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His robes are too heavy and his face feels like it’s melting from the heat, but Yuri ignores his discomforts and stands tall, chest puffed out with pride as Victor kneels at their father’s feet.

Coronation day had dawned bright and early, and Yuri had been up with the sun, watching the last streaks of pre-dawn fade from the sky as he took his morning bath. Today was the day his brother would take on the crown, accept his rightful place as the new king, and continue their father’s just rule for another generation. Yuri knew that Victor had been dreaming of this day since childhood; he could remember days where the two of them would play knight and king in the gardens, swordfighting with sticks and fending off imaginary enemies for hours at a time. On the rare occasions when the guards’ children would be out as well, they could have a whole kingdom; Georgi and Yuri would be valiant knights who saved the helpless Princess Mila from the evil wizard Otabek and delivered her to the waiting King Victor, who would grant her a true love’s kiss upon her cheek.

Today, Georgi stands tall and sturdy on Yuri’s father’s right, sword raised to cross his body in a respectful salute; Otabek and his father stand to Yuri’s right in high-collared robes of dark green; and Mila waits at the throne, draped in an extravagant lilac and silver gown that matches Victor’s robes. Yuri catches her eye, and they share a secret, joyful smile; they both know how long Victor had been dreaming of this day, and now, here he was, living out the moment he’d been fantasizing about since childhood.

Yuri’s father, the King, quickly gives the obligatory speech, and then Phichit is there, dressed in white, bearing the crown on a silk pillow. Yuri’s father lifts the crown and places it on Victor’s head, and the room bursts into applause. Yuri feels his heart swell as he claps loudly for his brother, and Victor smiles as he stands, taking the staff and turning to face the gathered kingdom and recite his vows.

His coronation vows don’t take long, and the room applauds lightly when he’s finished. Victor’s smile never fails as he gives their father one final bow and ascends the stairs to the throne, where his princess awaits, and the second half of the ceremony commences. Victor and Mila exchange marriage vows, and Yuri watches their faces closely for hints of regret, but finds none. The two exchange rings and a quick kiss, and, just like that, the kingdom has a queen.

Their marriage is nothing but a show, of course: legally, the king needs a queen, and Mila is one of Victor’s closest friends, as well as the kingdom’s strongest warrior. Logically, it makes sense for him to choose her to rule alongside him for the duration of their lives. Across the room, Yuri can see Yuuri and Sara, both dressed in elegant robes of midnight blue, applauding lightly as their lovers pledge themselves to each other. Yuri knows about that, of course; to most, Yuuri is just the royal advisor and Sara is the queen’s assistant, but Victor is his brother, and Mila his best friend. Of the few they trust with the knowledge of who they had truly pledged themselves to, Yuri is at the top of the list.

The ceremony is officially over. Otabek sighs next to him, and Yuri slyly reaches over to twine their fingers together, the movement shielded by the long sleeves of their robes. Yuri’s grandfather puts an arm around his shoulders and holds him close as they watch Victor and Mila walk hand-in-hand to their thrones, releasing one another only to turn around and sit. Yuri tries to catch Mila’s eye again, but she has eyes for only one person now, and if Yuri didn’t know better he could swear Sara was crying. He glances at Victor just as Victor turns, and their eyes, meet. Victor smiles and waves, eyes full of pride, and Yuri feels the first joyful tears spill over. He’d actually done it. Victor had actually—

The first gunshot goes off. The crown falls from Victor’s head and hits the marble floor, gems shattering, and Yuri’s heart stops beating.

The crowd erupts into utter chaos. The civilians who have gathered for the ceremony make a beeline for the doors, but suddenly, the doors no longer exist. The explosions go off one after another, and the walls crack like thin ice and buckle, crumpling in on themselves. Yuri falls to the floor as the earth shakes, coughing, unable to see as dust clouds the air. He hears screaming, and he tries to move, but collapses as a body falls on top of him. It takes a second for Yuri to realize that it’s Otabek, and that he’s shielding Yuri from the gunfire and arrows that are raining down upon them like snow. Yuri shoves him off but grabs his hand, anchoring himself, and the two army-crawl across the floor, trying to get somewhere, anywhere but here.

