Viktor didn't need to wipe his boots, but he did so on Christmas Eve. It was almost eleven at night when the spur of a moment came to him after wrestling under a sheet for what felt like hours, but mere minutes after Viktor rested his head on his pillow. Unable to sleep while quiet chatter trickled in from the cafeteria, dusted with cinnamon and plastic holly. Viktor eased up slowly, gripping the metal of the bunk bed. Rising up while his dog tags jangled against his chest, reminding Viktor that he was damn will alive.
Christmas joy in the middle of an alien apocalypse was as good as December was going to get, and the holiday's spirit compelled Viktor to do something productive. For instance, clean his boots.
A regular routine for a soldier, but Viktor had neglected the duty for some time when he picked up the rag from under his bed. Plucked by the pointing finger and thumb before he slapped the rag against his thigh. Dust fell to the floor, swept by Viktor’s socks when he rocked his heels back and forth.
His boots tipped on their sides, hidden under a spilled blanket from when Viktor got up. He stooped down and brought the sheet up to his chest. Someone had opened the barrack latch by just a quarter and hollered at the first signs of snow. More like sludge raining from a gray sky, but better than the motherships that appeared and disappeared like a middle finger to humanity’s few strongholds. Another soldier pulled the barrack latch shut, scolding their junior with a bark that could bite.
But Viktor’s lip twitched when the senior yanked the junior to the side and clinked her mug against his; tough love sweetened to a peppermint lecture. Viktor watched them go, nostalgia splashed across his face when he rested his chin over his cleaning rag.
“Hey, Nikiforov!” A voice from down the hall, decked in joy and holly with hot water by the lips. Viktor met a Cheshire grin plastered sewn across an itchy sweater. “Whatcha doing?” The kind of tone that was only tolerable because the cadet was young, barely without a scratch across his rosy cheeks when he adjusted his taped-glasses.
Viktor raised his rag and boots. An amused smile of sorts clinging to his lips because he smelled the cinnamon and eggnog from the cafeteria, wafting ever closer against the cold of December.
His colleague- -Michael Connor-- glued a hand to his hip and wagged his other finger, spilled some hot water for a PG-libation to honor the dead. Just a growing puddle on the barrack floor, seeped with the invisible boot prints that came and went.
He spoke, but Viktor didn't catch the words. His gaze slipped from Michael Connor and drew towards the puddle between them. Before Connor, there was another cadet that reached out to Viktor on an Eve much like this.
But the boy was dead and Viktor should've ignored what Michael Connor had said, but Viktor came to a human sense and followed the cadet down the hall. Where everyone enjoyed each other’s company with White Elephant and old tunes on the sergeant’s deadbeat radio.
The cafeteria warm with strewn lights, flashing greens and reds across a myriad of faces when Viktor sat down and was thrusted with a steaming mug of water. Gifts were exchanged and absent of one, Viktor laid back and watches as hands and arms reached across him. Eventually, Viktor’s own hands were in the mix, but he took nothing for himself. But when White Elephant ended, he was left with a slip of paper between his fingers and he couldn’t give it back. That left one soldier without a gift but then again, no one received something that they didn’t already have.
Jackets, boots, cleaning rags, blankets, hot mugs, and just brushing against each other for skinship because at any moment, the base could sound the alarm and deploy them all against another alien invasion. All, except the wounded, weak, and recovering.
That was where Viktor stood when his fingers curled around the slip of paper, watching as men and women had their last drinks together. Seemingly happy at first, but there was something tender about the touches and the lingering thoughts that no one could say with mugs and cups pressed against their lips. Happiness could only last so long before reality crushed it with an iron grip, and Viktor sat his mug down to scratch the back of his neck.
His right hand scratched his neck, his left hand remained at his side. Limp as ever and twitched slightly when he thought about moving it. Thought about moving his arm, but today wasn't for therapy.
So Viktor peeled his slip of paper.
‘Meet me at the Hospital Wing’
Hospital Wing? Viktor hadn’t been there in a while. Not since he... Viktor cracked his neck to the side and read the message again. Analyzed the handwriting before closing his eyes. Because in the darkness, Viktor saw him: a silhouette at first before the image bled color into Viktor’s imagination. Soft hair that seemed to roll down the neck, nimble fingers that used to curl around his while on the bedside in the Hospital Wing, and the thick-framed glasses that used to droop and slip so many times that Viktor laughed until his stomach ached. Leaving the caregiver as a blushing tomato against the white before he, too, pulled down his mask. Catching Viktor’s tinkering heart like no one else had ever done before when he laughed.
The blush near the dimples, the sheen glossing over his eyes.
There were a few things that Viktor would never forget: his family, Makkachin, Chris, and himself. It wasn’t a burden to add one more thing to the list.
Just when he had the chance, Viktor wished he could’ve reached out.
He had his chance now.
Viktor slipped out of the cafeteria and headed towards the Hospital Wing. Candles lighting the way, in memory to the fallen and brave. Viktor’s strides grew shorter. He stopped, legs together when he saluted to every name that he passed by. Whether he knew the individual or not, Viktor’s posture never faltered. Soft shades of blue towards the dog tags, hung around the lit candles. Darkened by the names they bore, and Vikor reached for his own. Squeezing them against the palm of his hand.
Viktor saluted for a long time over a particular candle. Flame nearly spent, but Viktor didn’t move until the fire blew out and the smoke coiled like a snake over the memorial. The name on the dog tag blurred when Viktor blinked, and he stared at it. Much longer than the rest and his saluting hand wavered. Perhaps more could’ve happened, but someone was coming up the hallway and Viktor broke.
