Elven kingdoms do not come together very often to intermingle.
Or rather, they do not come together very often in relation to mortals. For elves, they come together quite frequently, they think. Every thousand years or so—which is too often for some.
There is good reason, Prince Victor of the Woodland realm thinks, why these gatherings are so few and far between.
He is so, so terribly bored.
And this is merely his first function. He can only imagine how tedious it is for other elves—let alone his parents, who are so ancient they rival the trees.
However, as he meanders around the banquet hall, he comes to find that there is a name on the breath of every elf in attendance, soft and cool like that of an ocean breeze. It ripples across the ballroom, crashing against each ear with the promise of a presence in due time.
“The first in millennia—“
“Such a strange gift.”
“In all my years, I’ve never—“
“A bad omen, that’s what it is.”
“They’re only born when they are needed—“
“War, do you think?”
“I don’t particularly care what it means. I only wish to see—“
Victor’s fingers tap a restless rhythm against the base of his drink, the mulled wine trembling within. His eyes, inexorably, search out the entrance to the hall, where the rumored elf will eventually have to admit themselves.
It’s a strange feeling: this humming in his veins. He’s not used to the attention being so decidedly stolen from him. Royalty assures that notoriety never strays too far, and his features and charisma cement it.
His skill, however? That is a different story. It’s never attracted much interest.
As expected, he is an ice talent, like that of his father and his father before him and his father before him and… Well, some things are too distant even for elves to recall. True, his skill is unmatched in all of Woodland—which is fortunate, considering it is his family’s only claim to the throne—but it isn’t particularly unusual nor noteworthy. Plenty of elves in the Woodland realm boast ice.
So this newcomer, who had attracted such attention with a mere rumor of their power—
Well. It would certainly prove to be intriguing.
It isn’t difficult to discern when the rumored elf finally shows, a hush falling over those in attendance. Even the musicians strain their necks, the plucking of strings becoming sparse and intermittent.
First a couple enters—from the Sealand realm no doubt, if their attire is anything to go by—kind-looking but not especially remarkable. A probable daughter enters, an elf quite wise in years already when considering the age of her parents. But then—curiously—a much younger potential son follows, his head held high despite the white-knuckled grip he holds on his likely-sister’s sleeve.
That truly is an oddity. Elves hardly see the need for multiple children, nearly immortal as they are. To come across sibling elves is a rarity indeed.
And yet, that’s not what keeps Victor’s eyes from wandering.
It’s the clench of his fingers, the set of his jaw. The determined stitch in his brow under a circlet of bejeweled cherry blossoms, tinkling with each step he takes further in. And then it’s his eyes, lifting from the floor to at last take a proper scan of the room, falling on Victor—and then it’s the parting of his lips, his irises flickering once from deepest brown to a sunset aflame.
Victor jumps, the mull sloshing in his chalice. The sweetest, softest utterance of his name just echoed in his head as though breathed directly into his ear.
He knows that it’s impossible for him to have ever heard this voice before, but he also knows—with utmost certainty—that the call came from the elf before him.
It’s a peculiar but not at all unpleasant realization.
But quickly as he lifted it, the elf drops his gaze once more to study the intricacies of the mosaic tile underfoot. Color blooms upon lower lip as he bites into it, as though berating himself for something in his own mind.
And well, Victor can’t have that.
Yet, reaching him is easier said than done, as most in attendance come forth to crowd when the last of the family has been properly admitted.
Whatever bravery the young elf displayed initially disappears at this, looking pained the closer others approach. It is when he brings a hand to his head that the sister has had enough and bites out a rebuke in the tongue of their forefathers.
The crowd shocks back as a collective, thoroughly chastened by the remark.
She takes advantage of the newly acquired space to draw her brother by the elbow towards the balcony. He goes willingly, despite his pinched expression.
No one follows, scandalized as they are. Victor though, on the outskirts, feigns a subtle drawing back against the wall, training a pointed ear on the thrown-open doors of the veranda to pick up what he can.
“I knew this was a bad idea!” the brother hisses. Victor can make out the chiming of gems clinking together as he surely shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have come. I’m an embarrassment—“
“Yuuri,” the sister snaps in the same tone she had wielded to stun the ballroom into silence. “None of this is your doing. You merely exist, and if that is too radical for these ancients, then I wish them a fall from grace far greater than man’s.”
“Sister, that’s not kind,” Yuuri says, though a hint of laughter colors his tone; Victor can only imagine how morbid she usually is considering how lightly her brother takes a particularly harsh curse.
“I’ll be kind when they are kind.”
“They’re simply curious… and tactless. They don’t know what kind of effect it has on me.”
“They should. They should know you—oy!”
