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1 Corinthians 13:4-8

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Yuuri was just a few weeks shy of 18 when Viktor’s father, the Nikiforov patriarch, the First Living Legend of Rhurshya, Nikolai Mikhailovich Nikiforov, died of magical exhaustion. As heir apparent, Viktor had always been told that he would know the exact moment his sire passed from this world onto the next, but Viktor- despite of (or in spite of) all the forewarning he had received during his first 27 years of life - still found himself completely blindsided by the magic of his father’s death.

One minute, he was performing step 48 out of the nearly impossible Dance of 1,008 Petals needed for a city sized protection spell and the next, he was being engulfed by blue, swirling wisps of magic that frosted his breath and caused him to shiver.

'The magic would tell him' was what his father used to say; the words usually accompanied a bitter smile, one that met the older man’s eyes but had never made Viktor feel comfortable.

 Perhaps, his sire thought his son would look forward to this moment - to the knowledge that now he was lord and master of the entire Nikiforov clan. Viktor wouldn't know and couldn't understand how this moment could possibly make him happy but his father's generation of mages was a strange lot: Savage and trapped by tradition. Viktor didn't understand much of what they thought.

And it was not like he could ask now...

Grief hit him with the realization. It tried to smother him like a curse by deadening his limbs and blurring his eyes. Heaviness settled deep into his heart and he was only dimly aware of the cold, wet rivulets running down his face.

Caught off guard by the sudden wave of emotion, he almost flubbed the 49th step as the urge to crumble pressed down on him with unrelenting cruelty. The heat of rebounding magic sliced against his incorrectly positioned fingers reminding him of the stakes of poorly executed magic but by Araak’s grace, his arms continued to make enough of the right arcs that he was not dead from his mistake.

He hoped the magic would forgive the blood, or at least ignore it. He couldn’t afford to die from the backlash that came from mishandling elemental magic. No Nikiforov had ever died from botching a spell and Viktor did not want to be the first (The embarrassment would be too much and he would honestly have to die second death just from the shame of it).

Because Nikiforov was not just a name or a clan house. It was a way of life. Nikiforovs were sovereign. Untouchable. Divine. Gods come to rest in human flesh. They did not do weakness.

 So, Viktor narrowed his focus to just the movement of his body, the position of his fingers and the arching of his arms. Distantly, he could hear the sound of sobbing but he ignored it just like he ignored the magic slowly weaving a crown of icicles around his head.

Without warning, another type of magic yanked at the edges of his mind, nearly jerking him out of the correct position for the 50th step. It was a vague feeling, almost like ghostly fingers skimming across his brain, but it was enough to let Viktor know that the person responsible for the sensation was in acute distress. His alpha reared up in response.

 Yuuri.

 But, for all that Viktor could do for the omega now- stuck thousands of miles from the Nikiforov estates and heavy into powerful, dangerous magic- they might as well be universes apart. As quickly as possible and before he began the pirouette for the 52nd movement, he threw up a mental barricade against the waves of anguish that were not his own.

 Guilt ate him but he shut the feeling down by remembering exactly what had happened to him when he lost focus for a moment less than 4 steps earlier. The blood running down his hand itched as he continued to deftly weave his own proprium magic into the natural tendrils of aether; the movements only coming out correct due to a muscle memory forged from decades of grueling practice.

 The dampness on his face increased but he managed to stifle the sob that threatened to rip from his throat. Sorrow tried to batter further at his control for what felt like two eternities stitched together, but eventually all those hours spent meditating paid off, and he wrangled the feelings into a submission that at least dulled the pain enough for him to concentrate properly.

 It took another five days of solid spell weaving, but by the time Viktor was finished, the mayor of the Ormill declared the walls surrounding its harbor so strong that nothing short of Araak’s wrath could destroy the city. Viktor followed her words with a quick prayer of apology -‘For Araak hath created and thus taketh away’- because really he didn't want the goddess to demolish Ormill so soon after such a difficult spell. Once the mayor was finished blaspheming their Illustrious Mistress (really he hoped Araak did not take it personally), Viktor was allowed to leave the dais that had been his home and stage for the past week.

