Sidney is too young. This is what is made clear. However with the main branch of the Maritimes-Albertine family either decimated on the battlefield or sitting in on the negotiation to end the Last Dawn War, there is are very few viable names that can be floated. What ones that are brought to the table during the formal negotiation of the armistice are picked over.
“It is shameful,” one of the Maritimes-Albertine overhears one of the delegates from the Rurik-Romanov House complain. “Serezha will be the Grand Prince - we are being offered sons of country lords.”
“Or daughters who should only be married into cadet branches of their own family,” the other delegate sniffs.
There is truth to their statements; but something undeniably ugly too.
But then - it’s not like they are in a position to argue.
In the end, Sidney is chosen above his various distant half, illegitimate, or second/third/fourth/fifth cousins.
There is an age gap, true. But - a crown prince. It is a good match.
And matches need to be made. Too much has been lost, too much has been laid waste.
In ruin of war agreements are made, contracts are written, and ink grafts royal houses and family lines together.
Sidney is from a offshoot/sub-branch of the Maritimes-Albertine family. He is young, bright, and he proxy marries the future Grand Prince of Moscow when he is twelve.
It is an awkward, onerous ceremony. It is organised by others, and witnessed by strangers. His cousin Jonathan is his proxy groom standing in for Serezha. Dressed in the same shades of blue and silver, his hand is clammy when Sidney takes it, and he stumbles over the Latin vows.
Sidney’s mouth carefully shapes out the words he offers in exchange. He finds himself looking past Jonny, past the dais and getting stuck on the flickering candles. Everything is stuffy, and the scent of incense pushes at him. He already has a headache before salvoes are fired when he and Jonny step outside.
Jonny is promised to someone as well. On the steps of the Cathedral his hand twitches in Sidney’s. Maybe they should let go of each other. Sidney doesn’t - can’t.
The trumpets and kettledrums play on and on and on.
Two summers later, Sidney attends Jonny’s proxy marriage.
“It doesn’t feel like anything afterwards,” he promises Jonny.
(It isn’t a lie).
It doesn’t feel like anything at all. Not really.
Then Serezha dies.
The Russian Ambassador pulls Sidney out of class. They are given privacy, in the Schnucks-St Mary’s administrative office. There, the ambassador places his hand next to Sidney’s, careful not to touch him even in this moment.
“There was a collision early this morning,” the Ambassador tells Sidney. “I believe there was black ice on the road.”
He has spent the last however many number of years being tutored in Russian. (In French, in German, in Polish, in Latin - trying to make up for lost time, trying to ready himself for a role he was not ever meant to have…)
“Thank you for your condolences,” he says. Tries to say.
There is some confusion afterwards. Time has changed the landscape. There have been shifts in politics and royal policy, and in the people playing at them. In short; there is a nothing short of an international incident only just being kept behind closed doors.
Evgeni does not know this, because no one wants him to know.
Some argue that the proxy marriage counts as a marriage. Others argue that the agreement was honored in spirit if not in law. The Canadians bristle at both arguments. It is not enough. They lost too much.
“A Grand Prince isn’t enough?” someone from the Rurik House asks; their grief now a weapon.
“A Grand Prince would be enough,” the Canadians say. “That is what we agreed upon at this very table.”
The once future Grand Prince of Moscow is dead. The current future Grand Prince is promised to another.
“This agreement predates all others,” Sidney’s maternal great grandmother says at one point. She will not be persuaded otherwise.
Sidney is not her favourite, but he is hers.
Peace is a brittle thing. The alliance between the two countries, and two royal houses is threatened. Behind closed doors are old wounds reopened, and old arguments rehashed. Sidney’s birth, his breeding, and standing are all discussed once more.
“This whole affair is shaming,” Sidney’s maternal great grandmother says.
It is. For everyone, even her, who accepts the second son of a Duke, and a large amount of gold Sidney will never see or touch.
Evgeni is the second son of the Duke in question. There has been little need for him in past few years. The four young princes of the Tsar and Tsarina had assured the future of the Rurik-Romanov House. Glittering and brilliant, in the ruins of the war they had provided bright hints of a possible future. As a favored cousin, Evgeni had been a playmate to the youngest, but little more.
