The Katsukis had been raising clouds for as long as anyone in the family could remember, condensing them off the mists of their hot springs on full moon nights. They cared for the over-eager bundles of fluff in their home until the wisps settled and they could find forever homes. Most customers who came to The Cozy Cloud - Yuuri had worked there since he was four - were interested in cumulus clouds or the recently-fashionable altocumulus.
The Silver-Haired Man had showed up at The Cozy Cloud every few days for the past three months, but Yuuri still had no idea what he was interested in.
Most days at the shop were quiet: bustling mornings followed by languid afternoons. When Yuuri wasn’t caring for the clouds he spent his time at the counter drinking tea, reading whatever he’d found on the library’s recommended shelf, and listening to the city’s skyskate matches on the radio. The Cozy Cloud was several side-streets from the main thoroughfare, wedged between a three-story market for dreamlings and a hover hotel. The comparative calm made The Silver-Haired Man’s visits all the more exceptional.
The cumulus clouds usually perked at the door chimes, but rarely would they rush - roiling and gliding, billowing as if blown by an invisible giant - into a customer’s waiting arms. They adored him. Maybe it was because his smile felt like sunlight, or his silver hair reminded them of the moon. Maybe it was his tropical ocean eyes, or his laughter like an autumn zephyr. They would puff and expand against his jacket, land on his hair, try to seep into his pockets. He even brought a little mister and would sneak them squirts of spring water when he thought Yuuri wasn’t watching.
(Yuuri couldn’t help himself. He was always watching.)
By the time the cumuli calmed down, The Silver-Haired Man looked like he’d finished a motor race with the windows down - marvelously bedraggled, but his smile untouched. With a quick toss of his head, his hair settled back into perfection. The puffy clouds followed in his wake, and he held one in the crook of his arm, fingers petting through its cool, marshmallow swells.
“Hello?” he piped.
Yuuri popped from behind a shelf of skyboxes: dioramas ranging from Mediterranean blue and New England gray to the more exotic flavors of sunset. Several of the boxes contained less tame clouds: flighty cirrus or sprawling stratocumulus. There was also just enough space between the shelves to peer through — not that Yuuri had been staring at the man’s entire entrance and entourage, of course.
“Welcome back,” Yuuri coughed, trying not to look too guilty. It had taken him the better part of a week to do more than stutter when The Silver-Haired Man came in. That he could almost interact like a real human was nothing short of a miracle. “Do you need another refill for your mister?”
From the backroom, Yuuri’s sister called: “Yuuri! Going to need your help with this one!”
“Oh - would - would you excuse me for just a moment?” Yuuri begged and darted away, leaving The Silver-Haired Man surrounded by the cottony-cling of the cumuli.
When Yuuri returned, carrying a skybox almost longer than the reach of his arms, The Silver-Haired Man beamed. It was the sort of smile that could power a skybox for weeks, so casually gorgeous it might stop a heart.
Yuuri almost dropped the skybox entirely, but The Silver-Haired Man caught the other side.
“So,” he said, looking through the sunset gold of captured light. “Your name is Yuri?”
“Yuuri,” Yuuri said, before he could stop himself. Oh, god, why was he doing this? “The — the u is long.”
“Yuri,” the Silver-Haired Man tried.
Yuuri’s red cheeks looked bronze through the skybox. “Y-yeah,” Yuuri agreed.
After closing, Yuuri brushed the stratus smooth and tucked the cumulus back into their skyboxes, dimming the setting to twilight. In the far corner of the store - not that it was large, by any sense - their cumulonimbus flickered grumpily, spitting sparks of lightning into the dark.
Yuuri lived just above the shop, in the renovated attic, which was easier than making the hours-long trek home every morning and night. Beside his bed he had a tiny, twinkling cirrus called Silver that he’d decided to keep for himself some three months ago, its cyan skybox no bigger than a shoebox. He rolled his thumb on the toothed wheel at the base and watched the sky fade to twinkling night. Silver lived up to its name, catching the moonlight and shimmering like someone’s smile.
No - not just someone anymore. Victor.
Yuuri’s own smile bloomed in return. He blushed as he hid himself beneath his covers.
The first day Victor came to the store, the cumulonimbus had escaped its skybox again. It rained all across the entryway, soaked through the welcome mat, and was still saturated enough to look like a dark blot of ink.
Yuuri was in the middle of trying to wrangle the nimbus back into its box when Victor arrived. The cumuli were huddled fearfully in the rafters, forming an interior overcast as they drifted under the lights.
Why - of all times - did a customer have to show up when Yuuri was covered in soaking patches of rain, yelping as the nimbus zapped him with lightning? Yuuri’s greeting turned into a shriek as the nimbus alighted on his head and unleashed another downpour.