He took approximately three steps past the spelling platform before his body began to drop into a faint. With the hard cobblestones rushing up towards him, Viktor wryly hoped that any photos taken of the moment captured his good side.

  


 

 He woke up to the sharp, vinegary smell of distress irritating his nose. He tried to open his eyes to see who was so distraught, but it seemed to take a full year for him to wrench his gummed lids open. The task was completed with only a small groan of acknowledgement over how truly awful he felt. His joints ached. His stomach roiled. His head was pounding as if his brain wanted to bounce right out of his skull.

 “Viktor?”

 He grunted. It took more effort than it should. At the sound, the unpleasant smell dispersed and gave way to the much more agreeable edelweiss and cedar of a perchten alpha. Viktor sighed with relief. More so than most alphas, he hated the scent of distress. He shifted his head to the side, even though his entire body screamed at the movement, to take in the blond man whose stubble was slowly sliding into a full on beard.

 “Chris?”

 Xiv’s Teeth, his throat felt like he had swallowed glass. He winced and licked his lips only to grimace at the feeling of chapped, peeling skin. How long was he out? His personal reservoir of magic must be nearly gone to feel like this. He attempted to ask Chris but his words came out as another loud groan.

 Much to his relief, a glass of water was held to his mouth and he gulped it down before pleading for another. Three glasses later, and he finally felt alive enough to try to speak again.

 “How long, Chris?”

 The acidic smell returned and Viktor could feel Chris grappling for his hand. It hurt but he hardly had the heart to tell the younger man that when his friend's eyes were swimming so dangerously close to tears.

 “Three days.”

 Chris’s voice was low, soft. It trembled; like as if he were to say the words at full strength, he might break down. A tear strayed from one of his eyes, and despite the pain, Viktor stretched his free hand out and wiped it away. Strangely, his own eyes remained dry. Uncomfortable with the feelings Chris's emotions dredged up, Viktor tried to change the conversation’s course.

 “Shouldn’t you say the Blessing now?” he murmured, withdrawing his hand.

More tears fell down Chris’s face and he laughed, his voice nearly strangled with incredulity and frustration.

 “Even now you are trying to be the perfect heir. Do Nikiforovs have no shame?”

 His voice broke on the last word and Viktor closed his eyes against the heartbreak that was so evident in the other man’s gaze.

 He could feel the grief again, pushing up from behind his eyes, climbing up his throat and digging in his belly. Of course he cared. Nikolai Nikiforov was many things but he was also Viktor’s father, the man who had raised him to be the mage he was today.

A tear slipped from Viktor. Then, a sob was caught in his throat before he could stop it.

 “Leave me,” he croaked, unwilling and unable to look at Chris as his mask crumbled.

The acrid scent became stronger, almost overwhelming.

“Christophe, please,” He squeezed his friend’s hand hoping that the man would understand, “I’ll be fine, I promise. I-I just need a moment alone.”

Chris’s gaze wavered and his hold tightened as if he were going to refuse His eyes grew glassier but he stood up and moved away from the bed towards the door.

“If you need me...”

Viktor let a small smile come to his lips at the air of concern his oldest friend gave off in waves. They both knew that even now he was performing, trying to chase the invincibility of the Nikiforov name.

“If I need you, then I will call.”

Chris relaxed at that; and, with the quiet click of the door, was gone.

Viktor’s shoulders slumped. In the silence, with no distractions save himself, he could feel the gentle pull of Yuuri again. Desperate for solitude, he severed the painful link within seconds and let out a sigh at the sensation of being truly alone.

Then, in the dark, hidden deep under the covers, in a bedroom somewhere in Ormill, Viktor Nikiforov, The Second Living Legend of Rhurshya (it was actually first now), finally let go and cried.

