It was meant to be a ceremony to welcome the proof of Rutha's gratitude after Hasetsu aided the newest government as it got back on its feet after a violent coup that resulted in the decimation of its royal family.
Yuuri hadn't expected a token such as this one, and he could tell his parents and sister didn't either.
Lady Minako, the representative of sorts to Queen Hiroko and the one bolstering the friendship between Hasetsu and thee victorious Ruthenian rebels, stood next to the Queen's throne, speechless as the Ruthenian representative presented but a small part of their tribute.
Had the Ruthenians forgotten that Hasetsu hadn't kept omegan harems in generations?
Yuuri stared at the two omegas from his seat on the dais, shocked at the sight of them. The representative declared them both to be skilled and untouched, trained for both entertainment and pleasure, a show of wealth and power in any traditional Ruthenian noble house.
They'd walked in several steps behind the representative with their faces down, and Yuuri had been caught off-guard by their sweet scents. They were clad in short, red tunics and dark red trousers, and with delicate-looking shoes on their feet. The shorter of the two was yellow-haired, and every now and then he glanced up with sharp green eyes that were filled with furious hate.
The taller one, with silver hair that cascaded down his shoulders, kept his face down and his hands at his sides, almost baring his nape in submission.
Yuuri couldn't blame his family for being shocked. Even their guards looked surprised.
"This is...very unexpected, my Lord," Lady Minako said, cheeks flushed with barely-restrained indignation as she looked at the omegas.
Yuuri heard his mother clear her throat, and instinctively turned towards her. A quick glance at the omegas had Yuuri seeing them flinch, and the sight of it shocked him even more. His mother was an alpha, but certainly not an alpha like the ones that held power in Rutha.
There, omegas and betas were meant to submit, a fact Yuuri's mother and Lady Minako had been bitterly aware of.
The deposed and murdered ruler had been purportedly trying to change things, but plots against him had already been set in motion. Yuuri's mother had hoped to foster such change with the new alliance, but judging by the Ruthenians' "gifts" that change would not happen soon.
Hasetsu was strange by outsider standards, especially in the way alphas, omegas, and betas were all equals. Yuuri's father was a beta, and his marriage to Queen Hiroko would have probably been an aberration to Ruthenian culture.
Maybe the fact that Yuuri and Mari were both alphas made the alliance platable to the Ruthenians.
"Yes, unexpected," Queen Hiroko added, the line of her mouth flat on her otherwise soft and round face. Her voice was by no means hard, but she'd never had any trouble making herself heard. "As you know, my ancestors did away with omegan harems generations ago."
"We are aware," the Ruthenian replied almost condescendingly. Only the fact of Hasetsu's aid had him being somewhat civil, Yuuri realized. "We do not wish to offend your Majesty, but rest assured that merely possessing these two jewels would only tell the rest of the world of the high regard Rutha has for your kingdom. After all, omegas such as these are still well-valued outside of Hasetsu."
Abused, Yuuri thought, eyeing the silver-haired omega's stillness.
"And after all," the man continued, his eyes falling on Yuuri. "Your daughter and son are young and healthy alphas, are they not? Would they not appreciate the presence of two unblemished omegas?"
Yuuri blushed, mortified as he tore his gaze away from the Ruthenians and tried not to react with nervous anger. Never. He was inexperienced, and often doubted he'd ever have a mate, but not even that would convince him to touch the omegas without their permission.
After a moment, the queen responded evenly, "We accept all of your gifts gratefully, my lord, and will make good use of them."
In that instant the yellow-haired omega's head shot up, his face furious and his teeth bared.
Then the silver-haired omega's hand shot out to grab the younger's wrist, and he raised his gaze slightly and shook his head quickly, a clear warning.
Seeing his face, Yuuri stopped breathing.
His features were fine and lovely, and his eyes were a gorgeous blue, bright with urgency.
Yuuri couldn't help staring, his heart breaking several hundred times in the moments before the young man dropped his gaze again, and the small one did the same, albeit grudgingly, his hand clenched in a fist in the other's grip.
The representative looked pleased with himself, ignoring the two omegas behind him. "May our alliance flourish, dear Queen."
"That is my hope, my lord. Please, rest and take a meal tonight in the rooms we've prepared for you. After all I'm sure you're needed back in Rutha," Yuuri's mother said pleasantly.