Victor startles, wine once again dribbling out of his cup, coming to stain his pale fingers. But she can’t possibly be referring to—
“Prince or not, this is a private conversation.”
Ah. Well then.
Victor steps out onto the balcony. “How did you—?”
“Your mutt told on you,” the sister sneers, indicating with a tilt of the head to Makkachin, sitting dutifully at his master’s side with a tongue lolled out.
“Oh, I see. You’re—“
“It’s a good thing he thinks highly of you,” she says, her dark eyes flickering crimson. “Otherwise I might have sent a flock of birds down to peck your eyes out.”
“Haha,” Victor articulates, humorlessly, then balks when the woman merely lifts an eyebrow at him.
Apparently royalty means very little to her.
The younger sibling, on the other hand—
“Your Highness, I am so sorry about her.” The elf bows acutely at the waist, hands clasped before him. His fingers weave together on the ascent, eyes unsteadily poised on the line of Victor’s dress. “And… for before…”
“When you spoke to me?” Victor clarifies, heart thumping into his throat at the memory. “You needn’t apologize for something I consider an honor.”
Yuuri’s cheeks pinken, the exact hue of the imitation flowers resting upon his crown. “It’s rude to just… enter your mind like that.”
“And call me Victor?”
“I am so sorry—“
“No, I—“ Victor swallows. “I felt something… when you did.” He approaches, tentatively, coaxing Yuuri’s gaze up with gentle fingers under the chin. “Did you… feel something as well…?”
“Oh, goddess,” the sister practically retches. “I’ll leave you two alone.” She departs to the clinking of earrings, heard long after she has disappeared from sight.
Victor hardly takes notice.
“I…” Yuuri looks at his own hand—at where Victor has captured it, drawing a thumb along the wrist—and darkens further, far exceeding the delicate pink of his gown. “No, I…” He bites into his lip, slips out of Victor’s grasp. “I think you are mistaken.”
“Ah.” It’s the smallest cry Victor has ever uttered. “Well, I am quite sure that I am not.”
Yuuri lifts a hand to his chest, the bracelet he wears twinkling with an inhaled breath. “I—“
“There you are!”
For the faintest of moments, Yuuri appears panicked; but his eyes immediately flicker at the voice, shoulders coming to lower in a show of relief. “Phichit,” he greets, even before he turns fully to confirm the identity of the newcomer.
A Sunland elf in seafoam green pulls Yuuri into an embrace. “How long has it been?” he asks, a hand coming up to caress Yuuri’s cheek. “Forty? Fifty years?”
Yuuri leans into the touch, relaxing further. “Something like that."
“A tragedy, that.” The other elf’s eyes slant towards Victor. “Don’t you think so, Your Highness? The kingdoms really need to meet more than every millennium. I, personally, would take any excuse to see Yuuri more often, wouldn’t you?”
Yuuri’s eyes merely glint red with a pointed look.
“Yes, yes,” Phichit laughs, as though they’d just entertained an entire conversation. “But you’re not getting out of it that easily. You owe me a dance from your parents’ last reception, and I’m here to collect my dues.”
Yuuri sighs. “If you insist.” He regards Victor, warily. “You don’t mind if I…?”
“By all means,” Victor says, though there is no heart in it. He’s still in the midst of calculating, trying to remember if forty to fifty years between visits is customary in a courtship between elves of differing kingdoms.
He wouldn’t know. He’s never had a compelling reason to retain that kind of information before today.
But now he’s ravenous for knowledge, watching as Phichit leads Yuuri back into the ballroom with an extended hand, the crystal pink paint of Yuuri’s nails gleaming under the candlelight.
Victor finds himself yearning to trace each and every brushstroke.
He downs the rest of his mull from the ledge where he’d long abandoned it.
He was right, he thinks. Intriguing, indeed.
A sense of normalcy has since returned to the gathering when Victor at last folds himself back into the fray—though of course, the curious onlookers now keep a respectful distance from their unofficial guest of honor, kept under the careful surveillance of Yuuri’s sister, ever vigilant between sparse words and the occasional pull of drink.
Despite this, she doesn’t seem overly concerned with what her brother is doing per se—only that he is not bothered while doing so. And Victor knows this to be true, because it seems whatever amount of time he had utilized collecting himself on the veranda has gone directly into Yuuri inebriating himself to the fullest extent his elven blood will allow.
“Your Highness, come dance with me!”
Victor has never felt a warmer nor softer touch.
He can hardly get out an affirmation before he is being drawn across the floor, pulled into a dance that has him unfamiliar with his own feet, tripping over the frosted gauze of his gown as though the concept of moving is entirely novel to him.
“Like this,” Yuuri says through tinkling laughter—like Victor’s fawn legs are endearing rather than shameful—and pulls him along.