 


 

When Viktor woke again, his face was sticky and his head was full of cotton but at least his body did not feel like it was trying to tear itself apart at the seams. Instead, the pain sat in his soul, somehow floating but also pushing heavy on his stomach and chest like it was trying to crush him from the inside out.

He attempted to sit up, pushed himself on shaky arms until he could support his back with the solid wood of the headboard behind him. It was a struggle and by the time he had accomplished his task, his heart was thundering against his ribcage and the grief had turned into noisy shuddering cries.

“Bravery, Brotherhood, Purity. The Lord is Dead. Long Live the Lord.”

The voice was gruff but after listening to it nearly every day for the last ten years of his life, Viktor would know Yakov Feltsman anywhere. His head snapped up and he searched the room until his eyes landed on the profile of his mentor semi-staring out of the open window located on the opposite side of the room. The curtains billowed in and out, playing a game of hide and seek with the old man’s face, but even half turned towards him, Viktor could see the wet lines on his mentor’s cheeks.

It made Viktor think of Chris with his pretty face made ugly with anguish. He wondered what his own must look like. Then, for a fleeting painful moment, he thought on what Yuuri must look like.

Viktor’s insides twisted. He cut through the thought before it could go any further. There would be enough time to fret over the xem when Viktor returned for the funeral rites.

Yakov turned to face Viktor fully looking all of his 70 years, worn out - exhausted. Fragile like Viktor might not have much time with him either.

 It hit Viktor hard.

 “Yakov....”

“Let it all out, Vitya.”

It was like a dam broke. His breath quickened as fat, ugly tears leaked from the corner of his eyes. He keened, the sound high and drawn out like a wounded animal as he curled in on himself. Grief was painful, he realized as he fought to blink back tears. His father could tell him about the magic but why did he never tell him of this?

Dimly, he was aware of Yakov coming to sit next to him; how the man hesitated before he rested a hand on Viktor’s back and tried to reassure him with gentle pats. Yakov was heavy-handed so the petting felt more like slaps but Viktor took it and let the physical pain ground him against the emotional pain raging within him.

“That’s right, Vitya, let it all out. Soon, the world will demand that you put on a mask and grieve as a Nikiforov so cry it all out as just Viktor now.”

 


 

Yakov allowed him two more days to mourn privately before the Maester dragged Viktor back to Rhurshya, to the family’s stronghold of Ost Pyotrsborg, and shoved him in front of the city’s screaming crowds. Even though he could barely keep from bawling every other minute, Viktor understood his duty as an heir.

The 3 Blessings awaited him. The first was done. The ice crown was his father’s blessing. Today, he would gain the people’s. A week from now, his family. Only then would he have a legitimate claim to his inheritance

Viktor sighed. The procession home to the Nikiforov estate already sounded like a nightmare as would any 3 day journey that involved a lecturing Yakov minus the fun of electronic devices. It was really and truly a tragedy that mages tended to build their estates on the magical outskirts of the world where technology had difficulties trying to coexist. Viktor supposed he would just have to grin and bear it just like he had been for the last 27 years of his life.

The hotel staff was doing their best, only pausing every so often to wipe at their tears. Chris was trying too. Even though his eyes had clearly been red-rimmed this morning, he had helped Viktor straighten his epaulettes with no more than a gentle smile. And Yakov who had only days before been ridden with emotion and was going home with Viktor to bury a close friend, announced his pupil’s name and new title as if it was one of the happiest things to occur in the history of the world,

Everyone was working so diligently that there wasn’t anything else for Viktor to do but to do his best, too.

As he stepped onto the balcony of the hotel to make his first public announcement since his father’s death, he was nearly bowled over by the stench of vinegar and salt that wafted from the crowds. It took him a few minutes to realize that much of the din coming from the audience was actually the wailing of his sire’s name.

Viktor suddenly became aware of the fact that to the general public -Nikolai Mikhailovich Nikiforov was a much loved man.

