When word comes careening down the pipelines that Viktor and Katsudon aren’t drift compatible despite their disgusting ability to communicate solely by staring into each other’s eyes, Yuri trips twice in his haste to scramble into the Kwoon.
“I want a match with Katsuki!” he demands, an angry red bruise blooming on his forehead.
Fightmaster Okukawa looks up from her clipboard, bemused. “Alright? I’m not sure why you would want—”
“They’re not drift compatible,” Yuri blurts. “Nikiforov and Katsuki. Just now. Their neural handshake failed. I want a match with Katsuki.”
The dozen trainees in the room shift, eager for what it means now that the living legend Ranger Viktor Nikiforov is partnerless. Whatever. They can have Viktor. Yuri wouldn’t touch that man’s brain with a cattle prod.
“First thing tomorrow,” Yuri continues, jumping on the opportunity before anyone else realizes what he’s doing.
“First thing tomorrow,” Fightmaster Okukawa repeats. She’s amused now—she knows that Yuri intends to establish his compatibility with Katsudon first. The only functioning Jaegar wtihout pilots is Salchow Fury, and Yuri will shove everyone over the platform if it means he can get into its cockpit. “Have it your way, brat.”
“Good,” Yuri says, stomping out of the Kwoon.
Viktor and Katsudon are both absent from the mess hall during dinner even though Yuri knows they’ve already been released from the medical ward. Too ashamed, probably. Yuri vindictively spears a roasted potato. Ha. Serves them right for rubbing their disgusting relationship in everyone’s faces.
Yuri can’t wait to turn the tables around and rub it into Viktor’s face that he’s not perfect for Katsudon, but Yuri is.
“Hey, you,” Yuri says, brandishing his fork. “You transferred from Vladivostak, right? You in LOCCENT this morning?”
The technician who transferred from Valdivostak gives Yuri a solemn nod.
“Good.” Yuri shovels half a dozen bites of food into his mouth. “Dish up. Tell me what happened in there today with the lovebirds. Oh,” he adds after swallowing, “and tell me your name.”
It turns out the technician who transferred from Vladivostak—Otabek—is the coolest person in the Nagasaki Shatterdome. Except for Yuri himself, of course.
“What the fuck are you doing here? Where’s Katsudon?!”
Viktor, glowing obnoxiously more than usual, claps his hands together. “My Yuuri isn’t in top form today, so he’s resting. It’s fine if I step for him, isn’t it?”
Yuri wants to smack the smile right off of Viktor’s face. “Yes,” he grinds out, grip on the staff tightening. It creaks in his hands.
“Good, great,” Viktor says, stretching lazily. “Any time you’re ready, Yura.”
Marshal Feltsman is sipping his morning coffee at the edge of the mats, and Yuri doubts it’s the bitterness that has him grimacing. “Remember it’s a training exercise, both of you.” Then, to Fightmaster Okukawa, “God help us all.”
Anyone who’s seen how Viktor fights even once would know that he could never be compatible with Katsudon. The way he fights is tricky and deceptive, stance open and careless. Anyone else, it’d be arrogance, but this is Viktor, so it’s just fucking annoying.
Yuri charges with an angry scream, swinging his staff wildly. He means to do damage, and he doesn’t care where his strike lands.
Viktor dodges that strike, and the next four, and then Yuri starts to lash out even when he knows he can’t land a hit, chasing him around the mat. “A little more finesse, please,” Viktor says with an infuriating smile as he practically dances around Yuri’s attacks.
“How about you fight me”—a jab that Viktor neatly steps away from—“instead of running away?” Breathing shallowly, Yuri plants his feet in a challenge. No doubt part of Viktor’s plan, if he even has a plan, is to get Yuri tired, but Yuri isn’t old like Viktor. He’s young, and his rage can fuel him for an eternity.
Viktor has the gall to laugh. “Try landing a hit first, Yura.”
With a smothered scream, Yuri throws aside his staff—four trainees scramble to escape its trajectory—and launches himself at Viktor. It’s messy and uncoordinated. Viktor’s staff rolls off the mat, and Yuri thrashes more than he strikes. An imitation of wrestling, if wrestling involved teeth, elbows, nails. Sharp pain explodes on his cheekbone because Viktor fucking plays dirty even though he sparkles viciously enough to blind people to this fact, and Yuri retaliates by clamping his teeth down on Viktor’s arm.
“That’s enough,” Marshal Feltsman says.
Yuri jerks, spitting to get Viktor’s weird germs out of his mouth, and means to demand another match until he sees the bone white resignation and horror on Marshal Feltsman’s face.