Victor can’t help laughing himself when Yuuri grasps him around the waist and lifts him, his stomach flipping delightedly with the maneuver. “Is this normal for you?” he inquires on the descent, effervescent giggles still rising to the top. “To drown yourself in drink at these sort of events?”
“Noooo,” Yuuri all but sings, his Sealandian accent breaching for air within the vowels. “I just got nervous. Phichit says wine can help you sleep, so—“ He hiccups. “So you know.”
“A little wine, yes.” Victor swallows, cuts a look at his hands that have gone cold despite Yuuri’s continued grasp on them. “Perhaps it is too late to ask this, but he doesn’t mind? That his partner is dancing with someone else tonight?”
“’Partner’?” Yuuri’s nose scrunches adorably. “Whose partner?”
“Phichit isn’t my partner."
“That’s ridiculous.” Victor is suddenly bombarded with an armful of Yuuri as he drapes himself over the other. His voice is muffled into Victor’s shoulder, quiet and soul-shattering: “Who would want to be shackled to a burden for all of eternity?”
Immediately, Victor has a hand in Yuuri’s hair. It’s so short, he’s struck with. Hardly past the shoulders.
For an elf so young, he has a disproportionate amount of grief.
“Well—“ Victor tries not to let his voice break, a trembling smile playing upon his lips. “Well, I at the very least would.”
When Yuuri lifts his head, it’s with tears before his crimson eyes, stained red like rose petals at the corners. “You think such nice things about me,” he says. “I—I’m sorry I did it again, but I just needed to know—“
“I don’t mind.” Victor thumbs at the wetness, a hand around each flushed cheek. “You can read me as many times as you like.”
Yuuri swallows, his irises flickering bright. “You… You like me. A lot. You may even love me.” Victor doesn’t deny it. “You—“ He gasps, steps out of Victor’s hold. “You think we’re—but that’s—we can’t be—“
It doesn’t come from Yuuri’s lips, yet it stings just as painfully. The sound of his soles against the tile echoes throughout the ballroom—and then down the hall—turning the heads of those who weren’t already playing voyeur. Victor can feel the chill of Yuuri’s sister’s disapproval on his back as though it is a physical thing.
He shakes his head, the crystals against his brow all at once feeling cumbersome, weighted.
The unspoken words lie heavily upon his tongue all the way back to Woodland.
There is, Victor decides, entirely too long a distance between his and Yuuri’s kingdoms. He comes to this realization in the study, maps strewn all over the table, one after the other.
Topographical, political, economical—they all tell Victor the same tale: that Yuuri is practically worlds away.
So he resorts to his only viable course of action:
“I’m going on an excursion.”
Yakov presses the pads of his fingers to his temple. “Is this about that Sealand boy?” he says, world-weary. “The one with the mind talent that drank himself under the table?”
“Yes, that’s the one.” Victor can’t help a note of pride from infiltrating his tone. “I love him.”
“A baby.” He invokes the queen, gesturing sharply. “Not even a thousand yet, and he thinks he’s in love!”
Lilia sighs, heavily. “Vitya, you met him not a mortal month ago.”
“Too long,” Victor agrees, with much sincerity. Years can oftentimes feel like blinks to their kind, but Victor has felt every one of these last days with stark intimacy. “I want to be reunited with Yuuri.”
“You can’t just drop your responsibilities for nothing—"
“Yuuri is not nothing.” The ground beneath Victor cracks and hisses, a sheet of ice having extended over the marble.
Yakov scoffs. “Look at yourself. Cannot even fully control your powers at this age, and you wish to devote yourself to someone for life.”
“I think—“ Victor swallows, crushing the ice in his hands to powder. “I think Yuuri and I might be Goddess’s Intended.”
“Mother, please, let me finish.” He takes a breath, exhales a flurry. “I know you think it fanciful, but I mean what I say. When I first saw Yuuri and he spoke to me, I felt a deep desire to be close to him and never part from him again. I’ve been doing research, and—“
“It’s a myth.”
“Maybe to you. But I know what I felt, and I am going to Yuuri.”
“Please, Vitya.” His mother’s tone has become pitying, and Victor somehow cannot stand that any more than his father’s scolding. “Wait a year or so. See if the feelings fade—“
“I don’t want the feelings to fade!”
Window glass shatters around them in thick, crystalline shards, the unfortunate victim of Victor’s frost having been winding its way up the walls all the while.
Victor lifts his hands—freezing a sheet of ice over the openings to keep out the draft—then turns sharply on his heel. “This conversation isn’t over,” he promises coolly over his shoulder.
Yakov chokes behind him, but Victor doesn’t have to witness it to know how his mother places a hand over his father’s, stalling the words in his throat.
It’s all the same to Victor.
