Victor doesn’t notice the other man until it’s too late. There’s a flurry of limbs, a muffled yelp and a bit-off curse, and he’s half-sprawled on the pavement, a growing brown stain on his shirtfront.
Beside him, Chris starts to laugh.
“Thanks,” he says acidly, pushing himself off the ground. He regarded his shirt woefully, tugging the front of his coat experimentally over the splatter of coffee.
Chris, the bastard, was still smirking. “You’re very welcome.”
It’s enough to make Victor snort. Still, he turns towards the man he’s just bowled over. “Sorry,” he begins, because it’s only polite, but stutters to a stop, the remainder of the apology hovering on the tip of his tongue. The man’s not local, is his guess, a paper map of the St. Petersburg Metro crumpled in one hand. “I’m so sorry,” he tries again, in English this time. “I didn’t see you there. I should have paid more attention.”
“No, no, I am the one who should be apologising,” says the man. Babbles, really, as he bows deeply once, and again twice. “I should have moved out of the way.” Victor watches, oddly charmed, as the man uses his hands to dab ineffectually at the coffee stain on Victor’s shirtfront, then jerks back with his hands waving another apology, face growing pink.
“But you’re out of coffee now, because of me,” he observes, and catches one of waving hands in two of his, just to see if the man would blush harder. He’s not disappointed. “You must let me make it up to you.”
There is a light pound of footsteps as another man jogs up to them. He hesitates as he eyes Victor and Chris uncertainly, before turning towards Victor’s captive. “Yuuri, are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” says Yuuri. “It was my fault. I wasn’t really watching where I was going.” He addresses the last as much to Victor as he does to the newcomer, pulling his hand gently out from under Victor’s fingers.
Victor tightens his grip. “Please,” he says. “Let me buy you a coffee, to replace the one I spilled.” Then, on an impulse, he adds, “Just you and me.” Chris raises a brow; Victor ignores him. “And you can tell me what a handsome foreigner like yourself is doing in St. Petersburg when he’s not getting knocked down by clumsy locals like me,” he grins. It’s the same grin he uses when Yakov is being particularly stubborn, the grin which Mila tells him will get him far with the ladies if their jealous boyfriends don’t shoot him first.
From the way Yuuri blushes his hardest yet, Victor’s pretty sure the grin is working just fine now, too.
“Phichit,” says Yuuri as he looks over at the other man, “I’m so sorry. Would you mind visiting the Hermitage alone?”
There is a moment’s pause before Phichit nods, the corners of his mouth quirking. “Sure, Yuuri,” he says easily, and Victor lets out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.
“Chris,” he says.
Chris hesitates – not long enough that Victor thinks Yuuri will notice, but long enough for Victor to know that his bodyguard is not exactly happy about leaving Victor alone with a stranger, however cute Victor thinks the stranger might be. Then, he shrugs. “Give me a call when you need the car brought around.”
Casually, Victor drapes an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders. For a moment, Yuuri tenses. Then, the muscles beneath Victor’s arm relax as Yuuri leans ever so slightly against him, and Victor can’t help the brief, euphoric rush of victor.
“Come,” he murmurs into the shell of Yuuri’s ear, and has the pleasure of listening to Yuuri’s breath hitch. “I know just the place which does an amazing roasted nut latte.”
Yuuri, Victor learns, is on his graduation trip. He learns this over twin cups of milky coffee, each cup topped with clouds of fresh, whipped cream and dustings of cinnamon. The cream leaves a white smear above Yuuri’s lips, which Victor reaches over unthinkingly to wipe off with the pad of his thumb and is rewarded with another faint blush and a startled smile.
He learns that Phichit is Yuuri’s friend from college – just friends, Yuuri repeats, before he tips his head back to drain his cup, and Victor finds himself suddenly distracted by the pale line of Yuuri’s throat and the bob of his Adam’s apple.
He learns that Yuuri has spent the last five years in Detroit, that he’ll be in St. Petersburg for a week before he returns home, to Japan, where he will join his family’s business. When he learns that it is Yuuri’s first time in St. Petersburg, he insists on taking Yuuri out immediately for the best plemeni in the city.
“What about you?” Yuuri asks when they’re seated once more, shoulder to shoulder at the tiny bar counter of a cramped, steamy hole-in-the-wall, dumplings piled high before them in glazed pottery bowls.
