“Tell me why, Ain't nothin' but a heartache, Tell me why, Ain't nothin' but a mistake, Tell me why, I never want to hear you say, I want it that way-”
“Phichit Chulanont, if you do not stop singing I’ll have you clean out the floor drains in the kitchen every night for a month!”
“But Ciao Ciao!”
“DON’T CALL ME CIAO CIAO!”
Yuuri laughs, picking up the next batch of dirty plates from the lunch service and starts stacking them into the dish cart. He has been on this shift since ten thirty this morning and will be until around midnight tonight, working all through lunch till when they are done cleaning after dinner service. He’s already exhausted. Phichit turns the radio down slightly, singing turning to humming as he gets back to picking up the clean dishes that are coming out of the restaurant’s dishwasher, slight pout on his face.
“If you just sing a little quieter he won’t care,” Yuuri says as he continues to work his way through the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink.
It had been a smooth lunch service, mostly business parties coming in large groups with pre booked meals. Yuuri had taken his half of the dining room, Phichit his, and things had gone without much trouble. The lunches usually do. The dinner services however... Yuuri sighs and pushes it from his mind as he pushes another cart into the dishwasher. He knows tonight will be a challenge, with a large alpha organisation coming in and renting most of the space in Yuuri’s area. The alphas usually get too handsy at the end of the night, not taking Yuuri’s ‘No, I’m not interested’ for an answer. Luckily, Guang Hong is coming in tonight as well, not that either of the omegas will have it easier because of that, but shared burdens.
“I know, but it’s fun to tease him,” Phichit admits, smiling widely.
Yuuri shakes his head at his friend’s antics, even if they always brighten his day. He loads the last cart of dishes and sends it into the dishwasher, pulling off the yellow dish gloves and placing them in the rack next to the sink.
“He’s gonna make good on his threat,” Yuuri says as he turns to face his friend. Phichit simply shrugs, smile on his face as he continues to hum to the song on the radio.
They’re both in the all black waiter uniforms, short sleeve button ups and tight jeans, the Celestino logo in gold over their hearts. Phichit always looks so good in his, while Yuuri feels a little stuffed in the tight ensemble, shifting to try to get it to fit better. He feels like he wears it more than his own clothes these days.
Phichit is in a deep purple collar today, adorned with small, crystal gems. Yuuri’s is a plane blue, his favorite every day collar. He’s wearing the matching blue cuffs, and the right one has started to fray at the lower edge. He’ll have to replace them soon.
“Did you pick the fish or chicken for lunch today?” Phichit asks. The question reminds Yuuri of the Crown Prince’s lunch conference and he snaps his head up to the clock, terrified he’s missed it.
He hasn’t of course. He would never let himself, and neither would Phichit. There is still ten minutes left until it’s scheduled to start.
“Chicken,” he answers. Celestino is a kind boss, and he takes good care of his employees. They get to eat one of each meal they serve, free of charge. The lunch is always eaten after the lunch service, the dinner when time permits it.
They take the last clean dishes out of the cart as soon as it’s out of the dishwasher, almost too warm to be held without shifting it around, and places it where it belongs. When done, they pick up their lunch plates from one of the cooks and walk out into the dining room. In the area next to the bar there’s a TV. It’s placed so that those who want to eat something light and watch a game can without disturbing the dining room where guests come for finer dinners. The omegas sit down on a couch, plates in one hand and forks in the other, starting to shovel in their food. The chicken has been paired with oven roasted potatoes and cream sauce, and it tastes like heaven after running around the dining room all through lunch.
The TV is already on, a group of newscasters and a royal expert trying to guess what the prince has called this press conference for. It hadn’t been disclosed, like it normally would. The press release simply said that it was something that would affect the entire nation, and that as many as possible were encouraged to watch. Yuuri’s heart is pounding, much like it always is when there is something involving Crown Prince Victor.
Yuuri can’t say when it started. He just knows that basically his entire life, he’s had a crush on Crown Prince Victor Nikiforov. Well before either of them presented, Yuuri had looked at the TV and seen brilliant blue eyes, a heart shaped smile and long flowy silver hair, and his heart had beat so fast in his small chest it almost hurt. He had stared at the four years older boy on the screen in awe, until Mari had broken him out of his trance through teasing.
