Yuuri was happy. Since moving away from his family, he settled down inside a rotted tree and a neighboring swamp. It had taken months for him to stumble on the land, to really make it his own, and he wouldn’t have his new home any other way.
The only downside was the nearby village.
Yuuri, being an ogre, knew about the tales. Stories of ogres killing townsfolk for meals and attacking animals that were left unattended. Not once had he ventured out of his little makeshift house, only going as far to the edge of the swamp in order to grab a weed rat for his dinner. As long as he was left alone, Yuuri didn’t care what stories were being said.
He had signs posted at random intervals at the border, just as a further precaution.
It was just like any other day, Yuuri had just finished cleaning up his home, the laundry hanging from a clothesline, and he was on a mission to grab some dinner before resting for the night.
He heard rather than saw them first when a group of armored men ran through the brush, swords unsheathed as they chased after… a hamster?
The rodent gave a squeak, darting around and hiding behind Yuuri’s boot. The guards stopped short, as if realizing Yuuri was just there.
One of them came forward, sword drawn, if shaking a little in the man’s grasp.
Yuuri tilted his head to the side, a hand resting on his hip, “Yeah?”
The sword shook harder, “W-we are here, to have you and—and that thing!” The sword jerked a bit in towards Yuuri’s boot, “We are ordered to move you to a designated resettlement facility!”
“No thanks.” Without a care that a sword was practically in his face, Yuuri leaned down, picking up the hamster from its hiding spot. He held it out for the guard to take, “I’m good right here.”
“T-this isn’t a negotiation!” One of the guards quipped from behind a tree. “We have orders from Lord Popovich! All magical creatures are to be relocated!”
Yuuri glanced at the hamster in his hand. “This is a hamster.”
Said hamster gave a dignified squeak from the palm of his hand. “I’m not just any hamster!” It chirped.
“It talks!” yelled another guard, this time from his hiding spot behind a boulder. “I told you guys!”
“I do more than talk!” The hamster’s nose quivered as he sniffed Yuuri’s hand, “Mind letting me down?”
“Uh. Sure.” Yuuri numbly did as he was told, letting the hamster to the ground and stepping back just in time for a gush of wind the wrap around the creature, obscuring his and the guards’ vision until it ceased, leaving a young man where the hamster stood.
The hamster-turned-boy simply smiled, “See?”
More swords were drawn, only they were pointed at the boy, not Yuuri.
“Well this hardly seems fair,” Yuuri muttered under his breath. He took a step forward, taking the full brunt of the swords’ attention. “This is overkill. He’s just a…” A glance back at the boy behind him showed him at the receiving end of a glare. “He’s just a traveler who happens to also sometimes be a hamster.”
“I don’t make the rules!” The original guard shifted on his feet, “We were told to take all magical creatures, which include you, ogre, and move them far from this town! Lord Popovich’s orders!”
Yuuri sighed, rubbing his cheek as he leaned, his face right up in the man’s. “Oh really?” The armor the guard wore clacked together as his body shook in fear. “You, and what army?” Yuuri took a chance and focused behind the guard, who also looked and found himself all alone, his fellow guards already gone from their sight.
With a shriek, the guard dropped his sword, taking off in the direction he assumed his troop went.
“There we go.” Clapping his hands together as if rubbing dirt from his palms, Yuuri turned around, already his appetite ruined, only to see the hamster boy bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Wow! You’re amazing!”
“Uh…” Yuuri rubbed the back of his head, “Okay.” He moved past the boy, towards his humble home. The only warning he got that he was being followed was the gust of another odd wind, and the tickling of something climbing his leg before something rested on his shoulder. The boy-now-hamster squeaked as Yuuri abruptly stopped. “No.”
“Oh come on!” The hamster nuzzled against Yuuri’s neck, “My name’s Phichit! Let’s be friends!”
“I don’t have friends.”
“Everyone has friends!”
“Not me. Now,” Yuuri grabbed at Phichit, placing him once more on the floor, “why don’t you go to your own friends?”
“Ah,” Like a switch, Phichit changed back into a human, “I was sorta… kicked out? I usually don’t try to transform out in the open, but I was caught off guard today. So… I might not have a place to stay anymore?” He gave a sheepish smile, “I overheard those guards thinking everyone I interact with is also a shapeshifter so…”
Biting his lip, Yuuri nodded. “Okay. Well, you have to fend for yourself. I think I have a spare cot somewhere…”
Phichit gasped, running forward with his arms open, “Thank you!”
Yuuri froze as unfamiliar arms wrapped around his body.
As if sensing the hug was unwelcome, Phichit immediately backed off, “Sorry! Um. You know, I don’t know your name.”
The name was foreign on his tongue, Yuuri hadn’t spoken his name in years.
“Yuuri!” Phichit grinned, “I feel like this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Phichit bounced onto the homely cot that smelled of musk and swampy residue. “This is a much better place than the one I had in town!”
“Oh really?” Yuuri cracked an egg into a frying pan, watching as it sizzled.
“Yeah!” With a nod, Phichit laid down, nestling himself underneath a blanket that was found alongside the cot, “No offense to Lord Popovich, but the houses we lived in were pretty much dumps. And we weren’t allowed to complain about it.”
Poking at the egg so the yolk broke, Yuuri just nodded to show he was listening. “Sounds like this Popovich guy is bad news.”
“He wasn’t all that bad.”