Yuri’s eyes are squeezed shut against the dust, so it’s a surprise when his arm bumps into something lying in his path. A hesitant touch tells him that it’s a body, and he reels back, horrified, unable to open his eyes and face the possibilities of what he’s about to see. But then the body moves, and a hand reaches out to grasp his wrist, and Yuri’s eyes flutter open, squinting against the ash and dust.

“Yuratchka,” the person grumbles, and Yuri’s stomach leaps—grandpa. Yuri slithers forward, grabbing his grandfather’s hand in his own, and his relieved smile vanishes as quickly as it had appeared. His grandpa is lying on his back, chest rising and falling in rapid breaths. He stares at Yuri, and Yuri stares at the arrow sticking out of his neck.

Yuri can’t help it. He leans to the side and dry heaves. Yuri’s grandpa closes his eyes, hand faintly squeezing Yuri’s as he gasps and cries.

“Grandpa, no,” Yuri whimpers, slumping to the ground. “No, no, you can’t—you’re going to be alright, you hear? You’re going to be fine. I promise.”

“Yuri,” his grandfather pants, and Yuri sobs drily in response. “Go. Run. Get out of here while you can. You have to live for me.”

Yuri’s body shakes, resisting, but Yuri forces himself to nod and says, “I will. I will. Grandpa, I love you, I love you so much—“

An explosion shakes the earth not fifteen feet from them, and Yuri is blasted backwards, his hand leaving Otabeks. All the air leaves his lungs as his back hits the ground, and his body contorts. He gasps like a fish, struggling to find breath as another bomb goes off, farther away this time. HIs mind flashes frantically to his grandfather—dead, he’s dead, he’s fucking dead, and Yuri doesn’t know how he’ll go on without his dedushka, but he’ll have to manage somehow, because he’s getting out of here. He’s going to live. And Otabek—oh, God, where’s Otabek? Yuri rolls to his side, curling into the fetal position, eyes straining to see through the dust and find him. When he finds nothing, he struggles to his hands and knees, crawling back towards where his grandpa had been. He doesn’t make it; he trips over something lying in his path, and, looking down, registers the pale arm twisted underneath his knee.

His eyes shoot to the source of the arm, and there he is, lying on his stomach, unconscious. Yuri’s throat produces a curdled choking sound, and he slides forward, hands wrapping around Otabek’s shoulders and shaking.

“Beka, wake up! C’mon, we have to—“

Yuri ducks as an explosion blasts through the nearby wall, sending chunks of marble and ivory flying at his head. He flattens his body on top of Otabek’s and hunkers down, waiting for the aftershocks to fade before raising his head again. Otabek is still out cold, and Yuri grits his teeth, realizing what he’s got to do. His hand clamps to the front of Otabek’s robes, and, inch by inch, Yuri painstakingly drags him in the direction of the wall that had just been blasted in.

Somehow, they make it. The hole is easily big enough to fit a person through, so Yuri shoves Otabek out first, making sure he doesn’t get caught on any of the jagged edges. Once he’s through, Yuri follows, ducking through the hole and collapsing on his hands and knees in the grass next to his friend.

The world outside is just as chaotic as the world inside. It’s pitch black, but Yuri can hear the sounds of people running past, villagers and palace workers alike, all trying to escape the terrible fate that had met the royal family. Every few seconds, a gun goes off, and Yuri hears scattered screams as someone cackles madly. A triumphant horn sounds nearby, and Otabek stirs. Yuri quickly grabs him and drags him behind a shrub, and not a moment too soon; seconds later, a small fleet rides by on horseback, carrying torches and a large flag that Yuri recognizes instantly. His stomach drops.

The rebel force was supposed to be long dead.

Supposed to be. Apparently, was not. Yuri analyzes their movements, and he grits his teeth, blood running cold, as a man with dark hair rides by in the center of the pack, wearing a a long lilac and sliver cape.

Victor’s cape.

