In his sleep, Yuuri can feel his heart pound against his ribcage; he can hear the blood pumping in his ears, like a faraway whistle.
When Yuuri wakes up, he finds that his mouth is dry again. His throat burns.
He wonders if he’s been screaming in the night, and he jolts in panic only to feel the weight of Makkachin at his feet and the warmth of light streaming through the window settling on the back of his head. The light streams past him to spotlight two little blonde heads—and his heart settles. He clears his throat, giving his little watchers a smile, and his heart delights in the toothy grins of his twins as they burrow deep under the covers again.
“How long have you two been awake, hm?” Yuuri asks, long fingers reaching to run through platinum blond locks – first one little head, then another with hair longer and more curled at the tips. Arianne and Aran stare back at him with the same bright blue eyes as their father, with the same hair, holding the name Viktor gave them at their birth, and Yuuri feels his heart compress as he opens his arms for them. “Come here, babies.”
The twins crawl into his arms, still small enough to burrow against his chest, and he lets his chin rest on their hair and feels the sting of tears in his eyes again.
“Daddy?” Arianne asks, her voice curious. She’s always been particularly close to Viktor. His absence must feel even stranger to the twins than to Yuuri. For all that Yuuri shares a heart with Viktor, their children share blood. Blood always calls to us, Viktor had told Yuuri once while playing with his hair during a particularly warm Spring picnic.
The trick to lying to children, Yuuri finds, is to be consistent. Yuuri cannot find any consistency in his emotions. Mourning is odd like that, perhaps, being something so untenable for royals.
“Daddy’s gone on a very, very long trip, remember, my darling?” Yuuri reminds her, poking her nose. It’s not exactly a lie. The children had seen Viktor off. He just had yet to return. He would not return. Omission in the name of parenting could not be faulted, or so Yakov had told Yuuri. It would do neither the twins’ emotional nor physical health any good to know Viktor was dead.
She looks almost bashful for a moment, and she leans against her brother. Her curls tangle with his.
“Daddy come back?” Aran asks, tiny, stubby fingers playing with the ribbon of Yuuri’s nightgown. His fingers stop short of Yuuri’s sternum, but he still splays his hand over Yuuri’s chest and he makes sounds to mimic the sound on the other side. “Bump, bump. Mama, I miss Daddy.”
“It’ll be a long while until we’re reunited, my love,” Yuuri says, unsure he can bear to say more without crumbling. “But I miss him, too. And I’m sure he misses us very much, too.”
Mourning is not for royalty. Yuuri learns this when he takes the throne at fourteen, an omega looking lost without his mother. His father, insane with grief at her death, must be kept confined in a separate, smaller palace within the estate, where Yuuri can only visit with exceeding rarity—more for his father’s fragile state of mind, than any concern over Yuuri’s actual safety. With Yuuri so young and the kingdom so vulnerable, Mari has gone off to solidify alliances on his behalf and left him to carry a heavy crown on his own.
“Your Highness, may I introduce to you Sir Viktor II of the Nikiforov estate. He is my nephew and now entirely at your disposal,” Yakov explains, “I pray he will be able to keep you safe.”
“Sir Viktor the Victorious,” Yuuri feels the words heavy on his palate. Viktor seems to grimace at the sound of his own moniker, and Yuuri tries to feign he doesn’t understand why. The alliteration alone has often given Yuuri great pause to avoid a laugh, but it would be discourteous to laugh now. His mother’s assassination has made it plenty clear that Yuuri will not survive without protection. “Your reputation precedes you.”
Viktor appears to preen at this, until Yuuri continues, voice even and without the slightest bit of judgement, “They say you’re a monster in the battlefield. Nothing that crosses your path survives.” – Although Yuuri would be hard pressed to understand why. The rules of war are murky and gray, constantly evolving to match the pace of battle. Yuuri can hardly blame Viktor for evolving to survive.
“Emperor Yuuri the Heartless. The reputation of your curse also precedes you,” Viktor responds, grin wide, even as Yakov proceeds to kick him for his disrespect.
Yuuri raises a hand, “No need to punish him for the truth, Yakov. I suppose only a monster can protect an abomination.”
“Your Highness is not an abomination,” Yakov protests, perhaps too forcefully to give Yuuri any comfort.