“You just said you lived in a dump and it was all his fault.” A squeak was the only hint given that Phichit had changed into a hamster.
“That was after he got his heart broken by a witch. Now no magical creatures can live in town. How fair is that?”
“Hm…” Yuuri grabbed a small bit of cheese, placing it on the cot beside Phichit before returning to the stove.
“I mean, that’s no reason to kick everyone out so we’re stuck in your swamp.”
Pausing mid-step, Yuuri slowly turned back around. “Wait, what.”
“Oh, did I forget to mention that?”
When Yuuri started his day that morning, he had no way of knowing he’d befriend a hamster, assure of crowd of magical creatures he would return them to their homes, take on a group of armored men in a wrestling ring, and then get saddled with the task of finding and rescuing a prince in a tower.
It felt like he was in one of those storybooks his mother read to him when he was a child.
Now he found himself in front of a huge castle, the tallest tower so high the tip was obscured by clouds. Discarded armor littered the entrance, as if thrown away without a care as they were leaving. Yuuri spotted a helmet amongst the pile, the front flipped up for easy access. Choosing it for himself, he moved past the rest of the armor, instead focusing on the castle and where the terrifying dragon was supposed to lie in wake.
Perched on his shoulder was Phichit, who insisted on being a hamster during the duration of their trip.
“So,” Yuuri flipped the front of his helmet down so his face was covered, “Wonder where the dragon is?”
“Probably somewhere close!”
Yuuri had only taken two steps into the deteriorated building when the walls around them began to shake. That was all the warning they got before a shadow towered above them, the creature’s tongue hanging out of its mouth before giving a loud “Boof!”.
“It’s a huge poodle.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
The dog blocked off the only path out of the room, and Yuuri was sure that was where he needed to go.
This was fine. He could handle a dog. He liked them.
The poodle lowered its upper body, head close to the floor as its tail wagged in the air.
Yuuri blinked. “I think… they… want to play?”
“It’s a huge poodle!”
“You already said that.”
“They said it was a dragon!”
The poodle let out a whine that had Yuuri moving forward, arm outstretched.
“Yuuri, what are you—“
“It’s okay.” He left his arm out, waiting as the dog leaned its snout towards Yuuri’s palm. There was a quick sniff before the dog gave a happy bark, running its tongue against Yuuri’s hand. He let out a small, albeit relieved, laugh. “See? She’s harmless.”
“Hey girl,” Yuuri scratched her chin, “Take us to the prince? Can you do that for me?”
The poodle gave another bark before she shimmered, the glow blinding Yuuri and Phichit. Once the light went down, the dog was only a tenth of her size. She ran in circles around them, barking happily before taking off to a doorway.
“Oh, she can change size. Convenient.”
“Says the guy who can turn into a hamster.”
“Yeah, yeah, she’s getting away!”
The doorway lead to a series of stairs and Yuuri was glad for his stamina by the time they reached the very top. The dog had stopped by a door, the only one they saw since they entered the castle. She sat by the entrance, lifting a paw to pat at the wood.
“So,” Yuuri gripped the doorknob, “He’s here.”
The door swung open, the hinges creaking loudly.
Ethereal. That was the first word that came to mind as Yuuri took in the scene before him. The poodle ran forward to the bedside, happily barking as she turned back and looked at the ogre.
Laid out on the only visible piece of furniture in the room was the prince himself, hair fanned out on the pillow, on his chest a bouquet of blue roses in his folded hands. A breeze filtered through the open window, blowing through the canopy that hung from the bedframe.
Slowly, Yuuri made his way over to the bed, the dog finally moving out of the way and instead choosing to wait by the door with Phichit.
Rays from the sun shone through the window, lighting up the prince’s face. A spray of freckles spotted his nose, fanning out to cover his cheeks. Yuuri reached forward, his breath still in this lungs.
And then he grabbed the prince by the shoulders and shook him.
“Hey, wake up.”
The prince’s eyes flew open, the blue bright like the morning sky. “What—?”
“Are you Prince Victor?”
The prince—Victor—sat up, the bouquet of roses falling into his lap, “I am.” He paused, staring at Yuuri with his head tilted to the side before his eyes widened, “I was awaiting a knight so boldest to rescue me.”
“Your dragon is a giant poodle.”
“I—“ Victor physically faltered, his attention moving towards the door, where said poodle stood tall, a hamster perched on her head. “No one ever got past Makkachin before.”
“Well,” Yuuri held out a hand, keeping his eyes from roaming the body before him. The neckline on the chemise Victor wore was low, showing off the majority of his chest. “We should probably get out of here. Do you—“ Fumbling around his words, Yuuri’s eyes lost their battle, and it was only then that he noticed the nightgown was completely sheer. Swallowing down his panic, Yuuri persisted, “Do you have anything you want to take with you? Maybe some outfits?”
“Oh.” Yuuri backed away as Victor rose out of the bed, his chemise fluttering in the wind. “Right.”
It didn’t take long for Victor to don a dark green dress from the nearby dresser, slipping it over his head and letting it fall into place. He spun, the dress swirling around his legs. He stopped, pulling his hair so it rested over his shoulder and then held up two sashes, “Tie these for me?”
Yuuri forced himself to look away. “Sure.” He grabbed the sashes, fingers fumbling over the material and themselves before he made a reasonable looking bow. He took a step back as Victor twirled in front of his mirror again. “And your other clothes? Did you want to pack them?”