He had lied. The conversation was quite over.
He returns to his chambers only long enough to pack a bow and some changes of wardrobe. He nearly leaves with only that—then thinks better of it and circles back to the kitchens to retrieve some Woodland delicacies.
He can’t very well show up at his intended’s doorstep empty-handed, now can he?
It’s times like this, he thinks as he sneaks out to the stables, that he wishes he was blessed with some other more useful talent. Like shadows. Or hell, he’d even settle for Yuuri’s sister’s gift among animals if only to ask Makkachin to tread lightly behind him lest they scare the horses on their approach.
“Shh,” he soothes, stroking the muzzle of his favorite mare; she eyes his canine companion wearily but thankfully settles enough for him to saddle and bridle her, strap the supplies to her sides and Makkachin to her back. He draws her along by the lead over the packed dirt floor with the softest of steps, careful not to disturb her stablemates.
He wishes this was the tricky part.
The sentries send him off with well wishes, as they always do. After all, the woods is their domain far out as it spans, and as such, it is completely within his right to explore it as he sees fit.
However, it is completely out of his right to leave it.
The very moment he urges his horse into a gallop, the forest grows keen as to what its prince is attempting to do. The roots of the trees breach the ground, vying to trip him up, slow him down. The vines hang low, grasping at strands of Victor’s hair, weaving themselves into his braids. He takes the end of an arrow to them, an apology on his lips at each sever.
When his progress is hardly impeded, the woods resorts to more desperate means: slicking the forest floor with dew.
His horse immediately loses traction, her hooves sliding, threatening to pull out entirely from under her.
Victor fights his instinct to rein her back, instead opting to lean to the ground to run his fingers along the grass. The water turns to the crunch of snow under his touch, his steed gaining footing in the thick of it, charging ahead with renewed vigor.
They break through the last of the brush, the weight of enchantment lifting from Victor’s chest at the sight of the sun unobscured by trees, the open plain before them.
Now all that lies between him and his destiny is time.
Yuuri isn’t a water talent, but he has the heart of one.
It probably stems from his mother—with how she guides the spring water where she wills it, brings up and lets down the tide as she sees fit. He can remember as a child being half-submerged at almost all times, strung along in a whirl of water behind her as she went about her work. She would rock him in handmade waves come sundown, lulling him to sleep in the tumble, the sound of rushing water gentle in his ears.
He misses when it was that simple to calm the raging storm inside of him.
Now he feels a maw in his chest, deep and dark like that of a coastal cavern.
The feeling lessens somewhat when he comes back in from the beach, spirit soothed by a cool, wispy air that spoke of an impending snowstorm coming in from the north.
He doesn’t stop to think—for one fleeting moment—how odd that is in the heart of spring.
Yuuri awakens to frost on the tip of his nose—which is peculiar, considering he is quite certain he fell asleep with a roof over his head.
Indeed, he finds that it hasn't vanished since he’d closed his eyes last night.
He trails the snowfall into the lounge where he finds his father.
“What’s all this?” he questions, a hand to the wall to steady his steps; the floor has become damp with slush, though it seems his mother has herded the bulk of what has since melted to the corners.
“Came with the handsome Woodlander that arrived this morning,” his father answers, wiping stray flakes off the mantel. “Went out to sample the springs.”
Yuuri’s eyes flash once. “That was no ordinary Woodlander.” He stumbles, his legs knowing already what his mind struggles to comprehend.
Before he knows it, he’s in a sprint, his father’s heeds to be careful fading far behind him.
The snow is still coming down in the courtyard, though it’s a gentle fall, soft and soothing, kissing through the sheer material of Yuuri’s night shirt.
In the center of it all, Yuuri sees him.
“Victor…” For a beat, he sways at the edge of the water, keen for any sign of hesitance on the other’s face. But then Victor stands, throwing his arms out wide.
There is no more thought.
The spring water stings his bare legs—a sharp dichotomy to the biting winter air—but it’s only when Yuuri falls against Victor that he feels he can finally breathe for what feels like the first time in ages.
“Yuuri…” He has a hand in Yuuri’s hair, the other thrown around his waist. “I never want you to apologize to me again.”
“Then I won’t,” Yuuri says, though his eyes burn bright of their own accord, communicating all else to Victor in that moment.
Victor chuckles, running a hand down the back of Yuuri’s shift. “You’re freezing.”
“And you’re naked,” Yuuri retorts, though it’s spoken fondly. “So I suppose we’re both being foolish.”
Victor merely holds him closer. “I’ve never been more pleased to be called a fool.”
Hesitant, Yuuri lifts his head from Victor’s shoulder; his eyes remain ablaze. “You still think we’re…?”
He buries himself back in Victor’s warmth. “Me too. I’m so glad.”