In the absence of any formal attention from the royal court, he had grown without instruction. His mind was sharp, but he was easily bored. His hands often felt clumsy, and his heart certainly was. In his teenage years he had fallen in and out of love too many times to count. It was not something he had grown out of. He had only just escaped from making a mess of his name the previous Spring, though he cannot escape this.
“I thought -” Evgeni says, looking from his cousin to his brother.
He had thought it would be the girl. The youngest.
“The youngest unmarried,” Denis corrects.
Sidney. Not his sister.
Among other things, Evgeni will receive a title along with a husband. It wasn’t just Sidney’s family who lost not only heirs but entire branches of the royal family to the war. Several titles are available to them. Yet the choice is not theirs.
“If you have a preference I can try to get it for you,” Alex offers. (Alex being Alexander Ovechkin of the House of Rurik-Romanov, the youngest Prince of Russia, which meant it was more than an offer).
But it is his older brother, Pavel - Pasha - Datsyuk, who asks what, if anything, Evgeni wants.
“I don’t know.”
He doesn’t know Sidney.
“I have heard Sidney likes skating during the winter,” he offers after some thought, “So perhaps somewhere near Yekaterinburg. The ice is always very fine near the Ural River.”
Yekaterinburg is maybe a week, maybe a week and a half of travel from Magnitogorsk. The once grand Eupraxia Palace is set near the forests and great waterways and lakes.
“I believe my brother gifted Sidney a property in Moscow, which will be quite suitable for a city household,” Pasha adds, “Though perhaps you may prefer to spend your summers somewhere in St Petersburg.”
It is all more than Evgeni could have expected. Especially the property in Moscow, which Pasha could have rightfully requested Sidney return. Evgeni isn’t a prince. And Sidney -
“He always seemed very impressive when I was lucky enough to spend time with him,” Pasha tells Evgeni.
He tells Evgeni about Sidney’s school days, about parties they had attended, and various international events. He even can share a little about Sidney’s childhood pets and favourites books.
It is a person told in shorthand. A sketch of someone.
Sidney would have been - was - Pasha’s brother in law. He knew him better than most.
Evgeni knew of Sidney because everyone in Russia knew of him. He was a name printed in the social pages, and a name mentioned in hushed tones at parties whenever Serazha danced one too many times with someone (he was far more subtle than Evgeni, but still…).
“I think you will like him,” Pasha tells him quietly.
There is nothing Evgeni can say to that. Not really.
“I hope so,” Evgeni says.
Over the years, Sidney had meet Serezha a number of times. They had exchanged gifts and the occasional letter. At a handful of parties they had danced. He had always been terribly nice, Sidney had thought. Sidney mostly was embarrassed. His feet, his sweaty hands, his mouth making a mess of the Russian language.
There was nearly a decade separating them in age - but Sidney had been promised they wouldn’t confirm their marriage until he was of age. There was no rush. Everyone said that. Even Serezha.
Serazha is gone.
There are parts of Sidney that feel numb to the touch when he thinks of that - when he touches the gold and diamond ring he no longer wears.
His fingers twitch when he meets Evgeni.
They are both of age. There is no need for a proxy marriage, or the like. A date has already been chosen. A place, too. Their respective family’s are moving around them. Organizing. Amassing. Names and faces; jewels and military honours. Scars and grudges, and the two of them. Sidney in his black mourning suit and Evgeni in a jewel toned vest.
Evgeni’s face of drawn up of strong lines, his eyes are dark and his mouth breaks into a smile when he spots Sidney. It looks a little forced.
They are introduced by others - by an adviser to the Tsar, Sergei Gonchar, and one of Sidney’s cousin’s, Nathalie Lemieux nee; Asselin.
It’s neatly done, Sidney thinks. None of the sloppiness that he had been told to expect.
The only unexpected moment comes when Evgeni clasps Sidney’s hand in his.
“I have heard all about you,” he says.
Sidney’s breath catches.
The wedding isn’t much different to Sidney’s first.