“No,” Yuri says, scrambling to his feet, kicking Viktor off him in the process. “No. No way. I refuse.”
“You’re compatible,” Marshal Feltsman says, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He looks like he’s aged twenty years in the past two minutes. “Gear up. I expect you two in the Conn-Pod within the hour to test a neural handshake.”
They carry Yuri kicking and screaming into the drivesuit room—literally. He got dropped once in the hallway and nearly managed to escape until someone caught his ankle and dragged him back.
Viktor, already in his drivesuit, watches on in amusement, his smile practically pasted on his face. What Katsudon even sees in a fake wash-up like him, Yuri has no idea. He’s probably too blinded by his hero-worship to see past the photoshopped posters.
“So scary,” Viktor says when Yuri glowers at him.
“Shut up,” Yuri snaps, stomping into the Conn-Pod. “Let’s just fucking get this over with.”
Marshal Feltsman is wrong, Yuri knows it. The moment they’re linked, LOCCENT will shut the whole operation down because Yuri Plisetsky is not—no way in hell—drift compatible with Viktor Nikiforov. And on the slimmest chance that they are (just thinking it makes Yuri shudder in horror), Yuri would still rather shove a fork into his own eye than be co-pilots with Viktor.
Over the comms, Otabek says, “Initiating neural handshake,” and Yuri braces himself for suffering.
Yuri was twelve—nineteen—when the first kaiju rose out of the ocean. In St. Petersburg—Moscow—the danger was so far away, but then the next kaiju came, monsters kept rising out of the ocean, one after the other, endless and ceaseless. He enlisted—no, Viktor. Viktor enlisted in the PPDC, trained to become a ranger, was ripped right out of a neural handshake that left his co-pilot comatose.
Fourteen when his parents took him with them to the Nagasaki Shatterdome, crying about leaving his grandfather behind in Moscow. Orphaned by sixteen, but before that he met Katsuki Yuuri—
“Neural handshake established,” comes Otabek’s monotone voice, followed by a smattering of applause, but Yuri can’t hear any of it over the white noise in his head, the sheer nauseating horror that’s rising, rising.
Viktor looks at him, a brief unnecessary glance because their minds are linked, and winks.
The moment they’re disengaged, Yuri throws off his helmet and flees.
“He’s disgusting,” Yuri says feelingly, curled up in the corner of Otabek’s bunk. There’s something weird and sad in the back of his mouth underneath all the vomit. “The thoughts he had about Katsudon! They were”—dirty, lewd, Yuri’s mind supplies—“disgusting.”
Yuri’s stolen Vicchan for the occasion because he figured that while an angry teenager could be turned away at the door, no one would ever turn away a tiny poodle. He’s clutching Vicchan tightly, almost smothering the poodle against his chest. Vicchan doesn’t mind though. Unlike his namesake, he’s kinder and cuter and has sympathy for Yuri’s plight.
Otabek sets his book down to give Yuri a serious look. “Aren’t they engaged?”
“No,” Yuri says vehemently. Then, just as vehemently, “Yes.” He throws his legs out. “Ugh.”
“People usually accuse me of being monosyllabic.”
Rolling over and taking Vicchan with him, Yuuri ignores Otabek. “Someone needs to save Katsudon.”
“I think Katsuki already knows after his attempt to drift with Ranger Nikiforov.”
That’s even worse. Yuri sits up, carefully putting Vicchan on the floor beside him. What if Katsudon saw all the things Viktor’s been thinking about him? What if he got exposed to the depravity—
“I have to go,” Yuri says. “I have to go right now, immediately.”
Yuri pounds on Katsudon’s door. “Oi! Katsudon, if you’re in there, open up!”
The heavy metal door creaks as it slowly slides open. “Yuri?” Katsudon says, rubbing at his eyes. “What is it?”
Yuuri’s hair is wild from sleep and his sweater is three sizes too big, gaping around his collarbones and bunching up at his elbows. On his left cheek is an imprint from a pillow crease, and Yuri—
“Oh god,” Yuri chokes out, flinging himself backward.
That sobers Katsudon up immediately. “Yuri? Are you okay?” He takes a step forward.
“Stay away!” Yuri shouts, sprinting down the corridor.
“I can never look him in the eyes ever again,” Yuri bemoans to Otabek, who is now on the floor because Yuri and Vicchan have confiscated his bed.
A kaiju rises from the sea precisely eight days after the traumatizing drift with Viktor, which is also incidentally eight days after the last time Yuri’s seen or talked to Katsudon. The guilt from skipping both of their twice-weekly dinners is agonizing, but Yuri thinks this is the safest course of action until he can stop violently twitching at the mention of Katsudon’s name.