“I’m a businessman,” he replies, spearing a dumpling with a fork and offering it over. Their fingers brush as Yuuri takes the fork from him.
Yuuri turns to regard him. “You look very young for a businessman,” he says, popping he dumpling in his mouth. His expression brightens.
Victor laughs as he spears another dumpling for himself. “Mine’s a family business, too.”
It’s not exactly a lie.
Afterwards, he has Chris take him to the main house. Yakov is waiting for him in the study.
“Solonik is in St. Petersburg,” says Yakov, when Victor has taken a seat. His scowl is deeper than it usually is. But, Victor reflects, it is Solonik, after all.
He stretches his legs out in front of him and leans his weight back into his chair, steepling his fingers. “What’s Timofeyev’s pet hitman doing in St. Petersburg?”
“Officially, Solonik’s freelance,” notes Chris as he lets himself into the study, taking from his usual position by the door.
He waves his hand dismissively. “We all know who his favourite client is.” He hums thoughtfully, leans forward to catch Yakov’s gaze and holds it. “What do you think Timofeyev’s game is? A targeted takeover in St. Petersburg, like he tried to do with the Plisetsky family in Moscow?” He shakes his head. “It won’t work. The families in Piter won’t stand for a Muscovite upstart.”
Abruptly, Yakov stands. “We don’t know enough.” He begins to pace, chin tucked towards his collar in apparent thought. “Solonik could just be passing through, or Timofeyev could be playing a deeper game. I have asked Georgi to see what he can find out. Vitya,” he snaps, feet grinding to a halt, “I want you to take Giacometti with you at all times, until we know more.”
“To take out a family, one must take out the heir,” retorts Yakov, pausing mid-step to glare at him.
Victor throws his hands up in frustration. “But – ” he starts, and pauses, the thought occurring to him. “Does Yuri know that Solonik is in the city?” he asks instead.
“He does.” There’s a snort. “As you can guess, he is not pleased, and wants to be the one to move against Solonik now. He doesn’t believe in waiting,” Yakov grimaces, “as I suppose any young boy in his position would.” He resumes pacing. “I have assigned the new Altin kid to him.”
“Otabek is good at what he does,” offers Victor. “Yuri will be in safe hands.”
“Hm,” says Yakov, non-committedly, and proceeds to draw Victor into other matters pertaining to their family business.
“Will you still be taking Yuuri out tomorrow night?” asks Chris later, as he pulls the car up outside the apartment building of Victor’s penthouse.
“No reason not to,” he answers.
“The club will be crowded. You know what the boss-man would say.”
“Yakov worries too much,” he replies as he slides out from the passenger seat. They fall silent as they step briskly through the apartment lobby, pausing only to nod at the doorman. “Besides,” he continues when they’re alone once more in the lift, “Solonik won’t make a hit in a club if he can help it. Too many people, too messy – that’s not his style.”
“It’s your funeral,” says Chris, but he spends the evening cleaning his guns in Victor’s living room, and eschews their usual Porsche for an armoured SUV the next day.
Yuuri greets Victor in the suit, tie off and collar loose. He’s slicked his hair back, swapped yesterday’s glasses for contacts. For the second time in as many days, Victor feels gravity tip beneath his feet.
“Yuuri,” he says, when he only just realising that he is maybe, just maybe, staring. “You look amazing.”
“You did say to dress,” says Yuuri, tugging at the cuffs of his shirt. “It’s not too much?” He brow creases, and Victor tamps down the sudden urge to kiss the tiny frown away.
“Not at all,” he reassures instead. “You look perfect.” He offers Yuuri his arm, and grins when Yuuri takes it. “Shall we?”
Two hours and a dinner later, Victor thinks he may have to revise his assessment somewhat: Yuuri is perfect.
Yuuri, he also realises, is a very, very flirty drunk.
By the time Chris drops them off at the club, they’ve managed to put away one and a half bottles of champagne between them. Victor pulls Yuuri flush against him on the dancefloor, runs his hands over Yuuri’s thighs before palming his ass, fingers kneading the firm muscle while Yuuri moans into the crook of his neck. He can feel Yuuri’s hands where they have slipped under his shirt, feverishly hot against the small of his back. Yuuri rolls his hips and begins to grind, and it takes Victor all of his self-control not to drag Yuuri off the dancefloor and into one of the restrooms at the club now.