Victor fluffed out the skirt before looking up, “My suitcase is by the door.”
A cursory glance by Makkachin proved the statement true. Yuuri straightened his shoulders, turning on his heel towards the door. “If you’re ready, Lord Popovich is waiting.” He reached the door, Phichit scurrying from Makkachin’s head so he could return to his regular place on Yuuri’s shoulder.
He nodded, “He wanted me to get you. So, let’s go.”
Yuuri froze, hand in mid-air. Slowly, he lowered his hand, turning around once more. “No?”
Victor was sitting on his bed, hands clasped tightly together on his lap. “No.”
“What do you mean, no? It’s my job to get you back to the village to marry this lord guy.” Pinching his nose through the helmet, Yuuri suppressed a sigh. “Please work with me here.”
“If this Lord Popovich guy wants to marry me,” Victor loosened the grip on his hands in order to cross his arms. He turned his head to the side, “Why didn’t he come rescue me?”
The sigh escaped, and Yuuri reached down to grab the suitcase he hadn’t noticed when he first entered the room, “Good question, you can ask him when we get there.”
“But—“ Foot tapping against the floor, Victor rose from the bed, “I’m supposed to be rescued by my true love!”
“Well!” Phichit chirped from Yuuri’s shoulder, “It didn’t look like you needed much rescuing! Yuuri and I just walked right in!”
“It talks!” Victor jerked at the sudden development, the back of his legs hitting the bed and he fell back onto the mattress. As he lifted his head, his hair was in disarray.
“Phichit has a point,” Yuuri strode forward, taking Victor’s hand and helping him back to his feet. “Makkachin led us right to you. You probably could have left here ages ago.”
“I…” Victor’s full attention was on their adjoined hands. “There was no way I could open that door. There was a spell.”
“Oh.” Yuuri released the prince’s hand, instead finally freeing his head from the helmet he found earlier. As he revealed his face, he found Victor’s own had grown pale.
“Oh my God.” Phichit gasped in delight. “Could it be only your true love could open the door?” As Victor remained silent, he stood on his hind legs, poking Yuuri’s neck with his tiny paws, “Does this make Yuuri your true love?”
Victor’s head shot up, eyes wide, “No! That’s impossible! He can’t be!”
The fervor in his voice made the others in the room pause. With all attention on Victor, a flush rose up on his cheeks, staining them red. He ran his fingers through his hair, suddenly interested in straightening out the knots.
“There’s no way he’s my true love. This… This Lord Popovich is.”
“Well then.” Yuuri gestured to the door, “After you, Your Highness.”
It had taken only a day to reach the castle Victor was held up in, so it was natural to assume it would take the same amount of time to get back. So far, the return trip was going along fine, Phichit recounting his favorite tale about a king and a young shapeshifting boy who fell in love in a time traveling adventure. Yuuri kept his quips to himself, knowing the shapeshifter enough now to go along with his silly stories.
Victor remained a foot’s length at the tail end of their group. Despite the hamster’s enthusiasm, the prince kept to himself.
They were nearing the entrance to a forest when Victor froze, his eyes focused instead to the slowly diminishing daylight.
Yuuri turned, Phicht having rolled up on his shoulder after he finished his tale, “What is it?”
Head still turned to the sky, Victor reached out, finding Makkachin nestled beside him, “Aren’t we going to stop and make camp?”
“No, that’ll take longer. We can keep going.” Righting himself, Yuuri began to step forward when his vision was filled with silver hair billowing in the wind.
Hands balled up into fists, eyes wide, Victor stood on his toes, “I need someplace to camp. Now!”
The yell jolted Phichit out of his nap, his tiny body rolling off of Yuuri’s shoulder and he landed on the ground below.
As if luck could have it, there was a nearby cluster of rocks with space inside just big enough to house a prince and his size-changing poodle.
Seizing a substantial piece of bark from a neighboring tree, Victor covered up the entrance, making it impossible to see inside.
Yuuri and Phichit shrugged, taking spots beside their makeshift campfire for the night.
“That wasn’t weird at all, right?”
“I’ve seen worse. Once I stumbled on a hamster who could talk.”
“Oh well that’s—Hey!”
Something warm settled against Yuuri’s side, as the rich smell of eggs filled the air. With a start, he sat up. The sun was already on its trek across the sky, accompanied by an assortment of clouds to block out its harmful rays.
Near the fire, Victor sat, poking something on a slab of stone with a stick. He had traded the dress from the day before for a simple pair of black slacks and a white shirt covered in a pastel pink waistcoat. His hair was pulled into a low ponytail.
“Oh.” Victor shifted, revealing two sets of eggs on the makeshift stove. “Breakfast’s almost ready.”
“Uh.” Yuuri quickly surveyed the surrounding area. The piece of bark covering Victor’s cave was now resting calmly beside the rocks, the fire which had clearly gone out during the night was proudly going strong, cooking the four eggs Victor had found. Phichit was nowhere to be found, but Victor didn’t seem worried. Finally, Yuuri realized just what was making his side all warm.
Makkachin lay curled up against Yuuri’s side, her tongue hanging from her snout as she dozed the morning away.
“She insisted she sleep with you.”
The words jerked him out of his trance, only just realizing he had his fingers tangled up in her curls. Yuuri slowly lifted his hand, instead turning back to the fire. And Victor.
