recall, but there was always the chance something could go wrong.

He went to Viktor’s side to take a look for himself and had to stop himself from letting out a triumphant whoop when he saw that Yuuri was as he appeared at the banquet, minus the silver accessories he had been wearing. The Yuuri in the window was hard at work, going through a dense forest of kelp and picking what he liked best for his collection. Several fish swam through the long stalks and around Yuuri, swimming on by as if he weren’t there at all. Yuuri didn’t appear to mind, though it was hard to read the neutral expression on his face.

“Where is he?” Viktor breathed, as though scared to speak lest the window disappear if acknowledged out loud.

“Far east from here,” Phichit answered. “Though from the looks of it I don’t think he’ll be there for much longer.”

Viktor grimaced. “He’s too far away.”

“Certainly far enough,” Phichit agreed. That was the benefit of being able to magically travel throughout the entire ocean in the blink of an eye at ones whim. An ability that Viktor, of course, did not possess. “But you said you met him at the market, yes? I’m certain he’ll appear there again someday soon if you wait long enough.”

The corner of Viktor’s mouth turned upwards. “Wait, huh?” He let out a long exhale. “It seems like all I do is wait.”

Unsure of how to respond, Phichit remained quiet and allowed the prince a few more moments of watching Yuuri before he cleared his throat and waved his hand through the window, breaking it’s shape and allowing it to dissolve into nothing.

“Is there anything more that I can do for you, Your Highness?”

Viktor shook his head, the light in his eyes gone and his expression carefully neutral. “No, that will be all,” he said in a cool voice. “Thank you for your help.”

Left with an odd and troubling impression, Phichit nodded his head and said, “My pleasure, Your Highness. I’ll be here if you change your mind.”

--

That odd feeling only continued to linger long after Viktor left. Phichit crossed his arms tightly over his chest and told himself over and again that the prince wasn’t going to do anything foolish. He hadn’t encouraged Viktor to do anything reckless either, so he wasn’t in any trouble. (Well, not with the court, anyway. As soon as Yuuri found out about what he’d done, if he ever found out, that was going to be a whole other story.)

Yet Phichit couldn’t shake off the unsettled feeling lying deep inside. That he’d set something dangerous into motion, something out of his control.

Which was precisely why, after everyone but the night guards had gone to bed, Phichit cloaked himself with invisibility and took to the hallways that led to the royal chambers.

--

He was only going to take a small peak, Phichit told himself as he neared the prince’s bedroom door. He’d bypassed the guards stationed outside the door to Viktor’s private corridor, and when he came across the two at his bedroom door, he’d simply waved his hand over their eyes and watched as they temporarily fell asleep.

Gently Phichit pushed the bedroom door open and poked his head in, expecting to see the prince sound asleep on his bed.

Except that he wasn’t because Viktor’s bed was completely empty.

Oh no, oh no, oh no! Phichit’s brain screamed as he rushed inside, closing the door behind him. The bed looked like it hadn’t even been touched. Where could the prince have gone at this hour? Phichit glanced around the room, searching for clues, when the large, open window off to the side suddenly caught his eye. Of course! But there were guards all around the castle, surely they would have seen Viktor leaving? Right?

Then again, the prince had become increasingly known for sneaking out on occassion. It didn’t seem to matter how much King Yakov changed the guards routes and positions, Viktor would still disappear in the middle of the day to gods knew where and return by nightfall, unscathed but nevertheless in the same amount of trouble.

Except this time, Phichit was certain Viktor wasn’t going to be back by morning before the rest of the castle woke up. Not if he aimed to travel as far as he intended.

Phichit went to the window and nearly shouted when he caught sight of Viktor down in the court yard, hiding behind a large statue as a guard swam by. Viktor’s long hair had been pulled back into a tight ponytail and he had with him a bag slung over his shoulder, no doubt filled with necessities one would need for travelling.

Thank the gods, there was still time to change his mind!

Phichit swam out the window and down behind Viktor, where the prince still floated against the statue, unaware of his new guest. “Your Highness!” Phichit stage-whispered, making the prince jump and spin around.

“Who’s there?” Viktor whispered back, gaze darting all over the place as he sought a body to attach the voice to.