“Lord Feltsman, I think out of the entire world, I would be best suited to determine what I am. Welcome to Yutopia, Sir Viktor. We are grateful for your loyalty. I would have never thought you’d depart from the Masumi court—although I had heard a rumor about a romantic entanglement of sorts between the Prince Consort and his knight. If that is the case, no better place to nurse a broken heart than in the court of a heartless emperor. I promise I will not judge you for doing what you will with your heart, if you do not begrudge me the inability to do anything with the heart I do not have.”
Viktor frowns, clearing his throat as he presents his sword: “I meant no disrespect, Your Highness. I am very honored to be here and will strive to protect you with my life.”
“I pray you won’t have to,” Yuuri responds, standing to depart. The robes are heavy, with thread of spun silver, and the crown on his head feels almost as heavy as the moon itself. His lady in waiting, Yuuko, helps with the train of his robes and walks behind him.
Yakov bows immediately.
“Should I assume you’re starting now?” Yuuri asks. “I dare to hope that with you keeping watch over me now, I might be able to consider a walk in the gardens for once.”
Viktor blinks himself out of his sudden stupor and nods, almost slipping as he stands and sheaths his sword again. He gives Lord Felstman a respectful nod before he follows behind Yuuri.
On the day of his eighteenth birthday, Yuuri asks Viktor: “Do you know why hearts are so important, Sir Viktor?”
Viktor shrugs, looking up from his book. They’ve taken to this routine often. Yuuri’s favorite place is the library and Viktor does not mind lying on a nearby chaise to read old war strategies while Yuuri studies languages or mathematics. Often, Yuuri likes to ask him riddles or questions to test his knowledge—and often, despite his stellar education, Viktor falls short. But, today, he has an answer.
“In the ancient times of the plague and drought, omegas would make the ultimate sacrifice and offer their hearts to their chosen alphas. From this grew the myth of love, as certain alphas collected the hearts for emergency sustenance while others returned them promptly and proceeded to bond with their new mates. Through time, we evolved with civilization and stopped needing to cannibalize for survival and moved onto such offers for purely symbolic reasons.”
“Yes,” Yuuri conceded, looking almost pleased that Viktor would know such basic mythology. “Except it’s more than just symbolic: It is a requirement for mating. An omega might be able to incite in an alpha an emotional response, perhaps even a minor level of attraction, but for bonding and mating? Such biological impulses appear to only be triggered by the offering of a heart.”
Viktor pauses for a moment. He rests the book on his lap, turning to study Yuuri.
“That is what makes me an abomination and a curse, Sir Viktor. It isn’t that I was cursed to be born without a heart, so much as the fact that being born without one makes me cursed. I have no heart. I cannot bond and will not mate and, thus, I will provide no heirs to carry on the Katsuki line. It will die with me.”
“If you consider that having hearts has often caused an omega much grief, historically even death,” Viktor whispers, “maybe being born without one is actually a sign of evolution, Your Highness. You’re primed to survive.”
Yuuri remains quiet as he blinks away the wetness in his eyes: “But not my Empire. And as I age, the vultures will start making rounds to pick at the leftovers. I can only pray that Mari’s work building our alliances will not go to waste.”
“There is always the opportunity of change, Your Highness,” Viktor reminds him. “Your sister is an alpha and she might yet give the kingdom an heir; she seems to be quite happy in her marriage. Although I understand Yutopia passes down through the firstborn omega, you are the Emperor. Nothing is above you.”
“Sir Viktor, Mari and I have long considered you family,” Yuuri confesses. “We owe you a great debt of gratitude for your protection. Perhaps it is only fair that I repay your loyalty with the truth: After consulting with the royal doctors, my sister believes that she may not be able to father a child.”
“D—does Consort Sara know?” Viktor asks, voice shaking.
“No,” Yuuri whispers. “And she will not know. That would be to invite the vultures to come sooner.”
Yuuri takes the twins to the gardens. He watches them toddle ahead as he walks side by side with his sister-in-law. Their hair matches the brightness of the sun; their eyes that of the sky. In their happiness and innocence lies the future of Yutopia. Sara rests her head against his shoulder, her soft breathing lulling him into some semblance of ease.
“Have they recovered a body?” Sara asks him.
“No,” Yuuri responds. He presses a hand against his chest, feeling the odd cadence of a heartbeat pulsing in irregular beats. He wonders how long it will last. With Viktor declared dead, Yuuri will soon cease to feel him this way. No one can say how long the heart of a dead person may beat in the chest of another. This is an anomaly, once again the product of Yuuri being an abomination. Viktor’s voice chides him in his head, but Yuuri knows it’s just his imagination.