Yuuri sputtered, wiping the sopping hair out of his eyes, and saw Victor for the first time. Silver-haired, taller than Yuuri, dressed in a fine tawny coat and wearing the pursed lips of barely contained amusement. The nimbus released a final gush of rain over Yuuri, oblivious.
Seemingly satisfied, the nimbus escorted itself back to its skybox and proudly situated itself in the middle of the gloomy gray sky. It allowed Yuuri the dignity of sliding its glass pane closed.
“Wow,” Victor smiled. Like moths to a flame, the cumuli descended from their corner to cover him, pressing against his sides and fluffing their white bodies into his face.
“I’m so sorry,” Yuuri managed, tripping over the mop bucket as he watched Victor rub his cheek against the largest cumulus.
Yuuri flushed, mop in his hand like a sword as he went to battle the nimbus’ precipitation. He worked furiously, sopping up the deluge, listening to Victor’s hum as the cumuli adored him. Then it was quiet, a quiet Yuuri didn’t notice until far too late.
He glanced over his shoulder and found Victor with a hand over his mouth and a cloud in his arm, trying to suppress his laughter.
“What—?” But then Yuuri looked down and realized he’d been mopping in circles, constantly cleaning up the drips leaking off his soaked clothes.
His warm cheeks went chill as the blood drained from his face. Victor finally burst out laughing.
Besides wanting to die, all Yuuri could think was how it sounded like wind chimes and rainbows.
“Have you figured out what kind of cloud you want?” Yuuri asked the next time Victor came to the shop.
Victor had a cloud, though he’d been averse to bringing it to the store. Not that it was aggressive! (Victor insisted). He just couldn’t take it with him to work, and he always stopped by after work.
(Victor stopped by in the early afternoons, which only furthered Yuuri’s curiosity)
“Well, something…” Victor put a finger to his chin, walking slowly along the skyboxes. The cumuli played in his shadow. “Something soft, and - and smaller than me. I mean than my other cloud. Something that will stay close to me. You know, if I go to to the park.”
Yuuri stood right next to Victor, unintentionally mirroring his posture as he gazed into a desert sunset skybox: all blazing oranges with deep plum purples at the top, populated by a thin layer of stratus that burned gold against the background.
“The full moon’s tomorrow,” Yuuri said. “We could try to raise an altocumulus for you? They’re smaller, more compact, and very affectionate.”
There was a crackle behind them. Yuuri looked over his shoulder to eye the nimbus. Its towering anvil shape roiled upwards, flashing with internal lightning.
When he turned back, Victor was staring at him.
“Do you have a cloud, Yuri?”
Yuuri flushed. “I’ve always had clouds. I take care of the shop.” He gestured to the cozy store, the different shades of light and all the tactile textures of wisps.
“But your own?”
“Well… I have one I keep in my room, I guess?”
“Oh! Tell me its name?”
Oh, god. He’d know, wouldn’t he? He’d know the instant Yuuri said it. Yuuri panicked. “I forgot!”
Victor blinked in confusion: “You forgot your cloud’s name?”
Victor tapped his chin. “… did it start with a C?”
Yuuri felt himself withering. “N-no.”
“… maybe a T?”
Yuuri stared at Victor, who stared at Yuuri.
“I — love tea,” Yuuri gaped, futilely.
Victor brought tea the next week.
When he announced this, he said it as if it was the most perfectly natural thing in the world: “Yuri! I brought you tea!”
Yuuri was touched. Granted, it was probably packets of pulverized black tea, the sort giant name brands created by mixing basic, low grade varieties into a consistent, reproducible powder. It would be like Yuuri selling clone-cumuli raised in one of those plastic moisture-incubation chambers Cloud Co used. But the mere fact that Victor had thought of him?
“You… brought me tea?” Yuuri blinked.
Victor set a large bag down on the counter. First he pulled out an electric kettle, a liter of spring water, then a decorated box with a shallow shiboridashi teapot and two matching cups inside that had clearly never been opened before. The last thing he withdrew was a decorated tea tin, and when Yuuri saw the label he choked.
“Wh-where did you get this?!” Yuuri balked. The cumuli all hovered around Victor, snuggling against his jackets and puffing curiously into the bag.
“I…. asked for the best tea?” Victor frowned. “Is it not good?”
Yuuri picked up the canister, rolling it in his hand. It was covered in hand-dyed rice paper, a fine gradient from magenta to a lighter pink, with golden cord tied around the middle.
“This… this is Kintsugi’s late flush gyokuro,” Yuuri said, as overwhelmed as he was reverent. “This is only grown on five acres of land, near the peak of Fujisan, and shade-starved for the last three weeks before harvest. This is one of the finest teas in the world. Victor I — I can’t accept this.”
He pushed the magenta canister over the counter, towards Victor.