Phichit brought his hands above his head and quickly lowered them, lowering with it his invisibility. “It’s me! I know what you’re up to and I’m here to talk some sense into you before you get us both into a whole lot of trouble.”

Viktor’s face hardened. “I’m not turning back,” he said.

“Yuuri’s no longer there,” Phichit reasoned. “It’s been hours. He won’t be anywhere near where you saw he was. Please be rational, Your Highness.”

Viktor glanced away, mouth a firm, stubborn line.

“Please come back to your room before someone catches us, Your Highness. We can talk about this in the morning, if you’d like.”

Viktor shook his head. “I can’t waste this chance,” he said, still avoiding Phichit’s gaze. “I was forced to wait until now and that was already too long.”

“Then nothing I say will change your mind?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Phichit sighed. He could always just capture the prince with a spell and call for the guards, but in no way would that resolve the issue at hand. Viktor could always just take off tomorrow night instead. Or the day after.

No, he would only be putting off the inevitable.

What he needed was another solution. It was risky, but much better than the alternative. This way, there was at least some level of control.

“Then let me lead to you a place that is much closer and more helpful to you than a bunch of kelp,” Phichit offered.

Viktor’s hardened expression relaxed as hope lit up in his eyes. “Do you know Yuuri’s current whereabouts?”

Phichit shook his head. “No, but I know of someone who is from that area who can help you. You’ve no doubt heard of the Sea Witch Eros.”

“Eros?” Viktor’s eyes widened. “But I thought he was just a story parents used to scare their children into behaving.”

Phichit bit back a sudden laugh. Yuuri would definitely get a kick out of that. Not that it was the worst thing people said about the myth that was Eros... “He’s as real as you and I are, Your Highness,” Phichit said, “and he knows that area better than anyone else out there. Find him and you’ll be able to find your Yuuri.”

Viktor bit his lip. “But how am I to find someone like Eros? Are you absolutely certain he exists?”

“Oh, he exists.” Phichit pointed eastward. “He lies in the same direction as Yuuri, though much, much closer. If you truly want to find him, then you will. But I warn you, Your Highness. It’s not safe out there. No one can guarantee you a safe journey.”

“I’ve braced myself for it,” Viktor said without hesitation.

But have you? Phichit wanted to ask. The prince snuck out often, yes, but he never went far -- and Yuuri lived far away from everything.

“I can send you most of the way,” Phichit said instead. He drew his hand up and made a fist, as though he’d taken grip of the water itself. Summoning his will, he pulled his hand down and to the side, ripping through the water an opening that lead directly to the east, miles and miles away. The edges shone brightly, making both he and Viktor squint at the sudden light.

Viktor made as if to move through the portal, but Phichit held out a hand to stop him.

“Forgive my bluntness,” Phichit began, “but if you’re not back sometime around morning, I’ll personally come after you and drag you back by your tail. I serve you, but so do I serve your mother and father, and I know exactly how they’re going to react when they found out you’ve left.” Phichit offered a small smile. “Not that I want to see anything bad happen to you, either. Understand?”

Viktor blinked, clearly taken aback that someone beneath him had spoken so brazenly, but an amused smile pulled at his lips. “Do what you must,” he said, “ and I’ll do the same.”

Phichit pulled his hand away and swam back, giving Viktor space to move. “Then go find your Yuuri.”

Viktor nodded back. Without a moment to lose, he swam through the portal. As soon as the prince disappeared through, Phichit closed the entrance.

It only took a second before the weight of the situation properly sat itself on Phichit’s shoulders. He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep, shuddery breath.

“Gods, I’m an idiot.”


--


“Yuuri!”

“Nn.” Only half-awake, Yuuri rolled over on his bed and jolted when he saw that large, magical orb he kept next to his bed -- for late night chats with friends and family (when he bothered to actually have them) -- was lit up with the image of a panicked Phichit.

“Phichit!” It didn’t matter the distance or the magical pact they had between them, Yuuri could sense something was terribly, terribly wrong. “What happened, why are you --”

“No time to explain! Viktor is coming your way!”

Yuuri’s face paled. Viktor? As in Prince Viktor? But that was impossible. “No, he’s not,” he said. “How would he even...”