With the alarms blaring, the Shatterdome descends into organized chaos, a hundred pairs of feet jogging up and down the corridors. Yuri, now a ranger with a Jaegar, makes his uneasy way to the drivesuit room.
Simulators, Yuri knows, miss the mark on the reality. Simulators don’t tell you about the afterimage of your co-pilot flouncing around in your head, how sometimes your body moves from someone else’s muscle memory, how it feels to have someone go straight to the heart of you, point A to point B, in a single, ruthless sweep.
Viktor ruffles his hair, startling Yuri out of his thoughts.
“Don’t touch me,” Yuri grouches, half-heartedly trying to get away.
They walk into the Conn-Pod together, something of the soldier in the way Yuri holds himself. He’s done this before, or Viktor’s done this before, and the line between them is blurry.
The first time they meet Katsuki Yuuri, rain-drenched, sun-soaked. It’s a push-pull: Yuuri then and Yuuri now, coin-flip images, a mirror refracted.
Viktor’s a talker. He narrates everything they do, chanting right, left, right, left as they wade deeper into the sea. Every time Yuri’s nervous energy flares, Viktor is there to snuff it out, a pin-point response that’s firm without being forceful. A heavy blanket to suffocate the embers.
These metaphor’s are all Viktor’s, and Yuri works his jaw, trying to find himself underneath all that.
Voices on the comm get filtered through Viktor first, and when they reach Yuri, he’s a ball of instinct. The kaiju—suddenly there and real—screeches, and six other kaiju are overlaid on it. He’s done this before.
Jaegars are all fists and elbows, but Salchow Fury’s lighter on her feet than most, able to do quick turns and weave around the kaiju even in the churning water. For a Jaegar’s definition of quick, anyway. The battle is brutal, all reverberating impacts that rattle his bones and the frustration of slogging a seven-thousand ton machine against the influence of gravity.
Before this, before K-Day, Yuri danced. Nimbleness is built into him, and this is anything but.
“Focus,” Viktor says, almost sharp, and Yuri grits his teeth, swings his arm in sync with Viktor, with Salchow Fury, and feels the tremors run up his arm like he’s actually out there punching a monster instead of inside the cockpit of a Jaegar that’s doing the punching. The kaiju recoils, ungainly and indignant, and retaliates with a vice grip on Salchow Fury’s left arm, metal joints warping under the force.
He knows it’s not him, but the phantom connections run down his spine and there’s Viktor’s brain echoing a jarring grief, like a doorstop kicked loose, and it’s not his scream anymore—he’s sixteen again, sitting on the floor in LOCCENT, tucked in a corner where a teenager won’t be underfoot. The technicians frantic, controls flashing, monitors beeping. A cacophony of sound, but this—this will always be live wire in his memory: his parents, their curse-filled shouts, and silence.
Sixteen and an orphan again for the first time, alone alone alone.
“Yura,” someone says, and Yuri flinches, shoves himself backward, tries to hide. “Yuri.”
Yuri looks up—it’s Katsudon, twenty-four years old and not a ranger despite his simulation scores. A perfect record. Infuriatingly timid, impossibly kind.
“Good, you’re paying attention,” Katsudon says with Viktor’s voice before yanking him out of his hiding space.
Yuri comes back to Viktor saying, falsely cheery, “See? Rangers know best,” followed by muffled obscenities from technicians in LOCCENT.
Ugh. It’s actually worse now that Yuri is in Viktor’s mind, able to see the empty expanse on the other side of his magnanimity. “You’re fucking messed up, you know that?” Yuri grouches, and it’s up in the air whether he means the sly charm or the fact that Viktor just pulled the impossible when dragging Yuri out of the memory.
“Hmm,” Viktor says, “we’re going to go with the chainsaw next, Yura.” And then he flashes an image of Katsudon naked with his ass in the air.
“What the fuck,” Yuri says, shaking with rage.
“Good,” Viktor says, throwing up a dozen more images, “channel that rage into the fight.”
Yuri’s going to channel that rage to kick Viktor’s ass when they get back to the Shatterdome.
“Ah, the adrenaline after the first battle,” Viktor says, hands to his cheek. “I remember being that young once.”
Yuri kicks him for the eighth time, too stiff and sore to actually put much power into it. “Go take your old man nostalgia somewhere else.”
The Shatterdome erupts into cheers upon their return, and Yuri’s seen it all before inside Viktor’s head, but it’s different in person. Dozens of hands clap him on the shoulder and ruffle his hair, and the pride rising in him still feels new despite the aftertaste of Viktor’s bizarre brand of melancholy.