“Then there’s at least one hope, isn’t there?”
Yuuri looks ahead at his children and hears the loud woof of Makkachin as she runs circles around the twins.
“Certainly. But, for now, there’s two,” Yuuri smiles, nodding towards his children. His hand falls to his stomach, hidden under layers of fine silks and fabric. “Perhaps three.”
Sara gasps, “Oh, Yuuri!”
Yuuri presses a finger to his lips to quiet her.
“Is Emperor Yuuri really as beautiful as they say?” Mila asks Viktor during a short trip to the Feltsman lands. She serves him more wine and leans on her elbows, prepared for a story. “They say his hair is blue as night and his skin like moonlight and his lips petal soft and that he smells like Spring, like life itself—”
“Who said his lips are soft?” Viktor snaps to attention. The entire trip, Viktor has found himself nervous, like a small woodland creature hiding behind bushes. His skin itches with the anxious energy roaring in his chest. Ever since he’d left Yuuri, he hasn’t been able to focus. There’s an entire line of soldiers ready and willing to lay down their lives for Yuuri, but Viktor does not trust them. “No one would know the texture of his mouth. But he does smell like the first day of Spring, and when they decorate his hair, it does look like the night sky itself.”
Mila shrugs, “I suppose they must look soft. He sounds so ethereal. Is he kind? Oh, is he smart? I’ve heard he’s very bright. Yutopia believes in passing the line through omegas, right?”
“The Emperor or Empress is always the Moon; their Consort is the Sun,” Viktor nods. “It’s a fascinating culture. You should have Yakov bring you to court.”
“Speaking of Yakov,” Mila leans down conspirationally. “I heard he’s got plans to talk to you about something important tonight. You should be prepared. It might be about your father.”
The day is bright and warm, and Yuuri is nineteen and feeling carefree in the company of his knight. There’s something in Yuuri’s stomach—it twists and dips—and he wants to ask Viktor what that feeling might be, but Viktor is too busy telling him about his visit home and the questions Mila tended to ask him about Yuuri. And Yuuri decides he’s old enough to know the concept of want. He leans in quickly and just as fast pulls back: “So, Sir Viktor, how do my lips feel?”
Viktor considers the question for a moment, still entirely surprised by the sudden assault on his senses. When Yuuri had leaned in close, he had not expected their lips to touch. He curses himself in his head that he was not more focused, but the peck had been fast, so swift, he’d barely registered the touch until a sport of dryness had dragged against his bottom lip.
“A bit dry, actually, Your Highness,” he says at last, reaching into his pocket for some cocoa butter. “May I?”
Yuuri lifts his chin, parting his lips lightly in invitation. Viktor’s finger trembles as it presses against Yuuri’s bottom lip.
Viktor has this vision that fogs his memory: In it, a dark-haired omega rests his head on Viktor’s lap and they rest under the shade of a tree. It is a warm autumn day, perfect for reading outdoors. His heart goes tap, tap, tap, and Viktor can hear the sound in his ears, like there’s something far, far away calling him back. He has been told that it is but an illusion, a symptom of his concussion and the memory loss playing games inside his mind. In lieu of real memories, his brain is trying to piece together anything that it can reach to jigsaw something akin to a past—and yet Viktor feels that it has the taste of something real.
“Imagination is a very, very powerful device, Your Highness,” the doctor speaks, placing a few drops of something bitter in his tea again. Viktor takes the liquid into his mouth without protest, knowing better than to swallow. “Soon your mind will sort itself out again.”
Viktor nods, waiting for the doctor to look away before he carefully spits the liquid back into the teacup. The feeling of the sedative on his tongue is mild, but still functional.
“Your father is very eager that you should recover. The Empire of Yutopia seems to have set its eyes on Aria. We will need the Star of Aria at the helm of battle.”
“Surprising that the Emperor of Aria would seek to attack us without cause,” Viktor coughs into his arm, trying to fight against sleep. “Perhaps you would ask on my behalf that my father visit me? I would like to speak to him.”
The doctor nods, “a veritable mystery what may be happening over in Yutopia. The new Emperor is a bit more bloodthirsty it seems. Rest, Your Highness. You really shouldn’t fight off sleep. It is your body’s natural mechanism for recovery. Surely your father will come to see you soon.”