How marvelously terrifying Viktor thought dryly to himself. If only these people had grown up with him for a father.

He prayed to Ore and Xiv that one day he might compare.

Though he could not see very many faces from the balcony, he bet that onlookers were already forming half baked opinions of him from the 20 seconds he had stood silent in their sight. He took a deep breath, preparing to give them a show that would be the talk of the town for ages. After all, as his father used to say - mages were addicted to the spectacle of life.

Viktor rolled his shoulders and allowed his pheromones to pour out of him in such clouds that Chris, who was standing nearby, choked. He sent the man an apologetic smile but the display of dominance would be necessary with the announcement that marked the start of the succession rites. He was stepping into the shoes of Nikolai Nikiforov, the once Living Legend, the greatest Nikiforov the world had ever known. Though he found it utterly ridiculous, it was important to show everyone that he was every bit the alpha his sire had been.

A camera drone whizzed by, whipping about the heavy curtains that opened out onto the balcony. It stopped at an angle just above where Viktor would be standing in a few minutes, a red blinking light the only indication that it was recording and would be broadcasting his speech throughout all the magical and mundane realms.

He pasted on a media smile in response to it, though he knew his remaining family would not be watching. Yuuri was not allowed to access to projectors or scrying magic and Viktor’s mother would probably be too preoccupied with comforting her ward to bother watching a ritual that was more about pageantry and ceremony than actual substance.

There was a silence as Yakov ceded the podium to Viktor. Several faces in the crush looked surprised. He did not blame them. The Viktor Nikiforov they were used to was jovial, blithe - a gossamer thing. This Viktor he was forced to be now, stuffed in a military suit and hemorrhaging alpha pheromones must seem like a far cry from the man most tabloids gossiped was secretly an omega.

He repeated the words that Yakov had drilled into his head during the trip back from Ormill. His training as a mage made the memorization easy. His emotions did not. He spoke until his mouth was dry and his throat burned. By the end of his speech, he felt thirsty, tired, and unsteady on his feet as he marched (and for split second almost stumbled) to the front of the balcony, right to the edge of the railing where the crowd could see every inch of his Nikiforov finery, every singel stitch of blue and silver laced splendor.

“Ost Pyotrsborg, will you have me?” he roared over the feelings that had threatened to overwhelm him as soon he woke up three days ago.

The crowd roared back, seemingly pleased with their new lord.

Using his own magic, Viktor attempted his next test for the approval of the public- petitioning the guardian dragon that would take his sire to his final resting place. He blew the bright, blue words of the summoning into the ball of proprium magic gathering in his fist. Then with a small hop for power, he pitched the spell into the air, praying that the dragon would find him suitable enough to appear.

The blue light soared into the snowy sky before bursting into the shape of thr snarling, snapping dragon that decorated the Nikiforov family’s coat of arms.

When it swooped down low over Viktor, close enough to ruffle a few silver strands of hair and then swept back up to the sky with an ice shattering roar, the denizens of Ost Pyotrsborg went wild.

“Bravery, Brotherhood, Purity. The Lord is Dead. Long Live the Lord,” the crowd shouted.

Viktor shivered as the succession magic began to form a crown around his head for the second time. The enchantment solidified with the citizens’ cries, the crown becoming harder and colder with each call of the chant.

 


 

The journey home was a mess of mishaps, break downs, and being waylaid by people trying to pay their respects. It ended up taking nearly six days and if Viktor wasn’t already crying over his father, he was sure he would have wept with relief when his escort finally pulled up to the main entrance of the Nikiforov estate.

As soon as the doors opened, his soul pulled him in only one direction and he set off on a mission, not even taking the time to bother with Yakov who had seen him home. There were servants for that he reasoned and they would treat the maester with the unrivalled hospitality that the Nikiforovs were famous for.