“Because I sent him!” The small image of Phichit in the orb was practically tearing his hair out. “Listen, it’s a long story, but he’s trying to find you. Or rather the you he knows, but he’s looking for Eros-you to find, well, you, you know? And I’m contractually obligated to do what he wants, so I had to. The alternative was way worse, believe me. But he’s been gone for hours--”

Yuuri's hands gripped the kelp that made up the covering of his bed. “Hours?”

“Hours! And I have no idea if he’s anywhere near you or if a shark has eaten him or -- or something worse than that. It’s eating me alive, Yuuri!”

Yuuri raked a hand through his hair as he tried to process everything quickly. “Okay. Okay... So he’s out here, somewhere, looking for the version of me he knows, by finding the actual me. And you say it’s been hours?”

Phichit nodded. “I said I’d give him until morning to find you before I’d go after him but I change my mind, I don’t think I should wait any longer. I’m gonna--”

“No,” Yuuri interrupted, “you should stay there.”

Phichit blinked. “Come again?”

“I’ll go out and find him,” Yuuri clarified. “You need to stay there in case the castle discovers he’s missing. If you’re gone too, they’ll suspect something. That will just make everything worse.”

“Yuuri--”

“No buts,” Yuuri said. “Besides, you’ve already broken a promise to me. The least you can do is listen to me now.”

“... You’re right. Yuuri, I’m truly sorry. But I had to. You know I had to.”

“I know,” Yuuri said with a weak smile. There was too much going on in his head to properly wrap his thoughts around the anger he should be feeling. It’d strike later, when this was all said and done with, but that was then and this was now, and right now he needed to go find a wandering prince. “I’m not happy about it, but we can talk about it later if you want.”

“Okay.” Phichit let out a long breath. “Good luck, Yuuri. I’ll keep an eye on everything around here until, well, you know.”

Grabbing his travel bag and a few necessities, Yuuri prepared himself as best he could for whatever he would (hopefully) find. An ill prince, a wounded prince. A living prince, his mind supplied anxiously.

“Don’t worry, Phichit,” Yuuri said, digging deep to find the strength to face someone he never thought he’d see again. “I’ll find him before then. We can worry about the ‘after’ later.”


--


It was hard to imagine Viktor anywhere near here.

Here was wild and untamed; no one else for miles but for other ocean creatures that drifted through alone or in schools, and that’s just how Yuuri liked it. Here he didn’t have to worry about appearances or how others thought of him. Here he could practice his magic with his few but loyal customers without suspicion or fear. Here he could stretch out his tentacles and work at his leisure. Here he could just be.

But Viktor was here now, of his own accord. Aided by a certain, very much in trouble Sea Witch, but he was here because he wanted to be. Viktor was here to find him.

The thought alone made a troubling feeling blossom inside Yuuri’s chest. Viktor was here, looking for him. He wouldn't want to if he knew who the real Yuuri was. Viktor thought he was searching for a simple, nomadic merperson who just happened to be in the area when they’d met. A chance encounter at the market that had led to more than Yuuri could have prepared himself for. Viktor would think differently if he knew the person he’d danced with was Eros, of all creatures. A Sea Witch known throughout the ocean for his illusions and shape-shifting. The magic of trickery. (And magic that, when it failed... But he wouldn't think about that now.) That was why he had said his farewell the night of the banquet. With a soft kiss pressed to Viktor’s head he’d said good-bye to any possibility of a future together. A Sea Witch like him shouldn't be with anyone, let alone a beautiful prince like Viktor. It just wasn’t meant to be. He didn't want to see the look on Viktor’s face when he’d find out just what kind of pitiful creature Yuuri really was. He couldn’t bear the thought of seeing disgust or fear in Viktor’s eyes just at the sight of him.

(And yet...)

That was why he had to find Viktor -- and immediately send him back home, right where he belonged. Cut the budding feelings off before they could bloom into something even more troublesome.

Yuuri called out Viktor’s name as he searched, out in the open and in secret, enclosed spaces, looked for any trace of long silver hair and listened for the sound of his voice, but he ultimately found no hints of where the prince currently was.

At least, until he reached an area thick with hills and large and towering rock walls. A borderline maze-like area that even Yuuri often forwent venturing into. There was nothing in there that aided in his magic and certainly not much else for meals, so he considered it an interesting but essentially useless space.

But if he were the prince and looking for an elusive Sea Witch...