“Surely,” Viktor yawns, pretending to close his eyes.
Yuuri sits in his throne. The court has been dismissed, but there is work still left to do, and he finds that the feeling of the throne beneath him keeps him rooted in the present. The twins can’t seem to sit still as they play with their robes, both sharing Viktor’s seat. Aran comments in between babbles that he can smell Viktor, and Yuuri realizes then that Viktor’s scent is still embedded in the cushioned back of the seat. Arianne presses her cheek against the back of the chair and her bottom lip wobbles.
“Daddy,” she cries and Yuuko grabs her quickly to bounce her into silence. Aran watches his sister in surprise but remains rooted in his seat, only crawling closer to the arm of the chair. “Mama,” Arianne continues, stretching out her arms for Yuuri. They’re only two. Yuuri has no expectation that they should act like anything other than children. He accepts her from Yuuko, pressing her head against his chest. Arianne proceeds to press a tiny hand on his stomach. Big, wet tears cling to her cheeks.
Yakov clears his throat and reads the note again from the Kingdom of Aria: “—being left without heir and having it on good authority that the Empire of Yutopia need only one omega, should either or both of the children be an alpha or unneeded for the line of succession, the Kingdom of Aria would like to entreat the Emperor to cede a child to take on the throne of Aria.”
“Does the Kingdom of Aria truly expect that, having lost my husband, I should now accept to give up one of my children?” Yuuri brushes a hand down Arianne’s curls and sighs. “The Kingdom of Aria long refused to acknowledge my marriage to the Star of Aria, who, if I remember, abdicated his rights to the throne to take the role of Consort here—precisely because the Kingdom of Aria did not wish to be subsumed under the Empire. Why should I now allow them to claim any of my children, and at that simply for the convenience of their line of succession? As far as I’m concerned, the Star of Aria ceased to exist long before my husband took his last breath.”
“Aria has never recognized the abdication of the late Emperor Consort and, by default, the marriage. The letter does recognize the children to be both of Yutopia and Aria and claims rights over them under the laws of paternity that rule Aria,” Yakov frowns. “In Aria, alphas own their children.”
“And their omegas. But we are not in Aria. They cannot possibly be so daft as to imply that Viktor owned me, owned our children. He loved us, enough to be willing to sacrifice his life for us. He said it many times.”
“I cannot image they would dare, Your Highness,” Yakov admits as he hands the letter to Yuuri. “I believe this is simply desperation come to bear fruit; the King is not well. This does not appear to be written by him, or not by him in all his faculties. It is clumsy, perhaps even verges on the uneducated. I will ask some friends in court if they’re aware of any changes among the advisors.”
“Even if none of my children should be omegas, the Kingdom of Aria can expect them to remain here in Yutopia,” Yuuri hums, reading over the letter again. “As far as I’m concerned, the Empire of Yutopia does not see them as being from Aria in any way.”
Viktor practices daily in the courtyards while Yuuri takes a break in the hot springs. As he takes a short water break, Yakov approaches him hastily with a note in hand: “Your father has called for you. He insists you return.”
“He’s been insisting for a year now,” Viktor smirks, taking the note from Yakov. “Doesn’t mean I have any intention of returning.”
Yakov looks uncomfortable as he says, “He’s not the only one that’s insisting now, Viktor. I think you’re overextending yourself. Your personal interest in maintaining the safety of the Emperor is beginning to show. The courts are abuzz. I do not want a repeat of what happened in the Masumi lands. Nor do I think it sensible to support your infatuation or prolong your father’s attention on Yutopia. The Empire is weak without an heir.”
“You can’t possibly compare the two,” Viktor scoffs, eyes reading over the paper frantically. “Tell him no. He sent me away from the kingdom when he thought his new wife might bear him a new heir and now that he finds her barren, he wishes me to return to save the line of succession? It would be like spitting on my mother’s grave to return.”
“You’re still the Star of Aria,” Yakov reminds him gently.
“Then, I abdicate. Henceforth, I am no longer the Star of Aria!” Viktor yells, almost laughing. A few confused soldiers mutter among themselves. Yakov proceeds to slap him in the back. “Ouch, Yakov. A light touch, please.”
“Is everything a joke to you? Has nothing consequence? I did not want to do this, Viktor, but you leave me no choice. I must ask you to leave.”
“Under whose authority?”