With another poke at breakfast, Victor slid the slab off the fire, “I wasn’t sure how you liked eggs, so…”
“Thank… you.” Yuuri took a glance around once more, “Where’s Phichit?”
Giving a shrug, Victor took a leaf, slipping two eggs onto it and holding it out, “He said something about finding his own breakfast. He took off in that direction.” He gave a nod to his left, and Yuuri would see tiny footprints in the dirt. When Yuuri took the proffered leaf, Victor dusted off his hands, “We should probably get moving after he gets back.”
Yuuri have a small nod, “Yeah.”
Once Phichit returned, cheeks stuffed with nuts, they continued on with their trek. They started off as before, Yuuri in the front with Phichit on his shoulder, and Victor and Makkachin in the rear.
As the day wore on, Makkachin trotted forward, rubbing up against Yuuri’s side and ending up with Phichit as a companion.
“Onward!” Phichit chirped from Makkachin’s head.
The two commandeered the front, leaving Yuuri to walk beside Victor.
The silence of the forest was calming, the only noise from miles around were crickets and other assorted bugs. So when the gurgling from a stomach overpowered the bugs, everyone froze.
Yuuri immediately kept his head held high, “Well, we should—it’s about time for lunch!”
“I think not, ogre!!!”
Makkachin barked, her teeth bared as she let out a growl towards the trees. It was jarring, to hear the sweet poodle sound so terrifying when she had been docile this entire time.
And within reason. For as Yuuri surveyed the area, he saw that Victor was no longer beside him, but rather on top of a branch with a strange man’s arm around his waist.
Yuuri squinted, despite his glasses. The man looked familiar, but for the life of him, Yuuri couldn’t tell where.
Victor was stiff in the man’s arms, skin pale and his eyes wide as he stared down below.
The man chortled, “Tired of eating young maidens from town, are we? Started to feast after young men instead? Have you no shame, ogre???”
Frowning, Yuuri scrunched up his nose. Eating young maidens? Yuuri had never—
“Oh!” He hit a fist into his open palm, that’s why the man looked familiar! Yuuri held out his hand, holding Makkachin back as the dog started to glow and grow in size, stopping the transformation. He could handle this.
“Chad.” Crossing his arms, Yuuri gave the appearance of nonchalance. “What are you doing?”
“My name’s not Chad!”
“Let the prince go. And no one will be hurt.”
“So you do intend on eating him!”
Holding back a sigh, Yuuri closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “No one is eating anyone. Now come dow—“
There was a scream, and Yuuri opened his eyes to find Chad on the ground, on his back, with Victor heaving over him.
“I don’t know who this guy is,” Victor’s hands shook, and he quickly crossed his arms in order to hide them, “but I want to be as far away from him as possible.”
Nodding, Yuuri held out his own hand, but Victor maneuvered around so they did not touch. Yuuri kept a straight face, keeping the sting from the rejection to himself. They had barely left the area when an arrow shot out, hitting a nearby tree and ricocheting off of it.
“Hold it right there!”
A group of men appeared, one holding up Chad, who was still knocked out like a light.
“Great,” Yuuri muttered, stopping just behind Victor, “More Chads.”
“Just how many Chads are in your village?”
A stout man with a crew cut to match the others stepped forward, “We saw you take out our leader! We’ve come for revenge!” He pointed in their direction, jabbing a finger at Yuuri.
Yuuri blinked. “I didn’t do anything.”
“You liar!” Another one yelled from the back, “We heard our mighty leader scream!”
The Chad holding up Leader Chad tried to stand tall, despite the extra weight, “We’re here to stop you from taking any more young women!”
“Okay seriously?” Yuuri rubbed the side of his face, “I don’t know who was telling these lies. I’m just trying to get through this forest. So if you could just… move?”
“No way, ogre! We’ve let you run wild for far too long!”
Trying to suppress a groan was proving to be more difficult as time wore on. Yuuri made to step forward when silver hair filled his sight.
Victor straightened his back, his height easily surpassing Yuuri. Makkachin kept her stance next to Victor, her fangs visible.
“For such a mighty leader, he sure has wandering hands. No wonder all the young women claim to be taken by an ogre. They’re not lying! The jokes on you. The ogre he’s talking about isn’t Yuuri, it’s Chad!”
Victor snapped his fingers, and Makkachin pounced, going after the nearest Chad and biting him in the rear. The rest of the Chads scattered, but it didn’t deter the poodle, who chose in that moment to grow to moose size and proceed to finish her assault on them.
The next thing Yuuri knew, all the men were passed out in a huge pile. Makkachin stood on top of the pile, her tongue hanging from her mouth as she let out a happy bark.
Victor only waved a hand, “Sure girl, go get the ones who ran away.”
With Phichit still on her head, Makkachin took off into the woods, the hamster giving a charging battle cry.
It was only once they were left alone with only a bunch of men passed out in the open area did Yuuri really react.
“What just happened?”
Victor clasped his hands together in front of him, instead of responding, choosing to venture off into the forest. Without much left to do, Yuuri followed.
They found another nearby open area, and paused while waiting for the rest of their group to find them.
“Oh.” Yuuri raised a hand, stilling it just before his fingers grazed their target. “Your hair. It’s a mess.”
It must have happened when Victor fell from the tree earlier.
Victor lifted his own, running his fingers through his silver strands, wincing as he hit a snag. “Yes, well. It happens.” He lowered his eyes, as a light pink flush started forming over his cheeks. “Braid it for me?”