“But you love tea!” Victor said. The clouds around him sprinkled little blips of rain in empathy with his pout. Yuuri let out a breath of disbelief. How did you explain to someone who just didn’t get it?
“Yes but this is — Victor! — this is! This would be like me giving you a - a mammatus or something!”
Victor suddenly flushed a brilliant red.
Yuuri’s eyes narrowed.
“… Victor…” Yuuri whispered. “…is your cloud a mammatus?”
“His name is Mammachin!” Victor grinned, leaning over with bright eyes. The clouds perked up at the light of his smile, dancing around him.
“VICTOR!” A strange voice barked from outside the shop: older, gruff, commanding.
Victor’s eyes darted towards the door. He called back, but not in any language Yuuri understood.
“I have to go,” Victor said. He took the tea canister and put it back in Yuuri’s hands. “Will you make it for me the next time I come in? Please Yuri?” His hands rested over Yuuri’s, holding them around the canister.
And Yuuri, who’d never felt the heat of Victor’s skin against his before, whose mind was tumbling in freefall through a world of silver clouds and sunshine smiles, who had no idea how to respond, said: “O-OK.”
“I mean, what else could I say?” Yuuri asked the sparking nimbus as he scrubbed its skybox. He was wearing thick rubber gloves up to his shoulders, but that didn’t prevent the nimbus from trying its best to scorch him. “It’s not like I opened the tea.”
The cumuli, hiding in the rafters, tinkled the hanging chimes in amusement.
The tea was exactly where Victor had left it. Everything was, actually. Yuuri had spent the entire afternoon pacing around the canister, picking it up in disbelief and putting it down again.
He was still staring at Victor’s tea when the nimbus sparked against his cheek.
“Ow!” Yuuri yelped. He shot a glare at the nimbus, which bubbled proudly in response, its towering anvil rising higher and higher until it let out an impressive bolt and a resounding thunder.
“I know you wouldn’t have any problem with it,” Yuuri sighed. “But some of us have principles.”
The cumuli floated down to puff around the tea things. Next to Yuuri’s simple, white ceramic pot and teacup, the stunning, gold-drizzle clay of Victor’s gift looked like a museum piece.
Yuuri sucked on his lower lip. He wondered if he’d even be able to use a tea set like that. And if he did…
“I wonder what Victor will taste like,” he said, then shrieked: “Victor’s TEA! I wonder what Victor’s tea will taste like! Oh, god.”
The clouds, of course, understood nothing except that Yuuri was making all sorts of high pitched squeaking noises and turning red. They all forced themselves into the reddest sunset skybox to mimic him, then migrated to the purpler one as he continued to darken.
The nimbus cracked in glee.
Each day, Yuuri shot to attention at the sound of the door chimes, and each day he hid his disappointment when it wasn’t Victor. He’d tucked Victor’s gift into a little box beneath the counter, drinking out of his own simple tea set and wondering what sort of man could buy 100 grams of luxury tea without even knowing what he was doing. The sort of man who could own a mammatus cloud.
Mammatus clouds were incredibly rare. They were like thick, plump duvets, a special sub-breed of stratus heavy with rain but not quite nimbus, loyal with a touch of cumulus joy.
Few cloud keepers even attempted to raise mammatus, but those that did could expect small fortunes for them.
“Rain, rain,” Yuuri said, tickling the side of one cumulus. He held his teapot underneath it as it began to shower.
“Victor,” Yuuri practiced, listening to the soothing patter. “This is too much. I’m honored, but I can’t accept this.”
He shook his head.
“Victor, I know I said I love tea, but I couldn’t possibly —”
“Victor, I’m so sorry but I really can’t —”
“Yuri!” Yuuri spun around, the cloud continuing to rain onto the ground. The cumuli all flew to Victor’s open arms, including the still-dribbling one. “I think your door chime is broken!”
The nimbus gave a prideful burst of lightning as Yuuri spotted the burnt end of the broken chime cord.
“Victor!” Yuuri paled. “How long have you —?”
Victor hugged one of the cumuli to his chest, petting its rolling, ice-cream-scoop hills.
“Tea time?” Victor smiled, eyeing the half-full pot in Yuuri’s hand.
“Victor, I can’t - I shouldn’t - it’s such good tea —”
Victor’s head tilted to the side. “Well that’s not how you practiced saying it at all.”
“Please, Yuri?” Victor asked. “I want to taste the best tea.”
Ten minutes later, Victor was sitting in front of the counter, surrounded by his cumulus fan club, with Yuuri on the opposite side and the tea things between them. The electric kettle was filled with fresh rain from the cumuli, warming while Yuuri tenderly opened the tea canister and worshipfully scooped a serving into Victor’s clay tea dish.
Victor was staring at him again. The smile on his face wasn’t the beaming bright one that sent the cumuli billowing, but a softer variant, like the silver trim promise at the cloud’s edge.