Yuuri anxiously watched one of the servants lead the Ruthenian away, to rooms preferably far away from the royal wing.
Once he was gone, Yuuri's mother sighed heavily and brought a hand to her forehead, looking disillusioned.
Meanwhile Mari exclaimed, "What is wrong with those Ruthenians?!"
Both omegas jumped, the taller of the two stepping closer to the small one, who still looked defiant.
The silver-haired one still kept his gaze down.
Lady Minako groaned, all decorum gone as she wearily rubbed the back of her neck. "Should've known what we were getting into with those snakes," she drawled, obviously displeased. "So what do you plan on doing with those two?"
"The right thing," the queen answered, getting up and walking down the stairs of the dais. While her regality remained, she had softened considerably since the representative left, and her pine scent turned soothing as she made her way towards the omegas.
The palace was all warm browns and soothing blues.
Different from the gilded halls of his home.
No. Not home.
That wasn't home. Victor had gotten it through his head.
Home used to be a house, small and deteriorating, under lock and key.
Home was dark reds, heavy curtains, dim lanterns, and mingled scents of alpha lust and omegan distress, heavy with heat and rut.
Home was tears and the promise of pain, one way or another. Home was listening to some omega weep after the babe inside them bled out, killed by the abortive tea that saw near monthly use.
White columns and soft beds were just a dream. Blood and pain and punishment were all real.
He couldn't remember the first time he'd heard about Hasetsu. It seemed like a place out of Grandfather's stories, away from angry voices and fear.
Hearing of it a month ago had him terrified of losing his brother, only fifteen, and moving from one prison to another.
But they wanted to be rid of both of them.
I want your wretched grandfather to watch you and your brother crawl and beg.
He'd heard that from one of the men he remembered. A traitor who'd escaped any sort of punishment, covering his tracks much too well and being welcomed by the rebels who hadn't really changed much.
Through it all, from the time he was nine, Victor swore to do everything he could to protect his brother.
And he had, so far.
Over and over again, learning all he could in the brothel to draw more attention than his brother, already punished for his defiance.
He'd put himself on the line, enduring any and all violations from the royal he was now bound to, and hopefully keep him away from Yuri.
When he smelled the four alphas his heart had sunk.
Omegan harems apparently did not exist in Hasetsu, and yet here they were.
Then he heard the prince's name.
He hadn't dared to look at any of them, terror disconnecting him from his body as the warm scents of every alpha filled his nose.
Now their sneering escort was gone, expecting to be well paid for depositing them both into servitude.
The Queen, smelling of pine, made her way towards them, and Victor tightened his grip on Yuri, not trusting him to control himself.
She didnt try to overpower them with her scent, and spoke softly when she asked, "Do you know our language?"
Swallowing, he found his voice and replied quietly, well-aware of his accent, "...I learned it. Not all, your Majesty."
"What are your names?"
Victor stood utterly still. She didnt demand an answer, nor was she shouting. "...Victor. He is my brother, Yuri."
He heard the prince inhale sharply, and finally dared to peek up at him, standing a few steps behind his mother now.
He was young, handsome, and his dark brown eyes were wide with surprise, a flush high on his cheeks.
He smelled sweet and warm, like cinnamon. The low cut of his dark blue neckline revealed a muscled chest, and Victor remembered that it was unwise to underestimate any alpha.
He tightened his grip on Yuri and lowered his gaze again, his heart racing.
Queen Hiroko gazed at them for a moment before saying with a gentleness Victor was no longer accustomed to, "Well, then you're both free."
Yuri gasped sharply and Victor had to keep his knees from buckling. He couldn't have heard her right.
He wasn't free. Not since life as he'd known it ended in blood and violence, since he and Yuri were betrayed and thrown into a brothel, whether or not they presented as omegas.
It was made very clear to him that he'd serve and suffer until the day he died.
And yet a queen wanted to set him free.
"...What did you say?" Victor asked her as he stared her in the face, confused by the sympathy on her face.
"It's a shock, I know," she said with a soft laugh, one that made her face even friendlier. "But I promise, no one will lay a hand on you. No one will harm you or give you orders."
Victor didn't hear the second servant approach, only seeing her when she appeared beside Victor. She was curvy and wore a smile as she bowed to the queen.