He walked into the main house past twisting staircases, long hallways, and opulent rooms with a sense of urgency quickening his steps. Then, he was out through the back entrance and racing through the gardens, crashing through hedges and trampling any vegetation that dared to get in his way. He would probably hear from the gardeners later but for now all he could focus on was the white, ornate set of buildings that called to him in invitation.

Guards bowed as he reached the front gate. They were hardly necessary though. Nikolai Nikiforov would never leave his most precious treasures to the sole guardianship of others. Viktor’s skin tingled from the brush of deadly blood magic that warded the entrance, the sensation receding once it recognized he was friend. Viktor smiled. He remembered pricking his finger to create the wards for Yuuri’s bower.

“Pay attention, Vitya! The blood must drop like so if you want to protect your Yuuri.”

His heart twisted at the memory. Yuuri used to be his world. But now… 10 years was a long time. Yuuri was not his. He was not even sure if Yuuri would want to even see him after all this time. Would Yuuri have changed? Would he hate him? Would he allow Viktor to one day explain the jumble of circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that had kept him away for so long.

With a spike of horror, he realized that he had not thought of what he would do if Yuuri wanted nothing to do with him. He had just assumed and run to the Sanctum like he was some snot nosed mageling, thinking that Yuuri would greet him with open arms and smile.

How foolish. How stupid of him. He contemplated turning back and helping Yakov after all but the alpha in him dismissed the thought as he reached the inner door to the Sanctum, the complex that had safeguarded generations of Nikiforov omegas. It too searched him for ill intent before allowing the mage to open its heavy oak door.

He was hit instantly by the scent of sandalwood - Creamy, Woodsy, Soft. Divine. Omega.

 Nostalgia, ache, and yearning filled him to the brim.

“Vitya?”

As Viktor turned towards the familiar voice and laid eyes on his mother, he was torn between running to her like a small child or showing her how much of a man he had become by walking up to her slowly, cool, and collected.

She made the decision for him when she opened her arms with a smile that had been the constant companion of so many of Viktor’s childhood memories. Though her eyes were bloodshot and her skin was as pale as fresh snow, Viktoria Nikiforova was just as beautiful as she was on the day that Viktor had been sent off to Yakov’s atelier. The hallway swirled with snowflakes as the strength of her emotions loosened her control on her magic. She laughed, the sound a bit rough, as Viktor became a puddle of wet, snotty adult man in her hold.

“Welcome home, Vitya. Oh Viten’ka, oh my pretty boy, your sire would be so proud of how beautiful you've become.”

Her hands were everywhere. Petting him. Combing through his hair. Hugging him. Raining kisses down his face, she rocked her son from side to side as if he little bigger than baby.

Covered in her shroud of omega strength and softness, Viktor sank to his knees, the weight of himself carrying him down. He didn't deserve her praise. Within the cradle of her arms, he showed her his underbelly. His weakness. His grief.

He was a terrible son, a selfish son. There were so many faults under his Nikiforov veneer, so many things that he had done wrong. He should have visited more, argued with his parents less. He should have come home that last time his father had asked for him. Maybe if he had tried more he would have learned to understand the motivations and thinking of his sire- the man. It all seemed so petty now compared to the great hole his father had left. All the thoughts and regrets he had held in his heart for the last few days poured out of his eyes as tears.

His mother, Viktoria Viktorovna Nikiforova - Lady Nikiforova, lowered herself down beside him and forced her son to look her in the face. Her eyes were a thousand shades of blue. Her gaze was gentle; her hands gentler still as they brushed back Viktor’s bangs. She pressed a kiss to one eyelid and then the other. She laid the final kiss upon Viktor’s brow.

“Mama...,” he cried, unable to say anything else for fear of breaking.

“Bravery, Brotherhood, Purity,” she whispered, drawing Viktor back into her hold, “The Lord is Dead. Long Live the Lord.”

Viktor sat safe in her arms and let his heart ache.

 


 

Eventually they made it to her bower where Viktor was scented to within an inch of his life and shoved down into the pit of cushions, pillows and blankets that made up his mother’s nest. To his surprise, there was no familiar Yuuri shaped cocoon.