The next time Yuri looks down, Otabek is awake, blinking up at him in confusion. “Yura,” he starts, but Yuri shushes him, and Otabek quiets down. “Where are we?”

“We’re outside,” Yuri whispers, wincing as two more explosions go off somewhere not too far away. “A bomb exploded, and you passed out, so I had to drag you through the wall.”

Otabek regards him carefully. “Your grandfather?”

Yuri looks away.

Otabek’s hand reaches up to touch his cheek. “I’m sorry,” he says, although his voice sounds short and choked. “I’m so sorry.”

Yuri bites his lip to keep himself from crying, because now is not the time, dammit. “Do you think you can run?”

Otabek huffs determinedly and nods, and Yuri rolls off of him, crouching down as Otabek climbs to his knees. He tests himself, shifting back and forth for a moment, before deciding that he’s okay, and the two move through the bushes, trying to remain as quiet as possible as they shift through the undergrowth.

Eventually, though, the bushes run out, and Yuri and Otabek are left with an entire courtyard to cut across in plain sight of everyone around them. At least it’s dark, Yuri thinks as Otabek pants next to him, and without a word, Yuri takes his hand, and the two rise to their feet and break into a dead sprint across the palace grounds.

It’s almost like moving through water. Countless people run around them, bump into them, create a sea of human flesh that crashes against itself in waves, occasionally dragging the unfortunate sailor down to its depths. Yuri and Otabek manage to keep each other on their feet, holding on for dear life as they brave the open waters. Somehow, in the darkness, Yuri spots Mila, risen above the crowd in. a halo of white, robes billowing around her, bow drawn taut to her cheek as she takes down the enemy one by one. She is in her true element here, fighting viciously for what she loves, and Yuri wants to call out to her, to tell her goodbye, and that he loves her—but then she flinches, mouth open in a silent scream as an arrow pierces her stomach, and the man in Victor’s cape surges forward, catching her and plunging a dagger into her chest.

Yuri’s mind goes numb, and he clings to Otabek’s hand as he’s dragged away from the scene without even a goodbye to his older sister.

The world is quiet. Yuri moves through syrup, and it tugs at his limbs, pulling him down and tempting him to stop, to just lie down and rest. But no. Otabek is there, holding onto his hand as if for dear life, urging him onward, shouting something urgent to him even if Yuri can’t hear what it is. Yuri shakes his head and takes a step forward, and his senses return, the wave of noise crashing down upon him.

He takes a breath, grips Otabek’s hand tighter, and runs.

They’ve almost made it to the wall when Otabek finally gives in to the fatigue, grunting in pain as he stumbles and nearly takes Yuri down with him. Yuri just barely manages to keep himself on his feet, but Otabek’s knees hit the ground, and he hunches in on himself, hands clamping down on his side. His eyes go wide, and he gasps in shock and pain and mutters something Yuri doesn't catch. Yuri puts a hand on his shoulder and tugs, urging him to get back on his feet.

“Beka, we’re almost there. C’mon, we have to go,” he insists, and Otabek swallows, chest heaving, and allows himself to be pulled up. His hands don’t leave his side, so Yuri holds his sleeve instead, and the two make the final dash to the finish.

The gate is closed, of course, but Yuri is a prince, and he and Victor had spent countless hours of their youth exploring every inch of the palace, inside and out. He knows exactly which stone block to move to find the entrance to the secret passage. He takes Otabek’s shoulder and shoves him down the stairs first, following soon after, and before they know it, they’re outside the palace walls, staring at an evergreen forest and freedom.

Midnight is long gone as they make a dash for the woods, and as Yuri stares at the periwinkle sky as a horn sounds behind them. Yuri knows not to look back, but he does anyway, and is met with the sight of Victor’s cape billowing in the breeze as the man who killed Mila smiles down at his escaping form. Yuri knows who he is now: Jean-Jacques Leroy, public enemy to the crown and notorious leader of the rebellion.

Yuri whips his head around and, if possible, runs faster. Otabek huffs in measured breaths beside him, and the two break the treeline as the first rays of dawn begin to color the sky.