“Oh my.” Chris taps his lips with a finger, peaking into the car of the train. “Victor, you’re not going to believe this.”
“Really now?” Victor rolls his eyes, keeping the motion small enough that no one but his current company would see it. He may be only twenty-seven, but at this rate, Victor feels as if he’s seen it all. Being a prince means that he’s constantly experiencing new and exciting. He’s been everywhere, spoken about everything, seen every sight exceptional enough to show royalty. There’s no magic left that could inspire him, no situation so stressful he can’t brush off the emotion and just deal with it.
And he’s not sure if that’s supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing anymore.
Chris pouts. “You don’t have to be a spoilsport.”
“I haven’t spoiled anything.” Victor huffs out a sigh, sounding an awful lot like Makkachin when she’s been denied a treat. She’s prancing at his feet, her thoughts so excited that they don’t even translate into words as they echo in his brain. She’s a brilliant familiar and a great conduit of his magic, but sometimes he wishes he could absorb her easy enthusiasm. “Though you’re going to spoil my mood if you don’t let me sit down.”
“You’re the one who wanted to take this damn train,” Yuri grumbles, crossing his arms and looking away like he hadn’t fought harder than anyone else to come along.
“Yes, and you’re…” Well, Chris is his attendant and had to come with him. Mila, who looks like she’s biting back a giggle, is the bodyguard they wouldn’t let Victor escape without. And Yuri’s the grandson of an old family friend—only allowed to trail after the adults because for some reason they thought a teenager would keep them out of trouble. Victor has no idea how the kid’s pulled the wool over so many people’s eyes, but Yuri has a fiery temper more likely to get the lot of them in trouble than anything Victor could think of.
Maybe when Victor was younger he would have absolutely caused havoc and used the trip to avoid his responsibilities. He’d be lying if he said the thought didn’t occur to him when he suggested to his parents and the council that he take a scenic train to unwind as opposed to quick air transport to reach his destination. Maybe a younger Victor would have needed to be watched, but now…
Now he’s done running away from his problems, he’s done struggling. After all, he’ll be marrying into the biggest problem he’s had yet.
“Fine, fine.” Chris raises his hands. “I’ll leave it as a surprise for you. After all, didn’t you used to say you love surprises?”
“Yeah, before he became a boring old man with a bald spot.”
“Hey!” Victor only just avoids reaching up and covering the exact spot he knows Yuri’s talking about.
Mila snickers, “C’mon, we’re holding up traffic.”
Food? Makka pants at Victor’s side, pushing at his legs as they trail into the car. Yuri and Mila take their seats, and Victor and Chris sit opposite them.
Victor laughs. “No, not quite yet.”
“Can’t you get your mutt to change into something smaller?” Yuri glares at Makka as she leaps up onto the seat between Yuri and Mila, much to Mila’s delight and Yuri’s misery.
“She’s a chimera, and I won’t tell her to do anything. Would you like to demand she do anything?”
Yuri pales, and his scowl deepens. Victor may not be the most powerful magic-user in the world, but it was enough to draw Makka to him. Chimeras are uncommon familiars, beings made of multiple forms. Their true form is only known to the one they’ve bonded with, and Makka’s is her poodle form. Victor’s never been much one for subtlety, and neither is she. She’s transformed into a giant wolf a few times to protect him when the need arose, taller and broader than any man he’s ever met.
And Yuri’s seen it happen in person before.
Mila snickers. “Aw, he’s afraid of Makka, how cute,” she coos, scratching underneath Makka’s chin and getting the chimera’s leg shaking—right into Yuri’s side.
“Shut up. At least I’m not escaping my shitty marriage by taking a dumb train ride.” Yuri crosses his arms.
Victor winces. He’s a prince. There is no marrying for love in the life of a monarch, not outside of fiction and fairy tales. And he could be worse off. His husband to be is, to put it bluntly, quite handsome. He’s seen him through pictures and magic projection, even if there’s not much else about him out there. His fiancé belongs to a line of royal mages who only joined Victor’s kingdom a few generations back in search of refuge from prosecution for their magic—they’re the most powerful mages in existence so far as anyone knows. It will be a powerful alliance for both families, beneficial to Victor and the kingdom. It’s good. It is.