"Please escort them to a room in the royal wing, Yuuko, and have some hot food and clothing sent to them. They look dead on their feet."
The woman led them out of the throne room, and Victor was only barely aware of following with Yuri in tow.
It felt like an eternity had passed when Victor realized where he was and what had transpired.
Yuri had eaten his fill of everything Yuuko had brought them, wearing a soft green robe. Victor barely touched the food.
Letting out a belch, Yuri told him, "That bath is weird. You just turn this thing and hot water fills the damn tub."
Victor remembered that luxury. There'd been bubbles and laughter back then, Yuri chubby and boisterous, splashing Victor as he giggled.
"Maybe...after you eat," Victor said, smiling faintly and trying to figure out just what the queen had meant. What her aim was. Why else would they be given a room in the royal wing, likely close to the prince and princess.
They couldn't be free. Not after nearly a decade of enduring, of Yuri forgetting everything about their golden childhood so he could survive. Of doing everything they could to stay together.
It just couldn't be that simple.
Victor had been prepared for anything, but...
The bed was big enough for both of them, mattress firm and blankets thick. Candles burned merrilly, casting a gentle light in the room.
He eyed the tunics bunched up in the corner, red as blood. He'd wondered if a royal alpha would rip it apart that very night.
They both froze when they heard a knock on the screen door, and Victor tensed further when he smelled cinnamon.
"Stay here," he murmured to Yuri, who was scanning the table for a knife, anything sharp.
Victor tried not to sway as he got to his feet, frantically bringing to mind everything he'd been taught, remembering to smile alluringly, to let the alpha smell his scent, and bare his neck as much as possible.
It was easy enough to do when his robe slipped off his shoulder and he made his way to the door.
He slid it open and immediately slipped out, gazing demurely at the sweet-smelling prince, who was blushing charmingly as he gaped at Victor.
Somewhere in his mind Victor hoped that reaction boded well. A timid alpha was certainly ideal.
"Your highness," Victor greeted, turning his head slightly to show off the length of his neck and scenting the air around them.
He watched the prince's eyes go wide and his face turn redder as he smelled Victor, and Victor kept smiling at him, thanking his stars he was nowhere near his heat.
He was a concubine. An unwanted inconvenience in Rutha. It was made clear he was not permitted to bear an alpha's babe.
"I...I came to see you...and your brother," the prince mumbled.
Victor wanted to shout a denial, to give in to the urge to claw at an alpha's, any alpha's, neck before letting him touch Yuri, consequences be damned. "You don't need Yuri," Victor replied, tone still sweet as he let the robe fall further down his arm, knowing his chest was exposed. "I can tend to your needs myself, my prince."
Please just take me take ME leave him alone don't touch him
"N-no!" the prince finally blurted out, shocked as he took several steps back. "No, I just...I wanted to make sure you were both alright!"
He looked so mortified that Victor blinked at him, surprised. "...Yes..."
"Good!" the prince exclaimed, looking ready to run. "Good, I...Just...if you need anything..." The alpha made a sort of choking noise before finally running off down the hall.
Victor stared after him, still so confused.
He stepped back into the room, silent as he was met by Yuri's furious questions.
Laying a hand on the boy's shoulder for a moment, Victor walked away from him and into the bathing room.
The alpha hadn't laid a hand on him.
But Victor shivered, his own scent too heavy on his skin.
He shut the door to the room, hoping Yuri remained on the other side.
He couldn't be that lucky.
He'd been told it was the way his life would end, legs spread for an alpha who'd paid enough. His and Yuri's only fortune was being considered attractive enough to not have to sell their bodies nightly, to be sold to some wealthy noble to decorate a harem.
And it was what Victor expected when he and his brother were sent to Hasetsu, away from any who wanted their grandfather's omegan heirs back on the throne.
Victor shed his robe, shivering as he filled the tub with hot water, the air going hazy soon enough.
Yuri was calling for him.
Yuri shouting for him as an alpha ripped Victor away from him to throw him into a pitch black pit, a punishment for defending his brother from the madame's wrath after he'd cut his yellow hair short.
Victor sank into the tub, still shaking and realizing he was crying.
He covered his mouth, muffling his sobs and shaking in the water.