His mother must have seen the confusion on his face because she paused her scenting frenzy to chuckle.

“Yuuri is in xyr own bower, tonight,” she explained, the corners of her lips twitching up in amusement, “ Xe has been running everyone ragged waiting up you and Minako finally lost it and pretty much frog marched the poor dearie to bed a few hours ago.”

“Oh.”

The tense feeling that had been bothering earlier in the day unfurled into an unexpected disappointment. It wasn't as if Viktor expected to see Yuuri the minute he came in but it was hard to stop the frown that his face fell into.

His mother laughed again.

“Don’t look so down, Viten’ka. You'll see your duckling in the morning. Besides...,”

Viktor's frown grew deeper as his mother’s eyes darkened and her scent turned peppery.

“Can you really be disappointed when you barely visit?”

He spluttered, unprepared for the question. Annoyance filled him, poured white pepper into his scent. Her face transformed from harmless cheeriness to cutting seriousness in the instant it took for her to catch Viktor’s answering scent. He thought her anger completely unfair. They both knew the reason for his distance. He was lying on a cold and frozen slab deep within one of the estate’s many cellars. .

He tried to shift the blame as his mother stalked towards him like a lioness enraged.

 “It’s not my fault.”

Even he winced at how childish the words sounded coming out of his mouth. His mother looked even less impressed with him than before. She held his gaze like a snake would a mouse, her blue eyes cold and glittering sapphire.

“10 years, Vitya?” she hissed. “10 years you’ve been allowed to run away. Yuuri is fragile. You should understand that best out of all of us. Is your anger for your sire worth breaking your omega’s heart?”

. It was always unsettling when your dam figured you out in an instant. Chastened thoroughly Viktor looked down at his lap as shame threatened to engulf him. It was more than that and as simple as that at the same time.  He felt like he was five years old again, like he was being scolded for smashing a vase. But this time it was Yuuri’s heart. Did Yuuri hate him now? He could understand. He had hated himself those first few years too. After all, he was the reason they were separated in the first place.

It wasn’t anything purposeful, at least not in the beginning. It was just that seeing Yuuri and knowing there was nothing he could do was hard. His feelings on the omega were complex, always tangled in the bitter history he had with his father and were so difficult to unravel when he had spent a lifetime only tending to shallower things

At first he had only meant to stay away the few weeks that his father demanded, but the weeks turned into months and the months became years and now he was staring at the wrong side of a decade.

He heard a snarl erupt from his mother before she snatched his face up to hers so fast that his neck cracked.

The ice collecting in her palm stung his chin.

“Do I make myself clear, Viktor Nikolayevich?”

Crystal.

Viktor gulped. Whoever said you stopped being afraid of your dam once you grew up was full of dragonshit he thought as he nodded his head slowly in her harsh grip.

“Y-yes, Mama.”

He was rewarded with a small smile, just a slight uptick of the lips.

“You will visit Yuuri properly this time, yes?” Viktoria searched his eyes. “Not just a gift and a few words of encouragement passed through to a servant?”

Viktor nodded as far as the hand would allow him.

His mother's angry look eased but instead tears threatened to spill from her eyes.

“An alpha’s life is so short; Vitya and you already wasted ten years of it. The time together is like a blink to an omega.” She shuddered on the last word, her own current situation most likely overwhelming her. “Promise me you will see him?”

“I-It will have to wait until the ceremony and I can't stay too long this time but I promise to at least take tea with xem.”

He must have answered correctly because the silver haired woman positively beamed. The quick switch in emotion would throw Viktor off guard if he was not so used to it.

“You should come home for Yuuri’s coming of age ceremony, too,” she said after smiling at him for what felt like a century, hand clasped tightly around Viktor’s face, preventing him from escape, “You are probably the only person, outside of Kolya, that could tempt that child out of childhood.”