Later, they tumble through the doorway of the hotel suite that Victor hastily books, limbs entangled and clothes askew. His fingers fumble on the buttons of Yuuri’s shirt, clumsy in their impatience and not at all helped by the fact that neither of them can stop kissing the other. Victor swallows every moan greedily, nibbles at Yuuri’s lower lip just to see if it will make him gasp. (It does.)
Yuuri’s mouth is hot and wet, sugary sweet from the cranberry-vodkas he had downed at the club, and Victor finds himself thinking that he could maybe, just maybe, spend the rest of the night learning the feel of Yuuri’s lips beneath him – except that Yuuri’s neck is a pale column just waiting to be bitten, his torso a smooth, muscled expanse just waiting to be marked, and it is suddenly imperative that Victor does so too. Which he does, until Yuuri flips them around, pushes Victor into the mattress and wraps his clever fingers – oh, so clever – around Victor’s cock, and Victor’s mind stumbles into a lust-addled halt.
And that should have been it: the conclusion of a successful one-night’s stand, another in a string of casual conquests, just the kind Victor Nikiforov likes best. Except –
In the morning, he blinks awake to Yuuri in his arms. Yuuri’s hair is mussed, his lips are still kiss-swollen. A thin line of drool trails from the corner of his mouth onto his pillow. Victor studies the soft dapple of sunlight on the jut of Yuuri’s bared shoulder and feels something in his chest unravel.
He extricates himself gently from the embrace, careful not to jostle his still-sleeping partner. He throws on a robe and wanders to the balcony, where he makes a quiet call to room service for breakfast to be sent up; another to Chris to assure the man that he is still very much alive, and would Chris be so kind as to reschedule any meetings Victor may have this morning.
Then, he returns to the room, and slides his hand down the smooth curve of Yuuri’s spine. “Morning, sleepy beauty. What do you plan on doing today?”
He takes Yuuri to the Faberge Museum, just to see Yuuri’s eyes widen with delight at the exquisite, jewel-decked dainties on display. They visit Catherine Palace and its surrounding parks in Pushkin, and stop at a nearby bakery for trubochki filled with fresh cream. The sweet, buttery pastry horns leave a rime of powdered sugar on Yuuri’s lips, and Victor thinks nothing of leaning in and licking it away, dropping a tiny kiss on Yuuri’s nose for good measure.
On their fourth night together, they return to Victor’s penthouse. Yuuri plays with Makkachin while Victor cooks them dinner. Afterwards, Yuuri braces himself against the window while Victor fucks him long and slow from behind. He shudders against the cool glass as Victor reaches around to tweak his nipples, whines desperately and bucks when Victor strokes him off in time with each thrust. They come together, the city lights of St. Petersburg spread out beneath them, a golden twinkling carpet, Victor sinking his teeth into Yuuri’s shoulder and Yuuri crying out his name.
Stay with me, Victor thinks of saying later, much later, while they lie together in his bed, the sheets sweat-damp and crumpled from rounds two and three. But Yuuri is already asleep, head tucked beneath Victor’s chin, so he settles instead for pulling Yuuri closer, and buries his nose in Yuuri’s hair as his eyes drift shut.
Victor flies to Moscow the next day on Yakov’s directions. It’s not a trip he cares for, not when there are only three days left before Yuuri leaves, but business is business. They’re still no closer to discerning the reason why Solonik’s holed up in their city, although there are rumours of a deal in Tokyo that’s gone sour. Yakov arranges for a call with his Japanese contacts, and sends Victor in the meantime to strengthen their relations with Nikolai Plisetsky.
It’s also three days before Yuuri leaves, two of which Victor now has to spend out of town.
He’s still brooding as he lets himself into his suite. He blames this for the fact that he doesn’t immediately realise that he is not alone.
Chris slams him to the ground just as gunfire explodes overhead. A spray of bullets hits the wall, right where their heads had been just a second before. Plaster crumbles from the holes. Three men – no, four – lunge towards them, and there’s just barely enough room for Victor to reach around his back for his revolver. His return fire is spotty: the first bullet lodges itself in the decorative mantelpiece, but the second bullet catches one of the men in the thigh, and the man goes down.