But a small part of him wishes that he could have some part of his life that could be for him and not his kingdom.
“I’m not escaping anything,” Victor murmurs, turning away from them all to stare out the window, at the countryside passing by. He just wants to use the day-long trip to escape reality with the few friends he has—if they’d even consider Victor a friend. He heaves a sigh. Looks like there’s no avoiding the future. “We’re headed right toward… him.”
“No we aren’t,” Chris pipes in, crossing his legs and not bothering to fight his grin.
Victor frowns. Mila made sure that they were headed onto the right train, the conductor would have caught them with the wrong tickets headed anywhere else…
“What did you do, pervert?” Yuri snarls.
“I didn’t do anything. It was already done when we walked into this car,” Chris gestures vaguely with his hands.
“So that is what’s going on?” Mila quirks an eyebrow, though they all know that she’s the most observant of the lot of them—which means she and Chris are most definitely up to something. “That’s him?”
Yuri’s eyes bug. “What the f—?“
“Language,” Victor scolds, though his voice is faint. “Are you sure you saw…?”
“If Mila and I both spotted him and knew exactly who he was, what do you think?” Chris shrugs.
“Where?” Victor squeaks, clearing his throat and gripping the edge of his seat to avoid swiveling his head around. He shouldn’t be nervous. He’s met kings and empresses and everything in-between. This is nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Mila takes pity on him, rolling her eyes and throwing a thumb over her shoulder, and leaning to the side so Victor can get a clear view.
At first, no one stands out. But there aren’t a lot of people in this car of the train, which was why Mila had led them over here. Victor’s eyes catch on a head of mussed black hair, and he knows. The man isn’t dressed up in any sort of finery like the few pictures and projections have portrayed him, in fact, he’s downright disheveled. He’s bundled in a large coat, face half-hidden with the small, brown dragon curled around his neck. Though… is that a dragon?
It doesn’t matter, not really, Victor will know soon enough. He’ll know everything he’ll needs for this alliance of families. Though… this man really doesn’t look like one of the most powerful mages in existence, staring out of the window with the softest brown eyes Victor’s ever seen. His focus keeps shifting, like he’s trying to take in everything he possibly can.
If Victor’s being honest, it’s slightly… cute.
“Gawking isn’t very princely, you know.” Chris gently shoves Victor’s shoulder, and he quickly looks away from his fiancé. “Though I guess you have every right to, since he’s your man.”
“I don’t own him.” Victor glowers at Chris. “Not any more than he owns me.”
“Well, apparently he already owns you.” Yuri scoffs. “You look at him like you’re the damned teenager.”
Victor turns his scowl at Yuri. “I do not. I don’t even know him!” Victor just knows what he looks like. And he knows about all the impressive papers the man’s written and fascinating experiments he’s conducted throughout his career as a mage. And maybe a bit of what the gossips have to say about him, too. But that’s it.
“You don’t have to know him to be infatuated.” Chris rolls his eyes. “I know you’ve been too busy being a perfect little prince to get romantically involved with anyone, but not everyone needs to get to know someone before they fall for them.”
Mila hums in agreement, mouth oddly quirked like she’s holding back another grin. “What was his name again?”
At least Mila’s trying to save him. Possibly. “Katsuki Yuuri.” It's out of Victor's mouth before anyone else can say it, his eyes flicking toward slightly younger man again. His mouth’s a little open now, staring at the mountain range glittering with the shining flight trails of the dragons around it.
Yuri snarls like some wildcat. “Bastard has the same name as me.”
“I’m sure you're the superior Yuri, no need to have a pissing match.” Victor sighs, sneaking another glance at his fiancé—his eyes are closed now, and he’s frowning. But… why?
“No need to go pissing when you're already so pissy,” Yuri grumbles.
Victor almost cracks a smile. “Was that supposed to be a comeback? I expect better from you, of all people.”
Yuri snorts. “It’s no use putting in any effort in when you’re distracted like the loser you are.”
That gets Victor’s focus back on the teen again. “Stop being ridiculous.”
“I’m sure he would, if you stopped being ridiculous first.” Chris smiles like a cat that’s got the cream. “After all, there’s no need to be lusting over your fiancé from afar, you can go and say hello, you know.”