Had Nikolai Nikiforov been alive to see it, Viktor doubted he would even have been invited to Yuuri’s coming of age. The former head alpha always made sure that anyone who crossed him paid their pound of flesh. His father’s forgiveness was hard like that.

But now the man, who spent the last nearly 18 years taking iron control of his ward’s life, was dead and it was Viktor’s responsibility to oversee things now. The idea of it sent a forbidden thrill up Viktor's spine instead of the expected sorrow.

“Yes, I will come.” He swallowed, hoping his unfilial thoughts would go down with the action. “And I will tempt him.”

He barely had time to react and catch his mother before she threw herself at him, the former harsh mood gone as if it had never happened. Affection swelled within him. He smiled as she nuzzled into him, his own dark feelings abating with her touch. Like mother, like son, life came easier when it was carefree. He reveled in it. The last few weeks had been so hard.

“Do you need blood?”

Viktor heard the harsh click of his fangs before he even realized they had descended. He flushed. Well, that answered that question. He shouldn’t be embarrassed really. Wanting the blood of an omega was as natural for an alpha as going into a rut, both of which he did. Still, he could not help wishing that there were other ways to get his proprium magic replenished.

His mother fell back into the softness of her nest with open arms. It was little surprise to either party that she had to pull him towards her. He allowed his mother to pet his hair and breathe his scent. She sighed and tugged him closer, releasing her personal fragrance of sandalwood, vanilla, and roses.

Knowing that she would not let go until he drank, Viktor lifted one of her delicate wrists to his mouth and kissed it before gently pricking her pulse point with the tip of his fang. His whole body went lax as the first drops spilled into his mouth. His veins burned and came alive with the flood of magic. He pulled a mouthful of blood once, twice, and then licked the wound to seal it.

“One day, it will be Yuuri’s blood you take.” Her voice sounded wistful with the edgings of hopefulness creeping into it.

Viktor grimaced. Could he tell her that he had nightmares about it? That even just the thought of sinking his fangs into Yuuri’s neck sent him into a cold sweat? That there were moments when he would rather die of magical exhaustion than ever expose Yuuri to the true beastly nature of alphas?

“Yuuri is a child, Mamochka,” he murmured instead.

She did not miss a beat. She smiled at Viktor as if he was the one who was still a child.

“For now, yes, but there are expectations for Nikiforovs and even our dearest Yuura must one day learn to live up to them.”

Viktor did not answer. They had upset each other enough tonight. Instead, he closed his eyes and let his dam’s soothing touch draw him down into the waiting clutches of slumber.

 


 

Yuuri literally ran into him the next morning just as he was leaving his mother's rooms.

Viktor's only warning was the yip of the teen’s familiar, a small toy poodle, before a solid mass of overexcited omega slammed straight into him. Startled by the sudden weight in his arms, Viktor fell over, dragging Yuuri onto the ground with him. Vicchan, the poodle, increased the chaos by jumping onto the pair and trying unsuccessfully to lick both their faces.

Yuuri entangled first, laughed - the sound chiming like silver bells throughout the corridor.

Vitya, you're home!” xe cried.

Light from a nearby window caught the garnet tones in xyr eyes as Yuuri gifted Viktor with one of the most beautiful smiles the older man had ever seen. Long, wild black hair curtained them as Yuuri leaned forward, xyr hands curling into Viktor's robes for purchase as xe lowered xyr face. Gazing up at the omega, Viktor felt trapped in more ways than one. Yuuri had grown, changed in areas Viktor did and did not expect. It was like looking at a stranger.

It was frightening. He felt completely unprepared and undeserving of the look of joy and adoration that radiated down on him. A part of him wanted to run away from it, from this Yuuri that he wasn’t worthy of.

The hallway became saturated in the scent of ginger as Yuuri's excitement grew stronger. It nearly cancelled out the subtle scent of salt that clung to omega's clothes. Viktor was gifted with the sight for only a moment longer before Yuuri was hauled up and off him with a sharp,

“Yuuri, what have I told you about running?”