“I—“ The words on his tongue died, as Victor glanced up through his lashes, his eyes bluer than the sky above. With a cough, Yuuri turned away, “Braid your hair? With my sausage links for fingers?” He frowned, “Ah, now I’m craving pork.”
A tiny sound rose from the prince, and by the time Yuuri faced him again, Victor had lowered his head, his expression hidden by his tangled hair.
“It can be done.” Victor sounded so sure, and if Yuuri didn’t know any better, he thought he could hear a smile in Victor’s voice.
Hair braided, though not very well done, there was nothing left to do but to wait for Makkachin and Phichit to return.
Yuuri’s stomach gave another grumble, forcing him to back track to the problem prior to Chad and his band of Merry Chads.
“I think there might be some berries nearby we can eat as a snack?”
Victor leaned against a tree, his braid swung over his shoulder as Yuuri rummaged through a bush. “Berries for lunch? How rustic.”
Withdrawing his hand, Yuuri held up fist full of raspberries. “For now. Once we get out of this part of the forest, I’ll see about putting together something better.” Once the berries were in Victor’s possession, Yuuri rose to his feet. “What I wouldn’t give to be home, I’d maybe cook up one of the pigs.”
Victor paused, raspberry pressed up against his lips. “You have pigs?”
“And chickens.” Yuuri dusted off his pants. “If I let the pigs get big enough I should have enough meat to last a week? I try not to eat too much though.” He turned his face to the sky. It was already afternoon. They were still nowhere near their destination.
A small hum rose from Victor as he chewed on a berry. “A little meat never hurt anybody. Sometimes it’s better.” He paused, before shaking his head, “Or maybe not.”
At Yuuri’s curious glance, Victor refused to elaborate, instead pushing off the tree and handing the remaining berries back.
“Makkachin can find us, we should keep moving.” Yuuri merely nodded, shoving the rest of the raspberries into his mouth. He pretended not to notice Victor’s gaze on the sky.
The further they ventured into the forest, the more dense the plant life seemed to get.
Yuuri stepped over a gnarled tree root, holding out a hand for Victor to take. “Once we get past this, we should be in a more open area.”
Victor gripped the offered hand, focusing on getting over the root instead of how his fingers were enveloped by Yuuri’s own green ones. “You took this path on the way to my tower?”
“Ah.” Yuuri’s cheeks darkened, as he reached forward, placing his other hand around Victor’s waist and giving him a boost up. “I figured Chad and his team of Chads wouldn’t venture this far. You’d be safer.”
Finally making it over the tree root, Victor’s free hand shot out, grasping at Yuuri’s shoulder.
Not expecting it, Yuuri stepped back, losing his footing. He fell backwards, taking an unsuspecting prince along with him.
With a groan, Yuuri opened his eyes.
And instantly shut them.
Victor was on top of him, his left hand still locked in his own and right hand clenching the fabric on his shoulder.
When Yuuri dared to open his eyes again, they were locked in place, their legs tangled together. Victor’s eyes were wide, his lips, stained a darker red since eating raspberries earlier, partially open as his hair slowly came loose from its braid, framing the sides of his face.
Neither made an attempt to move.
“Oh. I’ll guess we’ll just leave you two alone.”
As if a bucket of cold water was dumped on him, Yuuri shot up, dislodging his legs, and forcing Victor off. The prince slid to the ground, making no move to follow Yuuri’s example and get to his feet.
Phichit hummed, shifting back to a human. On his face was a shit-eating grin, “You keep telling yourself that.”
Makkachin made her way over to Victor, who merely buried his face in her fur before standing up.
“Is everything alright now? Did you lose the Chads?”
“Oh yeah!” Phichit lifted his hands, folding them behind his head as he twirled around, “Easy as pie. And while we were looking for you two,” he shot them both a side look that spoke volumes more than it should, “we found a place to stay for the night.”
Victor visibly perked up, before quickly smoothing out his expression. “Let’s go then.”
It was an old abandoned windmill that had seen better days. But it was somewhat put together, there was a roof still attached, and most importantly, a door.
Victor went in to investigate, and once he deemed it adequate, they started to set up camp. Phichit found enough nuts to last them for days, and Yuuri returned with a bundle of hearty rats.
“I am not eating that.”
Yuuri rolled his eyes as he set up the fire, intending on cooking the animals rotisserie-style. “You don’t have to, Phichit.”
Victor plopped down on the log they rolled over from the forest, crossing his ankles and leaning back on his hands. The braid Yuuri put together was nearly almost undone, the loose strands fluttering in the wind.
Makkachin had curled up next to Yuuri, a random boot resting between her paws. A piece of the shoe had already been gnawed off. Yuuri reached down to give the poodle a soft pat, before turning the roasting meat.
“We’ll reach town tomorrow.”
He kept his eyes on the meat before him, but his attention was towards the man beside him.
Victor sat up, his back straight as a rod as he looked down at the houses below. His hands were clenched together in his lap.
“What’s Lord Popovich like?”
Gently poking the rats, Yuuri pretended to ponder. “Tall. Handsome. Of course, not as handsome as you.” The stick prodding the rats pierced one, as Yuuri caught up on what he was saying. “I mean—that is—He’s very big on eye liner.”
Victor dipped his head forward, as his cheeks burned and his loosened hair covered his face.