The feeling had not subdued as he grew up, and as he got to watch the prince turn from child to man, his feelings had deepend. Yuuri knows it’s crazy. He’s never met the prince, and never will. Holding such strong feelings towards someone who doesn’t even know he exists is borderline masochistic.
Still, Yuuri can’t stop himself. Everytime he sees the prince or hears his voice, his stomach flips and he fills with warmth. It’s not just his looks that enchant Yuuri, even if it had been at first. Victor works hard to build a better country, building children's hospitals and speaking up about omega rights and helping refugees. He’s going to be an amazing king, Yuuri knows it. So maybe it’s not that strange that he harbours a crush on someone that amazing. The prince will never know, and Yuuri has stopped blabbering about how amazing the prince is to all living organisms he meets a long time ago so not to be teased. Only those closest to him knows about his impossible crush. What is the harm in a little fantasy? A dream that will never happen? Hopefully, nothing.
Other press conferences are usually about charities or collaborations, but they always come with an explanation. This is so vague. Yuuri worries if Victor is okay. Is he sick? Or, has the day finally come, where he announces an engagement, and Yuuri’s heart breaks? Yuuri tries not to imagine it, Victor with a beautiful omega by his side, looking at them with glittering eyes, filled with love and adoration. Yuuri knows he has no chance, but as long as the prince is single, he can fantasize with less guilt. Pretend that one day the crown prince will waltz into Celestino's restaurant, spot Yuuri, and ask him out on the spot. It’s a silly dream, but it’s Yuuri’s dearest.
There have been rumors throughout the years of Victor having partners. Paparazzi photos taken of the Crown Prince getting out of a car with someone, or party pictures of him with an arm around someone. Nothing confirmed, nothing denied. Yuuri has wondered if Victor would have noticed him if they were ever at a party together. If Victor would smile towards him and if they would dance.
More employees gather in the area, all of them curious to what the news can be. Gossip flows freely about what the bomb the Royal house is about to drop could be, marriage at the top of the list. Yuuri’s stomach twists again. When the royal emblem shows on screen, they all fall quiet. Yuuri carefully places his plate on the table in front of him, leaning forward slightly. His heart is pounding in his chest, and he has to try to remind himself to keep breathing. Nothing good will come from him passing out at the sight of the prince, again.
The camera immediately focuses on the palace press secretary Lilia Baranovskya. Her face is as always sharp, emotionless. She looks over the room, no doubtedly filled with reporters and media. This is how almost every press conference from the royal house starts. Lilia will explain the layout of the conference, and then Victor will come up to speak.
“Good day to all of you that have gathered here in the Nicholai Hall in the palace, and welcome to all of you throughout the country that is watching. This press conference has been called by Crown Prince Victor and he will come up shortly to share with you why he has. He will speak his mind, and when he is done he’s going to step off the stage. Any questions will be asked to me, after he is done. Anyone who does not obey by these rules will be asked to leave the room immediately.”
Yuuri blinks in surprise and the shocked murmurs from the press at the palace can be heard through the TV speakers. The prince is usually very social, charms the entire press corps with a smile and wink. For him not to answer questions, this must be something serious. All thoughts of jealousy towards a potential mate for the prince disappears from Yuuri as he starts to worry about the prince’s health. Is he truly sick? Hurt? Dying? The omegas mind and heart races as the prince steps up to the table to speak, Lilia taking a step back.
Victor looks just as lovely as ever. Strong broad shoulders, a slender neck, lithe waist. He’s in a deep blue button up shirt that makes his eyes seem impossibly bluer. His hair lies perfectly over one eye and when he looks into the camera, those perfect pink lips spread into a charming smile. Yuuri’s heart does a flip in his chest at the sight.
“Hello, and thank you for coming and for watching. I know this press conference has been highly speculated about so I will not keep you waiting. As most of you know, my mother, the regent queen, has been ill lately. She’s doing alright, but her wavering health is something the entire royal family is struggling with, in more ways than one.
“Even though her health is not as good as we all would like, the queen has decided that she wants to continue to rule, but for precautions to be set in place in case she worsens. For all of you that are familiar with the royal heritage laws you realise this affects me in a deep way. One of which, is the need for a mate.
“The law clearly states that the regent shall have a mate. It is widely known that being mated keeps one’s head clearer, brings joy and strengthens relations, both in one’s professional and personal life. Since I do not have a mate, nor do I have anyone in my life as of right now that I would want to spend my life with in that way, I have chosen to evoke the ‘Catarina praxi.’”