Chris vaults over him, smashing the butt of his pistol into the jaw of another of their attackers before whipping around to fire at a third. Which leaves Victor the fourth.
He feints to the left, then darts right and forward to tackle the last man onto his back. He draws his arm back, a calculated blow to the temple – and freezes at the cold bite of a muzzle between his shoulder blades. “Solonik.”
“Nikiforov.” A raspy drawl. “You should have stayed in St. Petersburg.”
Victor exhales, slowly, carefully. “And miss out on our touching little meeting?”
Across the room, Chris remains with his back to them, every line in his body tense.
“Can’t say I was expecting to join me in Moscow so soon,” continues Victor casually. From the corner his eye, he watches as Chris’ hand drifts towards a fallen chair, fingers wrapping around a spindly wooden leg. “What’s the matter with my city? Was the weather not to your liking?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” says Solonik, just as several things happen at once.
Chris lunges up abruptly, flings the chair at them in one swift, smooth motion. Victor ducks and rolls, coming up in a crouch, his revolver raised and ready to fire. And the crack of a silenced gunshot rings across the room, just as Solonik jerks back, shirtfront blooming red across the chest.
Victor whirls around. Yuuri steps into the room from the balcony, holding a gun with an extremely long barrel.
No, not a barrel. A silencer.
Victor’s only dimly aware of his own gun clattering to the floor, his fingers suddenly nerveless.
Next to him, Chris keeps his gun trained on Yuuri, while Yuuri ignores them both. They watch as Yuuri crosses the room to where Solonik has just started to stir. Yuuri squats down beside the fallen man. His lips move, but whatever he says is lost beneath the pounding of blood in Victor’s ears. Then he stands again, raises his arm and fires another shot between Solonik’s eyes.
Only then does Yuuri turn to face them. He lowers his gun to his side. “Victor, I – ” he begins, just when Georgi and Otabek sprint into the room, firearms drawn and at the ready.
At the foot of a side table, where it had no doubt fallen during the recent struggle, Victor’s phone begins to ring. From his position, Victor can just make out the screen. It’s Yakov.
Slowly, Chris, Georgi and Otabek lower their arms.
Victor covers his face with his hands and chokes out a laugh.
They do not speak.
Yakov comes by with Nikolai Plisetsky and news. He relates the latter while Plisetsky’s men assist in the clean-up: a double-cross in Tokyo, a meeting of minds amongst the leading yakuza families, the Katsuki clan tasked with extracting retribution for the whole, their top enforcer already in Russia.
Yuuri bows to Yakov and shakes his hand. Victor studiously avoids at Yuuri’s eyes.
At some point, Yuuri’s friend – Phichit, Victor reminds himself – joins them in the suite, carrying a slim briefcase. He bows to Yakov too and shakes his hand, before moving to stand at Yuuri’s left.
They do not speak as they leave the hotel, nor do they speak on the way to Vnukovo Airport. Yuuri takes the seat besides Victor on the Feltsman family’s private jet, and Victor thinks about moving but doesn’t. He deliberately shuts his eyes as the plane readies for take-off, and wakes after they land at Pulkovo Airport to find that he has nestled his head against Yuuri’s shoulder.
They still have not spoken when they part.
Yuuri turns up at Victor’s penthouse on the morning of his last day in St. Petersburg. He lingers awkwardly in the doorway until Victor invites him in. He declines to take a seat when Victor ushers him towards the couch, and trails Victor into the kitchen, where he watches Victor set his breakfast things in the sink.
“Coffee?” offers Victor, when the silence grows unbearable. He reaches for the coffee pot, startling when Yuuri’s fingers wrap around his wrist.
“I thought we might go for a walk,” Yuuri suggests as he cups Victor’s hands between his, stilling them. “You said you would show me around.”
That was before, Victor thinks about saying, but doesn’t. “Where’s Phichit?” he says instead, and the words feel clumsy in his mouth.
“At our hotel,” replies Yuuri. “Packing.”
“He’s not really your friend, is he,” asks Victor, but the words come out flat, more a statement than a question. It’s the closest yet he’s come to dragging this strange, brittle thing between them out into the open, and he can’t help but revel in the vicious stab of glee when Yuuri tenses.
