It was a kiss I won't forget.
"Mommy?" Yuri plucks at her sleeve, tired enough to admit to being tired. "I'm sleepy," he adds, but his mother keeps staring up into the sky, at the fireworks exploding in brilliant hues above Moscow. He glances up at them, but the show ceased to be interesting several minutes ago.
"Not now, Yurochka," his mother replies absently. She pulls her sleeve out of his grasp and slowly inches away from him, as if he won't notice.
"I hafta pee, Mommy," Yuri persists. He reaches for her, hurt when she very obviously flinches away. He doesn't know what he did, but ever since he turned four—he's six now—his mother has tried her best not to touch him. When she suggested watching summer fireworks with him, he had agreed happily, thinking that maybe things were changing.
"You know where it is," she says. "Go on, now."
A spangling of glittery fire lights up the sky, and Yuri frowns. "Okay, Mommy," he says. "Is it okay?"
"Of course, my darling," she says. She finally looks at him, and in the half-dark, with the fireworks illuminating her face, she's smiling. At him! Yuri grins back. His mother hasn't smiled at him like this in so long! He clambers to his feet.
"I will be right back, Mommy!" he says, scampering off towards the bathroom. The fireworks light his way, and he skips the whole way there, thinking maybe his mother has just been sad. For a long time, maybe, but it could be true, right?
Yuri finishes up in the bathroom, washes his hands like his grandfather has always insisted, and trots back towards the place he left his mother.
She's not there. "Maybe I remembered wrong," Yuri says, peering around him. The fireworks show is coming to an end; all around people are getting to their feet. If it weren't for the streetlights, Yuri wouldn't be able to see anything.
"Mommy?" Yuri begins to panic, dashing to and fro, resisting the urge to yank people's clothes in his desperation.
His grandpa had arrived as quickly as he could, but between the tearful recitations and the confused police, it wasn't until the following morning that his grandpa retrieved him from the police station.
It's all coming back to him, sitting on a beach in Moscow, watching another fireworks display, eight years later. This time, though, he's with his grandpa, who would never just up and leave him there. Not even now, when he's old enough to get by on his own.
"Grandpa?" he asks, quietly, almost afraid to be heard over the crack and bark of the fireworks. But as always, attuned to his grandson as he is, his grandfather looks down at him.
"What is it, Yurochka?" he asks, sounding gruff but… underneath it is a wealth of love, something he never heard in his mother's voice when she spoke to him as a child.
"I was just a little kid, Grandpa," Yuri says slowly, feeling his way through the words, trying to find his exact question. "Why did Mom leave me at the fireworks?"
"You know the answer," Nikolai replies, but he must be able to tell from the expression on Yuri's face that it doesn't feel like enough anymore.
"She wanted to run away with her lover," Yuri repeats woodenly. "But why, Grandpa? Why wouldn't she bring me with her?" For the first time, under the brilliant, beautiful lights in the sky, Yuri finds his courage, and asks a question he's never dared to ask anyone since he was very small. "What happened to my father?"
When he was very little, he'd asked his mother that, and perhaps the only time in his life, she'd slapped him. She'd never been very demonstrative, either in affection or anger, but something had snapped in her that afternoon. He could still remember the way the heat of the sun had burned on his swollen cheek after she'd hit him.
"No, I want to know," Yuri insists stubbornly. "Do you know, Grandpa? If you know, you'll tell me!" He balls his hands to fists and digs them into his sides. He hates fireworks and he always has; ever since that night his mother bailed, abandoned him at a show much like this one. He's not even sure why his grandfather suggested this now.
"All right, calm yourself," his grandfather answers. "And try to be kind, when I tell you, all right?"
"What could possibly be so terrible that—" Yuri begins, but a wave of his grandfather's hand stops him cold.
"'It was a kiss I won't forget,' is what your mother told me," Nikolai says softly. "She was raped, Yurochka. It resulted in you."
For several long beats, time enough for more fireworks to explode overhead, Yuri can only hear a pounding in his ears. He hadn't… why hadn't his grandpa tried… but the words to ask the questions won't come. He can feel tears start at the corners of his eyes and angrily swipes them away with a still-fisted hand. He almost wishes he'd slapped himself, now.
Nikolai gazes up into the sky. "It was understandably difficult for her, you must understand. She was very young, and these types of things are very hard."
Yuri can't say anything; his throat is swollen shut in panic and sickness clawing its way up from his belly.
"It turns out you look, at least as much as she ever said to me, very much like the man who raped your mother. I won't call him your father; he doesn't deserve such a noble title. Your mama didn't talk about it, ever. Not after the night she came home crying. I'll spare you as many details as I can, but… when you got older, she found it more and more difficult to… Listen to me." Nikolai reaches over and pulls at Yuri, drawing him into those warm arms that have offered him more love, compassion, and understanding this his mother apparently ever could.
"I never once blamed you, Yuri, and I have always loved you. What your mother couldn't give, I can. And I always will."
"Then why are we here?" Yuri asks, trying to keep from getting snot on his grandfather's jacket.
"Because it was time that you knew." Nikolai rubs his back, gently. "It wasn't that I was reluctant to tell you earlier, just that I didn't know how. I probably did it wrong."
"No, Grandpa, but…"
"Please forgive your mother, Yurochka," Nikolai says softly. "I told you the truth of why she left, but not all of it. She did fall in love. And she did run off with him. She'd planned it for that night for weeks. I know it will be difficult, because she could have simply given you to me, but I think… well, in the end, your mother was not all right in the head anymore, Yuri. She had gone a little around the bend. She called me once, after she'd gone, ranting that she'd been rid of… no, goodness, I can't repeat that to you. Come closer."
But Yuri is already trying to bury himself in his grandpa's warmth, in the love he has never withheld.
"She should have brought you to me. I would have brought you up no matter what; she didn't have to make all those elaborate plans and then just… leave you behind."
"I'm going to do it, Grandpa," Yuri says fiercely. "I'll win at the Grand Prix Final when I'm fifteen. When I'm old enough to join the senior division. I'll show everyone. I'll beat Viktor, too."
I'll show her, he adds silently. Maybe if he makes it, if he's perfect enough, his mother will be pleased, wherever she is. Maybe she'll be guilty. Maybe he can…
"You can't buy her love with figure skating," Nikolai murmurs gently. He's always known Yuri too well for him to have kept that from him. "He was a figure skater too. A famous one. Well, no. Not so famous. He was known here, a bit. But after your mother was noticeably pregnant, he disappeared. To this day, Yuri, I don't know why she wouldn't press charges."
"Then I can never be good enough," Yuri mumbles, dejected.
"No," Nikolai says, as if in agreement. "You are already good enough for me."
Above them, a loud grumble causes Yuri to raise his head; a giant tiger appears for a moment in the sky, mouth wide as if in a roar, and Yuri smiles a little. That's who he'll be: a great tiger, someone that no one can touch, can ever hurt again. Someone who doesn't care whether he's ever had any friends, whether the other children knew there was something inherently wrong with him—and now he knows why. An Ice Tiger. A great, noble beast, that everyone will love, if even only out of his terribleness.
He'll wear that like armor, until no one ever questions again why his eyes seem so sad.
How can he know that, in just a few months, a Japanese skater by the name of Katsuki Yuuri will make him feel so small and angry?