Yuuri poured the just-beginning-to-bubble water from the electric kettle into another vessel, from that vessel into a third, then alternated between the two for several pours. When it was cool enough, he filled Victor’s shallow tea dish, barely covering the dark, needle-like leaves. He tried to look like he hadn’t rushed to the library and borrowed every book on tea-preparation he could find to ensure he didn’t ruin Victor’s ridiculously unnecessary Kintsugi Late Flush Gyokuro.
He covered the dish and sent a silent prayer into the rafters.
“It’ll take a few minutes,” Yuuri said. “The leaves are delicate, so, cooler water but steeped longer.”
Victor leaned forward, watching the tea dish with such wonder Yuuri half expected it to fly. “I was going to try to make it for you, but someone had already checked out all the tea books at the library.”
Yuuri’s attempt at laughter sounded more like he was choking.
When Yuuri finally poured the last drop into Victor’s cup, Victor tinked the tiny clay thing against Yuuri’s. “Cheers,” Victor smiled, and then he threw back his cup like a shot - probably assumed he should, given the size. Yuuri tried not to die on the spot and instead waved the cup under his nose, swooning at the scent, before taking a first sip.
“You really do love tea,” Victor said, chin pillowed in his palm, his other hand still idly petting one of the clouds.
“Yes,” Yuuri shied.
“Tell me what else you love.”
It turned out that Yuuri loved a lot of things when those teal eyes were gazing at him. They talked straight through three steepings of the gyokuro, another two of Yuuri’s favorite sencha, until they were light-headed with the energy of it. The twinkling corner of Victor’s lips goaded Yuuri out of his normal, nervous quiet, loosening his tongue like wine.
Yuuri barely noticed the cumuli clustered around him and Victor, tossing the light between themselves, streaks of rainbow exchanged in joyful play.
“Are you still open?” The door shook on its hinge and a man in a leather jacket stepped inside. Yuuri had forgotten, for a moment, that they were in his store, and not locked away in some secret haven, free from all the world.
“Of course,” Yuuri said. He wondered why the man had to ask, then looked at the window and realized it was almost dark. How long had they been talking?! He pushed back his chair. “How can I help you?”
“I need a cloud,” the man said. “For my — friend.” He hesitated. “It needs to be the most remarkable cloud you have.”
The cumuli bundled behind Victor, peering around his edges at this new arrivee. The man stared at Victor with a furrowed brow, like someone he knew, but Victor simply blushed and pulled his scarf up around his chin.
Yuuri plucked one of the cumuli from Victor’s entourage: “This one has the highest peaks of any of our cumuli, perfect density, cheerful personality.”
“No, he’d hate that.” The man paced up and down the rows of skyboxes, frowning into a periwinkle twilight. “What’s this one?” he asked, coming to the far corner of the store and a murky black box.
“You don’t want that cloud,” Yuuri said quickly. “It’s testy and petulant, very ornery, and it-”
Before Yuuri could finish, the nimbus erupted in a stunning light show, shooting miniature bolts through its skybox and illuminating its towering bulk.
“… It’s perfect,” the man said.
“What?” Yuuri blinked.
“He’ll love it.”
Yuuri watched the man go, strapping the carrying case and bag of misters to his airbike. Yuuri couldn’t believe the nimbus was finally gone, leaving only the charred rope of the door chime as its legacy.
“I suppose there really is a cloud for everyone,” Victor sighed, almost dreamily, and the cumuli seemed to exhale in agreement. He ran his finger across the lip of his teacup, eyes droopy-lidded and content. Even tea drunk and melting over the counter, he left Yuuri breathless.
Something fizzed in Yuuri’s chest, a champagne bottle shaken too hard, bubbling until it had to burst. His mouth opened before his head could stop it:
“Be my cloud, Victor.”
Oh god. Oh no. Yuuri’s hand clapped over his mouth.
“Victor, I —“
Victor laughed, looking up with that unspeakable smile: “Okay.”
“— am so… sorry? What?” Yuuri’s voice wavered.
“But you have to remember my name,” Victor teased.
“And you have to take me out for walks.” His smile was growing.
“And you have to make sure I get plenty of fluids.” Victor winked, tapping the teapot.
That same voice from before interrupted them, angry and just outside: “VICTOR!”
Victor looked over his shoulder, then back to Yuuri. He leaned over the counter, so close to Yuuri’s space. “Please?”
Yuuri stared at him: haloed by clouds, delicate rainbows shimmering through his hair, like he’d walked straight out of the heavens and into Yuuri’s quiet, ordinary life.
“OK,” Yuuri said, and for the first time it was his smile that brought the cumuli billowing. “Yes!”
Two chibis from Ammonium:
Victor and Mammachin
Yuuri and the Nimbus