“He is,” says Yuuri, and he sounds hesitant, wary, even as he visibly relaxes his shoulders. “We have known each other for years. We went to the same college together. But,” he adds, looking uncomfortable, “he is also in the service of my family.”
“Okay…?” echoes Yuuri as he follows Victor back into the hallway.
“Okay, we’ll go for a walk,” clarifies Victor, reaching for his coat.
By unspoken agreement, they head towards the river. Victor points out a building, a statue, a bench with a funny anecdote attached to it, a monument, before they gradually lapse into silence, the heels of their shoes clicking on cobblestone.
Eventually, they stop at Tuchkov Bridge. They rest their elbows on its metal rail, and peer into the choppy,s grey water of the Malaya Neva. Overhead, a flock of seagulls suddenly takes flight.
“Since coming to St. Petersburg,” says Yuuri suddenly, “I’ve been reminded of Hasetsu every time I hear the gulls.” He turns away from the water, leaning his back against the side of the bridge instead. “Until I left for college, I never thought I would be away from Hasetsu for very long, so I never truly noticed the seagulls’ cries. There were seagulls, but – ” He pauses, and Victor looks up. Yuuri looks thoughtful, the corners of his mouth quirked downwards in a slight frown.
Without thinking, Victor reaches up, brushing the pad of his thumb across Yuuri’s lips.
“The sound, it was different,” Yuuri finishes. He still sounds pensive, but he also smiles, faintly, and something in Victor loosens.
With a sigh, he turns to match Yuuri’s pose against the rail. They remain like that for a while, elbow to elbow, watching the incessant traffic rumble across the bridge.
Eventually, he asks, “Did you know?”
“That you were the Victor Nikiforov?” asks Yuuri in reply. “No, I didn’t.” He huffs a laugh. “I wasn’t trying to seduce you so that you could be my bait for Solonik, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“When did you know?”
“After my family told me that the Feltman family had an interest. When I waited on the balcony of Victor Nikiforov’s hotel suite, and saw you.” He looks rueful.
Abruptly, Victor straightens. He takes Yuuri’s hand in his. Yuuri’s palm is warm, the skin dry. “Come,” he says, tugging lightly. “Your flight will be soon. I’ll see you off.”
Yuuri’s fingers tighten around his in response, and it is enough.
Yuuri leaves, and Victor’s life wobbles along its usual orbit. Victor drinks. He laughs. He fights. He sees to it that the family business runs smoothly, and performs the odd job or two for Yakov, jobs which require the delicate handling of the family’s heir.
If he’s drinking just a bit too much, if he’s putting more force into his punches than he is usually wont – well, that’s his business.
Two weeks pass. On Saturday, he goes out to the club and doesn’t bring back anyone. Chris suggests that he is pining. Victor flips him off.
On Sunday, he stops by the main house, because Timofeyev has grown bolder in his efforts to muscle into St. Petersburg and Yakov thinks that a new raid team may be the answer. The door to Yakov’s study is closed, however, and so Victor waits in the hallway, the members of his team-to-be by his side.
Yakov throws open the doors to his study some twenty minutes later. They file in obediently, each to their usual positions: Chris and Otabek on either side of the door; Georgi by the large, bay window; Mila by the side table, one hip propped against the antique wood just so. Victor makes for the pair of armchairs before Yakov’s desk – and pauses. One of the chairs is already taken.
“Hi, Victor,” says Yuuri, and Victor’s world tilts back into balance.
“But what about your family?” Victor asks later, when they’re alone again, because Yuuri is Yuuri Katsuki, and the Katsuki family must surely have an heir.
“What about them?” says Yuuri as he takes Victor’s hand and smiles, sweet and rueful. “They have my sister. She’s been running the business alongside my parents for years now; she’ll make a better heir than I ever will be. And besides,” he adds as Victor loops an arm around his waist, “I hear there’s an opening in Russia for a good hitman, after I killed the previous one.”
“You’re only working for me,” growls Victor playfully as he pulls Yuuri closer to him, the better to press a tiny kiss on the crown of Yuuri’s head.
“Working with you,” Yuuri corrects, nuzzling into the underside of Victor’s jaw, and Victor finds that he really doesn’t mind it at all.