Viktor makes a startled, pleased sound, removing his hand from Yuri’s shoulder to start pushing through the crowd. “There’s my lovely Yuuri,” he coos, spreading his arms for a hug.
Yuri’s mouth curls in disgust, so instinctive that he can’t fight it back. The crowd parts to pour Katsudon out of it, followed by Makkachin and Vicchan, and Yuri figures that being slobbered on by two poodles is a good enough consolation prize for—
Katsudon steps past Viktor like he’s air and hugs Yuri. There’s a moment of stiff shock, and then Yuri aims a smug smile at Viktor, who still has his arms open and looks devastated. Ha.
“I’m so glad you’re alright,” Katsudon says without letting go. “I was so worried—and when the neural handshake went out of alignment!” Here, he pulls back briefly to shoot Viktor a glare. It occurs to Yuri just now that he might be Katsudon’s favorite out of the two of them.
Yuri sticks his tongue out at Viktor, who’s now pathetically hovering around them and trying to get Katsudon’s attention.
“What do you want for dinner?” Katsudon asks while patting Yuri’s head, “Pirozhki?”
“Katsudon,” Yuri mumbles, cheeks puffed up in embarrassment.
Tilting his head slightly, Katsudon says, “Yes?”
Yuri flails out of the hug, turning his attention to the dogs whining at their feet. “No, I actually meant katsudon.” And then, just to make it clear that he doesn’t care at all, he throws in a caustic, “Whatever.”
“You—you can’t marry him,” Yuri sobs.
Viktor brought out vodka to mark the occasion of Yuri’s first kaiju kill, and now Yuri is sitting between them, head on the table.
It’s the most important task Yuri has ever faced in his life, and he needs Katsudon to understand, so he unsticks himself from the table’s cool surface to throw his arms around Katsudon. There’s a sense of dramatics lacing his actions that can probably be attributed to Viktor and not the vodka.
“You don’t understand,” Yuri beseeches, shaking Katsudon. He takes a few shuddering, sobbing breaths and says in what he thinks is a whisper, “He has—he has lewd thoughts about you! All the time! You can’t marry him, Katsudon. You can’t, you’re too good for him.”
“Oh,” Katsudon says, rubbing Yuri’s back soothingly. His voice is strangely flat. “Does he?”
“Yes!” Yuri shrieks, and then falls off the bench.
“Okay,” Katsudon says, standing up. “I’m going to take Yuri back to his room. And then I’m going to spend the night to make sure he’ll be okay.”
Viktor looks like Katsudon just stabbed him with a fork, which is incidentally something Yuri would love to do if he had a fork. “But Yuuri,” Viktor whines.
“Someone get me a fork,” Yuri says as Katsudon helps him off the floor and throws an arm over his shoulder to keep him upright.
As they leave the mess hall, Katsudon stops and turns around. Even like this, thoughts and vision all slurred together, Yuri can see the way Viktor perks up, hopeful.
“Vicchan, Makkachin,” Katsudon says, jerking his head before turning around. The two dogs jump up to follow them, and Yuri catches the briefest glimpse of Viktor collapsing on the table, devastated.
Serves him right.
As Katsudon is peeling Yuri’s socks off, Yuri says, “Promise me you’re not gonna marry that pervert.” He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, puffy from his earlier tears. “Get a divorce. You gotta get a divorce.”
There’s hardly any space left for Katsudon now that the two poodles have climbed on as well, but he makes it work, throwing a blanket over both of them. Vicchan wiggles his way out and climbs on top of Yuri because he’s never liked being underneath a blanket, but Makkachin is content where he is. It’s amazing that dog hasn’t suffocated yet.
“I can’t divorce Viktor if I haven’t married him,” Katsudon says.
“Marry him and then divorce him,” Yuri says immediately. “No, fuck, wait. Don’t marry him at all. Promise me, Katsudon. Promise me. You can’t let him corrupt you.” The tears start back up.
“Oh, Yuri,” Katsudon sighs, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair. They were supposed to be co-pilots together, but now Yuri is stuck with Viktor and his gross old man thoughts about Katsudon.
Yuri sobs about cinnamon rolls until he falls asleep, and the next morning when he wakes up, he screams loud enough to wake the entire Shatterdome and kicks Katsudon out of his bed.
“Oh my god,” he says later, hiding in Otabek’s bed. “Tell me the scientists have invented brain bleach. They figured out how to stick two minds into a blender, tell me they have brain bleach.”