“The Emperor’s,” Yakov furrows his brows.
Viktor cross his arms, “Does the Emperor know he has asked me to leave? And if I leave, who will keep him safe? – You don’t expect me to leave him unattended under the care of these buffoons. I spend hours training them. Hours. And still just three days ago, I had to carry him off during another assassination attempt—in the midst of his heat, no less.”
“And those will not stop until the Emperor is bonded and mated and the stability of the kingdom is assured. I’m still unsure as to what you were doing near the Emperor’s quarters; we forbade all alphas—even you—of being around during his heat.”
“He cannot do either,” Viktor whispers harshly. “He can’t mate. He can’t bond. He needs my protecton.”
“He can pretend with someone, anyone,” Yakov responds. “If you want to abdicate, I cannot prevent you from it, but do it properly. Do not drag him into a spat with your father over your own personal caprice.”
“So, you want me to leave? And if I don’t return?”
“All the better. I’ve found a suitable prospect to take your place from the Plisetsky family.”
Viktor laughs, “Yurio? You cannot possibly think he’ll be better than I am when it comes to protecting Yuuri.”
“I don’t expect him to be better at protecting the Emperor, Viktor,” Yakov shrugs. “But he will be just as good, and that’s really all I need.”
When Arianne and Aran are born, Yuuri watches them in amazement. He wonders if they’re a dream. Viktor names them as he plays with their toes, watching their feet curl when he pokes them. Yuuri laughs weakly and feels as a maid washes the sweat on his forehead with a sponge. Even as the babies now lie next to him, he can still feel them like a phantom limb in his womb.
“They’re perfect,” Viktor tells him, pressing a kiss at the center of Yuuri’s head. He’s still wearing his golden armor, streaks of blood clinging to his cheek. But Yuuri still thinks he’s beautiful.
“Not bad for a half-hearted omega,” Yuuri jokes, breathing in Viktor’s scent deeply. The remnants of war cling to his musk, but Yuuri finds that he does not mind it. “I thought you were in battle still. I thought you would miss their arrival.”
“I could feel my heart accelerating, feel your anxiety,” Viktor confesses, pressing their foreheads together. “The battle was over by then. I rushed back immediately, not without extending the border, so to my chagrin, even when I won, I added to my own misery and also extended the length of my trip—and the time it took to get to you. You had a long labor.”
Yuuri hums, barely remembering the amount of time he’d spent in a haze of pain and exhaustion, “You’ll spoil me, making me a bigger Empire.”
“You’ve spoiled me, making me a family,” Viktor smiles, reaching down to pick up Arianne in his arms. “Do you think you’ll be an omega, little one? Or will it be your brother? Or perhaps both of you? – If it is both of you, I hope we took good account of who came first.”
Yuuri laughs, pressing a kiss on Aran’s cheek.
The thing about rumors, Yuuri finds, is that they’re often very true when referring to royalty. Yakov runs through the information one more time for Yuuri’s consideration. He’s been speaking to some former friends from the court of Aria and discovered that many do not believe the king to be alive.
“If the King of Aria is dead, then why the pretension?” Yuuri speaks slowly, his heart speeding up again. He rests a palm over his chest, taking in deep breaths. “Surely, then, they were never going to wait for the children to present. They intended to just take one, perhaps both.”
“Perhaps you ought to pull His Highness’ heart out of your chest, Your Highness. It might be making you ill,” Yuuko whispers, bringing a cold cloth to rest behind Yuuri’s neck. Yuuri squeezes her hand momentarily, shaking his head. His other hand slowly slides down to his stomach. “Should I bring you some tea to soothe your nausea?”
“Thank you, Yuuko.”
Yakov sighs, “If true, then the line of succession is broken. Without an heir and only a former mistress on the throne, chances are high the kingdom will begin to splinter. It does not benefit the current queen to make it known too soon that she has been left in charge too soon.”
“And a nation at war without a king won’t raise any alarms?” Yuuri speaks despite his discomfort. “She must be daft. But with this knowledge, I feel secure that we will crush them and then Aria will belong to us.”
“The assumption is that there is no king,” Yakov locks eyes with Yuuri, who considers his words carefully. “But what if, what if there is a king? An unwilling one, perhaps. Not easy enough for her to manipulate; not like a child—which seems to be what she seeks, along with a little chaos to maintain just enough confusion to not remove her fully from the court.”