Adjusting the strap of his bag, Yuuri ventured inside, picked a random direction, and went forward.

Several turns later and he was hit with the fresh smell of blood. It could have been anyones blood, it could have been pure coincidence, but Yuuri’s gut knew. He swam as fast as he could, following the smell until he turned a corner and was faced with Viktor hiding in a hollow, curled around himself and panting like he’d been chased by something terrible. The blood Yuuri had followed to him trickled from a small wound on his shoulder. It looked like he’d banged into something rough, scrapping himself pretty good in the process.

Yuuri swallowed. “Your Highness?”

Viktor started, hitting his hit against the ceiling of the hollow. Cursing, he rubbed his head and eyed Yuuri. The look on Viktor’s face made Yuuri’s heart want to break. There was none of the familiarity, none of the warmth or joy that he remembered from their brief time together. Just fear.

But that was how things really were. This was reality.

“Who are you?” Viktor rushed out, and though there wasn’t any space to do so he attempted to back away further from Yuuri. His eyes shot all over Yuuri’s body, taking in the long tentacles and his neutral expression. No doubt Viktor was comparing him to Phichit, whose blue and golden hues invited people to him, gave them the impression of someone calm and strong and trustworthy.

Yuuri looked nothing like that. He looked like the utter depths of the ocean, the black of his tattoos traveling up and curling over his body like possessive tendrils, ready to drag him down to the bottom. The bright and silver jewels magically applied to his form only served to highlight this even more so, with their sharp and glinting edges. Yuuri knew what Viktor saw as he took him in. For the first time since he’d chosen his tattoos, he regretted making that particular decision.

“I am Eros,” Yuuri spoke, slipping into his role with all the ease of breathing in and out.

Yuuri expected several things to happen in response to this, but what he didn’t expect was for Viktor’s eyes to suddenly roll up into the back of his head and for him to go limp against the rock wall beside him.

“Your Highness?” Yuuri hurried forward. He gently shook Viktor’s shoulder. “Your Highness?” In a quieter voice, he said, “Viktor?”

Viktor simply continued to float there, unconscious.

Well, this was new. No one had ever fainted at having met him before. Screamed and fled away as fast as they could? Yes. Some shot straight past fear and went right into begging for magic no matter the cost. But no one had ever out right passed out before.

Yuuri took a deep breath to help gather himself. Now wasn’t the time to ponder that. There was work to do. First, heal Viktor’s wound so that no wild creature would follow them with hungry interest, and then once that was accomplished, he would take Viktor home.

Yuuri quickly looked over Viktor’s unconscious form and deliberated.

... Well, maybe he could take him back to his cave to make sure nothing else was wrong with him. Nothing good would come of sending home a panicked prince who had ideas of meeting with a Sea Witch to find someone who didn’t really exist. Yuuri would talk some sense into him, get him to see the error of his judgement. Then take him back home.

Yes, that was completely reasonable.


--

Viktor opened his eyes, slowly and with a lot of resistance. He groaned to himself at how sluggish and out of it he felt, like he’d been asleep for years and was only now reluctantly waking up. He blinked several times, and it was only after a minute that he was able to begin to take in his surroundings.

He wasn’t out in the wild anymore, that much was for sure. He lay on a bed of wild, green plants, layered thickly on what looked to be a tall and flat rock. Viktor gave a soft tug and found that they were attached rather tightly to the rock, as if the two were one and the same.

Viktor looked up and all around him, eyes widening as he took in cave he was currently in. The bed itself resided in an alcove along in the wall. Next to the bed stood a tall, thin rock, with a large orb that sat right on top. Despite it being clear, a soft and warm light emanated from it, the only light source in an otherwise completely dark room.

Magic, his brain supplied. Not unlike the magic the royal Sea Witch used to light up the castle at night. What else could it be?

Further out were a couple of seats, not much different from the ones he had seen when he’d visited Phichit. There were even long strings of glittering beads that hung in the doorway. Viktor’s eyes followed the strings upwards, finding many more smaller recesses in the cave walls where there appeared to be hundreds of glass bottles that contained different coloured liquids and ingredients. Most of them were things Viktor had never seen before, much less knew the names of. He couldn’t begin to imagine what they could be used for and how.