“Lusting,” Victor scoffs, fighting back the flush threatening to spread across his cheeks. “Hardly.”
“Oh, really? You know how I recognized him? Because you spend nearly all of your free time looking at your husband to be’s image.” Chris folds his arms, leaning back. “You can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to us.”
Victor splutters. “I don’t stare that much.”
“Well, at least you’re attracted to the man you’re marrying.” Mila pipes in, and once again, Victor can’t help but wonder once again if she’s trying to help or harm his case.
Victor sighs. “It isn’t like that.” Even if he is just slightly attracted to him, he’s not going to force himself on the man. It’s not like Lord Katsuki would ever want that. Victor is Prince Victor, untouchable, unreachable, unlovable. He doesn’t blame most people for keeping him at arm’s length, he’s built up his own reputation to be exactly what people see him as. No one wants the mess underneath.
“Of course it won’t be like that unless you don’t talk to him, dumbass.” Yuri huffs.
“The kid speaks sense, for once.” Chris grins. Yuri opens his mouth to retort, but Chris raises his hand. “Wait. He’s on the move. Now’s your chance, Victor.”
Every one of them swivels to look at Lord Katsuki, watching him shift in his seat and standing up, hands reaching up to run fingers along the back of the dragon around of his neck as he smiles slightly. And…. Oh, that smile.
All right, maybe Victor could live with this man as his husband. Even if it’s just work to the both of them, that smile does something to his chest. Something warm, and… and…
Dammit, he needs to stop thinking like a fool.
It’s a miracle that Lord Katsuki doesn’t notice the lot of them with all eyes wide and stuck onto the mystery that is Victor’s fiancé, but his head stays down and his eyes stick to the floor as he walks their way. He seems to be completely alone, too, not surrounded by an annoying escort like Victor. How lucky.
Makka rises with all the commotion and shifting bodies swiveling her head over the back of the chair to see where everyone else is looking.
All Victor gets is a spark of excitement through their connection before she’s on her feet.
Friend? She looks back at Victor, tongue lolling out.
But her attention’s already back on the face she’s seen Victor looking at as often—if not more often—than Chris has.
Friend! She leaps down from the seat, escaping every hand grasping at her, and ignoring all of their calls as she scrambles down the aisle and leaps.
Lord Katsuki doesn’t stand a chance.
He barely manages to look up before Makka slams into his chest, knocking him over and causing the dragon to fly off of his neck, rolling onto the ground. And then in the blink of an eye, it isn’t a dragon but… another dog? Almost a miniature version of Makkachin, and nearly as adorable as her—but now’s not the time for that.
Victor scrambles to his feet, jogging over toward where the two dogs are now nipping at and playing with each other, and Lord Katsuki is still flat on the floor.
“Ah, I’m sorry about her.” Victor reaches out a hand, putting on the same smile he’s used to woo dignitaries and generals. “She’s normally much more well behaved. I think she was just eager to meet you.”
“Meet me…?” Lord Katsuki grabs his hand before he meets Victor’s gaze and goes absolutely still. His eyes widen, and his jaw drops. “Oh… oh my… you’re…”
“Ah, yes, how rude of me.” Victor keeps the smile plastered onto his face, no matter how much he’d rather let it slip off. “I’m Victor Nikiforov. And you are?”
“You don’t…” Wetness builds in Lord Katsuki’s eyes, and far too late Victor realizes his mistake.
“Ah, I meant—” But Victor doesn’t get the chance to get out a full sentence before there’s a slight pressure wrapping around him, the smell of brine and salt flooding his nose, a vivid image of the sea flooding his mind’s eye before he can even process what’s happening.
The sunny train around him flickers out of existence. Instead, there’s a forest, only lit by the stars above, and fireflies flitting around himself and Lord Katsuki. Instead of kneeling on the hard carpet of the train, he’s half-buried in wildflowers and brush, cricket and frog song filling the air in a cacophony of sound.
And then Lord Katsuki is scrambling away from Victor, yanking his hand away and running off into the woods around them.
“Wait!” Victor reaches out towards the retreating form, but there’s no hesitation in Lord Katsuki’s step.
Before he can so much as blink, Victor’s entirely alone. In a strange forest, away from the rest of his party, with no way back.