He hardly remembers any of it. He only hopes he didn’t embarrass himself too badly.
Then. A wedding night. (Evgeni makes a fool of himself. Sidney feels awkward and embarrassed and nothing happens, really).
Then. A honeymoon. (If it was Serazha, there would have been an official tour. Instead they are sent somewhere beautiful and neutral).
It takes time. Time for them to get to know each other. They are both strangers. They are both terribly young. As much as Sidney was always told to make himself likable, he was never much good at it in practice. He was always a little too intense, too awkward, too oblivious. Now, with his husband, Sidney isn’t sure of anything.
Mostly though, Sidney has so much grief inside himself - for Serazha, for himself, even for Evgeni who never asked for any of this and clearly was so carefree and happy before marrying Sidney.
“I feel like I’m stealing his freedom,” he tells his cousin Kristopher, when he visits them during the summer in St Petersburg.
“Like your was stolen?” Kristopher asks, still furious for Sidney.
They are of the same age, but Sidney was never allowed to be a boy. He was never allowed an adolescence. None of the people who did that to him knew him. They knew his family pedigree, his breeding, his place in the line of succession, but none of them knew Sidney. They had no idea about him or his worth. And now they are hundreds of miles away, in Canada, along with the rest of Sidney’s immediate family while Sidney is completely alone.
Sidney shakes his head when Kristopher tries to tell him that.
“Zhenya didn’t ask for any of this,” he says. “Do not blame him.”
Kristopher wants to blame someone. (He wants to bring Sidney home with him).
It takes time because everything takes time.
A summer in St Petersburg. A few weeks in Moscow. A long winter in Yekaterinburg.
Unused to having money, Evgeni spends a stupid amount on frivolous things. On art and hunting dogs and cars and renovations to the old, Neoclassical Palace that he now calls home.
Unused to an excess of unstructured and unsupervised time, Sidney does a number of stupid things. He rides his horses out into the forests unaccompanied, he writes letters and sends invitations out to old friends and family, and decides to modernise the estate.
In their riots of rebellion, they - become friends. Accidentally maybe, at first, but then by choice.
Neither of them are fully grown, so they grow together.
Over time Sidney comes to learn that Evgeni is very kind. He is headstrong, he is stubborn, but he is also very kind. Sidney likes how he treats his horses, and he likes how Evgeni treats him. A hand on the small of his back when they are at parties, the way he will search Sidney out if they are parted for too long, and the way he will always delight in sharing a joke that makes Sidney laugh.
The latter - making Sidney laugh - is a favourite of Evgeni’s.
It quietly becomes his most favourite thing. None of his jokes are terribly clever. All his friends will not hesitate to tell him as much. Yet somehow, his jokes are always hilarious to Sidney.
Sidney, who is beautiful. So beautiful. The curl in his dark hair, the colour in his face after a glass of champagne, the way his accent butchers Evgeni’s name.
“He was never meant for you,” Evgeni is told once, by one of the Prince’s friends, Dmitri, who Evgeni now outranks.
No. Sidney wasn’t. But he is Evgeni’s husband and like a child, Evgeni is possessive and like a child, he angers quickly.
Alex laughs when Evgeni tries to punch Dmitri. He likes a good fight as much as anyone. Perhaps more.
“But your husband will never forgive me if I don’t stop you,” Alex tells him.
Alex could have married Sidney; if he hadn’t already been married to someone else.
“But I was,” Alex reminds him. “And you did.”
So Evgeni is in love with his husband - his best friend.
And Sidney is his best friend, his truest friend.
The whole thing is terrible and embarrassing.
He does not wear love well. It spills out of him. In the past, if things were different he may have bothered Sidney with endless small gifts, with compliments, and teased him.
Now, he mostly wants Sidney to be happy. Evgeni is - but he knows that he was given such an undeserved boon.
Sidney is hundreds of miles from his family, his friends, from the life he knew.
“Do you miss it?” he asks once.
Sidney’s expression shifts. He was claimed by this country before he spoke a word of the language. He was married twice to people he did not know.
“If I could have chosen,” Sidney tells him. “I would have chosen you.”