Viktor’s eyes continued to go up. That’s when he caught the faint movement of something moving in the darkness, the sound of glass clinking, the murmur of a smooth voice pondering aloud -- then a soft gasp. Viktor blinked and then suddenly whatever was lurking in the dark was sinking down to his level. Long, black tentacles appeared first, followed by sharp, silver jewels that caught the light and sparkled. They were unfamiliar, but what followed that was what had Viktor’s breath seize in his chest.

“Eros,” Viktor breathed. He couldn’t believe it, he’d actually found the mythical Sea Witch.

Here Eros floated before him, hands on his hips, regarding him with such a cool expression, like Viktor were something to dissect and shove into one of his hundreds of glass jars.

A panicked thought occurred to him: Eros could and might actually do that, if he weren’t careful. Not even a few hours ago Eros was just a tale, something whispered about but never taken as fact, but here he was in the flesh, and Vikor had no idea what he was capable of.

“Yes, that would be me,” Eros said, head tilting a touch to the side as he continued to regard Viktor.

Viktor felt like he needed to say something, a proper greeting would be the most fitting, but no words came to him and his voice certainly wasn’t anywhere to be found. He continued to stare up at Eros almost foolishly.

Something in Eros’ expression softened. (Pity? Most certainly pity.) “How are you feeling? You were rather worked up when I found you.”

“Oh -- um. Fine?” Whatever ‘fine’ in a situation like this would entail.

“It looked like you were swimming away from something.”

Viktor’s eyes widened. “I was! Or I thought I was. I heard something terrible in the distance and saw -- well, I thought I saw the shadow of something big.” He glanced away, hands fiddling with themselves as he tried to recall exactly what had happened. But in his panic, he wasn’t entirely sure that he’d actually seen anything. “I might have been a touch clumsy on the whole ‘hiding’ part, but... oh! My arm!” He turned his arm to get a good look at where he’d accidentally hurt himself but found no wound. He could of sworn...

“I took the liberty of healing you,” Eros explained.

“Oh,” Viktor breathed. But that required magic, which meant... “Ah, what do I owe you?”

“Nothing.”

Viktor furrowed his brow. “But, all magic...”

“Has a cost, yes.” The corner of Eros’ mouth turned upwards. “It took nothing but a little bit of energy to perform. But if it bothers you, then consider explaining to me why you’re here to be payment.”

Why he was here... Eros spoke as if he already knew that Viktor had been seeking him. Maybe it was obvious. Or maybe Eros could just sense these things. Viktor swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat.

“I wanted to find you,” Viktor said. “I’m searching for someone who I’ve been told has been seen in these parts. I was told you’d be able to help me find him.”

Viktor half expected Eros to inquire further, but the Sea Witch only watched him carefully as if waiting for him to continue on his own. Viktor couldn’t help but feel almost small beneath Eros’s gaze, his skin tingling from the feeling of his penetrating eyes roaming over him.

Viktor swallowed again and forced himself to continue. “There’s a merman I know. Admittedly I don’t know much about him, but his name is Yuuri. He has black hair and a black tail, and the warmest brown eyes I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve never met anyone like him before and wish to see him again. I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t see him again. Please, would you hel--”

Eros held up his hand, silencing Viktor mid-way, and in the same dispassionate voice he answered, “I’m sorry, but I cannot help you.”

He’d answered so quickly, like he’d known how he was going to respond before Viktor had even finished asking. If there was one thing Viktor wasn’t used to, it was being rejected. (Or interrupted, for that matter). “You can’t or you won’t?”

“It’s not possible,” Eros said in lieu of a genuine answer. He swam closer, close enough for Viktor to make out the silver painted on Eros’s lips and eyelids. “I know you are not used to hearing the word ‘no,’ Your Highness, but things out here work much differently than they do inside your castle. I do no bend to anyones wishes, and I cannot make the impossible happen.”

Viktor stared up into Eros’s cold eyes, felt his desperation to be heard rising like the tide. His hands gripped the plants beneath him tightly. “I don’t understand what is ‘impossible’ about it. He was in the area, was he not?”

Eros turned away. “I cannot help you,” he repeated, voice firmer.