“He was really eager to meet you. Even offered to lend me a horse and a carriage but…” Yuuri gave a small shrug, “I declined.” He started poking the dirt around the fire, “The trip wasn’t too harsh on you?”
Victor shook his head, his ears bright pink against his silver hair. “It was fine.” He shifted, digging the toe of his shoe into the soft dirt. “The most exciting two days of my life.”
“That’s good.” Yuuri bit his lower lip, “My swamp…”
He kept his eyes forward, even as Victor scooted closer. “Your swamp?”
“It’s about half a days’ journey, if you ever wanted to come visit.”
Something soft pressed against his arm. It only took a second for Yuuri realize Victor had moved close enough they were touching. And the prince was shivering despite the fire before them. Yuuri maneuvered so his arm wrapped around Victor’s body, leaving his left arm to tend to their meal.
“I—“ Victor paused, before slowly laying his head on Yuuri’s shoulder. “I’d be able to see the chickens? And pigs?”
Yuuri let out a laugh as he rubbed Victor’s arm, “Yeah. Anytime you want.”
He looked down, not even surprised to find Victor peering up at him from under his lashes. They were already so close. Just another inch more and—
“Wow! Look at that sunset!”
Victor dislodged from Yuuri’s embrace, shooting up to his feet as he backed up towards the building.
“It’s late! It’s very late, and we have to get up early tomorrow to make it to the castle! And—and—“ Eyes blown wide, Victor looked more haunted than he had the entire trip, his skin ghastly pale against the setting sun.
Yuuri shared a look with Phichit, who only tilted his head in confusion.
“But you haven’t eaten dinner yet…”
“I’m not hungry!” Victor tapped his leg, “Come on Makkachin, it’s time to go to sleep.”
The poodle remained on the ground, her nose deep in the chewed up boot.
When his trusty dog didn’t come, Victor opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Keeping his eyes focused elsewhere, he turned to the door, “I’ll see you all tomorrow. Goodnight.”
The door swung shut, leaving Yuuri and Phichit in the dark.
“Well that… was definitely strange.” Phichit took Victor’s spot on the log, holding out his hands towards the fire. When Yuuri stayed put, eyes on the windmill’s closed door, the hamster boy merely nodded. “Uh huh. I see.”
The comment jolted Yuuri from his stupor, and he finally turned back to his friend, “What?”
“You like him.”
“I… No I don’t.”
Phichit crossed his arms, “So you were just hugging him for no reason.”
“He was cold!”
“And earlier? In the forest?”
Mouth bopping open and shut like a fish, Yuuri found himself at a loss.
“I… Even if I did—like Victor—which I don’t, okay??? He’s a prince and I’m…”
Shoulders hunched, Yuuri closed his eyes, unable to finish his sentence.
“And you’re an ogre?”
Yuuri let out a sigh, feeling it deep within his gut, “Yeah. Exactly.”
The sun had long since set, the moon taking its place in the sky. Makkachin was out like a light, not moving even when Yuuri stalked off into the woods, claiming they needed more firewood.
Phichit chewed on some of his nuts, as he kept his eyes on the decaying building. There hadn’t been a peep from inside the infrastructure since Victor entered it, and Phichit, ever curious, wanted a few answers.
In the corner of the door, a small piece of the wood had broken away, leaving just enough space for mice, or a hamster, to get through.
Once inside, Phichit changed back to a boy, keeping an eye out for any silver haired princes nearby.
After a cursory glance, it appeared as though he was the only one inside.
“Victor?” He took a step forward, “Are you here?”
There was only one entrance, and Phichit had been watching it since Yuuri walked off. A creak went off above his head, and as he looked up, a beam broke, whatever was on it falling to the ground with a groan.
Phichit backed up, his vision skewed by the billowing dust. When it settled…
“Oh my God.”
Amidst broken wood and sandbags lay an ogre in a white shirt, a pink pastel waistcoat that was stretching around the waist, and long platinum hair that frayed over its shoulders.
“Wait—“ Phichit held up a hand, “Hold on a second—“
Easing to his feet, Victor brushed off his clothes, his eyes downcast.
“Okay so—Let me get this straight.” Victor winced. “You’re an ogre too!”
“I—!” Victor looked up but quickly averted his eyes, “Only at night once the sun goes down.”
“That explains the odd behavior…” Phichit tapped his chin, glancing towards the door. “So, what? What is this? A curse?”
When the silence grew, he turned back to the prince-turned-ogre, who still refused to meet his eyes.
“A curse, which explains being an ogre at night—okay I can work with this…” Phichit twirled on his heel, beginning to pace in a figure eight. “And if we go by normal fairy tale stories… Usually true love’s kiss can break the spell…”
Phichit froze, eyes bright.
“So I was right! The door to your tower! Only your true love could open it!”
“It…” Victor sighed, “It was a failsafe, in case the wrong person got past Makkachin.”
“But that means Yuuri’s your true love!” Phichit frowned, his nose twitching like when he’s in his hamster form. “If Yuuri’s your true love, then why are you trying to get to Lord Popovich?”
Victor ran his fingers through his hair, the strands loose around his shoulders. “Well I mean. Look at me.”
“Who would want… a cursed prince who becomes… this… every night?” He dropped onto a stray board, “I was stuck in that tower for twenty years. My only friend was a poodle.” Leaning forward, he covered his eyes with his hands, “Sometimes… I don’t even want me.”