“Viktor could be alive,” Yuuri whispers. He turns to look at his children, playing quietly on the ground with blocks. “And he certainly wouldn’t keep his stepmother around if he didn’t have to; although, if my husband is alive, why would he not return home? If he is alive.”
Arianne notices him watching and gives him a big smile, extending out a block: “Mama, look.”
“The question is for how long he’ll be alive, Your Highness,” Yakov clears his throat. “I’ve a feeling if he has not returned home, it’s because he cannot.”
Yuuri sighs, “then either way, we must take Aria.”
The only memory that Viktor can replay in his head with any certainty is that he has a family—a family waiting for him in Yutopia. And he begins to wonder why it feels like drowning in cold water to look into the horizon of his bedroom only to watch himself, with the certainty of names and the existence of individuals that remain encased in the shadows of his mind.
By the door, Viktor bounces Aran in the air. His son laughs, bright and happy as he falls back down into the comfort of Viktor’s arms. Arianne seems discontented to be left behind and demands her turn by lifting her arms.
“Oh, is it your turn now?” Viktor chuckles, pressing a kiss to Aran’s forehead before reaching for his sister. Arianne has no interest in being bounced in the air. She wraps her arms around Viktor’s neck and rests her head on his chest—and Viktor can recognize through the reflection of Yuuri’s eyes the moment Viktor’s eyes widen and he melts. “How are they this adorable, Yuuri?”
Yuuri shakes his head, reading a history book.
“I don’t know, beloved. They do take after you, right down to their dimples.”
“But surely this is a skill they got from you,” Viktor says, kneeling on the ground so that he can hold both twins at the same time. “They’re so small and cute, and I bet the next one is going to be just as cute. I don’t know how I’ll survive.”
Yuuri blinks, staring up at Viktor, “the next one?”
“I can tell when your scent changes, my love,” Viktor winks at him. “That and Makkachin seems incapable of leaving your side. She keeps nosing your stomach.”
Yuuri’s cheeks blush pink at the realization, “By the moon, Viktor, I swear to you that I had not even considered it. Another one. The twins are barely two. And you’ll soon be off on a trip. This is terrible timing.”
“I’ll be back quickly, Yuuri,” Viktor promises, crawling with the twins hanging from his back. He squeezes Yuuri’s hand. “I promise. There’s just something I must do, but I will be back promptly. I don’t want to be separated any longer than I have to, my love.”
“Is it true we’re going to war?” Yuuko asks Yuuri as she helps him prepare for bed. The twins are already tucked inside his bed, sleeping peacefully on Viktor’s empty spot with one of Viktor’s old tunics between them. Yuuri had not had the heart to change the sheets for a while, but eventually Yuuko had insisted—and Yuuri had known this was the beginning of truly losing his heart.
Yuuri nods, “They want Arianne and Aran. I cannot let them have them, or this little one.”
“You’re getting bigger, Yuuri. You’ll have to stop going outside soon, lest the news travel far.”
“A pregnant omega without the protection of an alpha and two small heirs would certainly incite the vultures,” Yuuri admits. “We’ll have to style things differently.”
“Don’t worry,” Yurio says from the corner of the room. “Otabek and I’ll make sure to defend your honor out on the battlefield, Your Highness. They won’t know what hit them. It’ll all be over in the blink of an eye—and if we do see anything suspicious, we’ll report it to you right away.”
Yuuko brushes Yuuri’s hair: “May this all be over soon. All this stress cannot be good for this little one.”
Yuuri sits in his throne with only Yurio standing watch behind him. Although the beta is young and lithe, he’s impressive with a sword and has enough personality to keep Yuuri entertained, even if he finds little solace in friendly company after Viktor’s sudden departure. It’s a surprise, then, when Viktor shows up in the empty court room, coughing as he holds out his heart in his hand. He’s dressed in a pair of riding pants and boots, and an open tunic shirt that shows where he has pulled out his own heart.
“Your Highness,” he smiles.
Alphas are not accustomed to reaching into the flap of their chest to pull out their heart. Evolution has not equipped them with the same habit. Next to Yuuri, Yurio looks green and almost nauseous. Betas do not extract their hearts from their chests for courtships. If any of their categories has truly evolved, it is betas.
“Viktor,” Yuuri gets up from the throne, struggling against the layers of his robe to meet him in the middle of the room.