“But he was here,” Viktor protested, “I know he was, I saw it with my own eyes. If you could just tell me how to find him now -- I’ll pay any price you ask, I’ll -- ”

“Enough!” Eros spun back towards him, eyes heated, the careful mask of neutrality cracking before Viktor’s eyes, revealing something uneasy. Viktor backed up against the cave wall, heart pounding a violent rhythm against his chest.

“There is nothing you could give me, nothing that I want,” Eros continued. “This merman you seek? He doesn’t exist.” He closed his eyes and took a deep, trembling breath. When his eyes opened again, his expression had resumed it’s prior disinterest, though Viktor couldn’t help but notice the nervous flicking of Eros’s tentacles, or the quiet trembling of his hands at his sides.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Your Highness,” Eros said. “But I know of who you speak and I can only tell you the truth: he doesn’t exist. He never existed. I cannot help you find someone that never was. The only thing you can do is go home and forget you ever met him. You don’t see it now, but it’s really better this way.”

“I can’t do that,” Viktor said with a shake of his head. Yuuri didn’t exist? How could he ever believe that when he’d danced with him all night, held his warm body against his. Yuuri had been the most real thing Viktor had touched in who knew how long. Not only that, but Yuuri made him feel real as well.

He couldn’t just give up on that. He refused to.

“There’s no other option,” Eros said.

Viktor pursed his lips, holding back a bitter laugh. “You say that, but I don’t believe you. I know who I met and I know he’s out there somewhere.” He pulled away from the cave wall and nodded politely at Eros. “I thank you for your help, but I must be on my way now.”

Confusion flashed across Eros’s face. “Where are you going?”

“To find Yuuri. On my own.” Viktor made to swim past Eros, but Eros quickly moved in front of him, blocking his exit. Fear shot through Viktor -- what would Eros do if he continued to push? -- but Viktor forced the fear down. Nothing was going to stop him from finding his beloved, not even someone as powerful and mysterious as Eros.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop me,” Viktor reiterated. “But you don’t have to worry, I won’t tell anyone of your existence. Your secret will be safe with me. Just let me pass and we can both forget this encounter.”

“I’m afraid not,” Eros said, eyes narrowing. The next thing Viktor knew Eros had covered his eyes with his hand, breathed the word “Sleep” in a soothing voice that had Viktor’s head going hazy. Protest was born and then dead on Viktor’s lips before he could speak it, and in the next second he was unconscious.


--


Yuuri should had felt bad, and admittedly he did a little bit, but when it was a question of survival there was only one option. If that meant knocking a prince out and taking him home against his will, then so be it.

Yuuri checked his magic orb before they left, hoping to catch Phichit in his room and tell him that they were on their way back so that they could easily sneak Viktor back into his private corridors, but there was no answer. At this hour of the day though that only made sense; perhaps the castle was already alerted to Viktor’s absence. That meant not only would Phichit be busy with the royal family, but the guards would be on high alert. The thought of trying to sneak around the castle and return Viktor to a place where someone trusted would find him before he woke up and did something reckless again made Yuuri’s insides twist, but it had to be done. Just because he wanted to sever all ties with the prince didn’t mean he wanted anything bad to happen of him. He cared a little too much for the prince, given how little time they’d actually spent together.

“It’s for your own good,” Yuuri said to the sleeping prince. He made to brush a hand through Viktor’s long silver hair but caught himself just in time to stop. No, he couldn’t afford to do something even that harmless.

At the very least the prince looked relatively peaceful in his slumber.

The gods were surely laughing at him, forcing him to part bittersweet ways with Viktor like this a second time.


--


Glamoured so that they were invisible to the naked eye, Yuuri stared up at the looming castle before him. Viktor barely stirred in his arms, still in a deep sleep and would be for a while longer. Guards roamed outside the castle, on high alert for any suspicious activity -- or sign of their prince returning.

Yuuri took a deep breath. They couldn’t see them; he’d waited outside the castle for a good ten minutes, just watching, and no one even so much looked his way despite being out in the open. This would be an easy task, as soon as he found a proper spot to deposit Viktor without alerting anyone to his presence. He just had to be careful.