Several people, including Yuuri, sucks in a breath. Yuuri is very familiar with the ‘Catarina Praxis’, he had an exam on in his ‘The Royal family - history and present’ course as part of his internal affairs major where it was covered. The Catarina Praxi came from the 17th century, when the then regent Alexi the second Nikiforov passed quickly, before his daughter Crown Princess Anastasia the first had found a mate. A nationwide search was made, and in the end, by scent alone, Anastasia chose a farmer’s omega, Catarina, to be her mate. They ruled for fifty years together, and their mateship is one of the strongest and most celebrated throughout the country's history. Since then, the ‘Catarina Praxis’ has been used three times, the latest being for Victor’s grandparents. There is a catch to it though…
“Lilia will give out the specific details how it will be conducted, but it will be a nationwide search for a mate for me and will require scent samples. As those of you who are familiar with the praxi knows, this means that all omegas that fall into the chosen group are prohibited from entering a mateship until an engagement between me and a chosen omega has been announced. This results in that all unmated omegas from the age of eighteen to twenty eight are now legally arranged to be mated to me, until an official engagement has been made. We are very sorry for the inconvenience this will cause, and hope for a fast search, so that this rule can be evoked.
“I thank you all for your continued support for the royal family and hope you will help me in my search to finding someone to spend my life with. Thank you.”
Victor smiles one last time, a dazzling one, before he steps off, disappearing out of frame. The Nicholai Hall explodes with questions from the reporters as Lilia steps up to the microphone, while Yuuri keeps completely still, eyes wide and mouth hanging open, heart pounding in his chest.
Yuuri bites the back of the pen as he stares down at the questionnaire he’s been given by the receptionist in the healthcare clinic. It’s been a week since the prince’s press conference, and all omegas in the required age span that have not been registered as mated have been sent a letter, urging them to visit their designated health care clinic to leave their admission for the ‘Catarina Praxis.’ Yuuri got his three days ago. The healthcare clinics have been tasked with collecting the scent samples and apparently it comes with a questionnaire the omegas are to answer as they leave the samples.
Yuuri is trying very hard not to freak out in the waiting room as he rereads the questions for the fifth time. He knows that the likelihood of Victor actually reading this is almost none. It will probably be archived and then tossed, but if it does end up in the prince’s hands, it has to be perfect. This is the only chance Yuuri is ever going to get, and even if it is almost non-existing, he has to try to do his best. He’ll never forgive himself if he doesn’t.
To have to answer five questions just out of the blue, without preparation makes Yuuri’s stomach turn. What if he writes something stupid? He’s definitely going to. Yuuri is an expert at embarrassing himself after all. He glances down again, takes a deep breath. He needs to just do it. Not think too much.
He starts with the easy ones. Name, age, social security number, ways to contact him. Then comes the hard part. Yuuri bites the end of the pen again, before starting to write, as neatly as he possibly can. He tries to imagine Phichit or Guang Hong asking instead of envisioning Victor’s pretty lips forming the words, and then the answers come a little easier.
What do you do on a normal day?
Okay, that’s pretty easy, Yuuri can just scribble down how he goes about his day. Not too hard. Not that he lives an exciting life, reading about his normal day must be boring. Still, he can’t lie. If the prince were to choose him, which he never will, Yuuri wants it to be real, not a fake version of himself.
I wake up early from doggy kisses from my dog. I take him for a walk and then head over to my aunt’s dance studio to take one of her classes. I go back home, feed and walk my dog again, before a quick nap. I take my dog to my sister and then head to work. I’m a waiter at a local restaurant, and then work there from the lunch service till we close after the dinner service. If I have time in between, I study for my internal affairs course I take at the local college.
What are your passions?
Okay, that’s easy too. As long as he doesn’t think too hard about who might read this, he can try to get something sensible and true on the questionnaire.
Dancing and animals, dogs in particular. And food. And helping people.
What are your dreams?
Oh, that’s so much harder. Okay, deep breaths, Yuuri. If it were Phichit who was asking, what would you say?
I would have loved to work with dance in some way, and maybe someday I’ll have the opportunity to teach. I do teach some children's ballet classes on my days off from the restaurant. I was never good enough to perform. I would like to save enough money to be able to get through my college classes faster, without having to split my program up to afford it. I hope to be able to make a difference for this country with my degree, to make it easier for those who have less to live fuller lives.