Viktor looked up to see an irritated Minako holding Yuuri by the collar. Her hair was mussed and tangled like she had scrambled out of her nest to chase after her charge. She looked unchanged but for the few crow’s feet that lined the corners of her eyes as she frowned at Yuuri and gave xem a little shake when the teen didn't answer fast enough for her.

“Yuuri, apologise! You can't just run away from your governess and knock over the Head Alpha like that!”

Yuuri flushed.

“Sorry, Ms Minako and... Vitya.”

Viktor chuckled. Minako was probably the only person on the entire estate and possibly the world who had never treated Yuuri like xe was made soft rime.

“Vitya, is everything alright?”

He felt his mother's presence come up behind him, no doubt to investigate all the noise outside her rooms. Viktor tore his gaze from Yuuri to see her eyes light up in mirth and exasperated fondness.

“Yuura,” she scolded as she took in the younger omega's appearance, “you look an absolute sight. Did you come here straight in your bed clothes?”

At this, Yuuri pouted, xyr long black eyelashes lowering as xe pursed xyr lips in displeasure.

“I wanted to see Vitya,” xe mumbled, fingers fiddling with the hem of xyr sleep-shirt. A tear rolled down xyr face and then another. The teen's expression fell.

Both women let out a long sigh.

“Yuuchan, this isn't the time for this. Viktor will be busy preparing for your guardian’s funeral. He won't have time to play.”

Yuuri's tears turned into shoulder shaking sobs.

His mother stepped around Viktor to pull Yuuri into a hug.

“Oh Yuura, don't cry.” she half crooned, half pleaded, “I know it's hard with Apa being gone but Vitya isn't leaving just yet. You'll get to see him. He's promised to have tea with you before he goes back and to come home for your coming of age.”

“Really?”

It was muted by the fact that Yuuri's face had been firmly pressed into his mother's sleeping gown, but Viktor could hear the disbelief loud and clear.

It actually hurt when Viktor remembered little Yuuri taking his word as gospel but then he supposed he hadn’t given this older Yuuri a reason to trust him. His mind pushed at him to take Yuuri in his arms, insisted that he hold the omega for as long as it took for the doubt to melt away. Always a servant to impulsivity, Viktor gave into the voice. Now was a good enough time as any to prove to himself and to his mother that he could be a half decent alpha.

Viktor pushed himself off the floor, and gently took Yuuri from his mother's grasp. Immediately, Yuuri burrowed into his chest with a sigh and the sniffling stopped. Despite Viktor’s proactive feelings, he stiffened under the contact because the closeness felt awkward, like trying to fit together the wrong pieces of a puzzle. He fought the urge to excuse himself and pull away.

Yuuri followed his tenseness with a sour scent that made Viktor’s nose itch. Remembering his mother's words and daring himself, Viktor forced his body to relax and wrap his arms around the younger mage. Yuuri went lax as well, curling further into Viktor like when the teen was a child. Xyr scent slowly released its notes of distress.

“Alpha,” xe sighed, the word barely audible.

Viktor froze. He didn’t deserve it. Not after what he had done. 10 years...The familiar weight of guilt crept up on him. Did he even deserve to hold Yuuri like this? To smell xyr sweet scent or see Yuuri’s lovely smile?

He could barely stop the distress from leaking into his scent at the thought. Yuuri, little Yuura, who he promised to protect forever. How much had he hurt xem? How much had he made xem cry?

The idea was almost too painful to bear.

His mother was right. His father was dead and with him, their separation. He should bury it now - the grudge that had eaten at him for ten years. If only for Yuuri’s sake, he needed to let it go so he could heal. So, that he could heal with Yuuri. It was so blatant now. He had been a terrible alpha and if he ever hoped to be the alpha he had always wanted to be, that needed to change.

He pulled the teen in tighter, gave xem the comfort of his scent.

“I promise, Yuura. Just bear with things a little longer.”