Viktor kneels on one knee, and for the first time Yuuri can see that he has taken a knife to his own heart.
“I, the former Star of Aria, out of love for the Moon of Yutopia, have abdicated from the throne of Aria. I have no kingdom. I have no name. I have nothing to offer the Emperor except my heart and my loyalty.”
Yuuri feels a knot form in his throat as his fingers press over his own sternum—empty.
“I know you’ve no heart to give me, so I offer mine to share.”
It is entirely unorthodox for an alpha to do this, and Yuuri is not even sure if, in this offer, Viktor has done irreparable damage to himself. Although hearts are not explicitly needed for life, no one has ever shared one permanently. Yuuri eyes Viktor, who waits expectantly.
Yuuri’s fingers tremble as he reaches for half of Viktor’s heart. He admires Viktor with affection as he reaches for the flap in Viktor’s chest and begins to deposit it into the cradle that lies there, empty. Viktor’s face seems to break with something akin to pain—and it takes Yuuri a moment to realize Viktor thinks he has been rejected. In his haste, Yuuri struggles with his robes, almost wishing he could rip the front to show Viktor he has not been rejected, and Yuuko runs over to assist him, shielding him from Viktor’s eyes.
“M—may I?” she asks Viktor, who nods rapidly. Gingerly, she takes the other half of Viktor’s heart and hands it to Yuuri, who, now able to access his own chest, deposits the other half into his ribcage. Yuuko dresses him quickly again, before curtsying away.
Viktor looks exhausted in front of Yuuri.
“I probably did that in the wrong order,” Yuuri confesses, looking guilty.
Viktor laughs, reaching for Yuuri with the intensity of the sun in summer. Yuuri melts into him.
“To be fair, there’s no precedent for this,” Viktor reminds him.
Yuuri beams, placing a hand over Viktor’s chest: “They beat just the same. It feels odd.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Yuuri nods, reaching up to kiss Viktor.
Mourning is not for royalty. Viktor cannot mourn his father. Yakov had once warned him that the death of a king is the birth of another—and it appears Viktor is coming into this birth with a brother: War. He hears the clamor of soldiers is in the horizon, already steeped deep in the frontier.
As he dons the armor, a soft voice whispers in his mind: Will you not regret your abdication?
There is little time for regret. Viktor can barely remember victory.
So, he mounts his horse, ignoring the pain in his chest. He stands at the front in gold armor shining bright under the sun and when he hears the trumpets of battle, he takes off his helmet to feel the wind against his hot skin.
“You’re sure you will not regret your abdication?” Yuuri asks him on their wedding day. He looks beautiful with the veil on his face and the silver adorning his hair and neck. Viktor admires him with fondness, fingers trembling as he lets them rest on Yuuri’s small waist.
“I regret nothing that would prove my loyalty to you,” Viktor tells him. “I promised to give my life to protect you, if necessary. That has not changed. If anything, my commitment is only greater. You should not hesitate to give up my life should it ever be required to save yours, my Yuuri.”
Yuuri fixes the lapels of Viktor’s uniform, “well, I still pray you never have to give up your life for me, beloved.”
Yurio finds that all battlefields feel the same. Viktor had once told him that most of his battles felt more like foggy memories than reality, blending into the same smells, same sounds, same hammering nerves—much like remembering the games he played as a child with wooden soldiers. Yurio considers this with amusement as he watches the line-up of soldiers in the colors of the flag of Aria. He stares behind him at the formation of Yutopia.
He unsheathes his sword, lifting it high when Otabek stops him with a heavy arm: “Wait.”
“What is it?”
“We have to retreat,” Otabek orders. “We have to retreat. Look closely. That’s the Emperor Consort. If we charge into battle now, either we risk killing him or losing men who will refuse to battle with him. There is no choice for us. We must retreat.”
“Shouldn’t we talk to him? What insane game is he playing?” Yurio narrows his eyes, staring into the distance. He watches as Viktor locks eyes with him, something akin to recognition barely flashing in the glint of his eyes. His breath hitches loudly, and he yells: “Retreat!”
The blares of trumpets signal the charge of the soldier from Aria, but already they stop midway through the battlefield when they spot the uncharacteristic retreat of the Yutopian calvary and army.
“Could he, perhaps, not remember us?” Yuuri asks Yakov, pacing the length of his bedroom.