He swam past the guards without interruption and into the castle grounds. Though he would prefer to be anywhere but there, Yuuri couldn’t help but admire the scenary. The entire castle was a light and welcoming pink, with the decor coloured in various shades of warmer pinks, purples, and pearl white. The castle grounds themselves consisted of a well tamed and groomed garden of coral reef, where various colourful fish visited and swam through. It was a beautiful area. Yuuri’s mind couldn’t help but betray him with a vision of Viktor personally introducing him the garden, perhaps showing him his favourite spot and inviting Yuuri to sit with him a while. Maybe their hands would touch and Viktor would smile at him like he was the loveliest flower there.

Yuuri glanced down at Viktor’s face, his face calm but for the slight gathering of his brow. He really needed to stop thinking about the ‘what if’s, it was starting to become a unique form of torture.

Swimming up and through an open window on the top floor of the castle, Yuuri quickly took in his surroundings and sighed with relief when he found no one else was around. Though his blood was beginning to murmur to him that Phichit was somewhere nearby, the way it always did when they were close to each other. The magical pact they had made years ago ensured that they would be able to sense each other when they were close. But Yuuri didn’t know the area at all and didn’t have the time to go searching for him, so it was best not to bother with that. He could chat with his friend at a later date.

Sudden and loud chatter interrupted Yuuri’s thoughts. Guards coming to make their rounds? Yuuri moved to hide inside a nearby open doorway. If he waited just long enough, he could leave Viktor near their path, maybe make some artificial noise to get their attention...

“Yuuri?”

Yuuri spun around, bracing himself for whatever he found, but the tension flooded out of him when he realized it was just Phichit, who was scrutinizing the room like he was trying to solve a complex puzzle.

Phichit squinted his eyes. “You are there, aren’t you? I sense you are, but...”

Yuuri pulled down the glamour cloaking both him and Viktor and smiled at his friend. “I’m here, as well as a certain someone.”

Phichit beamed. “You found him!” He swam over and examined the unconcious prince, letting out a long sigh when he observed that nothing was wrong with him. “Oh, thank the gods. I owe you my life, Yuuri. You wouldn’t believe how panicked everyone is right now.”

“Oh, I can imagine.”

“And you picked a great moment to drop by,” Phichit continued. “The King just ordered me to get my things and help lead a search party -- I tried to hold out as long as possible, but this is the first time Viktor’s been gone this long and no one is handling it very well. You just caught me on my way out. Oh!” Phichit gestured to the room around them. “This is my space, by the way. My little magical work shop. Do you like it? I spent forever docorating it.”

Yuuri couldn’t help but snort. It had been too long since he’d really talked to Phichit, so despite the urgency racing through him, he couldn’t help but feel calmer just by being near his friend. “It’s as lavish as you are,” he teased.

Phichit chuckled. “I’m taking that as a compliment. But we’re getting off topic. As much as I’d love to have you stay, you should really get out of here before anyone finds us. I don’t know how I’d explain you being here.” He held out his arms to take the prince.

Yuuri cast one last look at the sleeping prince, mentally saying good-bye for what was hopefully the last time, and went to hand him over --

“Phichit, are you read --”

Yuuri froze, his horror mirrored in Phichit’s face as his friend stared wide-eyed over his shoulder and at the doorway. Quickly, Phichit swam around Yuuri and tried to block him from the intruders sight.

“Otabek! Lovely to see you here of all places. I was --- I was just...”

Yuuri inhaled, held his breath for the count of five seconds, then released it along with his fear in a slow exhale. Eros wouldn’t be afraid. Eros was unstoppable, could take on anything and anyone. Eros would handle this.

Yuuri spun around and swam to Phichit’s side, Viktor still lying in his arms, and smiled at the Captain of the Guard as though he were a juicy morsel for him to eat live.

“Hello,” he drawled, lifting Viktor up and outwards towards the Captain in offering. “I bring you your prince.”


--

Everything would be okay, Yuuri thought as he was surrounded by guards and Viktor was forcefully taken from him.

Everything would be okay, he thought as he stared down spears that circled around him, daring him to move even an inch. A voice behind him ordered him to move forward, though where they were taking him, Yuuri wasn’t sure. Off to the side Phichit was pleading with the Captain, trying desperately to explain the situation, but no one was hearing it. No one but the King and Queen would hear it.

Of course Yuuri could glamour himself and escape. It would be all too easy. But what would happen to Phichit, who had been caught alongside him?

Yuuri forced himself to breathe in and out and kept his eyes trained forward, his demeanor calm and on alert.

Everything would be okay.