How does your perfect day off look like?
Ugh, everything he’s coming up with sounds so stereotypical. It’s still true though. Yuuri isn’t an exciting person. He doesn’t need much.
Lounging on the couch or in my nest, playing video games or watching TV series or movies with my dog. Drink tea and order take out and just be. Or, spend the entire day in the dance studio, creating .
What would you normally be looking for in a mate?
Shit shit shit, Yuuri can’t write ‘Victor Nikiforov’ like he would if he would be answering a friend. His heart starts pounding in his chest, palms sweaty. He tries to think of something, anything. He imagines his parents mateship, his friends Yuuko and Takeshi. The ones he’s seen that have been less than good, unsupportive and hurtful. He takes another deep breath, and tries to gather his thoughts.
A partnership. Someone who can rely on me, and that I can rely on in return. Someone to share life with, good, bad, horrible. The tough times and the good times. A person who can be vulnerable with me, someone who I can take care of, and that can take care of me. Someone to love.
He stares down on the words on the page, sighing. It feels inadequate, even if it’s all true. He doesn’t know what more to say. It will have to be enough, even if he knows it will never be. Victor deserves someone spectacular, and Yuuri just isn’t.
“Yuuri Katsuki?” the receptionist calls and Yuuri looks up to face him. The beta smiles politely, and gestures down the hall. “You’re up next.”
“Okay, Yuuri. Unlock the cuffs and collar please,” Yuuko says as she holds her hand up, wiggling the bag she’s holding filled with tubes and swabs.
“How many of these have you done so far?” Yuuri asks, shifting on the patient bed.
Yuuko has been a nurse for about four years, and works at the health care clinic Yuuri is assigned too. Yuuri is both thankful and a little embarrassed to go to her for this, considering she knows about his major crush on the prince, with them being friends since childhood, long before Yuuri learned to hold back.
“I’ve done about three hundred so far, I don’t know about the whole clinic. We’re supposed to do two thousand, and the country as a whole I think it’s about one hundred thousand,” Yuuko says as Yuuri reaches into his pocket to retrieve his wallet that holds the key to the collar and cuffs. He usually leaves it at home, where it’s truly safe, but it was either bringing it or leaving the house without collar, and Yuuri doesn’t take risks like that.
“That’s so many, how is the prince supposed smell all of those?” Yuuri asks. It sounds completely insane. The prince can’t sit and smell over one hundred thousand scent samples.
“I know, right!? I have no idea how they plan to pull it off,” Yuuko laughs as she starts unpacking the bag she holds in her hand. “Maybe the prince will have some sort of premonition of who to smell? Or have some group that smells them first? We are to take several samples from each omega.”
Yuuri’s heart clenches a little in his chest. He never thought the prince would choose him anyway, but now it feels like an unclimbable mountain, with so many omegas handing in samples. It’s mandatory after all. All unmated omegas in the age span between eighteen to twenty eight. One hundred thousand omegas. No way is Yuuri going to get picked over so many.
“Yeah, it sounds like an unimaginable task,” Yuuri agrees and Yuuko frowns as she watches him unlock the cufts on his wrists, placing the black straps on the paper clad mattress next to him.
“Maybe that's why they’ve asked for the questionnaire? So to lower the numbers of who seems like they might match with the prince?”
“Yeah, maybe that’s it,” Yuuri agrees, reaching to open the collar around his neck next, sliding it around to reach the lock. Yuuko has been placing the contents of the bag on a tray on a rollable table next to the bed while they’ve been talking. Everything is neatly placed in two rows, swabs and sticks and tubes with liquid.
“Alright, hold out your left wrist first,” Yuuko instructs and Yuuri does as told, offering his wrist, scent gland up. “Did you fill out the questionnaire?”
“I did,” Yuuri says, frowning as he looks over at the sealed letter he had given Yuuko as he came into the room, for her to place with the scent samples after they are done.
“What will you do when he picks you?” Yuuko says, gleam in her brown eyes, lips quirked up. Yuuri sputters, almost pulling his wrist out of her hand as she dabs the wet cloth on his scent gland.
“Yuuko! You know he’ll never-,”
“I don’t, and neither do you. Haven’t you had a crush on him for years? Maybe it’s fate!” Yuuko says cheerily, placing the cloth into a tube with liquid, closing it tightly before picking up the next swab.