“It’s very likely,” Yurio interrupts. He remembers the look in Viktor’s eyes and shudders. “He really did seem ready to battle, but he made no effort to stop when he saw me or Otabek, which was odd to us. We did not dare risk entering into battle with His Highness. I admit I’m never one to back down from a fight with the old man, but I wasn’t about to risk doing any type of damage to him.”
Yakov sighs, “if that is the case, then, we will simply have to make sure we take him alive. Either that, or figure out a way to make sure he remembers. Both seem equally difficult.”
Yuuri purses his lips in thought: “Not if we give him the right motivation.”
Yurio frowns, leaning against a desk, “Although, if by some chance he does know what he’s doing, what should we do then? – We can’t just let him take down the Empire this way.”
“If by some chance he has made the decision to attack us, then we will have to kill him, of course,” Yuuri responds, a hand rubbing circles over his stomach. “It’s what my husband would have wanted.”
At the border between Aria and the furthest stretches of the Empire of Yutopia, Yuuri rides into battle with his children and the obvious signs of a developed pregnancy. He stands at the front of his army and waits for his knight to ride ahead with a white flag and speak to Viktor, and then continues to ride slowly yet certain to the middle of the battleground.
He watches as Viktor rides over to meet him, with an uncertain and almost unreadable expression on his face. And he tries to control the pitter-patter of his heart as it lays eyes on his husband.
“Daddy!” Arianne yells first, trying to crawl off the horse’s neck to reach Viktor.
“You bring children into battle?” Viktor asks him, looking confused.
At his tone, Arianne stops and cowers back against Yuuri’s stomach. Aran hugs his sister, pouting as he seeks the comfort of his mother’s warmth. Yuuri bends down to whisper soothing words to them both, before he reaches into the flap of his chest and pulls out half a heart, red and pulsating. Yuuri can almost feel the flicker of recognition in the dark recesses of Viktor’s mind.
“You offer me this?” Viktor blinks. “This is quite unorthodox, Your Highness.”
“It always was,” Yuuri shakes his head, “But I am not offering it; I am returning it. I often wondered why I was born as I was and it has taken me until now to remember what you told me – that, perhaps, I am not an abomination, but simply poised for survival. Your loyalty appears to have proven as fickle as your love, and seeing as I have either my heart or my Empire and children to lose, I shall have to lose the former, King Viktor.”
Viktor takes the heart in his hand, feeling it shrink at the words. He feels as his own heart constricts in his chest. When he looks up again, he considers the only memory that rings clear in his mind. He blinks several times.
“I bet the next one will be just as cute,” Viktor whispers, eyes on Yuuri’s stomach. Blood always calls to us. He shakes his head. “The next one…”
“Won’t you come home to see for yourself?” Yuuri asks, voice even and certain.
“Nothing is clear here,” Viktor touches his head, but stretches out the half heart to give it back to Yuuri. He presses a hand against his chest, “And everything feels odd in here. I remember you, but I also fear I do not know you. And yet, I cannot bring myself to even consider hurting you.”
Yuuri takes the fragment of Viktor’s heart and slips it back into his chest: “It’s alright, Viktor. You’ll get used to it.”
When Yuuri’s horse turns to return to his side of the battleground, Viktor follows, confused as he stares over his shoulder at the army he leaves behind. The soldiers look at each other in confusion before proceeding to retreat.
Viktor is grateful the bed is big enough for all of them, between the twins asleep on one side and Viktor pressed close to Yuuri on the other. It’s comforting to have everyone he loves within reach.
“Would you have gone to battle with me? Killed me to save yourself, our children?” Viktor asks Yuuri, now recovered as he holds their newborn in his arms. Yuuri sighs against him, considering his words carefully. It does not bring Viktor much confidence. “You seemed quite decided to do it from what I remember, but I did wonder after – when you handed my heart back, your hand trembled.”
“Yes,” Yuuri admits after a short while. “I would not have wanted to, but you once gave me your word that you would strive to protect me, even it if might cost your life. Although I didn’t think you would hurt us, I knew you’d rather hurt yourself than hurt us—and I was nothing if not determined to ensure we did not betray your wishes.”
“I’m glad you remembered then, even when I did not,” Viktor nods, seemingly pleased as he presses a kiss against Yuuri’s hair: “I will always strive to protect you with my life, my love.”
“I know,” Yuuri whispers, “but just as I did when we met, as I did in the battlefield, as I do now: I pray you never have to, Viktor.”