“I mean, who could ever love a beast so hideous and ugly? Prince and ugly don’t go together, that’s why I can’t stay here with Yuuri.”
Yuuri clenched the sunflower in his fist, the stem bending in his grasp as his sight shook. A buzzing grew heavy in his ears.
He took a deep breath, trying to still his frantic heart.
It didn’t work.
With another shaky intake, he let the flower fall from his fingers, the stem now ruined. Slowly, Yuuri made his way down the steps, and into the meadow towards the village.
“Marrying Lord Popovich is the only way to break the spell! I just know it!”
“Aren’t you going to tell Yuuri about your curse though?”
“I…” Letting out a sigh, Victor stared down at his hands, “I couldn’t give this burden to him. He’s done so much already for me…” His head jerked up, “And you have to promise me you won’t tell him!”
Phichit pursed his lips together, but nodded. “Alright.” He shook his head, muttering under his breath, “Communication is key, you guys. Get it together.”
“I tell him; I tell him not; I tell him; I tell him not…” Victor gingerly worked his way around the sunflower he had found outside after Phichit left, the petals drifting to the floor and creating a growing pile.
The past two days had meant more to Victor than the whole twenty years he had been locked up in that tower. As he pulled the petals, he steeled himself just in case he ended on ‘not’. If he did, he would tell Yuuri nothing, and go happily with Lord Popovich.
Three petals left.
“I tell him; I tell him not…” With shaking fingers, Victor plucked the final petal, “I tell him!”
Relief infused his body, and Victor rushed to the door, not even caring he was still in his ogre form. He looked around, but Yuuri was nowhere in sight. As he peered over the horizon, the sun began to rise, and Victor shielded his eyes, lowering them once his transformation ended.
As his eyes focused, a familiar green figure caught his attention. A smile slid onto his face, and Victor hurried down the stairs to meet him.
The ogre stopped just short of their campsite, his face pinched together as if he just ate a sour lemon.
“Good morning, Your Highness.”
Victor halted, the sudden use of title catching him off guard. A shiver crawled up his spine. Despite his whole body screaming at him that something was wrong, he moved forward, gently placing a hand on Yuuri’s arm. “Yuuri—There’s… I have to tell you something.”
Yuuri stepped back, letting Victor’s hand fall limply to his side. He kept his eyes lowered.
“As do I.”
The ogre jerked his head back, motioning to a large entourage that appeared through the sunflower field.
Dread filled Victor’s stomach as he gradually turned his head, confusion marring his face.
One man broke out from the crowd, his horse a mighty steed, with a dark coat and a star on its face. The man held up a hand, stilling the rest, and then turning to Victor.
“Prince Victor.” He swept a leg over the saddle, swirling until his feet landed solid on the ground. He held out a hand, dropping to a knee and taking Victor’s into his own. “How long I have waited to meet you.” He pressed a soft kiss to the back of Victor’s hand. “I am Lord Popovich.”
Yuuri was happy.
He had finished this duty, successfully transported the prince to Lord Popovich, and now he could go back to his swamp and live happily ever after. Alone.
Just like he did before.
Trying to ignore the clawing of his insides, Yuuri chose to focus on Makkachin.
Makkachin was safe. Poodles were good dogs. The best dogs.
He would never see Makkachin again. She would go with her owner and live a life of luxury in a palace.
The thought forced him to take in the area around him, and his poker face was beginning to crack.
“Will you give me the honor of becoming my husband?” Lord Popovich was still on his knee, Victor’s hand in his grasp.
“I…” Victor faltered, catching Yuuri’s eye.
Yuuri grit his teeth, his mask hardening before he turned away. The forest was quite fascinating.
There was a quick intake of breath.
“Yes. Yes, Lord Popovich, I will marry you.”
“Please.” There was another pause, the clinking of metal filling the air as Lord Popovich rose to his feet. “Call me Georgi.”
The clink-clunk of metal got louder until it stopped just before Yuuri, and he realized that he was being spoken to.
“For your services, ogre, I am extending an invitation to our wedding.” Lord Popovich grinned, “Everyone shall know of your good deeds, and no longer will you be bothered in your swamp.”
Body stiff as he attempted to bow, Yuuri kept his eyes on Lord Popovich’s face.
“While I appreciate the gesture, sir, I will have to decline.”
The swamp was deserted.
That was the first thing that Yuuri noticed as he stepped past the border he set up. His makeshift house made from a decaying tree was just how he left it. In fact, there was no indication that there had been a large gathering made up of magic creatures anywhere near his home.
It was like he had never left, and it was another normal day.
A soft boof sounded at his side, before Makkachin gently nuzzled against his leg. He knelt down, giving her a responding pat on the head.
That was right, even though Victor had called his dog to follow him, the poodle had refused to move, staying next to Yuuri and whining when it became apparent Victor was leaving them behind.
“Well,” Running his fingers through Makkachin’s curls, he got back to his feet, “Let me show you around, girl. If this is going to be your home from now on…” He took only a step when something fell from the sky and landed on his head.
Whiskers and a hamster nose appeared at the top of his vision and Yuuri couldn’t help the smile on his face.
“Phichit! We thought we lost you earlier.”
“I met this magic mirror—it was totally cool looking, he told me he could show me whatever I wished—and he showed me Victor! He doesn’t look happy at all.” Phichit scrambled down, jumping off Yuuri’s shoulder and then switching back to his human form.