Shattered from a simple touch on the crook of his shoulder. From the pitter patter of barefeet against the concrete floor.
“Viktor, what are you doing here?” A glance towards the slip of paper crumbled in Viktor’s left hand. “Oh.”
The speaker was Yuuri Katsuki, Physical Therapist and Doctor for Base 51 in Singapore.
He pulled out a lighter out from his white coat as he knelt down and lit the deceased candle. Cupping the wick with his hands before a flame blossomed over the tip like an orange flower. It would’ve danced in Viktor’s eyes, but one was hidden behind a curtain of bangs and the other watched as Yuuri cleaned up his work.
Wiping back the wax that dripped out from its metal saucer, to keep the wax off the floor for every individual candle that lit the lonely hallway. But in the partial darkness, the hall wasn’t truly alone. Not with the memories and the people that Viktor saw again, and he suspected that Yuuri was behind all of this.
Why else would Yuuri be here? On Christmas Eve, no less.
“Is this yours?” Viktor waved the slip of paper in front of Yuuri’s face when the latter got back to his feet.
Yuuri adjusted his glasses with his thumb. “If it is, I didn’t know you’ll have it.”
“It’s fate that a patient meets his doctor again,” Viktor teased, fluttering his eyelashes when Yuuri rolled his eyes. Hazel hidden behind dark blue frames, Yuuri turned his attention elsewhere but he reached out his hand. His right hand. Viktor hugged Yuuri’s fingers with his own and the two strolled down the candlelit hallway, this small piece of memory on a solemn battlefield.
Viktor mentioned that he was left arm and hand were growing stronger. He squeezed Yuuri’s hand, and Yuuri joked, “I guess you’re not my righthand man anymore!”
Yuuri tilted his head back and forth while he hummed a few Christmas tunes, eventually coaxing Viktor to sing along with him. Viktor wasn’t much of a singer, but he knew the tunes that Yuuri liked to play on the radio whenever the Hospital Wing was empty. Back when it was just him and Yuuri, sitting in silence a few years prior with an empty chasm between them while English words bridged the distance next to them.
And Viktor caught himself before he got too comfortable, and he loosened his grip on Yuuri’s hand.
They couldn’t feel for each other in that way.
Not with Yuuri as a doctor and Viktor as a soldier. Not with one of them designated to heal while the other forced to pull the trigger. Not when Viktor was a former-patient and a current one to this feeling called Love while Yuuri viewed them as friends.
It was unfair, but this was their lives and Viktor had to make-do with what little opportunities he had when Yuuri was alone, unbothered with work.
“I’m glad that you’re the one that got the slip in the end.”
Viktor’s head perked up while Yuuri knelt in front of another dead candle and lit the wick with his lighter. He didn’t let go of Viktor’s hand.
“It’s been awhile.” Yuuri’s fingers trembled. He dropped his lighter, smoke smoldering upwards because of the wax. “Since your last check up,” he added.
Viktor’s mouth was suddenly dry. “I can visit if you--”
“I’m glad you don’t.” Yuuri got up rather stiffly, wondering if he had said those words out loud or not. He sighed and for the first once, Yuuri slipped his mask off first. His back still facing Viktor when he mumbled, “You’re one of humanity's last hopes against the aliens so I can’t stop you from fighting, but it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”
Viktor raised an eyebrow. His bangs revealing bits of his left eye. “Doctor--?”
“Viktor.” Yuuri tugged the chain fastened around Viktor’s neck. His fingers trailed down the length until he found the medallions pressed against Viktor’s chest. Yuuri straightened the dog tags so that Viktor’s name illuminated by the candlelights. “You can call me ‘Yuuri.’”
Spur of the moment on his part, but Yuuri asked if he could hug Viktor. Viktor didn’t mind.
He didn’t know what Yuuri was up to, but he didn’t protest when Yuuri leaned forward and hugged him around the middle. Resting his ear against Viktor’s chest to hear the heartbeats, enveloping Viktor like a warm, squishy blanket. And Viktor hugged back, patting Yuuri awkwardly on the shoulder at first before his hand slipped down and rested towards the middle of the back. Aimlessly writing words with his fingers, the words he couldn’t say because he didn’t know how Yuuri would react if he heard them out loud.
But importantly, this was their first embrace.
The first time where Viktor was this close to another human-being, with the exception being Chris when the two piloted their Jaeger-suit so many years ago. The exception being when Viktor used to hug his mother or pout when his father ruffled his hair. The exception being when his little sister used to cling to his arm when they were younger, believing that Viktor was the closest thing to an angel.
And Viktor didn’t want to let go, but he had to.
He could hold onto Yuuri and embrace him with all his heart, but Viktor had to let go. His arms slowly slipped from Yuuri’s person and rested where they were supposed to be. Enough of a gesture where Yuuri pulled back from the embrace. Just a lingering touch buzzing over Viktor’s skin and the material in his clothes.
Yuuri smoothed Viktor’s collar, careful to not brush against Viktor’s skin in his gesture. Simple pats before the fingers finally left Viktor’s person.
“I’ve taken care a lot of soldiers during my time here, so hugging one of them feels good. Don’t you think?”
Viktor nodded. Numb when he watched Yuuri stroll back to the Hospital Wing. Yuuri’s barefeet chipping an echo into Viktor’s mind while his conscious played every single scenario that could’ve happened. That should’ve happened, but didn’t happen.
Viktor’s fingers twitched.
If only he could reach out on his own and taste Christmas on Yuuri’s lips, but Viktor would have to settle with a steaming mug for now.