“I doubt that. I bet he won’t even receive my samples. They will take one look at my questionnaire and toss the whole thing.”
At least that’s what Yuuri keeps telling himself, trying to push down any hope he has of being picked to be Victor’s mate. If he’s dismissed by something like being a waiter, not having achieved his dreams or not having a college degree yet, maybe it won’t hurt as much.
“I’m sure they won’t. There would be no point of such a big search if they are going to be judgemental,” Yuuko protests, closing the second scent sample tube. “Okay, I’m gonna do the neck now. This might be a bit uncomfortable.”
Yuuri closes his eyes and rolls his head to the right, the cool, wet scent cloth dabbing at the sensitive gland there. It is uncomfortable. The scent glands are so sensitive, and Yuuri, never having had a boyfriend has barely had anyone but himself touch them. He bites the inside of his cheek to not let out a distressed whimper.
“Other side,” Yuuko instructs and Yuuri leans to the left, Yuuko repeating the procedure on the scent gland there. “There, all done.”
Yuuri opens his eyes, blinking to adjust to the light of the examination room. Yuuko holds out a tub of gel scent blockers. It’s not the kind Yuuri usually uses, but it will work until he gets home. The letter asked him to come with his scent uncovered, and Yuuri got the double amount of catcalls on the way here compared to what he usually gets. Being scentless would probably help on the way home. He dips his fingers in the tub, starting at the neck and then moving to his wrists. The gel is cool against his skin as he rubs it in and he watches as Yuuko starts closing up the bags.
“Don’t give up hope, Yuuri,” she says and Yuuri frowns, placing the tub of scent blocking gel on the now empty tray. “If it’s meant to be, I’m sure it will work out.”
“The prince isn’t going to pick me,” Yuuri protests again and Yuuko smiles that smile she only uses when she knows something Yuuri doesn’t, or she thinks she does.
“We’ll see. Now get off my bed, I have other patients to swab!”
It’s been two months since Yuuri visited the clinic, and the news about the ‘Catarina Praxis’ has started to calm down. All of the omegas were given one month to submit samples, so they should all have reached the palace by now. The royal house has been quiet about how the process will work, and it’s been one of the most speculated topics in the media since the announcement was made. Nothing has leaked, and therefore, the news slowly died. Yesterday the prince hastily canceled a meeting with a visiting royal family, his father, the queen's consort, having to step in in his place. This had fueled the rumors that maybe the prince had found his omega. Yuuri’s heart clenched painfully at the sight of the headlines and he had hurried to work, trying to bury himself in dishes and cleaning out the storage. Thankfully, it had been a busy day.
Today is slower. Yuuri is sitting in the personnel room of the restaurant, reading up on 17th century politics for an exam next week. It had been a slow lunch service, and they had cleaned faster than usual, giving them some extra time before they needed to get ready for the dinner service. Phichit is laying on the floor, talking to Guang Hong about going out to dance that weekend. A new DJ has started playing at Phichit’s preferred club, and he’s dying to check it out. Yuuri doesn’t really like going out to dance, even if he does sometimes fold to Phichit’s endless begging. It’s been a few months since he did last time, maybe he should. It would make his best friend happy, and it may take his mind of the prince.
His phone chimes on the table next to him, the sound of an email coming in. Yuuri pries his eyes away from the textbook to reach over, and freezes as he spots the sender. With shaky hands he unlocks his phone, heart pounding so hard he can hear it in his ears.
Dear Mr. Katsuki,
The Royal House of Nikiforov hereby invites you to the Winter Palace to meet H.R.H Crown Prince Victor Nikiforov in response to your submittance to the ‘Catarina Praxis’.
H.R.H Crown Prince Victor invites you to stay at the palace for a week, for the chance of you two getting to know each other properly in hopes of you becoming the future king’s consort. You will be given a room at the palace and be treated as an official guest, spending most of your time with H.R.H Crown Prince Victor. Please inform us of your availability for the suggested date below at your earliest convenience.
Lilia Baranovskya, Press Secretary to the Royal House of Nikiforov
Yuuri stares down at the email. Rereads it once, twice, before opening the sender line to check, because he’s sure this is a very well crafted fake email, but nope. That is the official royal house email and that is the press secretary's official email address. Yuuri sucks in a breath, hands shaking as the phone slips from his grip, clattering to the floor.