“It doesn’t matter. He’s… where he’s supposed to be.” Yuuri shook his head, “Victor should be surrounded by beautiful things and not… me…”
“But he likes you…”
“Impossible.” Covering his eyes, Yuuri turned, letting out a weak chuckle, “I’m hideous, remember? I’m not fit for a prince—for Victor.”
“You’re not hideous.”
Yuuri barked out a laugh. “Sure, I am.”
Phichit rounded so he faced the ogre. “Okay listen here.” He pulled at Yuuri’s wrists, revealing his face. “You helped me out, when you didn’t even know me. You agreed to get everyone’s home back, after they were kicked out of the village. You went to rescue a prince, all because some lord guy asked you to.”
“I won that battle contest thing…”
Squeezing Yuuri’s wrists in his hands, Phichit wasn’t deterred, “You befriended a size-changing poodle just by giving her attention. And Victor fell in love with you just from you being yourself.”
“Victor’s getting married tonight. You left before hearing that part.” He gave Yuuri a bop on the nose. “And I think you should go stop the wedding.”
Yuuri floundered for just a moment. “And how am I supposed to get there before nightfall?”
Phichit frowned, “Well…”
A loud bark shook the surrounding area, and it was only then that they realized Makkachin had grown to be taller than even Lord Popovich’s castle. It would only take a few strides before they reached the village.
“This is only slightly terrifying!!!”
It took Makkachin six steps before returning to a semi-normal size, her tongue hanging out of her mouth as she stood on her hind legs, her front paws pressed up against the door to the church.
“Okay, so you’re gonna go in there and tell them ‘I object!!!’ and then get your man!”
Yuuri hesitated, the doors of the church looming high enough that he had to bend his neck in order to see the top. He balled up his fists. He could do this. It was just Victor.
And all the townspeople. And Lord Popovich. And the priest.
He shook his head, and pushed the doors open.
“And so… by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you King and—“
“Wait!!!” Running up the aisle, Yuuri slowed to a halt as he noticed Victor at the altar.
The prince had on a white tux, shimmering rhinestones adorning the top coat, with feathered pads on the shoulders. His hair was pulled into a simple ponytail, a few strands of his bangs hung loose framing his face.
And he was looking straight at Yuuri.
“Ogre!” Lord Popovich raised a hand in greeting. “You’ve come to the wedding after all! Welcome, welcome! We have a seat saved for you up front!”
“No.” The word came out harsh, bitter on his tongue and he inwardly flinched at the pain that crossed Victor’s face. “No,” he repeated, this time softer, “I need to speak to Victor.”
“Surely this could wait,” Lord Popovich glanced at his groom, “Yes?”
Taking in a deep breath, Victor spared only a moment to look through the window, at the sun that was almost completely set. When he looked back, Yuuri had taken another step forward.
Victor straightened his back, his hands clasped tightly in front of him, “I, too, have something to tell you.” A small smile danced upon his lips. “To both of you.”
Stepping backwards until there was adequate space between the three, Victor dipped his head forward as the sun set over the horizon. Immediately, his form was encased in smoke, and once it settled, an ogre stood instead of a prince. He took a breath, and then lifted his head.
Gasps filled the church, and one woman fainted in the front row.
Yuuri could only stare. “Oh. Oh. That… explains things.”
Victor let out a relieved laugh.
From his spot on stage, Lord Georgi Popovich sagely nodded. “I see.” He reached forward, taking hold of Victor’s hands. “I understand perfectly.”
“I lost my chance at true love. I won’t be the one to do the same to you.” Lord Popovich squeezed Victor’s hand, before holding out his other to Yuuri. “True love is the most powerful gift there is.” When he had both hands in his, he moved them closer under their hands were near touching. “Be happy, you two.” He broke away, giving them space.
Yuuri gripped Victor’s hand, relishing in the way Victor clung right back.
Reaching up, Yuuri rested a hand over the other ogre’s cheek, heart nearly bursting as Victor nestled against it, “I…”
Victor’s eyes opened, the blue shiny as if he were holding back unshed tears.
“I love you.”
Like a dam breaking, Victor surged forward, tears cascading down his cheeks. Foreheads pressing together, Yuuri gently brushed the stray tears from Victor’s face.
“I love you too.”
Using the same hand, Yuuri slipped it behind Victor’s head, tilting his own before coming closer, pressing their lips together.
It was only a soft kiss, finished much sooner than Yuuri would have liked. Victor pulled from his arms, Yuuri’s eyes opening in confusion until he saw that that same smoke from earlier had returned, this time lifting Victor up into the air, his body glowing eerily similar to when Makkachin changed size.
The final bout to light chattered the nearby stain glass windows, and Victor slowly came down, his feet daintily hitting the floor.
He was still an ogre, the only thing changed was that his hair had fallen from its ponytail.
“Victor?” Yuuri moved forward, stopping as Victor looked up, his eyes holding a glassy sheen. His hands were raised, half curled.
“I don’t understand—I’m supposed to be beautiful?”
Yuuri continued onwards, until just before the other ogre. He took Victor’s hands in his own, softly rubbing his thumbs over Victor’s palms.
“You are. No matter your form, you will always be beautiful.”
Tears renewed with vigor as Victor wrapped his arms around Yuuri’s shoulders.
In the corner of the stage, Lord Popovich pushed away his own stray tear.